Sunday, August 30, 2009

People of Color and the human/animal divide

Renee over at Womanist Musings and Feministe has made a post about the connection between the claims of animal rights groups that humans are animals and the suffering of people of color. I don't make this post at all to defend Peta. Rather, I want to look at her post not about Peta, but in order to follow the claims about the need of speciesism for people of color.
Renee ends her post with the following lines:
For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted speciesist. My dignity and humanity demand no less.

Now, in some ways such a sentiment is odd coming from a website entitled "Womanist Musings" (considering that Womanist is a term coined from Alice Walker, and her statements about animals. For example, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites, or women created for men." This is from Walker's introduction to Marjorie Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison, p. 10). In some ways odd, and in many ways quite obvious. Only an idiot, a racist, or to say both those terms in another way, an essentialist would assume that all people of color, hell, all women of color have the same experiences and the same reactions to those experiences. Indeed, the import of much of the work of womanist philosophy and theology, the import of much of the work of radical women of color, has been the insistence on the heterogeneity of identity. But of course, the other reason it is not surprising is that Renee is not the first person of color to express such a sentiment.
While the animal rights and animal ethicists folks have tended to focus on those who have identified their suffering with the suffering of animals, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Alice Walker. (I too usually focus on this). What is worse (and I hope I am innocent of this, at least) has been to answer accusations of racism, sexism, etc. through quoting such people as trump cards. As in to say, "You call me a racist, but here is Alice Walker! Now what?!" I think we can all agree that such an attitude is a sick authoritarian game.
I hope to advance this post without reverting to such a position, to answer problems in ways that are both clear and that don't try to use the statements of certain famous individuals to play as trump cards.
The fear advanced by Renee, and that I have heard by many others (one prominent decolonial theorist put it that dissolving the human/animal divide means giving up the entire decolonial project), comes from the connection between dehumanizing (meant here as a literal process by which beings are conceptually stripped out left out of humanity) the colonized and other people of color and violence. To be a bit more specific, because the colonized, the enslaved, and people of color (to this day) are compared to animals in order to justify violence against them, or in general to delegitimize the standing of people of color. Because there is a tradition, extending to this day, I can understand the great fear that comes with arguments for destroying the divide between human and animal. The great fear that comes with embracing that monstrous phrase 'the human animal'. Being animals have happened (and still sometimes happen) to people of color. It didn't work out so well for them.
Indeed, I can understand why decolonial theorists have almost universally not given up on the project of humanism, while at the same time being some of the most proficient and powerful of critics against humanism. So much of the struggles of the colonized and persons of color have come from a commitment to being human, too.
There always exists a politics when a non-paradigmatic human being claims the title of human. This is as true for when the colonized claim to be humans, as when the Great Ape Projects argue for the personhood of Great Apes. However, in a fine Ranciere-ian fashion (a Ranciere devoid of his anthropocentrism, so therefore a Ranciere beyond Ranciere), while the claim to be human may be political, it does not remain political. Instead, liberal post-politics raises its head. "What, Apes are humans now? Sorry, we got it wrong, but finally we got it right, we now know what the human is." And the dream of a place for everyone and everyone in their place continues. For those of us on the critical animal studies side of the process, these political moments of demands for the right to claim humanness or personhood are also moments to continue the political. That is to say, to forward our argument that the human/animal distinction cannot stand. To say, "If you got this one wrong, maybe you very ordering system is wrong." In this way we hope to not just change the count, but change the very logic of counting through this moment of tort.
This is where I don't know how to make common cause. For me, it is obvious that the wrong done to the non-paradigmatic human beings is based upon the ability to do wrong to animals. If we end the ability draw lines between the human on one side and all animals on the otherside, if we embrace the monstrosity of the human animal, then we end the ability to continue to do harm to people of color by calling them animals. That loses the power of justification. But it seems to me that for many people of color that such a move jeopardizes their lives instead of enriching their lives.

Hopefully a place to work out such problems will be created.

