share with us tool-making and tool-using capacities, the faculty for (non-verbal) language, a hatred of boredom, an intelligent curiosity towards their environment, love for their children, intense fear of attack, deep friendships, a horror of dismemberment, a reportoire of emotions and even the same capacity for exploitive violence that we so often show towards them. [ 22 ]
This list can beand has been by a diverse array of scholarsexpanded in great detail to include self-awareness, the ability to regularly engage in both deceptive and altruistic behavior, and many another quality thought for centuries to be exclusively human. This body of work makes it abundantly clear that many non-human animals "separate themselves from selfish interests and inclinations" all the time, as a matter of course.
In other places, Ferry seems to realize the futility of the "freedom from instinct" strategy, and offers instead a tortured argument that, "because of this capacity to act in a nonmechanical fashion, oriented by a goal," the animal is an "analogon of a free being" (46), that "life, defined as 'the faculty to act according to the representation of a goal,' is an analogue of freedom" (54). The problem with this rather desperate gambit, however, is that it assimilates "life" in general to goal-oriented behavior, while declaring beside the point the complex forms of social interaction, communication, and self-awareness that would seem very much to the ethical point. Such a formulation would force us to crudely lump the mountain gorilla in with the amoeba (both are instances of "goal-oriented" "life"), but clearly the mountain gorillafor reasons not addressed by this formulationhas much more in common with homo sapiens.
Finally, Ferry attempts to raise the bar of "freedom" and the "distinctly human" once again. In almost the only place in the book where he seems to be vaguely aware of the explosion of revisionist work in ethology in the past twenty years, he writes,
one can cite the suicide of whalesan indication that they too can distance themselves from their natural tendencythe language of monkeys and dolphins, the capacity of certain animals to manipulate tools in order to realize their objectives, not to mention canine devotion or feline independence . . . The problem, of course, is that this separation from the commandments of nature is not transmitted from one generation to the next as a history. A separation from natural norms only becomes evident when it engenders a cultural universe . . . . (6)
In his desperate attempt to maintain the species barrier, Ferry first tries out "freedom from instinct," then freedom versus the "analogue" of "goal-oriented behavior," and finally cultural transmission. Aside from begging the question, "why is the transmission of cultural behavior from one generation to the next ethically fundamental ("freedom from nature," the crux of the whole Kantian/Rousseauian position Ferry espouses, would fall well to this side of "cultural transmission")?; and aside from providing an eerie echo of similar statements made during the past two centuries about "primitive" societies, for whom culture would seem to be a form of constraint and continuity, and would thereby run afoul of Ferry's ethnocentric view of cultural as "innovation" and "uprootedness"; and aside from leaving completely untouched the ethical relevance of the "lowest common denominator" problem raised by animal rightsaside from all that, Ferry would seem to have his facts wrong. For as Jane Goodall points out
We can speak of the history of a chimpanzee community, where major eventsan epidemic, a kind of primitive "war," a "baby boom"have marked the reigns of the five top-ranking alpha males we have known. And we find that individual chimpanzees can make a difference to the course of chimpanzee history, as is the case with humans . . . .
Chimpanzees, like humans, can learn by observation and imitation, which means that if a new adaptive pattern is "invented" by a particular individual, it can be passed on to the next generation. Thus we find that while the various chimpanzee groups that have been studied in different parts of Africa have many behaviors in common, they also have their own distinctive traditions. This is particularly well-documented with respect to tool-using and tool-making behaviours. Chimpanzees use more objects as tools for a greater variety of purposes than any creature except ourselves, and each population has its own tool-using cultures. [ 23 ]
One can only imagine that Ferry's response to this would be to raise the bar once again, so that only those who have read all of Kant's Critiques and passed the exegesis on to their grandchildren would be eligible for ethical consideration!
In the pragmatist vein whose epistemological and political complexities I have elsewhere articulated,[ 24 ] it is perfectly possible to argue that taking account of the ethical relevance of the work of ethologists like Goodall does not mean committing ourselves to naturalism in ethics. From a pragmatist point of view, all it means is that, in the language-game or discourse called "ethics," we are obligednot least because ethics cannot ground itself in a representationalist relation to the objectto apply consistently, without prejudice toward species or anything else, the rules we devise for determining subjectivity, personhood, and all other ethically relevant traits and behaviors. We need not cling to any empiricist notion about what Goodall or anyone else has discovered about non-human animalsany more than we need to do the same for our knowledge of human beingsto insist that when our generally agreed-upon markers for ethical consideration are observed in species other than homo sapiens, we are obliged to take them into account and to respect them accordingly. This amounts to nothing more than taking the humanist conceptualization of the problem at its word and then being rigorous about itand then showing how humanism must, if rigorously pursued, generate its own deconstruction once these "defining" characteristics are found beyond the species barrier. But this, of course, is precisely what Ferry is unable and unwilling to do.
In the end, then, it is Ferry's "human," and not the non-human animal, who is "the enigmatic being," the "dreamed object""enigmatic" because incoherent, and "dreamed" because an imaginary subject, a fantasy. And yet, for all that, quite familiar. For as both George Bataille (in Theory of Religion) and Jacques Derrida (in "Eating Well" and "Force of Law") remind us, the humanist concept of subjectivity is inseparable from the discourse and institution of speciesism, which relies upon the tacit acceptanceand nowhere more clearly than in Ferry's beloved Kant, as Slavoj Zizek has notedthat the full transcendence of the "human" requires the sacrifice of the "animal" and the animalistic, which in turn makes possible a symbolic economy in which we can engage in a "non-criminal putting to death" (as Derrida puts it) of not only animals, but other humans as well by marking them as animal. [ 25 ]
To talk about the "discourse" of species is to focus our attention, as Bataille and Derrida do, upon a systematic logic that operates in the same way as its cognates, racism and sexism. Like those, it operates on the basis of a disavowal or repression of difference and materiality, of the "pathological" element (to use Kant's term) that infects and corrupts what Ferry tells us is the properly "human" effort toward transcendence. It may be the case, as Ferry argues, that ethics is always ineluctably human, always about human concepts and not about objects; but what Ferry's concept of "the human" fails to acknowledgeindeed his project depends on its disavowalis what Zizek calls "humanism's self-destructive dimension."[ 26 ] As Zizek puts it,
The subject "is" only insofar as the Thing (the Kantian Thing in itself as well as the Freudian impossible-incestuous object, das Ding) is sacrificed, "primordially repressed". . . . This "primordial repression" introduces a fundamental imbalance in the universe: the symbolically structured universe we live in is organized around a void, an impossibility (the inaccessibility of the Thing in itself). [ 27 ]
"Therein," Zizek continues, "consists the ambiguity of the Enlightenment"; the transcendence of the Enlightenment subject is shadowed by "a fundamental prohibition to probe too deeply into the obscure origins, which betrays a fear that by doing so, one might uncover something monstrous" (136).
We could scarcely do better than Zizek's characterization to provide a thumbnail psychoanalysis of Ferry's The New Ecological Order. But to broach the question of the institution of speciesism, as Derrida does with particular force in "Eating Well," is to insist we pay attention to the asymmetrical material effects of these discourses upon particular groups; just as the discourse of sexism effects women disproportionately (even though it may theoretically be applied to any social other of whatever gender), so the effects of the discourse of speciesism fall overwhelmingly, in institutional terms, on non-human others. But the effectiveness of the discourse of species when applied to social others of whatever sort relies upon a prior taking for granted of the institution of speciesismthat is, the ethical acceptability of the killing of non-human others. What this means is that the ethical priority of confronting the institution of speciesism, and the pressing question of the ethical standing of non-human others, does not depend upon whether or not you like animals. Rather, it involves stakes for us all, human and non-human alike.
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Cary Wolfe teaches American literature, culture, and critical theory at Indiana University. His most recent book, Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the "Outside", is due out in the Spring of 97 from the University of Minnesota Press. His double issue of Cultural Critique on the politics of systems and environments (co-edited with William Rasch) was reviewed in ebr3.
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