Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pluralism Wars: Strike Back Against the Empire

Btw, my link aggregating is on-going with The Pluralism Wars!. So, every day I plan on putting up a new edit sign, and then putting the links as the discussion goes on. Either until I get bored, the discussion ends, or the intellectual terrain is scorched and salted. Whatever comes first.

While I hope you have read some of the various posts of the pluralism wars, I understand there are so many, and so many really deep discussions going on in comments (and even more occurring on facebook and twitter). This post should be read most in conjunction with Arran James' post here.

In Kennan Ferguson's excellent book on William James as a political thinker of pluralism, he writes, "Jamesian pluralism, as an ethical and philosophical system, encourages engagement with the world based on terms we do not ourselves control" (p. 47). Jamesian pluralism, then, is based upon an idea of finitude. Finitude, of course, has increasingly gotten a bad rap among certain new realists (I wonder why), but what is being advanced here is not a Kantian finitude. Here, let's turn to James himself: "But the knower in question may still be conceived either as an Absolute or as an Ultimate; and over against the hypothesis of him in either form the counter-hypothesis that the widest field of knowledge that ever was or will be still contains some ignorance, may be legitimately held. Some bits of information always may escape (James, Pragmatism, p. 81, emphasis added). This is not the finitude of being trapped in myself, and being unable to access the thing-in-itself, but is the finitude related to the infinity of what is, the thing-itself can always be more. This is why, for example, Latour claims that the genius of ANT is its very inability to be applied (Reassembling the Social, pp. 141-157). The issue of finitude is not just that the world can always be more, it is also that reality is fundamentally constructivist itself. It is unfinished. "But this view leads one to the farther hypothesis that the actual world, instead of being complete 'eternally,' as the monists assure us, may be eternally incomplete, and at all times subject to addition or liable to loss" (James, Pragmatism, p. 82). As James adds in A Pluralistic Universe, "that the substance of reality may never get totally collected, that some of it may remain outside of the largest combination of it ever made, and that a distributive form of reality, the each-form, is logically as acceptable and empirically as probable as the all-form commonly acquiesced in as so obviously the self-evident thing."

Such a relationship to finitude and pluralism has obvious political and ethical implications. It forces us to attend to the realities of others. Kennan Ferguson, again: "What happens to those creatures that are judged deficient in their intelligibility, or those that transgress these boundaries, or those who understand but ignore them? This includes the traditionally and contemporarily problematic categories of slaves, women, criminals, the insane, and children, each of whose inclusion and exclusion from intelligibility and political involvement has been contested." (p. 10) And animals. Jamesian pluralism, unlike, say, the Bush administration, forces us to understand the legitimacy of another's world. Like Ranciere put it in Disagreement, "Politics is not made up of power relationships; it is made up of relationships between worlds" (p. 42). The idea of learning from and avowing the legitimacy of other worlds risks, of course, voluntarism. But it does so as being irreducibly opposed to the authoritarianism of the Bush administration understanding of truth that Levi has mentioned.  Against the authoritarian doctrine of truth from the Bush administration, Jamesian understandings of truth sides with those who have been systemically excluded from the intelligible. In his own life, of course, James was publicly opposed to militarism and imperialism, and frequently spoke out against the Spanish-American War, and the colonialism of the Philippines.  James' pluralism granted the legitimacy of the world of the neighbor. His philosophy is profoundly social. Again from Ferguson, "James opposed this homogenization, celebrating those people who were overtly unlike him, for it was they who could teach and change him: people who loved war, people who hated nature, people who believed in the afterlife, people who had new ideas of medicine, and Cubans, Hawaiians, and Filipinos." (p. 46). Such a move has nothing to do with discursive or social construction, and is certainly not "first world philosophies" (an ethos stealing phrase if there ever was one). I am sure that W.E.B. Du Bois, Cornel West, and Paul Taylor (to name a few) would be surprised to hear they are engaged in first world philosophies. Because Jamesian pluralism is not a project of tolerance or liberalism. It is perhaps a project more disconcerting, one that has to take seriously the worlds of those who are most dissimilar from yourself.

And in so doing, pragmatism continues, as I argued before, a refusal of first philosophies and grounding. It removes the satisfaction of being one of the knowers. It seeks to develop an allergy to what Stengers has called "the desire to be the thinking brain of humanity." It means taking seriously beliefs that get sneered at, rather than being the sneerer (again, images taken from Stengers). As satisfying as it is to rant about the global warming deniers and the young earthers and the birthers and all of that. Let's be honest, the ability go scream "you are wrong" has not somehow managed to help the climate at all, or change income inequality, or stop factory farming, or little else. And even if tomorrow climate denying went away, it doesn't really mean that we be doing what needs to be done. The political, social, and ethical problems of the world are not fundamentally cartesian problems that after the right truth follows right actions. I spend my whole life having discussions with people who all agree with me about the evils of factory farming and fail to do anything in their own lives about it. So maybe, instead, we need to understand the worlds of others. Not tolerate them, or concern troll them, or proselytize them, but actually engage those who are most dissimilar from ourselves. This is, of course, a not inconsiderable part of the projects of Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour. This is the issue of mediators (Deleuze), the issues of diplomates and cosmopolitics and ecologies of practices. This is to understand politics as a relationship of worlds, and to understand the realities of how truth goes about being validated in those worlds and about those worlds. And therefore pluralism is profoundly antithetical to the projects of universalism. But it is not relativistic or solipsistic, and certainly is not the liberal project of polite tolerance.

