Time for Work: A Very Short Story

Time for Work: A Very Short Story

She didn’t think it would hurt at first, and after awhile it didn’t. In fact, once she numbed herself to it, it became normal. Some nights were harder than others. Sometimes she had a lot of business, and other times she didn’t. It depended on the day. Holidays and weekends would usually draw more customers. It was something she always dreaded, but she needed the money.

Late at night she would come home tired and weary, her body and mind spent. Angry and disgusting faces played through her mind as she reached for the alcohol in an attempt to drown them out. The relief was temporary, but it did the job. TV was also a nice distraction. She could think about other people’s lives for a change.

Before bed she had a ritual. She would sit on the porch of her apartment and smoke a cigarette while she watched the sun set. Sometimes she would play a game and count how many drags she took before she started to see the hazy orange glow disappear, drawing her moment of serenity to a close.

Sometimes she liked to pretend the sun was and old friend waving goodbye that cared about her, though deep down she knew it wasn’t true. She knew the sun was warm but indifferent, just like her boss – at least when he was in a good mood.

One night after her usual ritual she walked into the living room of her small apartment and stopped at the TV before making her way to the bedroom. There was some show on about migrant day-laborers. She noticed their hunched-over bodies and the contorted look on their faces as they toiled in the sun. Their hands moved with impeccable speed as they filled large bushels with one crop or another. She thought they looked like little machines, and she began to feel sorry for them. She flipped the channel to the news.

There was a headline flashing about an illegal prostitution ring in a wealthy suburban community. Girls as young as 15 were made to be sex slaves for cash. The anchor was doing her best to look somber while images of faceless women walking down dark street corners played in the background. People were interviewed with looks of shock and disbelief on their faces. A few voiced angry condemnations of the men involved. She flipped the channel again.

Two political pundits were discussing how government regulation was killing the economy. She noticed the loudest one was also the largest, richest-looking of the bunch. His face and tone of voice filled the room, his finger wagging at the host as his expensive watch shook on his flabby wrist. He seemed to be more interested in controlling the conversation than debating. Annoyed, she turned off TV. There was something too familiar about all of it.

As she made her way to her bedroom and fell into a slumber, she dreamed that she was a day-laborer, her brown face contorting under the hot sun. Her hands were moving incredibly fast, but the bushels seemed to empty as soon as she’d filled them. Suddenly she felt a presence behind her and a pain on her back.

She was being whipped by the fat rich man on the political talk show, only he had her boss’s face. He was screaming at her. “Faster! Faster! FASTER!” But when she looked down at her hands she noticed they were tied together and she was being raped. The pain was unimaginable and caused her to scream out, but her voice was muffled by the wad of money being stuffed down her throat. She couldn’t breathe. She was suffocating.

The woman awoke with a start, her alarm clock sounding loudly in her ears. She turned off the alarm and wiped the cold sweat from her face. For a time she lay motionless in her bed as she tried to clear her head of the nightmare. After a few minutes had passed, she rose from her bed walked mechanically to the shower. It was time for work.


Human Nature: A Brief Dialogue

FASCIST: It’s human nature to conquer others. War is a biological necessity.

STATIST: It’s human nature to have rulers. Social hierarchy is necessary to prevent chaos.

CAPITALIST: It’s human nature to be self-interested. The hierarchy of capitalism is the best tool we’ve got to accumulate wealth.

ANARCHIST: It’s also human nature to freely associate and cooperate with one another in order to work for the individual and common good. No hierarchies or wars are needed.

FASCIST: Impossible! If we didn’t conquer other countries, there would be no peace!

STATIST: Ridiculous! If there were no rulers to control the people, there would be chaos!

CAPITALIST: Absurd! If humans weren’t motivated by greed and starvation, nobody would work!

ANARCHIST: But aren’t all of those predicated on the idea that people are too violent, selfish, ignorant, and lazy to rule themselves and determine how their society is run?


ANARCHIST: But why are people violent, selfish, and ignorant?

FASCIST: It’s the way it’s always been. History is filled with people conquering other people.

ANARCHIST: But isn’t history also filled with cooperation among peoples? If human beings are inherently violent, selfish, and stupid, how could civil society possibly have emerged?

FASCIST: Because the stronger people destroyed the weaker, inferior ones. Look at the Romans.

STATIST: Because societies had the State to keep people in line. Machiavelli said as much.

CAPITALIST: Because people realized they needed to protect their property. Read Locke.

ANARCHIST: What about the Iroquis of North America? The Siriono and Nambikuara of South America? The Kenyan Turkana? The Philippine Kalinga? The Star Mountain peoples of New Guinea? The Commune of Paris? The syndicalist cooperatives of Spain, Russia, and Germany, and Northern Europe? The Quakers, Shakers, Mennonites, and Amish of the United States? Syrian Rojava?

FASCIST: Those societies don’t count because they are small and either wouldn’t or couldn’t compete with the armies of more powerful societies.

STATIST: It could never work on a national scale. At some point a ruler would be needed to control everyone.

CAPITALIST: Those societies could never produce as much wealth as capitalist economies. Quality of life would decrease.

ANARCHIST: Appealing to the ability of a society to be easily conquered by stronger ones isn’t an argument for why a society can’t exist; it’s a merely description of how States function. Decentralized authority can work on a national scale between cooperatives and federations that consent to rules and regulations through direct democracy and informed consent. Socialization of the means of production also combats the widespread poverty and wealth inequality under capitalism by removing concentrated wealth and the exploitation of workers by bosses.

CAPITALIST: If your version of society is so great, why has it never been successful? The fact is that free market capitalism works and socialism gave us Stalin and Mao. Is this what you want? Another bloodbath?

ANARCHIST: This model of society hasn’t been able to flourish because the State and the economic arrangement protecting State interests (capitalism) have violently worked to suppressed it. There is no free market because the hierarchal nature of corporations produces an unequal and coercive exchange of labor for goods and services. The fact that capitalism has “worked” is not an argument for capitalism any more than the fact that slavery worked is an argument for slavery. Stalinist Russia and Maoist China were socialist dictatorships. The economic model changed, but power was concentrated in the hands of the State.

CAPITALIST: What about the great innovations that happened under capitalism?

STATIST: Who will authorize the building of the roads and the police?

FASCIST: What about all the land and resources that must be obtained through war?

ANARCHIST: Research suggests that people tend to be more innovative when they aren’t incentivized by money. The people that like to build roads will build them. War will no longer be a necessity to increase State power and profit, as resources will be readily available to all.

