this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Speciesism


i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

in all the wrong places. i’d shave my head

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

in these lines. the marble and the marrow. instead i’ll shave

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

On Dogs

The dog scratches and

scratches a trench in

the mold—or so a poem

about a dog scratching a

trench in the mold would

likely begin, taking the

poor creature, chained

first to a pole, and if not

a pole, a dog “house”(I put

“house” in quotes because,

really now, a house is

something of one’s own,

and, even if little more than

just a room, your room, it is

in fact your room, and you

and I both know that neither

of these are a likely case

for our hypothetical dog,

whose room is his or hers

about as much as this poem

is his or hers or yours even),

and if not chained to a dog

“house” then surely fenced-in

or on a leash, then given the

double injustice of being

chained to a language,

fenced-in by metaphors of

our choosing to be cleverly

used or, perhaps, not so cleverly

used, to say something about

the nature of language or the

current state of domestication

of animals in the United States

or something, which, more than

likely, is not even a concern of

our dog (see how natural it

sounds!—our dog), whose sole

concern at this moment, or so

one could imagine it to be, is

simply to be here, paws to the

mold, and scratching, scratching.

NPR and the “Historical” Adam & Eve

NPR has put up a post on the so-called “historical” Adam & Eve debate. Let me just come right out and say it: I do not believe in a historical Adam & Eve. Although I respect people who hold that position, in the sense of respect them as persons, I find such a position to be, well, silly. I just see the whole issue as, well, a non-issue–this is not what Genesis is about. Historical and scientific grounds aside, I mean, do we really think the author of Genesis (who could very easily have lived well after Moses) was actually trying to write a history text devoid of social mythos and meaning? S/he did a pretty lousy job then. I mean, there is a constant telling of stories and interpreting them throughout Genesis and the Torah as a whole. Just one obvious instance, when the author posits “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2.24) etc. Here the author presupposes an understanding of masculinity, femininity, marriage, kin, sexuality, et al. Just on an obvious narrative level, s/he is clearly not talking about the motherless and fatherless Adam & Eve—further, Adam never had to leave anyone or thing, Eve was separated from him. The author is presenting a view of sexuality, masculinity, femininity, et al via a story.

The creation myth is presented as an anecdotal means of presenting the author’s moralistic and metaphysical conclusions on the myth (which, as themes, play out throughout Genesis as a whole). Granted, this doesn’t de facto mean the myth can’t be true, but it means that the truth-content of the myth is irrelevant to the conclusions presented. The author doesn’t seem to care if it happened. The text doesn’t seem to care if it happened. So why as a reader should you? It’s like thinking the parables of Christ of the New Testament are historically valid and then deriving doctrine from the parable rather than from what they were meant to communicate (to those people, in that culture, at that time). Who reads the parable of the sower and the seed and thinks, “My God, what a fabulous agricultural technique?” or the shepherd and the sheep and thinks, “I should leave my flock behind to be scattered and devoured to find just one sheep! Flawless shepherding!” I know I certainly don’t trust Jesus’ science as regards the mustard weed.

The book of Genesis is first and foremost a story. It’s about a historically real people group, their cultural and religious experience, the oppression they faced, and how they became a nation. This story is told from within that rich culture, full of religious meaning and mythic stories that flow in and out of the text itself. This is hermeneutics 101. This is not only how you read fiction and fairy tales (Brother’s Grimm), but fictionalized history (Shakespeare’s Richard III) as well as histories (Thucydides).  This has nothing to do with what genre the book of Genesis is “in,” it has to do with the fact that the author of Genesis acts as if s/he is telling a story. The whole tone of the thing has a grandparent telling a child, perched on hir knee, the “story of our people” tone.

The question of whether it is true misses the whole point of what type of truth it’s trying to communicate.  Even Thucydides is trying to get at something—ideals of virtue and masculinity, etc. Shakespeare quite clearly is not interested in portraying the historically accurate account of Antony or Brutus. Likewise the author of Genesis doesn’t seem to care about presenting us with the “historical” Adam. Perhaps it’s a valid question to delve into how historically accurate these things are, i.e. “is the Genesis creation myth more of a Grimm fairy tale or Shakespeare history” (SPOILER ALERT: I’m pretty sure it’s the former), but this question is far from essential to asking the question of what the myth is about or means.  If the myth doesn’t really care if its textuality corresponds to “historical reality,” why should we?