But, to return us to Arran James' questions, does this not just return us to a position of neutrality? How do we account for what Fred Moten has called a general antagonism? As Bill Haver has put it, isn't non-neutrality the very condition of immanence (in which the god-trick of transcendence allows neutrality)? How do we combine this Jamesian pluralism with those for whom in their fundamental existential comportments require the ability to resist against worlds that treat them only with violence and domination? Maybe cosmopolitics and pluralism seeks to stop imperialism before it happens, but does it also cause us to demand that the insurgents put down their arms? Or that we remain neutral between those who are fighting for the right to exist and those who deny that right?

I have tried to argue before that a Jamesian understanding of ethics is one that cannot be neutral (see here and here). One is forced to act, without the assurance of being right. It is the register of the tragic, before it makes a world that was a live possibility now a dead possibility. But for all of that, we must of course act. In this way, James is, of course, a meliorist. Long quotation, I apologize:
Midway between the two [optimism and pessimism] there stands what may be called the doctrine of meliorism, tho it has hitherto figured less as a doctrine than as an attitude in human affairs. Optimism has always been the regnant doctrine in european philosophy. Pessimism was only recently introduced by Schopenhauer and counts few systematic defenders as yet. Meliorism treats salvation as neither inevitable nor impossible. It treats it as a possibility, which becomes more and more of a probability the more numerous the actual conditions of salvation become.
It is clear that pragmatism must incline towards meliorism. Some conditions of the world’s salvation are actually extant, and she cannot possibly close her eyes to this fact: and should the residual conditions come, salvation would become an accomplished reality. Naturally the terms I use here are exceedingly summary. You may interpret the word ’salvation’ in any way you like, and make it as diffuse and distributive, or as climacteric and integral a phenomenon as you please.
Take, for example, any one of us in this room with the ideals which he cherishes, and is willing to live and work for. Every such ideal realized will be one moment in the world’s salvation. But these particular ideals are not bare abstract possibilities. They are grounded, they are live possibilities, for we are their live champions and pledges, and if the complementary conditions come and add themselves, our ideals will become actual things. What now are the complementary conditions? They are first such a mixture of things as will in the fulness of time give us a chance, a gap that we can spring into, and, finally, our act.
Does our act then create the world’s salvation so far as it makes room for itself, so far as it leaps into the gap? Does it create, not the whole world’s salvation of course, but just so much of this as itself covers of the world’s extent?
Here I take the bull by the horns, and in spite of the whole crew of rationalists and monists, of whatever brand they be, I ask why not? Our acts, our turning-places, where we seem to ourselves to make ourselves and grow, are the parts of the world to which we are closest, the parts of which our knowledge is the most intimate and complete. Why should we not take them at their face-value? Why may they not be the actual turning-places and growing-places which they seem to be, of the world–why not the workshop of being, where we catch fact in the making, so that nowhere may the world grow in any other kind of way than this? (Pragmatism, pp. 137-138, emphasis in original)

Against the universalists and the idealistic monists, it is the very unfinished nature of the world that allows for us to respond to this age of catastrophes. (And one should take seriously Bill Connolly's political project as spelled out in Pluralism, The World of Becoming, and The Fragility of Things). The point is, to quote Bill Haver quoting Samuel Delany, to "practice invention to the brink of intelligibility."

Okay, I know I haven't yet answered Levi's questions about evil spirits yet (maybe I won't, we will see), but I wanted to address the issues of political philosophy and ethics more.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Pluralism Wars!

For whatever reason, I am doing my best to keep up with all the links of The Pluralism Wars!™. What follows is mostly links, which I do think are interesting.  I want to make a couple of points. (1) If you are writing about this and I missed it, sorry. Please let me know. (2) For a discussion about pluralism, the participants at the blog level are remarkably non-pluralistic in character. We are almost all men, and white, as far as I can tell. The participants are mostly trained in philosophy or anthropology, and we also represent only a few countries. I find this bothersome, and worth noting.

The Pluralism Wars!™,  is my mock name, because of the earlier so-called Derrida Wars (and process vs. object wars, and the Theory's Empire wars, fought by the partisans of long sundays and valves. Academically blogging is weird, and silly). And of course, those wars are references to other wars (perhaps, in particular, the so-called science war). But as Latour has put it, "Qui vis pacem…declare war."Okay, to the links, in order of posting, as best as I am able:

Preamble: Latour, "What Is the Recommended Dose of Ontological Pluralism for a Safe Anthropological Diplomacy?"