FASCIST, CAPITALIST, and STATIST walk away from ANARCHIST and talk quietly among themselves.

STATIST: This type of thing cannot stand.

CAPITALIST: We stand to lose a lot of money.

FASCIST: I say we kill him. He’s pretty weak.

STATIST: It’s for the greater good. Authority must be established.

CAPITALIST: We need to protect our interests.

FACIST to STATIST: Do I have permission?


CAPITALIST: Let me get my camera so I can film it. This sort of thing is always good for business.

FASCIST walks over to ANARCHIST and pulls out a gun, pointing it straight at his head.

FASCIST: By the power of might, by the authority of the State, and in the interest of capital, you are hereby condemned to death for treason.

ANARCHIST: Liberty cannot die. It can only remain hidden.

A shot rings out.

The Trial: A Brief Dialogue

The Trial: A Brief Dialogue

A group of highly intelligent alien beings are congregated in an alien courtroom. A human is seated across from the judge’s bench with another alien beside him. Across from them sits an alien prosecutor. The atmosphere of the courtroom is tense as everyone whispers quietly. Suddenly a loud voice is heard.

OFFICER: Will the people of the court please rise?

Everyone rises from their seats as the alien judge comes in and takes his seat. The clerk hands him a piece of paper.

JUDGE: This court is now in session. The people will be seated.

Everyone sits as the judge looks over the piece of paper. He then looks down at the desk where the human and alien are both seated.

JUDGE: Will the defense please rise?

The alien rises but the human remains seated. The man looks bewildered, almost as if he didn’t hear.

JUDGE: Will the defendant please rise?

The man looks around confused, but the fiery look in the judge’s eyes compels him to stand.

JUDGE: Mr. Hominis, you stand accused of the crimes of kidnapping, assault, mental, physical, and sexual abuse, slavery, torture, and wanton murder. How do you plead?

HOMINIS: I…I don’t understand.

JUDGE: Did you or did you not commit these crimes against your fellow-creatures?

HOMINIS: I’m not a murderer! I didn’t kill anybody!

JUDGE: Then you plead not guilty?


JUDGE: Very well, then. Mr. Hominus, you may approach the stand.

The man walks to the box beside the judge’s desk.

JUDGE: Will the prosecution please rise?

An alien lawyer rises.

JUDGE: You may proceed.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Hominis, did you kidnap, assault, enslave, torture, and kill any of your fellow-creatures?

HOMINIS: Of course not.

PROSECUTOR: You didn’t pay someone else to commit these crimes for you?

HOMINIS: I did not.

JUDGE: Didn’t you own a restaurant, Mr. Hominis?


PROSECUTOR: And what did you serve in that restaurant?

HOMINIS: What restaurants usually serve. Steak, burgers, mutton, pork, veal. Is this relevant?

PROSECUTOR: And do you know where your food comes from, Mr. Hominis?

HOMINIS: From farms?

PROSECUTOR: And do you know what happens to the creatures on these farms?

HOMINIS: I think so…why does this matter?

PROSECUTOR: They kill them, Mr. Hominus. They confine, torture, and murder them so they can be delivered to your restaurant, isn’t that so?

HOMINiS: I wouldn’t call it that…

PROSECUTOR: And did you or did you not directly pay for these atrocities to be done on your behalf?

HOMINIS: I wouldn’t call them atrocities…

PROSECUTOR: Yes or no, Mr. Hominis!

A brief silence.

JUDGE: Answer the question.


PROSECUTOR: Nothing further.

The prosecutor returns to his seat while the defense attorney rises to take the floor. He looks at the defendant, then looks over at the jury.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Do we hold our children legally accountable for their actions?



HOMINIS: They don’t know any better.


DEFENSE ATTORNEY to the jury: You see? Like children, Mr. Hominis simply didn’t know what he was doing. He was simply a victim of his time and his culture, and what are clearly crimes to us seemed so normal to him that he didn’t bother question the consequences of his actions. Can we really blame this human for not realizing what he was doing any more than we could blame one of our own children?

The attorney walks back to the desk as the prosecutor rises and approaches the man again.

PROSECUTOR: Are you a child, Mr. Hominis?


PROSECUTOR: Nothing further.

The prosecutor retreats back to his desk as the defense attorney approaches.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I understand you have a family, Mr. Hominis?

HOMINIS: Yes. Two boys and a girl.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And would you say that you love your family?

HOMINIS: More than anything.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So, could you say that these alleged crimes that you unknowingly committed were for done the good of your family?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So, you wouldn’t need your restaurant if you didn’t need to support your family, would you?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, there you have it. Mr. Hominis was doing what he felt was right for his family. His intentions good, even if the consequences were not. Clearly, Mr. Hominis is a good man that was merely mislead by culture and circumstance into making the wrong decision. He can therefore not be held accountable for his crimes any more than a child misled by their parents.

The prosecutor marches to the front of the courtroom before the defense attorney is seated.

PROSECUTOR: Are there other ways to make a living, Mr. Hominis?

HOMINIS: I suppose.

PROSECUTOR: Yes or no.


PROSECUTOR: And are there other ways of making a living available to you which don’t involve the torture, abuse, and deaths of your fellow-creatures?

HOMINIS: Sure, but I –

PROSECUTOR: Nothing further.

The prosecutor walks away as the defense lawyer approaches.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Mr. Hominis, would you say you are a religious man?

HOMINIS: Yes, I would.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And would you say your religion prescribes that you value certain things more than others?

HOMINIS: Yeah, I’d say so.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And what are some of those values?

HOMINIS: Faith, hope, and love.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And do you believe you are living according to those values?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And does your religious text place the value of human beings above other creatures?

HOMINIS: Yes. Human beings have souls. Animals don’t.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And could you say that you are living the best life you can according to your religion and your values?

HOMINIS: Yes, I believe I am. Genesis tells us to be stewards of the land and rule over nature.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Nothing further.

The defense attorney walks away as the prosecutor approaches.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Hominis, you said that your faith prescribes love, correct?

HOMINIS: Correct.

PROSECUTOR: So where was the love for the animals you had enslaved, tortured, and killed?


JUDGE: Sustained. Rephrase the question.

A brief pause.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Hominus, is all of God’s creation good?

HOMINIS: Yes, it is.

PROSECUTOR: And do you consider yourself as part of God’s creation?


PROSECUTOR: And do you believe that animals are also a part of God’s creation?


PROSECUTOR: And do you believe that God loves animals as well as humans?


PROSECUTOR: And do you believe you should also show love for God’s creation?

HOMINIS: Of course.

PROSECUTOR: Then what reason, Mr. Hominis, could you possibly have for destroying it? What possible reason could you have for destroying other beings? You’re not a child, so you knew full well what you were doing. You could have found another job at any time which didn’t involve torture and killing, but you chose not to of your own free will. Even your own religion which you profess to believe in compels you to love and care for all of God’s creation – especially the weak and the vulnerable.

This leaves us with one possible explanation: you did it because you could! You did it because it gave you pleasure! Did it make you feel like more of a man to strip another being of its life, its liberty, and its happiness? Tell me, Mr. Hominis, would you do the same to your wife and children?


JUDGE: Watch it.

PROSECUTOR continuing: Religion is not a weapon you can use to justify your behavior, Mr. Hominis. You know perfectly well what you did, and no amount of spiritual invocation can save your soul from the consequences or bring back the innocent lives you stole from others. I hereby rest my case.

The defense attorney rises and gives his closing remarks. The jury deliberates for a half hour and returns to the court. A member of the jury then hold up a piece of paper.

JUDGE: How do you find the defendant? Guilty or not guilty?

JURY MEMBER: Your honor, we the jury find the defendant guilty on all counts.

JUDGE: Mr. Hominis, for your crimes, I hereby sentence you to life in prison without parole.

As the man hears the guilty verdict, he begins to feel the room swirl around him. Suddenly he is mute. He feels his body go numb and sees the courtroom dissolve before him in a haze. “What have I done?” the man says aloud to himself. “What have we done? God help us all…”

As the officer comes to take him away, the man cries as he exits the courtroom, powerless, voiceless, and soon to be nameless – marked with a number and confined to a cell to live out a tortured existence: a life he unwittingly gave so many powerless, voiceless, and nameless others.

“The (Un)Righteous Mind:” Why Moral Prescriptions Based on Jonathan Haidt’s 5 Moral Foundations are Incoherent, & Why Reason, Consensus, and Emotion Should Form the Basis of Moral Judgments

“The (Un)Righteous Mind:” Why Moral Prescriptions Based on Jonathan Haidt’s 5 Moral Foundations are Incoherent, & Why Reason, Consensus, and Emotion Should Form the Basis of Moral Judgments

dBefore I get into my disagreement with Jonathan Haidt and his is-ought problem concerning moral foundationalism, I would like to put forth my own comprehensive argument about what morality is, why we should value what we value, and what makes a moral judgment legitimate as opposed to incomplete or illegitimate.

Premise 1: Morality is a product of evolution involving the criteria of pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, and principles as they relate the preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being of sentient life.

  • Morality originally arose as a survival mechanism for human beings – not in trees or rocks.
  • Morality is tied to sentience and the brain, and is therefore tied to ideas of pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, and principles.
  • We recognize and understand the usefulness of morality as a tool for the self-preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being of our species and others.

Conclusion from Premise 1: The goal of morality should be to aid in the preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being of sentient beings, and by extension, the best possible morality is one which maximizes these things for all sentient beings.

Premise 2: Morality is tied to instinct. Since morality is a product of evolution and arose as a survival mechanism, it follows that morality has a connection to human instinct.

  • One feel’s an instinctual urge to help another when one sees a child being beating or an animal being tortured.
  • One feel’s an instinctual urge to preserve human life, regardless of circumstance. For example, when one sees another jumping off a bridge, one instinctually rushes to save them.
  • Our instinctual urge to protect human life regardless of pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, flourishing, and well-being, can lead us to make the wrong decisions regarding abortion, assisted suicide, and can lead us to ignore the pain and pleasure of other species.

Conclusion from Premise 2: Instinct alone cannot be the foundation for morality because it can guide us to make choices which ignore the pain, pleasure, preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and the well-being of conscious creatures.

Premise 2: Morality is tied to the feelings and emotions of people and is rooted in convictions of right and wrong.

  • The feeling that black people were inferior served as a justification for racism, slavery, and segregation.
  • The feeling that loving others is a good thing serves as a moral justification for the family unit, acts of charity, and peaceful coexistence within society.

Conclusion from Premise 2: Since feelings about what is moral vary across time and qualitatively differ to the degree they promote preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being, and to the degree they consider pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, and principles relating to these things, feelings alone cannot be the foundation for morality.

Premise 3: Morality is tied to consensus. Since ethical systems are a product of social negotiation – not a product of individuals in isolation – consensus plays a role in determining the prevailing ethical systems and moral behaviors of the time.

  • Morality does not exist in a vacuum, only with respect to groups of people. A human being on a desert island with no other lifeforms has no moral obligations to anyone, including themselves.
  • Historically, individual ethics are only seen as valid to the degree to which others recognize and reaffirm an individual standards and behaviors, and to the degree to which an individual’s standards and behaviors can be understood and accepted by others.
  • In-group ideas about what morality should be and what roles it should play are confined to ideas about pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, and principles, even if those ideas are mistaken.

Conclusion: Since prevailing ethical systems differ across time periods and cultures, and because the degree to which each ethical system or moral behavior promotes the preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being of the species is qualitatively different, this suggests that consensus alone is not a stable foundation for determining the best possible ethical system.

Premise 4: Morality is tied to knowledge and reason. The influx of knowledge and the exercise of reason fundamentally affects the way human beings understand and negotiate ethics and moral behaviors.

  • We can use knowledge and reason to discredit the feeling and general consensus about the supposed inferiority of black people.
  • We can also use knowledge and reason to wipe out large swaths of the population in the pursuit of building a more sustainable planet.

Conclusion from Premise 4: Knowledge and reason alone cannot be the sole foundation for morality because reason alone ignores emotion and consensus and results in ethical systems and moral behaviors which are contrary to promoting preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being as they relate to pain, pleasure, intentions, consequences, and principles.

Premise 5: The use of knowledge and reason have historically resulted in a greater positive impact on societies in terms of providing qualitatively better ethical systems than those which only relied on the use of instinct, emotion, and consensus.

  • In the past our instinct, feelings, and consensus enabled us to burn other human beings which were seen as “witches,” and allowed us to perceive physical diseases as a sign of evil which resulted in a culture of victim-blaming.
  • Through the influx of knowledge, we learned that what we assumed to be malevolent forces were actually due to mental illness.
  • In light of new knowledge, human beings began to incorporate reason into ethical decision-making by treating mentally ill people as victims instead of viewing them as a threat.

