“Feminism is going to make it possible for the first time for men to be free.
At present the ordinary man has the choice between being a slave and being a scoundrel.
For the ordinary man is prone to fall in love and marry and have children…He wants to see them all taken care of, since they are unable to care for themselves.
Yet, if he has them to think about, he is not free… The bravest things will not be done in the world until women do not have to look to men for support…[But] men don’t want the freedom that women are thrusting on them. They don’t want a chance to be brave…They want to give food and clothes and a little home with lace curtains to some woman.
Men want the sense of power more than they want the sense of freedom… They want someone dependent on them more than they want a comrade. As long as they can be lords in a thirty-dollar flat, they are willing enough to be slaves in the great world outside…
In short, they are afraid that they will cease to be sultans in little monogamic harems. But the world doesn’t want sultans. It wants men who call their souls their own. And that is what feminism is going to do for men – give them back their souls, so that they can risk them fearlessly in the adventure of life.”
-Floyd Dell, “Feminism for Men,” 1914.
“The last beachheads of uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parks–language tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal. And many people no longer feel the need for such a separation; indeed, many branches of feminist culture affirm the pleasure of connection of human and other living creatures. Movements for animal rights are not irrational denials of human uniqueness; they are a clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture. Biology and evolutionary theory over the last two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge and reduced the line between humans and animals to a faint trace re-etched in ideological struggle or professional disputes between life and social science. Within this framework, teaching modern Christian creationism should be fought as a form of child abuse.
The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine. Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and art)ficial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.
Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.
The tools are often stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities. In retelling origin stories, cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of Western culture. We have all been colonized by those origin myths, with their longing for fulfilment in apocalypse. The phallogocentrie origin stories most crucial for feminist cyborgs are built into the literal technologies – teehnologies that write the world, biotechnology and microelectronics – that have recently textualized our bodies as code problems on the grid of C3I. Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control.
Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”
‘Caribbean scholar and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter notes that our current conception of the human/humanity is a Eurocentric invention. Although there have been countless ways of expressing human activity throughout history, the model we take for humankind is the one devised by colonial Western Europe. On this model, there is the human (white, Western male with the ideal human counterpart: the white, Western female) and “its human Others—that is, Indians, Negroes, Natives [and, I would add, Jews and Muslims].”
What separates the “human Others” from the Ideal Human and what distinguishes the human Others from each other is their ranking on the human–animal scale. In chapter 4, I pointed out that I don’t think it’s apparent to most of us that the notions of “human” and “animal” are racially constituted. The racial hierarchy tracks not just a color descent but also a species descent. At the top of the hierarchy sits the white male human and at the bottom sits the shady and necessarily opposite figure of “the animal.” These two poles signify two contrary moral statuses—the closer your category is to the white male human, the more you “matter.” The closer your category is to the shady, vague “animal,” the less you “matter.”
Whether or not we explicitly use this language or instead use code words that coincide with it, such as “subpersons,” “nonhumans,” “inhuman,” and so on, doesn’t matter. What is relevant here is that the organizing principle for racial logic lies in the human–animal divide, wherein the human and the animal are understood to be moral opposites.
That means that what gives rise to these racial categories and racial thinking is a particular understanding of what a human being is. A human being is fundamentally opposite to animals (with “animals” here being a gross reduction of a vast plurality of species, of course). With these poles set in place—the former as extreme superiority and the latter as extreme inferiority—those who authored this system placed themselves in the former position and from there divided humanity along a spectrum that went all the way “down” to “the animal.”
This model of the human is still in use today.
So, in black reappropriation movements, activists effectively begin to disrupt the modern, imperialistic understanding of humanity. But because they leave the foundation untouched, the dismantling can never be complete. We need to go beyond the racial categories and subvert their anchor: the human–animal divide.
In short, then, what condemns us to our inferior status, even before we can speak or act is not merely our racial category but that our racial category is marked the most by animality. Its proximity to animality signals inferiority. We certainly don’t want to affirm the current conception of humanity by trying to distance ourselves from animality. And we certainly don’t want to pretend these terms don’t exist. The best strategy is to reclaim in order to disrupt, and then to de-link from the narrative altogether.’
Aphro-Ism : Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters. Lantern Books, 2017.
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[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]