A TOTAL SIDE NOTE: This is for those theistic non-evolutionist friends of mine: I’ve always wondered how you reconcile speciel and racial variants given how short you claim the earth to have been around (and DO NOT toss out the micro/macro distinction like that solves everything). I mean, let’s say humans have been around for 8,000 years or whathaveyou and we all came from two people. Am I really to believe that all racial distinctions we see today happened in a mere 8,000 years? And if we toss in the fact that racial distinctions have been recorded for, oh, I don’t know, since we started recording history AND the fact that “the flood” happened well after “creation,” we are left with anywhere from 0-2,000 years for every racial variant of every species to suddenly emerge. That is rapid. You have to have a MUCH firmer belief in evolution, its capabilities and rapidity, than I do to think that all racial varieties happened in, at best, 2,000 years. I am sure there must be an answer to this—surely I am not the first to ask this question. I’m just curious what a non-evolutionary response to this would be.

The “animal”: On the Nastiness of Name Calling

There is a part in For The Bible Tells Me So where a mother, after her daughter had come out as a lesbian to her, says that all she could think about was her daughter having sex. This one simple confession turned what her daughter was as a person upside-down in her mind. All because of whom she had sex with. She could not abide this. But then, slowly but surely, she came to grips that, well, her daughter was still the same daughter. I mean—what changed really. She then says something very telling—she went on to say that initially when she thought of a lesbian or gay person she thought of a blatant stereotype, say butch, and could not see how this and her daughter were the same. Suddenly the stereotype collided with an actual person, and there was a tension, causing the harsh and cruel application of the stereotype to the daughter (“this is not the way you were born,” “uh uh, this has gotta change,” etc), but then, slowly, the stereotype itself was dismantled. It turned out the stereotype did not really exist wholly anywhere. She concludes saying something to the effect of, “you just don’t imagine real, everyday people.”

There is a word for this stereotype which her husband had no shame in saying earlier in the film: f*ggot. This horrible word (although certainly different and not comparable) bears a structural similarity to the “animal.” The concept of the “animal,” draws an image of something wild, untamed, illogical, unable to function in society, lustful, perverse, and shameless. The “animal” is not natural enough, ironically. In order to be “natural,” to fit the order of things, the “animal” must be tamed. This image of the “animal” is juxtaposed with the idea of the “human”—calm, tame, logical, able, modest, and reserved. Likewise, the f*ggot is subject to a similar binary—conceived of as not natural enough (by being “too wild,” “too passionate,” etc), perverse, lustful, and overbearingly upfront and without shame about hir orientation.

Just as the mother in the film says, this stereotype, rightly speaking, does not exist anywhere. It’s like the conception of the n*gger, the b*tch, the slut, the cripple, the “Jew.” Once a certain conceptual sketch of the other has been solidified in the public mind, say the undermining, anti-nationalist, greedy et al conception of the “Jew” in 1930s Germany, it can readily be seen in anyone. I recall reading somewhere (since I don’t remember, I give the caveat it could be apocryphal) Martin Heidegger saying to one of his colleagues, who was a Jew, that he appreciated him because he wasn’t really or all that Jewish (or something to that effect). Heidegger’s colleague embodied some of the negative traits of the so-called anti-nationalist Jew, but not enough to be a “Jew” to Heidegger. Just as the mother could not reconcile her daughter with “the f*ggot” (as her husband says), so too Heidegger could not reconcile his Jewish colleague with the “Jew.”

This is because this conception of an animal-other, an untamed other as opposed to us “normal,” tame people, is created essentially as a scapegoat. Thus the ridiculous violence suffered because of these categorizations. There is something about the “animal” that, if not willing to be tamed, must be sacrificed. This is encountered in extreme ways (the “slut” who is tragically characterized as deserving to be sexually assaulted, who had it coming, should’ve known better, etc) as well as more mild ones. A common one I have encountered, sadly, is the “b*tches be crazy” trope—a heterosexual male goes out with a female, in a presumably romantic /sexual context, something goes wrong, and then he gives that ultimate and bizarre closure, “well, b*tches be crazy.” This is scapegoating.

