Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Post of Links

This post from Tenure, She Wrote has been making the social media rounds. Entitled, "Don't be that Dude: Handy Tips for the Male Academic". Are you feeling clueless on how not to be that dude? Want to make sure you are doing what you need to be doing to not be that dude for those already giving it a try? Well, go check out the post.

David N. Cassuto of Animal Blawg has posted a talk on ethics, the environment, and factory farming. He argues, among other things, that factory farms engage in de-animalizing animals (like we talk about how certain atrocities de-humanize humans). This is a point I tried to make about Agamben and bare life a long time ago, we say that this or that atrocity against humans is so bad because we treated them or reduce these humans to animals, what we are missing is that there is nothing normal or natural about our treat of animals to begin with. De-humanizations so often are part and parcel of a de-animalization.

Cameron Kunzelman, over at the Atlantic, argues for seeing the black tshirt as a type of invisibility cloak.

Over at the new issue of disclosure is an interview with Jane Guyer, Stuart Elden, Russ Castronovo, and Michael Hardt on the issues of security. Check it out (.pdf).

I really liked this review by Miguel de Beistegui of Heidegger's The Event. A sample:
Another response, formulated at exactly the same time, came from the French philosopher of mathematics and logician Jean Cavaillès. A philosopher of the concept in the very sense that Heidegger associates with "the extreme end of metaphysics," and thus entirely blind to the truth of beyng, he was nonetheless entirely lucid about the abomination of Nazi Germany, and acted accordingly, precisely at the time when Heidegger was writing The Event. He co-founded the resistance movement Libération-Sud in 1941 and set up the intelligence network Cohors-Asturies. He was tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, and shot in 1944. His philosophy of the concept didn't stop him from acting steadfastly. It may have even helped. (h/t, oh, both Stuart Elden and Peter Gratton). 

Society and Space has a new Virtual Issue (that is where they take articles they have published on a theme over the years, and make them open access briefly) on Prisons. This being done to complement the US Carceral Society Forum.

James McWilliams has a short post that is critical of the philosophical system of the land ethic.

Speaking of James McWilliams, Christiane Bailey has a post about a recent talk he gave.

Ian McCormick has a new post on recent trends and theories around abjection, transgression, and the grotesque.

Roger Yates and Corey Wrenn each have posts about the need to see veganism not as a diet, but as a social justice subject formation.

Here is an open access review of Graham Harman's engagement with Bruno Latour. Interesting. (h/t Anthem).

Sometimes seeing an animal industry hack repeat his nonsense over and over again can still manage to shock. Like in this Washington Post column.

Speaking of which, check out the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, meant to overturn state regulations of animal industry.

This song from Breathe Owl Breathe, from their album Magic Central, has been out for a few years now. However, I just saw the music video today. Beautiful, haunting, cold!, all of that.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is a video game, anyway?

I don't know much about video game studies, so if you do, forgive me. What I do know is mostly what Cameron Kunzelman, and to a lesser degree for me, Ian Bogost has told me. So, this is a post about video games, by thinking through that question through the work of Cameron Kunzelman (from now on, either Cameron or CK). (Also, before you read further, a couple of notes. All of Cameron's games are free browser games, most of them require your volume to be on, and most of them are really short. I suggest you play the games as you read, occasionally, I suggest it in stronger terms as you go through the post).

Cameron's video games raise certain questions about what makes a video game a video game. He clearly has little patience for the normal popular questions around video games, like, are they art? Or what will make them art? Or if they are a craft of auteurs? (He, of course, made a super short video game making fun of these very questions, entitled, wonderfully, "The Citizen Kane of Games"). Instead, Cameron's games pose for us questions around what makes a video game a game, and what, while we are at, does it mean to play a game? (I am sure he is far from the first game developer to raise these questions, all I am saying is, he does so interestingly, and I already said I know shit about video game theory, so why are you giving me a hard time?). Now, he has made some games that are clearly in the traditional indie developer version of a normal video game. Take his first video game, Smash the Patriarchy!, a game that I am terrible at. The game is lower key version of the original Mario Brothers, you jump around, try to avoid enemies and falling. You can win it (or so I have been assured). But take his video game Oh No! In this game, you press keys in order to avoid the giant head of Michel Foucault, who is trying to eat you. You can never win this game, Michel Foucault will always eat you (just like grad school all over again). But, it is still pretty obviously a game. Fun to play after a few drinks in a group. But let's take what is without a doubt CK's most popular game to date, Alpaca Run. (Okay, I really suggest going and playing this game before going further with this post. It won't take more than, say, five minutes, put you need to be on a computer and need to have volume. There are just minor spoilers ahead, you have been warned).

There are actual youtube videos of people playing Alpaca Run for the first time. Several of them. One of the things that are fun about these videos is the first time their alpaca character should die, and doesn't. The other time is at the end, when the alpaca finally transcends. People just get happy. But here is what is odd. Though in many ways an inverse to Oh No! (in Oh No there is no win state, in Alpaca Run there is no fail state), Alpaca Run feels like less of a game. I often have referred to it as an interactive music video, a way of pulling you further into the charming song by Samantha Allen.  I often end up referring to the video games by CK as interactive this or interactive that, instead of as a video game. Take his most recent story based game, Catachresis . (There are, of course, other story games, like the always popular twine game about Slovaj Zizek making a twine game). (Also, btw, I was done like a character from the game, here). Catchresis is game that is a weird cross of HP Lovecraft, Ghostbusters, occultic technobabble, and walking (so much walking). It is both funny, and, spooky (not scary, but spooky). There is a brilliant blog post about this game here, and I am going to quote it a bit before coming back to my point. It starts with a definition:
Catachresis, a fygure, wherby the propretie of a worde is abused: as, Facies simillima lauro [A face most like a laurel tree], where facies oonely belongeth to a man, and not to a tree, although it doth signifye there a similitude or fygure.
-The dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1538
The author of the blog post goes on:
Apocalypse from the Greek means uncovering.  In English it was rendered as Revelation, from the Latin revelare, to “lay bare.”  To tear away the veil — to show that which has been hidden.
We live in a time when these words mean the End of the World.  We are now inundated with narratives of Apocalypses — biological, ecological, technological, religious, vampiric, zombie, whatever.  The issue with this use (abuse?) of the term however — this catachresis — is that it is a slide from the original meaning of the Biblical “Revelation.”  John of Patmos had the future laid bare or uncovered or revealed to him — the Apocalypse was not the end of the world itself, but the position of seeing it before its time.
By conflating the revelation with the thing revealed, I think we foreclose on its possibilities — its immensities, for one.  At the end of Catachresis nothing is revealed in any sense beyond the basic — you find out the world is ending and then it ends, welp!  But furthermore, there is not a call to speculate as in some games, no sense that you need to piece together the mythology that has led up to this point, because the event (it is clear) is so much larger than us.  There is no uncovering, but a descent into sublime unknowing.
So yeah, that happened. In way, very little happens in the game Catachresis. You walk around a lot, you engage with things, technobabble happens. Once or twice you solve a really puzzle. But at the end of the game, more or less the same thing happens to everyone that plays the game. First you are the cause of the end of the world, and then you are powerless to stop it. One can ask why CK didn't just write a little spooky story about the end of the world. Well, because at the end of it, playing the game (if you can call it playing or a game) is that you become complicit in everything. Sure, there are characters, but you are the character. You make the world end, and then you fail to stop it. One can understand this as the video game version of what Scott McCloud explains in Understanding Comics as the gutter. For those that want the parts of McCloud I mean with examples and references, check out this SEK post. The gutter, of course, is the way that comics make you complicit in their storytelling (indeed, one assumes most mediums most have a way of making you complicit in their triumphs and atrocities).

Perhaps, in Cameron's work, this is clearest in his short (and very appropriate for this blog) game Laika. The historical Laika was a dog, and she was the first animal to orbit earth, and among the first to be in space. She died, through heat, in the craft. And though she died in flight, she was going to be killed no matter what. Science, and all that. In the game, Laika, you do very little. You press one button, over and over again, which slowly leads to the take off of the craft. You even have to press the button for each number of the countdown. At the end, you are treated to what, for my money, is the most haunting ending of any game Cameron has given us so far.

In William Burroughs' album Dead City Radio (and in his book Interzone), there is a short track entitled no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. See here. Or watch here, start it 3:32 if it doesn't start automatically there for you.

For those that can't watch, it goes like this:
We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision.
They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of past.
There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers.
The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident. Inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

In a very real sense, Cameron's games (maybe video games in general) are ways of forcing us to confront complicity in all these buttons that we are pushing.

(PS, if you would prefer to hear CK talk about games, in a smart way, rather than my late night unable to sleep thoughts, go to this video. He start speaking around 25:10. It's smart, talks about Ranciere and the rise of French Pantomime, because...).

Friday, September 27, 2013

Intersex, teratology, zoology

I am currently working on other projects, so, just a short post.

Hilary Malatino gave a talk entitled "Intersex 101, or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Intersex But Were Afraid To Ask". It is clearly geared for being accessible to a beginning audience or undergraduate audience, however, it is still really interesting. Particularly, she engages within the history of how we come to understand intersex today. Here is the video:

Now, that is all interesting, and she explains the connection between the history of intersex and teratology, the academic study of monsters (and therefore this is connected to what Jeffery Cohen has called Monster Theory). I want to add something a short bit. Hil brings up the person who coined terms like teratology and ethology, namely Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire. Now, over at A Monster Observatory, we have a rather old but interesting post that is "an excerpt from a British Review Article on M. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire's General and particular History of Anomalies of Organization in Man and Animals which appeared in The British And Foreign Medical Review (Vol 8, No. 15) July, 1839." What this excerpt makes clear is that teratology is stapled to zoology. I am sure there is more to say, but I have to run.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Right of Obscurity Must Be Respected

Chela Sandoval, in her book Methodology of the Oppressed, points out that the problems of the postmodern world--problems of fragmented identities and diffusions of self--are problems that have been confronted and theorized by Women of Color. I think about this as I read about California having passed a bill that will give minors the right to delete, or erase, their online history. This seems to be a small step of our own, American version of the le droit à l’oubli, the right to oblivion or the right to be forgotten. But just like fragmented identities were already being theorized by Women of Color, the right to oblivion already has a theoretical history in minoritarian thought.

Perhaps ground zero for such thinking is Edouard Glissant's amazing book, The Poetics of Relation. In that book, Glissant develops the theoretical concept that you can find throughout his work, namely, the right of opacity. The right of opacity is more foundational than the right to difference (because, indeed, the right of opacity is foundational for the right of difference). As Glissant makes clear, the right of opacity is first a right against the slave master's push of transparency against the enslaved people. It is also a right of the dominated not to replicate the colonial people's displays of ostentation. But the right of opacity goes further. It becomes a right of language and culture, and it goes further still. The right of opacity becomes the right not the be understood, not to be reduced to epistemic violence of comprehension and judgement. Or, colloquially, "You don't know me; don't pretend that you know me".
As Saidiya Hartman furthers this analysis, and provides the title of this blog post, in Scenes of Subjection:
Rather than consider black song as an index or mirror of the slave condition, this examination emphasizes the significance of opacity as precisely that which enables something in excess of the orchestrated amusements of the enslaved and which similarly troubles distinctions between joy and sorrow and toil and leisure. For this opacity, the subterranean and veiled character of slave song must be considered in relation to the dominative imposition of transparency and the degrading hypervisibility of the enslaved, and therefore, by the same token, such concealment should be considered a form of resistance. Furthermore, as Glissant advises, "the attempt to approach a reality so hidden from view cannot be organized in terms of a series of clarifications. " The right to obscurity must be respected, for the "accumulated hurt," the "rasping whispers deep in the throat," the wild notes, and the screams lodged deep within confound simple expression and, likewise, withstand the prevailing ascriptions of black enjoyment. (p. 36)

Fred Moten, in an interview published in his B. Jenkins, riffs on Hartman's analysis:
In the end, however, as Saidiya Hartman says, “the right to obscurity must be respected.” This is a political imperative that infuses the unfinished project of emancipation as well as any number of other transitions or crossings in progress. It corresponds to the need for the fugitive, the immigrant and the new (and newly constrained) citizen to hold something in reserve, to keep a secret. The history of Afro-diasporic art, especially music, is, it seems to me, the history of the keeping of this secret even in the midst of its intensely public and highly commodified dissemination. These secrets are relayed and miscommunicated, misheard, and overheard, often all at once, in words and in the bending of words, in whispers and screams, in broken sentences, in the names of people you’ll never know. (p. 105). 

The issues that we presently face ourselves with, surveillance in the age of the internet of things, NSA spying and the secret holders that believe only they have a right to secrets, are not fundamentally new issues, but rather new manifestations of very old issues. The right to opacity is, without a doubt, a right to see a stranger as a stranger, and the right to have secrets (the right to all be Geheimnisträger). Thus, Hartman quotes Paul Gilroy, from his The Black Atlantic, there exists "politics ... on a lower frequency." This politics exists because words will never be enough to "communicate its unsayable claims to truth" (p. 37).

Therefore, as James C. Scott and Robin D. G. Kelley have shown, there exists an infra-politics of hidden transcripts.  As Maria Lugones has argued, these infra-politics should be understood in opposition to the Habermasian notion of the counter-public. The politics and ethics of these unsayable claims to truth cannot be understood through more transparency, publicity, and comprehension. Rather, we have to conceive of a networked world of relations that take seriously the right of opacity.

Before I go
I’m supposed to get a last wish:
Generous reader
burn this book
It’s not at all what I wanted to say
Though it was written in blood
It’s not what I wanted to say.
No lot could be sadder than mine
I was defeated by my own shadow:
My words took vengeance on me.
Forgive me, reader, good reader
If I cannot leave you
With a warm embrace, I leave you
With a forced and sad smile.
Maybe that’s all I am
But listen to my last word:
I take back everything I’ve said.
With the greatest bitterness in the world
I take back everything I’ve said.
- Nicanor Parra

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vegan Feminist Killjoys (another willful subject)

Sara Ahmed has an important essay, "Feminist Killjoys and Other Willful Subjects", which is also part of her book, The Promise of Happiness.

The feminist killjoy is an "affect alien" who does feel happiness when it is socially enforced to feel happiness.[1]  "A killjoy: the one who gets in the way of other people's happiness. Or just the one who is in the way—you can be in the way of whatever, if you are already perceived as being in the way. Your very arrival into a room is a reminder of histories that  'get in the way' of the occupation of that room." The feminist killjoy cannot just take a joke, or is always going on again, as in, 'there she goes again, talking about sexism'. But this alienation from proper affect is also an insight, "To become alienated from a picture can allow you to see what that picture does not and will not reflect." And, as Ahmed goes on to explain, "The word "dissidence" for instance derives from the Latin dis—"apart" + sedere "to sit." The dissident is the one who sits apart. Or the dissident is the one would be unseated by taking up a place at the table: your seat is the site of disagreement." And Ahmed puts all of this in context of upsetting the dinner table. I think you already see where this is going, this being one of those blog posts that almost write themselves. The vegan (or indeed the vegetarian, or anyone whose diet seeks compassion or justice for other animals) is one of Ahmed's willful subjects, one of those whose very presence becomes a source of conflict and uncomfortableness.

