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Archive for the 'Animal Studies' Category

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. (more…)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. (more…)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Herbarium Philosophicum, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In his prologue, Marder explains his goals in writing The Philosopher’s Plant, and briefly looks at the important role plants have played in the history of philosophical thought.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

“From the conversation of Socrates and Phaedrus in the shade of the plane tree to Irigaray’s meditation on the water lily, The Philosopher’s Plant takes us outside city walls, across gardens of letters and vegetables, grassy slopes and vineyards, to the dimly lit sources of philosophy’s vitality. With distinctive depth and clarity, Marder reminds us that, far from walled in, the human community communes with nature and is itself inhabited by nature.” — Claudia Baracchi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Philosopher’s Plant. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 14th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Gary Francione on the Animal Abolition Movement

Gary Francione, author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation was recently interviewed on Russia Today to discuss the animal abolition movement.

In the interview argues that even though animals do not have the same cognitive abilities of humans, they are sentient and our treatment of animals, used for food or clothing, is not moral. He also challenges the notion that it is okay to eat animals or wear them if they’re treated humanely before they’re killed.

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Michael Marder and Monica Gagliano: How Do Plants Sound?

Plant-Thinking

Today, we have a guest post from Michael Marder, IKERBASQUE Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country and author of Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, and Monica Gagliano, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology of the University of Western Australia. In their post, partially inspired by a video of the “Singing Plants at Damanhur,” Marder and Gagliano discuss recent evidence that suggests that plants “produce sounds independently of dehydration and cavitation-related processes.”

While walking in a forest on a sunny day, we imbibe a whole symphony of sounds: the chirping of birds, the soft rustling of the breeze in the leafs, the flowing of water in a creek… In the midst of this rich acoustic ensemble of organic and inorganic nature, the plants themselves appear to be silent. As French poet, Francis Ponge simply expresses this in “Fauna and Flora,” “they have no voice”, ils n’ont pas de voix. Ponge’s statement, confirmed by our experience of a promenade in a forest, is so obvious, and yet so far from the truth!
(more…)

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

David A. Nibert – New Welfarism, Veganism, and Capitalism

Animal Oppression and Human Violence

This week our featured book is Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert, Professor of Sociology at Wittenberg University. We’ll be featuring content from the book and original posts from the author all week! Be sure to enter our book giveaway by 1 PM TODAY for a chance to win a FREE copy of Animal Oppression and Human Violence!

Today, in the final day of our Book Giveaway, we have “New Welfarism, Veganism, and Capitalism,” another excerpt from Animal Oppression and Human Violence. In this concluding chapter, Nibert explains why veganism is a global imperative, and how we can work around the barriers to this goal thrown up by the capitalist system.
(more…)

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

David A. Nibert – A History of Domesecration, Part 2

Animal Oppression and Human Violence

This week our featured book is Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert, Professor of Sociology at Wittenberg University. We’ll be featuring content from the book and original posts from the author all week! Be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of Animal Oppression and Human Violence!

Today we have the second half of a guest post by David A. Nibert (read the first half here). In this post, Nibert argues that the pervasive presence of domesecration in modern society has profoundly negative effects on humans as well as animals.

In the United States, the relentless quest for profits through the exploitation of domesecrated animals was primarily responsible for the continual expropriation of Native American lands for expanding ranching enterprises. Once indigenous peoples, buffalo and other “obstacles” were cleared from the Great Plains – territory U.S. leaders once promised to Native Americans in perpetuity – wealthy investors flooded the region with cows and sheep. Railways and giant slaughterhouses, constructed and staffed by oppressed immigrants, allowed the rise of the powerful U.S. “meat” industry. Not long after Blackmar’s drivel about the “service” animals were “rendering” to humans, Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle provided a true picture of the nightmarish condition of domesecrated animals in Chicago slaughterhouses and the predatory treatment of the workers there.
(more…)

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

David A. Nibert – A History of Domesecration, Part 1

Animal Oppression and Human Violence

This week our featured book is Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert, Professor of Sociology at Wittenberg University. We’ll be featuring content from the book and original posts from the author all week! Be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of Animal Oppression and Human Violence!

Today we have the first half of a guest post by David A. Nibert, in which he explains how he first came to be aware of the issues he discusses in his book, and delves into the history of the phenomenon of “widespread and systemic oppression of other animals by humans.”

I never thought much about other animals or food production when I was younger. As a college sociology student in the early 1970s, I learned about racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression – but scarcely a word was mentioned about the oppression of other animals. Professors spouted the traditional prattle about the virtues of animal “domestication” and the “mutually beneficial partnership” that resulted. This perspective has remained largely unchanged for decades and reflects a statement made in 1896 by Frank Wilson Blackmar, who later would become president of the American Sociological Association.

The domestication of animals led to a great improvement in the race. It gave an increased food supply through milk and the flesh of animals. . . . One after another animals have rendered service to man. They are used for food or clothing, or to carry burdens and draw loads. The advantage of their domestication cannot be too greatly estimated.
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Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Read the Introduction of Animal Oppression and Human Violence

Animal Oppression and Human Violence

This week our featured book is Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert. We’ll be featuring content from the book and original posts from the author all week! Today, we have Nibert’s Introduction to Animal Oppression and Human Violence, in which he explains his argument against the “obvious and unassailable” view of the positive role that domesticating animals has played in human development. And be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of Animal Oppression and Human Violence.

Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, by David A. Nibert

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert

Animal Oppression and Human Violence

This week our featured book is Animal Oppression and Human Violence, by David A. Nibert. Throughout the week, we will be featuring the book and its author here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Animal Oppression and Human Violence. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on April 19th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Our giveaway is now complete and the winners have been notified via email. Thanks to all who participated!

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Colin Dayan on the Role of Dogs in Triomf

Colin Dayan, author of the forthcoming Like a Dog: Animal Law, Human Cruelty, and the Limits of Care, recently reviewed Marlene van Niekerk’s unjustly overlooked 2004 novel, Triomf for Public Books.

The novel explores the lives of a poor white South African family in the immediate months before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. The family is haunted by a legacy of sexual abuse and incest as well as the uncertainty of the nation’s future. Throughout the novel, van Niekerk, as Dayan shows, draws on the presence of dogs as reflective of both South Africa’s troubled history and as a way to explore moral questions. Dayan writes:

The dogs and the Benade clan who feed and love them force us to ask: what does conscience look like at the boundaries of humanity, at the edge of a cherished humanism? To read these pages is to experience a perspectival shift, a means of seeing otherwise or crosswise. “So, all in all,” as the narrator tells us, “the Benades haven’t got too much to complain about. That’s just the way things go in this world. In-out, on-off, here-there, dirty-clean, dog-dog.”

Colin Dayan

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Friday, March 8th, 2013

Michael Marder: The Philosopher’s Plant

Plant-Thinking

Our featured book this week is Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life by Michael Marder, with a foreword by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy!

In his blog series The Philosopher’s Plant at Project Syndicate, Michael Marder looks back at the role of plants in the works of some of the most influential and well-known figures in the history of philosophy, beginning with Plato and working his way towards the present. In the first five installments of his series, Marder explains how Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, St. Augustine, and Maimonides all used plant life to explain some of their most important philosophical concepts.

In his first post, “Plato’s Plane Tree,” Marder discusses Plato’s statement in the Timaeus describing humans as “heavenly plant[s]” whose roots reach toward heaven, in marked contrast to “earthly plants,” whose roots reach down into the soil. Significantly, these roots of the heavenly human plant tie us firmly to the Plato’s realm of Ideas.

The image of a heavenly plant teaches us an important lesson about the nature of Platonic Ideas. Contrary to the everyday usage of the term, these are not found in our heads, even though the rational soul housed there has sprouted from the substance of which Ideas are made. Beauty, Goodness, Truth, and so forth are not to be conflated with beautiful, good, and true things, themselves the hazy reflections of corresponding Ideas.