EDIT: Adam, in comments, suggested Royce's post on this topic from Vegans of Color. I highly recommend it.

Also, over at Philosophy in a Time of Error (such a wonderful title) there is a response to my post, which I completely suggest reading, as well.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Announcement! New Group Blog, and our first event!

Here is the announcement I promised earlier:

Craig, Greg, and I have put together a group critical animal studies blog, entitled The Inhumanities. There isn't much there now, however what is there (besides an about us page) is an announcement of our first book event:

We are pleased to announce our first event, an intervention in and reading of Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida. We plan to cover a chapter a week, and the first post on the book will be up this coming Tuesday, 9-1-09. We encourage everyone to participate in comments, or emails. Calarco has been kind enough to agree to follow the discussion, and post a response at the end of the discussion.

Remember, if you want to email us just drop us a line at

For those that do not know, Matthew Calarco is a major name in the growing critical animal studies field. He is the co-editor of Animal Philosophy, along with editing several other books. He also was a participant in the recent analytical/continental get together over the question of the animal, in The Death of the Animal. And, of course, is the author of the monograph at hand.

I seriously hope many of you follow, comment, and participate in the discussion of Zoographies. If you want to have a more formal role in the group blog for future events, please email us at or email me at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elisabeth Rodinesco

I just reread her dialogue with Derrida about violence towards animals in For What Tomorrow... .

Do you think she needs to disavow the bête because she is afraid she is bête?

(For those that don't know French, bête means animal, but it also means stupid).

Greg has a post
on Rodinesco's points in the dialogue. It is much better than my middle school insults. What can I say, he clearly has more patience than I.

What philosophers do you teach to high schoolers

Say you teach an advanced group of seniors a course on the humanities, in general. Throughout this course, while you do art, literature, music, and history, you want to include philosophy. You have a limited about of time throughout the year (let's say about 16 contact hours) in which to introduce your students (who have zero background in philosophy) to the most important broad ideas of philosophers and/or philosophical movements.

What philosophers and/or movements do you teach?


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sorry for the lack of updates

Hopefully though, a big announcement (well, medium sized at least) will be forthcoming in a few days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Critical Animal gets a new look

Thoughts? Is it more readable? Do you take me more seriously now?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Have Never Been Human

In recent discussions over humanism(s) and philosophical anthropology, I figure I should address my own feelings on these subjects in a more direct way (aka less critical). There have been several attempts to advance a non-anthropocentric anthropology of recent. Bernard Stiegler's first volume of Technics and Time (hey, OOP people, what are your thoughts on Stiegler?) is a move in this direction. Judith Butler has said in interviews that her most recent work is also a move in this direction. Kvond has a fairly long post on Virno's recent attempt at such a trajectory, in Virno's essay “Natural-Historical Diagrams: The New Global Movement and the Biological Invarient” (both are worth reading, EDIT though I have reservations to Virno's conclusions, which I hope to get to later). I continue to remain skeptical of the success of all these projects, even if I have benefited philosophically from all of them. My own view has been that such a philosophical anthropology remains unnecessary and potentially harmful. I tried to advance something of this argument before in my post on Species Trouble.
I certainly do not deny differences between human animals and other animals. What I deny is The Difference. The Difference is the borderline drawn that will finally demarcate The Human, that will finally let us know what it means to be human as opposed to, well, everything else in existence or ever in existence. We will finally The Difference that will hold in common every being we determine to be human while managing to hold every other being as different from this human common.
So we have differences, probably a countless and irreducible number of them. Just as there is a difference between me and you, there exists differences between us and my cat in the other room. And sometimes my cat and I can be different from anyone reading this blog. Multiple differences refuses any determinate nature. To say someone is a human or a cat is ultimately a convenience, not a philosophical fact (either ontologically or ethically). I remain fundamentally confused why I need anything more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Care About Animals: A response to some questions by Paul Ennis

In my last post on becoming-vegan/vegetarian, Paul raised some pertinent questions that I have not really bothered to answer. I'll attempt to address them, if not exactly answer them, here.

