TRAFFIC. “What’s Driving the Wildlife Trade? A Review of Expert Opinion on Economic and
Social Drivers of the Wildlife Trade and Trade Control Efforts in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and Vietnam”. East Asia and Pacific Region Sustainable Development Discussion Papers. East Asia and Pacific Region Sustainable Development Department, World Bank, Washington, DC. (2008). Print.
Review: Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication (2013), Ed. Emily Plec, Routledge.
Alex C. Parrish0
Keywords: animal rhetoric, human-animal communication, adaptive rhetoric, animal signaling
As critical animal studies in general, and animal rhetorics in particular, continue to develop as thriving interdisciplinary fields of study, scholars will more frequently make explicit connections between the persuasive strategies of human and nonhuman animals. Emily Plec’s collection of essays on human-animal communication presents a variety of views on the borderlands where species meet and interact, and how humans communicate on behalf of animals, about animals, and sometimes with animals. These interactions present a rich tapestry of persuasive efforts – some performed by agents, others by mediators for those perceived as voiceless in the mainstream of human communications theory.
The collection is organized thematically, in three parts: complicity, implication, and coherence. The section on complicity offers readings of various texts, or moments of human and nonhuman animal interaction, that facilitate the critique of a human/animal duality and the consequent subordination of the animal within that relationship. The section on implication attempts to overcome the hierarchical nature of this relationship by presenting essays that stress the interrelatedness of human and nonhuman animals. Finally, the section on coherence features essays seeking to place human communication alongside, rather than above, the communication strategies of other animals.
The trajectory of this collection makes for a successful transit between outmoded views of animals as lesser beasts on the Great Chain of Being, and the more current ideas shared by most ethologists (if not communication scholars and rhetoricians) who hold that differences between humans and other animals are a matter of degree, not a matter of kind, and that the study of those differences is not always as fruitful as the study of similarities between species. In fact, the most damning criticism of this collection is that the editor was too modest in reaping the success of her volume – she could have extended her argument for continuity in a less restrained manner. Indeed, it would not be difficult to take the trajectory of this collection one step further and place human communicative efforts within the framework of animal signaling theory. This would help us to acknowledge the important idea that our persuasive efforts are merely one type among many forms of animal rhetoric that are all worthy of our attention (Parrish).
This is, perhaps, the logical conclusion of a research program inspired by such varied figures as the semiotician/philosopher Charles S. Peirce, the rhetorician George Kennedy, and the zoosemiotician Thomas Sebeok. By defining “internatural communication” as a sharing of information or an attempt at manipulation that transcends species borders, Plec makes a parallel between the potential benefits of cross-species study with the already well-known benefits of cross-cultural study in the field of communication (4). Scholars would do well to pay attention to the important anthropological and zoological data germane to communication scholarship, which will allow us to overcome common assumptions about the superiority – or even the exclusivity – of human intentional communication.
Despite some previous criticism regarding perceived hierarchies of complexity in Kennedy’s Comparative Rhetoric, Plec adopts Kennedy’s conception of rhetoric as a pre-verbal energy, but rightly insists on calling her central concept of internatural communication an “exchange of intentional energy between humans and other animals” (6). While the current debate about animal intentionality is one that is fraught with assumptions on both sides, evidence is mounting that indicates some level of intent motivates the complex behaviors of at least the most intelligent primates, cetaceans, and birds. Significant study of these arguments has in the last few decades helped to shape the thriving field of cognitive ethology (Griffin).
While the idea of animal intent is controversial to some, another approach to understanding animal communication is gaining some traction across disciplines. That is a sensory approach, which Plec claims will help to “expand our understanding of internatural communication by rethinking our anthropocentric grip on the symbolic and becoming students of corporeal rhetorics of scent, sound, sight, touch, proximity, position and so much more” (7). Such scholarship, being performed by a small group of individuals, is building a bridge from the better-established fields of embodied rhetorics (which take as a starting point the idea that persuasive behaviors are inspired and constrained by the body producing them) or material rhetorics (which are generally concerned with the physicality or material nature of what is rhetorical) to the nascent field of adaptive rhetoric (which takes a biocultural approach to rhetorical theory, allowing for not only cross-cultural, but also cross-species approaches to understanding persuasive communication).
Other connections to embodied rhetoric exist in the chapters describing mediated communication, wherein human agents attempt to speak, not only on behalf of, but as the translator for animal subjects, providing them with something closer to a human voice of their own. This closely resembles Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson’s concept of “mediated rhetoricity” in the closely-related fields of embodied rhetoric and disability studies (161). Nick Trujillo’s fabulous hybrid essay in Plec’s volume skillfully interweaves explorations of communication theory applied to human-canine relationships with his own (heart-wrenching) personal narrative about the loss of three beloved dogs and his wife of many years. While Trujillo attempts to give the canines a voice in his narrative, he also hints at ways dogs mediate on our behalf, as well. He uses uncertainty reduction theory to explain one widely-acknowledged benefit of pet guardianship, which is their ability to act as a social lubricant for human interactions. When humans meet, they seek to reduce their uncertainty about one another; for dog lovers, the sight of other people with dogs allows for quicker relief of that uncertainty, as well as a common interest to break the ice (119).
But mediation in either direction has its dangers. In Tema Milstein’s essay about an incident between a zoo gorilla named Akenji and a group of young children who had been verbally taunting him in his enclosure, Milstein describes how the zoo guide potentially misrepresents the actions of a frustrated animal in order to provide a “soft” explanation for a very sad situation, one suspects in order to shelter children from the harsh realities of animal captivity and to put a happy face on zoo life. As Akenji banged violently on the glass of his enclosure, the guide asked the children why they thought he was doing that. The children provided a few explanations, before the guide offered them the “correct” interpretation of the gorilla’s outburst – that he was merely showing off for them (176). This interpretation is dubious at best, and the guide is forced to employ the full power of her ethos as adult and teacher to pacify the children who are (rightly) dissatisfied with her answer. What this demonstrates is not so much mediation as a bulldozing over the communicative act of another creature, in order to maintain the fantasy of the ideal zoo, populated entirely by happy and willing animal performers, whose lives are enhanced and prolonged by their captivity.
As one might expect in a collection of essays on human and nonhuman animal communication, some of the articles are (necessarily) anthropocentric. Part of this stems from the fact that we only understand the language or general thought processes (as self-reported, linguistically) of other humans. Another reason is that some situations are created by humans to make human meaning, in spite of the potentially very different meanings other animals might take away from the same situations. If we take, for instance, Leigh Bernacchi’s essay on bird-human ritual communication, it is really a piece about human-human communication about birds, not about human communication with birds. An example of this approach is her explanation of how birds communicate in both life and death, referring especially to the use of canaries as disposable tools for the detection of poisonous levels of methane or carbon dioxide in coal mines (143). The death of these birds is meaningful as a warning to humans only – the birds themselves had no part in creating the indexical relationship between the concepts [dead canary] and [poisonous gas]. The message they might take from such interactions (in the brief moments before their deaths) is both stark and out of their control.
The anthropocentric is expected in human essays on animal communication, and the limitations of these approaches must be duly acknowledged. Moreover, there is a point at which the reader asks “Why are we reading about nonhuman animals at all, if this is merely another case of humans using animals to make human meanings?” This is an especially important question in a small minority of essays that seem somewhat alien to the theme of the collection. Carrie Packwood Freeman’s piece on the “go veg” movement, while a wonderful article, is somewhat vexing, as the connection with the rest of the volume is a tenuous one at best. The essay describes five animal rights campaigns with the goal of turning people vegetarian, and how the construction of vegetarian values serves “the motivation and identity function of the social movement framing process” (93). Sadly, this has nothing to do with nonhuman animal communication, and the inclusion feels somewhat forced. Nonetheless, the essay might be of considerable interest to readers of this journal, as it has a stronger connection to animal studies than to animal communication.
Despite some minor criticism about the loose connection to theme, the sheer variety of approaches to internatural communication also represents the collection’s greatest strength. Where the volume really shines is in presenting new avenues of study, or new ways of envisioning old questions in terms of animal studies. Susannah Bunny LeBaron’s essay on acknowledging difference without creating hierarchy channels Derrida’s later work on the human animal and brings it to bear on the emergent re-questioning of the human/animal dichotomy (Derrida and Mallet). Rightly, she insists that if we make such a distinction between what is human and what is animal, it is in increasingly arbitrary terms that we, occupying the privileged side of the binary, define ourselves into. She asks “by what pretense of objectivity or rationality have we determined that those differences make us better than those we have categorized by our criteria” (249)?
