Let me just start off here by thanking my readers-- especially Scu, Brunson, and Anotherpanacea-- for reminding me that for every silver lining there is a dark cloud. I was so juiced about how I might potentially extract some of the broadest implications of the article's claims that I, quite regrettably, overlooked many of the details. Important details. Like, as Brunson pointed out, that the same claims could be used (and have been used) to support arguments in favor of the genetic superiority of males. AnPan seconded this suspicion by reminding me that the disciplinary frame of the article I was so enamoured with was still evolutionary psychology, which has a long and storied record of naturalizing (and, consequently justifying) gender inequities in the name of good "science." Perhaps more disturbingly, I also overlooked the details of the experiments themselves-- on both children and animals-- that were forwarding the research being heralded in the article. Scu posted a kind of exposé of that research over on his own blog (in a post titled "Vulnerability and Animal Experimentation") that, first, shocked and horrified me with its account of the scientists' utter cruelty and indifference to animal vulnerability and, second, embarrassed me for so quickly glossing over these experiments in the course of hurrying on to praise their results. After reading their comments, I felt a bit like the kid in A Christmas Story, who was so impressed with his shiny new Red Ryder BB gun (with a compass in the stock) that he ignored its very real danger of shooting his eye out.
If one learns anything at all from deconstruction, it first must be that every system, structure, theory, text or context of meaning has many hidden nooks and crannies that, quite often, harbor all varieties of contradictions, countermemories, aporias and other means for its own undoing. So, mea culpa. I did not read (or think) carefully enough in this instance, and I am deeply appreciative of my critical readers for reminding me so. But I am also inclined to say that this is a hazard of the occupation in which we are engaged, that is, the occupation of thinking through, perhaps even thinking beyond, the narratives handed over to us. An unavoidable hazard, even. I do not offer that as an apology so much as an observation, a reminder to myself and others that the work we do is sometimes perilous, sometimes strange, often unpredictable.
In a comment to his own post, Scu remarked on his "frustration" with the erasure of details (in both the Atlantic article and my post) about the horrors of animal experimentation. He writes:
Frustrated is a good word, I think. Frustrated and sympathetic in a way. As a fellow nerd I understand the desire to be caught up in the cool science and nifty implications. But if we are going to be ethical and political beings, if we are going to reconceive the basis of rights on the grounds of vulnerability and precariousness, we need to cultivate an awareness of what is being done in the name of understanding our humanity.There is a part of me that suspects that, in this case, I am one of the people "caught up in the cool science and nifty implications" to which Scu is referring. And, I suppose, that's an at least partially accurate description, in this case. But I could not agree with him more in his subsequent warning. I have never shied away, on this blog and elsewhere, from stating categorically that the chief concerns of my research concern human suffering, human vulnerability and precariousness, and human rights. And yet, I hope-- and I have also stated this, categorically, here and elsewhere-- that the work I am doing is not being undertaken in a kind of blissful ignorance of the manner in which our form of life and the life of other Others is co-implicated. And I could not agree more with Scu when he reminds us that, just as the Master cannot speak of his own superiority over the Slave without recognizing the Slave's empowering-power, so too can we not speak of the difference between our (human) suffering and the suffering of non-human animals without recognizing our co-participation in a shared community of sentient life.
I still intend to post another entry on the Orchid Hypothesis, which I still find a "cool science with nifty implications," but I obviously have some more thinking to do about it first. But I wanted to post this entry as a provocation for all of us to think more on the darker sides of the theories that claim our attention.