As Ahmed points out:
To be involved in political activism is thus to be involved in a struggle against happiness. Even if we are struggling for different things, even if we have different worlds we want to create, we might share what we come up against. Our activist archives are thus unhappy archives. Just think of the labor of critique that is behind us: feminist critiques of the figure of "the happy housewife;" Black critiques of the myth of "the happy slave"; queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as "domestic bliss." The struggle over happiness provides the horizon in which political claims are made.
We can add so easily in the vegan critique of the idyllic farm and happy meat. The vegan is expected to not make waves if some small parts of animal products end up their food, hell, the vegetarian is expected to be okay with chicken stock in their food. Not to eat food would be rude to the hosts. To not be rude is one of the major critiques against vegetarianism and veganism. As BR Myers points out:

One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding “any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.” (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, “Taking your belief system on the road—or to other people’s houses—makes me angry.” The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with “spluttering indignation.” That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host—and passersby to please a vendor—than vice versa. (here). 
It is, indeed, the vegan's refusal to just get along that is justified for so much hatred. However, as any vegetarian or vegan will tell you, it matters little how polite you are. Your very being there disturbs everyone. "An attribution of willfulness involves the attribution of negative affect to those bodies that get in the way, those bodes that 'go against the flow' in the way they are going. The attribution of willfulness is thus effectively a charge of killing joy." (As a side note, you can see how this concept from Ahmed is a pretty effective critique of grounding our politics in spinozian conatus). As someone who became a vegetarian as a teenager in south Georgia, let me tell you, no one wants you over for dinner. It doesn't matter how much you apologize, how much you stammer that it is about environment and personal aesthetics and whatever, and it certainly doesn't matter how much you don't bring it up--it will be brought up for you, you will be challenged, and most likely made fun of. Years of dealing with such abuse is what politicized me. After all, if it really was a small personal affectation and minor environmental move, it certainly wasn't worth putting up with this much shit, and if it wasn't, that meant I needed to be more serious about it politically.
My experience as a feminist daughter in a conventional family taught me a great deal about rolling eyes. You already know this. However you speak, the one who speaks up as a feminist is usually viewed as "causing the argument," as the one who is disturbing the fragility of peace. To be willful is to provide a point of tension. Willfulness is stickiness: it is an accusation that sticks. If to be attributed as willful is to be the cause of the problem, then we can claim that willfulness as a political cause.
Every feminist, every anti-racist, every queer theorist, every animal scholar, every person who has ever seriously engaged with the vicissitudes of identity and justice are all sick and tired of being that woman. Trust me, I know I am sick of being that guy. The one at the seminar or conference, after an anthropocentric and unsupportable point is made (we are humans because we play, or write sonnets, or whatever the idiocy is), and I sigh and raise my hand and they don't want me to be that guy, but trust me, I don't want to be that guy even more. It gets so bad that other people make me into that guy even when I am not being. I was at a recent conference, and I was asking a question not at all about animals or anthropocentrism, and the speaker decided my question was setting her up about animals and started answering a question totally different than the one I asked. Of course, is that persistence, that constantly being that person even though no one, especially you, wants to be that person that makes you willful.
We can make sense of how willfulness comes up, if we consider a typical definition of willfulness: "asserting or disposed to assert one's own will against persuasion, instruction, or command; governed by will without regard to reason; determined to take one's own way; obstinately self-willed or perverse" (OED). To be called obstinate or perverse because you are not persuaded by the reason of others? Is this familiar to you? Have you heard this before? When you are charged with willfulness it is as if your being is an insistence on being, a refusal to give way, to give up, to give up your way.
The vegan activist and the animal scholar are killjoys and affect aliens, ones who sit apart at tables. I have argued elsewhere that such sitting apart can allow us to build new communities and new commons. I still believe that. However, it is important to note that such communities often produce their own normalizations of affects that are suppose to make you happy. A feminist vegan, an anti-racist vegan, etc (and always most importantly the et cetera) can as easily disturb the normative happiness of the vegan community as they can other communities. Our willful subjects can be turned against others, to not hear for the thousandth time how our campaigns are sexist, racist, and exclusionary. We are affect aliens, and affect aliens walk among us. And our community, especially in its most public manifestations, are no better dealing with these affect aliens. I am sorry, really I am, to end on such a negative, killjoy note.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A post of links

There are two recent books out by friends of this blog that make us work through how ecologies, thinking, and affect intertwine.

Adrian Ivakhiv's Ecologies of Moving Image is the the first one.
Anthony Paul Smith's A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature is the second one.
Read them, buy them, get your libraries to buy them, grapple with them.

There are a couple of important reading groups going on that I forgot to link to last time.

First, over at AUFS, there is a discussion of Esposito's Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy. Go check it out.

Second, there is a reading group going on over Bruno Latour's recent An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence, organized by the always interesting Adam Robbert. Go check out the reading group.