Such questions signal the present state of affairs in the fields of communication and rhetoric and composition: most people still tacitly assume that human linguistic communication is the best, most complex, or only form of symbolic communication, and that it is the only form worthy of study. However, evidence from the last few decades of ethological study has shown that we might not even be the best at symbolic communication, let alone the only symbol-using species. A slow shift toward cross-species study has begun in isolated corners of these disciplines, but a sea change is necessary. For, understanding the great variety of ways beings communicate in nature is essential to understanding the evolution of our own persuasive tools. Moreover, animal rhetorics are interesting and worthy of study in their own right. We should take a cue from rare volumes like Plec’s, and realize that we humans are limited in our ability to detect communicative efforts even within the narrow range of five senses we traditionally recognize, let alone in the "extrasensory” realms of ant pheromones, the electric fields of Amazon River fishes, or the echolocation of dolphins. To then assume that we provide the best example of communication, or the most sophisticated, is to make an argument from extreme ignorance. Until we can even begin to decipher the supposedly simple languages of other animals, we have no basis for true comparison. With increased study of human and nonhuman animal communication, it may be possible to change this, but there is much work to be done.
Bernacchi, Leigh A. "Flocking: bird-human ritual communication." Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication. Ed. Emily Plec. New York: Routledge, 2013. 142-61. Print.
Derrida, Jacques, and Marie-Louise Mallet. The Animal That Therefore I Am. New York: Fordham UP, 2008. Print.
Freeman, Carrie Packwood. "Stepping up to the veggie plate: framing veganism as living your values." Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication. Ed. Emily Plec. New York: Routledge, 2013. 93-112. Print.
Griffin, Donald R. Animal minds: beyond cognition to consciousness: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.
Kennedy, George A. Comparative rhetoric: an historical and cross-cultural introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Print.
LeBaron, Susannah Bunny. "Difference without hierarchy: narrative paradigms and critical animal studies, a meditation on communication." Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication. Ed. Emily Plec. New York: Routledge, 2013. 245-63. Print.
Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia. "Rethinking Rhetoric through Mental Disabilities." Rhetoric Review 22.2 (2003):156-167. Print.
Milstein, Tema. "Banging on the divide: cultural reflection and refraction at the zoo." Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication. Ed. Emily Plec. New York: Routledge, 2013. 162-81. Print.
Parrish, Alex C. Adaptive Rhetoric: Evolution, Culture, and the Art of Persuasion, Routledge Studies in Rhetoric and Communication. New York: Routledge. Print.
Plec, Emily. Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication: New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Trujillo, Nick. "The 'Golden' Bond: Exploring Human-Canine Relationships with a Retriever." Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication. Ed. Emily Plec. New York: Routledge, 2013. 113-28. Print.
Review: On Their Own Terms (2010), Lee Hall, Nectar Bat Press.
Keywords: animal sovereignty, habitat conservation, free-living animal, purpose-bred animal, reproductive freedom, the vegan ideal
On Their Own Terms by Lee Hall is an engaging read that makes the theoretical subject of animal rights accessible to a wide audience. It also raises critical questions about the vision and goals of the movement. I must say that this book is the most exhilarating animal rights book I have a read in a long time. I certainly hope that the conversation will continue in the animal rights community.
The main premise of this book is to urge animal rights activists to reassess how we use the term “animal rights” and re-direct our efforts to advance it. Rather than devote ourselves almost exclusively to the groups Hall labels as “purpose-bred animals,” we should focus on advancing rights to the animal group that, Lee argues, could actually benefit from rights—free-living animals.
If animal rights means the right to live on your own terms, not on the terms of the people who have subjugated you, then a true step in its direction could manifest itself in the work to preserve the autonomy of a free-living community of animals, while presenting the argument for conscientious objection to the use of animals as products or entertainment attractions. (112)
In fact, Hall reiterates throughout the book that domesticated animals, or purpose-bred animals, can never truly have what rights protect—autonomy. Therefore, according to Lee, using a feminist care ethic is more appropriate with domesticated animals and the best we can strive for in a path to animal rights is to end the breeding of purpose-bred animals, for they are occupying precious space that free-living animals need. As Hall states, “every bigger cage and every cleared pasture, on a finite planet, means less untamed spaces; and it’s in those space that animal rights will be found” (121).
The author spends the entire book discussing what animal advocacy should be doing, what it should be striving for, and what the movement should not be doing. It is as much a treatise on animal ethics as it is a manifesto. Hall highlights the ethical pitfalls of theoretical and institutional developments in the animal rights movement since the 1970s. Without naming them directly, Hall targets large animal advocacy organizations that have made controversial decisions that have roused turbulence in the movement and muddied the public perception and understanding of animal rights. As one step to address this problem, the author urges activist readers to reclaim the word “welfare” away from its current commercialized, sell-out connotation.
Activists need to know that genuine animal-welfare work supports the movement and should be supported in return. The animal-rights proposal appreciates the efforts of one who traps domesticated cats in feral colonies, then returns them, neutered, to their areas and continues to feed and care for them and offer them as much shelter and comfort as possible…During times of enslavement, such protective ownership has been a fact of life. (43)
In this vein, Hall encourages activists to envision our work as promoting the welfare of individual animals (those who must rely on our care) and promoting a movement that respects free-living animals’ autonomy.
At the end of the book, Hall calls for a much-needed alliance between the animal rights and environmental movements to address the lack of ecological attention in the animal rights movement and the lack of wild animal rights in environmental rhetoric. The author believes that the joining of these two movements would advance a unified movement that would allow for animals to live truly on their own terms. However, the simplicity presented throughout the book from start to finish is both inspiring and disheartening. If our problems were simply a matter of sticking to principle, then the dilemmas we face in the struggle for animal rights would just require a solution of re-evaluation and sticking to integrity. The on-going struggle for animal rights activists is to receive the continual feedback that their integrity is actually making a difference for real animals and future generations of animals. Hall instead focuses on the principles rather than the outcomes.
Human and Wildlife Conflict
In the first chapter, Hall calls for rescue and rehabilitation projects “to challenge the whole idea that all other animals’ fates should hinge on our needs and our decisions” (p. 44). Otherwise, the work can begin to look like a hobby farm or a petting zoo. This is where the emphasis on principle and purpose is most important. The author reiterates that the animal rights movement should not strive “to make a Garden of Eden for other animals within our society but rather to change society so we respect their own ways of being” (48). However, this stance applies only to those groups Hall refers to as “free-living animals”; treating domesticated animals as refugees of a cruel, industrial society can still be in alignment with the proposed goal. The responsible refuge, as Hall presents it, works steadfastly toward the animal rights ideal and at the same time encourages a cultivation of “respect for free-living animals’ interest in having their habitats unmolested,” (49). Hall mentioned Emberwood Lane Refuge as an example.
I can’t help but wonder where human habitat exists in this vision of upholding other animals’ interest in “having their habitats unmolested.” Where does interspecies community come into play? How can we think of “humanity as contributors in an interconnected biocommunity” and “leave their habitats unmolested” at the same time? Though the book encourages animal rights activists to incorporate ecological consideration into our theory and praxis, the presented solution to “leave free-living animals alone” and their habitats “unmolested” is not entirely ecological; it is romantic. Leaving animals alone by not trafficking them alive and dead around the world is one thing; ending fracking or stopping the construction of dams that flood and displace entire interspecies communities is another thing: leaving “their habitats unmolested” is impossible.
Because this book is written from a white middle-class American perspective, a major pitfall in this stance is that it assumes that the only animals who deserve and need to subsist off the land (and water) are nonhuman. Unfortunately, capitalism, colonialism, and ecological imperialism are forces that are pushing humans further and further away from living and subsiding directly in place. Hall provides a perfect example of US imperialism at work and its impact on free-living animals:
Evidently, zoo experts in the United States—the world’s largest importer and consumer of wood products—believe training orangutans to relinquish their own knowledge, habits and traditions is preferred over training humans to stop usurping their habitat for ourselves and all the animals we breed into our service. (169)
As domestic animal agriculture and monocrop plantations continue to engulf land all around the world under the guise of sustainable economic development, conflicts arise between rural humans trying to improve their quality of life and free-living animals trying to survive in an ever-shrinking world. Common “solutions” to these conflicts often come at the expense of the animals, through dislocation, hazing, and often good old-fashioned poisoning and shooting.
Suppose animal rights, as Hall proposes, were a major consideration in human-wildlife conflict management. The difficult choice for the managers would remain the same: “I understand that these free-living animals have to eat, but the people have to eat too.” How the people eat is being shaped by capitalism and imperialism, and thus becoming more difficult to control. Killing and displacing wild animals is an easier answer, albeit undesirable for the managers, but capitalism and weak governments provide good incentive to take the easier road. As more managers face this difficult choice, it is not surprising to find more (formerly) free-living animals dead and in captivity. Therefore, I do not think it serves real animal rights activists now or real animals now to advance the “leave animals and their habitats alone” mantra because as long as humans exist, animals will always play an integral role in humans’ lives and livelihoods. Our challenge is coexisting with and negotiating with free-living animals without trying to control them. Hall’s emphasis on sticking to principle does have merit. In fact, returning to principle is crucial when the goals seem so big and disconnected from our daily grind for animal rights:
Advocacy means speaking with people in the language of justice. Our goals should never be hidden; our message must be clear and consistent for every audience. If animal sanctuaries need help, let’s support them. But let’s also cultivate the kind of thinking and discussions that will stop making these refuges necessary. (50)
Nonhuman Animal Ethics
In chapters two through five, Hall explores the theoretical foundation of the mainstream animal rights movement, particularly the theories that have resulted in the schism between welfare and rights and the vegan principle. Chapter Two focuses on presenting and critiquing Peter Singer’s utilitarian animal ethic. Hall begins by questioning the negative connotation pain has in Singer’s theory and his emphasis on the right not to suffer: “If we consider the interest in life worth defending, we must acknowledge that pain has a role in that theory, for pain promotes our ability to survive and thrive” (55, original emphasis).
Basically, ending animal suffering would mean ending conscious life as we know it (55). Hall refers to the example of two Pakistani children born with genetic mutations that did not allow them to feel pain which led both of them to severe self-mutilation and eventually death. The author goes on to criticize the consequences of applying Singer’s theory to animal advocacy for it has turned animal advocacy organizations into animal handling and animal killing consultants for the animal exploitation industries in their crusade to minimize the amount of net suffering—as if suffering can be quantified.
As an alternative to this, Hall presents the vegan principle: we should reject all animal industry practices on principle and opt out of any kind of participation. Hall uses this same stance in Chapter Four’s summary and critique of Tom Regan and Gary Francione. Hall challenges the ableist premises of Regan’s analysis of “the value of the lives lived” as well as the theory’s inability to empower activists to handle real conflict between the particular human interest and the animal other interest, where Hall stresses “rights matter most.”
Once lives are differently valued, oppressive results are unlikely to wait for rare emergencies. After all, if less aesthetic, scientific, and sacramental interests means [sic.] expendability in an exceptional case, the way is open for the claim that overriding another being’s interests on an ordinary day could be ethical (82-3)
Of all the theories presented, Hall is most aligned with Francione’s abolitionist approach but still draws criticisms. In response to both Regan’s and Francione’s work, Hall laments: “Abolitionist animal-rights theory has largely neglected the immensely important point that wolves (like apes, deer, and all free-living animals), as long as they and their habitats exist, could genuinely benefit from legal rights; dogs could not” (85). Hall also criticizes Francione’s reliance on the sentience rhetoric for the deciding line of moral consideration of animals and suggests that the vegan platform as presented by Donald Watson’s vegan society in 1944 has the answer: reject the use of all animal products and all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to the animal sphere.
While abolition addresses what other animals will not be, and this is indeed important, what’s essential is what and who they are, and how we come to grips with that. This all depends on what and who we strive to become. Are we willing to relinquish our authority, our control? (93)
Veganism as the Answer
Chapters Four and Five are devoted entirely to the vegan ideal. Hall spends half of the introduction to veganism as a contradiction to Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights and Rain Without Thunder. Hall champions veganism as the paradigm to address all the theoretical problems of mainstream animal rights; it just needs to be redefined. Hall relies on Donald Watson’s initial definition as the basis. The position is considered perfect. If a reader were basing her analysis of veganism on this book alone, she would have to conclude that veganism is the answer to all of our problems, at least where nonhuman animals are concerned, but also, according to Hall, where the planet is concerned. “For surely there is no better, more straightforward advocacy for animals used in industries than to opt out of using them—by becoming vegan” (108).
Vegan organic (or veganic) agriculture is presented as a perfect alternative to current conventional and organic agriculture. Fortunately, humans around the world have been practicing semblances of veganic agriculture long before Rosa Dalziell O’Brien, Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien, and May Bruce came up with the system or the name. Native peoples of Central America prior to European colonialism managed to build civilizations on what we could consider vegan organic agriculture. However, even veganic agriculture did not protect them against soil erosion and the population’s carrying capacity, which eventually made the system unsustainable. Because veganic agriculture relies on the production of green manure and compost and the input of herbivorous human wastes for soil fertility, it is not a system that can be duplicated sustainably on as large a scale as conventional agriculture. And perhaps that is exactly the point. Veganic agriculture is most effective at the community level, rather than the national or global levels.
Veganism is presented as the ultimate answer to advancing animal rights by 1) ending the breeding of domesticated animals and 2) freeing up land for free-living animals. At our current population levels and inability to distinguish between what we need and want, how can we expect that vegan consumption will free up land so long as the machinations of capitalism, colonialism, and ecological imperialism are at work? How can veganism allow us to opt out of tropical rainforest destruction or dependency on fossil fuels? And what of the humans whose bodies do not respond well to a vegan diet? What happens to them? In this sense, Hall presents the tautology of veganism: the vegan ideal becomes what we need it to be in this particular approach to and vision for animal rights. And the vegan ideal Hall presents is inspiring: “being mindful of animals’ connections with their activities and communities…humans’ cultivating respect for their interests in the climate, nutrients, and landscape, the land, water, and air they require to experience autonomy…supporting animals’ rights to be let alone” (121-3). But this book is also meant to be a thinking ground for “what a serious theory of animal rights means for the real world.” This requires real challenges to veganism that we often disregard and that the author did not address.
