The Ghost in Our Natures

The world wide
A web
Has expanded
Helped me grow
But I cannot escape the dead leaves
Haunting in their shriveled states
Statements of where I have been and left
Yet evidence of what I branched from
Wasted energy like wasted sunlight
Or maybe they made food for me for a time

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Book Review: Gods and Robots by Adrienne Mayor

 

Overall, “Gods and Robots” feels rather like a punchy magazine article that has been stretched out far beyond its natural length. It is also something of a missed opportunity, since there is in fact an important thread that directly connects ancient Greek thought with modern AI research. 

See also My Fair Ladies

 

Book Review: The Art of Frugal Hedonism

Other reviews I agree with:

So, why the two stars? Because damn it, my fellow white people, we need to do better. Tip #10 is “romanticize other eras,” and the idea that “people” were happier in the simpler days of say, the 1950s, is a major thread in this book. This is that dangerous white supremacist crossover space between liberals and the Make American Great Again set – other eras were downright shitty for everyone other than white cishet nuclear families (and also not all that great for some of those family members)

 

It was helpful for those interested in living a more frugal lifestyle without sacrificing your entire lifestyle, but I felt like I could easily skim the essays for the best bits in them.

 

A good introduction/overview of frugal values and how to incorporate them into your life without sacrificing happiness.

 

On “invasive” species:

I’ve never heard this issue summed up so succinctly.

If you worry about:

– “invasive” species
– endangered species
– extinction
– feral cats
– the environment

This video is for you.

Quote on dog packs:

Even those dogs who freely choose to live forming packs on the margins of human settlements without aiming for the “comfort” of a home, and who do not have any problem of sustenance or health, are considered real victims to be protected, incapable to provide for themselves. A typical example of disabling – in addition to the very concrete one to which non-human prisoners are subjected, whose beak is cut, whose legs are made unusable, whose vocal cords are cut – is that of the many appeals to capture cows who escaped from the slaughterhouse because in the forests “they would not be able to survive”.

[From: ‘Crazy horses. Intersections between the animal liberation and the antipsychiatric movement’]

Book Review: Esemtu Vol. 1 by Karin Springer, Raphaela Springer (Illustartor)

This was a really delightful graphic novel and a great way to learn about Sumerian gods. I’ve read the Epic of Gilgamesh in the past, but have not necessarily understood the pantheon of gods mentioned. This story made me want to learn more and drew off the myths in surprising ways. The artwork is fantastic and the pace of the story is never dull.

Throughout the pages you learn that there are ancient statues and the guardians of those statues, who have touched them, can see the demons who influence the universe.

There is a surprise at the end, though not necessarily a twist. I think the target audience is probably more young adult.

The creators  have a website where you can learn more about the mythology and take a quiz to find out who your patron god is! Mine is Inanna.

You can learn more on Twitter.

 

 

I was given this in exchange for an honest review.  See my review policy above.

TBR: Esemtu Vol. 1 by Karin Springer, Raphaela Springer (Illustartor)

 

Three university students get tangled up in a mystery murder. However, they realize that they’ll have to open their minds to the supernatural to solve this case. Soon, they find themselves dragged into a magic world of fantastic creatures, gods, demons and immortals, that will change their lives forever.
Join them in their thrilling adventure to uncover the ancient secrets!

I do find the Epic of Gilgamesh very fascinating.

View more on Goodreads. 

Book Review: Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question by Benedicte Boisseron

The animal-rights organization PETA asked “Are Animals the New Slaves?” in a controversial 2005 fundraising campaign; that same year, after the Humane Society rescued pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while black residents were neglected, some declared that white America cares more about pets than black people. These are but two recent examples of a centuries-long history in which black life has been pitted against animal life. Does comparing human and animal suffering trivialize black pain, or might the intersections of racialization and animalization shed light on interlinked forms of oppression?