Let me breakdown the logic: let’s say I am interested in someone. Something interrupts this interest (and of course it can’t be myself!). Someone else must’ve interrupted it (the other, clearly!). Only a crazy, untamed, wild, non-functioning, illogical, animal would not like me (because I’m so tame, logical, and appealing! I’m SO human! really!). Therefore the other must be a crazy b*tch (f*ggot, n*gger, slut, “Jew,” et al). People shouldn’t hang out with b*tches (because they’re crazy!), which is why everything went wrong in the first place (notice how I’m totally blameless?). So I cut off the relationship, feel justified, further embed the b*tch stereotype, and tell all my (bro-)friends to not hang out with the b*tch.

This false binary should teach us two things—that no one fully bears any of these stereotypes, there is no absolute, transcendent b*tch, f*ggot, or “animal.” Secondly, it should teach us that none of us are beyond receiving the negative stereotype. This becomes most obvious with the conception of the “animal.” If I were to call someone an “animal” they would not think I meant my mother’s wonderfully bright, endearing, and cute dog, Missy. They would think I meant an untamed, ruthless, perverse beast and be offended. Simply put, with this common conception of the “animal,” Missy is not an animal. At all. She is a friend whom my mother and brother (and myself) happen to have a lot of love and care for. Likewise, I myself am not “beyond” being treated like an “animal.” It would be wrong, surely, but I have the capacity to fulfill the function (whether in meat-production, labor, et al) and appear as the “animal” just as much as any other species does.

This is not a post trying to equate types of oppression or suffering—in no way is this post a condoning of say PETAs attempts at conflating US racial slavery and meat-production. These are radically different sorts of suffering. Also I do not mean to conflate the suffering that has occurred under the terms the “animal,” the “f*ggot,” the “Jew,” et al as being in anyway comparable—I was merely wishing to point out a common structure and how all seem to be connected in some way to the notion of someone who is “untamed,” unfit for a certain cultural world. The concept of the “f*ggot” and the “animal” have both been used to justify terrifying violence and abuse to actual living, breathing creatures despite both not in any way fulfilling their respective fetishist, fantastical stereotypes. Further, the concept of the “animal” has been correlated, invoked, and explicitly used to justify the treatment of the“Jew,” the “n*gger,” the “b*tch,” et al. This is not a post about how these things are equal or worth equating. I really hope no one thinks this is what I am saying. Nor is this a call for everyone to be vegan (per se). It’s not even a post to get you to stop using the word “animal.” But it is a call to question what we mean when we use the term “animal,” and how we use it, what animality is, how historically the “animal” has been correlated with certain races, gender expressions and identities, orientations, and disabilities. Likewise, the ways in which we take for granted being “human” to the exclusion of others, perhaps call us to question who has been defining the “human” (what race? gender? orientation? religion? ), being human, what appropriate “human” conduct is, and what treating something “humanely” looks like.

Dairy, PMS, & Kyriarchy

If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for one of the most offensive ad campaigns of your life. I needn’t go into why this is so offensive on so many levels here. The fact that milk “helps” PMS is sketchy at best, if not blatantly wrong, (in fact, supposedly, its calcium that does, which, heads up, milk isn’t such a great source of anyway). But that isn’t really my concern right now. My point is that oppression bleeds into oppression–after all, dairy advertising being abusive towards other “minority” (when there is one USDA approved beef cattle for every three persons in the US alone, one wonders if this is a minority) groups is nothing new.

Kyriarchy is co-existent–it appears between people, it’s relational. Because of this, certain relationships can liturgize people into becoming comfortable with certain structures and thus relating to others in a certain way. Regardless of if you think veganism is an essential lifestyle or not, it is obvious that the dairy system as it is in America today is founded on abuse (viewer discretion is advised as regards the video links). Abuse is not an exception to forcing a creature against its will to lactate for you, it’s its condition. In order to milk a cow effectively (to get the most “product”) there is a host of abuses, ranging from forced insemination (which, by most definitions, is called rape) to the forced seperation of mothers from their calves (you know, kidnapping).

