Friday, April 6, 2012


 I found the Coetzee excerpt extremely confusing at first but it gained clarity as I read. I felt similarly about the character of Elizabeth Costello who seemed pretty much crazy for most of the piece.  Although I do agree with her argument that testing animal intelligence and consciousness through human standards is limiting, I felt like her stance on reason was hypocritical. I agree with the comment on page 152 that “the very fact that you can be arguing against this reasoning, exposing its falsity, means that you put a certain faith in the power of reason, of true reason as opposed to false reason”. It is quite possible that I am missing something here because honestly I was pretty confused by her for about the first half of the reading. This may also have to do with the fact that I am generally not really an animal person. I like most dogs and that is about it.
On that note, I found it very insightful when the son mentioned that animal rights had to focus on jaguars and other beautiful, exotic, or cuddly animals to reel in support when in reality they are mostly fighting for chickens, cows and pigs. This propaganda idea was really interesting to consider because it focused on appearance. I wonder if this has something to do with the argument against killing human babies- not only are they helpless but also beautiful in some ways, maybe? I completely and totally agreed with the argument on 143 against self-consciousness and shamelessness as traits which set humans apart from animals. Instead, the speaker said that we found it unacceptable to kill and eat babies because we must protect our own. Clearly humans are disgusted by the idea of cannibalism. This point was in juncture with the idea that we are not separate from animals because of our level of thinking. Their mental capacity does not necessarily change the importance or significance of their lives. I think that Elizabeth agreed with this argument but took it a step further; she viewed their deaths not only against morality and ethics but as acts of genocide, mass murder.
When Elizabeth first mentioned the connections between the holocaust, death camps, and mass killings to animal slaughter I agreed with the poet who wrote her the letter that this comparison was too far and in fact insulting. In the end, however, I did find myself horrified for a moment at her description of lampshades and soap made of human parts as metaphors for what she felt about the use of animals in our society. This attitude, her battle with the “am I crazy?” kind of question was present not only in these last pages but throughout. Whenever asked really what she was arguing or why she couldn’t really answer, it was just instinctive. I think this was a really interesting way for the author to set up the story, leaving it open to the reader to grapple with each argument and consider the underlying ethics or reasoning despite her denouncing those concepts.  
Norma’s argument that people who categorized themselves by what they did not eat were doing so in an effort to create a hierarchy amongst their peers was interesting. She argued that by saying that they could not eat one thing or another it was presumed that the reason had to do with cleanliness and therefore they could be considered elite because they were cleaner. I also thought it was interesting that groups define themselves by what they do not eat rather than what they do. When these things were brought up over dinner Elizabeth also happened to mention that in eating animal flesh (I hate that word) we are turning it into our own, that in fact they are part of us and we are part of them. I found this extremely disgusting to think about, especially because I am already pretty squirmy and specific about the meat that I eat, unfortunately more so in terms of the idea of eating body parts rather than animal rights related reasons.
I would like to finish by connecting to our past subjects. I had never considered why it is we use prisons as punishment, only accepted that it was the way we punished. Elizabeth says we use prisons because “the freedom of the body to move in space is targeted as the point at which reason can most painfully and effectively harm the being of the other” (132). I found this extremely interesting not only in terms of human confinement but also in animal confinement. That in confining bodies we are somehow confining minds, not ideas necessarily as Jackson argued, because those can flow freely always, but just the sheer effect that incarceration of any sort has on a living being.
Humans treating animals as POW’s was also very interesting in relation to our focus on war crimes and how we hold those criminals accountable or not for what they have done based on the dehumanization that took place. The article argued that we treat our animals with contempt and without law the way we may have thought those criminals treated POW’s in Guantanamo etc. Lastly, I thought the idea of all animals being programmed to fight for their lives was really poignant. I liked the story of the chicken screaming in death and how it had “spoken”. It reminded me of Jackson maybe not textually specifically but just in his nature.


  1. In her post, Liza briefly mentioned a small but interesting section of the reading that had struck me, as well. A point thought by John Bernard during his mother’s lecture: the use of only attractive animals (whether it be their majestic quality or their cuteness…) when attempting to grapple with the universal rights of all animals. Liza called it “propoganda,” the use of “beautiful, exotic, or cuddly animals” to gain support for animal rights, when the animals that are realistically being fought for are simply pigs, cows and chickens. John Bernard uses the term “newsworthy” to describe animals such as “pensive gorillas and sexy jaguars and huggable pandas” and the lack thereof of chickens and pigs (151). The related question that I often grapple with when thinking about the ethics of human meat consumption is how and why we (Westerners) have created a hierarchy of sorts, regarding animals that are fit and unfit for consumption. This question presupposes the fact that we as humans eat meat. It asks, then, how we determine the categories of meat that is morally acceptable to eat and meats that is morally unacceptable to eat. And I’d go out on a limb and claim that the contents of these catagories are universal for all Americans, i.e. if I polled the class, I’m 100% that everyone (save those who were not raised in this country) would put the meat of chickens, cows and pigs into the morally acceptable category, and the meat of dogs, cats and horses in the morally unacceptable category. Why are we disgusted by the thought of eating dogs and cats? It is, undoubtedly because we have domesticated them. But why have we domesticated them and made them pets? Because cats and dogs are “cuter” than other animals? Have you seen a baby chick, calf or piglet?! They’re the cutest. John Bernard cites a sheep as the animal least likely to be written about in poetry (151). But have you seen a baby lamb? And so on. With this understanding, I have come to the conclusion that what we in Western society deem as morally acceptable for consumption is completely socially constructed and relatively arbitrary. Although, maybe it has to do with the nutritional value of beef, poultry and pork as opposed to other animal’s meat? I’m not sure, I have no idea the nutritional value of dog or cat meat, because, like all other Americans, I wouldn’t dare eat it.

  2. Liza, I think you got the instinctual argument that Elizabeth makes completely correctly. That idea that you can't quite put your finger on it, but it's wrong. I identified most with Elizabeth in this article for that exact reason.

    Now it is adorable anecdote time with Olivia. I was a vegetarian, once. *cue nostalgia* But actually, when I came to college, I did this thing where I evaluated my current belief systems and began to see, and remedy, the hypocrisy in my actions. Eating meat was a big thing for me. I felt that it was wrong. I tried using Buddhist tenets of nonviolence and compassion as justifications, but it still felt like a cop-out. It was more than that. It was a feeling that I personally felt that raising animals to eat was wrong.

    All the rationalization that happens in college campuses makes my stance hard to justify in this setting. My belief is at least partly emotional. Yet, I gave up my vegetarian ways when I went to Korea last semester because I didn't want to impose my beliefs on others, especially when I was the minority. When I came back, however, I have continued to eat meat. I do like meat. I'm a hypocrite.

    How do I manage to eat meat now after all that thoughtful soul-searching? I don't think about it. The separation from the food I'm eating and myself is so great that it isn't a problem. I've reverted back to the ignorance is bliss phase of awareness. If I think about it too hard, I'll go vegetarian again. And maybe I should. Ugh. So much philosophical pondering during Three Gods tech rehearsal.

  3. Coetzee states, "By treating fellow human beings…like easts, they had themselves become beasts*" (p. 119). This quote ties together all the topics we have been discussing so far. As a class I we reached a consensus that torture does trauma not only to the tortured, but the torturer. The cruelty of the act diminishes us. The same can be said of the prison industrial complex and the war on drugs that targets men and women of color, disenfranchising them by depriving them of their right to vote and serve on juries. I think the same can be said inflicting such cruelty upon animals so that we may eat them.

    We are complicit in all of these things. We can (and often do) pretend it's not happening. Which is why we hold those we torture on for gin soil and attempt to paint Abu Ghraib as an isolated incident, why prisons are located in rural areas, and why slaughter houses and meat packing plants are hidden behind touring walls and do not allow class tours. In this way, we can pretend it is not happening. We don't see it, so we can say we don't know. This class itself has proven this in this in the last unit on race and the prison industrial complex.

    But we all know (at least on some level) that something is wrong. We may not fully understand it or be able to articulate it. This knowing and doing nothing damages us; it compromises our humanity. Because if we know violence is being done against others and not only do nothing to stop it but directly or indirectly benefit from it, are we not deciding that we are more important and value than they are?

    Ultimately, this all relates back to the relationships we have with one another that Butler discussed in "Violence, Mourning, Politics," as it damages the connections we have to others because the only way to justify our actions is to demean others. The artificial demarcations we draw between us and them allow us to perpetrate cruelty. Butler explains our "relational ties," reveal our "fundamental dependency and ethical responsibility" to others (p. 22). To perpetrate such cruelty we must deny these ties, thereby denying our humanity.

    *I too agree with Abraham Stern that the comparison between the holocaust "trades on the horrors of the camps in a cheap way" (p. 146). I used the quote because the point that was being made resonated with me; essentially i thought the point valid, the comparison not.