Friday, 12 November 2010

The Academic Wilderness: Part III: President Priscilla Feral and Lee Hall join the Multidimensionalists

Having heard from reliable sources that President Priscilla Feral (henceforth President Priscilla) and Lee Hall had been cordially invited to the academic wilderness by the multidimensionalists - Steve Best, Richard Kahn, Norm Phelps, and David Sztybel - we decided to return there so as to see what was going on for ourselves. In the following, we document our expedition.[1]

By means of several modes of transportation did we descend to the dark heart that is the wilderness. Once we had arrived here, in this awful and terrifying place, we nestled down in an ensconced position, which, however, was near enough to the Institute to allow us to overhear everything going on inside it with exceptional clarity.

Just then, from inside the Institute, there came an unmistakable sign of life (although not necessarily of the cognitively sophisticated variety) in the form of a single word. It is an incredibly long word incessantly paraded by Steve; and this incessant parading provides indubitable evidence if not of the actual existence of his linguistic erudition, at least of his having expended much intellectual energy in delving into his thesaurus - night after night - in keenly focused pursuit of any pages containing polysyllabic words in some profusion. The word, in any event, was multidimensionalism.

This word was being chanted by Steve, Richard, and Norm; while, on the occasion of every third repetition of the word by the others, David in turn shouted out, "Pluralism!" and then "Diversity!" From this world-historical spectacle we swiftly surmised that the word multidimensionalism was being used by these academics as part of a ritualized incantation; and the result, if not actually the manifest intention, of the incantation was this: to work themselves up into a collectively experienced frenzy of intellectual excitement and thereby to reinforce their multidimensional devotion to the Institute for Critical Animal Studies.

Naively we thought we were safe from the effects of the Institutes's incantation: a strange incantation in which there was more than a suspicion of that inaccessible esotericism which is more commonly associated with the strange mantras of arcane religious sects. And yet, oh and yet! I suddenly realized in horror that the incantation was beginning insidiously to intrude upon my colleague's brain, weakened by a punishing combination of heat and humidity. My colleague started to feel drowsy, next to feel faint, and lastly he began to intone, at first with the inarticulateness of a mumble and then more distinctly, "multidimensionalism," and not just once but several times, each of which reflected a more progressive state of intellectual deterioration. Indeed, when so utterly fevered by the incantation as to be on the verge of becoming hallucinated, with Steve's writing in mind he said, "Perhaps oodles of opaque jargon and corny exploits in alliteration are not instrumental in vitiating rhetorical effect?" And when his fever at last erupted into the madness of outright delirium, he even started spluttering that what he called "Steve's animal rights alliterations" epitomized the dreamy apotheosis of lyrical eloquence: really and truly breathtaking alliterations such as "[B]edroom bloggers blathering..blasé bourgeois values..."

Panicking having realized the danger my colleague was in, I grabbed him by the shoulders in lieu of the feasibility at that current moment of any more sophisticated solutions. Luckily however, the incantation had not managed to completely colonize his brain, for, with a few robust shakes of his shoulders, I managed to break the strange grip it had on him, the upshot being that he returned immediately to his sober belief in abolitionist animal rights theory.

Just then we heard a noise coming from some bushes dense and dark and mysterious. In advance of actually seeing anyone, we heard the following snippet of an conversation involving two people. One of them, whose voice contained more than a hint of wailing and croaking, said, "We don't live in the day of Socrates," to which someone else replied, almost immediately, "Bingo!" This was the giveaway that we had found who we were looking for: a strange exchange, perhaps choreographed, involving two participants, one of whom aired some astonishing wisdom while the other emitted gnomic utterances of unqualified approbation of said wisdom. And, sure enough, a few moments later, President Priscilla and Lee emerged into a clearing in the jungle, looking exhausted after their arduous journey from Connecticut, both carrying much luggage (as befits a President and her second in command), and bearing in their brains a multiplicity of plans for single issues campaigns. For these prophets from FoA headquarters feel that such campaigns are needed in order to bring animal rights advocacy "down to earth" (together with boycotting Idaho potatoes; challenging Johnny Weir's capers on ice rink; opposing the "concept of nations"; questioning whether it is okay for "primates [to be] scanning each other's irises";[2] defending wild animals from being attacked by birth control; and paying President Priscilla the annual sum of $100,000).

We realized by past experience that we were in for a real treat; for whenever President Priscilla and Lee get together amazing ideas about animal rights blaze in profusion, and additionally President Priscilla invariably manages to summon up from the very depths of her amply remunerated soul a great diversity of eloquence which is deeply moving.

Just then, esping the Institute in the middle distance, both President Priscilla and Lee began to walk toward it with renewed enthusiasm. When they arrived, President Priscilla instructed Lee to knock on the door which, a few moments later, was opened by Steve. Standing on the doorstep and without any preamble or introduction, President Priscilla said to Steve, "Gary Francione doesn't like old people or children. I am sure there could be a vegan skating boot. Why doesn't he see this possibility?"[3] To this, Lee responded, like an echo, "Vegan skating boot! Right on!" And, not without the disciplined sobriety one would expect of a middle-aged man and an associate professor of philosophy, Steve replied to President Priscilla, "That's right. Francione is filled with toxic hatred and lusts for power." Then Steve, a look of vacant glassiness in his eyes, said, "Welcome President Priscilla and Lee, welcome to my very own Institute."

Once inside the hut President Priscilla and Lee greeted the others with warm smiles and propitiating words which were, of course, reciprocated in full by all, expect for David, who said he did not have time for such pleasantries as he had yet another time-sensitive project of overwhelming magnitude to complete: he had to proof read Steve's latest 15,000 word essay, "Fallacies of the Mainstream: Why Animal Rights Activism Requires Empirical Anti-Essentialistic, Non-Narcotized Thinking As Opposed to A Priori Essentialistic Narcotized Thinking." Norm, by contrast, who had one eye on Steve at the time, said to President Priscilla, "Other people are not like us." President Priscilla signaled her unqualified assent by twitching her eyebrows, puckering her lips, and crossing her eyes, as if trying to look at a fly that had just landed on the very tip of her nose. Suddenly Richard, agog with enthusiasm, jumped up from the rickety chair on which he had been perched, and said, "This is the kind of magical atmosphere that only artists, or people in tune with spiritual realms, or lovers, are aware of and can admit!" To which Lee, hovering behind President Priscilla, responded, "Yeah! Boom!"

To Steve's clapping his hands twice, the others reacted by sitting down at the Institute's table, a shabby looking object indeed hastily constructed by David from a few old planks of wood and some string. Then Steve rose to his feet, which signaled to the others that the meeting had begun in earnest. Anticipation hung on Richard's lips, which remained open for a few minutes, tongue drooping. After visibly taking a deep breath, Steve said, "We are gathered here today to reach a deal – a historic deal never before seen in the animal movement - that offers the possibility of a rapprochement between embittered enemies, angry adversaries, rancorous rivals: on the one side, the sockpuppet sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome, President Priscilla and Lee Hall, and on the other side, the multidimensionalists - Richard, Norm, David, and of course, me. I know that we have not always seen eye to eye in the past; but that was then and this is now." Then Steve paused for a moment.

Having composed himself sufficiently, Steve continued by saying gravely, "We have a common foe: his name is Gary Francione and his theory goes by the name of abolitionism. According to Francione, both militant direct action (MDA) does not work and single issues campaigns do not work. Clearly, this theory poses a incalculably menacing threat to the multiperspectival perspective on animal advocacy promoted by the multidimensionalists, who advocate a diversity of approaches, a plurality of tactics, a contextualization of contexts; who advocate both aboveground and underground tactics, strategies, perspectives, paradigms, worldviews, cosmologies; who advocate, in short, everything and anything for a trailblazing, synthesizing, dialectical, bridge-building, boundary-transgressing, kick ass movement for the 21st century. Furthermore, it also poses a threat to President Priscilla's group, Friend's of Animals, which campaigned against Johnny Weir's skating costume in what was a truly multidimensional effort to bring animal rights advocacy 'down to earth.'"

Steve paused again in order to prepare himself inwardly for the final and most important part of his speech. When he had finished so preparing, he said with studied emphasis, "I offer the following deal to President Priscilla and Lee: I will stop calling you sockpuppet sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome if you, in turn, agree to stop criticizing MDA."

This was the cue for President Priscilla herself to speak. After getting to her feet and steeling herself in readiness for what she was about to do, she said, "Lee and I are willing to stop criticizing MDA. I agree with you, Steve: we have a common enemy now - Gary Francione - and this means that we should stop criticizing each other, and fasten our critical attention on him instead. Steve has already been doing this: in his essay "The Loss of a Halo: Francione and the Mask of Jainism," for example, he alleged that "Francione is...arrogant, controlling, insulting, duplicitous, conniving, aggressive, and verbally abusive...a pseudo-pacifist who ["filled by toxic hated [sic] and violent emotions"] thrives on conflict and hostility" and whose "tactics [are] designed to demonize and destroy individuals and unleash forces of repression and fear." And in my interview with Micheal Harren on Meat Free Radio, I alleged that Francione doesn't like children and old people. The trouble is that – for some inscrutable reason - people just do not seem to be buying into these allegations." Then President Priscilla, her eyes suffused with incomprehension, looked toward the heavens as if communing with some higher power.

Recommencing her speech with the look of a down to earth holistic activist in her eyes, President Priscilla said, "We don't live in the day of Socrates: university presses are not staffed by volunteers: in a world where 60 billion domesticated animals are killed annually for food, animal rights advocacy ought nonetheless to be focused on defending wild animals from being attacked by birth control: and, what is most important of all, grassroots groups benefit from the fact that I, my husband, Bob Orabona, and Lee collectively earn in animal money the annual sum of around $250,000. That I call bringing animal rights advocacy down to earth. That I call letting animals live on their own terms." To us, this sounded more like letting corporate welfarists live on their own terms; but let that pass. For just then we were shaken out of our meditation and reflection on the nature of FoA by an astonishing sight: in response to President Priscilla's comments, her eyes aflame with excitement, Lee emitted a barrage of utterances, one after the other, utterances which were at once mystical, baffling, and never before heard in the history of human communication, but which nonetheless sounded loosely akin to the ordinary words "Bingo! Right On! Yeah! Bbbbbooooommmm!"

It was clear that from now on President Priscilla, Lee, and the multidimensionalists would unite in an effort to stop Gary Francione from convincing people to reject MDA and single issue campaigns in favor of clear and unequivocal vegan education. But it ought to be pointed out that this deal, this pact, this agreement had nothing to do with the fact that Steve sees Francione as an "adversary" and "rival," that is to say, as one who stands in the way of his cherished wish to become the leader of the animal rights movement (or of any movement, really). No; it does not have anything to do with this. Nor does it have anything to do with the fact that Francione critiques single issue campaigns which serve as fundraising vehicles for corporate welfarist organizations like FoA. No, no, no. For President Priscilla and Lee it's all about the animals - the ones, that is, who can be made the eternal subject of an incessant procession of economically lucrative single issue campaigns[4].

And it was at this point that we decided to leave the wilderness, for we had already achieved the aim of our third expedition.

[1] This post was inspired by the transcript of Priscilla Feral's ARZone Guest Chat.

[2] See the transcript of Lee Hall's ARZone Guest Chat.

[3] These words of President Priscilla's are quoted from her interview with Micheal Harren on Meat Free Radio; see this post for a transcript of their exchange.

[4] See this post for criticism of FoA in general and Lee Hall in particular.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Academic Wilderness: Part II: Richard Kahn Joins Steve Best, David Sztybel, and Norm Phelps

Strange words, compound words, and invented words must be used sparingly. - Aristotle, Rhetoric

[I]n many respects, critical pedagogy's very success has led to a host of problems––including, to name a few: that a wide variety of pedagogical philosophies (of Left, Center, and Right persuasions) now self-professedly act under critical pedagogy’s aegis in ways that demand clarification, that critical pedagogy has become itself potentially de-historicized as a body of theory, and that a trend towards the de-radicalization of critical pedagogy into normalized forms of non-contemplative praxis and de-politicized, student centered, constructivist curricular activities has emerged. - Richard Kahn, "Diasporic Counter-Education: The Need to Fertile-Eyes the Field."

Having heard from reliable sources that Steve, David, and Norm had set up their very own Institute in the academic wilderness, we decided to return to that dark place in order to verify this occurrence for ourselves. In the following, we document our second expedition.[1]

Once again then, we embarked on the journey to the academic wilderness. Owing to the remoteness of the wilderness's location we had to avail ourselves of various modes of transportation: first boarding a boat which undulated atop the waves first towering, then crashing, then towering again, and all this for hours, as if in their eternal wisdom they were trying to deter us from our present course; then taking a plane which soared across the skies strewn with black clouds foreboding a fearsome storm on the distant horizon; then traveling hundreds of miles by foot across recalcitrant terrain redolent of the landscape trekked over by past explorers in search of mysterious lands intimated to exist in hearsay and rumor; and finally, after all this torrid traveling, by foot, boat, and plane, we arrived for the second time at our destination: the academic wilderness.

Soon after arriving here, in this dark and eerie place, we saw that David, Norm, and Steve had began to change things, to decorate, so to speak, in order to make their environment more congenial to the requirements of their academic natures. Where previously there had been a mere makeshift campsite consisting entirely of a small fire constantly in danger of being extinguished by the swirling breeze and encircled by middle-sized stones functioning as chairs, there now stood a wooden hut, rectangular in shape and about two meters in height, complete with a roof which, however, contained several holes that must have let in a not insignificant amount rain; and above the entrance to this hut there was a sign on which were inscribed in what looked like Steve's neatest handwriting the following words: "The Institute for Critical Animal Studies."

Just then we heard a sound coming from some dense bushes and trees not more than a few metres in front of us. It sounded as if someone was hacking his way through them – perhaps because he was in search of something or on some kind of quest. Then, suddenly, a man appeared, dishevelled in appearance and showing signs of physical exhaustion. When we focused the fullness of our attention on this man's face, we saw that it was Richard Kahn, an academic at Antioch University, Los Angeles and, what is more important, a rising star in the world of pragmatist, pluralist, contextualist, and situationist scholarship. We surmised, correctly as it turned out, that he must be looking for the Institute - probably for the purposes of seeing whether there was any opportunity for him to devote himself, body and soul, to its tactically multidimensional approach to negating hegemony. Again, just as with Norm, David, and Steve, so also with Richard: we decided not to disturb him, lest he be embarrassed by our discovering him in the wildernes. Instead, in order to remain at a safe distance from the unknowing subject of our scrupulous observation, we furtively positioned ourselves behind a large rock covered in moss and vines, where, however, we were near enough to the Institute to able to overhear everything going on inside it with poignant clarity.

Just then Richard, esping the Institute situated in a clearing in the jungle, began running toward it as quickly as his fatigued legs would allow him.

When Richard arrived at the Institute, he knocked on the door in the hope that someone - anyone at all - would answer. Luckily, Steve, David, and Norm were all in and had, in fact, just finished a meeting chaired by Steve where they discussed the question of the deconstruction of binary oppositions and false separations. Standing in the doorway, then, Richard - whose face at this moment was the very epitomization of grave seriousness - avowed to the others that he was committed in the innermost recesses of his heart to pluralism and contextualism. And to this ardent avowal of proud devotion the multidimensionalists replied by exclaiming that it was truly great, in that it was perfectly congruent as an ideological matter with their own multiperspectival perspective on animal advocacy. They also said, however, that there was something else, something more immediately pressing that simply could not wait: they were ravenously hungry having not eaten anything but David's baked bean surprise for the past twelve consecutive days, so that what they wanted to know above all else was whether Richard could cook.

Responding to this question, Richard said that he felt his real talents lay elsewhere, that is to say, in politicizing the currently de-politicized aspects of the critical ecopedagogiocal paradigm, expunging it of its last residue of hegemonic elements, and, after having completed this task (which may be incompletable), disseminating the transformative nexus of critical ecopedagogy and Total Liberationism By Any Means Necessary (TLBAMN) to the children of the matrix. Nonetheless, he also said that, as a gesture of goodwill and as a demonstration of his faithfulness to the Institute, he would do the cooking for the others with, however, the attached proviso that his selfless exertions in the kitchen should, by themselves, secure him a permanent place at the Institute. To this proposal of Richard's, Steve, David, and Norm eagerly nodded their untroubled assent as it was a fair one, after all, and moreover their bellies, by this time, were audibly rumbling. This in turn galvanized Richard into a frenzied state of cooking activity that culminated in the historically significant event that was the Institute's first meal together as a foursome.

Unfortunately, however, this cooking proposal turned out to not be as good as Steve, David, and Norm had vainly hoped: Richard's cooking skills were not up to the high standards the others had wished of them. The cause of the trouble seemed to be his tofu scramble, of which Steve and Norm both had a generous helping. Responding to Richard's question, what do you think of my cooking, Steve said flatly that it had made him feel queasy; while Norm went so far as to say that it needed to be questioned whether it made sense as a linguistic matter to qualify the tofu scramble Richard had served with the word "cooked."

Suddenly, a spontaneous eruption fugitively swept out of Richard. He said in characteristic counter-hegemonic fashion that Norm's stance was a parochial outlook on the meaning of his cooking that committed the analytic error of thinking there was someone who got to define what constituted a tasty tofu scramble, whereas, in fact, tofu scramble was inherently multi-dimensional, could be approached from a plurality of perspectives, and as such should under no circumstances be homogenized into the straitjacket of a one-dimensional approach toward the meaning of his cooking. Moreover, Norm's and Steve's responses were important, he said, irrespective of whether they were favorable, in so far as they proved his cooking's multidimensionality and strength. On the other hand, as a noble concession to multiperspectivalism, he said he hoped Steve's queasiness was not diagnostically a symptom of his movement toward death by food poisoning.

From all this, Steve, David, and Norm all excitedly surmised that Richard's performance was tending unswervingly toward its climax, as in fact it was. For the very next moment Richard - while pursing his lips so as to authoritatively accentuate his articulation - said that, like him, the others should take the "cook standpoint"; and the poignant resonance and depth of this expression in conjunction with his pursed lips produced a tremendous impression on Norm and Steve. Indeed, from their reactions it was clear that Richard's performance had had the intended effect, in that it managed to breakthrough the cognitive stranglehold hegemonic cooking ideology had on both of those pluralists and contextualists. It was not clear, however, whether David too had been so de-normalized and re-radicalized.

Indeed, his forehead wrinkled into a series of peaks and troughs, David pointed out that, according to Rule One of Multidimensionalism, Richard's cooking should have elicited a diversity of responses from Steve and Norm; and yet between them there was a convergence of opinion crystallizing in the explicit consensus that his cooking was, in fact, not very good: and so from this essential lack of plurality (David continued) it was reasonable to infer that Richard had failed to prove his cooking's multidimensionality and strength. Even so, David still nourished in his breast a secret confidence that the tofu scramble could be defended using the rich and nuanced conceptual resources of his Theory of Best Caring Ethics, a defence that he enunciated as follows: given that the best is not the worst and the worst is not the best, and given that one ought to do the best and ought not to do the worst (which is the opposite of the best), and given that Richard's cooking is the worst and not the best, it follows and it is true that it should be rejected on a Best Caring Ethic's analysis.

And, in his conclusion, David added the following: "Besides, I am of the opinion that Best Caring Ethics is fully caring."

The astonishing intellectual fecundity of David's analysis provoked an excited critical reaction in Richard: although having studied logic he agreed with David that the best is not the worst and vice verse, he protested that David had begged the primary question by implicitly assuming that the point of his cooking was to produce tasty food. Instead, its point was far more radical and indeed unpredictable than that: it was to provide a mirror of self-reflection for the others to remind them of what they ought to be doing, namely cooking; to decolonize their minds with respect to the influence of hegemonic cooking ideology which claims arbitrarily that food should be tasty; and, most important, to consider the question (which may be undecidable) what is it to be a cook.

On hearing this wisdom, Steve's eyes widened, his nose began to twitch, and his lips curled in a high smile which had the effect of making him squint. For in a pure instance of dialectical synthesizing multidimensional insight he had realized that Richard's deconstruction of hegemonic cooking ideology was supremely important, the first volley of many to come from one of the most gifted and brilliant thinkers writing today. For this reason (so continued Steve's line of thought), Richard would be a valuable asset to the Institute for Critical Animal Studies; so valuable, indeed, that it would more than make up for his bad cooking.

And it was at this point that we decided to leave the wilderness, for we had already achieved the aim of our second expedition; in doing so, we managed also to observe Richard alongside his fellow multidimensionalists.

[1] This post was inspired by comments left by Richard Kahn in the comments section of the following blog post of Tim Gier's: http://timgier.com/2010/09/29/steve-bests-worst-idea/

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Animal Rights à la Lee Hall: Letting Manure Live on Its Own Terms

[I]t's hard for people to understand why one would avoid using manure, say, from an animal roaming about, apparently happy. But put the message as 'letting them live on their own terms' and the point becomes understandable. - Lee Hall

Lee Hall, the Vice President of Legal Affairs at Friend's of Animals (FoA), was recently a guest on ARZone, a website that resembles an abolitionist website to a hair, except that it features an incessant procession of new welfarists.

I wrote On Their Own Terms as an effort to promote, with clarity, the essence and the point of the vegan commitment.

With these bold words Lee announced the aim of her self-published book, On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down To Earth[1]. And let us just say that the author of this book is eminently qualified for the task of "bringing animal rights philosophy down to earth," given that she has even published a cookbook. More precisely, to the question, has Lee managed to express, "with clarity, the essence and the point of the vegan commitment," we want to answer Yes and Now. Yes, because her writing imparts to something the poignancy of a new clarity. But it does so not so much to "the essence and the point of the vegan commitment," as to the meaning and the direction of FoA's organizational policy. In the following, we explore the issue with reference to her ARZone chat transcript.
 

To begin, from reading her ARZone chat transcript one does not in fact get the impression that everything that is not "down to earth" she inexorably opposes. Indeed, Lee tries to assert her radicalism ("transcending differing ideologies,"), but unfortunately ends up do doing so by eccentricity of ideas. She opines breezily on a profusion of phenomena, from "[P]rimates scanning each others' irises..." to "the concept of nations" to "domination," but is unsure how to proceed when asked a simple question about moral rights. She claims to be bringing "clarity" to veganism and animal rights, but ironically as her interview progresses she ranges ever more freely over content, sometimes in a strangely anachronistic manner ("...from whence they spawn social injustice..."), and rounds off with a diffuse reply containing references to just about everything save "the essence and the point of the vegan commitment."
 

An example, as instructive as it is illustrative, of Lee's "bringing animal rights philosophy down to earth" is her slogan "Letting them live on their own terms." Perhaps the general problem here is that her ideas lack - how can we put it? - inwardness, so as to naturally lend themselves to sloganeering. Whatever the truth of this matter, it is nonetheless clear that she sees great possibilities of special usefulness in framing animal rights advocacy in terms of the aforementioned slogan. More precisely, she thinks this slogan is perfectly fitted to penetrate into areas that other, shallower, perhaps less holistic, slogans simply cannot reach, and one such area which yields to its advances is "manure." She said:
[I]t's hard for people to understand why one would avoid using manure, say, from an animal roaming about, apparently happy. But put the message as 'letting them live on their own terms' and the point becomes understandable.

Could a more effortless vindication of the significance of this slogan to animal rights be imagined? Shouldn't vegans abandon their confidence in abolitionist theory with immediate effect and instead give their ardent fidelity to this idea for the above reason alone? Also, and connectedly, is it to be inferred that, on Lee's reading, animal rights is renderable, at "the deep level," as whether or to what extent "using manure...from an animal roaming, apparently happy" is consistent with the slogan "letting them live on their own terms"? In any event, with her holistic talk of letting manure live on its own terms it is clear at least that she has gone to the last extremity of animal rights radicalism. To see this quite clearly one need only ask oneself the question: How could one have ever missed this aspect of animal rights in the face of the slaughterhouse?
 

So, what does animal rights actually mean for Lee? She said:
Animal rights doesn't only involve the absence of property; it's about human beings human beings gaining the integrity, stamina, and creativity to envision a world beyond human supremacy [as if the former were not an instance of the latter – Clowns' Corner]

Though there is not exactly a perfection of detail here, this does not matter, since we would not be so inexpressibly dreary as to importune her to provide it, and, in any event, we are impressed by the sterling quality of her rhetoric. For does her vegan vision not sound inspiring - at least to people who only ever skim read things - with its talk of "integrity, stamina, and creativity?" On the other hand, if we really wished to be exacting, we would say that this way of speaking could be excusable if it were merely a preliminary oversimplification, but it really seems that this characteristically vague and undefined talk is all Lee has to offer. In fact, in her writing there is a loquacity of rambling which in its noncommittal vagueness resembles the speech of a politician, for just as the latter tries to maximize his voter base by making empty statements with which no member of the public could disagree ("I support a better society!"), so Lee tries to maximize FoA's donor base by making superficially edifying yet ultimately vacuous and vapid statements with which no animal advocate could disagree (I support a "culture transformed"!). After all, who could possibly disagree that we need "integrity, stamina, and creativity"? Indeed, such talk is not so much a theory of "a culture transformed" from an animal rights perspective as a theory of anything (or of nothing).
 

Yet Lee presents her writing as if it were a concrete advance on the genuine radicalism of the abolitionist critique of the property status of animals, which she feels "oversimplifies the matter," albeit only from the perspective of her impertinent enthusiasm for conflating animal rights with all manner of irrelevances such as the issue of whether it is acceptable for "[P]rimates [to be] scanning each others' irises..." There is nothing whatever "holistic" about encumbering animal rights with irrelevancy; and nothing radical about distracting attention from the real issue.
 

Responding to the question, "Why are vegans opposed to relationships between human & animals?" Lee, full of deep purpose, said:
There is hardly an experience more joyful than lying down on a grassy hill in a park at dusk in summer, waiting for the bats to emerge and swoop and flutter overhead. There is hardly a more exhilarating feeling than camping quietly watching a group of deer walk past - the feeling of letting other animals pass through our lives in peace. The more we think about it, the more exciting the plan to respect animals' freedom becomes. I think, yes! This is what animal right looks like.

