Saturday, August 09, 2014

Precis posted for Samiha Baseer: "We are all One Lesson," On Beastliness and Solidarity

Carol J. Adams is a defender of women. A defender of race. A defender of animals. Adams showcases how violence in all three categories are interconnected.  One violent experience in one category can illuminate experiences in another category Adam points out. Though feminist theory, antiracial theory, animal theory may seem separate, Adams seeks to establish a dialogue between them. Adams probes and tests, reconciles the familiar notions of the day. She is in search of truths that offer liberation.
In her book, Neither Man Nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals, Carol Adams, using an antiracist feminist lens, provides an interesting analysis into the exploitation of animals. She argues that feminism not only illuminates the oppression of women but also exposes how animals are exploited in this structure as well.
In Chapter One of On Beastliness and Solidarity, Adams explores how savagery and beastliness are associated with people of color to maintain power structures. She places animal rights movement within the oppressive power structure of sexism and racism to create connection. In short, the same argument for feminist and anti racism can be used for animal defense. This is the point of solidarity Adams wishes to create.
A passage I would like to focus on is as follows:
“Resistance against oppression for humans involves recognizing and preserving their “humanity.” But, it is a humanity establish through a form of negating: just as white Americans knew they were free by the presence of enslaved blacks, so oppressed humans affirm their humanity by proclaiming their distance from the animals whom they are compared to, treated like, but never truly are. …Proclamations assert, “we are not beasts, we are humans, not animals!” (pg. 77)
Adams reminds us that early feminists used this contention of asserting a human/animal dualism as situating one humans higher than animals (the other). The patriarchal mind seeks to paint women as the other, just as feminists constructs animals as the “other ” to assert their worth. Adams says this dualism should be questioned. She writes, “Each animal posses a unique individuality, sentience and completeness of self in one’s self and not through others, and should exist as such for human beings” (pg. 17).
By using this “othering” technique, oppression is more easily carried out. The “Other” is distinguished from “us” by features that the “other” have and “we” do not (for example: beastliness, civilized, docility etc) The person making the distinctions between the “other” and “we” usually reflect what is considered normal or natural. Adams writes, “When white racism uses an animalizing discourse against black people, it demonstrates the way supremacist ideology inscribes intersecting forms of otherness (race and species)" (pg. 19) This “either/or” dichotomy automatically assumes superior and inferior.
  I have read about this concept of the “other” in many works, particularly in relation to imperialistic cartography. In European cartography, there existed an iconography continuum between the naked and the dressed women. For example, cartographer Gerardus Mercator created a map of Europe as a well-dressed woman with a crown, which suggests advancement and literacy while the way he presented Africa was a woman lacking clothes. It is interesting that even the tool of cartography was widely used by imperialists to exploit and maintain power over land and people by contrasting images.
Adams brings up a lot of good interesting points but I have some reservations. Adams wants to eradicate these simplistic dualisms in which animals lose this otherness. If we include animals in a “we” instead of “they,” and bring down humans and animals to the same level, do we not lose the beauty of difference of animals and humans?


Dale Carrico said...

A nice overview, but let me begin with your provocative final question. Although Adams does not provide an answer to the worry that refusing distinctions may risk evacuating differences in a way that makes us blind to them and their beauty and their force in a way that is more disresepctful than respectful, whatever the intentions of the one who proposes the strategy. I think there is often a certain justice in such a charge -- and I did notice you contextualize Adams' point in a genre of criticism in which you may have seen this sort of indifference to difference play out in the name of tolerance or equality in some cases. What I would point out is that in refusing to treat "the" difference between human and nonhuman animals as *the* difference that makes a difference this need not mean that we need necessarily lose track of the endlessly many ways in which all animals differ from one another. In other words, what if Adams' point is not to deny the differences between humans and cows but to propose those differences are more like the differences between cows and spiders? It is useful to recall that the denial of dualism need not be the denial of difference so much as the refusal to reduce difference to hierarchy. Again, this connects Adams' critique to the accounts of imperialism you mention. To your observations I would only add that one thing I appreciate in Adams' account is that she does not restrict her discussion of the interconnection of beastly and racist discourse to conceptual questions, she includes practical and institutional elements as well (the invisibility of meat processing, the demographics of precarious labor forced into such work). Solid precis.

Samiha Baseer said...

Thank you for your response. You mention an important point that made me look at Carol’s argument differently. Rather then rejecting the differences between beings, she is critiquing the denial of hierarchy between animals and humans. I could see how people would use the “celebrate the difference” argument to hinder the pursuit of equality.

Angela Jiang said...

This is an interesting digression on Adams' work. I especially appreciated your link to European cartography.

I'd like to reflect on Dale's comment, "It is useful to recall that the denial of dualism need not be the denial of difference so much as the refusal to reduce difference to hierarchy". Yes, we can imagine the difference between humans and animals on a level playing field, since we humans are inherently a species of animals ourselves. But in essence, cows are more powerful and capable than spiders and there is no denying that fact, just like how the intelligence of humans supervenes that of cows. If we look at the biological facts with honesty, a hierarchy naturally emerges; it is the food chain that naturally governs the relationships between beings. We shouldn't see this as oppression for the underdog, it is an understanding that would be silly not to accept.

AC said...

@Angela: that's a very interesting point to bring up!

If we were to assign "value" to an animal's life separate from the scientific realm, would it thus depend on its capacity for intelligence or biological/physical capability? Or is this question not worth asking at all?

Sydney Rock said...

I think the question of assigning value to lives is very important because it's something that happens all the time and is often if not always used to make sure certain lives/forms of life are made more possible than others. How, I would ask, does the fact that the cow is more "powerful" (physically stronger?) than the spider naturally organize those two beings into a hierarchy? I think when we begin to categorize and hierarchize beings based on certain perceived differences we necessarily begin to value certain lives over others. Any sort of assignment of "value" with regard to the importance of different forms of life means that it will justify killing certain beings with impunity. The history of eugenics shows us that this is not just a question for different species, but for the ways in which human lives come to matter--how "scientific" conceptions of race, gender, sexuality, and ability are used to justify the different values placed on human lives.