Law, Food, & Vegas

David Cassuto (also up in GreenLaw)

Alas, blogging has paid a heavy price for what has been and continues to be a very busy semester.  But it’s been busy in a good way.  To wit, I am recently returned from both Las Vegas and Rio.  I’ll discuss Rio in my next post but first, to Vegas.

A few weeks ago I attended the Conference of the Association of Law, Culture & Humanities held at UNLV.  This very fine interdisciplinary conference had three panels organized by UNLV’s Professor  Bret Birdsong on Law & Food.  The panel discussions ranged from GMOs to marketing and were uniformly excellent.  My talk (I was on one of the panels) grew out of some of my previous work.  It explored the unique normative challenges raised by the human/animal dynamic and how those challenges manifest in animal law and, consequently, in food law as well.  I argued that many of the failings of animal law (and environmental law) can be explained by the fact that it does not arise from the traditional relationships from which laws are created. 

Law governs interactions between and among members of society.  It codifies shared goals reflecting an ideal vision of a just society.  This vision arises through communication.  For communication to be coherent there must be a shared belief in the possibility of consensus and mutual understanding.  Consensus-driven communication requires a common language.  Laws governing human interaction (property, contract, criminal, torts, etc.) all fit within the discursive framework of shared goals and commitment to the perpetuation of society.  Animal law, however, does not.  (Non-human) Animals do not share a language with humans. They do not participate in human discourse nor do they share the goals of human society.

Without a common normative vision, there is no consensus through which to create laws.  Consequently, animals are not merely an unwilling participant in the law-making process; they do not participate at all. It therefore makes no sense to talk about animal law as such; it is more properly described as a set of laws governing how humans interact with the animals. But because humans and nonhuman animals do not have any shared commitment to consensus, attempts to impart meaning to the interactions are necessarily counterfactual. Herein lies what Aristotle might have described as the tragic nature of animal law.  The impossibility of communication coupled with the immutable need for communication creates a crisis borne of conflicting truths that undermine meaningful interaction.  It also injects a deep, structural tension into our relationship with what we eat.

I could say more but then you wouldn’t want to read the longer paper.  Consider this a teaser for that, which I hope to debut soon.

3 Responses

  1. Interesting, I look forward to access to the complete paper.

  2. “The impossibility of communication”

    Our wold has become dehumanized; man feels himself isolated in the cosmos because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional “unconscious identity” with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications. No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom, no mountain cave the home of a great demon. No voices now speak to man from stones, plants, and animals, nor does he speak to them believe in they can here. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied. . . . There is an alarming degree of dissociation and psychological confusion. . . Yet in order to sustain his creed, contemporary man pays the price in a remarkable lack of introspection. He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. (Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols at 79, 85).

  3. “[Laws] codify shared goals reflecting an ideal vision of a just society”

    You should say, Laws SHOULD codify shared goals. But alas, they do not. And it is extraordinarily important to realize this.

    U.S. laws reflect a psychosis (a disassociation from reality), neurosis, misoneism, and the goals and vision of the elite power structure — but certainly not the ideal, except in theory and in the minds of naive lawyers. The current legal system lacks legitimacy and moral authority b/c it actively seeks to maintain injustice, systemic violence, it has no accountability, is fraudulent, mismanaged, etc. … “to realize the level and magnitude of corruption of the people in power could not help but trigger very serious uprisings and reforms.” (See Glen Greenwald’s How the U.S. Strikes Fear)

    Animal law is unsuccessful not because animals do not participate but because our laws are based on economic growth and profit and a vision of inequality; it’s profitable to exploit animals, including humans. The vision is an industrial vision. A corporate vision. A capitalist vision. . . .

    The result is that our generation may experience the second largest great mass-extinctions in the history of Earth within the next 20 years (news flash: the climate has tipped: the arctic methane bomb has tipped, the forests have tipped, the ocean has tipped).

    I fear that compassionate and intelligent people like you are distracted and wasting your time trying to make legal tweaks and reforms in a system that is inherently unjust, ecocidal, and suicidal. We need a higher consciousness and an understanding of the magnitude of the ecological collapse and the futility of legal reform in the U.S.

    My vision is an agrarian vision, and for communities to establish lifeboat ecovillages and food sovereignty, to weather the impending global collapse.

    Thanks for the thought-provocation, even if I vehemently disagree.

    Vegan Love from a 2L

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