In discussing “different perceptual modes” of humans and animals, Wolfe is simultaneously quite close and exceptionally far from object-oriented ontology.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
But discipline would in its turn begin to break down as new forces moved slowly into place, then made rapid advances after the Second World War: we were no longer in disciplinary societies, we were leaving them behind. We're in the midst of a general breakdown of all sites of confinement-- prisons, hospitals, factories, schools, the family. (Negotiations, p. 178)
However, there has been no generalized breakdown of sites of confinement and spaces of enclosure. Quite the opposite, we have seen a generalized expansion of sites of confinement. If we take prisons as a privileged example of a site of confinement (and there is good reason to do so), we can see both an extensive and intensive expansion. Extensive in the most obvious way, we have far more people in prison now then we use to. To give a few numbers, in the late 1960s we had slightly over 200 hundred thousand people locked up. Now, we have around 2.5 million people locked up in jails and prisons (this does not include all sorts of other forms of being locked up, like INS detention centers or juvenile detention facilities). Not only do we have have so many people locked up, but we also see an extensive international expansion of prisons, with many countries joining in on trying to lock up more of their populations and some countries opening up their first prisons in recent times (I suggest Julia Sudbury's edited volume Global Lockdown for more on this last issue). But we have also seen an intensive expansion in prisons. We see this in the rise of supermax prisons (also called control units, administrative units, special housing units, etc). In these units inmates are actively lockdown 23 hours a day, allowed out of their cells for one hour period. During this time, they are never allowed to talk to anyone. Cameras are turned on 24 hours a day, as are lights. The walls and plumbing are sound proofed so that zero communications are allowed, and food is given through a slot in the door.
Now, I recognize that Deleuze in his essay is not indicating that prisons or disciplinary power are disappearing, but rather transforming. Moreover, there are many things in this classic essay that I found useful, for example the change of the logic of power from analog to digital. And in this sense, I understand that the opening line of this post is obviously provocative, but provocation is necessary on this point. Too often we see people proceed as if disciplinary power is no longer a present and driving concern, that rather we need to understand how CCTV in London has made it so that we are all prisoners now, or something of the sort. However, those of us that live in the free world, aka are not incarcerated, sometimes greatly misunderstand the importance of sites of confinement in perpetuating the present order (in the same way that some people believe that primitive accumulation is a sin of the past rather than an ongoing process of capitalism).
Along this chain of thought, we have Mike Konczal's excellent post "Is economic freedom another way of saying we need to build more prisons?". Konczal, taking the libertarian CATO Institutes ranking of countries based on their economic freedoms, finds that countries with high levels of economic freedoms correlate with high levels of imprisonments (this is true even if we control for certain outliers, like the US). Now, obviously correlation doesn't imply causation, but that also doesn't mean these are two unrelated data sets. Konczal goes through several interesting possible answers for this correlation, but from a foucauldian perspective there is another explanation, which is that neoliberalism needs and shares the logic of the prison population. This argument ties together Foucault's book Discipline and Punish to his lectures on The Birth of Bio-politics. Economic freedoms, rather than generalizing freedoms to the rest of society, are built upon a militarized and repressive policing apparatus. Perhaps it is time to give up Deleuze's term of a control society, and rather take up Foucault's term of a normalizing society. As he explains in "Society Must Be Defended":
In more general terms still, we can say that there is one element that will circulate between the disciplinary and the regulatory, which will also be applied to body and population alike, which will make it possible to control both the disciplinary order of the body and the aleatory events that occur in the biological multiplicity. The element that circulates between the two is the norm. The norm is something that can be applied to both a body one wishes to discipline and a population one wishes to regularize. The normalizing society is therefore not, a sort of generalized disciplinary society whose disciplinary institutions have swarmed and finally taken over everything-- that, I think, is no more than a first and inadequate interpretation of a normalizing society. The normalizing society is a society in which the norm of discipline and the norm of regulation intersect along an orthogonal articulation. To say that power took possession of life in the nineteenth century, or to say that power at least takes life under its care in the nineteenth century, is to say that it has, thanks to the play of technologies of discipline on the one hand and the technologies of regulation on the other, succeeded in covering the whole surface that lies between the organic and the biological, between the body and the population. (pp. 252-253)
So, it isn't that the technologies and formations of power haven't changed, but rather that whatever these new diagrams of power that exist, they are able to exist because of an extensive and intensive expansion of sites of confinement.
