Wednesday, August 14, 2013

For those enjoying Latour's "A Pleas for Earthly Sciences", I thought you might also enjoy Derrick Jensen's "Endgame: The Problem of Civilization". These are the premises outlined in the beginning of the book. Link is at the end.
Premises of Endgame Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims. Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.

Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.

Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.

Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.

Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.

Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been a culture of occupation.

Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something—or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks—and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.

Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.

Premise Fourteen: From birth on—and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case—we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes—and our bodies—to be poisoned.

Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.

Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.

Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or won’t frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.

Premise Eighteen:
Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.

Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.

Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economics—not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself—drives social decisions.

Modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty:
Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: If you dig to the heart of it—if there were any heart left—you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Precis Posted for Norah Hayden

Precis: Carol Adams

1)Oppression and Privilege are both realities.

The privilege of one group arises from the oppression of certain other groups of people. Race, gender, and category of animal are all bases that determine if an individual will become oppressed. Privilege is acquired and maintained through the perpetration of hate crimes against the aforementioned oppressed groups.

2)Like race and gender, the concept of species is merely a social construct.

All human beings are actually animals. All animal types, whether human or not, possess real consciousnesses and are capable of perceiving the world around them. The creation of a category known as “beasts” is merely a disavowal of nonhuman animals’ ability to feel pain or suffering. There is nothing innately inferior about their consciousness; the dominant group (in this case human animals) is actually just imposing a set of characteristics onto non-human animals which they wish to dissociate themselves from. This is similar to the way in which dominant groups of human animals create inaccurate and exploitative conceptions of gender and race.

3)Social domination of certain animals by others leads to exploitation.

Privileged groups, namely white men, are able to dominate oppressed groups, as mentioned above, and use this position to their advantage. Not only are other groups of human animals victim to this exploitation, but so are non-human animals.

4)The analytic tool of turning “fact into contradiction” employed by feminist theorists can also be applied to other social institutions.

By challenging assumptions of truth, feminists effectively call into question established truisms about “natural” societal norms. While this method of challenging the status quo is useful in traditional feminist arguments (such as the confrontation of the idea that females are biologically inferior to males), it is also applicable to other issues like the treatment of non-human animals. For example, feminist theory can be used to oppose the notion of non-human animals’ innately less important and relevant consciousness.

Key themes:

-The concept of “the beast” can become attached to human animals as well as non-human animals, and this appropriation of the term/idea often leads to the exploitation of women and minority races.

-The treatment and cultural conception of animals is closely linked to that of women and minority races, therein making animal rights an antiracist and feminist issue.

-Both the physically distant location of factory farms and the fetishistic terms used to describe non-human animal flesh products (eg. beef instead of cow, pork instead of pig, etc.) function to dissociate the reality of non-human animal suffering from the convenient availability of meat.

-Utilitarian arguments in favor of meat consumption are immoral and unemotional, while morality and ethics are two elements at the core of this issue.

Precis: A Plea for Earthly Sciences - Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour’s “A Plea for Earthly Sciences” is a call to arms for those in the field of social sciences to shift focus by reevaluating the solitary state of the discipline and the definition of the term “social”; Latour ultimately aims to break the divide between the natural and the social sciences by becoming more empirical in order to contextualize ourselves on a larger scale and transform humans to Earthlings.

Latour references the current ecological crisis in order to contextualize the meaning of “social connections.” He presents the question of how we as a collective are to define ourselves given that we now know how destructive we can be to the environment. With that said (or rather, asked), there appears to be a dichotomy of our collective self-perception. We go back and forth between two mindsets: one which elevates us for the fact that we as a collective are absolutely dominant, so much that some have gone so far to suggest that we brand our preeminence by naming this current day and age as the Anthropocene epoch, and the other which claims the complete opposite – that we are so powerless and cannot be held accountable. This inconsistence in a combined self-contemplation has led us to disbelief in the ecological crisis, and for this reason he argues that we are obligated to redefine the collective “we.”

