Friday, September 09, 2005
FEMA, Companion Animals, and Biopolitics in New Orleans
A humane and rational government would have coordinated with the Humane Society of the United States and other local humane groups on the ground to allow them to be on hand with the search, rescue, and removal teams. In this way, when such teams encounter a resident who presently does not want to leave because in leaving they will be forced by the government to leave their companion animals behind to die cruelly (either by starvation or officially sanctioned shooting), instead the HSUS and others could remove these animals for separate transport out of the area and consequent future reunitement with their families.
As imagined, this is still far from a perfect scenario. No one imagines that all these animals (much less the people who have been similarly rescued) will necessarily find those from whom they have been separated. To coordinate animal rescue with humane organizations, however, is much better than the current speciesist military model that has people being ordered at the point of a M16 rifle, with communications locked down in order to further control the situation, to leave the area and their animals because the government believes that it has decided that it is in their best interest to do so.
In some cases, people delerious from the lack of food and water, as well as the shock of the tragedy, may indeed be better served by leaving New Orleans -- though leaving to be subjected to FEMA's military lock down for the next 5 months hardly seems like it could be of much benefit. But it only serves to show that while the military and FEMA are happy to portray these die-hard residents as insane, it is exactly the opposite. Threatened that they must leave behind their companion animals, the remaining residents of New Orleans would rather die with them -- a truly human response to tragedy. Instead, the irrationality of the government, which thinks largely in economic terms by instrumentally transposing lives into numbers of survivals, deaths, and collateral losses, all too easily "makes the hard decision" to save the human beings they find and kill their animal companions. This is itself a crime against humanity, as well as a clear crime of murder against non-human animality.
Of course, racism itself is inherent in this barbaric logic. It is the monstrous mix of speciesism and racism that condemned so many of New Orleans' poor, black, and other minorities to torture and death. It was not simply that they were non-white and non-wealthy. It was that in being so, they were other than that and thus cast in the figure of "humanity's" other: the non-human animal. Indeed, even as reports of black "looting" erupted against the rhetoric of white attempts at survival by any means necessary, there was also a language that condemned and illustrated the manifestation of post-Katrina looting and social disorder as being the product of "animals" -- as in, "those people are just plain animals!" In fact, this particular thought virus, if you will, was so virulent that it manifested as far away as Los Angeles, with close friends (and even animal rights supporters I know!) slipping comfortably into this manner of speech. That this would happen only shows the deep and unconscious fabric of racist speciesism inherent in our society, which bubbles forth and floods our reality in moments of panic and supernatural tragedy such as we are witnessing now in New Orleans.
While there has been no shortage of strong critique of what has occured over the last week in the Gulf Coast, the many commentators on the situation in New Orleans and the region -- from media pundits and journalists, to activists, and to scholars and citizens alike -- certainly do not have everything correct in their analyses of the situation thus far. Being barred from the area, with militaristic and fascistic control of the photographic and other news evidence, necessarily ensures this. Yet, one claim about what has ensued is absolutely correct. The failure of the Bush administration, the federal institutions such as FEMA that are under its management, as well as the state governmental responses, certainly has to do with the obvious inefficiency and irrationality of the tremendous bureaucracy that has become our institutional norm and fancy.
But far beyond this, the government and military have acted with cold brutality in enforcing a more primal absence of reason as they have institued their sole right to decide over who will live and who will die, and in doing this, have decided once again to act in the name of humanity. Thus, let me assert one other thing we have learned so far. Just as officials who call upon our support in the name of country should be clearly mistrusted, more so still those who urge us onward in defense of our species being! For it is only a matter of chance, generally, that keeps some of us from having to stare unyieldingly into the abattoir of the totally administered society during times of crisis. Sadly, those deemed too inhuman to be spared the carnage of New Orleans now know this all too well.