Type
Review
Category
Reading

Us and Them

Quarterly Essay
Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals

Anna Krien
Black Inc.

I live on the edge of a temperate rainforest. In the city the daylight hours are filled with noise, and at night things fade into silence. In the rainforest everything is reversed. During the day the forest is as silent as the grave. At night it erupts with noise.

There are tiny discordant conversations high in the trees. A cluster of voices can carry a lament for hours. Things chatter and scrabble. Even labelling these noises, as flying foxes, owls or wallabies, seems like a tenuous thing. In actual fact, it’s impossible to know what is talking to what and it’s all weird. It’s like listening to a multitude of inhuman languages emanating from an alien landscape in the Dungeon Dimensions.

In this kind of environment one’s relationships with animals becomes a very different proposition from owning a pet. Wild animals are unmistakably Other, and seem to be continually engaged in a rich and complex and unseen life of which we see or hear only a surface impression. When we think of wild animals we tend to construct images of them as potential pets, as though they could have the relationship with us that our favourite dog has; Whales as the Labradors of the ocean. But really we have no idea what animals think of us.

Anna Krien has written about our complicated and unutterably strange and brutal relationships with animals in the latest Quarterly Essay titled Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals. Krien is the kind of writer I could probably never be. It’s not merely a question of a lack of talent but also that I just wouldn’t have the energy to produce the driven prose that she does. When I picked up Us and Them I had a vague memory of Krien’s name popping up in the world of prizewinners somewhere. She won something for her long investigative essay Into the Woods, which is an eloquent demonstration that successive Tasmanian governments have been little more than a front for logging companies. As a piece of writing, Into the Woods is fairly amazing in parts, not least because of Krien’s relentless analytical prose. She often finds, or puts, herself in some pretty mad situations, and I found myself waiting (almost pleading) for a Hunter S Thompson-style outburst, a burst of insanity to relieve the tension that Krien creates with her forensic attention to detail and to narrative. The closest I felt I got was when Krien reveals that she has a collection of weird tattoos which she keeps hidden. It’s as if the madness is there alright, but only briefly revealed, all the better to conceal it.

Oddly enough, just as I was finishing this post, and after I’d written the above paragraph, I read somewhere that the writer Amanda Lohrey had called Krien ‘Australia’s young female Hunter S Thompson’, a bizarre claim that’s probably not helpful. Apart from the fact that its hard to imagine Krien driving a convertible at high speed across the desert, delusional and screaming at bats, the suppressed craziness in Krien’s prose has yet to find its way of making itself visible. Thompson wrote as if he were mad. To write just like Thompson one might have to actually be mad.

Anyway since I read Into the Woods Krien’s name seems to pop up everywhere, often in various ‘Best Of’ compilations, which makes her sound a bit like whoever sang ‘Eye of the Tiger’. There’s a few video interviews of her around the place, and she has a website as well. Despite Krien’s sometime representation of herself as a hapless adventurer, the interviews show someone extremely lucid, watchful even, discreetly concealing a mind like a steel trap. I’d no more get into a debate with Anna Krien than I would fry my own hand for breakfast. I suspect that not only would I lose the argument, but I’d not even know I’d been mercilessly dispatched. Or how.

Anna Krien can turn out some wonderful and illuminating images in her writing, to offset her iron-disciplined prose. And sometimes the success of an entire page can turn on her use of an image. I started to feel throughout Into the Woods that Krien’s often distraught images were a way of conveying what her analytical style couldn’t otherwise allow itself to: her own distress at the devastation of the Tasmanian forests, the mass slaughter of wildlife and whatever other existential concerns were occupying her during her mad time in Tasmania.

Anyway, that’s all by way of creating something of a context. After Into the Woods my expectations for Krien’s Quarterly Essay were pretty high. What to my eye appears to have happened in the interval between Into the Woods and Us and Them is that Krien has achieved something of a shift in the way in which she writes and frames and produces her ideas. Into the Woods has a lot going for it as I hope I’ve made clear, but next to Us and Them it looks almost clunky in parts, as if you can see under the bonnet a bit, the patched up radiator and the bodgy rust jobs. I wondered what Krien’s take on this change might be. She refers to herself in Us and Them as ‘a wordsmith’, a dorky term that writers sometimes use to decry their own ability or convince themselves that they are people who just use craftsman-like words (as if they were literary equivalents of Ricky Swallow) rather than images, metaphors, signifiers or ideas. Anyway, Krien’s use of the term made me wonder what she was using it for in understanding her own work.