In the case of Aristotle, Marder uses The Master’s persistent reference to wheat as an entrance into one of the key concepts of his thought: how something can be a part contained within whole. Skirting through Metaphysics, Politics, Nichomechaen Ethics, and Rhetoric, Marder finds wheat to be an essential element in the Aristotelian philosophy, a tradition to which we owe our modern scientific conceptions.

The assertion that something is simultaneously the whole and not the whole, a part and not a part, grossly violates the principle of non-contradiction, so dear to Aristotle’s philosophical heart. Although he concedes that metaphors can promote learning, he would vehemently object to the mystifying rhetorical force of the synecdoche that erases the lines of demarcation between parts and wholes. A stalk of wheat turns out to be a stick in the wheel of the well-oiled philosophical machinery.

Marder believes there is “no better point of entry into Plotinian philosophy” than through Plotinus’ description of the nameless “Great Plant.” Plotinus uses this great anonymous plant as a metaphor for the unity of all existence. Marder delves into the various implications of this vegetal metaphor, explaining how the “Great Plant” informed Plotinus’ rejection of “being in the body” and his lifelong belief in the “virtues of the soul.”

And so it is with the gardener, who does not shape raw matter but cares for the pre-formed plant, the spontaneous, effortless, and noiseless growth of which should be, as much as possible, protected and redirected away from the deadly activity of the maggots, symbolizing the self-forgetting of the soul in the body. As far as Plotinus is concerned, then, all pure soul cares for the embodied soul, so as to reduce the dependence of the latter on corporeality and hence to defend the soul from evil, symbolized by its “fall” into matter.

In his fourth post, Marder looks into St. Augustine’s Confessions to study the symbolism of the pear the youthful Augustine steals. Marder finds a tradition of plant symbolism in Augustine, from the stolen pear to the tree he cries beneath, including, of course, the fateful apple in the Garden of Eden. Marder also discusses how Augustine craved the “forbidden fruit of committing a crime and the thrill of breaking a law” rather than the actual pear itself.

In reflecting on the shameful event of his youth, Augustine is reluctant to attribute physical seductiveness to the pears themselves. The beauty is not properly theirs; it is the stamp of God who created them: ‘The fruit which we stole was beautiful because it was your creation, most beautiful of all Beings, maker of all things, the good God, God the highest good and my true good.’

In his most recent post, Marder examines the use of the palm tree in the works of Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides. Marder argues that, the palm tree as discussed by Maimonides is exposed to unlimited violence in a way that parallels Agamben’s conception of people who are “reduced to the state of ‘bare life,’ exposed to unlimited violence,” homo sacer. For Maimonides, then, palm trees are a kind of arbor sacra, living in a permanent state of exception, and can thus serve as a symbol for the destructible nature of the material world (in contrast with the indestructible nature of the heavens).

A tree may be destroyed with impunity because it is thoroughly destructible — to do so is to bring out its finite nature and to foreground the contraries that it contains, rendering its existence logically impossible. The composite nature of plants and animals, represented by the palm and the horse, is radically distinct from the metaphysical simplicity of heavens…. [F]rom the ethical standpoint informed by the thought of Maimonides, there is nothing inherently wrong in terminating the existence of a given plant or an animal, seeing that this possibility is anticipated in their genesis, the mode of their generation. Harboring contraries, they contain the seeds of their own destruction. The palm tree and the horse, arbor sacra and animal sacer are thus the true figures of “bare life.”

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Michael Marder and Gary Francione debate plant ethics

Plant-Thinking

Our featured book this week is Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life by Michael Marder, with a foreword by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy!

The following is an abridged version of a debate between Michael Marder and Gary Francione, author of, among other works, Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation.

