Labor And Inequality

The Marx in my soul keeps making me return to the category of labor, including examining the actual practices of extraction of value from workers. My suspicion is that we might nurture responsibility with and for other animals better by plumbing the category of labor more than the category of rights, with its inevitable preoccupation with similarity, analogy, calculation, and honorary membership in the expanded abstraction of the Human. Regarding animals as systems of production and as technologies is hardly new.6 Taking animals seriously as workers without the comforts of humanist frameworks for people or animals is perhaps new and might help stem the killing machines.7 The posthumanist whispering in my ear reminds me that animals work in labs, but not under conditions of their own design, and that Marxist humanism is no more help for thinking about this for either people or other animals than other kinds of humanist formulae. Best of all, the Marxist feminist in my history and community reminds me that freedom cannot be defined as the opposite of necessity if the mindful body in all its thickness is not to be disavowed, with all the vile consequences of such disavowal for those assigned to bodily entrammelment, such as women, the colonized, and the whole list of "others" who cannot live inside the illusion that freedom comes only when work and necessity are shuffled off onto someone else. Instrumental relations have to be revalued, rethought, lived another way.

Marxist feminists, however, were not leaders in coming face to face with animals; they tended to be all too happy with categories of society, culture, and humanity and all too suspicious of nature, biology, and co-constitutive human relationships with other critters. Marxist feminists and their brothers both tended to reserve the category of labor (and desire and sexuality, if not sex) for people. Other feminists, however, did take the lead many years ago in seriously cohabiting and understanding the earth with animals—or, as Val Plumwood called the vast heterogeneity of presences besides human beings, ""earth others."8 These feminist theorists paid attention to slimy, furry, scaly, fleshy animals of great variety (and other organisms too), not just literary, mythological, philosophic, and linguistic ones, although they had a lot to say about those as well.9 I am inside these feminists' work, nourished and instructed by it, even as I resist the tendency to condemn all relations of instrumentality between animals and people as necessarily involving objectification and oppression of a kind similar to the objectifications and oppressions of sexism, colonialism, and racism. I think in view of the terrible similarities, too much sway has been given to critique and not enough to seeing what else is going on in instrumental human-animal world makings and what else is needed.10

To be in a relation of use to each other is not the definition of unfreedom and violation. Such relations are almost never symmetrical (""equal" or calculable). Rather, relations of use are exactly what companion species are about: the ecologies of significant others involve messmates at table, with indigestion and without the comfort of teleological purpose from above, below, in front, or behind. This is not some kind of naturalistic reductionism; this is about living responsively as mortal beings where dying and killing are not optional or able to be laundered like stolen money by creating unbridgeable gaps in the pathways through which the flows of value can be tracked. Flows of value can be tracked, thanks to Marx and his heirs; but response has to go into trackless territory, without even the orienting signposts of reliable chasms.

None of this lets me forget that I called the lab animals unfree in some sense not undone by remembering that relations of utility are not the source of that ascription. Baba Joseph did not say that understanding the animals' suffering made the wickedness of causing them pain go away. He said only that his God ""may forgive" him. May. When I say "unfree," I mean that real pain, physical and mental, including a great deal of killing, is often directly caused by the instrumental apparatus, and the pain is not borne symmetrically. Neither can the suffering and dying be borne symmetrically, in most cases, no matter how hard the people work to respond. To me that does not mean people cannot ever engage in experimental animal lab practices, including causing pain and killing. It does mean that these practices should never leave their practitioners in moral comfort, sure of their righteousness. Neither does the category of "guilty" apply, even though with Baba Joseph I am convinced the word wicked remains apt.11 The moral sensibility needed here is ruthlessly mundane and will not be stilled by calculations about ends and means. The needed morality, in my view, is culturing a radical ability to remember and feel what is going on and performing the epistemological, emotional, and technical work to respond practically in the face of the permanent complexity not resolved by taxonomic hierarchies and with no humanist philosophical or religious guarantees. Degrees of freedom, indeed; the open is not comfortable.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment