I’ve added a new page to feature the fruits of my latest hobby. You can check it out here.
Reflections on the Hypatia affair
I’ve been thinking for a few days about whether I had anything worth saying about the publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia. I don’t know whether what follows is worth saying, or worth your time to read, but I did decide to say it.
First things first: when I read the paper, I was troubled that it was published. I was surprised and dismayed by the deadnaming of Caitlyn Jenner, and disappointed by the apparent lack of engagement with the literature in trans philosophy and critical race theory. I’m one of the people who believes that the paper should not have made it through review, and that it was a mistake for Hypatia to publish it in its present form—or maybe any form in which it could be said to be the same paper. I say these things with no relish whatsoever; I consider Rebecca Tuvel a friend (though we’ve only met in person once) and a decent human being who cares very much about social and interspecies justice. (We came to know each other through our common interest in animal liberation theory.)
But my own reaction to the paper is far less important than these two facts: (1) Many trans people and people of color feel that the paper trivializes and even contributes to their oppression through its methodology and its deadnaming of a trans person, and (2) many, many people who know the literature on trans theory and critical race theory much better than I do say that the paper fails to engage with that literature. These facts are important because on both counts, these other people are much better positioned than I am to know what they’re talking about. If someone says their experience of oppression has been trivialized and even exacerbated, we should be inclined to believe them. And if peer review means anything at all, then when a large number of people who work on the scholarly topic at issue say that a paper falls short of a key standard and shouldn’t have passed review, we should take that claim very, very seriously.
So my question to those who don’t work on trans issues or critical race theory, but defend either the substance of the paper or its publication or both, is: how are you in any position to know what you’re talking about? Sure, I have concerns about the paper myself, as I just said. But if I’d been asked to referee it, I’d have told the editors that they should look around for someone who’s actually qualified to review it because bringing me on would be Amateur Hour. No one ought to care very much whether I or any other non-specialist thinks the paper should have been published, but they should care a great deal about the opinions of those who actually know what they’re talking about. The prevailing view among those people seems to be that the paper shouldn’t have been published.
Many people seem to be characterizing this as a witch-hunt against a philosopher who defended a verboten thesis. My impression, at least of the criticism I’ve seen, is that this characterization is a very bad one. Critics of the paper, and of Hypatia, do not universally oppose the paper’s thesis, much less the decision of a journal to publish a paper defending that thesis. Instead, they object to what they see as an author’s failure to engage with the scholarly literature on the topic in question (a literature produced largely by people whose scholarship is informed by the racism and transphobia they experience daily) and to a journal’s failure to ensure that a published article situates itself within a literature with which authors and readers should be at least somewhat familiar. This isn’t thought-policing. It’s a demand for scholarly rigor in an area in which real people’s lives and well-being are implicated in the questions asked and answers given. If one wants to argue that the article is rigorous, is adequately situated in the relevant literature, then one should make that argument. Don’t fall back on the lazy assumption that this is a case of the “intolerant Left” devouring its own when they simply say the wrong thing. We’ve seen that tired old move before.
In fact, from what I can tell, a fair few of the paper’s vocal critics actually do believe that the topic and the thesis (or something close to it) are important. They (and I, by the way) think that at least some opposition to the idea of a person being trans black sounds an awful lot like the sort of garbage we hear from trans-exclusionary radical feminists: that trans women are not women but instead self-loathing or mentally ill gay men in a world where gender is determined at birth. TERFy opposition to the notion of trans blackness gives me serious pause. I don’t have a settled position on trans blackness, though my unsettled position on it is skepticism. All I can say, right here and now, is that to reach a settled position I would have to ground the question in the concrete realities of blackness and its history—realities reported by the very people who experience them. And I’m certain that I don’t know nearly enough to write a paper on any of this.