Us and Them ventures into territory that Krien seems to thrive in, areas of messy politics and of high conflict, where terrible damage is being done to the various organisms and beings that inhabit the planet. Us and Them is about the human relationship with animals, and the fraught ethical and political choices we make when we engage with the universe of animals. Thinking about animals and how we use them (and we do use them) is a fizzing minefield of booby traps. Krien shifts and fakes her way through it with some aplomb. In fact it looks to me as if one of her achievements is to make us look at her (and our) vulnerability, while she spins out this sometimes beautiful exercise in writing with that unceasing discipline she showed in Into the Woods.

Us and Them begins with an expression of vulnerability, and doesn’t let up through 25,000 words. Vulnerability sets the atmosphere I think, as in four short pieces (Killing, Testing, Hunting, Other Beings) Krien wades into the bloody, brutal and often sadistic world of human treatment of animals. I’m not going to take you through the various ethical arguments that Krien plots her way through, or even the bits that I didn’t understand or just couldn’t follow. After all, you can read Us and Them for yourself, and the next issue of Quarterly Essay will no doubt feature a slew of replies taking Krien’s work apart for her.

But part of the thesis of Us and Them is one that Krien explored in Into the Woods: human beings are rapidly killing every other species on the planet. While there might be a range of ways to understand that politically, Krien seems particularly intrigued by the role of hate, or what appears to be hate. That appearance of hate is what I wanted to get my head around and I wanted Anna Krien to get her head around it for me. Maybe her next major thing will be called On Hate. It’s the spoken to but unexplored subject in both Into the Woods and Us and Them, and while I appreciated Krien’s sterling efforts to come to grips with the moral complexities of both the struggle over Tasmania’s forests and the industrial killing of animals, going backward and forward between moral positions and various thumbnail-sketched characters sometimes seemed like too much labour.

 

 

Just by the by, I was struck by Krien’s exploration of the idea that animals can experience what we might think of as mental illness – depression, anxiety, the effects of trauma and so on. Personally, I think it’s probably true, and it’s an idea that takes the otherness of animals, allows them their otherness and still builds a connection between us and them. I thought of the Declaration of Rights of Cetaceans that describes whales and dolphins as ‘non-human persons’. But why stop at whales?

Years ago, I remember seeing an elephant at Adelaide Zoo that spent day after day standing in one spot rocking from side to side, as though it were developing autistic symptoms. Just up the road from me lives a dog that is probably entering its last months of life. The dog has been badly treated and neglected over the years and is often lonely, I think. It’s terribly difficult to make friends with. No matter how hard I try, it can’t seem to shake a habit of fear and hopelessness now a decade and a half old. The other day I found it asleep on my back porch. It was too deaf to notice me walking around it. When it did eventually wake up and notice me, it got to its feet with difficulty and started to slink away. I’m not someone who would naturally try and have a conversation with a dog. But I said to my surprise, ‘I won’t bother you. You can stay here all day.’ I went back into the house and when I checked later, it was lying on the porch again looking at me with one eye as I pottered about. So maybe we’re making progress. Both of us.

Krien frames her central question in Us and Them as ‘How much injustice are we prepared to live with?’ It’s a great question I think on many fronts as it can be taken several ways. Obviously I want to live with no injustice. But like compassionate capitalism it’s something of a problematic idea. I’m irrevocably compromised by the system of economics and power politics my life is embedded in. So, what would it mean to try and carry out a just act?

For me, Krien is at her best when she speaks of her own experience, her own vulnerability and understanding. And for me, she’s most difficult as an investigative reporter funnelling vast amounts of information toward the reader in some kind of digestible form. It’s not that she didn’t make it digestible, it’s more that I wanted to stay with her experience, not just because I found it more interesting, but also because she writes about it so well, better than when she’s thumbnail-sketching people and being investigative I think.