Lee Hall is one of the few authors who has emphasized the importance of free-living wild animals and ecosystems to animal rights and the importance of animal rights to environmental concerns. Though it is a less uncommon bridge in ecofeminist literature (for example, Marti Kheel’s analysis of hunting and wildlife management rhetoric), in mainstream animal rights literature, free-living wild animals are virtually non-existent. In redefining animal rights from its mainstream conception, Hall explains that:
Animal rights involves freedom from, rather than equality within, a global human society. This means theoretical work is needed to distinguish groups of animals whose existence results from selective breeding (those…who must rely on the care ethic as long as they are here) and those who could flourish on their own terms. (166)
In Chapter Six, Hall references feminist analyses of the logic of domination without actually referring to this theory or Karen Warren, the ecofeminist philosopher most attributed to the theory. Hall draws comparisons between women and animals, black women and animals, and in particular, references Zora Neale Hurston’s analysis of the “pet Negro” system where white elites of the southern United States customarily singled out select black workers for gifts and privileges,thereby complicating the systemic racial inequality and violence.
The potential of the animal rights movement hinges on our motivation to visit the deep level at which all oppressions connect, from whence they spawn social injustice, environmental injustice, and the degradation of the ecology and living beings. (166)
Fascinatingly, Hall encourages readers to contemplate a black feminist approach to understanding injustice: intersectionality. Hall does this without referring to the term or any of the thinkers associated with it. Yet, when Hall concludes again and again throughout the book, that autonomy is neither possible nor relevant for domestic animals, I can’t help but recall similar arguments made by slavery apologetics concerning black people in America—that black people could not survive beyond the confines of the institutions we were bred and traded to labor in. However, Hall’s argument for purpose-bred animals never having use for rights is worth examining.
In response to a law student’s blog post re-conceptualizing rights of companion animals as likened to the rights of children, Hall argued that the comparison does not work.
Children are not bred to be commodities; children are rarely locked in or chained to a house. Most of those who endure maltreatment, thank goodness, have a chance of being heard and helped by teachers or others in the community. Eventually, children grow out of dependency on their caregivers. (187)
Hall has a valid point. While unwanted children are born all the time in unsustainable conditions and the plight of children not born “citizens” tends to be less visible to the legal protection system, for the most part, child abuse is met with the strictest and harshest of punishments. The most powerful point Hall made was that “children eventually grow out of dependency on their caregivers.” That is the key distinction. Hall argues that purpose-bred animals are bred and conditioned to be forever dependent on their human owners. Through neoteny, they essentially never grow up. Dogs, in particular, are selectively bred all the time to exude submissiveness and dependency. Assertive dogs and dogs not interested in humans are “weeded out.” But what about when domestic animals regain their reproductive freedom and become genuinely feral? That suggests purpose-bred animals, when given the space, time, and opportunity, can reclaim their lives and advance what we would consider animal rights. The ecological consequences, however, can be devastating, and in turn, their reproductive freedom and feralness become interpreted as extensions of human destruction and ecological imperialism (e.g., Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism).
Hall challenges the caring pragmatist approach regarding the birth control of free-living animals but simultaneously says it is within the sphere of animal rights to phase out the breeding of domesticated animals—whether it’s on their own terms or not. So basically, Hall argues for the reproductive freedom of wild animals and the reproductive control of domestic animals. What about reproductive freedom of “domestic” animals?
The author also refers to examples such as “feral” cat populations in urban centers and how they depend on humans to feed them and rely on human infrastructure for shelter and rearing. However, I think this argument is misleading and oversimplifies the reality of becoming feral. While it is true that many “feral” cat colonies are supported directly by local human populations, smaller but real numbers of cat colonies consist of individuals who subsist in the sewers and ditches of urban environments almost exclusively on undomesticated “domestic” animals such as house mice, brown rats, and Norway rats. Over the past thirty years, studies of feral cat diets in both North America and Oceania showed that the bulk of their diet consists of small mammals (Coman and Brunner 1974; Zavaleta, Hobbs, and Mooney 2001; Nogales et al 2004). Unfortunately, they obtained this information through state-sanctioned lethal management by trapping, killing, and looking at the contents of the cats’ stomachs. The researchers found that the cats also subsisted on rabbits, chipmunks, shrews, squirrels, lizards, and songbirds to a lesser degree—the latter group beingof great concern to ornithologists and conservationists (as well as the author), who campaign against free-roaming domestic cats.
