Journal for Critical Animal Studies Editorial Executive Board
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For a complete list of the members of the Editorial Board please see the JCAS link on the Institute for Critical Animal Studies website: http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/?page_id=393
Photograph from We Animals (www.weanimals.org) by Jo-Anne McArthur, with permission.
JCAS Volume 12, Issue 4, December 2014
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Analyzing Categories: Harvey Sacks and Critical Animal Studies
Carmen Dell’Aversano ………………………………………………………………………..5-20
Behaving Like Animals: Shame and the Human-Animal Border in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Disgrace.
Daniella Cádiz Bedini ……………………………………………………………………….21-53
Fishing in Fiction: A Critical Animal Studies Analysis of Fishing in Two Examples of Popular Fishing Literature
Donelle Gadenne …………………………………………………………………………….54-78
“This Image Cannot be Displayed”: Critical Visual Pedagogy and Images from
Troy A. Martin …………………………………………………..…………………………79-104
Stray Philosophy: Human-Dog Observations on Language, Freedom and Politics
Eva Meijer ………………………………………………………………………………...105-135
The Raw, the Cooked, and the Scavenged
Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Lucinda Cole ………………………………………………………………………………136-147
Review: Maximum Tolerated Dose (2012)
Justin Kay …………………………………………………………………………………148-156
Review: Perspectives on Human-Animal Communication: Internatural Communication (2013), Ed. Emily Plec
Alex C. Parrish ....................................................................................................................157-164
Review: On Their Own Terms (2010), Lee Hall
Anastasia Yarbrough ……………………………………………………………………...165-177
JCAS Submission Guidelines …………………………………………………………..178-179
Containing essays ranging from the highly academic to the very personal, this issue of JCAS demonstrates the myriad ways that critical animal studies continues to develop. In “Analyzing Categories: Harvey Sacks and Critical Animal Studies,” Carmen Dell’Aversano seeks to develop her argument regarding the “animal queer,” a term she has coined and one which refers to “humans who, in their self-definition, question and cross barriers pertaining not to sex or gender but of species.” Working with linguist Harvey Sacks’s theory of “category-bound activities,” Dell’Aversano explores the all-too-familiar statement “I could never give up meat” as one reflective of these “‘category-bound activities’ that assume and reiterate the ‘naturalness’ and ‘normalcy’ of an exploitative relationship with ‘animals.’”
In “Behaving Like Animals: Shame and the Human-Animal Border in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Daniella Cádiz Bedini engages theories of shame in the construction of the human and the animal. Drawing on various readings of shame in Genesis’ Garden of Eden, she then moves on to examine “the ways these two texts interpret the nebulous border between human and animal precisely via a preoccupation with shame and the body,” arguing that “both offer us an interpretation of shame and awareness that expands the narrow confines of the human and instead exposes shame as a form of public vulnerability—one that is not limited to the human, yet is predetermined by it.” Bedini ultimately claims that “these novels not only challenge the human-animal divide but also offer us a different practical model with which to engage with non-human animals, and with lives not considered normatively ‘human.’”
Our second literary analysis, Donelle Gadenne’s “Fishing in Fiction: A Human-Animal Studies Analysis of Fishing in Two Examples of Popular Fishing Literature,” dovetails with Bedini’s essay in its attention to the religious symbology of human exceptionalism. Examining two novels, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and David James Duncan’s The River Why, “Fishing in Fiction” discusses the ways these novels both perpetuate the supposed sacredness of fishing (one only need think, within Christianity, of how many disciples were fishermen or of Jesus’ feeding the multitude) and, occasionally, resist such a naturalized violence. While animal slaughter—specifically, of quadrupeds—has a long history of sanctified sacrifice, this essay shows how fishing, though it has not traditionally been explicitly ritualized via sacrifice, also carries with it religious symbology that arguably condones violence.
