In thinking about Latour’s division between humans and non-humans, I wonder where this leaves the animal. After taking Brian Boyd’s class on Human and Animal Relations last semester, I think that the question of the animal is a pertinent one, especially since the animal (as conceived of in the Western world) seems to lie in the gray area between human and non-human. In The Animal That Therefore I Am, Jacques Derrida struggles while attempting to deal with the question of animal consciousness. He recognizes a moment in which he is naked in his house and completely comfortable being in such a state since he is alone. Yet upon noticing the gaze of his cat, he immediately feels a sense of immodesty and shame. Though “mute” in terms of their ability to communicate using human language, Derrida’s cat holds some sort of human-like quality, which doesn’t make it unlike the car that refuses to start on the cold morning.
We seem to recognize a hierarchy of animals in terms of those which we accord the most anthropomorphic tendencies (dogs, chimpanzees, cats, etc.) and those that most Westerners grant the status of unconscious “thing” (insects, fish, animals consumed as food). People can be sentenced to jail for abusing animals and for vandalizing buildings – inflicting harm upon the Other. People opt to be vegetarians so as not to inflict cruelty upon animals, but plants are living as well, yet I’ve never heard calls for plant cruelty. People own animals in the same way they own books. Just as with animals, humans cannot seem to interpret their relations with non-humans/not living/breathing objects separately from a human framework/perspective.
So, what got me thinking of the question of the animal in relation to the conceptualization of the separation between humans and non-humans is Aaron Smith’s discussion of how Idhe makes this distinction based upon decisional ability. So non-humans, like a coffee mug or a computer lack the ability to make decisions. Animals, also, are recognized as being reactive, instead of agentive. Yet, there are instances in which animals can be accorded with guilt, though it’s not completely removed from their human “owner.” For example, take the case of the donkey jailed for disrupting the peace in Mexico:
Mexican jail releases disruptive donkey
TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico (AP) — A donkey doing time in southern Mexico for assault and battery has been freed from jail.
The Televisa network on Wednesday showed “Blacky” gobbling food from a bucket after spending three days in a jail that normally holds people for public drunkenness and other disturbances.
Blacky was jailed for biting and kicking two men near a ranch outside Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the southern state of Chiapas.
Officials freed the donkey after its owner paid a fine of $36 and the $115 hospital bill of the men, who suffered bites to the chest and a broken ankle. Authorities say he also must pay $480 to each man for missed work days.
The animal was locked up at a local jail that normally holds people for public drunkenness and other disturbances after it bit and kicked two men near a ranch in Chiapas state, police said Monday.
Officer Sinar Gomez said the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner agreed to pay the men’s medical bills. “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed,” Gomez said — “no matter who they are.”
The owner, Mauro Gutierrez said he would try to reach a friendly arrangement to pay the men’s bills, estimated at $420 at the time. The victims said the donkey bit Genaro Vazquez, 63, in the chest on Sunday and then kicked 52-year-old Andres Hernandez as he tried to come to the rescue, fracturing his ankle. “All of a sudden, the animal was on top of us like it was rabid,” Hernandez said.
Police said it took a half-dozen men to control the enraged burro. Chiapas police have thrown animals in the slammer before, including a bull that devoured corn crops and destroyed two wooden vending stands in March. In 2006, a dog was locked up for 12 days after biting someone. His owners were fined $18.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.