Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why So Many Human Rights Advocates are into Vegetarianism and Veganism: Or, Fascism and Veganism, an only kinda complicated history.

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. --Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 292. 

There is a Vice article going around. One I hesitate to link to, because it is so obviously clickbait. Meant to both troll those who are vegans and vegetarians, while also causing us who are to defend ourselves against it, and share it again. These kinds of articles are frequent for this very reason. And it remains one of the reasons your vegan and vegetarian friends are, perhaps, a little touchy (remember).  But here's a link anyway. The Vice article, written by Alexis de Coning, argues that there is a strange history of white supremacists being vegan or vegetarian. To which I say, that's true, sometimes. She also ends by arguing, "To combat these racist movements, we must understand them, including how they can incorporate beliefs we usually associate with liberal or leftist politics. The diversity of this movement should not be underestimated." To which I fully agree. However, the history here is far more complicated than de Coning presents in this article, and certainly more so than the clickbaity title and blurb.

Let's begin with what should we even do if it turns out that vegetarianism and veganism are central to fascism. As Derrida responded to such a claim in For What Tomorrow...:
The caricature of an indictment goes more or less like this: "Oh, you're forgetting that the Nazis, and Hitler in particular, were in a way zoophiles! So loving animal animals means hating or humiliating humans! Compassion for animals doesn't exclude Nazi cruelty; it's even its first symptom!" The argument strikes me as crudely fallacious. Who can take this parody of a syllogism seriously even for a second? And where would it lead us? To redouble our cruelty to animals in order to prove our irreproachable humanism? (68).
It does seem silly, as I put it once, to go punch an animal in the face to prove you love humanity. Perhaps this argument is only useful to combat the people who claim that veganism magically makes you into a saint. But I think anyone who has belonged to the community for a while knows that basically every kind of person can become vegans. Assholes, saints, misogynists, feminists, racist, humanists, etc. It is, almost certainly, interesting to see why different people are drawn to veganism. As I argued in my Dark Animal Studies paper (a title I wish I could change), the draw of veganism for many people is the promise of purity, for many ethical purity. Boria Sax famously argues that the obsession with animal protection laws and vegetarians among the Nazis was a way of reducing everything to the biological and the natural. After all, the Nazis outlawed the hunting of wolves even though there were no wild wolves left in Germany. Such an action is purely symbolic. But this explains why the Nazis were also supporters of environmentalism. They were invested in a movement of blood and soil, so animals and the environment were to be protected as an extension of the hypernaturalization of the Nazi world. And while there does continue to be some neo-nazis who advocate veganism, there is no real sense in the Vice article about how much of the White Supremacy movement today is promoting veganism. Is this a fringe within the fringe? There is no proof that this is centralized, or a major part of the right trying to co-opt liberal or leftist discourses. Furthermore, there is as much as history, if not more so, of Nazis supporting environmental issues, and still occasionally doing so, especially through discussions of population controls. And no one thinks that environmentalists need to really argue that environmentalism is not thoroughly Nazi ideology.  And while the headline talks about white supremacy, that is certainly overstating things. While there were some high profile members of the Nazi party who supported animal protections (including, arguably, Hitler himself), you don't see similar things going on with Italian, Japanese, or Spanish fascisms. And while you continue to see pro-animal support in Nazi inspired mysticism and occasionally neo-nazi movements, you don't see this as being a part of the rhetoric of, say, the KKK. This seems to be an issue with exactly one (horrifying) historical moment, rather than something connected to either fascism or white supremacy as a whole. And if that's how we are playing the game, then the pro-human rights people being pro-animal rights is far more common trope.