Troy Martin’s “‘This Image Cannot Be Displayed’: Critical Visual Pedagogy and Images from Factory Farms” is interested in what he calls the “ethical anxiety” that often results from viewing graphic images of abused animals. Martin explores the “pedagogical possibilities and limitations” of such images distributed by various animal rights and welfare organizations—and the ethics of their aesthetics. Considering the work of scholars such as Susan Sontag, Paolo Freire, and Shoshana Felman, Martin’s essay movingly discusses the ways that a response of “ethical anxiety” and even crisis to these images may be productive—or stultifying. While the distribution of such materials “may elevate awareness of industry practice in public consciousness, there is no straight path between public awareness and social change…critical pedagogy, in both theory and practice, may help educators and activists navigate this quandary.”While Dell’Aversano considers the ways categories of difference are constructed and maintained (“I could never give up meat”), Martin wrestles with responses of confusion and equivocation to images of animal suffering, considering a repeated statement of his own mother, who “often mentions that she could be a vegetarian.” Martin describes how his mother, after viewing an ASPCA ad
sent the organization a donation with a note to express how upset she was with them for showing suffering animals on TV. She may align her sympathies with animals in factory farms but falls short of eliminating meat from her diet. She frequently orders chicken or fish, but not beef or pork, at restaurants. When meals arrive she sometimes remarks that my vegetarian dish looks and tastes better than hers. Is this performance for me? Do I remind her of her own rapprochement? My mother is neither wholly unaware of conditions in factory farms nor has she been fooled by the tidy appearances of packaged meat. Rather, I suspect she thinks about meat consumption from an emotional constellation of uncertainty.
Martin’s piece beautifully and movingly explores the personal disappointment of such a response as he also tries to consider the possibilities for ethical action—and the pedagogical responsibilities—that lie in such a “constellation of uncertainty.”
Finally, in “Stray Philosophy: Human-Dog Observations on Language, Freedom, and Politics,” Eva Meijer explores her first three months living with Olli, a former Romanian shelter dog who came to live with her in the Netherlands. During this transition period the two worked together to create a common language, habits, and a certain level of freedom for Olli, thus constructing “a common world as well as a way to express that world, which changed both dog and human.”
Meijer pays particular attention to the politics of the leash, conceding its unfortunate legal necessity in Amsterdam at the same time that she explores how the leash potentially functions as a mutual tool of communication. While the leash can certainly become a weapon of oppression, it can also enable communication. The essay also considers Olli’s “political agency as a former stray dog, both on the micro- and macro level. By emphasizing Olli’s perspective and actions, the paper also aims to explore ways to move beyond anthropocentrism in philosophy.” Meijer ultimately aims not only to illustrate the ways she and Olli came to know each other—and the pleasurable work involved in such communication—but also to raise awareness regarding shelter animal rescue transport in Europe.
Analyzing Categories: Harvey Sacks and Critical Animal Studies
Abstract: This paper is a development of my argument for animal queer and aims to conduct an analysis of some critical animal studies issues in queer terms. In order to do so it pursues queer’s definitional concern with categories through Harvey Sacks’s concept of “category-bound activities.” Connecting CAS, queer and Sacks’s work has the theoretical effect of making queer theory more general, more abstract and more rigorous, and the political effect of extending the scope of queer theory and politics to animal rights issues. The example I explore in the essay—the statement “I could never give up meat”—is of urgent political and theoretical relevance in animal advocacy, and therefore of interest to critical animal studies.
Keywords: Critical Animal studies, Membership Categorization Analysis, Queer studies
It is usually at the edges where the great tectonic plates of theory meet and shift that we find the most dramatic developments and upheavals.
– Val Plumwood
For efficient subordination, what’s wanted is that the structure not only not appear to be a cultural artifact kept in place by human decision or custom, but that it appear natural—that it appear to be a quite direct consequence of the facts about the beast which are beyond the scope of human manipulation or revision. It must seem natural that individuals of the one category are dominated by individuals of the other and that as groups, the one dominates the other.
– Marilyn Frye
This paper presents a small but significant part of a much larger and more complex argument which I plan to develop fully in a book. Here I will be concerned with three issues: the first is the relevance of queer theory to critical animal studies, the second is the relevance of the work of American linguist Harvey Sacks to queer theory, and the third is the application of one of Sacks’s most original theoretical concepts to one particularly important critical animal studies issue. I will address the first two issues very briefly, and concentrate on the third at greater length.
I suppose I had better state at the outset that I do not believe that animal studies are a good place to preach or practice “scientific neutrality.” Not only because no such thing exists since, as Humberto Maturana famously put it, “everything is said by an observer” (65) and no observer, since they occupy a definite place in the universe and can only make observations from that vantage point, can ever be neutral, but also, and most importantly, because what passes as “neutrality” is invariably compliance with, and complacency about, the status quo:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. (Wiesel)
However, I find the insistence on “neutrality” (which, especially after the rise of critical animal studies, has become a staple of debates in the animal studies field), disturbing not only for ethical and political reasons but most of all for its gnoseological implications: the hallmark of an intellectual, and the most important tool of scholarly inquiry, is what Musil memorably called a "sense of possibility," 1 "a constructive will and a conscious utopianism which does not shy away from reality but treats it as a task and as an invention."2 Appeals to “neutrality” (which are for some reason pervasively frequent in animal studies, but curiously absent in gender studies, race relation studies, subaltern studies and other fields which – like animal studies – explore relationships shaped by a structural imbalance of power) therefore demonstrate not only a depressing lack of moral courage but also (and this is far more alarming in an intellectual context) a crucial failure of philosophical imagination.
Historically, queer theory and queer studies have engaged primarily with issues relating to sex and gender, so much so indeed that the acronym LGBT (referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons) is often expanded with Q for "queer." However, the meaning of queer cannot be linked to, or subsumed under, any single identity category or cluster of categories. This is because queer’s theoretical mission is the questioning of categories as such and the denaturalization of the performances through which categories acquire social existence. Therefore any endeavour, theoretical, political or personal, through which prevalent categories are questioned, resisted and disrupted qualifies as queer.
In my own work in critical animal studies I have applied the category of queer to humans who, in their theoretical, political and personal stances, question, resist and disrupt prevalent categories not of sex and gender but of species. Some humans’ most primitive instinct, deepest need and most heartfelt conviction is to identify primarily with non-humans, to form their most lasting and most vital bonds with non-humans and to empathize with, and support, non-humans in preference to humans. These people dare (or cannot help but) question the most entrenched and most pervasive social expectations regulating the performance of social roles, and the socially sanctioned flow of emotions; they cross the most basic and unquestioned identitarian barrier in human cultures, the one which divides humans from non-humans. By all definitions of the word, this makes them queer. Even though these people do not necessarily identify with any sexual minority, the ridicule, marginalization and oppression that they face is an apt and productive topic for a queer analysis. I have therefore coined the definition “animal queer” to refer to humans who, in their self-definition, question and cross barriers pertaining not to sex or gender but of species (Dell’Aversano).
After singling out, defining and describing animal queer I became interested in conducting a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of some key critical animal studies issues in queer terms. Because queer is fundamentally concerned with the questioning of categories and the denaturalization of performances, I started investigating original and productive approaches to issues of categorization and to the analysis of performances, and I came across the work of American sociologist and linguist Harvey Sacks.
In the Sixties, while he was laying the groundwork for what would eventually become conversation analysis, Sacks devoted a large share of his analytical acumen and of his theoretical creativity to analyzing the way members of a society are categorized and to the deconstruction of normalcy, which he defined not as a trait but as an activity, as “work” (Sacks 1984).3 I realized that this approach exactly parallels, over twenty years in advance, the denaturalization Butler would accomplish through the fortunate term “performance,”4 and that Sacks’s work on social categories could provide a rigorous and productive foundation for a queer analysis of the most diverse issues. Sacks’s work illuminates the way categories and performances work in general and in the abstract: his analytic tools and concepts can therefore help queer theory expand its focus beyond the categories and performances which queer analyses have customarily addressed so far, those pertaining to sex and gender.
My own work in particular aims at connecting queer theory, Sacks’s work on categories, and critical animal studies in two ways: first, by generalizing queer theory to an overall questioning of categories and performances through a systematic application of Sacks’s concepts; and second, by extending its scope to a radical questioning of the human-animal binary carried out by means of Sacks’s theoretical tools. The connection I envision between queer, Sacks and critical animal studies has therefore two different but complementary aims: one theoretical and one political. The theoretical aim is making queer theory more general, more abstract and more rigorous through a systematic application of Sacks’s work on categories; the political aim is to extend the scope of queer theory and politics to animal rights issues.