I also think it would be cool, although maybe boring to you, to express why one should engage in animal criticism. I say this geniunely from an outside perspective, but it is not immediately clear why one should have an ethical obligation to animals beyond the casual one we tend to have with pets and not being cruel.

One of the focuses of my own work, and indeed a focus of much of the current work in critical animal studies, is to show how the violence done against other animals connects to violence done against the human animal. This is done in a wide variety of ways, and the literature base of people arguing from this perspective in the last five years has grown in vast amounts. Though a common feature in almost all of these diverse arguments is the impossibility to draw a single (philosophically relevant) line with all humans on one side and all nonhuman animals on the other side. My analytic brethren often refer to this as the species overlap problem. This means the ethicist is left with one of three choices: (1) Include animals (even if not all) based upon whatever criteria they care about. (2) Exclude some human animals from ethical concern. (3) Simply have an irrational ethics.
What has emerged in my work and in so many others is a strong argument for caring about other animals that means someone can support that without, you know, actually caring about other animals. And in some ways this is really useful. If I am talking to someone who cares about rights, or the violence of biopolitics and coloniality, or fighting for the common; I have an entire language and sharp theoretical tools at my disposal to try and make them care about other animals, too. The problem, of course, is that I think we should care about other animals regardless of the fact that our well-being is bound up together. To put it another way, if by some miracle someone was finally able to draw the line between The Human and The Animal, and where able to convince me that we could do violence towards animals without having that violence crossing over to The Human, I would still think we shouldn't do violence towards other animals.
At that moment I lose a lot of my fancy philosophical tools. I really don't know how to make you believe that a factory farm or the vivisection laboratory is evil. I become almost levinasian in those moments, feeling that the other calls out for an ethical response. I have zero reason why the suffering of other animals should not matter to me.

Paul continues his question:
I suppose a big issue from my perspective revolves around the following fact: humans are horrible to other humans. We have never been able to resolve this, but we must keep trying. It is a constant battle etc.

...and how then one can ethically take the stance that we need to extend this to animals (thereby over-extending the already limited sympathy humans seem to possess). Yes pessimistic I know, but I ask only because I'm actually impressed that you guys are willing to take such a radical (and it is radical when you step outside the academy) stance.

This is certainly a question I/we get a lot. And I can understand it. If you don't already believe that other animals are ethically equivalent the human animal, and if you believe that justice is a finite category (which we all know we shouldn't believe, but after years of working with various activist groups I can tell you most people do believe there is not enough justice to go around), than why are we wasting ourselves "on such boutique issues as animal rights." (I think Paul is being far more respectful than this, I just wanted an excuse to make that link. Forgive me).
This is where the earlier analysis of the connection of violence between other animals and human animals is very useful. I am not sure it is possible to create a successful theory to help humans that does not include other animals. Moreover, I think I have a fairly strong historical ground to make this claim. If you look at the historical Vegetarian Society, you can see they were at the forefront of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles in England. All over the Western world I can find that pioneers in fighting for the rights of women and children were also fighters for the rights of animals. This continues to today when so many of the vegans I meet are radicals invested in all sorts of social justice movements.
Though this question of limited sympathies is certainly an interesting question. I think I am on the side of Hume (at least at the level of the framing of the question). We are already social beings, born by definition into a sociality. So the question is not, like Hobbes and Locke would propose, what is the best way to limit the atomistic individual so that we may have a civil society. The question is instead how do extend limited sympathies. So, the artifices we need are not ways of limiting people, but ways of extending people. When I talk about becoming-vegan/vegetarian as a resistant subjectivity, I do mean it as a praxis that is intended to produce such an extension. We need bodies, thinking, and relations that are capable of responding to the demands of the wholly other. We don't need a revolution in the distribution of the goodies of the world, we need a revolution in being.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on becoming-vegan vs. becoming-vegetarian

Craig recently had an excellent post up about the distinction between veganism and vegetarianism, please take the time to read it, if you haven't already. This has inspired me to return to my earlier posts on becoming-vegan vs. becoming-vegetarian.

One of the reasons I have liked to stick with vegetarian is simply I enjoy the history of the word. That means I enjoy the putative etymology of the word, but I also enjoy the way the word was early used. The Vegetarian Society was notorious for their political involvements in anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggles. They were fiercely anti-racist and anti-sexist. Furthermore, vegetarian meant the same as vegan does now. That means they did not eat any animal products. Now, clearly that is not how the word vegetarian is used these days. Not only does vegetarian seem to have little clear indications of what these people eat (Fish? Chicken? Eggs? Dairy? What?), but also tends to only indicate a dietary movement rather than a political movement (though, I have to say that the term veganism is slowly moving in the same direction). The word vegan was created because vegetarian had stopped meaning, well, vegetarian. I recognize that, but I still like the history of the word.

Though obviously another reason was rhetorical. Veganism has a much stronger stigma in our culture than vegetarian. If I want to address my work to those that aren't even vegetarian, and break the relatively strong taboo among continental animal ethicists and suggest that if you care about critical animal arguments than you should, you know, probably withdraw yourself from the wholesale slaughter of other animals in our culture, than having a little less stigma seems like a good idea. Furthermore, while there aren't many vegans in the academy, vegetarians are far more common (even if not as common as some people seem to think). I have often thought about the becoming-vegetarian terminology as a way of making alliance with those vegetarians, and having them see that choice in political, ethical, and ontopoetic terms. With the twinned aspirations of having more support out there, and of course of convincing vegetarians to take more steps in animal liberation and abolition. Hopefully also by becoming vegan.

Though another fear is that while vegetarian may carry less of a stigma than vegan with the non-vegan population, among vegans vegetarianism often carries a pretty high stigma. When I want my work to be taken seriously by other vegans, the last thing I want is for my work to be dismissed for being dilettantish and fundamentally unserious to a commitment to radically transforming our relationships with other animals.

So, rhetorically I have felt somewhat trapped. Though, there is another whole level of this debate I had not really foreseen until some recent arguments from Gary L. Francione. If you check his blog, you can hear a podcast and read some follow-up comments to his belief that vegetarianism should never be advocated, not even as a gateway to veganism. Francione argues that vegetarianism (as is currently understood) is ethically meaningless. And if you accept that proposition, than vegetarianism is becomes misleading and confusing, allowing people to feel they have made a significant change while doing nothing. I really don't know yet how I feel about these arguments. I think they have some merit, but I have all my hesitant feelings. I'll have to give it more thought. Anyone that wants to suggest more thoughts for me to have, please sound off in comments (as always).

Learning how to listen in the academy

Levi has one of those emotional and rhetorically strong posts about the bullshit of the academy, dealing especially with the insufferable scholar. If you are into those posts (I for one, am) go read it. It's one of his better ones.

I made a longer post here, but I decided it was unnecessary. Instead I will sum it up, telling you things most of you already know.

Practice freedom when reading.

Practice listening, as well as responding.

Don't defend criticisms against your cherished thinkers, instead hear what philosophical argument is advanced by that criticism.

Practice generosity when reading and listening to another thinker, looking for what is useful and where alliances can be made.

Don't worry overly if those alliances end up being one-sided. It's sad for the other thinker if they don't understand how radical their own thought is. Double ditto if the thinker is dead and we are simply talking about their disciples.

When making a critique, have a useful goal in mind. And no, setting the record straight is not actually something useful.

Never ever ever ever ask someone after they presented their argument, "What would Lacan say to your argument?" Or Marx, or Heidegger, or Deleuze, or whomever. You are hack if you do that.

Don't get in the middle of personal feuds disguised as philosophical arguments (if possible).
EDIT: In the comments section of his post Levi makes a series of enumerated points. Let's call these heuristics for a more productive intellectual dialogue (this assumes the point of the dialogue is to produce something, not peacocking). Here they are:

1) Don’t lecture others about your pet figure. Nobody likes it and it is generally insulting as it begins from the premise that the person you’re lecturing is ignorant.