That observation about intellectual humility brings me to my next point. People who see their own marginalization manifested in the article’s publication, and their own experiences of oppression trivialized in the article’s argument, are angry about it. This anger is valid, and when it’s expressed we should all hear it and make a good faith effort to comprehend it—if at first we don’t understand—and to learn from it. And we shouldn’t always expect that people will express that anger in ways that make immediate sense to the rest of us. The fact that some of these expressions have been heated and vigorous doesn’t really bother me.
But I am bothered by the self-righteousness of philosophers and others who speak from positions of relative privilege—white and/or cis and/or masculine and/or tenured—acting as if they’re so woke that they would never make the kinds of mistakes they’ve charged to Tuvel. To those folx, I say get over yourselves. Take this opportunity to reflect on your own epistemic limitations. Me, I can say that among the many reactions I have to this case is a strong “there but for the grace of God” type of sentiment.
I know I’ve written at least one poorly researched paper on a topic I should have approached much more carefully, using philosophical methodology that was insensitive to historical and contemporary realities. I even presented it twice at conferences (refereed both times, mind you!). One time it was met with interest, the other time with anger and even a sharp scolding from an audience member. I managed to convince myself that the more receptive audience had the better measure of the paper, and submitted it unsuccessfully to a couple of journals. I eventually let the paper die one of those quiet, unmarked paper-deaths, and I can now say with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight that that’s the best thing that could have happened to it, and to me. But I got lucky. I’d wager big money, which I don’t even have, that I’m not the only one whose negative felt response to Tuvel’s paper has the ring of a pretty painful self-critique.
And that’s to say nothing of the hate mail Tuvel says she’s received. If you’re sending harassing or threatening emails to her, then you’re some kind of new punk, period.
Finally, I was rather amazed at the speed at which all of this happened. I actually saw people on social media essentially saying, within a day or two of the article’s publication, “when will we hear from so-and-so on this?” and “why has the editorial board been silent?” The fact that it’s now possible for people to weigh in on a situation within minutes or hours of the initiating event does not mean that it’s always reasonable to expect them to do so. Perhaps so-and-so isn’t glued to their social media accounts the way others are. Perhaps the editorial board is comprised mostly of people who didn’t see this coming and needed time to figure out what the heck had happened and to think about how to respond. The rush to form and disseminate views about this whole matter, and the expectation that others should do the same, kind of unnerved me. On the one hand, I understand that a great many people were hurting and wanted answers, but on the other hand, there could be many reasons why answers were not always immediately supplied. The associate editors, for example, took a day to correspond with each other in order to construct a response. Think what you will, good or bad, of their response, but the fact that they took time to think about it before issuing it strikes me as a good thing.
That’s all I have. Thanks for reading this far.
Anarchism and animal liberation: part 2
This continues a previous post, and is adapted from a work-in-progress.
Iris Young defines structural injustice as a condition that “exists when social processes put large categories of persons under a systematic threat of domination or deprivation of the means to develop and exercise their capacities, at the same time as they enable others to dominate or have a wide range of opportunities for developing and exercising capacities.” This is quite similar in spirit to the definition of ‘hierarchy’ that I offered in the previous post.
Young’s phrasing—“a systematic threat of domination”—is important. That someone occupies a lower position in a hierarchy does not necessarily entail that those above actually use their position to exploit or otherwise dominate that individual. But the latent possibility of domination, and its legitimation by the hierarchically structured norms of the social unit, is itself oppressive even if the possibility has not become actuality. A benign State, church, or capitalist still has power over their population, believers, or workers. Note too that there is no insider/outsider distinction made; the domination of an out-group by an in-group is not relevantly different from the domination of in-group members by other in-group members (which would best be understood as in- and out-groups within the larger in-group). As David Nibert writes,
The power of the state cannot be underestimated in its capacity to harness the vast majority of societal members into a system of laws that strongly favors the interests of the privileged. Throughout most of the past ten thousand years, that power has been used largely tyrannically and oppressively. In many instances, women, children, devalued males, and other animals have been viewed as personal property, and the full weight of the state has been used to protect the economic and utilitarian uses of these ‘others’.
Nibert is not an anarchist; he thinks that the State’s power can be a vehicle for social change serving the common good, provided that it is removed from the grip of capital. In other words, for Nibert it is the capitalist state, not the State per se, that is objectionable. Where anarchists part ways with his view is in their claim that the State is inherently hierarchical, and that the possibility or reality of tyranny is always present in the State.
Tbe sure, the anarchists best known to Anglophone philosophers did not seem to have animals in mind when they formulated their calls for revolution, expropriation, communal organization, and the satisfaction of the needs of all. Proudhon noted that humans were social animals, but dismissed as mere sentimentalism the idea that non-human animals had intrinsic worth. Although Kropotkin held that “[w]e must recognize, and loudly proclaim, that every one, whatever his grade in the old society, whether strong or weak, capable or incapable, has, before everything, THE RIGHT TO LIVE, and that society is bound to share amongst all, without exception, the means of existence it has at its disposal,” he was able to follow this assertion almost immediately with the hope that “none need perish with cold near shops full of furs….,” and to conclude that “[t]he ‘right to well-being’ means the possibility of living like human beings….” He imagined “the people of the insurgent cities” taking possession of not just the food warehouses, but the cattle markets as well, and discussed the apportionment of grazing lands. Clearly the subordination of animals to human beings seemed as acceptable to Kropotkin as it does to most who read these words in the 21st century.
That having been said, concern for the interests of animals was evinced even by anarchists at the turn of the twentieth century. Louise Michel not only advocated for animals and wrote critically about vivisection, but cited a lifelong hatred of the torture of animals as the origin point of her opposition to the powerful. Feminist anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre was known to those around her as a woman who was deeply attuned to the suffering of others, whose sensibilities extended beyond the human good:
Voltairine, as Emma Goldman noted, “would give shelter to every stray cat and dog,” something it would be hard to imagine Emma herself doing. As her friend George Brown remarked, “I have never known anyone who had so much sympathy for dumb animals. In fact, she made the house a hospital for misused cats and dogs,” and in keeping with her Tolstoyan precepts, she would not destroy life of any kind of she could avoid it, so that “when pests invaded her rooms she captured them and carried them out.”
In de Cleyre’s case, concern for animal suffering seems to have been connected to anarchist principles only inasmuch as an anarchist mentality is partly characterized by a sense of one’s co-existence with others whose well-being is part of the common good. She does not seem to have written or spoken about animals in connection with anarchism; her sensitivity to animal suffering appears to have been based more on personal temperament than on an explicit incorporation of animals into a principle of total liberation.
In contrast to de Cleyre, anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus made explicit his commitment to the good of animals on principled grounds in a 1901 essay entitled “On Vegetarianism,” which is remarkable for its location of similarities between, and mutual reinforcement of, domination of animals and the atrocities of aggressive war. Of the dehumanizing crimes committed by Allied forces during the Boxer Rebellion, Reclus wrote:
But is there not some direct relation of cause and effect between the food of these executioners, who call themselves “agents of civilization,” and their ferocious deeds? They, too, are in the habit of praising the bleeding flesh as a generator of health, strength, and intelligence. They, too, enter without repugnance the slaughter house, where the pavement is red and slippery, and where one breathes the sickly sweet odour of blood. Is there then so much difference between the dead body of a bullock and that of a man? The dissevered limbs, the entrails mingling one with the other, are very much alike: the slaughter of the first makes easy the murder of the second, especially when a leader’s order rings out, or from afar comes the word of the crowned master, “Be pitiless.”
For Reclus, systemic harm to animals was both wrong in itself and also a corrupting influence on human nature, which he viewed as bound up with the non-human natural world. His vegetarianism was based partly on a lifelong sympathy with animals sparked by a childhood glimpse of a slaughterhouse, but also on anarchist praxis—living so as to embody the peace and non-domination that characterize the anarchist society.
This tradition leads to the landmark 1997 pamphlet by Brian Dominick, “Animal Liberation and Social Revolution,” which explicitly links the project of animal liberation to anarchism’s opposition to all hierarchy. Dominick’s essay could be seen as the catalyst for the development of critical animal studies and an interdisciplinary anarchist animal liberation literature.