Struggle Forever, "The Value of a Turn."
Larval Subjects, "Pluralism and Realism"
Circling Squares, "Ontological Conflicts, Political Pluralism"
Critical Animal, "Pluralism and Realism: A Jamesian Rejoinder"
Larval Subjects, "More Remarks on Pluralism: First World Philosophies"
Struggle Forever, "Pluralism, Ontology, and Composing a Common World"
Circling Squares, "Cosmopolitics and Blasphemy"
After Nature, "Orientational Realism"
Agent Swarm, "Pluralism, Historicity, and Realism", "Imaginary Pluralism and Secondhand Realism", "Latour on Invisible Entities", "Latour's Pluralism of Entities"
Footnotes 2 Plato, "Life in the Pluriverse"
Larval Subjects, "Different Senses of Pluralism and Ontology"
Agent Swarm, - "Pluralism is not relativism" One, Two, Three, Four.
Enemy Industry, "Pluralism, Good Manners, and the Idea of the Common World"
Struggle Forever, "Ontology Politics"
Footnotes 2 Plato, "Pluralism as the Choreography of Coexistence, with William James and Co."
Agent Swarm, "The Haunting Question of the Ontological Status of Ghosts"
Critical Fantasies, "Ian Hacking's Historical Ontology as a Realist Pluralism"
Synthetic Zero, "Background Ontology, Ecological Politics and Infrastructure"
Archive Fever, "Pluralism as Realism?"
Synthetic Zero, "Policing the real: the Pluralism Wars as a 'police action'"
Critical Animal, "Pluralism Wars: Strike Back Against the Empire"
Agent Swarm, "Pluralism is Not an Abstract Category"
Circling Squares, "Pluralism and Realism, a Second Attempt."
Larval Subjects, "A Tragic Pluralist Dialogue."
Circling Squares, "Morton's Hyperobjects and Pluralism"
Knowledge Ecology, "Three Types of Pluralism."
Circling Squares, "Reply to Levi on Pluralism, etc."
Intra-Being, "My Addition to the Discussion on Ontological Pluralism"

"In particular, I shall not forget that my side of the divide is still marked today not only by this epic story, but also, and perhaps more crucially, by its moral correlate: “thou shalt not regress.” Such a moral imperative confers another meaning on my decision to stand on the side I belong to. Indeed, there is some work to be done on this side. We can by addressing the moral imperative that mobilizes us, as it produces an obscure fear of being accused of regression as soon as we give any sign of betraying hard truth by indulging soft, illusory beliefs. [...]
Learning to smell the smoke is to acknowledge that we have learned the codes of our respective milieus: derisive remarks, knowing smiles, offhand judgments, often about somebody else, but gifted with the power to pervade and infect—to shape us as those who sneer and not among those who are sneered at." -Isabelle Stengers, Reclaiming Animism.

EDIT: When I use to do the Post of Links (which I should bring back), I use to post songs, too. I figure I should do that here. I some how feel that Amadou & Mariam's Sénégal Fast Food is entirely appropriate. It is a great jam, and if you haven't heard it before, I cannot suggest it enough.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More on Realism and Pluralism

I will probably have more to say, meanwhile, the discussion continues, and you should probably read up on it.

Circling Squares One, Larval Subjects One, Struggle Forever, Circling Squares Two, After Nature, and Larval Subjects Two.

That is a lot going on, again, hopefully, I will have more to contribute later.

EDIT: Also check out Agent Swarm and Footnotes 2 Plato.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pluralism and Realism: a Jamesian rejoinder

