April 13, 2021

Solidarity: ableism and the more than human world

Sunaura Taylor | femlab
Painting: Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura and Astrid Taylor, Solidarity Across Species
Interview with Sunaura Taylor, Edge Effects

  • Anthropocentrism is ableist (privileges only certain kinds of animal intelligence, for instance)
  • Big Ag must maim, wound, disable animals (and ecosystems) in order to maximize profits
  • Move beyond ableist agendas that focus on human power, the exploitation of biopower across species by abolishing factory farms, industrial fishing, monocropping, which are inherently exploitative and harmful to human and other species alike.
  • Where I am taken with Taylor’s argument—one that twins animal and human disabilities—is how expansive and devastating the category is, and how
    • ableism performs superiority and maintains power in great part by othering non-neurotypical humans and segregating the interests of animal species as less-than
    • this smacks of an econo-centrically mutated Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest
    • anthropocentrism, through an ableist lens is incapable of recognizing biodiverse forms of more-than-human intelligence; its intelligence tests for animals are inherently ableist (speciesist) based on what those human researchers find constitutes a very narrow definition of consciousness, the capability to recognize one self in a mirror, and the capacity to deceive.

From the interview:
CR: How do you argue against the systemic violence that produces disability both for animals via industrial farming but also for people? And how do you argue against the systemic violence that produces disability without situating disability itself as an undesirable quality?
ST: One connection is the material and embodied reality that all the animals that we use and that we exploit in different industries are disabled. The intensely contaminated and limited environments that animals in various industries are in leads them also to have various physical and mental disabilities; these disabilities make them profitable. The meat industry would not be profitable unless it continued to disable animals. I mean that animals are bred to produce way more milk than they usually would; animals are kept in environments where their muscles become so weak that their bones break or they become vitamin deficient. Thinking about the workers in these environments, the people who are employed in slaughterhouses and factory farms, for example, is also important. These employees are some of the most vulnerable in terms of worker exploitation, they may be undocumented, low-income, people of color, or intellectually disabled people. And their workplace environments also cause and produce disability in human beings. We can also look at the ways in which these industries are contaminating the land and water, and then they produce disability and illnesses through an environmental trail.

ST: I’m looking more at the relationship between disability in the environment, about water and land systems, and particularly about environmental harm. Language about environmental damage emerges in all sorts of different places, whether in environmental policy or environmental humanities. This language associates environmental harm with disability. For example, the climate is depicted as a mutant or the land can be represented as ill, wounded, or amputated. The Clean Water Act refers to the nations waterways as “impaired waters.” So there are all these disability rhetorics that emerge in environmental thinking, and what my project is trying to do is take that language seriously and to think about a solidarity between disability movements and the environmental movement. 

From the Solidarity article:
Between farming, ranching, and feed crops, the livestock industry devours 40 percent of the world’s habitable surface. A vegan food system would consume a tenth as much land. A concerted program of rewilding would reduce the outbreak of new epidemics by reducing contact between humans and wild animals and restoring biodiversity, curbing the risk of zoonoses while also sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. If our species were reasonable—the trait that supposedly sets us apart from other animals—we would embark on such a program. To respond to the pandemic we need to broaden our political imaginations. Our conception of solidarity must cross the species barrier.