If anarchism’s foundational commitment is to the dismantling of hierarchies, then in order to bring animals within the fold of anarchist politics we must view human-animal relations in terms of stabilized and systemic power relations defined by domination. Seeing animals as relevant to an anarchist political project means seeing them as situated within and outside of, but in all cases affected by, human social institutions. Furthermore, it means seeing these institutions as serving and reinforcing an ideology of human supremacy.
Humans inflict numerous structural harms on animals. Their legal status as property, their genetic manipulation to produce “food” and to serve as experimental subjects, their minimal protection under the law, the use of animals as entertainment props: all of these aspects of human-animal relations are normalized and systematized. The human-animal binary is a socially constructed one, as I argued in section 3, and serves a means to human self-definition and the elevation of the human over the non-human and of some humans over others. Human supremacy is the ideology that normalizes these practices and produces an epistemology of domination (or what I have called “dominionism”).
Erika Cudworth summarizes the structural character of animal oppression:
Nonhuman species are not ‘less’ than humans, rather, this hierarchy is constantly reproduced by the active dehumanization of animals and the reinforcement of separation. This hierarchy is political, and anarchists sensitive to the naturalization of categories of oppression (in terms of gender or ‘race’ or ability and so on) should be attuned to those generated by the politics of species domination.
The State and capitalism are deeply implicated in animals’ oppression, and all three are entangled with other modes of oppression such as racism, patriarchy, ableism, and heterosexism. Therefore, animal liberationists have good reasons to embrace anarchist commitments. And anarchists, committed as they are to opposing all forms of hierarchy, have good reasons to be animal liberationists. The only possible liberation is total liberation.
Animals in human societies
One might object that since animals are not members of human societies—whether structured by state capitalism, democratic socialism, authoritarian communism, or anarchism—they are outside the scope of structural injustice. They can be wronged, but they cannot be regarded as having a stake in the structure of a human society, and in particular an anarchist society founded on the principle that all affected by a decision should have some input into the making of that decision. Animals, after all, do not seem to be able to engage in political expression or contribute to decision-making processes involving the structure of institutions or the distribution of labor or social goods. And they are not recognized as members of political units, membership in which is limited to human beings.
Taking the latter point first, the assumption that animals cannot offer their perspective on our choices is a dubious one, as Donaldson and Kymlicka point out. They vote with their feet, cry out in pain, alter their behaviors, and attempt to escape confinement. They express preferences in ways that should call into question vast patterns of human-animal interactions. These patterns have political significance, since they are stabilized, conventional, normalized, and politically and legally enabled and enforced.
As to the issue of membership, it is clear that domesticated animals, whether used for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or companionship, do inhabit human societies. They are dependent on humans for the provision of life’s necessities, and they dwell in human-made structures—in the case of companion animals, in humans’ homes. Domesticated animals are under human control or supervision all or most of the time. It is no use to claim that they somehow exist “outside” of human societies.
More to the point, however, is the fact that social connections are morally prior to political structures. As Iris Young has argued, the view that political institutions set moral boundaries gets things backwards; it is more accurate to say that social connections necessitate political institutions because those connections potentially bring various commitments and interests into conflict. Therefore, the question is not whether animals do or can participate in political institutions and processes, but instead whether human beings and animals stand in social relations—particularly relations that can generate violence, exploitation, and domination—that elevate the issue of human-animal interaction to the level of second-order principles that constitute social and political norms.
The intersectionality thesis helps to make these social connections more vivid. No animal is simply an “animal” in relation to humans; the human/animal binary is used to subordinate, but it does so partly by erasing the (mostly oppressive) complexity of interspecies relations. As I’ve said,
[A]nimals that share some feature may have their subordination constructed differently along some other dimension—the guard dog, the seeing-eye dog, the show dog, and the sled dog occupy different roles in the human social world. Some of these roles centre on economic exploitation, some centre on use with incidental economic benefits, some produce social benefits (e.g., prestige) that others do not. But ‘dog-hood’, for lack of a more elegant expression, cannot be detached from these other relations.
