Friday, October 31, 2008

a very rough draft of a conference paper

This is a rough draft of a paper I am presenting in like a week. Any and all comments are encouraged. Remember this is very rough, full citations and all that is not in yet.

[I]t will eventually be necessary to reconsider the history of this law and to understand that although animals cannot be placed under concepts like citizen […], they are not for all that without a “right.”
- Jacques Derrida, For What Tomorrow…

I’d like to begin with a thought of digestion, for that is exactly what is at stake in this paper. I’d like to hear the word in its etymological valences, as that which is rooted in separating and arranging. At the same time that digestion is a method of separating and taking apart, it is also a process of assimilation, of how you take something in. Digestion is both separation and assimilation, and it is there that this paper you are about to take in takes place. I begin this way with every thought to the more physical digestion we will be taking place after this panel.
So digestion is a relationship, is a process that can only be conceived as a relationship of the most fundamental sort, what we take into ourselves, and also what we separate from ourselves. And these things are one and the same. So digestion isn’t just about assimilation, but also is about disavowal. I want us to look at this relation of disavowal to a particular place, to the disavowal that Derrida claimed to be the most fundamental disavowal of all. What I want to pay attention to is the disavowal of the animal inside of us, a phrase I want us to hear in its double meaning: Both the animal flesh that many of us digest, but also our very beings as animals.[1]
This relationship of disavowal to animals is, first of all, and most primary, organized by the ways in which we kill animals. I want to make this clear, the primary and fundamental way we relate to animals is the ways in which we kill them. In order to highlight this point, let me briefly cite some statistics that begin The Animal Studies Group’s Killing Animals. Over one billion animals are killed for leather worldwide every year. We kill animals for science and medicine, for recreation such as hunting and blood sports like dog fighting, for cosmetics, for fertilizer, for pet foods, and for jewelry and other forms of decoration. And none of that counts our indirect ways of killing animals by destroying their habitats, leaving out poisons, hitting them with cars, and killing them while harvesting crops. However, by far the most common way we directly kill animals is in the ways we consume them. ). For example, in the US, 45 millions turkeys are killed for thanksgiving, 6 billion broiler chickens are raised and killed every year, a hog sticker could cut as many as 1,100 throats an hour. I don’t know how to highlight for you that to kill animals is at least our most frequent if not also our most fundamental relationship. I also don’t know how to properly draw your attention to the horrors of particular kinds of relationships, of factory farms for example. Except maybe to let it go on without saying, knowing perfectly well that everyone here knows that factory farms are horrors and that our primary relationship to animals are death and disavowal.
Death and disavowal. This applies to the other animal inside of us as well, the animal that we are. Derrida, in discussions of the animal, referred to remarks made by Adorno about Kant, specifically that the animal in an idealist system plays the same role as the Jew in the fascist system.[2] Or as Adorno put it even more forcefully elsewhere, “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”[3] Now, I don’t want you take Adorno to mean that somehow our current treatment of animals is ethically analogous to Auschwitz, this isn’t simply PETA’s old ad campaign of a Holocaust on your plate. Rather Adorno is making a different, more subtle and more convincing argument, about what allows fascism and Auschwitz to exist in the first place. It is because we hate, or to use Adorno’s word “insult”, the animal in ourselves and others that we, we as a society, are able to control and to kill. It isn’t enough to turn certain others into animals in our discourses, but we have take these others; these racialized, colonized, others; and make the animal we see in them an object of experimentation, an object of administration, and an object of slaughter. In order to prove this claim, I wish I could spend more time with story and story of the ways that we have first had to see the animal in those others before we could colonize, enslave, and/or kill the other. Hopefully two quick examples might suffice (recognizing the perpetual insufficiency to any number of examples at proving a point).
The first is brief note left to us from a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, Zalman Gradowski, “Forget your wife and children, your friends and acquaintances, forget the world you came from. Imagine that what you are seeing are not people, but despicable animals, animals which must be eliminated, for if not – your eyes will grow dim.”[4] Also, consider George Carrington, who recorded his travels in Northern Queensland, remark in 1871 that the Aborigine “has come to be considered in the light of a troublesome wild animal, to be shot and hunted down, whenever seen in open country.”[5] Surely, this last comment calls us to remember that Aristotle understood war to be an extension of hunting. As Aristotle claims in his Politics, “The art of war is a natural art of acquisition, for the art of acquisition includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts, and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.”[6] For Aristotle we should hunt down wild beasts, and that logic extends to humans that refuse to be governed. Indeed, Carrington explains that this logic undergrids violence of British colonialism. It is here, in this double disavowal and death of the animal inside of us, that the lynchpin that holds the biopolitical and the thantopolitical together exists.
That last sentence begs a simple question: What do I mean by it? Indeed, biopolitics has come to be one of those words that seems to have lost specific meaning through a proliferation of often contradictory use, much like the words modernity and postmodernity. And yet, I, and it seems those on this panel, insist upon this word, and the thought of this word. So let us take a moment to hear this word, biopolitical.
