July 26, 2021

the animal, “the most ‘other’ of all others”

“Manifesto for an ecology of difference”, by Hicham-Stéphane Afeissa, Dehors, 144 p., € 15.

When we see animals suffering, as in these clandestine images shot in slaughterhouses by animal rights groups, we are embraced by compassion, and revolted. When Bambi, in the famous Disney cartoon (1942), loses his mother in front of the children’s eyes bathed in tears, the life of deer suddenly seems to us to deserve protection.

Yet in his convincing Manifesto for an ecology of difference, the philosopher Hicham-Stéphane Afeissa questions the value of the dominant model of our ethical relationship with animal life, which these two examples each illustrate in their own way: that of pity in the face of the vulnerability of beings similar to us.

Read also (2017): Corine Pelluchon: “The day we realize the intensity of animal suffering, everything collapses”

Are they not in fact our fellow human beings, these beings about whom Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) pointed out: “The question is not ‘can they speak?’ but “can they suffer?” “ ? From the obvious answer to this question, should we not conclude that it is necessary to recognize their right to a dignified existence? And isn’t the best way to do them justice to find our own part of animality by merging into the community of the living?

Hicham-Stéphane Afeissa’s book brilliantly defends another position: to defend animals, we must first give up seeing them as our fellow human beings, leave the field of primary emotions, turn our backs on the moral landscape of compassion.

Otherness denied

Indeed, argues the specialist in environmental and animal philosophy, the attribution of a moral status to animals on the basis of the similarity of minds or of sensitivity leads to doing violence to them, by denying “Their fundamental otherness and the richness of their mode of existence”. “The rejection or denial of the other’s otherness, considered as otherness which as such has a value and a meaning, constitutes the fundamental driving force of all violence. “

Is not always “The worried denial of a difference” who motivates, for example, racist exclusion? If, as Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) asserted, the animal is “The most ‘other’ of all the others”, it can become difficult to encounter this otherness when everything contributes to reducing animals to a “Ball of hair or feathers, sensitive and vulnerable, whose cognitive benefits condemn them to remain in our shadow”.

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