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.