Often accredited to Foucault, the word biopolitics was actually coined by the Swede, Rudolf Kjellén, in his 1916 book The State as Form of Life (Staten som Lifsform).[7] This is the same man that coined the term geopolitics. Kjellén's was one of the more prominent thinkers of a group of German language political theorists; including Friedrich Ratzel, Karl Haushofer, Karl Binding, Eberhard Dennert, and Edward Hahn. What ties these theorists together is first a belief in the organicist nature of the state (the state was a living entity for these thinkers) and the belief in lebensraum (living space). The term lebensraum, originally coined by biologist would get one of its most sustained treatments under Ratzel, who argued that the German people (the Volk) needed a living space. To acquire this living space the German state needed to be responsible for expansion, and also for cutting away the parasitic parts inside the state. Lebensraum is cited by Hitler directly in Mein Kampf, and forms the basis of much of National Socialism. Within this notion of Lebensraum we see the connection between Nazi's imperial ambition tied to its internal fascisms. Indeed, Lebensraum is a borderline concept, bringing inside and outside into a zone of indetermination. Kjellén radicalizes all of this, bringing geopolitics as being on the same level and totally co-terminus with ethnopolitics. One cannot have a geopolitical vision that is not simultaneously a vision of a particular people. Combined with the thoughts of the other thinkers mentioned earlier, the state, as a form of life, must protect itself. It must cut away the diseased parts, it must exterminate the parasites, it must do all these actions to guarantee its health as a state and the health of its people. This was biopolitics for Kjellén. And you can see this thought in Goebbels diary entry that stated: “We travel through the ghetto. We get out and observe everything in detail. It’s indescribable. These are not human beings any more, they are animals. Therefore, we have not a humanitarian task to perform, but a surgical one. One must cut here, in a radical way. Otherwise, one day, Europe will perish of the Jewish disease.”[8] So when I use the word biopolitics, I always want you to hear it in relation to these fundamental categories of fascism, racism, imperialism, and colonialism.
When Foucault introduced the term to a different set of readers in the 1970s, it was used to describe a period of a new category of power, of the binding together bio-power and anatamo-power. Biopolitics stitched together the disciplinary power over the individual body to a broader governmentality of the life and health of the population. If earlier versions of power rooted in sovereignty had the power to let live or make dead, than biopower’s supplement had the power to make live and let die. This concept of biopolitics would be picked up by many diverse thinkers, particularly several major Italian philosophers including Negri, Esposito, and Virno. And most influentially, at least in the Anglo-phone world, was the encounter of the concept of biopolitics with the work of Giorgio Agamben.
The term biopolitics emerges in Agamben’s work when it begins to take on a specifically political orientation with the Homo Sacer series and the works surrounding those books. The concept of biopolitics takes on a decidedly ontological character under Agamben, and is rooted in the political and legal thought of the Greeks and Romans through the present moment. Furthermore, biopolitics comes to be understood as nothing less than the relationship between two Aristotelian Greek terms, bios and zoe. Both are Greek words for life, preserved in such terms today as biology and zoo, zoe refers to unqualified life. The life held in common between the gods, humans, and animals. Bios, however, is qualified life, life that refers to only humans, specifically to the qualities of life that makes someone specifically human in the first place. There exists a zone of indistinction between bios and zoe, a fundamentally empty and kenomatic space, that allows us to constantly redraw the line between what counts as zoe and what counts as bios, between what counts as discardable life and what counts as life worth living. The metaphysical operator that constantly draws and redraws these lines is termed the anthropological machine. As Agamben put it, this machine “functions by excluding as not […] human an already human being from itself, that is, by animalizing the human, by isolating the nonhuman in the human[.]”[9] It is here, in this play of bios and zoe, that I wish to bring up the question of human rights.
Agamben entitles one of the chapters of Homo Sacer “Biopolitics and the Rights of Man,” obviously mirroring the title of the Hannah Arendt chapter much of his commentary is devoted to, her title being “The Decline of the Nation-State and End of the Rights of Man.” Agamben is positing the strong relationship, indeed as he describes it a “secret solidarity”[10] , between the violence of the biopolitical on one hand, and the existence of the rights of man on the other. Agamben sees from the beginning, from the very title of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the entanglement of biopolitics and rights. The title itself seems to say a declaration of the rights of zoe and bios, and does the term Man subsume citizen, or the other way around? What is the relationship between man and citizen, and do we not find in this relationship those who are bearers of rights, and those who are not? Moreover, as soon as there was a declaration of rights, immediately there were commentaries and debates about who to include in the rights, and who to exclude: Were women bearers of rights? Children? Foreigners? This concept, of a bearer of rights known as a citizen becomes something completely different from the concept of a subject to sovereignty. If you were born in the lands of a sovereign, you were a subject. If you came into the lands of the sovereign you were a subject. All were subjects, and subjects equally. The concept of the citizen introduces entirely new questions, with entirely new logics: Who counts as a citizen? And if you don’t count as a citizen, what rights, if any, do we have to show you? We know introduce a logic of inclusive exclusion: What parts of the people are not really parts of the people? What parts of Man are not really men? These are the questions that are specific to the nation-state. Nation itself comes from nascere, meaning to be born. So from birth you are now immediately summoned into a biopolitical order, and these questions of the nation-state concern exactly the same sort of questions the Nazis were interested in. The Nazi slogan, Blut und Boden (blood and soil), is really just the apotheoses of the questions of the nation-state. We can see here in America that these questions are still very much a part of our culture in our recent presidential election. You cannot be President, that is to say the executive with the power to execute in both senses of the term, unless you are a naturally-born citizen. What does that mean? That means you have to be a citizen of either blood or soil. Therefore, the very concept of rights, including human rights, immediately, from birth, draws us into the logics of biopolitics. Those of us who wish to fight sovereign violence are implicated in this arcane pact if we insist upon the rhetoric and logic of rights to resist that violence. But what if there isn’t just a secret solidarity that Agamben proposes, but a secret genealogy of rights that stands to radically oppose the anthropological machine upon which the biopolitical is carried out? I speak here, of course, of animal rights.
There exists a wide-spread mistaken notion, even among otherwise brilliant scholars that I respect a lot, that animal rights represent merely an extension of human rights towards animals. For example, Rosi Braidotti’s opposition to animal rights is based almost entirely on here belief that rights are the domain of humanity, so demands for animal rights really are nothing more than a becoming-human.[11] This is, however, incorrect. Not only were their several French revolutionaries that also fought for animal rights, but also several prominent advocates for human rights, like Thomas Paine, who were advocates for animal rights and welfare.[12] However, it goes farther than that, and I’d like to turn towards Hannah Arendt’s “The Decline of the Nation-State and the Ends of the Rights of Man” in her Origins of Totalitarianism that we mentioned earlier. In her discussion of why a more generalized human rights were unable to supported before WWII, she makes this claim: "Even worse was that all societies formed for the protection of the Rights of Man, all attempts to arrive at a new bill of human rights were sponsored by marginal figures-- by a few international jurists without political experience or professional philanthropists supported by uncertain sentiments of professional idealists. The groups they formed, the declarations they issued, showed an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. No statesman, no political figure of any importance could possibly take them seriously[.]"[13] And that seems, on the whole, to be a true statement. Many of the groups that supported human rights, especially those that fought for the rights of children, were originally groups organized around fighting for animals. Here in the United States, for example, Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals. He also was the first person to prosecute a case of child abuse, and founded the societies for the prevention of cruelty towards children, the first such societies here in the US. And we could go on and on, seeing similar histories of the Royal SPCA, of Dutch animal rights groups, and more. A full scholarly history awaits to be written fully connecting the ways in which animal rights groups and human rights groups have cross-created each other. But from a philosophical and political stand-point, some conclusions can be drawn.
That animal rights groups would support human rights, particularly those humans like children who are most excluded from the political order, makes sense. Animal rights already represents a valorization of zoe, a refusal to insult the animal, even the animal inside of us. Animal rights doesn’t just stop there, but radically brings into question all the assumptions of duties, obligations, and citizenship that normally come with rights. Derrida has repeatedly recognized that the notion of animal rights would force us to rethink those categories of duties and obligations that since Kant has come with the notion of rights.[14] If we are to keep human rights, we must see them, if not as an extension, at least fundamentally rooted and co-evolved with animal rights. Human rights cannot become another category by which we get to define the human, and determine that those that violate human rights are now somehow outside of humanity. Rather, human rights must be seen as a continued affirmation of the zoe; as a refusal to continue to operate the anthropological machine. I cannot then affirm a certain set of declarations, however interesting, but rather the most minimal, and yet, most profound right. The same right that Hannah Arendt could bring herself to recognize, a right to have rights. It is only then, when all zoe has a right to have rights, that we can end this death and disavowal.

[1] I want to therefore distinguish myself from certain arguments for vegetarianism that takes as its foundation human exceptionalism.
[2] See specifically The Animal That Therefore I Am pp. 100-105. For other references to this passage from Adorno, also see “Fichus” in Paper Machine and “Violence Against Animals” in For What Tomorrow….
[3] As quoted in Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka. P. 53
[4] From Gradowski’s “Writings” in The Scrolls of Auschwitz, p. 175.
[5] Cited in Alison Palmer Colonial Genocide, p. 44
[6] Politics, book I, Ch. 8.
[7] Much of my understanding of the historical nature of the word biopolitics comes from Roberto Esposito’s Bios, see especially pp. 13-24
[8] Cited in Dan Stone’s “The Holocaust and ‘The Human’”, in Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History,, p. 239
[9] Agamben, The Open, p. 37.
[10] Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 133.
[11] See Braidotti, Transposistions, particularly pp. 106-112.
[12]For at least some of this history, see Tristram Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution.
[13] Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 289, 1954 edition. Emphasis added.
[14] For one example, see the epigraph of this paper.