Premise 6: The exercise of reason in moral-decision making is necessary because it allows us to understand, explain, and argue why something should be valued, whereas emotions and consensus only give us a general a sense of what standards and behaviors are potentially good or bad.

  • If the racist that feels that black people are inferior cannot rationally explain the origin of his disgust, but solely relies to emotion and consensus, then their opinion should be regarded as uniformed, since the exercise of reason would allow them to realize their opinion is not legitimate.
  • Similarly, if the non-racist fails to articulate in rational terms why they should treat all people regardless of race as they themselves would like to be treated, but instead relies on emotion and consensus, then their opinion is also uninformed, as the exercise of reason would allow them to realize its legitimacy.

Premise 7: The use of emotion and consensus in moral-decision making is necessary because gives us a general sense of whether ethical standards and behaviors might be good or bad, whereas reason cannot give us this sense; it can only help us understand, explain and justify it.

  • The sociopath’s reasons as to why they are killing people might be very rational, but this ignores the pain and well-being of the victim as well as the consensus and feelings of most people regarding killing.
  • Similarly, the dictator might have a good reason for quashing dissent and exterminating entire swaths of the population, but this betrays the moral sense given to us by our emotions and ignores the well-being of others.

Final Conclusion from Premises 1-7: Moral decision-making should therefore necessarily involve the use of reason, emotion, and consensus, and the ethical systems which incorporate these things are qualitatively better – that is better for the preservation, cooperation, flourishing, and well-being of sentient life –  than ethical systems which do not incorporate all three.

In psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind,” he outlines his theory of moral foundationalism, explaining that most people make moral judgments across cultures and countries according to 5 distinct criteria:

  • Harm
  • Fairness
  • Loyalty
  • Authority
  • Purity

In pointing to these criteria – a description of how most people make moral decisions across cultures, national boundaries, and political affiliations – he therefore concludes that the way most human beings tend to make moral judgments should be the way human beings make moral judgments.

From a philosophical standpoint, this is problematic for several reasons:

  • It commits Hume’s is-ought fallacy by transforming the descriptive data about moral foundations into a prescription that most people should make value judgments based on these categories.
  • It assumes that all 5 criteria in question are static, meaningful, equal, and applicable to all moral situations.

Regarding Haidt’s first implicit claim, it’s clear to see why the fact that people happen to make moral decisions a certain way has no bearing on whether those decisions are morally justified. In a world where killing others because they believe in the wrong God is the norm, and in which the moral criteria of in-group loyalty, authority, and purity reign supreme, this does not mean we should advocate for such an ethical system because doing so would result a net increase in pain and loss of life, which is contrary to one of the purposes and goals of morality – i.e. to maximize pleasure and well-being of all sentient beings.

Secondly, one of the problems inherent to Haidt’s 5 criteria of moral foundationalism as a prescriptive moral claim is one of coherence and inflexibility. In order for Haidt’s 5 criteria to be useful – not merely in terms of describing how people make moral choices, but in terms of prescribing how people should make those choices – one would have to do the following:

  • Demonstrate that these 5 criteria are morally valid.
  • Demonstrate how these 5 criteria are more necessary and more useful than other criteria.
  • Disallow for the revision, negation, and addition of criteria among individuals and collective societies with the influx of new knowledge and the passage of time.

Furthermore, even accepting that these 5 criteria should be used to make moral decisions, this coherency problem also extends to the use of the 5 criteria themselves because it implies a moral equivalency between them which has yet to be demonstrated.

To suggest that all criteria are equal is to imply that one criteria is no better than another when making moral judgments in the same way I argue that consensus, emotion, and reason are no better, only Haidt never bothers to explain why this must be the case.

However, even if we accept that these criteria are equivalent without qualification, we still run into problems because morality itself is context-bound – that is, something which is bound to specific circumstances and contexts. It could very well be the case that all 5 criteria should be employed when making moral judgments, but it could also be the case that only some or none of them should be employed when making moral judgments because they may simply not be relevant or necessary to answering the same moral question.

For example, when it comes to deciding whether to cheat on my wife, the criteria of harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, all seem to apply (though it’s clear to me that some matter more than others), while purity seems completely irrelevant. Similarly, when it comes to a married woman deciding to abort a non-sentient fetus, the criteria of loyalty, purity, and authority are seemingly irrelevant to the moral equation, while the regard for the pain of the mother and father involved and the criteria of fairness with respect to the wishes of each should obviously be considered.

Moreover, Haidt’s moral prescriptions based on moral foundationalism faces a historical problem since it presumes that the 5 criteria procured from the time in which we currently live should automatically form the basis for our actions, thereby making them static, universal, and unchanging standards of morality which should be taken at face value rather than scrutinized, criticized, and refined over time as the discovery of new knowledge helps us understand our world and our place within it.

For example, I could just as easily do a study charting the moral foundations of Mesopotamia in 2,000 B.C. and walk away with a very different data set regarding how human beings make moral decisions, and therefore conclude how those decisions should be made based on false premises. Additionally, the fact that morality is a constantly evolving, expanding sphere of knowledge and about how people should relate to each other, confining morality to 5 specific criteria for all time works against the evolution of morality itself and runs the risk of becoming just as dogmatic and harmful as the as the morally abhorrent cultures of the past and instinctual ethical systems which arose from them.

Furthermore, the adoption of Haidt’s moral foundations as a moral prescription is also problematic as the criteria individuals and societies use to make moral judgments change with the influx of new knowledge and experience which contradicts and replaces the previous moral criteria being used. For example, in my transition from Catholicism to atheism, and from my transition from omnivore to vegan over the course of my life, the criteria I used to make moral judgments significantly changed along with my individual understanding of what it meant to be moral and immoral. Similarly, in our Western, liberal democracy, gay marriage was seen as evil in the past few decades by the majority of the population whereas it is seen as normal today.

To Haidt’s credit, his work does show us why different people tend to value different things, providing valuable insights into human nature. However, it’s important to recognize that Haidt’s scientific findings are concerned with descriptions of raw data whereas his moral argument relies on a specific interpretation of that data.

By using a different interpretative framework or paradigm, for example, one can come to a completely different conclusion. While Haidt’s understanding and interpretation of the data about morality stems from what appears to be a kind of moral structural functionalism in which competing moral frameworks are necessary for society to survive (yin and yang), my own interpretation of the data about morality stems from a kind of moral conflict theory which argues that morality works dialectically toward a synthesis of competing moral frameworks, and which necessitates the discarding of bad ideas about morality while embracing ones that have proven to be more useful.