We wonder whether Lee takes the above to be an example of "integrity, stamina, and creativity"? We thought that "creativity" in the context of the animal rights struggle meant - not poeticizing about wild animals - but rather convincing people to stop consuming cows and pigs and chickens. This does not mean, however, that we are not struck by this poeticizing by Lee; for it does after all have an unequalled force of expression, so moving in its prosy effusiveness; and her poeticizing in conjunction with her claim that a vegan world "hinges on our motivation to visit the deep level" makes us think that the Vice President of Legal Affairs at FoA is not any ordinary activist but is, rather, a poet - or perhaps even a sage - by an irresistible vocation.
 

On the other hand, in the interests of impartiality and objectivity, we would like to pose the following question: would it be an instance of unfounded suspiciousness to entertain the thought that Lee uses such rhetoric, so strange and unexpected in its floweriness ("...from whence they spawn social injustice..."), in order to exploit people's vulnerability to pathos by offering them the false semblance of it, namely bathos, and also to try to impart a hypocritical depth to the otherwise hopeless vacancy of her formulations? We shall leave it up to our readers to decide this question.
 

Responding to a question about moral rights, Lee said:
People sometimes bring up moral rights to claim domesticated animals, such as animals bred as pets, "are not our property; we are not their owners." That leads to problematic views: for example, notions that domesticated animals have acquired or will be gaining rights through laws or simply through enough love and caring on the part of their caregivers. We can keep things simple through language on which most all of us would agree: Conscious animals have interests. Rather than speaking of something we might or might not believe in, I feel confident speaking of rights as socially created, enforceable protections for the interests we know animals have.

We must admit somewhat shamefully that we are not sure what Lee means here – perhaps because it is an artless kind of half-mysticism accessible in its esotericism only to those who, like her, have "visit[ed] the deep level..."?
 

Lee continued to bring clarity to animal rights by saying:


And the book points out that these free-living beings, ignored in the sprawl of agribusiness and often missed in the animal-advocacy pamphlets, are the ones for whom the idea of "rights" actually applies.

The book also explains that expanded cages and pastures take habitat from free-living animals. Cara says this "sparks a light-bulb moment for non-vegan environmentalists who are opposed to factory farms and still considering larger cages and open ranges.

First, a confession: when we first read these statements, bafflement hung on our lips, which remained open for a few minutes. Which ideologies is Lee's view suited to transcend, we said at once slowly and in unison, as Gary Francione has been claiming for a long while now that we ought not to be breeding domesticated animals; but let that pass.
 

Second, Lee has clarified for us that "expanded cages and pastures" are wrong - for animal rights "actually applies" only to "free-living beings" - not because they mean regulating the exploitation of the animals inside of them, but instead because they mean encroaching on the habitats of the animals outside of them. How convenient for FoA's nonvegan donors who eat the animals imprisoned inside the "cages and pastures."
 

And there is something else, too, besides Lee's clarification. She plays a trick, which she shouldn't be allowed to play. It consists in trading on a certain ambiguity. She says that animals rights "actually applies" to wild animals. There is a sense in which this claim is obviously true: in a post-abolition world there will be only wild animals (for the simple reason that we will no longer breed domesticated animals), and as such one could say that in an ultimate sense animal rights "actually appl[y]" for wild animals. But from this truism of animal rights - which in the delirium of her desire to be seen as radical and innovative she presents as an original insight - Lee pulls out a hodgepodge of ideas that congeal into a false conclusion irrationally held from an animal rights perspective. It is, namely, that in a pre-abolition world animal rights campaigning should be focused on defending the autonomy of wild animals using paradigmatic instances of single issue campaigning.
 

In so concluding, Lee commits two hair-raising howlers considered from an animal rights, though nonetheless not from FoA's organizational/economic, perspective. First, while, as we said, there is a sense in which animal rights "actually applies" to autonomous animals, it by no means follows that non-autonomous, domesticated animals (cows, pigs, chickens, and so on, in short, all the animals that people eat) do not have anything to do with animal rights campaigning. Quite the contrary, for these animals are the victims of what is quantitatively and qualitatively the most significant practice of animal exploitation, namely the consumption of animals/animal products. Second, abolitionist campaigning cannot be conducted through the medium of single issue campaigns, since these campaigns send a confused and confusing message (that some forms of animal use are different [i.e., more or less objectionable] than others), and are a waste of time and resources which could be better spent campaigning against the primary practice. These two reasons compel the conclusion that in its essence and in its point animal rights activism is about abolishing the consumption of animals using the tactic of clear and unequivocal vegan education.
 

After further "transcending differing ideologies" by elaborating on the issue of breeding small people in the Italian renaissance, Lee said:
You know, there are a whole lot of well-meaning people who are going to accuse us of "racism" if we agree with breeding bans. Europe seems to be ahead of the curve on this issue.

Here we can't help but wonder what Lee is getting at. We can't help having the impression that Lee is suggesting that a ban on breeding people as a mere means to others' ends and breeding animals are similar issues, as though both bans would deny the respective beings the right to live on their own terms: people who can live on their own terms and domestic animals who can't. To put it otherwise, Lee seems to be suggesting that a ban on breeding animals who by definition cannot live on their own terms is at risk of being deemed similar to racism in the sense of preventing a certain class of people from reproducing who can live on their own terms, i.e., in human society. We must admit that we have never looked at it like that.
 

Lee also said, "Communities of animals [will be] living right now just as they would and will if and when our culture really becomes a culture, and accepts their rights." Now, at this point, we are confused. Which animals is Lee talking about? As for the 50-60 billion animals raised for food annually, they would not be living in "habitat": they would simply not exist. And if we stopped breeding cows and pigs and chickens, there would be no problem of farms encroaching on habitat. As for those animals living in habitat, this issue cannot be meaningfully addressed in a world in which animals are property (which Lee herself implicitly concedes when she refers to the problem of "expanded cages and pastures" encroaching on habitat); in which animals are bred continually solely for the purposes of being consumed; and in which 99% of people take consuming animal products to be as normal and natural as breathing air and drinking water. Moreover, what Lee is talking about is not even a question of veganism, for veganism is about not using animals as resources and not about the distribution of habitats among humans and animals.
 

Up to this point she has tried to point out in what way her vision is suited to "[transcend] differing ideologies," and now she points out the differences by criticizing as an instance of "lesser-evil thinking" the option of giving birth control to wild animals, as proposed by "wealthy humane bureaucracies and even abolitionist writers." She argues that in doing so "abolitionist writers" reinforce the idea that "the animals are a problem." She must mean that "abolitionist writers" reinforce the problem of "domination." Having delivered herself of this rebuke Lee continued by saying:

Animal-rights advocacy needs a way to resist such assumptions [about the acceptability of giving wild animals birth control], and there is no time to waste. Hence a book about how we can resist them. Hence my work to defend local deer, local coyotes. We need to ensure our theory can be applied on behalf of animals under attack...This points to the importance of starting out by distinguishing ~selectively bred~ animals from communities of animals who could actually experience autonomy, and shouldn't be denied that opportunity...What does it mean to relinquish human supremacy? Are we really prepared for that? That's what's behind a lot of these coyote- and wolf- killing schemes. We resent their power.

To repeat, while from a certain perspective animal rights can be said to "actually appl[y]" to animals who can experience autonomy, it does not follow that animal rights campaigning in a pre-abolition world should be focused on defending wild animals. Nor does it follow that in "letting wild animals live on their own terms," that is, by generally rejecting contraception for them, Lee is respecting their autonomy and even showing that she does not "resent their power." For when wild animals are brought into the world as property, as utterly rightless beings, they are subject or at least exposed to people's power - to their domination, to use Lee's buzz word - in the most extreme way. Thereupon they are killed or injured by being shot, poisoned, or trapped. On the other hand, looked at in a certain light, there is a sort of - how can we put it? - internal consistency to Lee's position. If animals could not be brought into the world to be shot, poisoned, trapped, maimed, then FoA could not run single campaigns defending animals from being shot, poisoned, trapped, maimed: lucrative campaigns from which FoA earns millions of dollars allowing President Priscilla Feral to richly reward herself with the annual sum of $100,000.
 

Responding to the question, would you disagree with giving possums - who are "highly persecuted by everyone and their grandmother!" (i.e., poisoned to death) - birth control, Lee said:
The pills might involve less physical pain than another form of animal control, but does involvement in the manipulation and control of animals mean unintentionally accepting the human agreement that animals simply must be kept in check if not used as food, clothing, entertainment, or objects of curiosity?

It requires a lot of distance from the actual conditions of the animal rights struggle to suggest the choice which we, as animal rights advocates, are faced with is between "unintentionally accepting the human agreement that animals simply must be kept in check" (whatever that is supposed to mean) on the one hand and refusing to give them birth control on the other, as if by plumping for the latter option one could rid the human-animal relationship of domination and thereby alter animals' fate. The real choice in this world is between sometimes giving wild animals birth control and letting them be born into the world as property, whereupon they will be shot, poisoned, trapped, or maimed. This implies that it is pointless for Lee to require us to qualify our sense of the general acceptability of giving wild animals birth control with an empty "from a dominationist perspective," as if her vantage point from which she proffers her anti-birth control rhetoric[2] in and of itself were "non-dominationist." For this vantage point is itself a pious fiction which can be sustained only by ignoring the fact that animals are born into the world as property. Accordingly, with her anti-birth control rhetoric, proffered from a fictitious perspective, Lee is actually potentiating and aggravating the very enabling-condition that gives rise to the absolute domination of animals in the first place - that enabling-condition being to bring animals into existence as property.
 

Lee seemed to be anticipating this objection when she said, "Were the conflict between human groups, one forcing contraceptives on the other would raise alarm bells over human rights and reproductive autonomy." There is a difference here, however, the obvious relevance of which Lee is obstinately ignoring. It is, namely, that humans are rightholders whereas animals are property. Among other things, this difference implies that the risk to which wild animals are subject is categorically, qualitatively different from risk to which we are subject in the sense in which we mean it when we speak (albeit sentimentally and banally) of "the roller coster ride of life," and to which Lee refers when she says, "I want to live in a world in which I am at risk." For Lee, when sitting on a grassy hill watching bats swooping overhead, is in no way at risk from being shot, poisoned, or trapped by hunters, and even if she were at such risk she would have recourse to justice; whereas the animals, on the other hand, are at risk of being shot, poisoned, or trapped by hunters, and they, the animals, have no recourse to justice.
 

Lee went on to claim, in effect, that it is better for animals to be subject to risk than not to be born at all, and also that being subject to risk is an essential part of living an autonomous life. Ignoring the pretense and nonsense involved in claiming to be concerned about animals who do not exist, we wonder if Lee could give an edifying elaboration, in her sentimental style, on what it would be for humans to experience the sort of "autonomy" that wild animals experience. It would perhaps go something like this:
There is hardly an experience more joyful than lying down on a grassy hill in a park at dusk in summer, waiting for the hunters to creep up behind me and kill me. There is hardly a more exhilarating feeling than camping quietly watching for a group of hunters to walk past - the feeling of letting their bullets and bows pass through my body - which I do not own because I am property - in peace. I think, yes! This is what human rights looks like.

What this parody involving humans brings out with stark clarity is that although risk is inseparable from autonomy, autonomy, in its genuine form, is inseperable from the right not to be property. The risk of being shot, poisoned, trapped, or maimed (while also, by definition, having no recourse to justice) is not exactly the sort of "autonomy" we want animals to experience. Indeed, when, like animals, certain beings are bereft of even so much as the right not to be property - when they can be shot, poisoned, trapped, and maimed at will - then one can speak only cynically or with bitter irony of their "autonomy." Accordingly, what Lee advocates, in opposing giving wild animals birth control, is a false or corrupt semblance – a counterfeit – of genuine autonomy.
 

We know Lee is an adherent of the theory of intersectionality in the sense of thinking there to be a "deep level where all oppressions connect," which she thinks we have to "visit." Similarly with her comments: there is a deep level where they all connect, from whence single issue campaigns spawn. Only when we can find the motivation to visit this deep level will we manage to describe an animal rights movement transformed – transformed from a corporate welfarist movement into a grass roots abolitionist movement. We must now ask our readers to follow a discussion that might at first seem like a digression. In fact, we shall put it in the form of a story:
 

Once upon a time there was a corporate new welfarist organization. Like all such organizations, it had a bloated bureaucracy and its executives and functionaries could be thought of as a cross between politicians and businesspeople who never exercised their intelligence, except in the service of selling the group's brand to the public. In order to maintain its activities, the group was dependent on membership fees and donations. Most of its donors were members of the group which participated in animal exploitation, i.e., they were not vegan. Nonvegans don't support the abolition of animal exploitation. They support single issue campaigns precisely because these campaigns don't challenge animal exploitation and make people who use animals feel better about doing so. The group needed to launch campaigns which were suited to elicit financial support, and these were campaigns that didn't challenge, and were not aimed at abolishing, animal exploitation. So the group focused on more "exotic" animals who had a strong emotional appeal to people, like seals, dolphins, whales, elephants. These single issue campaigns served as fundraising vehicles. The group had considerable capital assets.
 

Now imagine a functionary from this group said that rejecting single issue campaigns in the animal context was analogous to rejecting single issue campaigns in the human context – a campaign against female genital mutilation, e.g. This would be a crass misrepresentation of the abolitionist position, which, of course, applies only to animal rights advocacy, not to human rights advocacy, and therefore in no way implies that it is wrong to support a campaign against female genital mutilation. What is important to see here, though, is that this crass misrepresentation would be in total compliance and conformity with the group's economic self-interest (for the group was utterly dependent on single issue campaigns as a economic matter).
 

Imagine also this functionary said that it was speciesist to reject single issue campaigns in the animal context because we support them in the human one. Again, this would be a crass misrepresentation of the abolitionist position which rightly identifies a qualitative, categorical difference between animal rights advocacy and human rights advocacy, a difference that justifies treating these two contexts differentially, which entails that it is anything but "speciesist" to reject single issue campaigns in the animal context. And again what is important to see here is that this crass misrepresentation would be in total compliance and conformity with the group's economic self-interest.
 

To paraphrase Gary Francione's concise formulation of the point about single issue campaigns:
The fact that we choose to work politically on the issue of genital mutilation does not mean that we think trafficking and domestic abuse are acceptable or morally less objectionable. This is because all of these practices are widely rejected in society.

If X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally unacceptable, focusing on X does not convey the message that Y and Z are morally acceptable.

In animal advocacy, the situation is different. Most people think that eating meat, dairy, and eggs, or wearing wool or leather is as normal and natural as drinking water or breathing air. So when we single out one form of animal exploitation, we necessarily distinguish it for moral purposes. That is, if most people think that consuming animal products raises no moral problem, focusing on meat necessarily conveys the idea that dairy and eggs are different and that their use is morally acceptable or, at least, morally distinguishable.

In sum, if X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally acceptable and you single out X as morally problematic, you implicitly say to the public that Y and Z are different from X and that they are not morally unacceptable, or are at least morally distinguishable from X.

The upshot of all this is that the group was dependent on single issue campaigns as a economic matter. It made money from them. And lots of it. Indeed, the socio-economic existence of its President and other functionaries - whose salaries were around $100,000 each - was dependent on donations elicited from the public by the group's single issue campaigns. In short: there was a conflict of interest which was manifest. This conflict of interest deprived the group's defence of single issue campaigns of the authority needed for it to be deemed worthy of serious consideration, just as when a politician is involved in a conflict of interest it deprives his defence of it (assuming he does defend it) of the authority needed for it to be deemed worthy of serious consideration. Indeed, it would be self-delusion to credit a politician with having something serious to say about a political issue from which he benefits economically. We shall leave it up to our readers to join up the necessary dots.
 

To conclude by stating the general upshot of this post: "the essence and the point of the vegan commitment" really acquired the poignancy of a new "clarity" in Lee's chat on ARZone; in fact, she did nothing less than to bring animal rights philosophy "down to earth." If we can find the "motivation to visit the deep level," then we can teach people why "one would avoid using manure...from an roaming animal, apparently happy" and perhaps even why it's acceptable for President Priscilla to earn the sum of $100,000 – amid the din and tumult, from which an abolitionist message cannot even emerge fragmentarily, of FoA's cynical efforts to defend wild animals from being attacked by birth control using an endless supply of economically lucrative single issue campaigns.

Footnotes


[1] Lee's claim that animal rights philosophy needs to be brought "down to earth" is just another corporate welfarist attempt to malign animal rights as "utopian," for just as other welfarists claim that we must support welfarist reform in order to make animal rights "pragmatic," so Lee claims that we must support single issue campaigns in order to bring animal rights "down to earth."
 

[2] We feel that such anti-birth control rhetoric would appeal to right-wing anti-abortionists.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Legacy of Steve Best

Steve Best...has been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts...Best shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis. - Steve Best

In undertaking to assess the legacy of Steve Best, we will begin very far back, that is to say, with the appearance of his website whose contours will map (to use the language that Steve himself understands), followed by a look at his ideology of Total Liberation By Any Means Necessary (TLBAMN), with which he claims to have made a cogent intervention in the discourse, but of which his "adversaries" and "rivals" have a rather different view, as we will see. We trust that our review may at least serve as an introduction to Steve Best.