Following up on a short, but interesting post by Jeremy Trombley, Levi Bryant bring up his hesitancy at the ontologically rich work in anthropology. Anyone who has read the work of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn, Philippe Descola, and Tim Ingold know that there is a strain within anthropology that is (and has been for quite some time) producing ontologically and metaphysically rich accounts of the world that refuses any easy anthropocentrism (and I am not an anthropologist, so forgive me if that list is particularly partial or idiosyncratic). The hesistancy of Levi comes from the tension he perceives between realism and pluralism. As he explains:
I want to be pluralist and recognize that different groups of people have/propose different ontologies or different “theories of the world”.  I think it’s deeply important to recognize this for a variety of reasons.  However, as a realist and advocate of some version of the Enlightenment, I can’t, of course, believe that all of these ontologies are true depictions of being.  I can appreciate the ethical and political commitments of my good friend, a liberal catholic Bishop (unaffiliated with Rome); however, I can’t share his views that God exists, that we have souls (or are anything more than some form of embodiment), that there’s an efficacy to pray beyond psychological benefits it might have, etc.  The universe that I think is real and that can be argued for is just not a universe that contains these things. 
Also, I appreciate how, a little later in the post, Levi makes sure to include animals as part of the pluralism we need. True enough.
Of course there is a philosopher for whom answering this question might be, as Kennan Ferguson has suggested, his most important legacy. Obviously, I mean William James.
James strived to think the meaning of truth alongside his understanding of a pluriverse or multiverse (he might have been the one to coin multiverse). For Jamesian pragmatism, we all know the formula for understanding what is true. "Grant an idea or belief to be true...what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? ... True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify" (Pragmatism, p. 97). He goes on: "This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation."(p. 97) Pragmatism does not give us access to realism (or at least the realism that Levi seems to mean), because it is fundamentally uninterested in such questions as a priori questions. Does this mean that pragmatism is open to charges of correlationism? Different language, but a common and old attack on pragmatism. James again (long quotation, sorry):
What our critics most persistently keep saying is that though workings go with truth, yet they do not constitute it. It is numerically additional to them, prior to them, explanatory of them, and in no wise to be explained by them, we are incessantly told. The first point for our enemies to establish, therefore, is that something numerically additional and prior to the workings is involved in the truth of an idea. Since the object is additional, and usually prior, most rationalists plead it, and boldly accuse us of denying it. This leaves on the bystanders the impression -- since we cannot reasonably deny the existence of the object -- that our account of truth breaks down, and that our critics have driven us from the field. Altho in various places in this volume I try to refute the slanderous charge that we deny real existence, I will say here again, for the sake of emphasis, that the existence of the object, whenever the idea asserts it ' truly,' is the only reason, in innumerable cases, why the idea does work successfully, if it work at all; and that it seems an abuse of language, to say the least, to transfer the word 'truth-' from the idea to the object's existence, when the falsehood of ideas that won't work is explained by that existence as well as the truth of those that will.
I find this abuse prevailing among my most accomplished adversaries. But once establish the proper verbal custom, let the word ' truth' represent a property of the idea, cease to make it something mysteriously connected with the object known, and the path opens fair and wide, as I believe, to the discussion of radical empiricism on its merits. The truth of an idea will then mean only its workings, or that in it which by ordinary psychological laws sets up those workings; it will mean neither the idea's object, nor anything 'saltatory' inside the idea, that terms drawn from experience cannot describe. (p. 174)
The question of truth is not, then, if that object exists really. The cat sitting in my lap, refusing to move as I type with my laptop resting against him, is utterly real (other philosophers use desks and coffee mugs in their discussions. For me, the object par excellence is always the cat, always trying to interfere with my working). Truth describes the relation between knower and known, between idea and object. Therefore, not all real things are equally true. Again, James:
It is quite evident that our obligation to acknowledge truth, so far from being unconditional, is tremendously conditioned. Truth with a big T, and in the singular, claims abstractly to be recognized, of course; but concrete truths in the plural need be recognized only when their recognition is expedient. A truth must always be preferred to a falsehood when both relate to the situation; but when neither does, truth is as little of a duty as falsehood. If you ask me what o'clock it is and I tell you that I live at 95 Irving Street, my answer may indeed be true, but you don't see why it is my duty to give it. A false address would be as much to the purpose.
With this admission that there are conditions that limit the application of the abstract imperative, the pragmatistic treatment of truth sweeps back upon us in its fulness. Our duty to agree with reality is seen to be grounded in a perfect jungle of concrete expediencies. (p. 111)
Perhaps, then, we are not talking of speculative realism, but rather what Brian Massumi has called speculative pragmatism. Or just the plain old adventures in radical empiricism.
What pragmatism does, however, is entirely devalue the project of first philosophy. If truth, pragmatically speaking, is unconcerned with questions of ultimate reality. Thinking proceeds without ground (perhaps, as Schelling put it, Ungrund. Perhaps not). And therefore truth, as relation, does not privilege the grounding of metaphysics, or ethics, or epistemology, or logic, or the political, or aesthetics, or what have you. Rather, thinking proceeds ungrounded among the constant pullings and tensions of a pluralistic world of second philosophies. Perhaps even of the non-philosophical, as Laruelle has put it (see APS' book, chapter five). Thinking in pragmatism takes on the character of ecology.
"The world is full of partial stories that run parallel to one another, beginning and ending at odd times. They mutually interlace and interfere at points, but we cannot unify them completely in our minds. In following your life-history, I must temporarily turn my attention from my own. Even a biographer of twins would have to press them alternately upon his reader's attention." (p. 71). The truth of pragmatism does not just allow pluralism, but in many ways must take the side of pluralism. And the tension will not end up not just between realism and pluralism, but also between monism and pluralism (and thus to some degree between Spinoza and James. Steven Shaviro manages to capture this tension in a few sentences and footnotes of chapter two of Without Criteria).
Empricism, as James understands it, begins with understanding the parts and working to the whole. Rationalism begins with the whole, and works to the parts. Kennan Ferguson follows James' arguments, explaining that "James censured 'our' (philosophers' and others') tendency to fall into what he called 'idealistic monism': that is, to hierarchize entirety over partiality, to think of the whole as the natural, highest conception" (Ferguson, William James, pp. 2-3. Btw, if you are concerned at all with this issue, you absolutely must read Kennan's book. You.Must.Do.It). Pragmatism, in this way, is deeply discomforting. No ground to think from, and a pluralistic world that necessarily means partial stories, unfinished questions, threads of work lost and, perhaps, never found. Oh, but the joy as well. The ability to shrug off certain annoying debates with, "Well, I'm basically a pragmatist," and then move on with your work.

EDIT: Also read this post at Circling Squares.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elden on Chamayou's Manhunts

Stuart Elden has a short article on Chamayou's Manhunts. It is both interesting in terms the explicating Chamayou's work (where Elden quickly ties together Manhunts, with the later work on drones), but also connecting Chamayou's work to Elden's work on territory. Which is a good time to tell you all to read Elden's The Birth of Territory, if you haven't already.