2) Give the person the benefit of the doubt or exercise the principle of charity in communication. The principle of charity in discourse proceeds on the basis of both attributing basic knowledge to the person you’re talking to and giving the most generous possible interpretation to the claims that they’re making.

3) Work on the premise that if the claim you think another person is making is entirely absurd such that no reasonable person would advocate it, it’s likely that you’ve misinterpreted what they’re claiming and need to explore alternative interpretations.

4) Work hard not to characterize the claims of others as conflations or mischaracterizations, i.e., recognize that there can be genuine differences in positions that are matters of dispute, not mistakes in communication. The speculative realist does not “conflate” fundamental ontology with ontology at all, but disputes the entire thesis that the human has some privileged or central place in questions of being. For the speculative realist ontology investigates being qua being, not being qua the human or language or culture or history or whatever other human phenomena we might like to put in the second place holder. This is a matter of genuine philosophical dispute and should be addressed as such, not an issue of misinterpretation.

I don't have a label for this post. I don't write advice posts, and I don't have a bullshit of the academy label. I'll put it under boring stuff about me, because that's what this post really is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Strong Humanism, Weak Humanism, Beyond Humanism

This post follows up on my earlier post about Leigh Johnson's concept of weak humanism. Again, I encourage you to take the time to listen to her dialogue, here. Also, as a note, she has further clarified her position in a blog post. Considering the majority of my response to the podcast had been written before that was posted, I will include my responses to clarification in a second post, and my first post will not be edited to respond to her new points, but hopefully I will have a part two up tomorrow.

Johnson begins her argument by stating she wants to defend human rights, philosophically. She feels in order to do that she needs a proper thought of humanism (and here is my first question: Does she really need a humanism here? What about a philosophical anthropology? Would she, like Judith Butler is attempting, be able to make the argument for human rights from a non-anthropocentric anthropology that avoids any sort of humanism?). Contrasting earlier modalities of humanism (which she terms 'strong humanism,' in that the traits of humanism that mattered were positive attributes such as autonomy, rationality, etc.), she proposes a new type of humanism (which she terms 'weak humanism,' not because the humanism is weak, but because the humanism is based upon qualities like weakness, vulnerability, precariousness, etc.). Strong humanism sets the bar of admittance to the human subject too high, which not only leaves out groups that might not be able to make strong claims on rationality and autonomy, but more importantly does nothing for groups that are systematically expropriated from categories of strong humanism. In this, her work follows not only poststructuralist criticisms of humanism, but perhaps more strongly follows decolonial criticisms of humanism: the work of people like Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Slyvia Wynter, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, etc. The decolonial tradition has criticized humanism for its colonialist, imperialist, eugenicist, and frankly genocidal contours. These thinkers have shown how humanism not only justified colonial expansion, but also systematically denied admittance to the human subject to racialized and sexed bodies. Or, if racialized and sexed bodies were granted admittance, it was only as mimic men. After this critique, all of these thinkers make a second move; a call for a new humanism, one which will be true and real. While Johnson doesn't spend a lot of time explaining the critique against strong humanism, one assumes that all of this is in the background of her work. And if that assumption is made, it is not at all surprising that she too is constructing a new, true and real, counter-hegemonic humanism.
One of the major differences between her work and many of the decolonial thinkers is that whereas most decolonial thinkers simply assert the need for a new and true humanism, Johnson spends her time advancing the necessary step of a philosophical anthropology to support the new and true humanism. (There are, of course, several notable exceptions of decolonial thinkers who do engage in this necessary step. I would feel particularly amiss if I didn't mention the work of Slyvia Wynter again, who makes the strongest arguments in this direction, even if I ultimately disagree with her). Johnson's humanism of weakness and vulnerability is one that seeks to define the human in terms of a shared sense of being wounded, hurt, tortured, killed. One that seeks to privilege sentience over sapience as the primary quality necessary for an ethical and political response. Weakness and finitude are brought into the discussion not just to create a lower admittance into the human, but also because it is at the level of finitude we need an ethics and a politics. It is only because of our shared finitude that we are infinitely responsible for le tout autre. In this I would like to say I am agreement with Christopher Long's comment that it is at the basis of our vulnerability we are actually talking about a strength. The fiction of the autonomous and atomistic individual is an anemic fiction, actually weak because it cannot feed upon the powers of the common, a common that is possible only because of a shared finitude. Our responsibility to the wholly other is not, in this view, a burden. It is rather a practice of joy, an affirmation of life.
It is here that my confusion (or perhaps a critique hidden as confusion, though I honestly want to advance in the spirit of confusion, not critique) begins. I am working on how the concepts of abandonment, exposure, and vulnerability can be a way of entering into the dialogue of community that we find in Bataille, Blanchot, Nancy, Derrida, Agamben, and Esposito. But for me, such a community can never be a community of humans, but must be a community of animals (including humans!). When we look at capacities like vulnerability, percarity, suffering, joy, are we looking at capacities that are unique to the human? Are these the categories that make us human? That separate and demarcate the human from other animals? Or, are these the categories that come not from our humanness but from our animalness? Are not vulnerability and finitude the affirmation that we are one animal among others? An animal among other animals that suffer, that celebrate, that mourn and are mourned. As Butler argues in her Frames of War, "The point, however, would not be to catalog the forms of life damaged by war, but to reconceive life itself as a set of largely unwilled interdependencies, even systemic relations, which imply that the 'ontology' of the human is not separable from the 'ontology' of the animal. It is not just a question of two categories that overlap, but of a co-constitution that implies the need for a reconceptualization of the ontology of life itself" (pp. 75-76). Are we not talking about, ultimately, not a humanism of weakness but an animalism of weakness? Can we not think, along with Derrida, who contends in The Animal That Therefore I Am:
Being able to suffer is no longer a power; it is a possibility without power, a possibility of the impossible. Mortality resides there, as the most radical means of thinking the finitude that we share with animals, the mortality that belongs to the very finitude of life, to the experience of compassion, to the possibility of sharing the possibility of this nonpower, the possibility of this impossibility, the anguish of this vulnerability, and the vulnerability of this anguish. (p. 28).