After Utoya I found it impossible to listen to the Swedish group Hellsongs brilliant cover of Metallica’s dumb, ‘Seek and Destroy’. A bunch of sweet-faced blonde Scandinavians crooning about hunting down human prey just became too much, even allowing for irony. Likewise, Krien’s essay inserts a break in all the reasonable types of reason we try and use to convince ourselves why we shouldn’t eat animals. We are as the sequence of Krien’s titles implies killing, testing and hunting other beings. There’s something visceral in trying to gain an understanding of that and that’s where the power of Krien’s writing lies.

As I said earlier I’d probably have some anxiety about debating Anna Krien, but I still considered finishing this review with a question. Krien says of herself in thinking her way through the writing of Us and Them, ‘Don’t finish with a question. Throw the punch’. I’m a pretty lame punch thrower myself but an obsessive asker of questions. It’s a major failing, but it’s all I’ve got. I had a question about something Krien said about hunting, which I didn’t understand. In the end I decided to just sit with it. The question that is. For someone who dreams of throwing punches, Anna Krien asks a lot of questions. She’s a terrific writer, and if she can cope with all the prizes and wordsmithing and comparisons to Hunter S Thompson, her future work will pack quite a punch.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 Mesmerism new music festivals and his non-fiction novella A lantern carried down a dark path is forthcoming from Tiny Owl.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the considered review, Stephen. I haven’t read Us and Them yet, though I should – animal rights is something I’ve been thinking about (and, being vegan, it’s territory I often revisit and reassess).

    I wonder if you’ve read Krien’s Monthly essay, ‘Booze Territory: The Crisis of Alcoholism‘, and, if you have, how you thought it fit with the way you describe her work above? I’m especially thinking of the question, ‘How much injustice are we prepared to live with?’

  2. I found Krien’s Monthly essay very odd and a disappointment. It was a number of things I think; the deluge of statistics didn’t help, but the best political argument she could come up with was a kind of undifferentiated complaint against both the Left and the Right. And the NT Intervention as ‘tough love’? It seemed to lack a broad context. Was it really about alcohol? Indigenous dispossession?
    As a piece of prose it certainly wasn’t anywhere near the standard of Us and Them. In fact it looked like a real failure to me. Again we were given a kind of little peek of Ann Krien at the end, a little glimpse of adolescent madness, that would have been more interesting to hear about I think. It made me think of a ‘doorstop disclosure’ that I sometimes find in my clinical practice: the material the person addresses in the session is very dead and boring, and then as they are literally about to walk out of the door, they disclose a traumatic event.

    I have been thinking a lot about animals this past year, as beings living a parallel life to us, but so very Other that we just don’t even try to understand them apart from via animal behaviour. They are around me so much, in so many different forms it’s very difficult not to think of them as a category of ‘persons’.
    There’s a talk at TED by a Dutch animal researcher, De Waal who gives a talk on animal morality. He comes to the conclusion that monkeys can be altruistic based on the way they may or may not share fruit. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for De Waal or his audience that the monkeys being ‘tested’ are in appalling cages.
    I’m actually very interested in veganism, as an ethical position. I’m not a vegan mostly because of a lack of vegan culinary knowledge and because I eat out so much these days, but it looks like a very ethically viable option to me. Though, Nimbin, where I live is full of vegans, but of many different stripes, some more ethically problematic (to me ) than others.

  3. Great review. A must read going on what is written here.

    I see *us* and *them* as pronouns of power and solidarity, used to convince ourselves by some sort of default clause that we are not animals. One of the better books on the subject for me is Archer and Beale’s (2005) Going Native: living in the Australian environment – without necessarily endorsing their main plank of conservation through sustainable use.

  4. Ok, ta for the ref. Deborah Bird Rose has some interesting stuff too; her book ‘Dingo makes us human’ and a paper she wrote, ‘Flying Fox; Kin, Keystone, Kontaminant’ (which you can find at this somewhat lengthy URL http://epress.anu.edu.au/apps/bookworm/view/Australian+Humanities+Review+-+Issue+50,+2011/5451/ch07.xhtml)
    When I’m lying in bed in the wee hours, I can hear a dozen different animal voices at once, and if I don’t immediately chain them down by saying to myself ‘that’s a wallaby; that’s a curlew; that’s a koala etc etc’, its amazing what I think they could be saying, as though the landscape was speaking.