Similarly, horses are used by humans for various purposes: sport, transportation, labor. And some ways of categorizing animals erase animal oppression by directing our focus to the animals we view as companions or even family members. Thus, one can be an “animal lover” because one loves dogs—or at least those dogs we categorize as “pets”—while also eating or wearing the flesh of other animals. Animality is subordination, but the subordination of different animals is constructed differently depending on how groupings of animals are socially situated in relation to humans.
Animals that are not domesticated, whether wild or “liminal” animals, may not be tightly integrated into human societies but they are nonetheless affected by human practices and the operations of human social institutions—just as human beings who are not members of a national political community may still have claims of justice against the community and its members. That one is not a member of some social group does not entail that one’s interests are irrelevant to the design of the group’s institutions or the performance of its practices.
Total liberation requires activity on multiple fronts. The economic supremacy of the ownership class, and the political supremacy of its protective ruling class, must be challenged by a labor movement that looks beyond short-term gains for workers within the existing capitalist system (though those are important as well) to the long-term goal of replacing that system with one in which goods are produced to satisfy needs rather than to generate profits for an idle ownership class. White supremacy and patriarchy, with all of their social, political, and economic dimensions, must be systematically dismantled. Human supremacy and the systemic domination of animals, which are wrong in themselves and because they enable the dehumanization of vulnerable human populations, must be eliminated. And the State, enabler and enforcer of elites’ capability to dominate others both within and outside of its territory, must be scrapped in favor of organizational structures that recognize the equal claims of all affected parties to flourish and coexist on terms of genuine peace rather than a forcibly maintained order. And given the intersectionality of the construction of all these categories of domination, they must be dismantled simultaneously.
Of course, these are monumental tasks. They require the formation of coalitions whose activist members stand in solidarity with those whose energies are directed primarily at different but overlapping modes of oppression. They require the construction of new vocabularies to name and undermine the ideologies that sustain existing power disparities, as well as tactics that refuse conformity with prevailing norms of interaction that favor elites while having the symbolic resonance of propaganda by the deed. We have recently seen social movements, including the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and more recently Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, that aspire to and often realize these ideals. Sadly, the animal welfare, rights, and liberation movements have been slow to develop the same aspirations, and are still often characterized by whiteness, cultural insensitivity, and a bourgeois focus on consumption of vegan products. An anarchist sensibility is far less likely to generate such problematic tendencies, and it is not far-fetched to believe that this sensibility can be fostered. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street was strongly influenced by anarchism, and Black Lives Matter, though its activists generally do not identify as anarchists, has successfully employed strategies and tactics that are consistent with anarchism, such as confrontation and resistance rather than negotiation within prevailing institutional parameters, public disruption of events and business-as-usual consumer activity, and demand for structural change rather than mere reform.
Anarchism and animal liberation: part 1
The following is drawn from a scholarly work-in-progress. Commentary is welcome.
Relevant aspects of anarchism
Anarchism is often thought of as anti-statism, and in part it is–but that is not all it is. Anarchism is, first and foremost, a rejection of domination and hierarchy. I offer the following working definitions of these terms:
Domination is the ability to exploit, marginalize, coerce, colonize, inflict violence upon, or impose one’s culture upon others.
Hierarchy is stabilized and systematic domination. It exists when the domination of some groups by others is made a matter of formal and/or informal convention.
The problem with the state is that it exhibits hierarchy. It stabilizes, legitimates, and codifies unequal power relations between rulers and ruled, elites and the subordinated. It always has the ability to inflict violence, to exploit, to coerce. Anarchists favor forms of organization that are voluntary and based on consensus because they do not, when well-functioning, exhibit hierarchy. Many social relations other than state-subject also exhibit hierarchy, and are usually opposed by anarchists for this reason. These include capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, ageism, heterosexism, and ableism.
While anarchists are committed to a principle of free association, with the implication that one cannot force others to concede the truth of one’s view or to participate in any actions that the view seems to compel, this principle of free association is itself based on a more fundamental commitment to an egalitarianism about interests and a universalism about moral considerability. Anarchism attempts to be as ecumenical as possible about co-existence of diverse and divergent life plans, conceptions of well-being, and understandings of value while maintaining that no one may subject others to their rule. It is libertarian in the sense that that term was used before its appropriation by those who view liberty as an ideal compatible with the most extreme forms of deprivation and exploitation.
Anarchism differs from Marxism (in part) because anarchism does not reduce all forms of oppression to economic exploitation, and does not regard class struggle in the Marxian sense to be the engine of human history. Instead, it suggests an intersectional account of social categories according to which oppressive systems are entangled and mutually reinforcing, and rejects seizure of State power by the working class as a revolutionary strategy. (The strategy of seizing State power creates an internal conflict in Marxist theory, as it amounts to a change in the base by way of a change in the superstructure–never mind that for now.)
Part and parcel of anarchism’s rejection of hierarchy is an opposition to capitalism, a mode of production that places economic power in the hands of a few who profit from the labor of the many. So-called “anarcho-capitalism” is a right-wing libertarian liberalism that is far removed from the broad anarchist tradition, which emerges from and continues, among other things, to express the libertarian socialist ideals of the anti-authoritarian labor movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That tradition regards “anarcho-capitalism” as an oxymoron (since State violence is what ultimately grounds the property rights that lie at capitalism’s foundations), or at best a view that singles out State authority for criticism while leaving similarly authoritarian institutions and practices untouched. If put into practice, “anarcho-capitalism” would be quite compatible with the oppression of most humans and non-humans.
With this sketch of anarchism’s general contours in hand, we can turn to theoretical developments that give some shape, power, and elegance to anarchism’s vision of total liberation from oppression.
Anarchism, intersectionality, and animals
The term ‘intersectionality’ has come to refer to two different but related social phenomena. In its original sense, introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw to name a concept with origins in black feminism, it referred to the uniqueness of experience—and in particular experience of oppression—at the points at which different dimensions of social identity (race, gender, class, and so on) come together in the being of a person or group of persons. More recently, ‘intersectionality’ has also come to refer to the mutual reinforcement of various oppressions through joint construction of hierarchical social categories.
Feminists such as Karen Warren, Marti Kheel, Carol Adams, Catharine MacKinnon and Lori Gruen have produced an extensive body of scholarship on the mutual reinforcement of nature and the feminine as socially constructed categories. MacKinnon, for example, writes that
[B]oth animals and women have been socially configured as property (as has been widely observed), specifically for possession and use. Less widely observed, both women and animals have been status objects to be acquired and paraded by men to raise men’s status among men, as well as used for labor and breeding and pleasure and ease. Compare beauty pageants with dog and cat shows.
Ecofeminists have pointed out that from the liberal tradition back to Locke to the historical materialism of Marx, Western thought has distinguished between the rational, civilized, and masculine on the one hand and the emotional, natural, and feminine on the other. These dichotomies are not value-neutral; rationality and civilization are elevated above emotion and nature, the former representing the fullest realization of human potential. Women are thus identified with the natural and the animal, providing the basis for men’s mastery of women as a component of man’s mastery of nature.
Mark S. Roberts documents in great detail the animalization of groups of human beings including those racialized and gendered as subordinate, a process he describes as “a course of action that grew out of a number of theories aimed first at establishing human superiority over animals and then at the domination of certain classes and groups—a process that sought to ascribe, both ‘philosophically’ and ‘scientifically,’ the presumed inferiority and brutality of various animals to these groups and classes.” What makes the process of animalization possible is the political character of “human” as a class. David Livingstone Smith has argued that ‘human’ functions as a sort of indexical term which serves to pick out beings that are “like” the speaker in belonging to a kind that purports to be mind-independent and non-arbitrarily delineated. Those beings falling outside of this in-group are non-human or not-fully-human.