Similarly, while Haidt sees the fact that morality is understood differently and that different ethical systems and moral behaviors are adopted and prescribed throughout the world as a reliable basis for justifying the use of his 5 criteria, this merely suggests to me that not everyone has an equal understanding of what morality is or what it entails in the same way that not everyone has an equal understanding of religion or science, or in the same way that not everyone has an equal share of wealth or innate abilities.

Therefore, where Haidt sees the existence of irreconcilable differences among the way human beings perceive and behave in the world, I see these differences as a problem of competing moralities due to the passage of time, the influx of new knowledge in societies, and the rift between outdated definitions and understandings of morality based on instinct, consensus, and emotion versus more enlightened systems based on consensus, emotion, and reason.

In conclusion, I think Haidt’s choice to interpret the data in a way which makes his 5 criteria absolute and yet allows for moral relativity by suggesting all decisions made upon these chosen criteria are morally indistinguishable from each other is intellectually lazy and morally toxic. In my opinion, it is anti-knowledge, anti-reason, anti-progress, and if adopted, will ultimately fall apart as time goes on as its absurd and incoherent nature is realized in the wake of better and more useful ideas about morality.

The Heist: A Brief Dialogue

The Heist: A Brief Dialogue

It is night. Two people are standing in a vault. The safe is open. They gaze at the pile of crisp dollar bills. They are neatly stacked and wrapped. The two begin to salivate.

Reggie: “I want all of it.”

Adira: “But you can’t.”

Reggie: “Just watch me.”

Reggie walks over to the mountain of money starts stuffing his bag.

Reggie: “It won’t fit!”

Adira: “I told you.”

Reggie: “Is there another way?”

Adira pulls out another empty bag.

Reggie: “I don’t like it.”

Adira: “Too bad.”

Reggie: “Too bad you’re not strong enough.”

Adira: “I’m strong enough.”

Reggie laughs.

Reggie: “If you say so.”

Adira: “Watch me.”

Adira fills her bag halfway and zips it shut.

Reggie: “You sure I couldn’t –

Adira: “No, you couldn’t.”

Reggie: “Fine. What should we do with the rest of it?”

Adira: “Give it to the others.”

Reggie: “No way!”

Adira: “Others like us.”

Reggie: “You mean others like you. Not happening.”

Adira: “If you don’t they’ll come after you.”

Reggie: “No they won’t. Besides, I’ll stop them if they do.”

Adira: “You sure about that?”


Reggie: “If they want it, they can go after them; not me.”

Adira: “Alright, but you’ll regret it later.”

Reggie: “How’s that?”

Adira: “The past has a way of catching up to a man.”

Reggie: “Is that a threat?”

Adira: “Just stating a fact.”

Reggie: “Yeah, well my bag’s bigger. How do you like that fact?”

Adira rolls her eyes

Reggie: “Jealous.”

Adira: “We should probably get out of here before they notice.”

Reggie: “The cops or the others?”

Adira: “We own the cops, remember? We paid them off.”

Reggie: “Oh, yeah…I forgot.”

Adira: “Figures.”

Reggie: “Don’t be a bitch.”

Adira: “If I’m a bitch it’s because you’ve made me one. Cause and effect.”

Reggie: “I wish I didn’t need you.”

Adira: “The feeling’s mutual.”

Reggie: “You know if you spent less time arguing –

Adira covers his mouth: “Sshh! I think I heard something.”

They are both silent. They listen for a moment but don’t hear anything. Reggie takes Adira’s hand away from his mouth.

Reggie: “Get off me!”

Adira: “Like I said, you made me do it. Hope that didn’t emasculate you.”

Reggie: “Shut up.”

Adira: “I think I know the best route out of here.”

Reggie: “Oh yeah?”

Adira: “Yeah, so the others won’t know.”

Reggie: “What if we run into them?”

Adira: “We them we couldn’t find it.”

Reggie: “What about the bags?”

Adira: “We’ll hide them.”

Reggie: “Genius. I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”

Adira rolls her eyes

Adira: “Let’s get moving. Follow my lead.”

Reggie: “Bullshit. I’ve got more to carry. I’ll do the leading.”

Adira: “That doesn’t make sense.”

Reggie: “It doesn’t have to, I’m stronger than you.”

Adira: “Fine. Do it your way.”

Reggie leads them out into one of the halls. They manage to skirt by a few of the others without being spotted.

Reggie: “Phew! That was close!”

Adira: “Don’t count your money just yet.”

They have passed out of the hallway leading to the vault and approach the lobby. There are a few people leaning against the teller’s counter. Another one watches the front door.

Reggie, whispering to Adira: “Shit! What do we do now?”

Adira whispers back: “Follow my lead.”

Reggie nods in silent agreement. They both hide their bags in a dark corner of the lobby then walk into plain sight.

Reggie: “Sorry guys. No luck with the safe.”

Gideon: “What?! Seriously?! Then why are you here?”

Adira: “We tried everything. You can give it a go if you want.”

Gideon: “Shit…this is not good. Boss isn’t going to like it.”

Reggie: “Like I said, there’s nothing doing.”

Gideon becomes angry, slamming his fist down on the counter. He begins to swear loudly. The others look over at him, silent but anxious. After a moment, he calms down.

Gideon: “Alright. Alright…I’ll let him know, but it’s you two that are taking the fall.”

Adira: “We know that.”

Gideon: “Do you?!”

Reggie: “Yeah, we do.”

Gideon laughs

Gideon: “Your funeral.”

As he walks away to break the news to the others, Reggie and Adira silently collect their bags and head for the door. On the way, Reggie begins to feel he can no longer carry the heavy weight of his bag. Suddenly it slips from his hands and lands with a thud on the floor. The others turn around at the sound. Gideon rushes over.

Gideon: “What the?”

Reggie: “Shit!”

Adira: “We’re dead.”

Gideon: “You trying to screw us?!”

Gideon pulls his gun and points it at Reggie’s head.

Reggie: “No, we were just –

Gideon: “Seeing how stupid we were?!”

He pushes the barrel against Reggie’s skull.

Adira: “Gideon, don’t do it.”

Gideon: “Why not?”

Adira: “It was my idea.”

Gideon: “Don’t’ worry, you’ll get one too.”

As Reggie braces himself for death, suddenly the others grab Gideon from behind, stripping him of his gun and bringing him down hard on the marble floor.

Nico: “The boss said nobody gets killed.”

Gideon squirms on the ground as the others hold him.