  5. BRILLIANT review/writing thanks Stephen. I especially like your reverse rainforest and reading of Krien’s weird tattoos. (And really fascinating your hankering for more of her madness, more intimacy with writer + your experience of ‘doorstop disclosure’.)

    And I also note this ‘us’ and ‘them’ thing, Dennis, that we use to convince ourselves we’re not animals.

  6. Ooh, ta. This is only the 2nd review I’ve done for OL. I find writing reviews very difficult.
    Yeah, I definitely feel onto something with Anna K’s hide and seek with herself in her writing. It’s kind of infuriating in a way, because she’s so very close to doing something very special I think, that would combine the anguished and devastating political critique she can do so well, and the interior insight thing with an acknowledgment of the personal madness we all experience in these bizarre times.
    I also realised this morning that AK also often is going home in her pieces too. Either Into the Woods or Us and Them (I forget which) begins with going home on the train, the end of the Booze essay she speaks of having an inner homing device while she speaks of being at home etc etc.
    Anyway, I really hope she doesn’t turn into a wordsmith. She’s trying to do something very cool. Maybe she’s had lousy editors killing her darlings for her and all that.

    BTW the English philosopher Mary Midgely, now in her 90’s (and frequent slaughterer of Richard Dawkins – in fact she’s dismembered him so many times he’s probably really a cyborg) is fantastic on human as animals, especially in Beast and Man which I’m on for the 2nd time. Of course she’s a woman so doesn’t get the adoration the male philosophers do.

  7. You sort of do a review as psychoanalysis Stephen, which I find fascinating.
    And I know and love the work of Mary Midgely. Do you think she’s not widely adored because she’s a woman – or because she dismembers the sacred cows of contemporary science?

  8. I don’t think I did a psychoanalytic deconstruction Jane. It’s more a literary one based on my own way of listening to prose.
    And Mary Midgely goes for the sacred cows which are largely male constructs. So she gets done on both accounts

  9. Hey Stephen

    I want to jump right into a question I have about animals. Maybe you have direct thoughts on it, or perhaps could point me to someone who deals with this directly…

    1. some animals eat other animals
    2. this is actually necessary for the functioning of the sort of ecosystems we have at the moment (as Anna explains in her SlowTV video interview, if you take away the apex predator, things get out of whack pretty quickly)
    3. thus it would seem that it is not just okay, but morally neutral if not positive that animals can eat animals
    3a. and I haven’t met any non-animal-eating humans that has advocated stopping other animals from eating other animals.

    So what is the issue with humans eating animals?

    Is it just industrial forms of farming etc, which (like any form of industrialism) can be pretty damaging for both the physical environment, the economy and relationships?
    If it is just this, then artisanal, cottage-industry, small and slow might be ok.

    If it is more than this — that we shouldn’t eat animals outright (or kill/mame for any other reason, eg scientific testing) — then what is it to position the human being as a creature that evolved through (in part) eating other animals but now no longer should? Any answer here would in fact produce an ‘us and them’ account, whereby we humans have some moral injunction (not to eat animals) that we don’t expect other animals to themselves align to (they continue to each other).

    So it seems we can’t really get away from us and them, in whatever trajectory it occurs.

    ??

  10. Hi Luke
    Interesting question. I think the human/animal nexus is a fraught area and a very intriguing one. For me it’s mostly about choices and how we make them not about any moral absolutes. As far as the ‘who should we eat and when’ arguments go, there seem to be many opinions in what might be called the ‘animal rights’ area, not all of them coherent.
    As far as thinkers go, I’ve found Mary Midgely useful. J.M. Coetzee rehashes a lot of Midgely’s arguments in his unsuccessful novella ‘The Lives of Animals’.
    Yes, I agree, where does it position us if we are aminals that don’t eat other animals? For myself, I don’t want to be at the end of the vast industrial chain anymore, just as I’m questioning my complicity in a whole lot of things. A lot is critical to my well-being now which is difficult to express.
    Whether we were once top order predators or not, we are definitely not now. We’ve moved into a whole other dimension of destructiveness and brutality whch is probably unparalleled. Top order predators are still part of an ecological system. We are now actually destroying the system itself. Soon there won’t be anyone left but us.