In this paper I will focus on a single issue and will explore it by means of a number of concepts and tools from Sacks's Lectures on Conversation, which will shed light on the foundations of the relationship between humans and nonhumans, and show the role that mastery of other species, speciesism, and, most particularly, the exploitation of animals for food, play in building and strengthening our identity as humans, the cohesion of human societies and the coherence of human cultures.
The example I have selected is of urgent political and theoretical relevance in animal advocacy, and therefore of momentous interest to critical animal studies: the statement “I could never give up meat.”
“I could never give up meat.” Animal rights activists are used to receiving this answer from the vast majority of omnivores whenever they attempt to confront them with the atrocities intrinsic to animal exploitation. The reasons behind this attitude are certainly numerous, and probably differ considerably from person to person. For all its linguistic and lexical simplicity, the statement “I could never give up meat” is a locus of baffling complexity, and consequently one that critical animal studies must confront with every methodological tool at its disposal if vegan advocacy is to prove effective.
I would like to contribute to this urgent discussion by analyzing the “I could never give up meat” response through the lens of one of the most important theoretical concepts in Sacks’s
work on categories, that of “category-bound activity.”5
One major achievement of Sacks’s analysis of categories is the insight that social knowledge is stored largely in terms of activities that are considered typical of given categories, which members of those categories can perform “naturally,” with no need for justification or explanation, and which can consequently be used to identify members of those categories.6 If we connect Sacks’s concept of category-bound activity with Butler’s concept of performance, we can observe that category-bound activities play a major role in constituting and defining social subjects and in representing them as “natural”: what Butler refers to as the performance of social identities takes place through what Sacks refers to as category-bound activities. Because of their differential distribution among different categories (adult/child, man/woman, human/animal…) category-bound activities have the function and the effect of representing as basic and natural the categories which are actually the outcome and the result of their repetition. Therefore category-bound activities are a basic component of the performance of the various socially recognized forms of identity, from age or profession to class, gender or species.
Like all other categories, “humanity” is made up of, and can be dissolved into, myriad multifarious, minute and all-encompassing activities whose ubiquitousness and pervasiveness guarantee at the same time their own naturalness and that of the performance they constitute and uphold. Their bewildering variety, which spans all history and all cultures, should not, however, lead us to overlook one basic fact. Social categories (like all concepts) are only defined through opposition; this means that, at the most fundamental level, the human is, and can only be, known, experienced and performed in its ever-present, though often tacit, opposition to the nonhuman. Our relationship to non-human animals therefore plays a crucial role in the construction of the fundamental part of our identity, our “humanity.” Consequently, the activities through which our relationship to nonhuman animals is performed make up the core of the category-bound activities which define humanity.
In all times and places, these activities entail, to a greater or lesser degree, the attitudes which ecofeminist theorist Val Plumwood subsumed under the seminal concept of “mastery.” Thus mastery, of the nonhuman in general and of animals in particular, turns out to be the activity bound to the category “human” at the most general and most fundamental level; always, in all times and places, mastery defines the human through its opposition to the “animal” and through the oppression of “animals.”
In her 1993 book Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Plumwood specifies five conceptual and cultural devices which enable and define the performance of mastery:
1 Backgrounding (denial) (48-49)
2 Radical exclusion (hyperseparation) (49-52)
3 Incorporation (relational definition) (52)
4 Instrumentalism (objectification) (53)
5. Homogenisation or stereotyping (53-55)
These five features prove extremely useful in pinpointing the specific ways in which the relationship between humans and “animals” is shaped by the performance of a huge number and variety of mundane, sometimes scarcely perceptible, activities which, in all sorts of concrete contexts and real-life situations, make up and define the general and overarching, but also relatively abstract, category-bound activity of mastery. Plumwood’s analysis focuses on Western culture; in other cultures one or more of the five components of mastery may be less pervasive, or even absent. However, insofar as all human cultures posit an unbridgeable gap between humans and animals, routinely and unthinkingly use animals as means for human ends and conceive of humanity as the ultimate form and source of value, the role of mastery as the category-bound activity which defines humanity is omnipresent and unquestioned. Far more than the prohibition of incest (which has known exceptions in various societies and circumstances), mastery is the true cultural universal spanning all human societies regardless of time and place, first and foremost, of course, that of the anthropologists, who have never noticed it because they too consider it absolutely natural and logically necessary.7
Plumwood’s analysis of the five components of mastery allows us to perceive how mastery as an abstract and general attitude gives rise to concrete and particular category-bound activities. Today we will only have time to look very briefly at one of these five features, instrumentalism or objectification.