As the epigraph from Hannah Arendt attests to, this remains a long history between those fighting for human liberation, and those fighting for animal liberation. Gandhi, famously, became interested in anti-capitalist and anti-imperialism through his time spent eating at Vegetarian Society meetings (as Leela Gandhi explains in her book Affective Communities). Carol Adams reminds us that early feminism and vegetarianism were often put together.
We can follow the historic alliance of feminism and vegetarianism in Utopian writings and societies, antivivisection activism, the temperance and suffrage movements, and twentieth century pacifism. Hydropathic institutes in the nineteenth century, which featured vegetarian regimens, were frequented by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and others. At a vegetarian banquet in 1853, the gathered guests lifted their alcohol-free glasses to toast: "Total Abstinence, Women's Rights, and Vegetarianism."(156, but see all of Chapter Nine). 
Henry Bergh founded both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Toward Animals, and a similarly named organization to advocate on behalf of children. And I could name any number of other examples. Let me go google antifa and veganism. One second, stay around. Oh shit, Trevor Noah called antifa "vegan ISIS." I didn't even know that, but that's how much the movement is associated with veganism.

Look, the issue is not that veganism will magically make you against fascism and white supremacy. I wish it would. But there is a long history of people promoting human rights, and being opposed to fascism, who were also supporters of animal liberation. That is as much of our history as the Nazi stuff is. We do, of course, always need to be sure our veganism is intersectional, and opposed to these white supremacists. But the idea that there is something anti-human well-being at the heart of animal rights and environmentalism has got to end. As I have said before, the issue is that we all engage in partial sympathies. So rather than see sympathy as a fundamentally limited resource that decreases the more one uses it, we should see it as something that can be expanded, and become more powerful. The challenge still remains, what institutions, what practices,  and what aesthetics can we create to extend our partial sympathies. This is the task that remains to all of us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Isonomia Appendix and Introduction

As Marx tells us in the first volume of Capital, every beginning is difficult. And I've been having a devil of a time trying to figure out how to start us out with Kōjin Karatani's Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy (Duke 2017, originally Iwanami Shoten 2012). For one, Karatani is something of an ambitious generalist, writing bold (and underdeveloped and under backed up) claims about anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, and political economy and statecraft in ways that we don't see as much anymore. For me, I am constantly going from being intrigued by his exciting schematization and insight, to going, "Uh, buddy, I don't think that's right." For another, Isonomia is something of a sequel to Karatani's even more ambitious, previous work, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (Duke 2014, which is a substainally modified version of a book published originally Iwanami Shoten 2010). Well, less a sequel, and more that Isonomia was originally conceived as part of that book, but it became so long and involved it ended up becoming it's own book. I, of course, have not already read The Structure of World History (SWH), and I think if I had realized that Isonomia was based on that work, I might not have suggested we do a public blogging event. However, I have picked it up, and started reading it somewhat alongside Isonomia, and also Karatani provides a very short, and actually helpful, appendix of the theoretical argument in SWH so that you can jump into Isonomia by itself.  Okay, so Isonomia tries to answer the following question, why is it that "around the sixth century BCE, Ezekiel and the bibical prophets emerged from among exiles in Babylon; Thales emerged in Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor; Gautama Buddha and the Jain founder Mahavira appeared in India, and Laozi and Confucius emerged in China" (1)?  How can we understand this explosion of world wide philosophical thought?
So against the normal narrative of the so-called Athenian Miracle, Karatani argues correctly that there are several different, and disconnected, strands of philosophy. So, why are all these things happening at once? It's certainly not because of a single intellectual tradition, or an emergent thinker who changes everything. It is also not, as Karatani points out, "straightforwardly based on socioeconomic history" (1). Now this brings us to Karatani's appendix.
In SWH Karatani challenges Marx's model of world history as being based on modes of production (this is not from a place of hostility toward Marx. Indeed, if you know of Karatani before these works, it was almost certainly from his work Transcritique, where he tries to synthesize Marx and Kant). Instead of seeing society defined by its mode of production, Karatani believes the controlling feature of a society is its mode of exchange. Karatani points out that when we hear mode of exchange, we tend to think of a capitalist commodity exchange. However, Karatani argues there are four different modes of exchange, of which the commodity exchange is but one mode. He labels them Mode A, B, C, and D. They work out this way:
Mode A  Reciprocity by gift and countergift
Mode B  Domination and protection
Mode C  Commodity exchange
Mode D  Mode that transcends A, B, and C (135)

Yeah, I like the specificity of Mode D too. In his defense, though, it's about as a good of a definition as Marx ever gave communism. The dominate mode of exchange ends up mapping onto all sorts of other features of society, such as the political structure of society. So mode A is the nation, mode B is the state, mode C is capital, and mode D is "X (Yet to Be Realized)" (137), though in SWH he also identifies Mode D with Kant's idea of the World Republic. And here in Isonomia, Mode D is also identified with the Dao. Why? Honestly not sure. BUT! it has something to do with each mode of exchange also mapping onto different structures of religion.
So Karatani goes on to identify animism and magic with Mode A (gift giving), transcendent gods and king-priests are associated with Mode B (domination and protection), in Mode C (commodity exchange) we get "a world god that transcends the old tribal gods and tutelary deities" (4). However, none of these represent a truly universal religion. Even the world god fails, because "the god would be abandoned if the empire were to be defeated" (4). A truly universal religion would be one that, unsurprisingly, would transcend the religions of of A, B, and C. As Karatani puts it, "universal religion is an attempt to recuperate mode of exchange A at a higher level, after it has been dissolved by modes B and C" (4). In other words, mode A of gift and countergift have a principle of "reciprocity and mutual support" that gets dissolved by Modes B and C. The question is, how do we go back to that part of A, while keeping all the universal parts of B and C? How do we get the mutual support, without the tribalism and the debt bonds of A? Or as Karatani asks, how do you get the religion of A without the magical phase of A? Karatani identifies in Confucius and Laozi two different responses to the dissolving of A. Confucius wants to just go back to Mode A, but the Dao represents an attempt to understand A on a higher level.
There are several points of this long discussion of universal religion, but the most immediate one is that it seeks to do away with the religion and philosophy divide. The idea that you have on one hand religious thinkers, and on the other, rational philosophers, just isn't there. And once you get rid of the notion of the divide between philosophy and religion, so many of the philosophers are seen as prophets of example. They seek to produce a way of living that calls forth, to use a Deleuzian expression not in Karatani, a new people and a new earth.
 The prophet does not know how to talk, God puts the words in his mouth: word-ingestion, a new form of semiophagy. Unlike the seer, the prophet interprets nothing: his delusion is active rather than ideational or imaginative, his relation to God is passional and authoritative rather than despotic and signifying; he anticipates and detects the powers (puissances) of the future rather than applying past and present powers (pouvoirs). (ATP 124, emphasis in original). 

Universal religion, therefore, is a task of the philosophical project that seeks to produce Mode D of exchange. The mode that is yet to be realized. And with that, philosophy is not birthed in Athens as the foundation of the West, but rather in a global context of people responding to shifts in modes of exchange.

Further thoughts. I really like the argument against the Greek Miracle, which will be one of the central conceits of the rest of the book, and I am sure I will have more to say. But it seems odd that he ignores here, for example, Egyptian philosophy and thought, which we know was relatively advanced centuries before Plato. Joseph, who I know teaches a bit of Egyptian philosophy in his Ancient Philosophy class might have more to say here. Also, so much of what I have written is produced by assertion with very little argument or examples by Karatani, which is terribly frustrating. Hopefully as I read more of SWH I will know if he just does the arguments there, or if this is part of a broader style of writing. But, for example, when I posted the above graph on facebook a couple of weeks ago, a few people pointed out the dates for some people were, at best, idiomatic, and at worse flat out wrong. It's this sort of lack of attention to detail that bothers me for some of his boldest and biggest claims.
The next official post will be on Thursday over chapter one, and will be at AnotherPanacea. Though Joseph and Josh might respond to the intro and appendix as the spirit moves them. If they do, or I see another blog doing so, I will make a post linking to that work.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reading Group on Kojin Karatani's Isonomia

We are about to start a cross-blog reading group on Kojin Karatani most recent book, Isonomia. The first post, covering the "Appendix" and the "Introduction," will be posted this Tuesday, Oct. 10th. Then Josh will post on Chapter One at his blog, AnotherPanacea. Then Joseph will post on Chapter Two at his blog, Between Two Untruths. Chapter Three will be back at Josh's blog, then chapter Four at Joseph's, then lastly Chapter Five back here. None of us are Karatani experts, so I think we'd be happy for anyone to follow along at their blogs or on our facebook walls.