Chickenheads and other tropes



“The Sympathetic imagination is the ability of a person to penetrate the barrier which space puts between him and his object, and by actually entering the object, so to speak, to secure a momentary but complete identification with it.” (Bate, 240).  This most typifies the best opinion I can muster for those practicioners of animal rights.  The key word here is of course, momentary.  And it seems to me that many people chase after the feeling of compassion, or empathy, because it makes them feel human.  As the second definition in our reading suggests, compassion is “The feeling or emotion when a person is moved by the suggering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it” (236).  However, this seems like an immature view to take.  The suffering of others is a temporary, if particularly excrutiating motivational club to wield.  Even Jacques Derrida, in his labarythian yet scathing pro-animal rights essay “The Animal That Therefore I Am (Following)” says, “Everybody knows what terrifying and intolerable pictures a realist painting could give to the industrial, mechanical, cheminal, hormonal, and genetic violence to which man has been submitting animal life for the past two centuries” (Derrida 226).  He even characterizes the attempt at using this so called “realist” approach to the animal rights conudrum easy and endless.  This is the way I feel films like “Earthlings” fail to produce the long lasting change they seem to suggest.  This argument, similar to the arguments over abortion, presents arguments so one sided and heavy as to produce either a complete endorsement by those that already are inclined to agree with the position, or a total shut down of interaction by those that do not.  It is the very antithesis of pesuasive rhetoric.  It is shocking, unforgettable, almost sideshowish in it’s taudry use of gore and pop music, but it is, ultimately, ineffective.

The reason I feel that this is true is buried in the complex analogy of the cat and the naked man that Derrida presents.  For him, the true power of the realization of animals is the realization of “otherness”.  Having read both Descartes and Kant, and dabbled in the others he mentions, their philosophies are all self-centric, claiming that the pathway to truth lies in correctly perceiving the world, which is of course, completely disregardful of an equality with other creatures.  Kant and Descartes would have made excellent Adams.  Derrida says, in regards to these philosophers and animals, “They have taken no account of the fact that what they call animal could look at them and address them from down there, from a wholly other region” (222).  And later, “Their discourses are sound and profound, but everything goes on as if they themselves had never been looked at” (222).  For Derrida, it is not the equation of animal’s as people that is profound, it is their absolute and utter difference, and the value of their ability to perceive US that should motivate our preservation of their well being.  Indeed, Derrida might agree with the defintion of Animal that reads simply, “having the breath of life” (229).

I did find both Bentham and Derrida’s reliance on anti-racist arguments to get their point across.  Though, I think that Bentham is clear that he does not advocate a complete removal to vegetarianism when he says, “The death they suffer in our hands commong is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature” (245a).  However, Derrida, after his long exposition on the otherness of animals, uses perhaps the most fallacious and thoughtless argument of all in his reasoning; the equation of animal slaughter to the Hollocaust.  This is similar to the arguments I spoke of earlier, the provide accolades from those that agree, and detachment from those that don’t.  While at first glance, equating the whole sale torture and slaughter of animals to one of the most shocking and horrific crimes in our history would seem to humanize the animals, it instead, research shows, only gives the appearance of cheapening the Jewish sacrifice.  And the argument that Derrida follows is most incongruous, because Nazi’s killed for hate and spite.  Animals are killed so that human beings might live.  Granted, in our quest to support our ever burgeoning population, our methods have become inhumane, perhaps even tyrranical, but the equation with the moral atrocity of the Holocaust is fallacious at best, and malignant at worst.

Gross, right?

Gross, right?

Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is an interesting future perspective, in which the preservation of animal rights is of paramount importance, and disregard may even be considered criminal.  Yet one of the characters muses to himself, “Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout phylum and order inlcuding the arachnida…in fact, it (empathy) would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive.  It would make him conscious of the desire to live on the part of his prey.  Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals, such as cats, would starve” (Dick 30-31).  This is an interesting insight and is later even challenged in the inner monolouge of one of the “special” people in Dick’s world, people who are referred to slangly as “chickenheads” meaning that they have literally become animals.  They are worthless to society.  There is even a bitter remark later, regarding a “chickenhead” not being able to understand Latin, and the fact that if he could, he wouldn’t BE a “chickenhead”.  So therefore, another line of reasoning is entertained.   One Bentham addresses clearly.  It does not matter to many whether animals can think, feel, or speak.  It is the suffering they cannot abide.  However, it does not jive with perhaps the only truly universal law, as Full Metal Alchemist will teach you, “The only law of the universe is equivalent exchange”.  I live joyously, in exchange for the brutal screaming death of countless “lesser” organisms.


~ by dadaniel on February 3, 2009.

One Response to “Chickenheads and other tropes”

  1. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous how much you flaunt that you don’t mind eating meat or using animals for any other reason.

    Take a little of your own advice. If you think Earthlings is so ineffective, then why are you taking the exact same model for your writing? You are chasing away those of us who disagree with you and you are even estranging yourself from those who don’t fully disagree with you.

    However, on the subject of the blog, I think you may have misinterpreted the point of Earthlings. Earthlings was not made to teach compassion or empathy.

    Earthlings was made to give facts that either causes you to reconsider the way you’re living or it doesn’t. However, you can see from the others’ blogs that it has affected them. Most people see it, and then erase it from their memory. The producers knew that would happen. However, in this class, we are continually bombarded with the ideas, so the memory doesn’t go away.

    Earthlings is not as one-sided as you think it is, or, at least, the images are not. The narration gives some obvious hints towards leaving animals alone, but much of the narration is about facts concerning what happens to animals. You can say that factory farms are not common, but there is no evidence to back that up. In fact, any evidence backs up the complete opposite.

    The arguments are heavy, however. They have to be. When we watch Earthlings, we are not asking to be spoon-fed facts at a slow pace so that we can slowly be acquainted with this reality that we never thought existed. There are other organizations and movies that take a more gradual path. However, each is just as effective as the other.

    The comparison of factory farming to the Holocaust is very similar. It appeals to some, but chases most away. I, personally, would never endorse that comparison. However, I think you calling the Holocaust the “Jewish sacrifice” gives off a connotation that shouldn’t be there. The Jews did not choose for this to happen, so saying it’s a sacrifice is just an attempt to widen the abyss between the two entities, which I feel shows that you see the reasoning behind the comparison, and, therefore, attempt to demolish it further when it was not necessary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: