Sharing And Response

It is important that the "shared conditions of work" in an experimental lab make us understand that entities with fully secured boundaries called possessive individuals (imagined as human or animal) are the wrong units for considering what is going on.3 That means not that a particular animal does not matter but that mattering is always inside connections that demand and enable response, not bare calculation or ranking. Response, of course, grows with the capacity to respond, that is, responsibility. Such a capacity can be shaped only in and for multidirectional relationships, in which always more than one responsive entity is in the process of becoming. That means that human beings are not uniquely obligated to and gifted with responsibility; animals as workers in labs, animals in all their worlds, are response-able in the same sense as people are; that is, responsibility is a relationship crafted in intra-action through which entities, subjects and objects, come into being.4 People and animals in labs are both subjects and objects to each other in ongoing intra-action. If this structure of material-semiotic relating breaks down or is not permitted to be born, then nothing but objectification and oppression remains. The parties in intra-action do not admit of preset taxonomic calculation; re-sponders are themselves co-constituted in the responding and do not have in advance a proper checklist of properties. Further, the capacity to respond, and so to be responsible, should not be expected to take on symmetrical shapes and textures for all the parties. Response cannot emerge within relationships of self-similarity.

Calculation, such as a risk-benefit comparison weighted by taxo-nomic rank, suffices within relations of bounded self-similarity, such as humanism and its offspring. Answering to no checklist, response is always riskier than that. If an experimental lab becomes a scene only of calculation in relation to animals or people, that lab should be shut down. Minimizing cruelty, while necessary, is not enough; responsibility demands more than that. I am arguing that instrumental relations of people and animals are not themselves the root of turning animals (or people) into dead things, into machines whose reactions are of interest but who have no presence, no face, that demands recognition, caring, and shared pain. Instrumental intra-action itself is not the enemy; indeed, I will argue below that work, use, and instrumentality are intrinsic to bodily webbed mortal earthly being and becoming. Unidirectional relations of use, ruled by practices of calculation and self-sure of hierarchy, are quite another matter. Such self-satisfied calculation takes heart from the primary dualism that parses body one way and mind another. That dualism should have withered long ago in the light of feminist and many other criticisms, but the fantastic mind/body binary has proved remarkably resilient.

Failing, indeed refusing, to come face-to-face with animals, I believe, is one of the reasons.

We are in the midst of webbed existences, multiple beings in relationship, this animal, this sick child, this village, these herds, these labs, these neighborhoods in a city, these industries and economies, these ecologies linking natures and cultures without end. This is a ramifying tapestry of shared being/becoming among critters (including humans) in which living well, flourishing, and being "polite" (political/ethical/in right relation) mean staying inside shared semiotic materiality, including the suffering inherent in unequal and ontologically multiple instrumental relationships. In that sense, experimental animal research is, or can be, necessary, indeed good, but it can never "legitimate" a relation to the suffering in purely regulatory or disengaged and unaffected ways. The interesting question, then, becomes, What might a responsible "sharing of suffering" look like in historically situated practices?

The sense of sharing I am trying to think about is both epistemo-logical and practical.5 It's not about being a surrogate for the surrogate or taking the place of the suffering "other" that we need to consider. We do not need some New Age version of the facile and untrue claim "I feel your pain." Sometimes, perhaps, "taking the place of the victim" is a kind of action ethically required, but I do not think that is sharing, and, further, those who suffer, including animals, are not necessarily victims. What happens if we do not regard or treat lab animals as victims, or as other to the human, or relate to their suffering and deaths as sacrifice? What happens if experimental animals are not mechanical substitutes but significantly unfree partners, whose differences and similarities to human beings, to one another, and to other organisms are crucial to the work of the lab and, indeed, are partly constructed by the work of the lab? What happens if the working animals are significant others with whom we are in consequential relationship in an irreducible world of embodied and lived partial differences, rather than the Other across the gulf from the One?

In addition, what does "unfree" mean here in relation to animals who are in an instrumental relation with people? Where is our zoological Marx when we need him? Lab animals are not "unfree" in some abstract and transcendental sense. Indeed, they have many degrees of freedom in a more mundane sense, including the inability of experiments to work if animals and other organisms do not cooperate. I like the metaphor "degrees of freedom"; there really are unfilled spaces; something outside calculation can still happen. Even factory meat industries have to face the disaster of chickens' or pigs' refusal to live when their cooperation is utterly disregarded in an excess of human engineering arrogance. But that is a very low standard for thinking about animal freedom in instrumental relations.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment