Friday, October 2, 2009

On Euthanizing Animals [UPDATE 2 October 2009]

UPDATED to include "cutesie" story about dog that survives car wreck and for nearly 2 weeks waits at the site of the wreck for family to return.

I apologize to any of you that look to this blog for first and foremost my notes from the European Graduate School: I am currently revising and drafting up three papers and preparing for two conferences this month and need to attend to these matters.

That said, I still am able to wiggle in a little thinking and writing with friends here and there. This morning I had a brief exchange with my friend, Matt Pettefer, about PETA's record of euthanization.

For background, read the two following statements.
This first statement comes from a group that represents the restaurant industry and others that balk at the idea that U.S.ers might, en masse, become vegetarians (who'll buy all these pepperoni pizzas!?) PETA Killed 95% of Adoptable Pets in its Care During 2008.

The next reading is from the PETA blog wherein they explain that they have a euthanization policy because many of the animals that they rescue might be "adoptable" but what's the point of allowing a pet to be adopted when it's jaw is rotting off its face?

So Matt replies to me:
Those pictures are awful, and assumably extreme cases. If the 20k+ euthanized animals could speak, would they agree with PETA that it's better to never be born than to meet a bad end?

Oddly enough, another case of people giving animals rights we don't have, like the right to die.
To which I reply the following:

This will probably sound incomplete and extreme, but I think that the idea that rights can be given, or even that there is something that we call rights, inexorably leads to these sorts of dehumanizations.

  • We establish a false distinction between human animals and all other animals, we pursue a bizarre line of thinking that there is autonomy and overlaid on this is sovereignty.
  • Then we return to the human animal vs. all other animal (false) dichotomy and argue that what makes humans different from animals is that we are aware of our finitude and thus uniquely positioned to be death dealers.
  • This, in turn, calls into question autonomy and sovereignty all over again because the dealing of death, especially one's own, flies in the face of the claim the State makes, as the State views itself as the legitimator of death dealing.
As to the first question: I think that it is probably better to not be born than to be born solely to exist as an expression of the legitimacy of either the people that neglect and torture these animals, or legitimate the politics of any other entity (PETA, of course, included).

Prior to being euthanized, these animals seem to lead lives of purposeful neglect and forced into a state of nonbeing (that is, the animals' desires or needs are simply not even thought of). I'd contend that to be considered a being, not simply maintained and so alive by that measure, one must be allowed to communicate, not simply linguistically but expansively defined as able to touch another being.

That's what is unfortunate: that these animals seem to only live in the moment when they are granted the chance to actually cease to be alive. Prior to this moment of death-dealing, these animals live in a state of nonbeing. In being euthanized these animals know a brief moment of having been something or somebody.

Thanks, Matt!

Cutesie Story here

What can I say? To talk about rights in this context is to miss the point. Does anyone have the "right" to be reunited with their family (or packs if we want to get Deleuzean)? We don't get to choose the families into which we are born and we don't get to choose with whom we must share the earth, as Arendt pointed out.

These are crucial relationships wherein to discuss choice - that lynch pin in establishing autonomy and the medium through which we express our rights - is to slip into a hopeless morass. This is what Arendt seems to be saying in Eichmann in Jerusalem, isn't it? That Eichmann's crime was not mass murder (there was little evidence of that) but his real crime was to support and execute a plan to eradicate the world of Jews as well as many other "out groups," as though he had the ability to choose such a thing.

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