Monday, October 1, 2012

Response to Bison Wilder

Having heard JZ this week on Anarchy radio, I was referred to Bison Wilder’s essay (formerly known as Bobby Whittenburg-James) in order to consider his excellent critique of veganism. I am very pleased that veganism as an authoritative ideology is being critiqued in a very hot way; having lived with vegans, and also being one, such criticisms are inevitable, especially if one follows Oppression to root causes. The trouble is that these criticisms tend towards misunderstanding. I want to consider some of the arguments that Bison presents and then imply a sort of So What? rhetorical question in order to call into question what is being implied. I also want to be very clear: I subscribe to the telos of Anarche, which is better gestured at by Primivism than any other.

Too often animals are considered as part of the world of consumption, as though they ought to be reduced to mere commodities, much like womyn and the consumption of pornography. Given the implicit analogy this should be shocking; it should feel terrible to receive privilege off of the backs of enslaved animal persons, or at least just as terrible as watching oppressive pornography.
If we simply do not care about these things because of the logic of cynicism, say, then there is nothing more one can say. However, if we adhere to coherence (dubiously, surely), then if we want to make the argument that consumption in the world of capital doesn’t make a difference, we are bound by coherency logic to suppose that viewing oppressive pornography doesn’t make a difference.

From my cursory glances at these arguments made by primmies looking for excuses to eat flesh we might suggest a chain of reasoning like this: I can buy eco-detergent or I can buy Palm-Olive. The latter depends on vivisection, whereas the former doesn’t, and the former, moreover, excludes harmful non-natural chemicals that hurt more in the long-run. Furthermore, given that Palm-Olive is cheaper than any eco-brand, I can be less oppressed by working less for more money, thereby freeing up more time for myself. Both, however, depend on the system; so neither challenges the state nor capitalism, and in that contracted sense, there is no difference concerning my choice. Clearly there is a question of harm-reduction, and so there is a difference made despite ones’ delusions on the matter; Indeed, a “lack of difference” is a rhetorical and ontology falsehood, and that’s where the argument has to start; for we take on the responsibilities of those that we eat; if we eat them we eat what they ate.

Jackie Derrida has already produced some of these thoughts, at least insofar as he has thought through a lot more coherently than vegans have some of the implications of responsibility. (See his "eating well" in Interviews). Given that it is impossible to act perfectly, since it is impossible to not cause pain (...) how is it that we can say that this action X is best, when there can always be another that is better? The very idea of the best is stunted by the implicit hidden qualification: possible. We do the best that we can do. Bison makes this point well when he says that Vegans act as though they are morally superior to meat-eaters, while pretending that there isn't any "blood" on their hands. They therefore tote ridiculous slogans like: Go Vegan, Save the Planet—as though all that is necessary is not eating meat. But vegans that eat organic-monocultures are evidently not really with it when it comes to lines of responsibility either. Domestication is not a virtue; the only virtuous act present in eating organics is the possibility of staving off further ecological devastation through the total destruction of bee populations. But even though my desire to save agriculture through organics is on all fours with my desire to save capitalism, I still give a shit about bees.