In order to do so, Latour suggests that we take a step back and assess how we have defined ourselves throughout history as it relates to social connections. He posits that our perception of time was defined by modernization and emancipation. We understood progress as one new invention to the next, and one liberation to the next. We defined the future as a greater and greater detachment from contingencies and ties. However, this definition of the future is changing from one of modernization and emancipation to that of the opposite – explicitation and attachment.

We are now starting to see ourselves in the context of our surroundings, and are beginning to explicitate that which was formerly only in the background – the earth. From seeing ourselves as humans merely in our “social” interactions with each other we are to change what is “social” to include that which is in our larger environment. We defined ourselves as human, and that isolated us from our surroundings. Latour advances the idea that we should redefine ourselves as Earthlings, and become more attached to the natural world.

As someone majoring in geography and minoring in philosophy, this piece piqued my interest as it brought to attention something that had been weighing on my mind for months as I had trouble choosing what field of study to go into. I have valued the study of ethics in how it helps to determine how we as humans should act, however, I also needed to know how to go about sustaining the earth. Latour's plea resonates with me as I, too, believe that there needs to be something a little more terrestrial added to the social sciences.

--Caresse Fernandez

Friday, August 09, 2013

Precis Posted for Samantha Miyazaki

Precis: Introduction: Acting in Concert 1, from Undoing Gender

Judith Butler’s introduction frames her investigation of the restrictive and normalizing rigidity imposed by gender upon sexual humans, by introducing the immense complexity of how the world, society and it’s ever changing belief system, shape the way we are able to live our lives. She sets up the ambiguity of choice versus unwitting consent. We are born into a society and are shaped by it, she says “I am constituted by a social world I never chose” and yet she asserts that we are able to perform ourselves uniquely within a set of established norms. She uses the term ‘undone’ to describe the process she is attempting; to illuminate, as in digging, close reading, seeking to expose or reveling the historic underpinnings of cultural constraints imposed upon bodies, dictating through threat of violence, exclusion or illegibility how they are to perform. How they are to exist within the racialized and sexualized construct of society.

She also describes gender as a performance being done, an act, much like an actor dawns a cloak and ‘struts and frets his hour upon the stage’ performing for an audience, an audience that recognizes and consequently affirms the performers legibility as a human being. Gender, like language, preexists us and exists beyond us, we are part of the creative evolution, yet trapped within it’s limits. We are actors in the narrative, broadening the boundaries and expanding the possibilities of our performances to articulate our own desires. Butler asserts that desires are interwoven within gender performance, our desire to be understood, legitimized and socially accepted drive our conformity and yet our conformity doesn’t dictate our desires. We desire that which make us both legible and recognized. Butler also frames the complexity involving marriage and the rights afforded to those who are legitimized as ‘family’ under it as a legal construct. How problematic such iconic ideals make living in a non-heterosexual family.

Butler’s agenda is to expose the rigidity in our classification and systematization of humans divided and sub-humanized by the historical racialization and masculinization subverting the effeminized. We life and are constructed by these categories, and Butler’s intention is to incite us to action to facilitate the creation of ‘different modes of living’.


Precise: Fetishism

“Fetishism” by Sigmund Freud is a masterpiece describing the relation between human being and sexual objects that is a substitute for female genitalia. Although the kinds of fetishism are various, and the circumstances that influence the fetishism are divert, Freud uses an efficient way in which he casts out the eternal complexity and traces the internal simplicity in order to argue that the essence of human’s obsession to non-human objects, such as shoes, fur, underclothing, and foot is derived from the difference on physiology. To illustrate his argument more clearly and persuasively, Freud compares and contrasts several vivacious examples which leave me a strong impression.

In Fetishism, fetish is a substitute for women’s phallus because fetishists are fear after the observation of women’s lack of penis and then find a substitute to compromise his unwelcome perception and his previous belief that women possess penis. To be more specific, he is threatened by the cognition that women’s lack of penis might mean that his sexual organs are in danger. They think women are castrated and they will be, too. So, some people become homosexual, and others find substitutes fend the threat off. These fetishes are always in the last moment before men was hurt by the observation of women’s sexual organs. For example, the piece of underclothing is regarded as the crystallization of the moment of undressing.