I earlier reviewed Chamayou's Manhunts, and discussed it's relationship to critical animal studies, here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reminder CFP: Get your abstracts in for the 2014 North American Critical Animal Studies conference

13th annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies
To SUBMIT e-mail your abstract and short bio to

The 2014 North American Critical Animal Studies Conference invites papers, presentations, and workshops from scholars, activists, and artists working on ethical and political issues concerning nonhuman animals. This year’s venue in Houston, Texas offers a unique opportunity to investigate the intersections of oppression in a locale where many of the pressing concerns about bioengineering, pollution, and animal experimentation are centered and present.

Critical Animal Studies as a field has become a powerful canopy for many convergent arenas of thought, politics, scholarship, and activism. In partnership with the Rice Center for Critical and Cultural Theory, the conference will be housed in the BioScience Research Collaborative located in the Houston Medical Center adjacent to Rice University. The close proximity to the events and practices around which our academic fields of study center, will emphasize the immediacy and scope of the issues to be addressed.

Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length. We are receptive to different and innovative formats including but not limited to panels and workshops. You may propose individual or group panel presentations, but please specify the structure of your proposal. Submit ~300-word proposals including your name(s), title, organizational affiliation, field of study or activism, and A/V needs to by January 15th.

We welcome presentations from a variety of academic and non-academic fields, including but not limited to:

Activism and advocacy
Animal liberation
Biopolitical thought
Bioscience and biotechnology
Critical legal studies
Cultural studies
Disability studies
Ethics (applied / philosophical)
Feminist theory
Critical Race theory
Film studies
Political economy
Postcolonial studies
Queer theory
For any questions concerning submission relevance, conference details, or in general feel free to e-mail us at We are also interested in soliciting people who are interested in tabling during the conference. If interested please contact us. More information concerning tabling will be forthcoming.

Please spread and share this information with anyone who may be interested in submitting to attending. Authors who have worked on edited collections are encouraged to submit panel proposals on the books with contributing authors presenting. For those unable able to make the trip the possibility of using skype to present is a possibility.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest Post: Was Communard Louise Michel a vegetarian?

Was Communard Louise Michel a vegetarian?
By Jon Hochschartner
[This is a guest post. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please email me at]

Since I'm interested in both socialism and animal rights, historical figures who managed to reconcile the two ideologies fascinate and inspire me. That's why I find the question of whether the French communard Louise Michel was a vegetarian so interesting.

During the Paris Commune of 1871, she served the working-class uprising as an ambulance worker and militia member. When the rebellion was overrun, Michel was captured and tried. She dared the court to execute her, but ultimately was imprisoned in France for almost two years before being deported.

In her memoirs, Michel wrote that she traced her progressive politics to animal-protectionist feeling. "As far back as I can remember, the origin of my revolt against the powerful was my horror at the tortures inflicted on animals," she said. "I used to wish animals could get revenge, that the dog could bite the man who was mercilessly beating him, that the horse bleeding under the whip could throw off the man tormenting him."

She wrote that from an early age she rescued animals and that habit continued into adulthood. "I was accused of allowing my concern for animals to outweigh the problems of humans at the Perronnnet barricade at Neuilly during the Commune, when I ran to help a cat in peril," she said. "The unfortunate beast was crouched in a corner that was being scoured by shells, and it was crying out."

Michel believed there was a link between the subjugation of animals and the subjugation of humans. "The more ferocious a man is toward animals," she wrote, "the more that man cringes before the people who dominate him." In fact, she credited her opposition to the death penalty to witnessing the slaughter of an animal as a child.

She raged against vivisection, writing, "All this useless suffering perpetrated in the name of science must end. It is as barren as the blood of the little children whose throats were cut by Gilles de Retz and other madmen."

According to the International Vegetarian Union website, one Louise Michel attended the 1890 International Vegetarian Congress in England. The report of the meeting states she "expressed her views on Vegetarianism. The eating of flesh meant misery to the animals, and she held that it was impossible for men to be happy while animals were miserable."

And yet, search her memoirs for the term 'vegetarian' and you will find nothing. As a very young child, Michel was traumatized by the sight of a decapitated goose. "One result was that the sight of meat thereafter nauseated me until I was eight or ten," she wrote, "and I needed a strong will and my grandmother's arguments to overcome that nausea." This of course suggests she consumed flesh and her memoirs do not immediately mention a later-in-life change in practice.

She also wrote, "Instead of the putrefied flesh which we are accustomed to eating, perhaps science will give us chemical mixtures containing more iron and nutrients than the blood and meat we now absorb." This could be interpreted as anticipating the in-vitro meat now being developed. But it could also be read as a reflection of her belief that animal-derived foods were nutritionally necessary or superior in her era.