Jason Read had an interesting and useful post on Chamayou's Manhunts, a book which I am finishing a post on as well.

There is an interview with pattrice jones here. I read jones' book Aftershock after it was suggested by Greta Gaard at a conference a couple of years ago, and I enjoy the book a lot. The interview itself is filled with explosive topics like transphobia and trans* issues in ecofeminism, and the academicification of queer theory and animal studies. I am not necessarily affirming full agreement with the interview, but is certainly interesting. Feedback welcomed as I think through it.

In other interview news, 3AM magazine interviewed Todd May, mostly on poststructuralist anarchism (h/t Foucault News).

This came out a while ago when I wasn't really blogging much, but here is a very detailed polemic by Richard Iveson of Elisabeth de Fontenay's Without Offending Humans.

The CDC released a report, explaining:
The agency’s overall — and, it stressed, conservative — assessment of the problem:
Each year, in the U.S., 2,049,442 illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi that are resistant to at least some classes of antibiotics;
Each year, out of those illnesses, 23,000 deaths;
Because of those illnesses and deaths, $20 billion each year in additional healthcare spending;
And beyond the direct healthcare costs, an additional $35 billion lost to society in foregone productivity.
“If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era,”
And yes, you are right, antibiotics being fed to animals in agricultural production is a major reason why.

Chipotle released a beautifully animated ad that is unsurprisingly messed up. In way, here, there is nothing new. There is a trend of using people's guilt over eating animal flesh as a way of selling them, well, different animal flesh. Think of chic-fil-a's ads to eat more chicken.

What's that you say, Janelle Monáe has a new album out, even better than her last one? Speculative fiction hip-hop rock 'n roll to the rescue!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is being a vegetarian worse than being a flesh eater? (The vegan edition)

The short answer is no. Here is a slightly longer answer:

I figure while I am making certain subsets of the vegan community unhappy, I might as well continue. Gary Francione, as many of you know, has argued that there is zero moral distinction between someone who eats animal flesh and a vegetarian. More importantly, he often argues that a vegetarian might even be worse than someone who eats meat, ethically speaking. Which is a bit like this moment from The Simpsons. Anyway, to get a sense of his argument, you can listen to this podcast and/or read this blog post. Francione's argument is that (1) there is no moral distinction between eating an animal's flesh and eating the products of their bodies, (2) vegetarians will end up supplementing their lack of meat eating by increasing their eating of other animal products, (3) and that there is more suffering in a glass of milk than there is in a steak. These are all fairly good arguments, but it is the second one that has some real weaknesses.

After doing research on other things, I came across this article. This article is the only one that I have found to get data on what vegetarians actually eat. The article also pretty clearly points to two truths (1) Vegetarians (who eat no meat, not those self-identified vegetarians who also eat meat) consume far less milk, yogurt, etc than other categories. They consumed slightly higher rates of cheese. Overall, a vegetarian is likely to decrease her consumption of dairy and eggs by 15% compared to the normal meat eater in the US. So, in addition to decreasing their meat consumption to zero, the average American vegetarian will decrease their consumption of other animal products by 15%. Hard to argue that vegetarianism does not entail a net decrease in animal suffering.

Now, this does not address Francione's larger arguments of tactics and strategies. Francione's follow up argument would be something like, it doesn't matter if vegetarianism represents a net decrease in animal suffering, we should advocate for veganism only, and there will still be people who choose to go vegetarian, but there will be more vegans. I don't have any data to back up my next statements, but I find that unlikely. I just don't buy that animal movements are failing because we lack a clear message of veganism and only veganism. With that said, we should always strive to make clear that while vegetarianism might be ethically superior to flesh eating, it is just a small step on a broader becoming-vegan. I have written before against arguments that see ethical vegetarianism as being good enough. But in general I believe one can see vegetarianism as insufficient without seeing it as worse than flesh eating, morally incoherent, or useless.

Next up, Is being a vegetarian worse than being a flesh eater? The localvore edition. (The short answer, again, hell no).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reproduction and Veganism in the Age of the Anthropocene

This is going to be a blog post about overpopulation and having children in the age of the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene, as I am sure you know, is the geological epoch we live in, the one where the earth itself has been shaped by humans. This is, like most claims about humans, kinda a lie. Depending on when you want to start dating the Anthropocene from will determine how much of a lie. But clearly not all humans are equal members in this geological formations (for better and for worse). Claims about the anthropos are never really about only and fully the anthropos. But that is fine, we know that we are living in an age where some humans have managed to create geological and climate realities. This reality has brought heighten feelings that humans have a moral duty to decrease their population. Fears about overpopulation, of course, are in no way new, and are not only caused by knowledge of the Anthropocene. One of the things that is new to me is the particular ways certain vegans are taking up the fears of overpopulation.

If you look at this blog post entitled "Liberation, not procreation" for one example. This powerful post is from a vegan mother and moves within the animal liberation community to shame her (or even make her justify) having had a child. Before I go any further, I want to make a few statements: Pro-natalism is almost always sexist, heterosexist, and often fascist (at the least). And while I might have some disagreements, I agree with Lee Edelmen that there are certain problems with reproductive futurism. But just because I oppose pro-natalism does not mean I think we need to advocate a politics of anti-natalism. Nevertheless, a politics of anti-natalism seems increasingly common in vegan community, and I want to focus on the arguments against overpopulation in anti-natalism arguments.