Steve's website is, by the common consent of the "Rage Collective," a beacon of light, a jewel of perfect beauty, an impeccably presented artefact consummated in its self-promotional artistry by many hours of devoted labor. It contains a systematically assembled collection of his self-engendered revolutionary compositions, ranging from excerpts from his books to essays to reviews to lectures. Its homepage, which is adorned by the words "Philosopher, Writer, Activist," is dominated by a single photograph of Steve sporting a singular hairstyle (which was very fashionable several decades ago) while posing with one arm resting on his knee which is thrust forward and with an expression on his face which we think may be a strained smile. Indeed, by the look on his face, it is not improbable that he was beginning to feel a steadily inexorable accumulation of discomfort in his lumbar region as a direct consequence of posing in such an unnatural position for what probably was a not insignificant duration of time. In the center of the homepage adjacent to this photograph of himself is a statement about his work, where he claims, in effect, that he is a gigantic colossus when it comes to philosophy. For he says that he "has been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts" and even "shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis." Yet isn't it astonishing to see Steve (in this statement) professing openly, without concealment, indeed with the generosity of complete candor, to his extraordinary sense of his importance as a philosopher: a profession in which there is no suspicion of self-discretion (some might even say self-knowledge)? Be that as it may, yet it still should not, or not necessarily, be adjudged to summary condemnation as wrong, in the sense of the seal and sign of his gross egoism: for would it not after all be hypocritical for a gigantic colossus to hide the "power of his thoughts" behind an affectation of modesty and humility?

We cannot speak extensively about Steve's ideology of TLBAMN, for we do not really understand it. But we can say this much: that its whole secret effect lies in its simplicity, that is to say, in its being completely unclouded by analysis, but tinged with a higher meaning. His essay "The Iron Cage of Movement Bureaucracy" will provide sufficient illustration. For it begins with unclouded simplicity, followed by more unclouded simplicity, and ends with still more unclouded simplicity, but again tinged with a higher meaning, viz.:
The message of the animal rights/liberation movement...has everything to do with a revolutionary transformation of human consciousness and all existing social institutions.

Indeed, this pattern - simplicity, simplicity, higher meaning, in that precise order - is the secret formula from which all the "epiphanies" and exuviations of TLBAMN are enthusiastically generated by Steve.

Although we cannot deny that "The Iron Cage of Movement Bureaucracy" represents a "cogent intervention" in the "evolution" of the "epiphanies" of TLBAMN, we nonetheless think that one can in fact learn everything one needs to know about the character and color of this ideology at once, abruptly, and impressively from reading his essay "The Loss of a Halo: Francione and the Mask of Jainism." This essay astonishes us in many ways, among them because, in writing it, Steve was willing to undertake the prodigious strenuousness of creation ex nihilo, laying hold as he did of his ability to generate so much heat from nothing to support the light in which he depicted Professor Gary Francione. For Speaking of Francione, Steve utters these pregnant words:

Filled by toxic hatred...thirsty for revenge...forces of repression and fear...hegemonic...pluralism...ossified...Machiavellian wrestling in the mud[blahblahblah!!!111###???Gooooooo]

Is this not the sort of thing that leaves one hungering mutely for more?

In addition to being the creator of revolutionary compositions, Steve is the author of several classic works in philosophy - timeless classics such as his "High Noon at Jurassic Park: Technofantasies Confront Complexity." Moreover, his account of the pluralist and contextualist approach to the dialectical logic of the enlivened both/and in stark contrast to the stifling iron cage of the Procrustean either/or has had a profound influence on other multidimensionalists, including Anthony Nocella and David Sztybel - two academics whose work will surely one day appear in a reputable journal. Indeed, rumor has it that David once almost brought to the verge of fruition an interesting idea, only for it to evaporate from his brain at the last moment in a fit of absent-mindedness.

And there is something else, too, besides Steve's classical philosophizing. He is the "father" of the Total Liberation Movement (TLM), a vast band of twenty people who were once rumored to be on the brink of bringing down capitalist society. It is said that they were positively on the point of translating "High Noon at Jurassic Park" into Welsh; but that they were foiled by some agency or other which realized that this revolutionary possibility, if eventuated, would trigger the downfall of our dominant identities, narratives, worldviews, and cosmologies by effecting "a revolutionary transformation of human consciousness and all existing social institutions." Nonetheless, in a victory for revolutionary defiance, this band of twenty Total Liberationists are said still to be active, that is to say, to be trying to seize power from the state, mainly by blogging.

Although Steve's critics concede that he was - as he himself tells us on his website - "voted by VegNews as one of the nations '25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians,'" they nonetheless, having also rejected his claim that he "shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis," draw attention to certain difficulties with respect to his ideology of TLBAMN. They imply, namely, that is a systematic exploit in self-aggrandizement masquerading as "critical work" - a hollow ideology filled in with an excess of heavily stylized stupidity (jargon, alliteration, etc.) and a drearily astonishing deluge of absurd fantasies about his imagined "adversaries" and "rivals." Not wanting to enter the fray between Steve and his critics ourselves, we shall leave it up to our readers to decide whether these criticisms correlate with their take on what he is all about.

And, on that note, we shall bring this review to an abrupt close, but not before welcoming the author of TLBAMN into the CCHF (Clowns' Corner Hall of Fame) – that author being, of course, Steve Best. Congratulations, Steve.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Steve Best, the "putsch," and the "dungeon of marginality"

With Machiavellian ruthlessness, following a methodical plot, [my colleagues] ambushed me in a department meeting; in their terrifying totality and mob-mindset, armed with a battery of lies, they dispatched me to the dungeon of marginality. - Steve Best, "Evolve or Die: Can We Shed Our Moral Primitivism Before It's Too Late?"

Spotlessly-groomed Steve Best pushed open the door, carrying an essay bearing the title The Next Wave of Counter-hegemonically Blended Inclusiveness Against False Dualistically Constructified Oppositions and Bogusly Bogus Separations which he had composed in his brain by fits of intense creativity. A bright blue shirt bellowed behind him sustained by a breeze flowing through a half-open window. He held his essay aloft and cried out: "Behold! I'm holding the next ineluctable epiphany in my inexorable intellectual evolution." But there was no response - and this alerted him to the fact that he had walked into the broom cupboard mistakenly, when in fact he was supposed to be in the staffroom. Furtively he exited the broom cupboard before anyone noticed him and retraced his steps through the philosophy department. His retracing, past the water fountain and the office, from the broom cupboard to staff area, brought him by an almost complete recirculation of the department to his destination: the philosophy staffroom.

Feeling a smidgen unsettled after his unintended excursion in the broom cupboard, but still with his revolutionary composition safely in hand, Steve pushed open the staffroom door which closed behind him with ominous finality. Then, unbeknown to Steve, the Professor of Symbolic Logic, a hermetic character, stepped by a silent movement of his under-exercised legs between him and the doorway - an unusual event that added to the ominous sense of foreboding. Again Steve held his essay aloft and cried out: "Behold!" - but this time he checked himself sharply; for a second earlier his eyes had alighted on an unnerving incongruity: not more than a few paces in front of him, from the burbling coffee machine at one end of the room to the generously stocked bookcase at the other, ranged a serried phalanx of philosophers decked out in the academic armour of thick turtleneck sweaters, tweed jackets, and round spectacles, looking at him fixedly, as if goaded by something beyond the limits of their endurance. A flush which showed he was nervous rose to Steve's checks. "What is going on? What on earth is the meaning of this?" he asked in quick succession. But his uncomprehending questions were withered by the Professor of Metaphysics with a bellow. "There's no way out, Steve; we have you surrounded. This is an ambush," said the Professor.

Haltingly the Professor of Metaphysics moved toward Steve with his arms outstretched. Instinctively Steve turned around, looking for a way out; the way was blocked, however, by the Professor of Symbolic Logic, who in his discursive wisdom had anticipated that Steve would try to achieve Total Liberation from the staffroom via the doorway. It is not clear exactly what happened in the confused hullabaloo of the ambush that followed, but it seems that the Professor of Symbolic Logic and the Professor of Metaphysics lunged at Steve simultaneously, tackling him to the ground. Then, in response to a signal from the Professor of Metaphysics, the Professor of Politics sat on him, shouting with an abandon he had never permitted himself before, "You are not the only one willing to practice a by any means necessary approach!" And from beneath this squirming mass of thick turtleneck sweaters, tweed jackets, and round spectacles, one could hear Steve murmuring, loudly at first and then more quietly: "Agents of repression... narcotized by a priori theorizing...power-hungry dimwits without a scintilla of scruples...resentful of a colleague in the spotlight...Pyrrhic victory." At last, overcome by the combined weight of the three Professors, Steve lapsed into unconsciousness, and with that a sudden gasp of relief swept out of all the other academics in the staffroom.

When Steve regained consciousness he found himself tied by thick sellotape to an old comfy chair (which is the subject, incidentally, of an ugly dispute between the Professor of Politics and the Professor of Ethics, both of whom claim exclusive entitlement to sit on it during lunch times). He tried vigorously to shake himself free of his sticky adhesive chains; but, as the Professor of Metaphysics had tied them impenetrably close, he could get no leverage: and so, exhausted by his vain exertions, he surrendered to his colleagues. Pleading with them he said, "Why are you doing this to me?" To which the Professor of Moral Philosophy, hovering in the background, replied with a pensiveness of spirit: "It is for the greater good," and after that, the other philosophers intoned for the greater good continuously and with a hypnotic regularity of rhythm - an incantation that intensified the tenseness of the scene by imparting to it the character of a Gothic ritual.