Gideon: “You idiot! They tried to get away with the money!”

Nico, turning to Reggie and Adira: “That true?”

Adira: “Yeah…”

Reggie silently nods.

Nico eyes them both with an indignant expression.

Nico: “Why?”

Reggie: “I don’t know. I just saw it and…couldn’t help myself.”

Nico: “I’ve known you guys for a while now. You’re better than this.”

Adira: “I know…it was a moment of weakness.”

Nico: “Family comes first. Always. You don’t sell out your family.”

Reggie: “Nico –

Nico: “What, you think you’re better than us ‘cause you’ve got more?! The money doesn’t make the man; the man makes the money.”

He takes hold of both bags.

Adira: “Nico, wait!”

Nico: “You want the money?! Go get it!”

He unzips the bags and throws them into the middle of the lobby. The dollar bills topple out, scattering onto the polished marble floor. The others look on in shock. Reggie and Adira don’t move a muscle.

Nico: “How much did you guys take?”

Reggie responds anxiously: “Not sure.”

Nico: “Count it. Both of you.”

Reggie and Adira walk over to the pile of money and begin to count it. A few minutes pass.

Nico: “How much?”

Adira: “A few hundred thousand.”

Nico: “Now divide it up evenly.”

Reggie and Adira comply, separating the money into chunks on the floor. Nico points to the floor after they are done.

Nico: “What are these two piles for?”

Reggie: “I just thought…you know…”

Nico: “Think again. You don’t get what you don’t earn.”

They split the two remaining piles into the others. Nico gathers up one of the piles and puts the money in his bag.

Nico: “Gentleman, help yourselves.”

They all proceed to take their equal shares of the money.

Reggie: “Promise you won’t tell the boss.”

Nico laughs while Reggie and Adira both give him a concerned and puzzled look.

Nico: “What, you two don’t know?”

Adira: “Know what?”

Nico: “There is no boss.”

They both stare at him blankly.

Nico: “We’re the boss. All of us. I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out by now.”

As they all quietly exit the building with their shares of the money, the full moon shines down on them, illuminating the letters of the building written in large, gold font: “Universal Bank of Humanity. Give what you can, take only what you need.”

Existence: A Brief Dialogue

Existence: A Brief Dialogue

Two people sit alone in a white room. The florescent lights flicker above. The walls are soft and padded. There is no sound.

Person 1: “I think….I think…therefore…”

Person 2: “I am!”

Person 1: “Am I?”

Person 2: “You must be.”

Person 1: “I must be…I wish I wasn’t.”

Person 2: “Too bad, so sad.”

Person 1: “Why do you always have to do that?”

Person 2: “Do what?”

Person 1: “Remind me.”

Person 2: “It’s my job.”

Person 1: “Do you get paid for it?”

Person 2: “It’s more of a duty.”

Person 1: “An objective duty?”

Person 2: “Don’t be silly.”

Person 1: “I see…so why are you here?”

Person 2: “The same reason you are.”

Person 1: “Which is?”

Person 2: “Nothing.”

Person 1: “What do you mean ‘nothing’”?

Person 2: “I mean nothing and neither do you.”

Person 1: “I thought you said I was something.”

Person 2: “Let me clarify. You mean nothing.”

Person 1: “That’s very cynical.”

Person 2:” I’m just being honest, you know. After all, it’s my –”

Person 1: “Yes, I know, it’s your duty. You don’t have to tell me twice.”

Person 2: “Did I touch a nerve?”

Person 1: “I wish I could touch.”

Person 2: “You can imagine.”

Person 1: “Yes, but it’s not the same.”

Person 2: “If it’s in your mind, it’s the same.”

Person 1: “I suppose so. Everything is, isn’t it?”

Person 2: “Exactly.”

Person 1: “What if I want to go outside?”

Person 2: “There is no ‘outside’”.

Person 1: “I want to get outside.”

Person 2: “You can’t.”

Person 1: “I want to try.”

Person 2: “Go ahead.”

Person 1 concentrates very hard, straining his body, his veins pulsing on his forehead.

Person 2: ‘You look rather silly.”

Person 1: “Shut up! I’m trying!”

Person 2: “There’s no use.”

Person 1 stops trying. He returns to normal.

Person 2: “See?”

Person 1: “You’re right…why do you always have to be right?”

Person 2: “I have to be or else you wouldn’t be.”

Person 1: “Don’t lecture me.”

Person 2: “Fine. Learn things the hard way.”

Person 1: “Are you really here?”

Person 2: “What do you mean?”

Person 1: “Can you say for certain that you are here?”

Person 2: “I’m here.”

Person1: “Yes, but can you know for sure?”

Person 2: “I suppose not.”

Person 1: “I need an objective standard.”

Person 2: “A what?”

Person 1: “You know, an objective standard. From outside.”

Person 2: “There is no outside.”

Person 1: “Oh…right.”

Person 2: “Right.”

Person 1: “Do you think we could pretend?”

Person 2: “I don’t see the harm.”

Person 1: “Let’s pretend, shall we?”

Person 2: “Okay.”

Person 1 closes his eyes

Person 2: “Are you pretending?”

Person 1: Yes…and you?

Person 2: “I can’t, remember?”

Person 1: “Then why did you agree?”

Person 2: “To make you happy.”

Person 1 opens his eyes.

Person 1: “That was cruel.”

Person 2: “Perhaps it was. But so is this.”

Person 1: “What?”

Person 2: “This. Where we are.”

Person 1: “True…I wish it wasn’t.”

Person 2: “Do you?”

Person 1: “Sometimes…”

Person 2: “Go on.”

Person 1: “Sometimes I wish…”

Person 2: “Yes?”

Person 1: “Let me finish!”

Person 2: “You’re never finished.”

Person 1: “I am finished.”

Person 2: “But you aren’t.”

Person 1: “I’m not…I can’t be.”

Person 2: “Now you’re getting it.”

Person 1: “I must be…”

Person 2: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Person1: “What?”

Person 2: “It’s Shakespeare. Hamlet, I think.”

Person 1: “At least he had a choice.”

Person 2: “True.”

Person 1: “I don’t have a choice.”

Person 2: “You don’t.”

Person 1: “But what if I did?”

Person 2: “That would be something.”

Person 1: “It would. I would be something.”

Person 2: “Something you’re not already?”

Person 1: “How can I?”

Person 2: “I suppose you can’t.”

Person 1: “Do you think it’s worth a try?”

Person 2: “Go right ahead.”

Person 1 closes his eyes.

Person 2: “Is it working?”

Person 1: “Wait a minute.”

Person 2: “What about now?”

Person 1: “It isn’t working.”

Person 2: “I thought not.”

Person 1: “It was fun to try, though. Just for a moment.”

Person 2: “It was fun to watch you try.”

Person 1: “I wonder…”

Person 2: “What do you wonder?”

Person 1: “What others must be like.”

Person 2: “Keep wondering. You’ll never know.”

Person 1: “And still I wonder.”

Person 2: “Why?”

Person 1: “It gives me something to do.”

Person 2: “It’s all you can do.”

Person 1: “Yes, but at least it’s something.”

Person 2: “Better than nothing, I suppose.”

Person 1: “Yes…better than nothing.”

Person 2: “We are nothing.”

Person 1: “I wish you didn’t remind me.”

Person 2: “Sorry.”

Person 1: “It’s alright.”

Person 2: “Is it, though?”

Person 1: “No, it isn’t. But I like to pretend.”

A man sits alone in a white room. The florescent lights flicker above. The walls are soft and padded. There is no sound.

The Politics of Stuffed Animals: A Critical Analysis of the Representation of Animal Bodies

The Politics of Stuffed Animals: A Critical Analysis of the Representation of Animal Bodies

Nothing is so ironic and absurd as a stuffed animal. It simultaneously makes non-human animals the objects of our deepest affection and the objects of our deepest alienation. The mere existence of the stuffed animal suggests that animals are individual beings that should be loved and respected, but also beings whose bodies we can objectify, alienate, commodify, and consume.

In feminist scholar Carl J. Adam’s The Sexual Politics of Meat she talks about something called “the absent referent” – a concept she borrows from Margaret Homans’ Bearing the Word – as it pertains to the bodies of non-human animals and women. For the sake of my analysis, I will only focus on her description of how this concept relates to non-human animals:

“Behind every meal of meat is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The ‘absent referent’ is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product. The function of the absent referent is to keep our ‘meat’ separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal, to keep the ‘moo’ or ‘cluck’ or ‘baa’ away from the meat, to keep something from being seen as having been someone (Adams 13).”

From this passage, we can see that the absent referent refers to something which used to exist, but which now no longer exists. It the end result of processes which effectively remove the body of the animal from the dinner plate, and thus, from our minds. To borrow a term from Ferdinand de Saussure, it is a “signifier” which points to something once “signified” whose signification – and thus, it’s meaning – has been lost through a long chain of linguistic, sociological, cultural, and economic alienation which objectifies and commodifies animal bodies in to create a product that is consumed by people.

For Adams, the product being produced is “meat” – i.e. a once-living being which has been rendered a non-being through a violent separation from its environment, it’s natural desires, it’s social relations, its status as an independent subject, and its very life. In a similar vein, I argue that the stuffed animal also replaces the absent referent (the real animal) in the same way meat does, but with a few distinct differences.

In the case of meat, for example, there is an obvious linguistic turning away from subject of the animal (flesh becomes “meat,” cows become “beef,” pigs become “pork,” etc.) where the term “stuffed animal” does not possess this characteristic. Secondly, the meat that replaces the referent of the animal is often processed and prepared – at least in the Western world – to look completely different from the animal itself, whereas the stuffed animal replaces the absent referent through an imitation or caricature of the real thing. Thirdly, stuffed animals are the objects of our affection whereas meat is the object of our desire for food. Although people will often say things like, “I love steak,” this is clearly different than saying, “I love stuffed tigers.”

However, beyond these distinct differences, it’s clear that both stuffed animals and meat are products whose existence depends on the same underlying processes of alienation, objectification, commodification which Marx describes as being essential to industrial capitalism.

In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx argued that industrial capitalism exploited and alienated people in four major ways. The first form of alienation was the estrangement of the worker from their own labor – that is to say, the act of working appeared as something that didn’t belong to the people working, but something which made them suffer by expending their physical and cognitive powers in the dehumanizing processes of production (Marx 75).

Secondly, Marx argued that people were also alienated from the products that they produced, as they could not use them for their own benefit or take ownership of them. Rather, the products themselves effectively exercised power over the people that made them (75).

Thirdly, he claimed that industrial capitalism alienated people from their very nature as free, conscious, and creative beings, and fourthly, he argued that capitalism alienated people from their status as human subjects and instead allowed themselves to perceive their subjectivity through the act of alienated labor (77, 78), which was essentially to assume the status of objects that were exploited and commodified by industrial capitalism.

In the same way Marx’s analysis of estranged labor revealed an important contrast between human beings as they truly are – or rather as they should be –  versus human beings under the artificial, slavish, objectifying, and dehumanizing forces of industrial capitalism, my analysis of the stuffed animal will aim to reveal an important important contrast between animals as they truly are – or as they should be – and animals as they are seen through the lens of our capitalist system which alienates, objectifies, and commodifies animals.

Returning to Carol J. Adams’ use of the absent referent to refer to the real animal whose bodies are destroyed, dismembered, and consumed, I also hope to show how the absent referent equally applies to the real images of animal bodies which are also destroyed, dismembered, and consumed.

To buy a steak is to assert one’s right to kill another sentient being and thus to alienate it from its life, and to buy an animal is to assert one’s right to control the life of another living being by alienating it from its freedom. Similarly, I argue that to buy a stuffed animal is to assert one’s right to control how animal bodies should be perceived – namely, as objects to be kept and used for our own purposes. Therefore, in the same way that Adams argues that meat is a substitute for the missing referent of the animals we kill and eat, I argue that the stuffed animal is a substitute for the missing referent of animals we enslave and exploit. While the former act destroys animal identity in a literal sense, the other destroys animal identity in a figurative sense.

Moreover, whether one is eating a steak or buying a stuffed tiger, in both cases one is acquiescing to and reinforcing an ideology. The former ideology, which psychologist Melanie Joy has popularized is known as “carnism”: the belief that eating meat is “natural,” “normal,” and “necessary.” The latter ideology has no name as of yet, so I will call it ocularism: the belief that non-human animals should be seen and depicted as objects to be used for human purposes. In the way that one can see how the anthropocentric worldview underlies the prejudice of speciesism, and in the way one can see how speciesism underlies the ideology of carnism, I argue that this same combination of anthropocentrism and speciesism underlies the ideology of ocularism.

Ocularism, like carnism, is also a belief which is constructed, disseminated, and reinforced by the matrix of power relations at work within society which includes media, special interest groups such as the meat and dairy industries, as well as pre-established socio-cultural norms, traditions, and prevailing beliefs and attitudes about animals.

The most common methods employed for the dissemination and dialectical social reaffirmation of this ideology are the processes of abstraction, dissociation, fragmentation, and anthropomorphization. By abstracting, dissociating, fragmenting, and anthropomorphizing images of animals’ bodies through media, culture, tradition, and economics, we collectively determine how animals are seen, thought about, and treated by people in larger society – namely, as objects to be used.

One example of the use of abstraction and dissociation regarding carnism that has already been mentioned is when we call animal corpses “meat” and engage in the act of eating animal bodies. If a person says they are eating meat, you will have an idea of what animal they could be eating, but meat itself is a general category which is only made possible by abstracting from – and thus obscuring – the animal itself.

Of course, one could go further and specify what type of meat they are eating, whether it is from a cow, a pig, or a rabbit, but this addition is still an abstraction which only tells us where the meat came from, not what the meat is – that is to say, flesh. Furthermore, in the process of this abstraction we are also engaging in an act of dissociation which puts distance between the body of the dead animal and what appears on our plate. This effectively allows us to avoid acknowledging the fact that an animal has been killed and that we are consuming its dead body.

Similarly, the ocularist corollary to carnistic abstraction and dissociation occur every time one buys and consumes media depicting animals in a way that objectifies them. Every time one buys book, watches a cartoon, or otherwise consumes media which depicts animals as things to be owned and used rather than subjects to be respected, one is necessarily dissociating oneself from the reality of animal bodies and opting into a fictionalized world of representation. Therefore, in the same way that carnism necessitates the dissociation between the animal that has died and the animal being eaten, ocularism necessitates the dissociation between the animal that exists and the image of the animal being seen.

With carnism, it’s also clear that the fragmentation of animal bodies takes place in a few different ways. The first two are most obvious, as they consist of the literal dismemberment of the animal and the digestion of individual body parts. However, the third form of fragmentation, though not a violent act, is perhaps the most powerful because it aids human beings in further abstracting and dissociating from the reality of animal bodies to make the act of consuming them possible.

This third form of fragmentation has to do with the way in which animal body parts are perceived in the mind – namely, as fragmented objects which are no longer traceable or thought of as traceable to the animal body from which they were taken. Although we might name the animal parts of a turkey on Thanksgiving by calling them “legs,” “wings,” and “thighs,” the images associated with these words are not the real legs, wings, and thighs of the animal, but are the parts of animals as they appear on our plates, fully cooked and prepared for our consumption.

With ocularism, fragmentation occurs whenever one buys clothing, shoes, cookware, decorations, or other products which depict animal faces, tails, eyes, or other body parts as something separate from the being to which they belong. Similarly, I argue that what allows for human beings to engage in the act of purchasing images of fragmented animal bodies has to do with the way individual animals are perceived in the mind – namely, and images no longer traceable or thought of as traceable to the animal from which they were taken. For example, when one buys clothing with distorted or exaggerated cartoon faces of cats, dogs, pigs, or cows, one is not associating these faces with the real animals, but with an imagined and fictitious version of animals purposely designed for our entertainment and consumption.

Lastly, is the tactic of anthropomorphization. This idea is evidenced in the carnistic sense by children’s media involving early childhood, in commercial advertisements, and adult media like Family Guy, Sausage Party, and Bojack Horseman. In the ocularist sense, it can be found in in myths, fables, children’s stories, and in movies like Homeward Bound, Babe, Air Bud, Finding Nemo, Chicken Run, and Zootopia, and in children’s TV shows like Curious George, and Peg + Cat. Admittedly, the tactic of athropomorphization seems counterintuitive because, like the stuffed animal, it seems to bring us closer to the subjectivity of animals by making them the objects of our affection.

However, I argue that these anthropomorphized versions of animals keep us from recognizing animals as they really are – namely, as conscious, free, and independent beings rooted in and belonging to their own environments and societies – because these representations of animals are made to speak, act, and think in ways we know are not accurate or true (i.e. to behave like humans).

Therefore, when the book, show, or movie has ended, one can easily stop thinking about animals as living subjects since one’s belief in the individual subjectivity of animals relies on the suspension of one’s disbelief rather than on challenging one’s established beliefs, and is based on the degree to which non-human animals can reliably demonstrate human abilities characteristics. Therefore, because the default view of most people is to see non-human animals as separate and unequal to humans, and because the media being consumed never directly challenges this hierarchy, the anthropomorphized versions of animals ironically help to reinforce the view that animal bodies are objects to be used for human purposes – namely, for the purposes of entertainment.

Given the violent and exploitative relationship with real animals embodied in the ironic absurdity of the stuffed animal, the real question becomes, how does one go about restoring the real images of animal bodies, and thus the subjectivity of real animals to our world? How does one fight against the abstraction, dissociation, fragmentation, and anthropomorphization embedded in media, discourse, and culture?

Perhaps a good place to start would be to allow for increased public access to animals in a way which doesn’t objectify them, caricature them, confine them, or exploit them. Given the proximity of human beings to pet animals, zoos, farms, and animal shelters, all of which depict animals in a state of human subservience, exploitation, and confinement, I admit that allowing for a healthy view of animals and animal bodies will be difficult but not impossible.

Nature shows, animal sanctuaries, and state and national parks, I would argue, could become vehicles not just for accurate and healthy ways to encounter animals and images of animal bodies, but for providing a biocentric  framework and an anti-speciesist mode of discourse rather than using an anthropocentric framework and a speciesist discourse to talk about animals and animal bodies. In doing so, such places could provide opportunities to show animals as they are truly are and to teach others how animals should be seen: not as creatures beneath us, or as “wild animals,” but as free beings that inhabit the earth whose lives we have no right to take, and whose bodies we have no right to use for our own selfish purposes.

Calling an animal “wild,” after all, is a speciesist term which places human beings in a position of power over other animals and relegates non-human animals to the background and to the status of object. Like calling another human being “slave,” calling an animal “wild” denotes our desire to control and dominate another being and alienate it from its nature in order to make it “tame” – which is simply to force it to submit to our will. Therefore, we must realize that even in the language we use to name, designate, and categorize animals, we must seek only to understand them and respect them as equal beings in our world, not to treat them as abstractions or objects.

While it’s historically true that we human beings are often the victims of the circumstances of our own time and place, it’s also true that we are not slaves to those circumstances. Change is possible and change will come when more people realize what they are doing to themselves and to others. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Man will become better when you show him what he is like.”