In Afro-Dog, Bénédicte Boisseron investigates the relationship between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the black Atlantic, exposing a hegemonic system that compulsively links and opposes blackness and animality to measure the value of life. She analyzes the association between black civil disobedience and canine repression, a history that spans the era of slavery through the use of police dogs against protesters during the civil rights movement of the 1960s to today in places like Ferguson, Missouri. She also traces the lineage of blackness and the animal in Caribbean literature and struggles over minorities’ right to pet ownership alongside nuanced readings of Derrida and other French theorists. Drawing on recent debates on black lives and animal welfare, Afro-Dog reframes the fast-growing interest in human-animal relationships by positioning blackness as a focus of animal inquiry, opening new possibilities for animal studies and black studies to think side by side.

Who am I to review this book? I don’t like being the first one to do so on Goodreads, but it looks like it’s me. This book explores – grapples?—with the issue (the “animal question”) of comparing a human population to an animal population. At least, that’s why I was reading it. I was reading it to understand the dynamics of it, to question it, to come to some stronger conclusion. I have seen posts like this that caution against doing so and I am even guilty of making the dreaded comparison. I regret how I have compared in the past, in part, but deep down I always knew there is an intersection. The research question, for me, was how best to do it, or if it should be done even if there is an “intersection” — if it should be done at all.

The two main populations mentioned in this book were, most obviously, Black people (i.e. slavery, mainly) and Jewish people (i.e. the Holocaust), basically because these two groups seem to be who are compared the most to animals in this culture. I was hoping this book could confirm or deny my modes of thinking, others’ modes of thinking. I’m not sure what it did for me, though it has indeed done something.

I recommend you actually read the Coda first if you start to struggle with what’s in the chapters you start to read, because this was the most enlightening portion for me and it might give the work better context than the introduction does. Before I read the Coda, the book seemed flip-floppy. The previous chapters seem to state in sections that you shouldn’t compare people to animals, only to do just that by highlighting where their struggles, most specifically Black struggles, often intersect. At other times it seems to confirm you can compare them, but only if you are part of the population being compared (which is a thought I have heard before, elsewhere). It was hard to process all this with the fact the book is one big comparison of Black humans to animals. Perhaps one critique is that the chapters are too objective (what this review would call “without much thematic structure or a temporal narrative”). I was hardly sure of Boisseron’s official stance at times, all of her observation laid out for us to come to our own conclusions. She’s clearly done the work of research and making connections, but what we should interpret from them is somewhat up in the air. And even the Coda is purposefully no official stance, showing that it’s difficult for even someone within a population to compare themselves to animals and be held as a lasting authority. Boisseron even questions herself and her authority, asking “Who am I to talk about the Afro-dog?” after pointing out Alice Walker, who wrote the forward for the Dreaded Comparison, is a lapsed vegetarian.

While I agree that if comparison is ever done it should be done in a careful way that focuses on the intersection, Boisseron makes a case for never doing it…but also for doing it? I think this paradox (?) is the point.  What I am now struggling with (still struggling with?) is how to think about the “intersection.” To me, pointing out the intersections (what this review calls searching “for narratives of interspecies connectedness, rather than structural similarities used by activists”) is still a form of comparison and I don’t understand the definition of “structural similarities.” Additionally, I wonder if Boisseron’s work does somehow (and in what ways) validate Walker and therefore Spiegel’s Dreaded Comparison and works like it? Are these “acivitist” works? I’ve not read either, so some of what was said about them in Afro-Dog may have gone over my head.

The only word I was left with after reading this book was “frustrated” — not necessarily in a bad way. Perhaps this is because I’m having trouble understanding it (the issue itself and this scholarly work), which is why I didn’t want to be the first to review it! I do not know what I do not know.