These linkages between animality and the concepts of race and gender are distinctive at the intersections. While the sexuality of both black men and black women was animalized by whites during the era of race-based slavery in the United States, there were differences in the construction of each. Black women were not only regarded as breeding stock, but were hypersexualized and viewed as presenting a temptation to white men, a temptation which, if indulged, would lead to ruin. Black men were also regarded as debauched, but this nature was held to be violent and threatening. Naomi Zack links the construction of black women’s sexuality during the period of slavery to the monetization of black bodies, introducing the economic dimension to black women’s sexuality. Zack argues that the preservation of “white American male economic hegemony has always depended on the preservation of racial categories, and especially that of a pure white race.”
The economic parallels between human and animal oppression have recently begun to receive attention in academic circles (most notably among sociologists working in animal studies). Socialists and anarchists such as David Nibert, Bob Torres, Erika Cudworth, Kim Socha, and Travis Elise, for example, have shown parallels between the exploitation of animals and the exploitation of the working class under capitalism. As noted above, anarchists generally endorse a Marxian account of exploitation and alienation, according to which exploitation is the theft of labor from workers and alienation takes one or more of the following forms: alienation from the product, alienation from the production process, alienation from species-being, and alienation from others. Animals are “super-exploited” living commodities, in the words of Bob Torres; whereas workers are made a resource from which labor is extracted for less than its full value, animals generally receive nothing in return for what is taken from them, and are usually turned into the product itself.
Anarchism, like classical Marxism, originally took the category of class to be the primary vehicle of oppression, but parted with the Marxian analysis in emphasizing the key role of the State in maintaining the dominance of economic elites. What began with a focus on class quickly established itself as a political orientation opposed to all hierarchies. Early in the twentieth century, anarchist-inspired movements and organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World took positions that explicitly rejected other social hierarchies, with the IWW organizing women and workers of color long before other labor unions took steps to make membership more inclusive. Feminist anarchists such as Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Lucy Parsons brought special attention to gender as a mode of oppression, and anarchist-inspired movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, including the Zapatistas in the Chiapas state of Mexico and the Democratic Confederalists in Syria, have largely been led by women and have openly embraced feminist principles. Anarchism has grown from a rejection of the capitalist state to a rejection of all modes of domination and hierarchical social structures and institutions, and today’s anarchists see links and patterns of mutual reinforcement in oppressions that go by different names.
Erika Cudworth has, in fact, suggested that “anarchism is highly open to intersectionality, if not already characterized by it.” Using Crenshaw’s original sense of ‘intersectionality’, this is perhaps an overstatement, and anachronistic when applied to early anarchism. In its sensitivity to the grounding of all modes of oppression in hierarchy, however, anarchism has had the resources with which to begin building a theory of total liberation since the nineteenth century. These resources gain even greater potency when they take on board the concept of intersectionality as it emerged from black feminist scholarship in the past several decades.
In Part 2, I will sketch the historical connections between animal welfare/rights/liberation and anarchism, as well as the lay of the land in contemporary anarchist animal liberation theory.
Kaepernick and social protest methods
When someone says “I agree with Colin Kaepernick’s point but he should have made it differently,” it’s a way of appearing to critique a protester’s method only, and not the substance of their position. But it strikes me as a veiled way of saying something very critical about the substance of their position. In essence, the speaker is saying “Social position P has merit, but protest method M comes at a moral cost; that moral cost is too high to be justified by appeal to the moral and social value of P.”
In this case, P is the view that black life is held cheap in the U.S. and that the taking of black lives by agents of the state is too readily accepted and rationalized. M is remaining seated during the national anthem. What are the moral costs of M? Fill that in how you like–at the end of the day, the critique is that the moral costs of sitting during the national anthem are so high that appeal to the value of black lives, and the accountability of state agents who kill black people, can’t justify those costs. That’s a commentary on the value of black lives.
New article: Hierarchy, Global Justice, and Human-Animal Relations
My article, “Hierarchy, Global Justice, and Human Animal Relations,” appears in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy. As always, I am happy to share the paper privately with scholars who do not have personal or library access to the journal’s contents.