While it seems clear where her sympathies were, I'm unsure if Michel was a vegetarian.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Guest Post: Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics in the Age of Bio-Mechanical Reproduction

"Guest Post: Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics in the Age of Bio-Mechanical Reproduction"
Vasile Stanescu
[What follows is a guest post by Vasile Stanescu. It began as an extended comment on my most recent blog post. I, however, gave the post its title, so any issues you have with that are on me. If you are interested in writing a guest post for my blog, please feel free to email me at]

I think there is another link between these two long quotations. I think the polar bears do not “matter” because of calculative logics that only values species. While killing individual polar bears both wholly matters in its own right and does hurt the species as whole, the idea is that it only kills individual animals. However, animals in our culture have no “individuality;” animals are believed to be interchangeable, so a polar bear's “loss” is only perceived if there are no more polar bears at all.  There is a similar logic at play with the current project to try and clone extinct animals from preserved DNA (no, not from amber). The danger of such a project is that there would seem to be no need (for many) to worry about animals’ loss or death or suffering as long as an infinite number of new animals could be “recreated” in the future. Indeed, there probably wouldn’t even be the “need” to recreate them in any literal sense (for many) as long as the potential of reaction existed –the simple idea of the possible animals or the DNA bank would stave off some peoples fears of species extinction and biodiversity loss based on the same idea that animals are infinitely reproducible. (We should write an article on the idea of animals’ rights in the age of mechanical reproduction). Here is an ABC article on the practice: "Scientist Preserve Endangered Species' DNA"; and here is  a link to a nonprofit working on the topic:  The Frozen Ark. The main idea I want to highlight from these practices is the much-repeated phrase that the point of preserving these animals DNA is as a “treasure-trove of knowledge.” What comes to matter via these discourses are not the animals themselves, but only the “knowledge” they represent which, since the animals can be transformed into knowledge, need not be grieved (much less saved) since they (it?) can be “preserved” forever.

So too, I think a similar calculus is at play in the new found fears for the global poor. It is worth remembering that the ethnographic fairs, zoos, sideshows, and circus of the 16-21 century have all paired the “exotic” animal with the “exotic” culture. Again, what seems to be at play is not a fear or concern of actual or individual people but a loss of “cultural” or  “linguistic” diversity. And, much like “DNA banks” we witness the rise of “linguistic banks” to preserve languages before they are “lost forever.” For example, here’s an article on “Preserving Language Diversity: Computers can be a tool for making the survival of languages possible.” Again, a technological fix (to re-appropriate Homer Simpson’s claim about beer : Technology apparently has become “both the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”). But what is even more important is the way in which linguistic and cultural diversity is justified:
Languages seem to be disappearing faster than ever before. I estimate that there are about 15 percent fewer languages now than in 1500 A.D. This is alarming in itself, but, just as important, the consequent reduction of cultural diversity may threaten humanity's survival. Our adaptive success as a species - with over 5 billion people in such diverse environments as jungles, deserts, and the Arctic - is due to "culture," implying the communication of ideas through language. Linguistic diversity relates to adaptational ideas about property, health care, food, children, power, and disputes. The loss of language diversity diminishes our ability to adapt because it decreases the pool of knowledge from which to draw. 

The point is the calculative logic is, itself, a type of computeresque way of understanding the world. Somehow these moments of empathy or caring are elided in which the suffering of the world (be it animal or citizens of the global south) becomes repacked as only enlightened self-interest. The Endangered Languages Project, funded, in part, by Google, makes this linkages between animals and languages (and the easy techno fixes that are being proffered) even more clear, claiming:
Languages are entities that are alive and in constant flux, and their extinction is not new; however, the pace at which languages are disappearing today has no precedent and is alarming. Over 40 percent of the world’s approximate 7,000 languages are at risk of disappearing. But today we have tools and technology at our fingertips that could become a game changer.
The Endangered Languages Project puts technology at the service of the organizations and individuals working to confront the language endangerment by documenting, preserving and teaching them. Through this website, users can not only access the most up to date and comprehensive information on Endangered Languages as well as samples being provided by partners, but also play an active role in putting their languages online by submitting information or samples in the form of text, audio or video files. In addition, users will be able to share best practices and case studies through a knowledge sharing section and through joining relevant Google Groups.

I know that “Thing theory” has long been an interest of ours, but I cannot help but wonder—what are the political stakes behind defining languages themselves as an endangered living entity nearing extinction? I see in this move the erasure of the speakers of these languages who cannot but matter less as long as the “languages” themselves are “protected.” Furthermore, however, it seems to me that static perseveration via an audio of video upload (more true in the second example than the first) only “preservers” a language if it in fact ceases, itself, to be a living entity at all. Again, much like the DNA banks, the idea seems to be that static preservation of languages will, in some way or some manner, allow for their “recreation” in the future—although who would respeak these languages in the future (if anyone) is never addressed. In other words what we are offered is not the languages' protection but instead only a techno-mausoleum to their loss. More importantly, like the DNA banks to the “vanishing” animals, there seems to be a way in which the disappearing of the people (both individually and as groups) seems to no longer “count” since the formula that people=culture=language=information means that people can be “stored.” As though a person's language was her “cultural DNA,” as it were. The losses are rendered ungrievable because they can be endlessly preserved and recreated. Again, just in case anyone thinks I am making a stretch between this idea of species loss and linguistic and cultural loss here is an excerpt from the Endangered Languages Project on “Endangered languages: Why so important”:
The disappearance of an individual language constitutes a monumental loss of scientific information and cultural knowledge, comparable in gravity to the loss of a species - for example the Bengal tiger or the white whale. However, the disappearance of whole families of languages is a tragedy comparable in magnitude to the loss of whole branches of the animal kingdom (classes, orders, families), such as the loss of all felines or all cetaceans. Just as it would be difficult to understand the animal kingdom with major branches missing, it is impossible to understand the history and classification of human languages with the loss of entire language families.

