Friday, March 12, 2010

Punch an animal in the face if you love humanity! (Or, I promise, I don't hate humans).

One of the more peculiar charges made against those advocating for the liberation of animals, particularly those who advocate for animal rights, is that we somehow hate humanity. That our desire for animal welfare, animal emancipation, etc., is based on an animus to humans. This is something I come across all the time, but let me just highlight three of the more philosophical versions of this argument.

José Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting, p. 103

It is inconceivable that no study from the ethical point of view has even been made of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, analyzing its standards and actions. I bet one would find that English zoophilia has one of its roots in a certain secret English antipathy toward everything human that is not English or Ancient Greek!

Elisabeth Roudinesco, in her dialogue with Derrida in For What Tomorrow..., p. 67.

What strikes me about such an excessive claim [that Great Apes deserve rights] is that it would establish a sort of division between what would be human and what would be nonhuman. To bring great apes into the order of human rights, it would be necessary to exclude the mentally ill.

And just a page later.

Just as, from a psychoanalytic point of view, the terror of ingesting animality can be the symptom of a hatred of the living taken to the point of murder. Hitler was a vegetarian.

And last up, Roberto Esposito, in his Bios, p. 130.

More than ‘bestializing’ man, as is commonly thought, it [Nazism] ‘anthropologized’ the animal, enlarging the definition of anthropos to the point where it also comprised animals of inferior species. He who was the object of persecution and extreme violence wasn’t simply an animal (which indeed was respected and protected as such by one of the most advanced pieces of legislation of the entire world), but was an animal-man: man in the animal and the animal in the man.
Before I get any further, I was wanted to share with your Derrida's wonderful reply to Roudinesco, p. 68.

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?

As absurd as that last line is, in a way it is
Ortega y Gasset's position. He argues that hunters show both the authentic form of respect of humans and other animals!

I've never understood these arguments against animal liberationists. I once compared it to the arguments that people make that extending the same rights to homosexuals in our society is passing special rights for homosexuals. It doesn't make any sense, but is often repeated. It is, therefore, somehow effective on an intuitive level for many of the people making the arguments. Because I don't share these intuitions, these sorts of arguments confuse. Like Derrida, I wonder how such an argument could be taken seriously, even for a second! But not only are they taken seriously, they are repeated, again and again, by serious people. What is it about these absurd arguments that are so effective, so appealing to people?

I really don't have a good answer. On some level, it seems as evidence for both Foer and Derrida that we are at war with other animals. If we are at war, than supporting animals is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

That has a certain elegant appeal for me, but I don't honestly think that is all (or maybe even most) of what is going on. The real desire is for human exceptionalism. And there is some sort of linkage that I miss between human exceptionalism and human well-being. To attack the doctrine of exceptionalism is seen, therefore, as an attack on the human as such. (Ditto on the weird arguments against same-sex marriage). But it is that weird hidden linkage that makes no sense to me. Why do we need an exceptionalism?