Week 18 — How to live and die well with others?

Second week of being obsessed with animal studies. To the level that it might mean re-thinking my whole dissertation idea. I had my first meeting with my supervisor on Friday, who encouraged me to choose something I’m excited by. The thought of reading about data right now is not exciting me. Animals tho.

Animals and humans. Animals and humans on this planet. How to live and die well with others?

Also, the state of the climate. How irrelevant will the internet be if we don’t have the infrastructure to run it. Our apocalyptic future is nigh.


It’s so hard to talk about these texts without discussing the lecture. There is no way to cram 2 hours of fast-paced lecture and discussion into an email, but I will summarise the reason we are looking at Singer.

Peter Singer is from the analytic tradition. Goldsmith generally is quite dismissive of analytic philosophy. However, Mariam thinks it’s a grave mistake to dismiss Singer because

  1. He is considered to be the founder of animal liberation in the West

  2. He made the term specism famous

  3. His take on animals is so problematic

This week we looked at Singer, both an introduction to his work and the wider philosophical framework he works from, and critiques particular from disability studies, some of which are covered below.

All Animals Are Equal
by Peter Singer

The thing about analytic philosophy is that it is extremely precise and technical, and emphasises conceptual clarity. Which means it’s easy to be persuaded by it and Singer is exemplary at this.

Singer argues for “equal consideration” for different beings, not based on ability but rather interests. In this text, he draws strongly on Jeremy Bentham’s work, esp the famous quote “Can they suffer” [full quote]

If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. … If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. So the limit of sentience (using the term as a convenient if not strictly accurate shorthand for the capacity to suffer and/or experience enjoyment) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?

Here is where specism comes in

The preference, in normal cases, for saving a human life over the life of an animal when a choice has to be made is a preference based on the characteristics that normal humans have, and not on the mere fact that they are members of our own species.

Ironically, despite saying that intelligence or rationality shouldn’t be the justification for treating some beings better than others, his argument still relies on cognitive ability and human exceptionalism.

There are many matters in which the superior mental powers of normal adult humans make a difference: anticipation, more detailed memory, greater knowledge of what is happening, and so on. Yet these differences do not all point to greater suffering on the part of the normal human being.

The problematic bit of his work isn’t really outlined explicitly in this paper (though it is in Animal Liberation). But it isn’t hard to follow the lines of his argument, not least with the phrase “normal adult humans”. Guess who he thinks isn’t ‘normal’?

Emoji summary: 🚷 🐀 🤨

Ch 12 “All animals are equal (but some are more equal than others)” in Beasts of burden
by Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura is a disability and animal rights activist, who also was born with arthrogryposis and uses a wheelchair. It’s pretty amazing how she engages with Singer’s work, considering that

he has argued that some disabled babies should be killed at birth and that some severely intellectually disabled people lacking specific cognitive capacities are not full persons.

She describes an encounter with him in the chapter and she is so generous.

Anyway, the chapter raises great critiques and I recommend you read it for those. But for me, the parts about disability were the most moving.

She talks about being disabled as being creative and positive

… see the sensuality, the unruliness, the beautiful potential of living alternative ways of moving through space and of being in time.

And challenges the ableist idea that being disabled is inherently bad.

...it's important to examine closely these issues of quality of life and suffering, because such ideas have a profound impact on the way people understand disability. As shocking and extreme Singer’s ideas may seem to some, they are rooted in widely held beliefs that disability is an inherently negative state that should be avoided.

It is a common sentiment that suggests the only positive potential of disability is as a teaching opportunity for able-bodied individuals on how to be more compassionate. What this narrative misses is that disability can help all of us ask bigger questions about culture, politics, independence, productivity, efficiency, vulnerability, and the possibility of empathy and solidarity against difference – including across species. Disability asks us to question our assumptions about who counts as a productive member of society and what sorts of activities are seen as valuable and worthwhile. Disability asks us to question the things we take for granted: our rationality, the way we move, the way we perceive the world. It can present new paradigms for understanding how and why we care for one another and what kinds of societies we want to live in.

It really highlighted how ableist so many of my views are. I want to come back to the whole book when I have more time because it is really beautiful and important.

Emoji summary: ♿️ 🖌 🌎

Learning from Temple Grandin, or, Animal Studies, Disability Studies, and Who Comes After the Subject
by Cary Wolfe

This paper also challenges ableist views and argues that there are many different ways of “being in and understanding” the world. It focuses on the case of Temple Grandin, an animal science Ph.D. with autism, and her work with animals. Particularly, how her disability enables a unique understanding of non-human animals.