Part of the reason that Singer articulated Specieism (Practical Ethics) is that it can be supported by scientific inquiry, and can thereby support appeals to the outside of Anti-Oppression. It is silly to suppose that the animal demarcates just where humyn begins, a fortiori in a Darwinian universe. Of course, these differences purported especially by humynists have already been deconstructed by way of Aristotlean science; we are animal: to kill the animal is to kill the life-body. So our ethical views can be supported biologically. Moreover, we can imagine care-for animals given that they have eyes, mouths, and faces, pace Levinas’ arbitrary line; Indeed, that they have mouths makes them more like us, and precisely unlike plants which do not have mouths but only in a metaphorical sense that would fail upon literalization. The trouble with Bison's analogy between animal and humyn pain and plant pain is that we require a different way of thinking concerning plant-pain. In other words, it doesn't make very much sense to say that a plant is like us, and it makes a lot more intuitive sense to say that they are unlike us. In Levinasian terms, the face, the look, the resistance, the text-writing, the plans--a fortiori with excellent books like Hribal's Fear of the Animal Planet--and even more so, given evolutionary biology, we have a responsibility only to those that we can imagine as being like us. So we can firm up the analogy in the relation between animal and humyn presumably because we share a genus; but we cannot with the plant unless we go one step back and thereby trivialize the relation that we have to others of the same genus. And that’s the trouble with attacks from agriculture that would seriously trivialize veganism as a worthy pursuit of ethical excellence. We share being with the earth, but the proximity that it has in a circle of care is far removed; we share more with animals, therefore, and less with plants. It is for these reasons that Bison’s charge that specieism occurs in vegan practice nevertheless is misplaced; while it is true to say that plants are of a different species, they fit into a different place on the hierarchy of being, a hierarchy that doesn’t support a well reasoned analogy because there is a disanalogy based on a genus. We might want to say, instead, that one is surely being genusist, an ugly word to be sure but no less ugly than Singer’s term.

Now, on Utilitarian grounds it is morally irresponsible to eat meat simply because one is only aiming to satisfy a certain scope of peoples (maximally). (Of course, whether or not it is possible to maximize this view is the question, given that animal production obviously destroys humyn communities too.) Nevertheless, it is better to not eat animals (and also make it ones responsibility to destroy animal agribusiness) than it is to simply steal meat from the supermarket, as Gelderloos put it. Is there egg on the vegans face? Of course! As Derrida says: we must eat; so we must eat well. I take this to suggest that rather than being Big Dicks, we should be the little dicks that we must be. Since we cannot avoid harm, we ought to avoid causing more than necessary.

So this of course means avoiding agriculture in all of its senses; but this point should not override the value of animal plans. Where Bison’s argument utterly fails then is where he supposes the charge of exclusion as being sufficient to undermine the ethics involved in veganism, a point that is already undermined by simply pointing to the logic of the better. So if one wishes to reduce harm, then one ought to follow one’s logic; if not, fuck it all. But Bison is not saying fuck it all. Bison appears to desire living ethically. This is because respect for all life implies that one make an effort, and especially, that one refrain from eating products that come from working class animals—if it even makes any sense to say that they sell their labor—and this only if we are still playing the buying game.


Vegans are decidedly in agreement about one thing; but in the movement there are abolitionists and there are welfarists. The former are divided on fighting for social justice issues—although they cannot be blamed given the sheer quantity of animal oppression. Approximately 52 Billion will be manufactured for death this year, and if we take Justice into consideration, thereby sidelining social justice, one simply has too much on their plate. Just as one can spend one’s lifetime without working on animal oppression, one can spend their lives working exclusively on the same. For me animal liberation just means liberation from the state in every sense because we are animals. For most other vegans, anarchy is too worrisome, and anarchism too socially inclined. So there needs to be a bit of nuance concerning veganism and what it really means: If one is truly interested in abolishing all forms of hierarchy one would probably become a vegan, or in the best case a gatherer-hunter; if one is only interested in ending non-humyn animal oppression, one will probably only be a vegan and surely wither away in the wilderness. In order to account for this difference—and to avoid equivocation—one must say that Bison has merely attacked the latter. And that attack closes the internal critique that vegan-anarchists have been waging all along, with their own.

Living an ethical life is rewarding. We do what is necessary to live. If that means eating whatever the fuck from dumpsters, so be it. But if humyn privilege is off the table as a discourse for dealing with one’s shit, then we’re passing from Anarchy to anarchism, and fuck caring about that old worn out hat. It is totally impossible to live without having slaves given the privilege/sickness of civilization; it is totally possible to reduce the number of slaves that one requires to make possible one’s life in civ. I take it to be obvious that the goal is to be totally free from the responsibility of these unenthusiastic yeses of consent (or, in the animal case, these obvious and painful no’s). That is to say: A consensual act is an enthusiastic yes; and no one that works for someone else works enthusiastically without being dis/ease-ridden. And you have to be pretty diseased to want the privileges of civilization.