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

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."

Monday, 5 April 2010

An open letter to Steve Best

Dear Steve (if we may),

For years now we have followed the "significant arc of [your] intellectual trajectory" with its "epiphanies" and exuviations, its "pluralism and contextualism," its anti-essentialism and situationism, its boundary-transgressingness and bridge-buildingness, to use some of your key expressions. We would, in this open letter, thus like to publicly express our humble gratitude and proud devotion to you, Steve, the lofty inspiration for Clowns' Corner.

While our gratitude for you is multidimensional, as is your thinking, it simply would not be possible for us to mention all of these dimensions in this letter. As such we will concentrate on just one of them, in our opinion the most important and at the same time the easiest to exemplify, namely this: you always live up to your own high standards, moral and intellectual. In the following, we will present a few examples, a small selection, of the seamless continuity of what you say and do, of your never saying one thing and doing another, a small but heartfelt memorial to your trailblazing achievement in this area.

In your Intellectual Biography Statement - referred to by us as your Profession of Purity and Perfection - you present what may well be the best example of your never saying one thing and doing another, when you say that you have "never indulged in postmodern theory in a fashionable, esoteric, elitist, or opportunistic way" and are opposed to "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts with esoteric and meaningless theory-babble." It is not, after all, common knowledge that you never engage in "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts" with your thesaurus and that your essays are entirely destitute of fashionable postmodern speak - jargon, alliteration, polysyllable words, and so on - which only the anointed academic Illuminati can understand? A laudable example of this admirable absence of self-conscious affectation, one of many indeed, is your critique of Gary Francione's abolitionist theory, that is, as homogenising the "contextualist and pluralist" multi-dimensionality of the "dialectical logic of both/and" into the "iron cage" of the "a priori" "Procrustean bed of either/or." From the above profusion of jargon, could anyone conclude that you were trying "to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind," to borrow the words of George Orwell?

Just as you are passionate in your rejection of "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts" with your thesaurus, so you are equally passionate about engaging in "serious analysis." Again your critique of Francione is superbly illustrative. Instead of relying on the corrput supports of personal attacks and defamation, you engage in impeccable scholarly analysis when you state in "The Loss of a Halo: Francione and the Mask of Jainism": "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," because he is "thirst[y] for revenge." And doubtless because your "intent [is] to awaken critical thinking processes and never to dictate the 'right conclusion'," you derive from this "serious analysis" the careful, tentative, hesitant, and sceptical conclusion that Francione is a "Machiavellian wrestling in the mud." From all this, could anyone get the impression that you had invented a melodrama solely for the purposes of wallowing perversely in demented fulmination against your imagined "adversar[y]"?

Your "serious analysis," however, is also balanced with "levity and humour." Perhaps the best example of your gargantuan sense of humour is your essay mock-grandly titled "13 Ways to Promote Alliance Politics and Total Liberation." This piece savagely parodies the heroic scribblers of postmodernspeak, by drifting impotently from one bland platitude to the next, by imitating comically solemn ineptitude, and by perishing in a complete poverty of innovation. Two quotes will provide sufficient illustration. There is this: "Begin with a thorough and ambitious reading project." And there is this: "[Abolitionism is a] moribund manifestation" which is "bourgeois, elitist, single-issue, consumerist, [and] apolitical..." Absolutely hilarious. Indeed, we ask you, dear reader: from these quotes could anyone deny that the essay from which they were disinterred is a true intellectual desert harboring no merit whatsoever, except, of course, as toxic parody?

At the very same time, being a truly "multidimensional" thinker, you are "very dedicated to the mission of teaching...socially relevant topics." This dedication and seriousness radiates serenely from everything you write, not only but especially your essays on Thomas Paine's Corner, a peerless educational institution and oasis of intellectual lucidity. Again, a couple of points will make patent what we mean. It is clear that your remarks about Francione, for example - like that he is "a Machiavellian wrestling in the mud" who wants to "unleash forces of repression and fear" - in no way presuppose a feverish credulity on the part of your audience, whose need to be rightly persuaded by reason you obviously wouldn't disregard without infinite scruple. Moroever, it is not equally clear that you are committed to "illuminat[ing] key clear...terms": a noble commitment in which there is no trace of your leading people astray by the seduction of sleazy rhetoric into false beliefs about your "adversaries" and "rivals"?

In short: you are a modern day Socrates, indeed.

To conclude by restating our main points: we are glad that you never engage in the vulgarity of self-aggrandizement; that you always engage in serious scholarly analysis, never relying on intellectual affectation to create a spurious sense of analytic depth; and, what is most important, that you are not a direct provocateur of obscurantism and a peddler of personal attacks, the inseparable companions of professional imbeciles and dealers in high-flown twaddle.

Always our best (no pun intended),

-Clowns' Corner

Saturday, 3 April 2010

From a strict ideological standpoint, Mr Miyagi is less dangerous than the karate kid...

In his essay "From a strict ideological standpoint, Steve Best is less dangerous than me...," Jason Miller defends Steve Best against the claim that he recruits for the ALF. "Steve Best has never encouraged me to engage in militant direct action," Jason says, even though "I am one of his most passionate pupils," and therefore, "I am living, breathing contradiction" to the aforementioned claim.

This defence might be christened the Proof by Unparalleled Devotion: from his stern and unparalleled devotion to Steve, Jason derives the conclusion, which he states with immovable conviction, that Steve is innocent of the charges levelled against him. As an argument, it astounds Clowns' Corner with the character of its extravagant novelty. Indeed, we think it is safe to surmize that only Jason could come up with such an argument.

Moreover, the "mentor-student relationship" between the two of them could be inspired by the movie The Karate Kid, with Jason featuring as the karate kid and Steve as Mr Miyagii ("my mentor," "a kindred soul"). Slightly paraphrasing Jason's essay, it reads like this:

"Read this very carefully":

My name is the karate kid, aka Jason Miller, and I know a lot of long words (with the help of Steve's well-thumbed thesaurus) which I am not afraid to string together in windy screeds in defence of my mentor, the person who I am willing to follow even to El Paso, Mr Miyagi, aka Steve Best. I know some ninjas are fed up with the karate wars, but this is no trifling spat between rival dojos.

Listen to me: the evil Grand Master Francione has attacked my praxis, which is strictly forbidden, and thereby offended the honor of my mentor, who initiated me into the theory of multidimensional underwear. Indeed, the fatal fallacy in the dogmatically sane abolitionist position is that it does not understand the necessity to my praxis of knickers. Listen to me, listen to me: only a pseudo-pacifist charlatan veganist sockpuppet would a priori restrict himself to the iron cage of either underpants or knickers.

In stark contrast, and pay close attention here: I subscribe to a contextualist and pluralist approach with regard to underwear in that I am dialectically prepared to wear both underpants and knickers as a matter of tactical necessity – and anyone who says this is potty is myopic, essentialist, narcotized by a priori theorizing and mechanically rooted not in Mr Miyagi's multidimensions, but in the one dimension that goes by the name of reality. And reality, as we all know, is not where the theory of multidimensional underwear belongs.