Instrumentalism defines the other as a means to the master’s ends. Either the other’s ends are not accorded equal consideration with those of the master, but are subordinated to the master’s convenience, expediency or whims, or the other is assumed not to have interests and aims of her own and is defined simply as an instrument for the master, and evaluated purely in terms of the master’s purposes. Her very existence is justified only by her usefulness to the master and is evaluated only on the master’s terms: a wife, a slave or a horse are “good” or “bad” according to how well they serve and satisfy the master’s needs; in the most extreme case, their life has no intrinsic value but is exclusively a resource for the master. As a consequence, the other is excluded from ethical consideration and her plight, however extreme, is not seen as a fit object for political action (Plumwood 53). Even though Plumwood does not show any particular interest in the plight of animals, their theoretical (even though unacknowledged) centrality in her argument is apparent in that only animals embody the extreme case of being "seen as outside morality altogether" (53), so much so indeed that their lives have no intrinsic value but are exclusively resources for the master, to the point that those lives can be taken not as punishment (however arbitrary) or in self-defense (however imaginary), but simply as a necessary practical step to transform them into corpses which may be consumed.
This attitude builds the foundation of the category-bound activities which make up most of the relations between humans and animals. From farm animals to those who are imprisoned in research facilities, scores of billions of animals each year are bred only to be used by humans for their own ends, which are incompatible not only with a however minimal quality of life but with simple survival. The everyday life of all nonvegan humans is permeated by category-bound activities which assume and reiterate the “naturalness” and “normalcy” of an instrumentalist and exploitative relationship with “animals.”
At the core of this exploitation, and most important for its definitory function, is meat-eating. Eating meat normalizes the murderous oppression of other animals to the point of making it imperceptible. Because the vast majority participates in it directly and on a daily basis, and because the link between extreme violence against animals and thoughtless human enjoyment of its results is so unmistakable and straightforward, meat-eating powerfully reiterates human identity by joining all humans in a common front against animals. Meat-eating is the fundamental act which restates, with incontrovertible clarity and absolute generality, the most basic tenet of the shared worldview which holds our species together: its unconditional and undisputable superiority to all others, and consequently its right of life and death on them. Eating meat is indeed important, not for our health but for our identity.
The role of the cruelest and most violent, and at the same time most widespread and most mundane, consequence of instrumentalism as a category-bound activity which defines human identity also serves to explain a remarkable conceptual asymmetry. Animals who, no matter if just potentially or in theory, threaten the life of the animals we feed on (whether by breeding them or by hunting them) are considered dangerous predators, and exterminated; we, who kill those same animals in order to feed on them, and do so on an inconceivably larger scale, do not conceptualize ourselves as dangerous, or even simply as predators. The reason is to be sought in the way killing in order to feed on the corpses of victims is conceptualized as a category-bound activity: in our case, predation is a legitimate consequence of the instrumentalism deriving from our mastery of other animals, while in the case of animals it is an illegitimate appropriation of a category-bound activity which defines a different, and higher, category, and must therefore be sanctioned, usually with death. The stigma associated with this appropriation reaches a paroxysm of violence when the category-bound activity of predation is not only appropriated but subverted, as happens whenever an animal attacks a human. This of course happens only accidentally and sporadically, and in a vanishingly small number of cases, especially compared to the number of animals killed purposely and by design by humans; but in matters of category definition quantitative details do not matter: the mere possibility of a subversion of the roles in the predator-prey relationship is intolerable, because it challenges a fundamental component of humanity. (It goes without saying that a rational consideration of the danger posed by “wild animals” plays no role in the hysterical reactions to the possibility of them attacking humans: the number of people killed in car crashes is immeasurably larger than that of those killed by animals, but nobody seriously suggests to deal with car crashes by eradicating motor vehicles.)
It is extremely interesting to note that the role of our murderous mastery of other animals as the category-bound activity which defines the category of humanity stands in stark contrast to the self-conceptualization of our species. Despite the inconceivable number of animals we kill for the most diverse and frivolous purposes, we do not think of ourselves as predators. Indeed, a large number of highly successful cultural artifacts, like Jaws or Alien, work by appealing to our ever-present disposition to conceptualize ourselves as preys. The self-concept of our species is thus revealed as the foundation and the prototypical case of false consciousness. By assuming the exploitation and murder of other animals as the category-bound activity of humanity we have divested it not only of any ethical questionability but of any ethical meaning, and of its very essence. Not only do we find it impossible to critically question our predatory activity: we find it impossible to conceptualize it as such. This allows us to divorce our self-representation as humans from any factual basis. We humans are predators but we conceive of ourselves as preys. Our humanity is defined simultaneously by the continuous and massive practice of predation and by the pervasive, absolute, often hysterical refusal to acknowledge it, and to face its moral consequences; by our inconceivably huge and inexhaustibly inventive exploitation of our preys and by our non-negotiable refusal to accord them that status, and consequently to accept our identity and responsibility as predators. The category-bound activity which defines us as humans is therefore not simply predation, but a logical contradiction and ethical monstrosity we could ironically label “innocent predation.”
This is all the more meaningful since our species is the only one that, thanks to its complete emancipation from “the state of nature” and to the lucky evolutionary quirk that makes it possible for us to thrive on a vegan diet, could realistically choose to locate itself completely outside the predator/prey binary, and thus to make the violence on which this categorical opposition is based completely obsolete, at least as far as it was concerned. Instead, we have chosen to define ourselves very differently. On the one hand, our self-definition extols our ethical superiority to all other species (icastically embodied in the quintessentially question-begging adjective “humane”); in practice the definitory category-bound activity of mastery hinges on an unacknowledged practice of extreme and all-pervasive violence which escapes not only all limits and all controls but, most importantly, all notice.
In our self-concept we base our right to a status superior to that of other species on our cognitive abilities and ethical awareness; but the means through which we affirm that status contradict this justification: the category-bound activity which defines us as superior and as human is a predatory activity which transcends all boundaries of nature and of reason, having pushed innumerable other species on the brink of extinction and beyond, and having endangered not only a huge number and variety of ecosystems, but our own survival. Our self-image and the reality of our nature are therefore implacably at odds: what really defines us as humans in opposition to “animals” is not intelligence or compassion, but the unique and nefarious power to turn all other species, without distinction, into prey, using our intelligence as an instrument of death, and ridiculing compassion whenever someone feels it. The deepest, most authentic and most misunderstood hallmark of human superiority is aptly described by Canetti in a memorable page of Mass and Power:
The instant of survival is the instant of power. The horror upon the sighting of death dissolves into satisfaction, since one is not oneself the dead. He lies, the survivor stands. It is as though a struggle had taken place and one had killed the dead oneself. In survival each is the enemy of the other […].
The lowest form of survival is that of killing. Just as one has killed the animal one eats, just as it lies defenceless in front of one, and one can cut it into pieces and distribute it, as booty that he and his own will consume, so one also wants to kill the human who stands in one’s way, who stands up against one, who stands against one as an enemy. One wants to lay him down in order to feel that one still exists, and he no longer does. (Canetti 249, my translation )
The category-bound activity of “innocent predation” is, however, only the most visible and most widespread example of a false consciousness which permeates and subtends all aspects of our relationship with other animals. Because of its foundational role in the definition of the category of humanity, this false consciousness is a central, though unacknowledged, feature of the human condition. In our idealized self-representation we define ourselves in opposition to other animals for our emotional and moral qualities, whose focal case is empathy towards the weak and innocent. However, in our real everyday actions, in all times and cultures, humanity manifests itself through category-bound activities which require the repression and ridiculing of empathy and the systematic, cold-blooded deploying of murderous violence on innocent weaker beings. Therefore the general and idealized definition of “humanity” is starkly and inescapably contradicted by the particular concrete actions (the category-bound activities) through which our species has chosen to define itself in its actual relationships with the rest of the world, and with animals in particular, and through which humanity is performed, affirmed and reiterated.
We cannot have it both ways. The sooner we realize this, the better. For all concerned.