The Boundaries Between Man and Animal

As Derrida points out, animals do not have a voice. Thus, representing them in the law is difficult. “One cannot expect ‘animals’ to be able to enter into an expressly juridical contract in which they would have duties, in an exchange of recognized rights. (Derrida 74)” Despite this, humans have still taken it upon themselves to institute laws for the protection of animals. Why is this? Much of humanism is built on the establishment of the superiority of man over animal. It seems natural that this dominion would include the protection of animals from our own activities, but the way the humanist and the posthumanist would go about doing this is very different. The posthuman represents the restructuring of the barrier between human and animal. The posthumanist seeks to create a harmony between himself and nature, to give animals a new subjectivity.

It is instinctual for us to identify with things through anthropomorphism, especially through a humanist lens. Given this, humans tend to only identify with animals if they are displaying human characteristics, such as in the instance of an orangutan attacking the bulldozer destroying its home. People popularized this incident with humanist rhetoric trying to anthropomorphize this animal’s actions. Yet from a posthumanist perspective, these animals may not even be feeling human emotions, but their humanness or lack thereof is not why we should identify with them or recognize their lives.

Wolfe then takes the conversation in a striking but understandable direction when he compares people with disabilities to animals. As he says, “‘Where there is reason, there is a subject’ morphs, in the twentieth century, into ‘where there is language, there is a subject. (Wolfe 128)” Given the the points we discussed in class about how people with disabilities are treated (such as people in wheelchairs being kidnapped while people do not help them), there seems to be an implicit recognition that has grown up in recent decades that the disabled are somehow less human. If someone in a wheelchair is calling for help as they are being pushed away, people generally assume that it is more likely that the person is mentally unstable rather than actually being kidnapped. Applying the posthuman understanding of animals to the disabled, society can reinvent the way it views this minority group and care for it even though certain members of the minority may lack things common to most humans such as the ability to walk or communicate effectively. Perhaps through the development of a more posthuman lens, society may not only improve the its understanding of the natural world, but also its understanding and treatment of people with disabilities.

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