The debate and the questions were inspired by Michael Marder’s controversial New York Times op-eds Is Plant Liberation on the Menu? and If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? which generated a variety of responses from animal right advocates, philosophers, and others.

How does plant ethics relate to veganism?

Michael Marder: Plant ethics shares with veganism a strong commitment to justice, which is to say, to the reduction of violence humans perpetrate against other living beings. It is by no means a threat to or an invalidation of veganism. Rather, plant ethics is an open invitation to fine-tune our dietary practices in keeping with the philosophical and botanical considerations of what plants are, what they are capable of, and what our relation to them should be.
[…]
[Plant ethics] does not mean that, having entertained the real possibility of violence against plants, vegans would throw their hands up in despair and concede that it is pointless to alleviate animal suffering by refusing to consume animal flesh and by-products. What it implies is that they would not rest on the laurels of their accomplishments but would consider residual violence against other living beings, such as plants, thoroughly instrumentalized by the same logic that underpins human domination over other animal species.

Gary Francione: If plants are not sentient—if they have no subjective awareness—then they have no interests. That is, they cannot desire, or want, or prefer anything. There is simply no reason to believe that plants have any level of perceptual awareness or any sort of mind that prefers, wants, or desires anything.
[…]
I do believe that we have an obligation not to eat more plants than we need to live, but that is because I think that overeating is a form of violence to our own bodies. I also believe that we have an obligation to all sentient inhabitants of the planet not to use more non-sentient resources than we need. In both cases, we have obligations that concern plants but these obligations are not owed directly to plants.
[…]
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Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

An interview with Margo DeMello on Animal Studies

“We can’t ‘love’ all animals, but when we create artificial categories, and then imagine that they are real, we allow ourselves to use those categories as the justification for every possible kind of treatment.” — Margo DeMello

Animals and Society Margo DeMello teaches anthropology and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College, and she is the author of the recently published Animals and Society, the first book to provide a full overview of human–animal studies. Today, we have an interview with Professor DeMello, in which she discusses some problems with common human conceptions of animals. For further reading, be sure to check out her essay introducing human-animal studies!

Animal Studies is a relatively new field. Only now are we beginning to see the ways in which animals are given identities like you mention in your book, “based on their use to humans.” How do you propose we begin a new way of fashioning our ideas of animals that is not based on human-centered universe?

This question points to one of the fundamental problems with our relationship with animals—it’s structured around humans, and our needs and desires. To get past this basic way of thinking is to challenge ourselves to see the world, and our place in it, in a radically different way. Rather than asking ourselves, “what’s in it for me,” we have to look at the systems and relationships that we’ve set up and endeavor to put aside, at least a little bit, our own desires. And that is hard!
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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Margo DeMello: Why Human-Animal Studies?

“Clearly, much of human society is structured through interactions with non-human animals, and in fact, human society is largely based upon the exploitation of animals to serve human needs. Yet, until very recently academia has largely ignored these types of interaction.” — Margo DeMello

Animals and Society Margo DeMello teaches anthropology and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College, and she is the author of the recently published Animals and Society, the first book to provide a full overview of human–animal studies. In today’s post, Professor DeMello explains what the field of human-animal studies actually is and why it is important for us to study the way that human and animal lives are intertwined.

Why Human-Animal Studies?
Margo DeMello

Lately, I have been hooked on a website called Dog Shaming. It’s a tumblr devoted to photos of dogs who have committed a doggy “crime” (chewed up the couch, eaten their guardian’s panties, bitten the UPS man), along with a sign (sometimes hung around the dog’s neck) detailing the nature of their crime; often the dogs are photographed alongside of the “evidence.” This week’s signs include the following:

“I was put on 2 lists at daycare: the poop-eater list and the crazy list. The staff described my poop-acquiring tactics as ‘particularly stealthy.’” From Pepper, a black lab
“This is how I say ‘thank you’ for my new big boy bed.” From Robbie, a terrier who was photographed in front of his brand new, and completely destroyed, bed
“I decided to see if that stamp pad really was made with ‘washable ink.’” From Baxter, a white poodle (now covered with pink ink)

This is only the most recent of countless websites devoted to non-human animals: their cuteness, their intelligence, how funny they are, or their similarity to us. Dog Shaming is reminiscent of the Medieval practice of charging animals with crimes, and even trying them in human courts. While the result of that practice was often terrible—animals could be excommunicated from the church, sent to prison, or even hanged for their crimes—Dog Shaming is ultimately about how much we love our dogs, no matter what they do. The dogs are publically shamed, yes, but it is done with affection and humor, and that is as far as their punishment goes.

Dog Shaming is an example of the various ways in which human lives are intimately connected with the lives of other animals. Animals share our homes as companions whom often we treat as members of the family. We can view animals on the “Animal Planet” network or television shows such as “Animal Practice” and subscribe to magazines like BARK or House Rabbit Journal. We eat animals, or their products, for most every meal, and much of our clothing is made up of animal skins, fur, hair, or wool. We wash our hair with products that have been tested on animals and use drugs that were created using animal models. We visit zoos, marine mammal parks and rodeos in order to be entertained by performing animals, and we share our yards—often unwillingly—with wild animals whose habitats are being eroded by our presence. We refer to animals when we speak of someone’s being “cunning as a fox” or call someone a “bitch.” We include them in our religious practices and feature them in our art, poetry, and literature. In these and myriad other ways, the human and nonhuman worlds are inexorably bound.

In recent years, human-animal studies (sometimes known as anthrozoology or animal studies) has developed as a new field of study that explores these very relationships. Clearly, much of human society is structured through interactions with non-human animals, and in fact, human society is largely based upon the exploitation of animals to serve human needs. Yet, until very recently academia has largely ignored these types of interaction. Human-Animal Studies (HAS) takes on the challenge of bringing our interactions and relationships with other animals to the forefront of academic study.

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Monday, October 15th, 2012

Alasdair Cochrane: Making Animal Rights Inclusive

“Because there can be reasonable philosophical disagreements about the proper content of animal rights, I believe that it is only wise and proper for the animal rights movement at the political level to accommodate these differences.” — Alasdair Cochrane

Animal Rights Without Liberation We’ve had a good deal of discussion on our blog about what exactly animal advocates should be fighting for. While some claim that accepting compromises with the farming industry is in the interest of animals, others believe that only a complete rejection of farming as a practice is acceptable. This debate is indicative of a deeper divide among supporters of animal rights: whether full liberation is necessary for the fair treatment of animals. In today’s post, Alasdair Cochrane, lecturer in political theory at The University of Sheffield and the author of Animal Rights Without Liberation, claims that liberation of animals is not necessary to fully recognize their rights, and that our moral obligation to animals lie in ending practices that cause their suffering and death.

Making Animal Rights Inclusive
Alasdair Cochrane

If we accept that sentient non-human animals possess rights, what follows in terms of the obligations of individuals and society? One common view put forward is that a commitment to animal rights entails a duty to abolish the use, ownership and exploitation of animals. On this view, the acceptance of animal rights entails much more than simply refraining from killing or hurting animals: animal rights requires their liberation.

But while this position has become widely accepted by both academic textbooks and those who campaign on behalf of animals, I want to argue that it is both wrong philosophically and unhelpful politically.
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Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Gary L. Francione: Irreconcilable Differences

The Animal Rights DebateYesterday, we posted an article by Professor James McWilliams discussing the debate over the Humane Society of the United States among supporters of animal rights. In particular, McWilliams mentioned “the abolitionist wing of the animal rights movement, which views HSUS welfare reforms as craven capitulation to industrial agriculture.” Today, we have a guest post from Professor Gary Francione, distinguished professor of law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark, co-editor of the CUP series Critical Perspectives on Animals: Theory, Culture, Science, and Law, author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation and coauthor of The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, and one of the most outspoken members of this abolitionist wing.