But to the most interesting parts of the book (for me): Boisseron referenced so much dog literature that I had never heard about. Apparently that’s a thing — white people writing about dogs and their struggles. My favorite chapter was “The Naked Truth about Cats and Blacks” – where it examines interpretations of the Biblical Ham story. It was eye opening (quotes from it below). In some ways it reminded me about the scene in Fifteen Dogs where the woman realizes the dog can speak and starts to change her behavior around him. I also don’t think I’ve ever (?) seen Carol Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat) and Donna Haraway mentioned in the same book. If that tells you anything about where this book is coming from and going, it means it’s a necessary contribution and read. Please tell me your thoughts on it and help me better understand this book!

Quotes:

“Rankine says in Citizen that she always thought that racist language erases you, but, through Butler, she now understands that it makes you exposed and hypervisible. The racist language takes the measure of your addressability. Likewise, the animal-black analogy is not only a question of racial or species elision, but also one of (hper-) visibility and addressability. The addressability of both in a malapropos context makes them as visible as an uninvited guest at an intimate dinner party.”

“If Harper first saw vegan activism as a ‘white thing,’ it is mainly due to the fact that, as she explains, her ‘vegan classmates weren’t trained or well read enough in antiracist and antipoverty praxis to deliver their message to [her] in a way that connected to [her] social justice work as a Black working-class female trying to deal with sexism, classism, and racism…”

“The common appeal for the exotic animal in the Western world targets the woman, and even more so, in a system of intertwined racism, sexism, and speciesism, the black woman. Think of the Hottentot Saartjie Baartman, nicknamed ‘Vénus Noire” and “Black Venus,” a black woman with extremely large buttocks, who was exhibited in salons.”

“Examining defiance rejects the construction of blacks and animal as exclusively connected through their comparable state of subjection and humiliation, and instead focuses on interspecies alliances. In other words, to what extent are Josephine Baker’s animal impersonations not only a white-crowd-pleasing performance but also a means to reclaim her voice in a sort of auto-interpellation, as Louis Althusser calls it?”

“As Delise explains, by 1880, all productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin included a pack of ferocious-looking dogs for dramatic effect. The recurrence of the canine prop gave people the impression that Stowe’s book was filled with dogs chasing slaves when, in reality, the Eliza scene is the only incident in the book involving the idea of chasing dogs.”

“What I call ‘afro-dog’ is the result of the animal and his human victim merging through the bite in a mutual becoming against…Instead, human consciousness, namely feeling human as opposed to animal, could very well be based on the taboo of cannibalism. Humans eat animals but do not let other animals eat the, including the human animal. However, the dog bite, a somewhat mundane occurrence in our society, is a constant reminder that the human being is also an animal that can be eaten… The bite brings to mind the fetishistic nature of human nonedibility; it shows that human consciousness is based on the disavowal of being an (edible) animal. The dog, in this sense, is essential to the process of dehumanization since it is the only animal that dares bit humans on a regular basis, thereby constantly confirming the fragile nature of the human condition….The dog bite, when orchestrated by the white against the black, is a racially driven kind of cannibalism that uses fangs as a means of transference.”

“Blacks owning big dogs enacts Justice Brown’s double fear: the black and the dog together on the loose, without the white master. We may dare to make a symbolic connection between the 2005 pit bull ordinance and black men losing their lives (Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner) at the hands of policemen and self-appointed authority figures: Blacks jaywalking or roaming the streets are like ‘dangerous’ dogs on the loose, threatening and to be contained at all costs.”

“Edgar Allan Poe draws a similar comparison in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ a short story in which a detective, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, is assigned a double murder case with no visual witnesses. There are several aural witnesses, however, who indicate that the unfamiliar sounds that the heard during the time of the killing came from a foreign (human) language. The presumed foreign language, as Dupin eventually discovers, is that of an orangutan, the perpetrator of the double murder. Poe’s story completes Kilito’s axiom: the animal is a foreigner to man, just as much as the foreigner is an animal to the native.”

“By addressing the right to marry, be baptized, or to be freed, the Code Noir acknowledges that the slave is not merely an animal or an agricultural tool. In other words, there would have been no need for the creation of the Code Noir if slavery had involved an equation of the human body with the animal or things alone, since animality and objecthood are, legally speaking, tow clear categories.”

“One of the many nuances of blackness today is the relationship of the black body to the idea of pre-ownership; the black is not a free man, but a stray in the legal and historical imaginary….Because of its stray dog population, Detroit has been depicted in the media as a postapocalyptic canine city with packs of stray dogs prowling through neighborhoods….The representation of Detroit’s dog population in visual media reveal that the majority of those dogs are abandoned pets avoiding human contact, rather than feral animals preying on residents. Yet the dogs’ status as previously owned and on the loose stigmatizes these animals as feral, aggressive, dangerous, and unrestrained. The media’s misrepresentation and amplification of this stray dog presence additionally depicts Detroit as a predatory and savage city.”

“Yet, how can one guarantee that the black will not eventually speak? How can one be so sure that there will never be an Olaudah Equiano or Frederick Douglass to tell on the white man? If the chattel (as in cattle) slave were truly an animal, the white would have no need to feel exposed—or would he?”

“Within an interracial encounter, the chattle/cattle slave can also be said to be figuratively à poil, not because the slave is naked, but rather, and on the contrary, because the slave looks covered in contrast to the exposure of the master; in that, the black is indeed an animal (cattle). The inception of slavery in the Americas seen through the lens of Ham’s curse allows us to understand nakedness as the constitutive taboo of plantation society.”

“The black and the animal are nonfaces that do not blush in return, as if they did not even care about what the Other – white and human – may think of them, as if they did not fear being caught naked.”

“The premise of the curse of Ham and Derrida’s cat is that of a silent or silenced one who has seen the exposure and will not tell about it. The difference between these two cases, however, is that one (human) can technically speak and the other (animal) cannot. Yet, the threat of feeling exposed is equally poignant in both cases since shame has more to do with wondering what the Others think of us than wondering what they will subsequently tell about is.”

“Who are we to talk about the animal? What are our credentials? Those questions also apply to Jacques Derrida, who, in The Animal That Therefore I Am, feels the need to tell his audience (also in a formal address as a guest speaker) that ‘animals are [his] concern,’ as if to anticipate the audience’s puzzlement at hearing the deconstructionist philosopher talk about the animal. Who is he to talk about the animot?

Book Review: Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation by Juno Salazar Parreñas

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“Even as #decolonization demands a serious challenge to the so-called great divides between human and animal or inanimate, it also demands a rejection of a telos (Haraway 1991: Latour 1993). To decolonize extinction is to resist definitively saying what should be or ought to be. Indeed, what might look like liberation, such as the free mobility of orangutans within the constraints of a wildlife center, may on a deeper level be less liberatory than it seems. Yet what makes such an action a potential form of decolonization is its experimentation in how to relate to others beyond tired colonial tropes of violence and benevolence… By contingency, I mean this: things have not always been the way they are and thus do not have to be this way in the future.” #AnimalLiberation #DonnaHaraway #ClimateCrisis

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This came up on my “Donna Haraway radar” and it really reinforced my opinion that zoos and breeding programs are, well, bad.  These are typically the standard for how we try to counter extinction, and the book challenges those methods. Orangutans are the frame for thinking about extinction in a wider context, for all animals. Recommended reading.

Here are some quotes I want to highlight from the book:

“Extinction in this book is not a muse for eulogy about creatures that one nostalgically misses even while actively killing them…If we were to take on an earthbound perspective of multiscalar time, we would see that extinction, like individual death, is a condition of planetary living. Decolonizing extinction is not an attempt to try to stop it. Rather, the question and challenge of decolonizing extinction is its experimentation with other responses and other senses of responsibility than what usually inspires us when we want to do something – anything – to stop what might be inevitable. The challenge of decolonizing extinction, then, is not to end extinction, but to consider how else might it unfold for those who will perish and for those who will survive.”

“However, one acute response has been to directly intervene in the lives of endangered species. The moral weight of extinction is significant enough to generate an industry of volunteer tourism for threatened wildlife….Commercial volunteers come to Lundu Wildlife Center not for salvation, but motivated by a professed interest in animals and conservation.”

“My goal in decolonizing extinction is not to transfer the power of decision making to newly appointed experts who better understand such violence. Replacing a timber tycoon with a conservationist at the top of the chain is not enough. Rather, I believe that decolonizing extinction requires a fundamental reorientation towards others, especially nonhuman others, in which we accept the risk of living together, even when others’ lives pose dangers to our own.”

“Not all workers happily collude with these circumstances. Some, like the ranger Nadim at Batu Wildlife Center, empathize with their female charges and criticize the brutality of what he calls ‘rape’ that happens on site. Prominent primatologists, whom I think of as feminist, critique the usage of the word rape as a technical term in primatological literature. Thus, I turn to the debate between evolutionary biologists and anthropologists about the politics of the term rape and the extent to which acts at Sarawak’s Wildlife Centers could be identified as such.”

“Orangutan rehabilitation can only offer species-level palliative care to the end, without expectation of the species’ survival. Layang, Lin, and their coworkers might scoff at the comparison, and yet their workplace undeniably offered institutionalized care: the same supplier who sourced food for the wildlife center also sourced food for the nursing homes. In this chapter, I use hospice  as the term to reference end-of-life care at an institution.”

“The distinction between zoo and rehabilitation center…proved to be tenuous.”

Book Review: #RVLife: Seeking Happiness Through A Nomadic Life

Some days  I fantasize about downsizing because I have too much crap. Other days I fret on the approaching apocalypse and how being stuck in a house (not that I own a house) would keep me from the preparedness necessary for survival (picture me sleeping on top of my hoards of canned foods).

But besides all of the negative reasons for avoiding the typical housing situation, there is something romantic about owning an RV — or, as Regina Spektor would sing, “Silver Bullet Trailer”:

My thinking is: not only is renter life more carefree (you can pick up and go any time),  it’s even more freeing living in RVs (you’re already ready to go at any time!!!). The #RVLife seems like the best of both worlds — you owning your home, yet it not keeping you financially or locationally weighed down (depending on a few factors).

I was thinking this book might convince me to lean into the lifestyle more, and it has, but boy is it not as simple as you might think. It takes motivation and skill to fight against the typical lifestyle structures. I’m not won over to the nomadic life yet, but it sure is fascinating! There is no precise roadmap for it, as the Hebards found, which is probably why they published this book. They learned a lot as they went, clearly. It’s a great manual for all the things you might want to think about before diving in.

For one, I didn’t realize it was so complicated to buy and maintain an RV.  Their experience was my personal nightmare when their RV turned out to be a lemon. The loan process is such a weird animal (is it a house or a vehicle? It’s kinda both!). And RV standards (and how to work on them?) aren’t always what you think they are. Sometimes it seems like you’re trading one problem of housing for another. But that’s life and it seems like it’s worth it for them. They certainly seem happy and their life is so interesting! Never a dull moment, with the types of people they run into and the sites they get to see.

One thing I really identified with was their honesty about finding work to fit their lifestyle and holding people accountable when things went wrong. There’s a bit about how they left a negative Google review as a last resort and that got the people’s attention. I’ve tried that one before and it is super effective! My boyfriend, like John Hebard, is also a veteran and so Hebard’s dealings with the VA hit home. There’s also a bit about how to become a YouTuber (side note: they have a YouTube channel that documents their life with tips! Check it out):

I recommend this book if you’re curious about minimalist living, travelling, camping, are an anarchist who needs off the grid, or you even just want to buy an RV for your kid to live out in your driveway. This book might come in handy! I’ll be donating this to the library where I work. I can’t be the only person who finds this topic fascinating.

Buy on Amazon.

 

 

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. See my policy in the tabs above.