Since the major theme of this book is to offer pressing questions that challenge us to envision animals beyond the status quo, I offer this question: why is it impossible for domesticated animals to experience collective self-reliance? The author is convinced that domesticated animals uniformly have no chance of benefiting from rights because they will forever be dependent on humans, that the only place for domesticated animals is as cogs in the wheels of industry and society. What’s missing from this book is the importance of reproductive freedom to animal rights. It takes generations of reproductive freedom to begin to overcome centuries of institutionalized slavery. Now imagine overcoming thousands of years. The easy answer is to give up and conclude the best solution is that they all disappear. But this is just another “solution” of reproductive control.
Respecting other living beings’ reproductive freedom is not easy for most human cultures, so it is not surprising that animal advocates may consider reproductive freedom for traditionally domesticated animals impossible. VINE Sanctuary, an ecofeminist animal liberation sanctuary in Vermont, explores daily the possibilities of reproductive freedom and the impact it has on animals living on their own terms. The work is not easy, but they are a living example that it’s not impossible either and that this, like any cultural-ecological shift, is a process. What happens to a population when they are able to exercise reproductive freedom within the axioms of ecology? They find their way or die trying. In the last two hundred years, we have examples that show domesticated animals finding their way and becoming feral. Rock pigeons are a popular example. Feral pigs and feral goats on islands in the Pacific. Feral horses in the southwest United States. These are all examples of domesticated animals finding their way. They may not be examples of native wild animals living in ecological harmony, but we have to also admit to ourselves that in a globalized society, the boundaries of native and nonnative are getting murky and ecosystems are changing to accommodate that. So I challenge us to see beyond the stand that would have us believe that feral animals are impossible. They are not impossible. They are not easy to live with or control. Their freedom even offers immediate ecological consequences. But so does human existence.
On Their Own Terms challenges us to re-think “animal rights” and really meet head-on these problems which shake our theoretical foundations, our understanding of the animals for whom we advocate, and our community solidarity. I applaud Hall’s efforts to initiate this conversation, and I hope that collectively we have the motivation, the discipline, and the courage to continue this deeply difficult topic.
Coman, B.J., and Brunner, H. "Food habits of the feral house cat in Victoria." The Journal of Wildlife Management 36 (1972): 848-853. Print.
Nogales, Manuel, Aurelio Martín, Bernie R. Tershy, C. Josh Donlan, Dick Veitch, Néstor Puerta, Bill Wood, and Jesús Alonso." A Review of Feral Cat Eradication on Islands." Conservation Biology 18.2 (2004): 310-319. Print.
Zavaleta, Erika S., Richard J. Hobbs, and Harold A. Mooney. "Viewing invasive species removal in a whole-ecosystem context." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 16.8 (2001): 454-459.
The journal for Critical Animal Studies is open to all scholars and activists. The journal was established for the purpose of fostering academic study of critical animal issues in contemporary society. While animal studies is increasingly becoming a field of importance in the academy, much work being done under this moniker takes a reformist or depoliticized approach that fails to mount a more serious critique of underlying issues of political economy and speciesist philosophy. JCAS is an interdisciplinary journal with an emphasis on animal liberation philosophy and policy issues. The journal was designed to build up the common activist’s knowledge of animal liberation while at the same time appealing to academic specialists. We encourage and actively pursue a diversity of viewpoints of contributors from the frontlines of activism to academics. We have created the journal for the purpose of facilitating communication between the many diverse perspectives of the animal liberation movement. Thus, we especially encourage submissions that seek to create new syntheses between differing disputing parties and to explore paradigms not currently examined.
Papers are welcomed on any area of animal liberation philosophy from any discipline, and presenters are encouraged to share theses or dissertation chapters. Because a major goal of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies is to foster philosophical, critical, and analytical thinking about animal liberation, papers that contribute to this project will be given priority (especially papers that address critical theory, political philosophy, social movement analysis, tactical analysis, feminism, activism and academia, Continental philosophy, or post-colonial perspectives). We especially encourage contributions that engage animal liberation in disciplines and debates that have received little previous attention.
Each paper submitted is initially reviewed for general suitability for publication; suitable submissions will be read by at least two members of the journal’s editorial board.
