Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cultural respect and vegetarianism

One of the more common complaints used against normative appeals of vegetarianism is that vegetarianism ignores diverse cultural practices. So, even if you get everyone to agree that factory farming is evil and indefensible, many will still argue that vegetarianism does not respect the cultural differences of people who have different relationships to slaughtering and consuming animal flesh than one based on the factory farm.
Sure, I think we can all agree there are many different relationships to killing animals and devouring their flesh (indeed, one of the central questions of my dissertation work is how we transferred from a sacrificial economy to a machanic economy in regards to our killing of animals), and that these practices are not equal.

What interests me about this argument is that someone's culture immediately trumps an animal's interest to not be slaughtered. But perhaps even more distrubing than that is this idea replicates the very basis of anthropocentrism, that indeed animals don't have a culture themselves that are endangered through practices that seek to slaughter them. One of the interesting developments of cognitive ethnology is to increasingly show the complex social interactions that most mammals (at the very least) enjoy. In other words, to show that animals have a culture. And if we are to take seriously the problems of coloniality and cultural imperialism, it seems we must be serious about recognizing culture that has been commonly marginalized. This includes the cultural formations of non-human animals, as such. In this view, normative and political arguments for a becoming-vegetarian are therefore arguments that seek not to create some sort of occidental universalization, but rather is a practice of resistance against forms of domination and cultural imperialism. Those that seek to ignore the cultures of animals continue the anthropocentrism and humanism of coloniality.