  11. Thanks for links/authors.
    Not top order predators anymore – quite. Instead of apex predator we probably need to invent new name for us. Like system predator, or something. Meta-predator?

  12. Meta-predator is very neat. Somewhere in Us and Them, Anna Krien references E.O. Wilson’s idea of the Age of Loneliness, ie: humans exterminate everything and no-one else is left. Whether this will happen or not, it occurred to me that it’s conceivable because we have behaved as if we are alone.

  13. Thanks for this review, Stephen, I enjoyed it. I’ve been noticing and avoiding Anna Krien’s Us and Them for a while – mainly because I didn’t want to go to an abattoir. But the subject is so important… It’s interesting, isn’t it, how humans cannot seem to respect the *independent* lives of animals, often trying to anthropomorphise them or turn them into some kinds of weird pets. I really like the way you discuss Us and Them in the context of Into the Woods, and how you talk about the role of hate. I’d love to know what that question about hunting is… I hope that dog is still comfy on your verandah. After reading your and Jane’s comments, I’ll seek out Mary Midgely…I discovered Deborah Bird Rose’s writing recently with relish (not quite the right words) but I don’t think joy is the right word either when talking about mass human-induced extinctions…

    • Hi Rowena
      The question for Anna Krien was around her argument that she was opposed to industrial hunting (game hunters in choppers etc) but not to “the shooting of a rabbit to go in the pot or the plonk of a fishing line at the end of a pier.” I wondered why, because she doesn’t elaborate. The relaxed tone of the sentence implies that these are homely ‘country practice; activities.
      Midgely has written quite a bit of environmental stuff which I haven’t read, but plan to. I’ve read Beast and Man which is great for its relentless clarity but required some stamina of me.
      And the dog is doing quite well. It used to flee in terror. I’m quite surprised with myself.

      • Stephen, Krien’s statement here seems in line with the anti-industrial (but pro-hunter-gatherer if not pro micro-agricultural) option… either way, it does need elaborating, as per any moral position.

        • I think so. But as far as Us and Them goes, I wanted to focus on Krien the prose writer. Giving a summary of her arguments wouldn’t have made for writing an interesting review.

  14. Luke Jaaniste: Re some animals eat other animals, so why is not OK that we eat them: – This can be likened morally to saying that some humans kill other humans (E.g. Governments if engaged in war) therefore it’s OK for us to kill humans for our own reasons. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”–Mahatma Gandhi Assuming that evolution and moral development is a good thing, then I put forward that vegetarianism is a logical moral evolutionary development. Spend some time with ( i.e. dare to connect with)of any of the (all vegetarian) animals that we kill and consume and you will instinctively feel it is morally and emotionally repugnant to eat them. You will see that animals do have feelings, thoughts, families, children; they feel excited, depressed, worried, happy. This is not anthropomorphism, just an (uncomfortable?) fact. We deny ourselves connection to the animals we eat by buying them in plastic wrappers, pre-sliced and sanitised. When we do actually see the connection, we instinctively recoil in horror. As demonstrated in this daftly presented but abundantly clear video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1a2RRNOshI Similar to the disconnection of leaders deciding to invade a country, and are safely disconnected from the actual and real effects of their collateral damage to the ‘other’ alien humans e.g. Iraqi (dead/maimed ‘alien’ Iraqi children etc) we can only happily eat meat if we are disconnected from the creatures it comes from. In the dark days of Communist China when the Chinese were starving and families were dying of hunger, they would swap their dead children to cook and eat as they couldn’t bear to eat their own. http://capitalismmagazine.com/2012/02/crony-communism/ This is another example showing we can only eat dead creatures when we are disconnected from them, make them totally ‘other’ and have no opportunity for empathetic connection with them. The crux is – we can only eat animal (or indeed human) flesh if we have this false non-life-affirming separation and disconnection from what we are actually eating. (Akin to what the Germans were able to do their ‘Others’ – the Jews). Connection means that we really know and feel it’s wrong. If we assume that ‘connection’ is a good life affirming thing per se then can we not conclude that this separation and alienation from animals we eat is a collective illness and yet another example of something very unhealthy and wrong which has developed to serve the needs of Capitalism?