Although Freud argues a lot on fetishism, but he merely considers the fetishism of men, and ignores the one of women. In my view, in addition to men, women will fear when they observe the difference on sexual organs. Since fetish is an agent of sexual arousal, women will find substitutes so as to alleviate their fear of men’s possessing penis.

Another interesting point in Fetishism is that Freud relates the research of neurosis and psychosis to men’s cognition of women’s castration. Two young men cannot recognize their father’s death, and continue to live their life. There exists the split of their wish and reality, just like the men’s perception of women’s castration and belief of women’s possession of penis. This significant conflict between reality and wish shape fetishism, just like suppressing the ego in reality and reveal the one in belief. 

Finally, I shall compare the fetishism wrote by Freud and Marx. Marx's fetishism is about the exchange-value of commodities at the level of the economic relations of production. The commodity represents a misconception of the origins of value the system of ideas supporting capitalist production that Marx calls 'commodity fetishism'. And Freud’s is about the connection between human and sexual objects.  The major focus of both is to use the term 'fetishism' to begin to describe human relations with material objects; non-human things in the world.

Précis: Mythologies

From Mythologies, I have chosen to focus on The World of Wrestling, a chapter in which Barthes argues that wrestling is not a low-brow sport, but a spectacle comparable to ancient Greek tragedies – it is an art that “partakes of the nature of great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfighting”. Indeed, wrestling portrays “reality” and “an ideal understanding of things” which Barthes values as highly as more traditional forms of art.

It must be noted that in French, the English word “spectacle” has a much more theatrical quality to it. As Barthes’ piece was originally in French, I reread the original translation and did find that the different connotation presented the argument in a slightly different light – in a theatrical spotlight, perhaps. By looking at the original piece, it’s even clearer how Barthes painted an artistic picture of the sport.

While it might seem initially that Barthes is addressing the general French public – the audience of wrestling – he seems to be in fact addressing his peers, the types of intellectuals who would deem wrestling beneath their refined palates. He directly addresses this cultured audience through his references to Greek drama, Moliere, and Commedia dell’Artre. Clearly, he is re-appropriating the once-brutish sport.

Barthes’ central point in his argument is that wrestling is a spectacle. The very first sentence of the chapter says, “wrestling is…the spectacle of excess.” He uses his language to elevate not only the sport itself, but also his argument to his audience’s level of intellect. By illustrating wrestling as a cast of actors playing roles when he says, for example, “the inertia of the vanquished allows the (temporary) victor to settle in his cruelty and convey to the public his terrifying slowness of the torturer,” Barthes persuades his audience of the artful nature of wrestling.

To any critics of his argument, Barthes specifically points out the similarity between the “bastard” (one of the canon characters in the sport, like canon characters in Greek tragedies) and a “Moliere character or a ‘portrait’ by La Bruyere. He explains the theatrical qualities in the other players of the sport as well, describing them as characters playing roles. Using his language to characterize wrestling and those who wrestle as artists, he calls them the “vanquished,” the “victor,” and the “torturer.”

In conclusion, Barthes seeks to examine a low-brow sport through a high-brow magnifying glass. His argument revolves around the idea that wrestling is not low-brow, but, in fact, and spectacle of art. This was shocking to the masses at the time -- no intellectual would ever dare write about such a topic. The stakes were high because intellectuals like Barthes never dabbled in things for the masses like wrestling, but his argument was convincing because of the way he reframed the picture of brutish wrestlers body-slamming into one another. Once within the frame of tragic art, wrestling became refined. Thanks to his careful choice of language and references to the most respected art in the world, Barthes is successful in presenting a convincing argument.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Precis: Excerpts from Black Skin, White Masks