It was helpful that while I was figuring out how to respond, we got these two articles in the NY Times about the carrying capacity of earth (see here and here). What Ellis is arguing is both fairly simple and rather convincing. The short version is that there are many times that humans would have been projected to hit the carrying capacity of earth at the time, and every time the carrying capacity of earth increased. There is, according to Ellis, no predetermined amount of humans that will exceed the carrying capacity of earth. Does this mean we will never hit a carrying capacity? No, but if we do it will almost certainly be through a failure of social systems, not through an absolute limit in carrying capacity. I agree with Tim Morton that Ellis' framing is anthropocentric, but I see no reason this rules out the basic principles of Ellis' argument.

I also know these sorts of arguments are often put forth by conservatives, many of whom use these arguments as part of their kettle logic on global warming. You know the one I mean, (1) there is no such thing as global warming, (2) global warming is happening, but not anthropogenic, and (3) global warming is happening, but it now so badly advanced only unfettered capitalism can produce the technology needed to save us all. Conservative denial about global warming is part of a broader denial of the Anthropocene, and the solutions we have to the problems that the age of the Anthropocene are raising. So, when Ellis argues that advances in social systems and technology means we cannot know the absolute carrying capacity of the earth, many conservative hear that as saying "FREE MARKET CAPITALISM TO THE RESCUE", which is bunk. While Ellis is a little cagey in those articles about what the social system changes will require, we know it will include many of them that look nothing like the conservative agenda. And indeed, veganism strikes me as one of the most likely social system changes we can take on to increase the carrying capacity of the earth and to fight many of the threats produced by the Anthropocene.

As with factory farming, our inability to stop global warming is mostly what Peter Hallward, in his best Green Lantern Corp moments, would call a failure of the will (see here and here). We know what needs to be done, but we somehow lack the popular will to make it happen. There is no reason to believe that children will have to live in the same world we were brought into. There is no reason to believe we will live in the same world we live in today. The bad news of the Anthropocene is that certain humans have made the ability of living on this planet harder for so many types of beings. The good news of the Anthropocene is that it means that certain beings would therefore have the power to reshape the earth in different ways--the earth is not done becoming. Vegans worry that another life would be another murderer, speaking to our own great guilt on never actually being able to be vegan, just becoming-vegan. The challenge, then, is to create a world that is different. I don't know why we would then encourage vegans to be uniquely the ones to stop having children?

Ursula Heise has recently written a beautiful essay on literature trying to come to grips with the environment in the age of the Anthropocene. In it Heise starts mapping out the possibilities of hybrid ecologies and natures for the future. And one gets the feeling that the anti-natalism of certain vegans come not from a radicalism, but from a profound conservatism, a conservatism that is based on conservationism. Perhaps what we need is less conservationism, and more constructivism for thriving ecologies for nonhumans and humans-- a constructivist ecofeminism, if you will. Perhaps we need less Heidegger, and more Arendt.  Deleuze and Guattari, in What is Philosophy, wrote about the importance of producing a new people and a new earth. Perhaps it is time we focus on both of those terms.

Gary Francione tends to end his emails and blog messages with the announcement that the world is vegan, if we want it. I'd only make a small, but important correction-- The world is vegan, if we make it so. Here is to the constructivists ecofeminists, and to all the vegans (parents and nonparents, bioparents and nonbioparents) who are working to make it so.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to teach intro to philosophy

A better title might be how I teach intro to philosophy. In general, I see the intro to philosophy course as a way of teaching students how to engage primary sources of philosophy in reading, writing, and talking. As such, I don't see the principle purpose of the course is to introduce students to the various subfields within philosophy. So, in terms of syllabus design, I usually pair a reading from the canonical tradition with a text that is usually at least a little outside of the canonical tradition. This has two important consequences: (1) It really helps to get the students in the work of comparing and contrasting works we read. In an intro class, that sort of work could be something that needs scaffolding, and starting with the syllabus really helps. (2) It gives the students a large breadth in philosophy. So they see that philosophy can be produced outside of the 1.5 million or so square miles that usually comprise the production of most texts read in intro classes. So, if I was to teach an intro class tomorrow, it would probably look something like this (excluding departmental demands):

Block One:
Plato's Crito and Apology. These are both fairly classical texts in intro to philosophy.
We move from the Apology of Plato's Socrates, to the apology, the closing statements, of the Russian punk feminist band Pussy Riot (their closing statements can be found here). These statements, which are explicitly philosophical, also help contemporize Plato's own work. From Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's closing statement: "We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [the holy foolishness] of punk."
We move from Pussy Riot, to Henry Oruka "Sage Philosophy" and "Philosophical Sagacity in African Philosophy" (h/t to Peter Gratton for the Oruka suggestion). Oruka's work on Sage Philosophy is obviously contrasted to the the punk sensibilities of Plato's Socrates and Pussy Riot.

Block Two:
We read Plato's The Symposium. Again, a traditional reading in intro to philosophy classes.
We move from that text to John Cameron Mitchell's film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The film obviously references Aristophanes' talk in "The Origin of Love", and in general you can read the film as commentary on The Symposium.
However, both of those texts focus on gay male or heterosexual love. So we move to Maria Lugones' essay "Playfulness, "World"-Traveling, and Loving Perception". While not an necessarily a contrast with the previous texts, Lugones provides us with another iteration, in a different direction, on the thematic of love.

Block Three:
We start with Descartes' Mediations, again a traditional text in intro to philo courses.
(Depending on the time, we might watch The Matrix).
We then pair Descartes with Shankara's The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination (h/t to Jason Wirth for this suggestion). Shankara is a nondualist Indian philosopher, and his views of reality and nondualism contrast with Descartes. His views of students and teachers is also a good place to revisit the question of the practice of being a philosopher that we had explored in block one, this time adding the ideas of Descartes' methodologies and Shankara's notions of discipleship.

Block Four
These three texts probably get taught equally in intro classes, but they work so well together.
(1) Nietzsche's The Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life.
(2) Simone de Beauvoir's introduction and conclusion to The Second Sex.
(3) William James' The Will to Believe.

So, a few questions for you, dear readers. (1) How do you approach your intro to philo courses? (2) What texts do you find pair well? Are there obvious pairing that I am missing? (3) Any major criticisms here?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Secrets and Democracy

I know the timely issue is to make a response about Syria (I am opposed to military action for all the reasons that everyone has been), or, perhaps, to make fun of the new iphone while admitting quietly that I like pretty colors and the thumb print thing is cool.

But instead, I am going to talk about secrets and democracy. This is, of course, inspired by the NSA papers, and the broader issues of American and British pushback against journalism meant to undermine secrecy. I mean of course issues surrounding Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, the harassing of Glenn Greenwald's romantic partner and journalistic partner. I also mean the gag order against the activist journalist who could go to prison for over a century because of linking to information. And just today Johns Hopkins asked a professor to take down a blog post because he might have linked to classified material, which might be a crime (?!). I would like to add while I oppose the legal harassing, and the prosecutorial overreach in these incidents, such tools are far too common with prosecutors. It is just usually targeted at people flying well below our news radar.

Anyway, all of this brings me to the issue of secrets and democracy. I want to begin with a longish passage from Daniel Ellsberg's memoir Secrets. Ellsberg, of course, is the man who released the pentagon papers. This story takes place as Henry Kissinger, then just starting to work in government, comes to ask Ellsberg for advice.
 "Henry, there's something I would like to tell you, for what it's worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.
"I've had a number of these myself, and I've known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.
"First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess. In particular, you'll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn't know about and didn't know they had, and you'll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.
"You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you've started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't....and that all those other people are fools.
"Over a longer period of time — not too long, but a matter of two or three years — you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn't tell you, it's often inaccurate, and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.
"In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I've seen this with my superiors, my colleagues....and with myself.
"You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours."
....Kissinger hadn't interrupted this long warning. As I've said, he could be a good listener, and he listened soberly. He seemed to understand that it was heartfelt, and he didn't take it as patronizing, as I'd feared. But I knew it was too soon for him to appreciate fully what I was saying. He didn't have the clearances yet. (237-238)

As this makes clear, the state of national secrecy has a corrosive effect on the very idea of democracy. In this sense, there is no way to be taken seriously in discussions of policy, unless you already know the secrets. When we were discussing Wikileaks, I compared to this Philip K. Dick's novel The Simulacra.
The Simulacra tells the story of a totalitarian society ruled and centralized around a secret. As is described in the novel:
Any failure would have betrayed to the Bes [the underclass] the secret, the Geheimnis, which distinguished the elite, the establishment of the United States of Europe and America; their possession of one or more secrets made them into Geheimnisträger, bearers of the secret, rather than Befehlsträger, mere carry-outers of instruction. (p. 34)

Like the law with Kafka, the secret forms the very constitutive nature of society for Dick. And the society we are living in is not just Kafkaesque, but also Dickesque. Secret laws and lawful secrets drive to divide our society in the ways that Ellsberg understood: those who know the secrets, and those the knowers have to manipulate into caring out their instructions.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Post of Links

I haven't done one of these in a while.

There is an upcoming Sistah Vegan Conference, it is internet based and registration is due super soon (like, days). And there is now some scholarships possible.

Stuart Elden and Peter Gratton briefly discuss David Farrell Krell's new book, Derrida and Our Animal Others

Speaking of which, you can now buy Stuart Elden's long anticipated book The Birth of Territory. As soon as I figure out a way to make money this year, I will spend some of it on purchasing that book. I can't wait.

There is an IAI lecture from Mark Rowlands entitled "Can Animals be Moral?" (warning video starts as soon as you click the link).

There is also a short IAI debate between Mary Midgley and Peter Singer on Humans and Animals (warning video starts as soon as you click the link).

Harper's published a cover story about slaughterhouses recently. However, if you do not have access to Harper's, the article is currently free on longform. The author of the article did a podcast interview here.

There is an excellent seeming upcoming conference, Why Do Animal Studies?.

Lastly, it seems Azathoth is coming to Oklahoma City. You have been warned.

Okay, Neko Case has a new album, it is amazing, and this song might have something to do with recent discussions going on.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Inappropriate environments is bad for female students (The no duh edition)

One of the links I posted yesterday was to an excellent post by Samir Chopra. There was a comment on that post, that she has responded to today here. I suggest reading them all in full, but I just wanted to add an additional point.

The original comment suggested:
Since that time, I’ve considered ANY interaction with a female student as a potential minefield to be avoided if possible. I certainly kept my office door open during consultation and only met with female students during office hours. I was a little more casual with male students, sometimes meeting them at a campus coffee shop if, for example, they had class during my office hours. Ironically, then, I suspect that ‘male anxiety’ does not foster more equality, but is more likely to result in preferential treatment of male students by male professors. I still consider my policy a prudent one, but it’s unfortunate that female students had less access to my time than did male students. Sadly, however, the practical effect of male anxiety might be that female students don’t get the best out of male professors which may contribute to an already existing problem: the dearth of women in the discipline.

Okay, let's give all of that the benefit of the doubt (I plan to come back to it shortly). Let's add another point. Say there is a male professor who is known to engage in inappropriate 'banter' in the classroom (maybe often repeating the same middle school jokes about manicures). Say there is a male professor who is known to hit on students at parties, or has been known to have sex with female students. Would a female student feel more or less comfortable having these out of classroom experiences with such a professor? I don't want to generalize this, but I have known female students were downright afraid of going to open-door office hours with a professor because he had a reputation for sleeping with other students in the department. I have known female students who had a male professor crack an inappropriate 'joke' while making a point about her paper. That student froze, never went to see the professor for help again, and was worried she seemed unintelligent to the professor after freezing. I am sure that I can give other examples. Even if things are as bad as the original commentator suggests, having male students enjoy extra coffee shop time with the professor just is not as bad as female students being unable to access the professor during office hours. This is a really simple and obvious point, but inappropriate environments are far worse for the outcomes of female students than the world where you have a slightly more informal relationship with your male students. This is where the arguments made by Louise Anthony and Samir Chopra are completely on point, such objections are just ways of re-centering male anxiety.

Now, none of this to say things have to be as bad as the original commentator suggested.  I think being conscious of the ways we treat male and female students differently is a really good start. Then, the next step, is try to figure out how to confront those realizations in ways that promote and produce a good environment for all of your students.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Women in philosophy: The Hannah Arendt edition

Recently, The Stone at The New York Times has published five female philosophers--Sally Haslanger,  Linda Martín Alcoff, Rae Langton, Louise Antony, and Peg O’Connor--on issues and conditions of being a woman in philosophy. There has been some excellent discussion over at Feminist Philosophers, see here, here, here, here, here, and here (also see this post by Samir Chopra). Also, a while back, Jennifer Saul had a piece in Salon on the topic, and she and Helen Beebee discussed this on the BBC show Women's Hour. Okay, I don't have much to add to this discussion, but I want to add some earlier comments from Hannah Arendt. These comments might not have much to do with the current conditions and issues, but I happen to be reading this as all of this was going on, and just thought it was worth sharing. This comes from the interview that was conducted by Gunter Gaus, and I am citing from Essays in Understanding: 1930-1945.

"Gaus begins the conversation by saying that Arendt is the first woman to take part in the series of interviews he is conducting; then he immediately qualifies that statement by noting that she has a 'very masculine occupation,' namely, that of a philosopher. This leads him to his first question: in spite of the recognition and respect she has received, does she perceive 'her role in the circle of philosophers' as unusual or peculiar because she is a woman?
Arendt replies: I am afraid I have to protest. I do not belong to the circle of philosophers. My profession, if one can even speak of it at all, is political theory. I neither feel like a philosopher, nor do I believe that I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers, as you so kindly suppose. But to speak of the other question that you raised in your opening remarks: you say that philosophy is generally thought to be a masculine occupation. It does not have to remain a masculine occupation! it is entirely possible that a woman will one day be a philosopher....
GAUS: I consider you to be a philosopher....
ARENDT: Well, I can't help that, but in my opinion I am not. In my opinion I have said good-bye to philosophy once and for all. As you know, I studied philosophy, but that does not mean that I stayed with it.
(pp. 1-2, emphasis added, ellipses in the original).

The whole interview is here, German with English subtitles:

So, not only does she disavow the role of philosopher (and she spends a bit of time explaining why she doesn't), but also, she argues that philosophers as such would not accept her! Moreover, that there is not yet a woman philosopher (and again, one wonders if she means that a woman philosopher accepted by men philosophers).

On this very interview, there is an interesting EGS discussion between Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, and Larry Rickels. You can find the videos here (though, NB: some of the videos seem to be missing. If someone knows of a more full version, I would love the links).

One of the more interesting times that there is this discussion of why Hannah Arendt might not feel accepted into the circle of philosophers begins at the beginning of the sixth video with Judith Butler, but that is not the first or last instance of discussion of this issue. You can see the sixth video below.