If we are going to advance that our morality is tied up with mortality, how can we remain anthropocentric? Does not an argument for a shared vulnerability demand we jettison the anthropocentrism that got us in our present situation in the first place?
That is, I think, where my confusion has to open itself up to critique. This is where we have to go beyond humanism. I don't think it is enough to say, 'I am only concerned with human issues, and am therefore not trying to think animal issues.' I understand that one has a finite resources to work on certain political and ethical issues, but we are not talking about that right now. We are instead talking about the philosophical underpinnings for action, and those cannot exclude the wholly other because your current responsibility is not a response to that other. To paraphrase Derrida, one has to think without alibis. Not only can you not exclude the wholly other (and at this second that stands in for other animals), but it is necessary to understand the interlocking of oppressions. I don't know if I have time to go into this now, but let me advance one argument here. If you are able to expropriate beings into 'merely' animals, and if that 'animal' suffering is not considered equal to 'human' suffering, how do you stop anything? How do you stop the torture of 'terrorists' who are, as you know, animals? How do you stop the genocide of those that are, as you know, subhumans? How do human rights work if the victims' very humanity is exactly what is contested? (I am wish I had more posted on this issue. I have a rough draft of a conference paper on this exact question. I am not in total agreement with it anymore, but it might be considered interesting for showing some of the ways I am trying to explore these questions. Read it here). It seems that the only way for a weak humanism to work is for it to stop being a humanism at all.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Fashionable Dialogue: More on Sokal

Graham Harman has a response up about Sokal. It seems my last post wasn't clear. Absolutely the editors should have rejected the article. My belief is that they published it because of (a) the fact the article went out of the way to flatter the editors, as Graham points out, and (b) the fact they were impressed to be in dialogue with an actual scientist. Regardless, I don't think those are excuses for having published the article, those are some of the things the article publication indicts.
Garham also says he doesn't remember that the editors asked the article to have a lot of its footnotes removed. For that claim I am depending on the factual accuracy of the spin the editors put on the situation in their Lingua Franca defense. You can read it here, but they contend that:
Having established an interest in Sokal's article, we did ask him informally to revise the piece. We requested him (a) to excise a good deal of the philosophical speculation and (b) to excise most of his footnotes. Sokal seemed resistant to any revisions, and indeed insisted on retaining almost all of his footnotes and bibliographic apparatus on the grounds that his peers, in science, expected extensive documentation of this sort. Judging from his response, it was clear that his article would appear as is, or not at all.

To my knowledge Sokal never contested this claim.

As to the postmodern jargon laden nature of journal articles back then, I am in complete agreement with Graham on this one. It was an embarrassment. And considering he is a little older than I am, my guess is he was in the academy dealing with that sort of writing. Ouch.

EDIT: Graham responds here. I don't have anything smart to say except I found the discussion in the comments section actually more interesting than my actual post. So you should read them. Thanks to Craig and Paul for that exchange.

DOUBLE EDIT: Craig has a follow up, post here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Moved in, Weak humanism, and some thoughts on the Sokal Hoax

Well, I am finally moved in, and the place has shaped up nicely. Sarah has started orientation for medical school (I went with her and her parents to a parents night for the medical school, and it was seriously surreal. Basically, they have a PTA-esque organization for parents of, you know, grown students in medical school. Many of whom, it seems, still live with mom and dad. I don't have anything to add to that). I am amazingly behind on everything, but I have a friend flying in from california tonight, so it will be a couple of days still before I get around to anything I told anyone I would do (Personal note, from now I know that even with internet access, I won't feel like writing about anything than what I am thinking at the moment while moving, or doing some other stressful activity).

Meanwhile, Leigh Johnson (Dr. J. is her blogger name) has a dialogue with Christopher Philip Long on her notion of weak humanism. The discussion is both deeply problematic and also deeply interesting (at least for those interested in discussions of humanism, animals, rights, etc.). I plan to make a longer post (but again, who knows) on all of this later. Meanwhile, one of the strangest things is you have two people who are both advancing humanist projects who constantly keep returning to the question of the animal and the question of the environment. Now, it maybe that despite their humanisms, one of the subjects of the dialogue is deeply concerned with that question personally. But it is phrased in such a way that it seems to come up out of a perceived necessity. Long says his own work has come under critiques of anthropocentrism, and Johnson says that whenever she says humanism she is immediately asked "about trees and non-human animals." This is interesting to me. Because while the interviews with big names still seem to be immune to such questions (unless prompted by the big name, and even then often ignored), on the ground at conferences and things of that sort there is a growing tide of people demanding that animals and the environment be a part of ethical and political thinking. This matches up with my own experiences (fellow grad students always seem far more interested in what I am doing with animals than professors, who may like my work by find the animal part rather weird). Anyway, I'd suggest listening to the interview, and hopefully I might be able to write a longer response to the interview later.

Lastly, Graham Harman has a post on the Sokal Hoax, which gives me an excuse to talk about the Hoax here, briefly. What many people fail to realize is the article wasn't part of a blind review, the editors knew who Sokal was when they published the article, and knew he was considered an important scientist. They asked him to lower to the number of footnotes, to change much of the way the article was worked and sounded. Sokal refused explaining this scholarly apparatus was expected of him by his scientific peers, and the article remained at the social text offices until they decided to do a special issue on The Science Wars. His article was published not because it was good, or interesting, but because he was a scientist. What has always struck me about the hoax is that it reveals so little about postmodernism/anti-realism/social text/scholarly articles, but it reveals a lot about authority. Sokal's authority is what got him published. And in a journal that was dedicated to questioning that scientific authority in the first place, the editors still fell for the authority. We were given a chance to discuss the ways that authority play a role in academic publication, but that discussion never really emerged.