The manuscript should be in MS Word format and follow MLA guidelines. All submissions should be double-spaced and in 12 point Times New Roman. Good quality electronic copies of all figures and tables should also be provided. All manuscripts should conform to American spelling.
As a guide, we ask that regular essays and reviews be between 2000-8000 words and have limited endnotes. In exceptional circumstances, JCAS will consider publishing extended essays. Authors should supply a brief abstract of the paper (of no more than 250 words). A brief autobiographical note should be supplied which includes full names, affiliation, email address, and full contact details.
Articles submitted to JCAS should be original contributions and should not be under consideration for any other publication at the same time. For ease of dissemination and to ensure proper policing use, papers and contributions become the legal copyright of the publisher unless otherwise agreed.
“If there is a sense of reality, and nobody will doubt that its existence has its justification, then there must also exist something that one can call a sense of possibility.
Whoever possesses it does not say, for instance, "Here this or that happened, will happen, must happen," but invents ‘Here something could or should happen’; and when someone tells him about something, that it is so as it is, then he thinks, "Well, it could probably also be otherwise." So that the sense of possibility could be defined as the ability to think about whatever could also be the case, and not to take whatever is more seriously than what is not. It is plain to see that the consequences of such a creative attitude can be remarkable, and unfortunately it is not infrequent that they make what people admire appear false and what they prohibit as permitted or even both as indifferent.” (Musil 1930/32 Vol. I, p. 16, my translation).
"Einen Bauwillen und bewußten Utopismus, der die Wirklichkeit nicht scheut, wohl aber als Aufgabe und Erfindung behandelt.
" (Musil 1930/32 Vol. I, p. 16
3 The paper I am referring to here was put together after Sacks’s death by Gail Jefferson, Sack’s first and best student, from material in two of Sacks’s lectures, which Jefferson then went on to edit in their entirety: see Sacks 1992.
The critique of performances, of their enactment, of the violence underlying their social compulsoriness and of their identitarian consequences is a major theme in Butler’s work, from Butler 1990 onwards:acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative
in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications
manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means. That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts that constitute its reality. (Butler 1990 p.185)
Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production [...]. (Butler 1993 p. 95)
There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; [...] identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results. (Butler 1990 p.25)
Sacks (who died in a car crash at forty having only published a dozen articles) never had a chance to develop his ideas on categories in an orderly and systematic fashion. His most important extant (or, at least, published) work, Lectures on Conversation
, is a transcription of oral texts addressed to an audience of absolute beginners and spanning a period of nine years, during which Sacks’s interests and ideas altered their course under the influence of a range of factors which are now impossible to reconstruct; as a consequence they are marked by discontinuities
, inconsistencies and repetitions. Therefore, his theory of categories must be reconstructed by means of a slow and painstaking work, comparing and linking a considerable number of different ideas and intuitions, whose connections are often far from apparent, scattered throughout the Lectures
6 See, for instance, Sacks 1992 vol. I p.241.
I am well aware that, in a considerable number of non-Western societies and cultures, animals are at the center of a rich web of shared meanings and social exchanges and are sometimes idealized and even worshipped. However, in all these cultures animals are also invariably oppressed, exploited and murdered. Maintaining that the centrality of animals as symbols in a culture makes this culture less likely to oppress, exploit and murder actual, concrete animals is like claiming that in traditional Catholic cultures women are not oppressed because everybody worships the virgin Mary. The mere fact that the first position can be stated in academic debate with a straight face and with no adverse consequences while the second would get anyone laughed out of any seminar or conference room is not only disturbing evidence of the survival of the myth of the noble savage, but also shows how structurally invisible the cultural universal of human mastery is even to people whose professional credibility hinges on their supposed ability to acknowledge and to question their own assumptions.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge,
---. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Canetti, Elias. Masse und Macht. Hamburg: Claassen, 1960. Print.
Dell’Aversano, Carmen. “The Love Whose Name Cannot be Spoken: Queering the Human-
Animal Bond.” Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8.1-2 (2010): 73-125. Print.
Maturana, Humberto. "Everything is Said by an Observer." Gaia, a Way of Knowing. Ed.
William Irwin Thompson. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Press, 1987. 65-82. Print.
Musil, Robert. Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. 1930/32. Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag, 1987. Print.
Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Sacks, Harvey. “On Doing ‘Being Ordinary’.” Structures of Social Action. Studies in
Conversation Analysis. Eds. J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1984. 413-29. Print.
---. Lectures on Conversation. Ed. Gail Jefferson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. Print.
Wiesel, Elie. “Elie Wiesel – Acceptance Speech.” Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014.