She points out, for example, that because her mental life as an autistic is intensely visual, not verbal, she is acutely aware of how different a cow’s visual experience is from our own.

I am a little suspish about any assumption that we know what goes on in an animal’s brain. However, the challenge to neurotypicalism is welcome.

…the ‘normal’ human is doubly blind, blind to its blindness regarding the radical asymmetries and heterogeneities among all the different life forms who see - and for that very reason, do not see - in very specific ways.

It comes back to limitations of the ‘rights’ discourse

… what I am suggesting is that these pragmatic pursuits are forced to work within the purview of a liberal humanism in philosophy, politics, and law that is bound by a quite historically and ideologically specific set of coordinates that, because of that very boundedness, allow one to achieve certain pragmatic gains in the short run, but at the price of a radical foreshortening of a more ambitious and more profound ethical project: a new and more inclusive form of ethical pluralism that it is our charge, now, to frame.

Instead “Wouldn’t we do better…”

… to imagine this example as an irreducibly different and unique form of subjectivity - neither homo sapiens nor canis familiaris, neither ‘disabled’ nor ‘normal’, but something else altogether, a shared trans-species being-in-the-world constituted by complex relations of trust, respect, dependence, and communication…

Yes! Yes it would.

Emoji summary: 🐄 💭 🐕


Hag-Seed
by Margaret Atwood

Book club book. A modern-day take on The Tempest by Shakespeare. An entertaining read, albeit shallow (silly was a word used in book club). I haven’t read the original play so it was just a bit of a weird story to me, I think those who had a relationship with the Tempest enjoyed it more. One topic of discussion was Atwood’s lack of world-building. Aside from the main character, the rest weren’t fleshed out at all and the environment was pretty poorly defined. Enjoyed it, but doesn’t make the recommend list.

Emoji summary: 🧙🏼‍♂️ ⛵️ 🎭

The crucial difference between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn
by Tom Whyman

I’m a bit allergic to the word ‘electability’. The last time I heard it in the wild, the person was talking about Jess Phillips. lol. But also…

People who hate the idea that socialism might win for reasons completely detached from electability, and would be loath to see it succeed even if it could.

I’m sure you’ve all seen various gifs and memes of Sanders being spicy. Whyman arguest that is why he cannot be compared to Corbyn

Sanders is irascible and sarcastic — he even seems capable of being genuinely mean. And this is good, because it means Sanders is willing to openly show up reporters as idiots.

Jon sent me this article and was telling me about the pointy/round thing and I foolishly asked “what am I?” Everyone just started laughing.

Pointies are whatever the opposite of self-contained is. … Pointies give a hard fuck about what literally everyone who was ever born thinks.

Unequivocally a pointy.

Side note, the hashtag #HotGirlsForBernie is truly blessing my timeline this week.

Emoji summary: 🌶 🔴 📌

Staring at Hell
by Kate Wagner

Reasons I liked this article, very clear and concise summary of aesthetics. Or at least certain traditions within.

Reasons I did not like this article.

  1. Using colonised as a metaphor when ACTUAL COLONISATION IS HAPPENING IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.

  2. General lack of critical analysis.

  3. Referring to artist squatters in NYC as gentrifiers. Mate, squatting is not gentrification. Property developers capitalising on poor artists to upsell is gentrification. It’s similiar to the arguments about gentrification now. Middle-class “creatives” move to a cheap area, it becomes “desirable” for banker wankers and whoever else, landlords get greedy and prices go up. And yes, I know, gentrification is much more nuanced then I’m outlining and middle-class white people have a lot of answer for. But the fact that we primarily blame individuals and not property developers and landlords is like blaming plastic straws instead of commercial, large-scale manufacturing.

Emoji summary: 🏭 🏛 🌅

Also…

Looking at type at work this week, which has nicely aligned with some nerdy posts by Frank Chimero. The one about choosing a typeface was less relevant because that’s long been decided. The second about scales and hierarchies was useful. It’s stuff most graphic-design-background designers will know, but it’s fun to read. My favourite was the one about fonts. This is exactly the nerd content I’m here for. It’s made me deeply miss the conversations I used to have with Mark obsessing over this stuff.

Hope you had a good Burns night

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!