Scu of Critical Animal has a really interesting (and amusing) post up about certain forms of argumentation he often encounters in animal rights discussions. As Scu writes:

One of the more peculiar charges made against those advocating for the liberation of animals, particularly those who advocate for animal rights, is that we somehow hate humanity. That our desire for animal welfare, animal emancipation, etc., is based on an animus to humans.

Scu cites some pretty amusing passages from Roudinesco and Gasset, where the former tries to draw a connection between animal rights activists and Hitler’s vegetarianism, suggesting that to support animal rights is to support Nazism (Derrida, to his credit, proceeds to tear Roudinesco to shreds in this interview), and where the latter seems to argue that we properly respect the dignity of animals by hunting them.

I find all this interesting as I often encounter the same sort of argument in response to object-oriented ontology. Somehow decentering humans from the center of being, arguing that humans are among beings, not correlated to each and every being, or arguing that philosophy needs to move beyond its obsessive focus on the human-world gap or relation gets translated in the mind of some critics into the thesis that we should hate humans, that humans are of no importance, or, the claim that I find most baffling, that we’re abolishing humans.

How one arrives from such claims to these conclusions, I do not know. With all due respect to former governor Palin, there just seem to be certain issues or claims such that when people confront or encounter them they become retarded. I often reflect on this when we reach the chapter on emotional fallacies in my critical thinking courses. Here I think the Spinoza of book III of the Ethics is an invaluable guide. It would be a mistake to believe that, in most cases, people fall in to these sorts of fallacies intentionally or out of some sort of conscious malice.

Rather, when passionate attachments that organize a person’s cognition are endangered these distortions of thought seem to arise inevitably of their own accord. Here the situation is not unlike the bending of time and space that occurs in the vicinity of a massive object like the sun. You can’t approach a massive object directly– at least not without very powerful forms of propulsion –because of the manner in which the massive object curves space and time. Rather, these sorts of massive objects can only be approached asymptotically, through a curve. And the case is similar with these sorts of passionate attachments. Any attempt to approach them directly seems to encounter a curvature of thought in the audience that distorts what is being said like a funhouse mirror distorts an image beyond recognition. Thought just falls apart. Thus, at the level of form, not content, there’s no marked difference between Roudinesco’s reaction to animal rights discussions and the reaction of a conservative nationalist to criticism of the policies of his beloved nation. Just as Rudinesco equates the claim that we shouldn’t eat animals with hating people (two totally different and unrelated claims), the nationalist is likely to equate criticism of the French penal colonies with hating France.

Here the passionate attachment, the intensity of the affect, bends the structure of cognition, distorting the space of reasons and grounds, in much the same way that the massive object bends the structure of space and time. While this sort of a theory might help me to understand why thought becomes so distorted in the vicinity of particular issues and claims, I nonetheless find myself baffled as to why people have these sorts of passionate attachments in the first place. That, I think, is the real mystery. Why would a person as intelligent as Roudinesco nonetheless have such a passionate attachment to the idea of humans as being at the center of being, such that any extension of rights to nonhuman entities is seen not simply as sharing and extending rights, but as actively negating human value? As Scu remarks in his post, this line of thought is really no different than that of the person who believes that treating homosexuals as equals amounts to actively hating heterosexuals or taking away the rights of heterosexuals. What is it that leads someone to have such a passionate attachment to their nation that any discussion of the wrongs of that nation are equated with actually hating the nation? I can’t help but find these sorts of attachments bizarre.

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