Guest-Editorial – Cowborg Manifesto and the Binaric Closure of Homo Deus: Becoming Animal as War Machine
By Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha
The Chthulucene needs at least one slogan (of course, more than one) … I propose “Make Kin Not Babies!” Making kin is perhaps the hardest and most urgent part. (Haraway, 2015)
… We have grown in numbers and disturbance to Gaia, to the point where our presence is perceptibly disturbing … the human species is now so numerous as to constitute a serious planetary malady. Gaia is suffering from Disseminated Primatemaia, a plague of people. (John Gray in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, 2003, p. 15)
The project before us is not an extensionist one (expanding the definition of the human to allow a few racialized groups or preferred ape species in) but rather a reconstructive one (reimagining humans, animals, and nature outside of systems of domination). In ecological terms, time is indeed short. But there is still a chance to open ourselves to each other, to see each other. There is still time to become and act together (Kim, p 287). [Claire Jean Kim, Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age, Cambridge University Press, 2015]
The ape comparison was more than just a forceful metaphor meant to denigrate or express difference; it was an indicator of whites’ uncertainty and ambivalence about how to think about the Negro and their imaginative placement of him in the human/animal borderlands where he was variously seen as subhuman, not quite human, almost animal, actually animal (Kim, p. 35).
Let us begin then with some musings on the “plague of people”, something that afflicts life and the planet Earth. Let us ‘go then, you and I’, let us stay together/ make kin/ be-with to decipher the planetary fever caused by human strife and our all too human hubris. One of the best ways to do that in my view would be to take a look at the current Indian political scenario where in the name of the cow, or cow politics, human beings are being lynched. Of late, thanks to right wing Hindu fanaticism, the term ‘Cow-vigilantism’ has gained wider currency as self proclaimed cow protectionist brigades are killing people mostly belonging to the minority Muslim community for their alleged smuggling of cows for slaughter. To my mind this is a classic case to reflect on the question of the Humanimal. Allow me to proceed with few interrogations. Who is a cow? A mere animal? A pious animal, according to Hindu cultural codes, but in many parts of the world it is counted as a source of meat. What about other animals in India? What about the buffalo, the stray dog, the pig, the goat, the cat, and many other non-human fellow beings? Why are they denied the privileged sacred halo that dons the legacy of the Go-Mata (the Cow Mother, as the cow is worshipped as a mother in various Hindu pantheons)? Worshipping all animals is a wonderful practice and this is exactly what this special issue of Café Dissensus is exploring – endorsing radical indistinctions between human-animal binaries to coronate the humanimal –universe where human supremacy is decententered as the asymmetrical taxonomy of human hegemony has led to the devastation of life and the virtual end of the planet earth. In the present day Indian political context, however, only the cow is selected for singular protective cover, a cover that even legitimizes the killing of human beings who allegedly slaughter/traffick cows. The fallacy and dishonesty of such over-politicized protectionism of a specific animal (in this case the cow) while ignoring the cause of many other non-human creatures once again establishes human manipulation. Can we take the trouble of asking the cow if she has her consent on such bloody forms of politics in her name? We would not take the trouble of doing that as we take our rights over animals for granted. We appropriate/kill and colonize the animal just because they are animals (Donaldson, 2016). Our epistemic and cultural sanction of human subjugation of the rest of the species has resulted in the dystopic outcomes of the Anthropocene. Human exceptionalism is the human plague that engulfs life on planet earth. What to do then? Paul Crutzen and others have focused primarily on the humanly generated carbon footprints, instrumental according to them for the current planetary ecocides. Lovelock, on the other hand, would correctly remind us on the vanishing face of Gaia, we have slaughtered the nature-god. True, but then mere diagnosis would not suffice or exclusive emphasis on legislative measures to reduce the carbon budget of the world, though highly necessary, would be abysmally inadequate unless there are fundamental shifts and ontological reorientations about our identity and all too human-ness. Seen from this angle, the Earth and the other animals are the biggest Subalterns – mute, agonized, tortured, appropriated, and manipulated. In India, however, the cow is lucky, culturally supplanting the human through broad day light lynching and murdering of alleged human traffickers of cows. This prompts me to think of this editorial in the form of what I have named as the cow-borg manifesto and by naming it in that way I have two objectives to materialize – one, to re-read Donna Haraway`s idea of the cyborg in the context of contemporary distinction between humans and animals and also to expose certain forms of cultural politics thriving in the name of animals. In this context, I would take as my frame of reference three recent incidents involving animals, the collective efforts of New Zealanders in saving the shored whales in 2016, the Jalikattu agitation in Tamil Nadu in India in 2017 to continue with the traditional Tamil sport of bull-fighting in spite of the Supreme Court of India banning the sport on grounds of cruelties against animals, and lastly successive incidents of cow vigilantism (or Hindu religious terrorism?) in India where some Indian Muslims were lynched and beaten to death in broad daylight for their alleged consumption of beef and trafficking of cows for slaughter. The last two cases are interesting as they provide two sides of cultural nationalism, one advocating cruelty against the bull in the name of Tamil pride and bravado, the other while disallowing the slaughter of the cow in the name of religious and cultural lineages, allows the killing of alleged human cow traffickers or consumers of beef and countless other animals for human consumption and pleasure. So within the spatial locale of a single country, nationalism and culture can have two completely opposite standpoints about animals and humans. Nobody cared/dared to ask what the bull has to say about whether he should be made the subject of a culture sport or whether he enjoys playing the totem of Tamil pride. In a similar vein, we may recall that some days back during the recent Uttar Pradesh assembly election in India, Indian national newspapers carried the front page images of the cow (the revered Go Mata/cow mother) tied with a rope along her neck and being fed by none other than the Prime Minister of India, who is himself shown in the newspaper image as garlanded in sacred flowers. This dichotomy of the roped animal and the garlanded benevolent human agent is a classic reminder of the human animal distinction that we cleverly maintain under the veneer of cultural tokenism. The fact that Indian philosophy has references to profound egalitarian views on animals is completely besides the point here as the present day forms of cow vigilantism and cow-culture legitimization of human murder are far cries from the Jaina notion of ecology or the Puranic reverence for different animals as the incarnation of god or avatara. This is because cow-vigilantes are not actual believers of the cy/cow-borg identity, (Haraway, 1985) which is a radical way of looking into the human-animal indistinctions. Their doctrine of so called cow-love is premised on bigotry and selective politicization of animals for electoral and political gains. Can we think of a different strategy then in the form of a cow-borg manifesto that can expose this deceptive engineering of animal symbols to fan religious and nationalist or ethnic identity? Such identitarian manipulation of the animal perpetuates human supremacy and serves nothing for the cause of the non-human.
This issue of Café Dissensus is an attempt to locate the chain of equivalence between various creatures and that prompts us to think of the human as the humanimal, who can inspire us to re-write history not as human history but as what Dipesh Chakrabarty says, “species history” that includes the history of all the other creatures apart from the human. The hubris of human supremacy and the resultant greed for human developmentalism reached its height in modern times and “Modernity is a deal,” according to Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017) and this deal or “The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.” That power, he suggests, may in the near term give us godlike attributes: the ability to extend life spans and even cheat death, the agency to create new life forms, “to become intelligent designers of our own Galapagos … The new longevity and super-human qualities are likely to be the preserve of the techno super-rich, the masters of the data universe… Homo Deus is an “end of history”… there is a new religion: Dataism.”
Our proposed Cowborg manifesto imitating, of course, Haraway`s Cyborg proposal written in early 1985 is an attempt to defy this new religion of data-empire and human manipulation. The symbolic numinous code of philosophy and metaphysics around the practice of animal worship in ancient India is being redesigned today in the form of animal-nationalism and that suggests the murder of metaphysical meaning to gain political colonization of the life-world. For Haraway, the Cyborg manifesto was an attempt to expose the shortcomings of traditional Western rationalist philosophy as it is premised on rigid norms of binaries and dichotomies between humans and non-humans, man and machine, secular and post-secular, etc. Such divisive ontology, according to Haraway, is fictional and opposing such conventional binaries she proposed the idea of the cyborg which, in her view, is an amalgamation of human and the machine or the human and the non-human. In fact, her objective in scripting the Cyborg manifesto was far-reaching as by conceptualizing the cyborg she was actually trying to constitute a new form of consciousness and political activism. She envisaged a hybrid or mixed state of being, a more, complex, ambiguous, and fluid identity. She even characterized her position as ironic and irony is about humour and serious play or ludic that can liberate us from the tyrannical closures of binary. Irony is also therefore a rhetorical strategy and a political method and this ironic method should be honoured by any avant garde or progressive future political mobilizations. For Haraway, at the heart of this ironic strategy lies the figure of the cyborg.
For Haraway, the “cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics”. It is an image of both imagination and material reality and the cyborg is a creature of the post-gender world. It has no origin story and hence does not depend on any origin myth of original unity, it is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence, it “would not recognize the Garden of Eden… it is the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism … [and] illegitimate off springs are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins” (458). The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed (459). In cyborgs, the “transcendental authorization of interpretation is lost and with it is also lost the ontology grounding Western epistemology.” Who cyborgs “would be is a radical question; the answers are a matter of survival (460). A cyborg world “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (462). Cyborg society is made of affinities related not by blood but by choice. Our proposed cow-borg society can be the one that deepens greater creaturely cosmologies, better conviviality among others, something that deepens kinship and tentacle-like thoughts among all in a creature-democracy. If Hindu mythology coalesces the cow and the image of the mother, then this cow-borging must enfranchise all in a non-hierarchic ontology of immanence. In other words, cow-borging would be the Deleuzian ‘becoming minor’ or ‘the becoming animal’ and cannot be selective cultural protectionism.
Closely connected to such idea of choice or radical opening is Deleuze`s notion of ‘becoming animal.’ It helps us to think about animals and human-animal relations outside a strictly human vantage point and to decenter human subjectivity in a radical way (9). From Speciesism to Becoming Animal: Logos, Care and Zones of Indistinction? (Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame)
All the contributors in this issue have focused on various aspects on human animal conviviality. Brainne Donaldson in her lead essay “Becoming “Before” The Damned: Radical Religious Vision/s for the Animals, Earth, and People to Come” philosophises on creative use of metaphysical insights on human animal indistinction. In his essay, “Humanimality” Felice Cimatti foregrounds the central issue of humanimality by defining and elaborating on its various arguments. Richard Iveson`s piece “Wo und Ob: Heidegger’s Animal Differently”, as its name suggests, revisits an unexplored work of Heidegger that engages with the animal issue. Manas Dutta and Tirthankar Ghosh in their reportage-based work, “A Parliament for Elephants: Encroachment, Laws and Animal Rights”, raises the serious issue of elephant deaths on railway tracks in North Bengal. Their report testifies to the immediate implementation of animal rights based laws and reformulation of our attitude to animals. Bashabi Fraser’s cat trilogy poetically renders the shared respect and the affective response to one of our co-beings, the cat. This issue also contains two interviews, one with Matthew Calarco and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Calarco`s views throw fresh light on critical animal study. Dipesh Chakrabarty spoke in detail on “species history” that decenters human supremacy.
Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha is Associate Professor, Kazi Nazrul University, India. His current research engages with issues of the Anthropocene, radical political theology and postcolonial governance. He has been a fellow in the New School for Social Research, New York in 2017. He co-edits Kairos, the Journal of Critical Symposium and is one of the founding members of the Postcolonial Studies Association of the Global South (PSAGS). He can be contacted at email@example.com
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