In his article today, Francione argues that his criticisms of the HSUS are justified and that McWilliams has misunderstood these criticisms. Professors Francione has also written a follow-up article, which he has posted on his blog.

Irreconcilable Differences
Professor Gary L. Francione

After Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, a number of novels appeared suggesting that slavery protected slaves who were, for the most part, delighted with the institution. These novels attacked abolitionists as “meddling” in the efforts of regulationists to improve slavery. The regulationists maintained that if the abolitionists would just shut up and go away, they, the regulationists, would steadily improve the conditions of slavery until it was no more.

My fellow Columbia University Press author, James McWilliams, argues that those who favor the abolition of animal exploitation and who view veganism as a moral baseline are, in effect, “meddling” in the efforts of regulationists—who, in the McWilliams narrative, are those at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—to improve the treatment of farm animals as we all march incrementally to that glorious vegan future. McWilliams urges the abolitionists to just shut up and jump on the HSUS bandwagon.

I have a high regard for McWilliams and am often in agreement with the positions he takes on matters of animal ethics, but, unfortunately, this is not one of those times. Putting aside that HSUS, which claims that “[a]bout 95% of our members are not vegetarians,” much less vegans, and explicitly disavows that it is “moving in the direction of eliminating animal agriculture,” McWilliams simply fails to understand the nature of the debate between abolitionists and animal welfare regulationists.
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Monday, September 17th, 2012

James McWilliams: Vegan Feud

A Revolution in EatingIn an article published recently in Slate, James McWilliams, author of A Revolution in Eating and American Pests, addresses the criticism that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) faces from the “abolitionist wing of the animal rights movement, which views HSUS welfare reforms as craven capitulation to industrial agriculture.” McWilliams believes that the debates that have formed around HSUS are indicative of deep moral divides in the movement: “Does HSUS, in its ceaseless quest to improve living conditions for animals within factory farms, justify and perpetuate the ongoing existence of those farms?”

McWilliams begins his article by laying the groundwork for the debate:

There is little doubt that HSUS is doing something right. A complete citation of their recent accomplishments would be too long to list here, but consider that in one week alone last July, HSUS persuaded Sodexo, Oscar Mayer, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Baja Fresh to eliminate the use of gestation crates, cages that confine pregnant pigs so tightly they cannot turn around. In banning this torture device from their supply chains, these companies joined industry kingpins McDonald’s and Smithfield Foods in yielding to Shapiro’s ceaseless nagging on behalf of a barnyard proletariat numbering in the billions.

Nevertheless, as the abolitionists correctly point out, there’s nothing especially revolutionary about HSUS’s approach to improving the lives of farm animals. HSUS works closely with Big Agriculture, never calls for animal liberation, and never explicitly endorses the habit that most efficiently prevents animals from being killed: veganism. This reticence infuriates abolitionists, who seek the eradication of not only animal agriculture but also all animal ownership and exploitation through ethical veganism.

While McWilliams acknowledges that the arguments of the abolitionists (including CUP author Gary L. Francione) are powerful, but he also cites thinkers who claim that trying to strong-arm people into veganism is not an effective strategy:

Francione’s logic is hard-hitting, but his extreme message is unlikely to resonate widely in a population that’s only 1.4 percent vegan. According to social psychologist and longtime vegan Melanie Joy, the abolitionist approach could attract a lot more supporters if it acknowledged, as HSUS does, that most people are going to embrace veganism on their own—you can’t strong-arm them into it. Joy, author of Why We Eat Pigs, Love Dogs, and Wear Cows, believes that social change—in this case, honoring the intrinsic worth of animals by not eating them—is a complex process requiring both an awakening to the hidden reality of exploitation and the individual will to act upon that awareness. Asking people to stop eating animals, as Joy sees it, is more than asking for a change in behavior; it’s asking for a profound shift in consciousness that people make only when they’re personally ready to do so.

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