In response to the Utilitarian incantation of his colleagues, Steve said: "So, this is a Putsch, another attempt to dispatch me to - the dungeon of marginality." On hearing this language, the professor of Metaphysics looked nonplussed but not in any way surprised. Then, stricken by an excess of exasperation, the Professor launched into the most important part of the ambush by saying: "Tell me, Steve, is it possible for two objects to be in the same place at the same time? Sorry, I'm miles away, thinking about my next lecture. I meant: I am going to read something to you - three passages from two books by a certain academic." Then, looking at Steve with steady eyes, the Professor read the following passages with emphasis:

We see Foucault as a profoundly conflicted thinker whose thought is torn between oppositions such as totalizing/detotalizing impulses and tensions between discursive/extra-discursive theorization, macro/microperspectives, and a dialectic of domination/resistance....Although Foucault later qualified his views on the subject, all three theorists reject the modernist notion of a unified, rational, and expressive subject and attempt to make possible the emergence of new types of decentered subjects, liberated from what they see to be the terror of fixed and unified identities, and free to become dispersed and multiple, reconstituted as new types of subjectivities and bodies....We believe that mapping the transition from the modern to the postmodern requires sociological and historical perspectives which relates the current moment both to the past that conditioned it and the future it anticipates. Critical theory, as we interpret it, rejects the mechanistic notion of time that fragments the temporal continuum of history into a random and meaningless series of "events" (such a nihilistic view is evident in Foucault, for example); it sees past, present, and future as an unfolding evolutionary dynamic that has moments of discontinuity, but nevertheless is coherent and meaningful.

On hearing this, Steve gulped heavily and a sticky globule of sweat cascaded down his nose. Then the Professor repeated the following two words with excruciating slowness: "T-o-t-a-l-i-z-i-n-g/d-e-t-o-t-a-l-i-z-i-n-g."

Broken, Steve cried out in a rasping voice: "Please, this is intolerable! Stop tormenting me with his irreversibly empty formulations glittered in the spurious splendor of meaningless jargon!"

Mercifully, the Professor stopped reading. Then his lips curled in a high sardonic smile as he closed the books and put them down where Steve could see their titles: Postmodern Theory and The Postmodern Turn - by Steve Best.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Our expedition to the academic wilderness in search of David Sztybel, Norm Phelps, and Steve Best

Having heard a reliable rumor that three self-identifying "animal rights pragmatists" - whose names are David Sztybel, Norm Phelps, and Steve Best - had been sighted roaming in the academic wilderness, we decided to go there on an expedition. Its aims were as follows: (1) to confirm the sightings by finding them and, if possible, (2) to bring back news of how they were managing to survive the rigors of life - loneliness, isolation, and marginalization - in the wilderness. In the following, we document our expedition.

After an arduous journey which involved crossing turbulent seas, traversing continents, trudging through desolate wastelands, and hacking through dense jungles, we arrived at last and with some trepidation in the academic wilderness. We realized immediately that here was a place that had long been forsaken; here was a place of oblivion and obscurity; here was a place where one's gaze could be seared by the terrors of gruesome night. Nonetheless, there were signs of habitation by academics. We found unfavorable reviews of their articles, for example, as well as replies from universities that were difficult to read as they had been torn up, perhaps in a paroxysm of anger. Evidently, their efforts to extricate themselves from here had perished in futility.

But just as we were beginning to lose hope of discovering Norm, David, and Steve, who in our hearts we thought to be lost forever, we espied something in the middle distance which looked like puffs of smoke making their way unhurriedly toward the sky. When we got closer to the smoke we realized it was emanating from a meager campfire, around which huddled three men, all of whom looked dishevelled - a toll doubtless conferred by the wilderness and its terrible importuning. We crouched down behind a bush; here, if we stayed very still and crannied our necks, we could overhear the conversation of these men. Before it was carried off by the swirling wind, the tail end of this conversation reached our ears; it sounded something like "...pluralism and contextualism...multidimensions...personal purity...futilitarianism...BOOMERANG!" - and it was from this that we concluded that we had reached our destination.

From our position behind the bush we deliberated over whether to approach Norm, David, and Steve; we ultimately decided against it, lest they be embarrassed by our discovering them in the wildernes. Just then we saw something happening: Norm, who had been starring at the floor, looked at Steve and said, "We need logically inconsistent tactics," and he added, as if in a world of his own, "Most people are not like us." This gave us hope; if most people do not think we need logically inconsistent tactics, there is hope that we can create a rational world. In reply to Norm, Steve, who had been tearing pages out of his latest book and using them as fuel for the fire, said, "We'll think of something." On hearing this, Norm smiled and nodded his head, as much to convince himself as the others. David, on the other hand, seemed annoyed by their talk, saying, "I have to complete a time-sensitive project of overwhelming magnitude." In response to which Norm said, "That's right, David; if you don't finish your dinner within the next five minutes, Steve will eat it." Then the whole group fell silent, perhaps in an effort to bare their fate in the wilderness with a sort of stoical dignity.

The silence was broken by Steve, however, who stood up and said, "Here, in the wilderness, I can say, 'I'm Steve Best - remember that name.' But outside of the wilderness, it is not the same." He then looked upward as if beseeching some higher power, and shouted: "Please, tell me what to do?" It was the sort of question that asks for no answer. But then he cast his glazed eyes down from the heavens and riveted them on David and Norm, and said, "I have a trailblazing, boundary-transgressing, bridge-building plan. Let me ask you: are you willing to practice a by any means necessary approach?" Norm and David signalled that they were. Steve continued, "But you must understand that I, as an academic who engages only in philosophical justification, cannot be expected to practice this approach, and therefore, you will have to carry it out for me. Do you agree to this division of labor?" Norm and David, goaded by desperation after spending many years in the wilderness, again yielded their assent.

Having got their agreement, Steve launched into the content and soul of his plan by way of the following speech, which he titled a Radical Manifesto for the Art of Consolation in the Wilderness. He said: "I propose we tactically employ in a non-narcotized way the multidimensionality of a pluralist and contextualist strategy based on the dialectically-enlivened, counter-hegemonically-responsive Total Liberationistical logic of the anti-Procrustean both/and." On hearing this wisdom, David and Norm looked a little bemused. But Steve seemed not to notice and continued apace by saying in an oracular tone: "I say to you, my brothers: stop throwing your hopes longingly into plans and projects that will inevitably perish in failure! Stop trying to get your articles published in good journals; stop trying to get good academic positions! Instead, I beseech you: learn the art of consolation in the wilderness! I myself practice this consolatory art with unwearied industry. What is most important here is that I set up The Institute for Critical Animal Studies, which is a sort of self-help group and lifeline for academics who are lost in the wilderness. It even has its own journal through which they can bare witness to their plight in the form of written testimony: as for instance David did in his article 'Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism,' in which he achieved an unparalleled rawness of expression by writing in an idiom which was completely unmediated by theory. But all of this, laudable though it is, is not enough."

Then Steve paused for a moment. When he had collected himself, he continued his speech which seemed to be reaching its climax by saying with emphasis: "What we need above all is to invent our own narratives in which we ourselves feature as the protagonists. My narrative can be that I am at war with certain successful academics, who I will provocatively call my adversaries and rivals, while your narrative, David, can be to steer the ship of academia - which you must claim is in crisis - away from the reef of intuitionism to the clear, open water of your own theory, namely best caring ethics. We can even affect a certain conceited sagacity when we refer to our rivals by saying, for example, that we have refuted them and that we can always spot their mistakes. In this way, then, just as creatures who live at the bottom of the sea have adapted to its harsh conditions, so we can adapt to the harsh conditions here, in the wilderness!" Then, just as suddenly as he had began, Steve stopped, and fell silent, no doubt exhausted by his selfless exertions on behalf of academics everywhere who are lost in the wilderness.

Thus did we (over)hear Steve's speech to David and Norm; in so doing, we achieved both of the aims of our expedition: we sighted these "animal rights pragmatists" in the wilderness and discovered how they were surviving the rigors of life therein.

And so, having achieved our aims, we embarked on the arduous journey back to civilisation. As we were retracing our steps through the dense undergrowth, we glimpsed a rusty piece of metal partially obscured by a protruding branch. On closer inspection we realized that this piece of metal was a sign bearing an inscription, which read: The Institute for Critical Animal Studies...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I'm John Wayne aka Steve Best - remember that name

video

Having had the privilege of witnessing in wondering astonishment an act (which I captured on my video camera - see above) of fearless heroism by my comrade Steve Best, I now feel compelled to testify to it in writing.

