old (2007), Uncategorized

talking about turtles

Pick up the latest issue of Herbivore magazine, and you’ll find Pattrice Jones’ The Turtle Talk, a speech she delivered at the Animal Rights 2006 conference. As you might imagine, I do a fair amount of reading about animal rights, especially writing done by ecofeminist women who are — by all accounts — on the cutting edge of reconceptualizing animal rights by illuminating and challenging what Derrida aptly named carnophallogocentrism (which, roughly speaking, refers to the fact that contemporary society rests upon the male-directed logic-bound noncriminal killing of animals). Indeed, much of my academic research relies upon the work of such ecofeminists. But many of their arguments are the same, when you come right down to it, and so it’s not often I get a fresh voice that makes my ears perk up. Jones, however, has caught my attention.
I’m not sure I agree with her conception of property as violence. Indeed, if you trace any parcel of land currently owned by someone, chances are you’ll find some injustice if you go back far enough. But to some extent and, really, pragmatically, it’s not really worth it to give up all claims to property and put it all back into some sort of grab bag to be allotted fairly and equally This Time Around. Besides the impracticality of it all, political philosophers for generations have demonstrated that even if you’ve got an equitable distribution initially, it tends to become rather imbalanced quite quickly, and unless we want to have redistributions every generation (not likely to gain much popular support), it’s always going to be unfair.

Where I think Jones has a point, though, is that property that entails harm to living beings can often be violent. It probably doesn’t occur to the average pet “owner” (boy, do I hate that term) that his/her conception of “owning” a living being is a form of violence, but it can be. [This does not mean that a nonhuman companion living in one’s home is intrinsically violent; it all depends on the context and how that animal is treated.] Many people “train” or “teach” their “pets” using techniques and methods they would hardly use for their own children, simply because cats and dogs are “lower” animals. And think of all the “development” that occurs in any given city in any given year with little to no regard for the multiple species of animals who are displaced by such “progress”. And what of the animals who are cruelly used as tools for research in laboratories, when responsible and reputable scientists have argued that most all animal research is done with no real benefit to (human) society?

Read Jones’ speech. Think about her words. Ask yourself what you would do if your own child was in a research lab with electrodes implanted in her brain after being kidnapped. Yes, I know, people tend to say “but they are ANIMALS and we are human.” To that, I say: we are all animals, and we all share the ability to feel pain and hope and fear and love. Looking the other way is the same as any other sort of violence.

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