Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review of Defending the Earth: A Debate Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman.[1

The debate between social ecologist Murray Bookchin and Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman is interesting because it touches on some of the most pressing issues that stand in the way of any genuine dialogue between those that privilege the humyn socius and those that hope for a renewed world-view that privileges all life—not just humyns. In what follows I would like to evaluate some of the arguments presented in this debate. I wish to discuss the first text in the book named above especially and allow for a dangling thought to be produced by way of Dave Foreman’s repetitious gelassenheit, a Heideggerian term that means ‘letting things be’.

Murray opens the debate by articulating this precise issue.[2] He targets a position (a deep Ecologists position), namely that many think that the natural environment requires protection from all humyns. This position has often been associated with the view that the world would be better without humyns in the first place—that the humyn is a evolutionary mistake, and that Nature is trying desperately to restore the balance. It is important to get clear on this issue because there is a sense in which it lends a hand to the view that implies that natural disasters are good. (Of course, natural disasters are normal, indeed balancing, but the idea that Nature is deciding to destroy humyns is ridiculous because Nature doesn't have agency)
Bookchin counters this first point of view (not the associative cluster) by reductio ad absurdum, arguing that this position erases the differences of responsibility that exist between molar-masses, and that this ‘blames the victim’.[3] In his words, the black kid in Harlem is not the same as the CEO of Exxon. So, by talking about all humyns as being collectively responsible for the catastrophes on the earth, we blame those that are also directly affected by the actions of some humyns. Moreover, because these othered humyns, caught up in the exploits of capitalists are, ex hypothesi, on all fours with these capitalists, we trivialize the actions of the capitalists. In other words, relating the bosses to the workers makes the workers worse, and the capitalists better.
The trouble with this argument is that is let’s humyns off the hook for fucked up processes of consumption. Can we really say that humyns that live in industrial civilization are not to blame? Perhaps we shouldn’t say blamed in the same way; but we cannot let any industrial process off the hook. Just because you happen to occupy a space in fucked up social relations doesn’t mean that you have not contributed to the seething mass of plastic in the Ocean, or the deaths of Trillions of Animals. The original position that there is a problem with being-civilized can be defended provided that we make a distinction between those that have been formed by industrial civilization and those that have not; it would be victim blaming only if we said that all non-industrialized civilized humyns are on all fours with all civilized humyns. So, instead of advocating the death of all humyns, we advocate the death of 'industrialization' and so, all the processes that are picked out by this geographic reality.

Murray Bookchin seems to want to evade these issues because, in his opinion, ecological devastation has a limit; namely, that provided social relations and hierarchies are dissolved—of course only humyn hierarchies—ecological problems will be resolved.[4] In his mind it is patriarchal masculinity and echoes of this form that destroys the planet. But being a capitalist isn’t limited to only this or that body. Similarly, anyone can replicate the form of being-hierarchical. So there is no fixed ‘come what may’ distinction between Oppressor and Oppressed, despite leftist/anarchist rhetoric.  (In a language yet to be disclosed we can think of bodies as territorialized and territorializing productions; hence, while there are real issues to be resolved with repeated forms of hierarchy--and bless this anti-o apparatus--there is always more deterritorialization to occur. Only when all individuals are free to follow their own desires can we say that we have a prefigured apparatus for installation.)

The question that has to remain front and center is whether social justice entails ecological justice. Bookchin supports this view by noting that Humyns are part of the natural world and must be considered part of what we mean by Nature. Humyns are a product of natural evolution; we didn’t arrive ex nihilo. So it seems that we are destined to be here and our destiny is defined by virtue of ‘long antecedents in natural history’[5]. But our being here is not this or that; as it turns out, we have evolved to be possibly responsible (“nature rendered self-conscious”), and so, pro-ecological, rather than irresponsible and anti-ecological as our social apparatus has become with patriarchy at the helm.[6] So in Bookchin's view we have to alter our cancerous social apparatus and adopt a view towards the world that is pro-ecological and responsible. This argument trades on the genetic fallacy. It is strictly indeterminate whether humynity ought to continue; it is strictly indeterminate that the existence of Seven Billion humyns ought to be considered an “intended” part of the “natural” flows of “random” mutation. Just because something is or happens to be, doesn’t mean it ought or will continue to be. There are all sorts of conditions that humyns have produced that make the possibility of blind-evolution neither here nor there. It is strictly indeterminate that evolution is our ally, or, more precisely, that something to come isn’t seeking to break-through the civilized humyn being. Of course, this is what Bookchin is advocating when he says that we render ourselves self-conscious and in touch with Nature, as part; but I wonder if this position doesn’t seek to make humyns in control of what is essentially uncontrollable. 
Frankly, I doubt very much that the interests of the universe see the necessity of the humyn being in the first place. We should say instead, if humyns want to survive they had better adopt a new land ethic that is ecologically feasible. The idea of being rendered self-conscious implies that one is in a state of being-aware of how things really work (and ought to); and this thought segues rather well into the notion of mega-fauna advocated by Dave Foreman whereby we try to reach a natural threat-based cold-world equilibrium rather than create one that is warm and fuzzy for all humyns, or even create the illusion of one that is warm and fuzzy.  In the very least Dave Foreman has a nice little thought experiment here.
Dave Foreman wants to see a return to a world that permits the flourishing of all species (gelassenheit), even the reintroduction of species that would pose a threat to humyn beings.--My oh My! Of course, this point requires a bit of qualification: there has always been a ‘threat’ to the civilized world by way of “the wild”. From coyotes attacking roosts to cockroaches ruining dinner parties, and from rats eating the filth left over by raccoons, the humyn-wild binary has been upset; yet, the end result has always been the destruction of the different by humyn technologies of control. Dave Foreman’s view of gelassenheit is what he calls ‘rewilding’—that is, restoring ‘big wilderness’ (and then conserving it) based on the regulatory (top-down) roles of large predators.[7] So rather than permitting humyns free run over the earth, and thereby limiting the wild to “protected areas”, Foreman advocates, cautiously of course, that the humyn population be reduced drastically so that Nature can regain an originary equilibrium.
At least Foreman is willing to say something.

[1] Bookchin, Murray and Dave Foreman. Defending the Earth. Montréal, Québec: Black Rose Books, 1991.
[2] Bookchin, Murray and Dave Foreman. ‘Looking for Common Ground’ in Defending the Earth, 27-46. Montréal, Québec: Black Rose Books, 1991.
[3] Ibid., 31.
[4] Ibid., 32.
[5] Ibid., 33
[6] Ibid., 34
[7] retrieved from Dave Foreman’s website (http://rewilding.org/rewildit/what-is-rewilding/) on November 16, 2011.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dreaded Comparison

A persyn in Toronto recently has brought a form of indiscrimination to the attention of the humyn rights tribunal here in Toronto. Allegedly, her academic superiors refused recommendation to other schools for PhD programs because she believes that humyns and animals demand, presumably, the same moral obligation. This persyn seems to be doing the wrong work in the wrong program. Why the hell would one carry out a discussion concerning animal rights in a faculty of humynists that find the most radical forms to be state-sanctioned disability studies? Of course the expansion of inclusion is important; but give me a break! The reason why social justice is a pile of malarkey is precisely that it is grounded more fundamentally by a call from animals, the wild; no humynist is willing to accept that point. Instead, the line between “reasonable research” and “off-limits research” is reified, and 'wild et. al' is dismissed arbitrarily. Of course, once the social sciences are updated with French Post-Structuralism, say Deleuze or Derrida, AR will be a natural outcome.—In good time. As it stands Anti-Oppression can only (rhetorically) be a matter of humyn privilege.
            Anyways, this persyn has decided to kick up a stink. While it isn’t clear that she has finished her MA and that she is off to carry out a PhD, it seems clear that her desire to study Animal rights (in sociology) has been met with derision. But she has also been referred to as a racist for comparing some humyns to animals. Evidently there is a disagreement over terminology here; but it is curious. It obviously trades on meaning and use. I want to consider her entire claim and also some of her arguments before I turn to this last point and its soundness.
According to her claim, she is being discriminated against because she is vegan and because she believes that the moral imperative to help a humyn is the same call that obliges us to help an animal. Thus, animal rights and humyn rights are on the same foot. It was this ‘religious creed’—her words, certainly not mine—that purportedly got her into trouble; and because vegans follow a certain set of principles and rules, she thinks that she ought to be protected from discrimination, and that in particular, her reputation should not be destroyed because of her beliefs concerning moral obligation. The trouble is that her opinions are racist.
She objects! She identifies as a person of color; so it is impossible for her to be racist. The trouble is that her words have nothing to do with her at all. The form of her words is necessarily racist because it compares the animal to some humyns thereby, essentially, calling them animals. To say that the suffering of animals is anything like the suffering of any humyns is to refer to those humyns as less than humyn. The trouble of course is that the form of words (say, “the ongoing animal holocaust”) cannot escape this kind of racist-trace because the term ‘animal’ is always going to be sorted onto the complement or, outside. Remember that every humyn victory in the social justice world has been a matter of forcing the privileged class (the humyns) to see that “the oppressed” are not animals. To say that animals are anything like some subset of humyns is to necessarily relate some humyns in a direction that they would not desire, indeed, in the direction that “Oppressors” have always sorted them. So, it doesn’t matter that this persyn is Racialized. The function (animal holocaust, say) sorts some set of humyns (presumably not herself) onto the outside of humynity.
Of course there is a difference in use that is present. Some of us see that all the assigned terms and predicates are totally bullshit. But so long as we use the same terms to extend the line of persyn, the traces that precede us will always produce contrary conclusions to those that we desire.
Consider another example that was brought to my attention a while back. Deep Ecologists have always fetishized the idea of Nature as Woman—as caretaker, as Mother, and sometimes, when it suits them, as Wild and uncontrollable fury. To say that rekindling one’s uncontrollable fire is what is really important—in opposition to Stoic Patriarchy—overlooks the fact that this space (the wild) has traditionally been assigned as a lack. So there is a certain sense that even though Deep Ecologists meant the term in a different way, the semantic meaning of the term preceded its use and made it difficult, or even impossible, for deep Ecologists to make their point. This privileging of Mother Nature in the form of desired re-wilding, presupposes that the function of Patriarchy is legitimate in some sense. Deep Ecology supposes that what Patriarchy assigns to Womyn is what should be assigned to all of us. The trouble is that many persyns fought really hard to escape from the lack that they were assigned, and a reassignment is fucked up. 
The dreaded comparison between humyns and animals always reassigns this lack in a racist way, no matter how racialized one is; for even if one is assigning oneself the category of animal (and that is all that one can do) , there is every reason to suppose that one voice is not sufficient to speak for every right to an identity. In other words, just because you identify as an X doesn't mean that you can speak for all others that identify with X or that all X's would agree with your anti-hierarchical claim, and so, your reduction of X-hood to Y-hood by comparison.
The only real group that stands outside in the margins when it comes to similarity with the animal plight is the persyn that has been denied civic status in such and such a state. These persyns are treated "inhumanely" because they have no rights (or, what's the same, because they have animal rights). In order for there to be a positive value, there has to be a negative oppositional place, a place that is denied value so that every other place has value. Paradoxically, even if animals had rights, there would still have to be a place occupied by the reality of being-an-animal and so, being-treated "like an animal".