On Voting Against One’s Interests
I’ve often heard and seen it said that many people who vote for conservative or right-wing politicians or policies are “voting against their own interests.” In other words, they’re voting directly or indirectly for policies that will cut services that they (might) use, reduce support for programs or institutions that benefit them, or benefit corporations or other institutions that harm them.
I’m somewhat less interested in whether this is true than I am in whether it’s even the right way to think about things. Depending on how we understand “their own interests,” it may or may not be. Consequently, we should be very careful about making this claim. None of what follows is especially novel, but it is worth repeated emphasis.
If we think of interests narrowly, in individualistic terms, then voting against your interests means voting in a way that makes things go worse for you personally. It means voting against your self-interest. For that to be problematic, we have to view democracy in a certain way, as a mechanism for aggregating the interests of individuals and then generating policies based on the interests of the majority. This is certainly one way to think about democracy: as a way of adjudicating between competing interests so that the greatest number of people end up satisfied.
That’s basically the liberal conception of majoritarian democracy. The fundamental problem of politics is to protect individuals from each other and ensure that each of them has maximal latitude to pursue their ends without interference from others. But that’s not the only way, nor the best way, way to think about politics and democracy.
Another democratic tradition finds its way to us through Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It directs us to look not to the narrowly construed interests of individuals but to the interests of the community as a whole. On this view, democracy is not about adjudicating between my interests and yours, but about us coming together with all affected by the decision in order to determine, as a collective body, what is in our interests.
That conception of democracy, which is based on a sense of community and solidarity, is the better one.
People sometimes should vote against their narrowly construed self-interest—not prudentially speaking, but morally speaking. It’s prudent, arguably, for hedge fund manager to vote in such a way that serves his own financial interests. But policies that favor his interests are likely to undermine our sense of community, solidarity, and moral equality. What’s good for the hedge fund manager comes at the expense of others, and of the political community as a whole.
Democracy, understood as a process in which we come together to hear and be heard, and to come to decisions that we all can live with, requires us to think beyond what’s good for ourselves and to consider what’s good for all of us. I don’t have children, for example, but nevertheless I ought to support public funding for schools and robust parental leave policies. I ought to support these measures because I’m a member of a community the health of which is sustained by bonds of solidarity. We can, and usually do, exist alongside each other as competitors and antagonists, but it’s not a good way to live.
This conception of democracy based on solidarity also requires us to ensure that all who want to participate are able to do so on equal terms, which brings us back to the question of how “interests” should be construed. I think that people do often vote against their own self-interest, but as I’ve said, I don’t think that that’s always a problem. When we widen our focus to consider structural inequalities, however, we can see that we should often vote based on “our” interests, and vote against what is in the self-interest of other members of the community.
Members of the working class, for example, have interests based on class membership; their interests are set against the interests of capitalists. Furthermore, class-based power disparities preclude our coming together as moral equals to make decisions that affect us all. (So too do power disparities based on social categories like gender, race, (dis)ability, age, etc.) When a voter votes against her class interests, she not only votes for policies that make her worse off as an individual, she votes for policies that sustain the systemic subordination of her and everyone similarly situated.
Incidentally, this sort of class-conscious voting was what the Founding Fathers of the United States feared when they wrote about the “tyranny of the majority.” They were afraid that the masses might vote to redistribute the property of the rich to ensure their own political equality and material well-being. To foreclose these consequences of popular rule, the framers quite intentionally created an anti-democratic system of governance–a system that would avoid what John Adams called “the horrors of democracy.” It’s a system that embodies James Madison’s belief that the government “ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
So to sum up, we need to give serious thought to what we mean when we say that people vote against their interests, and doing so requires us to reflect on our understanding of democracy and its value.
2017 Eastern Division APA
The Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association will take place January 4-7, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. I will be taking part in an invited symposium on the ethics and social ontology of humans’ relations with companion animals. Details to follow.