  15. And where do insects fit in all this? They’ll be the next big human harvest (if they’re not already). Which raises the question of the human insect: will 7 billion be the limit? Guess not, so it’s only Us and Us and Us and Us…

    • Good question. On insects I mean. I have vegan friends who don’t eat honey etc, but kill flies, mosquitos and so forth. They don’t really have an explanation for me.
      Anyway, as far the 7bn of us and our profligate ways, its not looking good is it? Still, it’s not that there’s so many of us, it’s more that so few of us use up so many of the resources, so there’s sweet FA for anyone else.

      • I’m not convinced that “so few of us use up so many of the resources” as we’re all consumers, and this is where burgeoning human numbers are important in environmental pollution terms, and given the focus here, the destruction of animal habitats. I agree you did not do a psychoanalytic reading (as suggested above), but, if the focus is placed on the production and consumption of objects, that is where a psychoanalytical reading might have been tackled, in relation to desire (the alienation of the instinct in a signifier; signifiers representing subjects for other signifiers; the cycle of desire / consumption as a leap from biological drives to consumer pleasure becoming unquenchable, so ever more production and consumption and pollution and environmental damage affecting the “great chain of being”). For example, with my daughter’s second birthday anniversary coming up, we told her she was going to get a present (which she was happy with on the day). When a relative came with another present she was confused: “I’ve got my present, she said.” After that experience, well… And then there is a documentary film I once saw (Smoky Mountain), where we first see a super-efficient German recycling system in operation; then we cut to the Philippines and some of the worst environmental pollution possible, where the detritus from consumer products is thrown up Smoky Mountain (a burning rubbish tip). Back in Germany the recycling is working too well and the warehouses are overflowing, so German efficiency negotiates with Philippine poverty, who agrees to buy the German recycling stockpile for x billion dollars, and then throw it up Smoky Mountain, where there’s nary a fur or feather in sight that is not burning.

        • Dennis, doesn’t it depend on who the “us” is in Stephen’s comments? I’ve read statistics that suggest that if everyone living used the resources of an average person from the developed world, then we’d certainly not have enough, but if we all used the resources of an average Indian at the moment, then we do have enough resources…
          Another argument is that we do have a lot the resources, they just are distributed well – due to various geo-political global dynamics and power structures.
          You’re example of efficiency in one country being sold off into another is telling. Getting better at recycling might actually lead to more consumption. I’ve read somewhere recently that people who collect rainwater at the their homes in Australia are still likely to use as much town water – figuring that the water they collected is theirs for pet projects (eg, water more gardens etc).
          Global networks mean that we is working well in one region might be masking something horrid in another region. And that leds us back to stockpiling, and the de-immediacy of current consumption practices (see my other comments (3 June, 8.34pm) on this.
          These are global networks that none of us are individually responsible for and yet are implicated. We find it hard even to have agency in local communities, ala your experience of a family member operating in one consumption practice that invokes your child’s practices whilst you are hoping to operate in another (I’ve similar experience myself on this front!).

          • missing negation!
            should be … they are just NOT distributed well…

          • You’re right Luke, to question the “Us” being designated – and I did have the idea of different histories and different cultures and different social organisations in mind as I wrote – but hey, like a lot of Stephen Wright’s posts, the rabbit warren effect had taken over by then so I adopted a stick to the one hole at a time policy.

        • Sure. If I were to do a P/A reading it would be about the politics of desire, or the politics of hate, the latter touched on by Anna Krien in her work. Interesting that your daughter seems to have understood something that other adults in her life haven’t; that it’s Ok for desires to be quenched. Then we can get on with other things. Or discover more interesting and sustainable desires.
          Generally the speaking the footprint of the average Westerner is hugely greater than most everyone else. It’s not that we need better ways to do what we are now doing (ie: consuming better by recycling) which has become the popular understanding of sustainability, but that we are going to have to find very different ways to live. A green future isn’t going to be a solar-powered version of what we do now. That would miss the point entirely.