The normalizing society, especially as it is tied to contemporary models of neoliberalism, should be read against (or at least in tension) with Agamben. As Mignolo has noted, bare life is a legalistic category, whereas disposable life is an economic category. Therefore, in Agamben's work we find a series of fascination over various legal lacunas, the nazi lagers, human experimentation, the comatose patient and the issue of brain death, Guantanamo bay. And yet, the concept of disciplinary power is not mentioned in Agamben's work, and something like the site of the prison is not thought through in his work. Maybe it is because the prisoners in Gitmo exist in a legal limbo, whereas inmates in an American prison have a clear legal standing. However, something like the concept of disposable populations would find prisons to be a necessary problem to be thought and understood.
Consider this post a reminder that disciplinary power hasn't gone away, and that the problems and issues raised by that concept have only increased since Foucault's Disipline and Punish. We need to keep such issues at the forefront of our political thinking and work.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Following up on the posts about Zamir on the question of veganism, Kazez has an interview up with Zamir. Highly worth reading. He certainly displays more ambiguity in this interview than I saw in the article. I still think his case for how the market will work is naive at best. I would find it more convincing if he could cite some historical examples where the market has responded the way he suggests.
Lastly, this article from National Journal lays out the ground of legislative battle being waged on behalf animal welfare very well. It's long, but I found it quite interesting and smart.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The first from Adam, whose arguments are timely to say the least:
It's frustrating that so many critics of veganism believe that farmed animals can only be sustained in existence through consumption by humans. Farmed animals in "traditional" agricultural systems often had multiple "uses" including labor, fertilizer, fuel, and clothing, "recycling" food scraps, eating "pests", etc. Today these animals are no longer integrated into ago-ecological systems but rather pure production units, completely alienated from their labor and "species being," as Noske (1989) notes.
It is quite concealable that farmed animals remain participants in ago-ecological communities with some minor management by humans (as is the case with stray cats) that neither involve killing them nor managing them for our consumption. Eggs can be fed to other animals or fed back to chickens and the calcium form milk is better left in a mother cow's bones. Perhaps, humans could consume these products or wear them but that wouldn't be the purpose of their existence since the provide many other ecosystem services.
Further, the whole idea of not letting farmed animals go extinct is problematic. Most birds raised for flesh today are so mutated that they can barely flourish beyond adolescents because they are so plagued by monstrous growth (the same with pigs). These, in my opinion, are not animals we ought to keep in existence. Perhaps there is a case for heritage breeds, but even many of these are modern products of eugenics.
And the market is not going to solve this problem, in my opinion. Mainly because neither animals nor food should be commodified. If farmed animals are to exist they must exist in some niche other than as mere flesh or mere "child/ornamental pet;" in other words, they ought to be community members in food systems or otherwise transition into ferals. This requires social and cultural changes, not market changes, which is exactly why IOs and NGOs promotte technoscientific "solutions" such as changing feed content and capturing methane--it's less threatening.
So even most vegans, I think, get it wrong by seeking an elimination of any "use." This is why I actually like Haraway's treatment of animals more than Francione: it's less condescending and not a projection of social atomism, acknowledging that nonhumans are fellow participants, not merely victims. Personally, I think veganism needs to be re-conceptualized as something other than abstention/privation--but I'll save this discussion for a later time :)
He then clarifies his position on Haraway in a follow-up post:
Scu, I think Haraway has rightly been criticized on her conclusion about the permissibility of animal experimentation and her insufficient analysis of training and breeding dogs, I do think her major premises are correct. Unfortunately, I think she comes to unsound conclusions due to her emphasis on the interestingness and playfulness of things rather than engaging deeply with her critics.
Then EJ wades in with his own useful take:
Wow, I hadn't heard of this Zamir character before, but now I've quickly familiarized myself with the paper you're responding to and your response to it, and it's all pretty infuriating stuff.
I think what's wrong with Zamir and with any proponent of more humane forms of animal food production is that there is something terribly naive about thinking that a system in which animals are controlled by humans (whether or not they are legally property) will ever be one in which the interests of those animals will be respected in the way that is morally required (i.e., that animals' interests will not be neglected or "traded off" for supposed benefits for humans).
There are, as I see it, many reasons for thinking that human control of animals will never meet that ethical demand. There is a pretty strong conflict of interest between the human seeking to profit from animals (that is, profit either monetarily or just in terms of goods received) and the animals themselves. As long as animals are farmed on commercial farms in a capitalist society, the pressure to push animals to produce more food to their own detriment will be insurmountable. And even if it were conceivably surmountable, what kind of draconian system of inspections and regulations would need to be in place to make sure farmers were in compliance with the array of regulations to which they would be subject?
There is also, of course, the problem that humans just don't know as much about animals as they like to think. While it might be obvious to someone like Zamir that the relationship between humans and cats is some great ideal to which we should aspire, I am less and less inclined to believe that. Having lived with two indoor/outdoor cats, it is really amazing to see the difference in behavior between cats when they're inside our quiet, static indoor environments and when they're in an environment with rustling leaves, chirping birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and a vast world of odors that we are oblivious to. So much of what we think of as signs of contentment, laziness, happiness or fatigue in house cats may just be a manifestation of crushing boredom. Or it might not. The point is I have no way to settle the matter.
As time goes on, I think that concepts of humane ownership or humane use of animals is nothing more than an ideology, a myth we tell ourselves to quiet our consciences. It seems more and more like the myth of the edification of African slaves through their exposure to christian society or the ideal of domestic, material bliss that justified making housewife the all but obligatory occupation of generations of women. While people tout the ideal of the human-dog relationship, millions of dogs are put to death every year for lack of available homes, millions of others suffer through lives of neglect or abuse, and still more are members of breeds that are predisposed to all sorts of health problems.
In sum, I just don't see much potential for ethical use, ownership or control of animals. While such a relationship might be conceivable (and even there I'm doubtful), it would be extremely difficult to achieve and probably impossible to maintain.
I guess before we go further, I should say a few things about my current stances on these issues. I'm not sure I believe in an absolutely ethically vegan position. Which is to say, I am not sure that every production and possible consumption of an animal product is always and forever wrong. I do believe, however, that I could be wrong about this one. But, from a practical standpoint, I believe that ethical veganism is almost always going to be necessary. There just are not many times when most of us will have access to eggs, milk, etc. that did not depend upon systematic violence and exploitation of other animals (from the genes of their birth to their eventual death). I am, however, not one of those people who believe there is no moral distinction between vegetarianism and eating animals' flesh. And I am certainly not one of those people who believe vegetarianism is somehow worse than that of flesh eating. Now that that is cleared up, let's get into the meat of the argument.
Zamir divides up pro-animal welfare people into three categories: vegans, tentative vegans, and vegetarians. Vegetarians are people who don't eat animal flesh (of any sort) but who do eat eggs and milk from 'progressive sources'. Vegans believe that all use of animals and their products are equal to exploitation of animals. Therefore, we can never eat an egg, wear wool, live with a companion animal, that does not entail violence and exploitation to other animals. Tentative vegans (a phrase I don't particularly care for), believes that in some idealized or utopian situation it might be possible to use animal products, but for practical purposes we have to be vegans currently.
Jean Kazez provides a good overview of Zamir's arguments along with her objections to his argument here, and I suggest reading it. But I am going to focus on my objections to Zamir's work. He spends a lot of time trying to argue that vegans get it wrong, and that it is possible to have a non-exploitative relationship with animals, that includes digesting animal products. Again, I think he is right, but I don't think he meets his burden of proof here. First of all, because I think the concept of exploitation remains fundamentally under thought in the article. Now, there are limits to article spaces, and I don't know if he gets more thoroughly into this question elsewhere, or if he plans to do so. However, I am not sure the most luxurious pet environment isn't coercive in some way. Zamir feels that I would believe this only if I anthropomorphed the other animal into an autonomous individual. Rather, according to Zamir, I should see the pet as as a child. I think this is a good situation to understand Deleuze and Guattari's objection to the pet in A Thousand Plateaus. Particularly, they argue against the oedipalizing nature of pets, the threat is to see them as children (and I would add that part of that threat is naturalizing paternalism, and that we should be uncomfortable with paternalism, even to children). I worry about my relationship with my cat, and I am often raked by moments of existential doubt on being a pet owner. And it isn't because I anthropomorphize my cat, but because I am frequently confronted by both the cat's alienness and similarity. That the cat's desires and thoughts remain fundamentally opaque, and the power I wield over that being is so casual and absolute. How can any sane person not have moments of moral vertigo in such situations? Owning a life that has its own desires, capacities, and goals should always provoke unease, no matter how much I love that life.
I would agree that good pet environments are usually superior to letting them survive in the wild, particularly the urban wild. However, that doesn't prove that we should be in the business of reproducing animal life. Just because my cat's life is better off than the alternative doesn't mean that not existing is a better alternative (for the record, I think my cat is better off existing), and that requires more philosophical work than Zamir gets to his article. In order to follow this point means getting into his arguments about why vegetarianism is superior to veganism, so let me bracket this discussion briefly to make a few other points.
In Zamir's discussions about there being animals who can be well treated and still exist as pets or producers of milk, eggs, and wool, it is striking how often these examples are filled with some of the shocking and regular forms of violence we bring to bear on other animals. Some of these are things that Zamir supports or finds acceptable, some feel him with unease and it is unclear how he comes down on these issues, and some he completely objects to. To give examples, he completely objects to having the vocal cords of dogs cut (good for him), he is filled with unease over debeaking of chickens and declawing of cats, and he finds forced and constant impregnation of cows acceptable and spaying and neutering of cats and dogs to be supported. All of these things, with the exception of spaying and neutering which I am uneasy about but support, I find objectionable. I am particularly horrified that keeping a being constantly impregnated against their will is something he doesn't even seem uneasy about. Furthermore, Zamir doesn't bring up two forms of systematic violence that would still plague animals in a purely vegetarian world: one is that of genetics and the other is animal sociality. The issue of genetics is that we have breed many animals into the walking dead. Zamir objects to bringing a being into existence whose teleology is determined, but we have created many animals whose teleology is determined genetically and violently. Moreover, Zamir either doesn't seem to believe that breaking up animals from the societies and families they exist in is a problem, or that his vegetarian ideal will somehow not cause this to happen. While we are unsure of different species's levels of bonding and sociality, it is not to say that it doesn't exist. This goes back to my point about the opacity of the animal and my unease in casually wielding power over their lives.
Now, to unbracket the earlier point on vegetarianism vs. veganism. Zamir believes that we have a duty both preserve species, but also to keep a large quantity of species around. Now, I have written before about my problems with this obviously biopolitical species logic. However, the entire question to if we owe duties to non-existent beings, or at least not yet beings, is a complicated question (random question for any of the OOO people who might still be reading this. Harman doesn't think potentiality or the virtual are correct ontological determinations. Does that means his version of ontology excludes the ability to plan for future generations? I don't mean this flippantly, but seriously, if not particularly thought out). However, Zamir's belief that we owe not just a species the right of reproduction, but that we must be on the side of quantity is a move I honestly did not understand in his article. Is it a responsibility to the species, or to each potential life? If the former, is there a cap or some amount that is properly paid off that after which we don't have to increase that species' numbers? If the latter, does that mean every time we practice birth control I am doing a violence or morally suspect act? I am not trying to be intentionally dense, I honestly did not follow his argument or its implications. Regardless of feeling that these arguments are not fleshed out, let move on. Zamir argues that a vegan world means that some species might go extinct, or at the very least many domesticated animals would see large reductions of numbers to morally unacceptable levels. In order to make sure this doesn't happen to chickens, cows, and sheep we should practice vegetarianism. Now, you might object that even eggs, dairy, and wool bought from progressive sources still practice horrible and unforgivable actions. The mass slaughter of male chicks when they are born, the selling off of male calves to become veal, and the like. In short, one assumes that the logic of ethical vegetarianism might lead one to ethical veganism. However, Zamir argues that we should nudge and support progressive sources for the welfare of animals, otherwise we are left with the pure factory farmed conditions of the non-progressive sources. Moreover, that withdrawing from the market doesn't drive any market forces. Well, the number of committed vegetarians in this country, much less vegans, is small enough to make one weep. I think we have very, very little influence on market forces. But even outside of that issue, Zamir doesn't confront what I call, following the term greenwashing, humane-washing. Because, for the most part, increasing the humane conditions of animals decrease profits market logic dictates that people don't increase humane conditions. But, one might object, isn't this why it is important that we demand more humanely raised animal products? Well, just as with greenwashing, humane-washing involves selling the image and myth of more humanely raised animals while not fulfilling this promise. Which makes far more market sense really. And we have seen this, over and over again. We have seen this with so-called cage free eggs, and we have seen this with humanely raised meat. Increased demand in both these cases didn't lead to better conditions, it frequently led to companies decreasing standards in order to gather the profits of higher demand. Market forces just don't seem to work the way that Zamir presents them as working, which makes it hard to depend upon this argument for moral superiority. And, while I cannot prove this, my gut feeling is that large scale production of animal products just cannot be achieved without unacceptable living conditions for animals. To give one example, Zamir says that he was informed that cannibalism among chickens doesn't just happen with factory farm conditions (indeed, factory farm conditions can often minimize issues of cannibalism by controlling for diet and light), but happen outside of factory farmed conditions. My understanding is that this is true, and that even a medium size fairly free roaming group of chickens can often lead to cannibalism (especially if issues of feed, spaces for mating, etc, are not properly attended to). This means that debeaking is common even with many free-roaming chicken farms. We need totally free roaming and very small numbers of chickens given a great deal of attention to prevent cannibalism. Which is just not a model for large-scale egg production. People can have pet chickens that they can have relatively guilt free eggs from, but not be able to operate a large chicken farm from without issues of debeaking and/or cannibalism.
Finally, I think Zamir intensifies the idea of combining vegetarianism and veganism with economic rationality. I find this move troubling, and problematic. Especially because economic rationality seems so implicated in some of the most vicious relations to animals. When I talk about becoming-vegan, or becoming-vegetarian I mean partially developing a concept outside of models of economic rationality. Vegetarianism and veganism means confronting basic questions of political economy. And being a vegan or a vegetarian is not, despite what Peter Singer says, the model of the boycott. It's relationship to the boycott is like the relationship of the general to the particular strike, the forms may be similar, but the stakes are entirely different.
Now, part of my concept of becoming-vegan and becoming-vegetarian is to get away from our rituals of innocence and our protocols of purity. So, this post is not some sort of attack on vegetarianism. But I know, and you know, that vegetarianism isn't morally superior to veganism, that no matter how attractive the argument is, it's bunk. I wish it were true, I wish I could have relationships with pets that were not filled with moral vertigo, and I enjoyed dairy and eggs and wish I could consume them guilt free. And while I see Zamir as an ally in struggle, and I think he is a clear thinker and a sound writer, I don't find comfort in this article.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
He is currently working on a paper on Butler and animal liberation, a topic that I have found important in the past (see the posts here). He has several posts up, and I suggest people interested in these questions to go check them out. Go here, here, here, and here.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The previously announced 'Vibrant Matter' reading group will take place across five blogs over five weeks, beginning May 23 and ending June 26. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things is the latest book by Johns Hopkins University political theorist Jane Bennett. Philosophy in a Time of Error has posted a very useful overview of the book, along with an interview with its author. Anyone interested in participating is invited to read these, and to order your copy of the book in time for the first session. The reading schedule will be as follows:
Host blog: Philosophy in a Time of Error (Peter Gratton)
Under discussion: Preface & Chapter 1, "The Force of Things" (and overview/interview).
May 30-June 5
Host blog: Critical Animal (James Stanescu) [That's me!]
Under discussion: Under discussion: Chapters 2 and 3, "The Agency of Assemblages" and "Edible Matter."
Host blog: Naught Thought (Ben Woodard)
Under discussion: Chapters 4 and 5, "A Life of Matter" and "Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism."
Host blog: An und für sich (Anthony Paul Smith)
Under discussion: Chapters 6 and 7, "Stem Cells and the Culture of Life" and "Political Ecologies"
Host blog: Immanence (Adrian Ivakhiv)
Under discussion: Chapter 8, "Vitality and Self-interest," and the book as a whole (final overview).
I'd also like to add that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people recently wanting to join the reading group. If you missed making it to this schedule, we still haven't organized the schedule for Tim Morton's The Ecological Thought, so drop me or any of the other participating members an email and we can include you in future organization discussions.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I find Kevin's final statement unpersuasive. To be human is to be aware of our own finitude, and to wonder at that. Montaigne argued that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Camus put it differently: men die and they are not happy. For me, this last thing is our first thing as humans. It is our defining characteristic, even though some animals may experience this in a different way.
And our ability to think about this casts us between angels and beasts. It is our reality. Facing it is our life's task.
Now, I've never really bought into this being-towards-death stuff. But I have to say, many times I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding, with the dread thought: David Bowie can die. Facing that has been my life's task.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
When I first heard about a vegetarian vampire I wondered if we were dealing with another comedic adaptation, like the early 90s cartoon Count Duckula. But no, oh no. The vegetarian vampire of Twilight is suppose to be anything but comedic. Edward Cullen, the romantic interest, represents another in the line of both emotive and guilt-ridden vampires. Moreover, these vegetarian vampires of Twilight kill and drink the blood of other animals, they just don't kill and drink the blood of humans. This begs the question: What does vegetarianism mean, if it does not actually mean abstaining from the flesh of other animals?
Although I cannot demonstrate this here, I believe– and the stakes are becoming more and more urgent– that none of the conventionally accepted limits between the so-called human living being and the so-called animal one, none of the oppositions, none of the supposedly linear and indivisible boundaries, resist a rational deconstruction– whether we are talking about language, culture, social symbolic networks, technicity or work, even the relationship to death and to mourning, and even the prohibition against or avoidance of incest– so many ‘capacities’ of which the ‘animal’ (a general singular noun!) is said so dogmatically to be bereft, impoverished (p. 151).
Peter definitely puts my aside on Latour far more clearly than I did:
Friday, May 7, 2010
Second, the book itself is physically quite appealing. This is the second book from Duke press that I came across that is really beautifully put together. The first one being Ed Cohen's A Body Worth Defending (thanks Steph). There is also a third important recent Duke press book, Rodolfo Kusch's Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América, but this one doesn't have same physical presence (though intellectually still up to par).
Finally, I am very excited about the reading group.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Oh, speaking of books to read, my review of Cary Wolfe's What is Posthumanism? should be up later this week or next week. The very, very short version: It's worth reading.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
Well, for me, it was Jan. 2003, and I bought Zone 6: Incorporations, edited by Crary and Kwinter. Which is still a very interesting selection, and was great for where I was (uhm, for those that don't my age, this would have been my junior year as an undergrad).
Saturday, May 1, 2010
I also wanted to suggest this new post by Levi on ideology. I am working on a longer response, but just in case I don't follow through, you should go read it. Really short version: (1) I mostly agree, and (2) Isn't it funny that he is engaging in ideology critique with those that engage exclusively or primarily in ideology critique? (and I don't mean intellectually weak or contradictory, I just mean humorous).