Frantz Fanon – Excerpts from Black Skin, White Masks

            In the selected excerpts from Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon expresses that white supremacy has confined marginalized black men in its definition of them as purely genital or sexual beings. While the oppression of black men as such often compels them to aspire toward becoming like their white oppressors, Fanon at the same time conveys the opportunity for self-determination out of the existential crisis of castration. Black men have the ability to question the languages that they confront or that have been imposed upon them, to test and to challenge the predicated notions and cultural scripts before them and so achieve an essential sense of agency.
            Fanon writes that the civilized white man has created “two realms: the intellectual and the sexual.” The realm of the intellectual has of course been denoted as the white man’s domain; white men are construed as the sole possessors of rationality and logic. By contrast, “the Negro is fixated at the genital; or at any rate he has been fixated there.” By saying that black men have “been fixated there,” Fanon indicates that this reduction of black men to sex has been a forced and involuntary process, a falsification not chosen by black men but imposed by white patriarchs.  
Because of this deliberate fragmentation by white supremacy, blacks have been relegated to “a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born.” Fanon here expresses the crisis of reduction, portraying the condition of discursively castrated black men as an actual physical space or rather lack thereof (“zone of nonbeing,” “sterile and arid region”) to more strongly communicate the magnitude with which black men feel an absence of humanity or wholeness. Describing this region as “sterile” serves to contrast with the virility ascribed to black men by a system of racism, conveying, again, that the equation of black men with excess by white supremacy really corresponds to an enforced lack or absence of both agency and power.
            This position of marginalization can, according to the given excerpts by Fanon, compel black men to inhabit either of two behaviors. The first is a mode comprised of colonized aspiration or internalized objectification, where the oppressed upholds his (and I say his because Fanon does not include not-men of color in his narrative) position of legibility in a racist system as dehumanized and subjugated. Fanon writes that “completely dislocated, unable to be abroad with the other, the white man, who unmercifully imprisoned me, I…made myself an object.” This quote exemplifies Fanon’s belief that the oppressed might actually bear some responsibility for their self-objectification, which is, I would attest, nonetheless a forced or coerced result of colonization and the ways in which it has compelled its subjects to treat themselves with anything less than self-respect. And if subjugated black men do not perpetuate their imposed-upon legibility as objects, Fanon contends that “the black man wants to be white”—to make himself legible through the terms of his oppressor by behaving like a white man.
            However, if we return to the quote on the “zone of nonbeing,” we may detect Fanon’s ending of the statement with the possibility of “an authentic upheaval…born” out of that region. To understand that notion of an authentic upheaval more clearly, it is necessary to examine Fanon’s conception of language as a deeper relation and expression of culture, where “to speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax…but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization.” Fanon also writes that “every colonized people – in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality – finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation.” These excerpts from the text reveal the functionality of language not only as a means of making oneself legible to and within a certain culture but also more specifically as a colonizing tool (“support the weight of a colonization”) by which the dominant “civilizing nation” carries out the “death and burial” of indigenous languages and ways of life, of non-white markers and terms of understanding, expression, and legibility. The oppressed are in their zone of nonbeing confronted with a dominant language, where this confrontation may not necessarily lead to practices of internalized oppression but may yield an opportunity to challenge the terms of legibility that have been imposed upon black men who have been fragmented by white supremacy.
            As such, Fanon makes the following plea: “O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” When unpacked and tied to the previous excerpts on the existential zone of nonbeing, this invocation can be read firstly as indicating Fanon’s recognition of his being reduced to the body. But because Fanon is so aware that this position of fragmentation has been imposed upon him—where white patriarchy has made black men comprehensible only as physical and sexual objects to be demeaned and controlled—he can see and therefore confront the reality of these forced terms. In confronting the language of the colonizer by always questioning the terms of legibility, Fanon is thereby able to reclaim his humanness (“make of me always a man”) and agency to decide for himself what he is—“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” This willful confrontation and challenging, therefore, constitutes the kind of self-determination and authentic upheaval advocated by Fanon in the face of oppression.