          • That’s the point Tony Fry seems to make – and thus he uses a different term ‘sustainment’ just because of all the baggage of ‘sustainability’ (sustaining the status quo).

          • That’s it – the difficult bit – finding better ways for the Us to live – ways that include all the Us’es and all the Them’s too.

          • Which is how you can know if you’re a fascist Dennis: if you’re wandering around in that middle space trying to work out what it means to include all the Us’s and Thems.

          • Affirming life, not death, is the best I can do at present – let others decide if I’m fascist or not. Thanks for the experience and forum through which to write and respond and think out loud on such a vital topic.

  16. Dennis’ question of insects, and Carol’s thoughts on (dis)connection, throws up interesting issues about where-to-draw-the-line.

    When animals eat other animals, they normally eat them in direct intimate contact (living animal here, now I catch it, now I’m eating it). There are some exceptions – the scavengers of already dead animals, and those animals that store their kill for later (like some spiders, crocodiles sometimes etc) but they usually do the killing.

    The ability and capacity to store things – which humans do a lot, in vastly more intensity and diversity than other creatures – means we don’t need to eat in the immediacy of killed animals. Also works for grains as well, which leads to complex issues too, eg. a whole story around corn stockpiles here. Agriculture (stepping beyond hunter-gathering) is this human stockpiling, in the register of food.

    Insects are interesting, because some of them stockpile (in massive communities) and so they model different modes of existence to other animals. And also insects can be easier to ignore them or not even see one’s interactions with them, being much smaller. What about even smaller creatures still? And is the distinction between animal and plant altogether clear? etc etc?

    The question of how-much-injustice-are-you-prepared-to-live-with seems to beg the question of where-do-you-draw-the-line ?

  17. yes, the ‘how much injustice’ question is the big one. Jacinda raised it earlier and I didn’t really answer it, getting side-tracked by other things.
    The arguments about the relative moral status of humans/animals/insects isn’t something I want to get tied up in here. I’ve got my own position, and it’s not easy to articulate, certainly not in a comments thread.
    But I think the main game is that the industrialisation and commodification of everything, the plugging of every relationship into the engine that drives the consumer paradise, removes my choice or makes all choices unpalatable. It initiates moral action on my behalf and defines moral categories, so that trying to think one’s way out of it becomes a massive and all-consuming task; which is what Anna Krien found in Us and Them I think.

  18. “But I think the main game is that the industrialisation and commodification of everything”.

    This is like Guy Debord v2 (add globalised economies, technologies and communications), isn’t it? In which case, it’s got worse rather than better?

    Is there any way out? Serious question, not rhetorical. (Besides getting totally off grid, by yourself or with a group – or is that it?)

    • I don’t know if there’s any way out. Maybe there’s many ways out. I live off-grid in a communal household and we are currently 80% self-sufficient in power, and 100% in water, housing, firewood, and jam. We also seem to have a superfluity of carrots and pumpkins at the moment. (Anyone need a pumpkin or some tamarillo jam, sing out). It wasn’t that hard either. But it’s not ‘the solution’. It just buys a little time to think, I think. Being off-grid etc doesn’t mean you’re not a fascist.

      • Are you distinguishing two things here Stephen. Firstly, that being part of a fascist system/economy/framework makes it almost impossible to go beyond fascist parameter. And secondly, when get get out of this system, there is still the work to do of not-being-fascist?… Otherwise one could get off-grid simply to form another-grid (I’m thinking here of destructive cults as one hyper example).

        • Yes of course. And to get to 1, it’s helpful to have thought about 2 first, so you can find a way out of 1 to be able to think abut 2.

  19. Hi. Since you’re pottering about, I’ve got to ask about Ricky. Your remark seems to imply that some regard him as a dumb whittler.

    • I suppose to me he looks like all technique and no substance. Which is often the case for contemporary fiction writers too.

  20. Well there you go. I had no opinion on Ricky but now I see your point. Both Ricky and Anna share a penchant for skeletons. Anna metaphorically, Ricky literally. And a wordsmithy could be a place where alibis are forged. I now understand skeletons. Weird.

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