The point of this, for me, is the calculus by which either “culture” or “species” becomes valued. Animals, themselves, as themselves, matter not at all. Even the loss of the entire species, as a group of animals who have all now died, matters not at all. What is calculated to count, to matter, is only the “monumental loss of scientific information.” So too, I wish to argue, the people of the global south are not, in and of themselves, deemed to count. While, as you know, I am a huge critic of Achille Mbembe (from his unnecessary coining of the neologism “necropolitics” to his incorrect understanding of Foucault) in this one area I have to completely agree with him that “death” in the post-colony are simply uncounted by "us," are simply viewed as a “letting die” of all involved. In both cases, for animals and the world’s poor, all that seems to “count” is the “monumental” scientific information. However if both animals and the poor are rendered as purely informational, as only counting in terms of the knowledge they can express, the very forces which are now fueling their shared destruction (Western capitalist global technological development and control) can, ironically, be viewed as the vehicle for their salvation by transforming both human and animals into pure information which can be “protected,” “preserved,”  and mechanically reproduced forever.

Abstraction, Calculative Thinking, Global Warming, and Environmental Ethics; or the Polar Vortex of Thinking!

This polar vortex seems to be a good cause for our annual winter jokes from Republicans that global warming is somehow a lie. This time from Ted Cruz, but he is hardly the first. At the link, Weigel argues that the issue is a fundamental confusion between weather and climate. Weather being the immediate phenomenological event, climate being an abstraction. In order to understand something like rapid climate change or global warming, and the ability to understand its causes, and the ways we may stop or divert its destruction, requires serious calculative thinking. It requires care for our abstractions.

Abstraction here should be hear in the register of Whitehead. It is a idea (like Nishida Kitaro's transcendence, Althusser's problématique, Foucault's historical a priori, and Deleuze and Guattari's concept) to talk about the way that knowledge's knowing comes to be known (that is an ugly 90s-style phrase, but I think you get the idea). To quote Massumi quoting Deleuze, "the opposite of the concrete is not the abstract, it is the discrete."   As Massumi adds, “[t]he discrete: the slothful just-being-there of an inactive chunk of matter.” (Semblance and Event, 27).  Abstraction does not take us out of the situation, rather abstraction gives us prehensions of the situation. Let us take the abstraction of global warming.

Global warming is a lure for thinking about issues of consumption and production, of energy and waste, of diet, transportation, and development. We can understand how, as ethicists, we need this abstraction of global warming in order to ask and answer certain questions. And, we can also see here how the discrete is the opposite of the concrete, rather than the abstract. For example, Ted Cruz's 'joke' that Al Gore told me this wouldn't happen.  Such a move refuses the very actual, very concrete reality of global warming by discreting the moment of snow and cold in D.C. from the broader reality and the broader context of global warming. We can give many other examples. How colorblind policies discrete the reality of racism, or how 'tone' criticisms are used to discrete the lived experiences under the abstract and concrete realities of white supremacy and heterosexist patriarchy. To bring us to animals, when we are able to cherish the family pet and treat her as if she was a family member, and then to go and eat the parts of bodies of other animals, is certainly a manifestation of the discrete. That is to say, the ability to de-contextualize our pets from animals in general is a moment of discretion, and not abstraction.

My point here is that our response to global warming cannot simply be through appeals to phenomenological immediacy. Moreover, we will not be saved by virtue, infinite responsibility for the infinite other, or voluntarism. What we need is better abstractions, more calculative thinking, more en-framing, and stronger institutional responses. As David Wood has shown, when it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Katrina, global warming, and a variety of other events, it has been the conservative response to embrace the impossibility of calculative thought.  Perhaps our project going further is to, as Isabelle Stengers has argued, to calculate again. This is not the calculative thought of the capitalist cost-benefit system, but a different calculation. It is, to steal a phrase from Jane Bennett, about mutually enabling instrumentalizations.  Long quotation from Stengers ahead, so bear with me:

The cosmopolitical Parliament is not primarily a place where instantaneous decisions are made, but a delocalized place. It exists every time a "we" is constructed that does not identify with the identity of a solution but hesitates before a problem. I associate this "we" with the only slogan Leibniz ever proposed: Calculemus. Let us calculate. It's an odd expression, constructed to conceptualize the possibility of peace during a time of war. But Leibniz was a mathematician, not an accountant or statistician. For him, calculation was not a mere balance sheet contrasting homogeneous quantities, calculations of interest or benefits that were presented as being commensurable. For a mathematician, the accuracy of a calculation and the validity of its result are relatively simple questions, "trivial" in the language of mathematics. What is important, and which is not in the least trivial, is the position of the problem that will, possibly, allow it to be calculated, the precise creation of relationships and constraints, the distinction between the various ingredients, the exploration of the roles they are liable to play, the determinations or indeterminations they engender or bring about. There is no commensurability without the invention of a measurement, and the challenge of Leibniz's calculemus is, precisely, the creation of a "we" that excludes all external measures, all prior agreements separating those who are entitled to "enter" into the calculation and those subject to its result. [...]
Calculemus, therefore, does not mean "let us measure," "let us add," "let us compare," but, first and foremost, let us create the "we" associated with the nature and terms of the operation to be risked. It is not a question of acting in the name of truth and justice, but of creating commensurability. It is a question of knowing that the "truth" of the created common measure will always be relative to what such creation will have been capable of, knowing also that a radical heterogeneity preexists such creation, the absence of any preexisting shared measure among the ingredients to be articulated. (Cosmopolitics II, pp. 399-401). 

One can begin to understand that the way of an abstraction of global warming, and our calculating, can produce a different we. Malcolm Bull has argued that global warming has the power to extend our moral imagination (another long quotation coming on):

What this reveals is the extent to which climate change is now constructed not as a scientific problem that generates unexpected moral dilemmas, but as an ethical problem that necessarily requires moral solutions. The sceptics are understandably wary of this, and, as Björn Lomborg has argued, we are not generally as moral as climate change ethics assumes, for if we were we might not make climate change our top priority. If we were concerned about polar bears we would start by not shooting them, rather than worrying about how much ice they had left to stand on, and if we were really worried about the global poor, we could help them now rather than helping their descendants at the end of the century, who will probably be a lot better off anyway.
These are in many respects valid arguments, but they miss the point that were it not for climate change, we would be giving even less thought to polar bears, or to the global poor, and would see little connection between our actions and their fate. As Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die showed, our customary moral intuitions barely extend to poor foreigners, let alone to their descendants, or to Arctic fauna. It is thanks to climate change that an entire body of political thought has emerged which positions our everyday actions in direct relation to their most distant consequences.
Contrary to Gardiner’s concerns about moral corruption, climate change does not tempt us to be less moral than we might otherwise be; it invites us to be more moral than we could ever have imagined. [...] Climate ethics is not morality applied but morality discovered, a new chapter in the moral education of mankind. It may tell us things we do not wish to know (about democracy, perhaps), but the future development of humanity may depend on what, if anything, it can teach us.

The calculative thinking and en-framing of responding to global warming, and the abstractions that will be necessary for such a response, is not one that will leave the world as it is.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Call for Nominations for the 2014 annual ICAS Awards

(Please post to facebook, tweet, send to listservs, reblog, tumblr, instagram, carrier pigeon, telegram, read aloud on the phone, etc this call for nominations widely. Pdf link at the bottom).

Call for Nominations:
2014 Annual International Critical Animal Studies Awards of the Year
Critical Animal Studies Media of the Year – For outstanding media such as documentaries, films, books, visual art, operas, plays, and music in the field of critical animal studies. The media cannot be older than three years. We stress that critical animal studies includes any topic, issue, or concern (from environmentalism to prisoners’ rights) that promotes the protection, liberation, and freedom of animals in the world and is based not only on theory, but in practice as well. The media can come from any discipline or topic including, but not limited to, international studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, religion, sociology, environmentalism, critical animal studies, social work, biology, history, economics, public  administration, criminology, philosophy, anthropology,  chemistry,  medicine, agriculture, political science, disability studies and information studies. If the media needs cannot be emailed, please contact me for an address.
Critical Animal Studies Undergraduate Paper/Project/Thesis of the Year  – Awarded to an undergraduate student who has written an outstanding paper/thesis that promotes, or who has established and organized a project that fosters animal protection, liberation, and freedom. We are strongly interested in projects that bridge the gap between academia and the surrounding community. To nominate an undergraduate student for this award, the nominator must write a one page letter and include the paper or write a one page detailed description of the project.
Critical Animal Studies Graduate  Paper/Project/Dissertation of the Year – Awarded to any graduate student working on a masters or doctorate degree who has written an outstanding paper/thesis that promotes, or who has established and organized a project that fosters animal protection, liberation, and freedom. We are strongly interested in    projects that bridge the gap between academia and the surrounding community. To nominate a graduate student for this award, the nominator must write a one page letter and include the paper or write a one page detailed description of the project.
Critical Animal Studies Faculty Paper/Project of the Year – Awarded to a faculty member conducting research or working at a college, university or institute who has written an outstanding paper that promotes, or who has established and organized a project that fosters, animal protection, liberation, and freedom. We are strongly interested in projects that bridge the gap between academia and the surrounding community. To nominate a professor for this award, the nominator must  write a one page letter and include the paper or write a one page detailed description of the project.

Submitting Nominations:
All nomination letters must be sent via e-mail as an MS Word document attachment with: (1) a description of the project and person being nominated, (2) how it relates to critical animal studies, and, if applicable, (3) the details of when it was published, who published it, and ISSN or ISBN number, along with the work itself. Individuals may nominate themselves.
Deadline for award submissions is March 7, 2014.
Please email all nominations and information to The awards will be given out at the 2014 North American Institute of Critical Animal Studies conference, but attendance is not required to be considered for the award.