Steve and I were informed by certain allies that a man had been poisoning and trapping cats who had ventured onto his property. Of course, we had to do something about this; but Steve said we could not simply talk to the abuser about how he could deal with the cats without harming them as that would be single issue and bourgeois, nor could we call the authorities - the "agents of repression" - as that would be statist, corporatist, elitist, Eurocentric, faux-Christian, Calvinist, in short, counter-revolutionary.

Instead, Steve said we should launch a direct action mission. I asked him what exactly he had in mind. He said we ought to employ a pluralist and contextualist methodology based on an situationist analysis of concrete situations which does not essentialistically fix the meaning of counter-hegemonic praxis by rejecting a priori the tactical deployment of a dialectical approach to Total Liberationism. This made Steve's intentions crystal clear. He further said that he wanted me to film the mission in order to silence his detractors who say that he encourages people to commit illegal actions which he is unwilling to engage in himself for a cause which he nonetheless claims as his own.

Now, just as the majority of an ice berg's mass is hidden beneath the surface of the water, so the majority of the preparation for Steve's direct action occurs prior to the mission itself. But whereas ordinary direct action begins by "scoping" the target, Steve's direct action, in stark contrast, begins by browsing in boutiques for men's wear. For his unique mission on this earth is this: to break down the Berlin Wall of prejudice that divides the fashion and the direct action communities in order to show how fallacious, motivated, and disastrous (morally, spiritually, socially, ecologically) is the ontological dualism between "fashion" and "militant direct action." He is prosecuting this mission by deconstructing the rationalist fallacies informing false oppositions like underpants/knickers; with the aim of synthesizing the fashion community and the direct action community into a truly multidimensional, kick ass movement for the 21st century. In fidelity to this pluralist, multiperspectival, interdisciplinary, boundary-transgressing, bridge-building movement, then, Steve said he needed to buy a bright blue shirt. And so, having made this short term tactical decision, we emerged with a reinvigorated sense of purpose from his basement (which he calls the "Bunker") and into the fresh air and sunlight of El Paso: the first wave of opposition in what he called a seek and capture mission for men's wear.

When we arrived in the town center, Steve, with his infallible instincts for fashion, immediately espied a boutique. Once inside it, he made a beeline for a rack on which hung an assortment of bright blue shirts and selected what he took to be a dashing one. Then he stood akimbo in front of a full length mirror and brooded ardently over his own reflection, his nostrils flaring, his eyebrows dancing, his head tilting from side to side; and when at last he had decided that he looked good in the shirt, he turned to me and said: "Mission accomplished: I'm getting this bright blue shirt."

Overhearing this, a boutique assistant asked Steve whether he would like a bag for his new shirt. To this Steve replied, "I'm Steve Best." Slightly bemused and irritated, the assistant politely asked again whether he needed any assistance. And to this Steve replied, "I'll have one thousand people all over this place." Exasperated, the assistant replied, "Great – I hope they'll all buy the same style of shirt as you're trying on, since it is one of our slowest lines." But Steve cares but little about the spectre of unpopularity. Nor is he one to accept help from boutique assistants when he can act directly, even when doing so might accomplish something worthwhile - and so he left the shop without a bag for his new blue shirt and, worse still, without the good wishes of the assistant, who secretly hoped he would do his clothes shopping elsewhere in the future.

Having finished shopping, we proceeded to our target's house. When we arrived, Steve - while chewing gum with real flair - strode valiantly down the driveway. But the target was not at home...and so Steve decided to confront a woman and a little girl instead. My guess is that Steve vacillated momentarily at this crossroads: "Should I confront them?" he probably asked himself, and he must have replied, "Yes, I'm Steve Best," or something like that. In any event, unfazed by the little girl, who skipped around unpredictably, he riveted his attention on the woman, saying with latent menace, "I heard that he traps and poisons cats...If that's the case we are gonna have a real problem." With irritation and perhaps apprehension she replied, "Well, you know what, you don't talk to me that way because I don't know - why don't you talk to him?" Perhaps because she hadn't complimented him on the new blue shirt he was wearing, Steve replied, with overt menace this time, "You can tell him I'll have one thousand people all over this place," and he added, so as to end with a flourish of intimidation, "You tell him Steve Best dropped by - remember that name."

Who could fail to be impressed by Steve's steadfastness to Total Liberationism in the face of the imminent danger represented by the women and the little girl? Who, I ask you, but the pathetic sufferers of Fashion Syndrome could fail to see that this confrontation has saved him from the ignominy of being an internet warrior who does not practice what he preaches? And, what is most important, who could fail to see what he achieved by approaching the woman in the way that he did? In fact, given the sincerity of his attempt to discuss with her the issue about the cats, Steve undoubtedly laid the groundwork for further vegan education.

Friday, 9 April 2010

President Priscilla Feral: a special formative influence on Clowns' Corner

My cookbooks didn't undermine the liberties that foxes deserve. - President Priscilla Feral

Priscilla Feral (henceforth President Priscilla), President of the new welfarist organization Friend's of Animals (FoA), was recently interviewed by MikeyPod, whose real name is Micheal Harren, on Meat Free Radio. In the following, we comment on the interview.

In the interview President Priscilla and Micheal discussed FoA's open letter to Johnny Weir, a figure skater who had announced that he planned to wear fur as part of his skating costume. This open letter was critiqued by Gary Francione in a blog essay where he identified it as an example of single issue activism which is problematic. Why? For two reasons: first because, in a society like ours, where animal use is considered normal and natural, if a campaign focuses on, say fur, it sends the confused and confusing message that fur is relevantly different from (i.e., morally worse than) leather or wool or other animal products; and second because animal advocacy is a zero-sum game: time and energy spent on single issue campaigns necessarily is not spent on clear and unequivocal vegan education.

Now it appears as if Micheal was referring to these arguments (with what precision, readers can judge for themselves) when he asked President Priscilla the following:

There's another argument that I'm curious, sort of, what your response to is, that, that it's sort of – see I'm trying not to name names -it comes from the same general area that the other complaints came from, that, that it's basically saying that if you – this also isn't a victory because Johnny Weir's still gonna be wearing leather skates and probably a wool sweater or some other animal products and maybe even he's gonna continue eating meat – so do you have a response to that, sort of?

She replied:

If somebody who defines himself as a Law Professor, somebody with a lot of credentials, who's tenured, ya know, at Rutger's, whose job is safe and who is paid very, very well by the taxpayers, doesn't have to work a lot of hours each week, when that person falls into the clutches of Weir's publicist and takes her at her word because it suits his agenda - and his name is Gary Francione, this person I'm talking about - when he writes an essay and says, Jeez, "it's not a victory" – course he doesn't understand that foxes actually appreciate this – "it's a defeat" and then goes on to say because the guy was intimidated by threats of violence - I mean, Gary, are you now gonna go clean that up, ya know, you've just misspoken because you have your own agenda, undermining the people who aren't under your spell, who aren't controllable or some such thing.

The truth is, I've known Gary Francione for more than twenty years. He worked for PeTA, when I met him, he was trying to get on the board of directors at FoA in the mid-80's and he was also trying to become its president. And when he first spoke to me then, he called me and said, "I am gonna be the next president," and I'd just had a child, so I had a one year old running around the FoA office in Connecticut, and he said, "I just want you to know that I don't like old people and I don't like children." And the next thing he said was, "I want you to get Alice Harrington to bring over Ronnie Lee from the ALF," who had written a book about bombing buildings or some such thing. And I mean, I knew then that Gary Francione was, ya know, a pain in the keister, on multiple levels. To this day, he remains that [...]

What Gary is trying to do is get people to sit on their hands and just repeat his speech and stop thinking of activism in the dynamic way it has to be expressed. He really defeats the energy that people need to be in a social justice movement. It's not just sitting around there and listen to someone lecture to you and then parroting back what they say: it's expressing the kind of organizing that needs to go on, the evolution of ideas that take shape through actions, this is what it's about [...]

I am sure there could be a vegan skating boot […] Why doesn't Francione see these possibilities? Because he doesn't want to because he wants to harm the independent people and groups who aren't marching to his drum here.


He replied in turn:

I didn't know all that back story; that's interesting to know too.

How rarely is complete enthrallment in this kind of thing actually achieved? Yet Micheal managed to do it - something that is beyond our powers of comprehension to explain.

As for President Priscilla herself: we have heard it said that Micheal's razor-sharp questioning stimulated her to the highest intensification of her intellectual powers the result of which can be summarized as follows:

Law Professor...publicist...violence...board of Directors...old people and children...Alice Harrington...Ronnie Lee...bombing buildings....pain in the kiester...dynamic activism[blahblahblahGOOOOO].

P.S.: President Priscilla said that Lee Hall's "IQ is really right of the charts." We just hope that Lee will use her IQ which "is really right off the charts" to follow up FoA's open letter to Johnny Weir with a book titled "Capers on the Ice Rink: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Triple Axles and Toe Loops."