At some point one has to ask not just “is this a nice thing to do to cows?” (SPOILER ALERT: NO IT ISN’T) but “is this a nice thing to do to dairy workers and consumers?” What does this sort of system do to the behavious of the creatures at the so-called “top” of the kyriarchy? Just watch a few videos of abuse (the male calling a mother cow “b*tch” as he smashes her head with a sledge hammer is an all-too-obvious example) and see how the participating parties interact. Treating the cow very consciously as a mother, as a female of her species, and then abusing that particular female verbally and in a physically violent way, makes one wonder how this impacts the abuser’s view and interaction with mothers, females, “animals,” etc, in hir life. In other words, even if you think that the bizarre metaphysical conception of “the animal” means certain species warrant our rank exploitation and abuse of it, one has to ask if we warrant becoming abusers.

Kyriarchy means oppression is never neat. Everyone is always a master and always a slave. I think here of Lennon’s didactic albeit catchy song Woman is the N*gger of the World. Everyone has hir rights in the hands of other people. This does not mean kyriarchy is flat or symmetric–the abuse the transgender woman by the ciscentrist white, male, homosexual is very different than the abuse he faces from the homophobic disabled Jewish woman that is different from the abuse she faces from the ablest Latino adolescent etc etc. It’s all asymmetric. But it seems to me it’s always wrong for the person at the “top” to be at the “top.” Authoritative oppression is wrong (in part) because no one ever should have that kind of authority. Even if you think someone deserves that kind of abuse (the cow) for some end which justifies it (dairy products) no one (the dairy farmer, the shipping companies, the distributers, grocery stores, consumers) should be comfortable with having the authority to do it.

Because kyriarchy is never neat oppression bleeds into other oppression. Of course dairy farmers make sexist, ciscentrist, homophobic advertising campaigns. They needn’t de facto, not everyone who supports the abuse of cows necesarrily abuses women, but it comes as no surprise that the kind of person who abuses cows also abuses women and is homophobic as seen through ads like the milk “cures” PMS campaign. The Got Milk advertising campaign assumes that the kind of person who supports dairy production is also inevitably male, heterosexual, and thinks that PMS turns their respective monogomous female sexual partner into an illogical raging “animal.” Is the latter really all that surprising given that dairy production as such presupposes so much abuse? Oppression bleeds into oppression–not necesarrily, not by some metaphysical or divine mandate, but tendentially. As long as companies abuse creatures (and workers) for a product and its financial success, this will catechize those involved into a behaviour of viewing abuse as, at least in some cases, acceptable.

Links both Happy and Sad

Some things I’ve been interested that have been happening. Thought you might like to know.

An agreement between The Humane Society of the United States and UEP (United Egg Producers) will bring about a few reforms throughout several states (including California!) for egg production including wider cage space and cartons that read whether they are free-range or not–which, hopefully, will decrease the amount of eggs from caged chickens (consumers will be confronted with a “Eggs from Caged Hens” label). MFA gives a good run down here.

On a terribly sad note, one of the most transphobic articles I’ve read by Mac Margolis (who has consistently posted ultra right-wing articles about his paranoiac fear of liberalism in Latin America) was released through Newsweek about Lea T., a Brazilian transgender model. The article includes such saddening phrases as, “she’s also a he” and “who’d have figured that the hottest new face from Brazil is not a she at all?” (WTF–NO, SHE’S A SHE, JACKASS). He also conflates the terms androgynous, gender-bender, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and, I SHIT YOU NOT, not liking football as all basically the same thing. Seriously. Newsweek, you can do better than this.

On a slightly brighter note, Connecticut has become the 15th state to explicitly pass nondiscrimination legislation for its transgender residents. You know, like equal employment, housing, credit, and all those other opportunities you think should be obvious given the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq” and other depressing statistics about women involved in US military. Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones laments the lack of attention the media pays to armed forces’ gender issues.

And in the hopes of not driving you to maddening despair, I’ve had this ridiculously happy song by Bibio stuck in my head all day, so, I hope I get it stuck in yours and out of mine or something like that.