Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cecil and the 99%

I'm writing a book about human solidarity with nonhumans. Started it in about March of this year, having intuited there was a future book on the horizon. So when Cecil the lion was shot, I paid a lot of attention. It was as if the basic thesis of the book was being played out before my eyes. Above and beyond (or perhaps below, I think I'd prefer it that way) the normal pity/compassion/outrage of animal rights rhetoric, with its long heritage from the later eighteenth century and the way white anti-slavery rhetoric worked alongside it, there was something new.

This lineage would be why the right wing sneering at Black Lives Matter, and the subsequent racist and speciesist (both amplifying one another) rhetoric by them on Twitter regarding the lives of lions mattering, is more than particularly ugly and violent. The politics of pity always involved some kind of power relationship, or as William Blake says, Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody poor.

No. The Cecil event goes way beyond the politics of pity. It's about what Occupy called the 99%. People are so beaten down by modern life that they realize quickly that they have more in common with a lion than with a dentist.

A perverse logic of economics and (the bigger picture) ecologics (to coin a phrase, to wit, the way human economic relations operates on and within the biosphere) has driven humans and nonhumans into each others' arms.

I can't think of another moment of such spontaneous identification. It took recordings of whale sounds to convince some people to get outraged about whaling in the mid-70s. Of course the Cecil event was hugely accelerated, amplified and distorted by the internet.

But it's solidarity that explains how the internet exploded into violent shaming of hunters in general and the dentist in particular. There's no handwringing “Why oh why can't we do something?” type of moves here. It's true compassion as in suffering-with. It's expressed via shame (not necessarily so great) and in its wake is all the other kinds of previous rhetorics and identification modes. But the wavefront is solidarity with nonhumans.

Shelley's line, loved by Gandhi and King, now has another meaning: Rise like lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number ... Ye are many, they are few.

4 comments:

D. E.M. said...

Caitlin just quoted this at lunch & I snorted coffee out my nose: "People are so beaten down by modern life that they realize quickly that they have more in common with a lion than with a dentist"
This is hilarious & poignant & brilliant-- as always.

John said...

In response to @ DEM maybe people, I prefer "humans", do have more in common with a lion as a result of alienation. Both classes are marginalized by globalism, extracted until they are used up and worth a certain price on the market. Further the humanity which subsumes the murderous dentist seems to be an opt out imaginary.

I am totally psyched to read TM's book on this topic because I view this as tackling the impossible. If anyone else had posited an interspecies solidarity as other than a state of exception I would be dismissive.

For the best articulated view from a source we were not expecting to have a say on interspecies oppression in the aftermath of humans reaction to Cecil the Lion, akin to a talk I gave once on
human flash search engines' in China and animal murderers, I contribute this link from a Palestinian journalism site: http://www.imemc.org/article/72637

D. E.M. said...

@john I agree. The humor resides in the distance between the dentist & the lion. TM didn't write "other human" but "dentist" -- which is funny (and interesting). As if the dentist went in his little lab coat to Zimbabwe... put down his tiny drill and rinsed out that tiny sink and ....

cgerrish said...

The story of Walter, the dentist, and Cecil, the lion, tells us a lot about how much penetration the ecological thought has into the current media whirlpool. The clickbait algorithm: negate and top your outrage with a more human-centric outrage, works every time. Each click confirms humanity's position at the top of the hierarchy.