animals, personhood, humans, beingness, legal, professor, book, law, property, vegan, colonialism, legal system, scholars, category, nonhumans, anthropocentric, system, plants, people, person
Emilia Leese, Maneesha Deckha
Emilia Leese 00:09
Hello, I’m Emi Leese and welcome to the latest episode of Think like a vegan, a companion podcast to our book, also entitled think like a vegan. In each episode, I’ll explore one topic related to veganism. One that might not be the focus of an everyday conversation, some we touched on in our book, and here we’ll have the chance to take a closer look. I hope these short talks will inspire you and expand the conversation around veganism. Most people never think animals are considered merely property, like your phone or your car. But that’s what it is. We talk about this in our book a little bit showing how it also applies to wild animals, not just domestic or farm animals. In her book, animals as legal beings, Professor Deckha who’s our guest today, Rights Law serves as the newest explanation for why we as a species are different from other species, and thus entitled to the privileges our current anthropocentric, social, cultural and economic order affords us to say that humans and corporations are at war with animals is not to engage in hyperbole. Law facilitates this violence through the category of property, giving legal sanction and enforcement to a broader toxic culture. That exalts human exceptionalism normalises anthropocentrism marginalises humans who do not conform to its parodic Matic person slash human brutalises animals on mass and instrumentalize his and devastates other non human beings to alter the state of affairs, multi layered and wide ranging interventions from all corners of society will be required. Professor Deckha is extraordinary and deeply sensitive work proposes an entirely new legal category, because the law still has a role to play to change the current paradigm that of beingness. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Professor Maneesha Deckha. I’ve had the pleasure to hear Professor Deckha speak at a Global Research Network event. And I immediately bought her book that will be the subject of today’s episode. The books entitled animals as legal beings contesting anthropocentric legal orders. Professor Deckha will be speaking to us about what it would look like to replace the property classification for animals to a new legal status she calls beingness. Welcome, Professor.
Maneesha Deckha 02:58
Thank you so much, Emilia. It’s a delight to be here.
Emilia Leese 03:01
Fantastic to have you here. Really appreciate it. Before we hear from Professor Deckha, here’s a bit of background about her. Professor Deckha is a professor and chair of the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria in Canada, where she also directs the community engaged animals and Society Research Initiative. Her research topics include animal Legal Studies and critical animal studies, feminist Animal Care theory and feminist analysis of law, socio legal studies in general and reproductive and end of life ethics. I want to read another short excerpt from your book, which I think brings the focus on the issue. If property is inherently exploitative, and personhood is inherently anthropocentric, anthropocentric, legal systems seeking to shift towards a multi species orientation, must respond to animals through a new transformative legal subjectivity. With that, Professor Deckha, the floor is yours.
Maneesha Deckha 04:04
Thank you. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional human territories of the lekwungen peoples on which my university, the University of Victoria stands, and the devastating impacts of colonialism here and what is known as Victoria, British Columbia, and also across Canada and other parts of the world, I think require from all of us a deep listening, unlearning and reordering, of values and priorities, and really new behaviours relatedly and importantly, I also want to recall the animals and other non human species who are indigenous to this territory and elsewhere, and whose fates have been fundamentally affected by that anthropocentrism that is constitutive of colonialism. Making this connection between anthropocentrism and colonialism and anthropocentrism and other forms of subordination has been essential to Archer point in my work in in Milan. My approach to the law is one that believes that speciesism and anthropocentrism are intimately tied to the patriarchal and capital accumulating project of colonialism and empire building. And conversely, that colonialism and the sexism and racism on which it is premised, are foundationally, shaped by anthropocentrism, and the devaluation of our relations with animals, and really our devaluation of animals themselves. So in my work, I have taken up these questions about multiple forms of violence and marginalisation. I explore how hierarchical systems are different, but also connected through the concepts of animality species, and claims about rational actors and human exceptionalism. My approach is one that is very much influenced by the path breaking work of Professor Gary Francione law professor that many listeners will likely be familiar with. Still teaching at Rutgers University Law School in the United States, who is known as an abolitionist scholar. Mr. Francione has very much critiqued the legal subjectivity of animals as property, and calls the current system in anthropocentric legal orders like the legal order of the common law or even civil law, where animals are property, a system of legal welfarism. So this is where animals may be seen jave protections, for example, in the form of anti cruelty statutes, most obviously, but really, they don’t, what those types of statutes protect are really the rights of the human owners and corporate owners that attach to the animals. That is because animals are illegal non subject their legal objects property, and so you can’t really take into account the welfare as the status report to do for sufferance, he argues in this system, it’s already skewed very heavily against the animal. So although as I was saying my approach is one that is very much influenced by arguments against the system of legal welfarism, and I also explain why property is an untenable and exploitive classification for animals are also agree with that position. It is a different approach. That’s because it is also centrally shaped by feminist Animal Care theory, or what males be known to listeners as vegetarian feminism, as it was called decades past. Or perhaps today, we can say vegan feminism, as well as the offshoot of critical animal studies from them as animal care theory. Feminist Animal Care theory brings very much a focus on interrelated value dualisms, for example, man over a woman, culture privileged over nature of the mind privilege over the body, these are dualisms that come to us from you know, Western enlightenment thinking that are really, really entrenched in how the law is kind of set up. And we see that kind of reflected very much in our property, personhood binary that we have. And so my approach is against property, but it’s also one that takes into account the functioning of these dualisms, and how they shape and illegal debates about who matters and who doesn’t. Another way of saying this, is that I think it’s also important not just to critique the property size of animals, but to link that status, to the problems that many scholars perhaps not only thinking about animals, and thinking more about human rights issues, that that many scholars have, you know, illuminated about what the problems are of liberal humanism. So liberal humanism, can be understood as an approach where, certainly humans are valued, but it’s a particular type of human one that kind of works well in a liberal system of values. So this is someone who was presumed, kind of facially neutral, to be rational, to be independent, to be autonomous. Or really when you unpack the history of liberal humanism and even how it works today, when we’re supposedly all supposed to be all humans are supposed to be seen as equal under the eyes of a law and before the law. It’s really a system that privileges a certain type of human one that I and others called a bearer dogmatic human. So, again, to recap what I was saying, in addition to critiquing the property says of animals I also want to ever take the liberal humanist foundations of the law So, this allows me to kind of unpack the multiple nodes of islands and explore connections and synergies among them, that is essential to considering the animal question in law, because really, the oppression of animals is a multimodal system that sustain and this is, so this kind of integrated system of not just thinking about, you know, humans and animals, but thinking about issues of, for example, gender, and race and class and ability in relation to how we think about animals even right or how we come to understand animals help sustain in my thinking about this, the unfathomable levels and levels of tyranny and violence that animals and deer today. So this theoretical outlook has led me to this endpoint to issue and denounce property. As a just categorization for animals as strongly as I believe abolitionists, scholars like preserve friendzone and oppressor Steven wise who runs the nonhuman Rights Project is increasingly known to, but it’s also led me in my book animals as legal beings to argue against personhood as a corrective, which is often seen as a corrective for right than just small or a Bissel property status. So I then set theory in my book that personhood, while far preferable to property is not as animal friendly, as you might think you can is to tether to the principles of legal humanism, humanism. So as elusive as the term personhood may be to define and we know it is, it has multiple iterations in common law jurisdictions, even if we think of the UK or Australia or New Zealand, or Canada, and we did a search, you know about how to how to judges how to legislators talk about this term. But despite its multiple conscious actualizations, in the common law, more often than not, the concept of personhood is tethered to a certain idealised vision of what it means to be human, namely, a highly rational, autonomous and independent person. So in other words, personhood, animates a paradigmatic, human, that really most of us cannot emulate at some point in our lives, or even through the entirety of our lives. I mean, just think of how we come into this world as babies. We are not this paradigmatic person, many of us, perhaps won’t be ever this part of my person. And perhaps when we leave this planet, we’re not going to be as paradigmatic person. So in many ways, it’s a fictional type of person. But as much as we might try to escape these liberal humanist features of kind of, you know, hyper rationality, autonomy and independence, of who is the ideal type of human or legal actor I’ve exceed that seeks personhood for animals as a corrective to property must always play a game whereby the standards for animals admission to the personhood category, depend on how much they can conform to the liberal humanist benchmarks of the human rights. So perhaps a humanised animals in particular contact. So maybe the citations are the non human primates, elephants, perhaps they can succeed in this arena. But really those animals that are never going to be seen to be highly rational, for example, intelligent, the ones that we often Animalize for example, the farmed animals, or the ones that we eat, are not going to get the benefit of kind of, you know, this, the coveted status of personhood, maybe some animals are not all animals.
And typically, when we think about why farmed animals are analysed, we see that they are very gendered, right. And they are seen kind of to be very kind of feminine female animals. If we think of you know how the farming system works, we know that it relies on the reproductive capacities of females. And so there’s a link here between kind of issues of gender issues of entomology for example, that really, you know, come to light if we think of kind of the as I was saying before multimodal nature of animals oppression. So as a more universally animal friendly corrective to property, one that I believe and I argue in my book holds more potential for the animal as animals to one day be freed from captivity, I have offered the alternative of beingness. So in this classification, animals matter because they are one and body meaning beings through their sentience and capacity for life to their own body, because many of them are sentience, or even if we know they’re non sentient, and they have a capacity for life and to their relational beings that are nested within families and networks. And so they matter Because of this embodiment because of this relationality, both of which give rise to three of vulnerability, because they’re always vulnerable to loss and injury due to those two previous capacities of embodiment and relationality. So just like humans, right, animals are vulnerable to feeling physical pain, for example, to being harmed, or that way or psychological trauma, or the devastation and just kind of the sub imminent suffering immediate suffering that comes from being separated from a child from her mother. So I do not pretend you know, or wish to kind of argue that beingness is some type of panacea or something that, you know, to take curries, majority support from legislators or judges. But if we are entering legal arenas, like personhood, litigation projects, or law reform seeking person at our, to make our case for animals, I see beingness as a more inclusive category for all animals, with roughly similar chances of success as personhood, to one day, prevail, because right now, and we also know that personhood is not going to be forthcoming for animals anytime soon, and in a grand scale. So we’re really at the stage and this type of movement, legal and otherwise, of trying to make a radical change, whether it’s personhood, or something else, like beingness. So if we’re kind of in this, you know, blue sky, carte blanche type of arena, I say, why not something that is more animal friendly, right? We don’t have a tight investment of personhood. The legal system may, but actually, that may backfire against animals. Because when you go into court, or you go in front of a policymaker, asking for personal for animals, they’re typically going to be, you know, holding an anthropocentric mindset immersed in kind of, you know, what they know, and the habits of their culture, which is human exceptionalism, most likely, and they might have a knee jerk reaction to Why don’t want to say animals are equal to humans, but to their drawbacks of using personhood, as well. And even if animals are seen to be persons, in addition to the issues of that spotlight of which animals are going to be favoured, we might have a situation where you will just have an ongoing two tiered system anyway between human persons, corporate persons, for example, and animal persons. So all of this is another way to say, I don’t think that there’s much to be lost in this moment, from using the discourse and a language of beingness versus personhood, because we haven’t gone so far down the personhood row that we’re really doing a scaling back of protections for animals. So that would be kind of another strategic or practical reason to consider beingness as something to kind of advance in the hope of, you know, incorporating encapsulating more animals than personhood.
Emilia Leese 17:56
We’ll stop here for a short break and return with more from Professor Maneesha Deckha. Here’s a magical soundscape from Derrick Solomon. This was recorded in a massive temporary wetland during the height of the rainy season in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. We’re back for the second part of Maneesha Deckha’s briefing on animals as legal beings.
So does all this mean in just sport? Something like beingness? Does that mean that one cannot support kind of be growing number of personhood campaigns for animals or even other non humans? So a few which have been, you know, kind of, quote unquote, successful. But really, if you kind of, you know, look at the reasoning behind it personally for some rivers or personhood for, you know, one or two animals in certain jurisdictions, it can be explained as you know, a very limited type of win, not something that’s going to revolutionise that jurisdiction. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support any personhood projects. And so My answer to that is no, that’s not what I’m arguing. I myself have been asked to, you know, intervene in litigation campaigns where personhood is kind of the operative premise of what the advocacy is asking for, for a particular animal. But instead of promoting personhood I do it, I kind of promote the ideas around personhood, without using the limiting language of, you know, of what I see as limiting language of emphasising rationality or emphasising autonomy, or emphasising that kind of the independence of an animal. So I try not to use words, or use language in kind of any legal submissions, or policy submissions, or even my scholarly submissions, where I’m seeing an animal matters because they’re really like a certain type of human. And so I do think it’s possible in our everyday worlds, you know, in our advocacy, to support personhood projects that are going forward. But, you know, to kind of use language that opens up people’s minds to the other reasons why these beyond intelligence, for example, or merit tests, and those types of, you know, very the capacities that are tied to long standing benchmarks in kind of Western traditions of who should matter and why the who gets moral consideration, and who doesn’t, to get away from that kind of focus on intelligence to thinking about just the animals mattering, because of the three factors I mentioned there embodiment, the relationality. And the vulnerability that arises from that. So my hope, of course, is that personhood will fall out of favour in terms of the legal ask, and something like beingness, or beingness, itself will kind of be adopted, so that we are our minds are immediately. And I’ve taken to those characteristics of why a being would matter, I embodiment relationality vulnerability, rather than rationality, autonomy and independence. But in the interim thing, it is possible to kind of be supportive of campaigns that are happening for animals, as we try it also just to tweak our language and emphasise different priorities. Another issue I’d like to discuss is, you know, well, what does all this mean? You know, even for humans, and perhaps, you know, a very common question is, well, why just animals? What about other non humans and you know, specifically plants? For example, let’s think about them and what, you know, why am I not talking about other nonhumans? So obviously, you can also be embodied relational in dense, vulnerable. So let me just address these two issues. You know, I said that personhood is not an animal friendly category because of liberal humanism. And this idea of the paradigmatic human that is also kind of, you know, almost haunting the question of personhood, even as much as you don’t need to be even a human being to receive personhood. We know that corporations have been legal persons for, you know, over several centuries. Yet, we also know from scholarship on personhood by person scholars, that this liberal humanist version of personhood, or what some scholars call the rationalist version of personhood is really, really strong. And that’s not just a problem for animals, that has been the problem for many groups of subordinated humans historically, and an continuing way, like, we can just even think of human children who do not meet this benchmark. It’s a wouldn’t, you know, tossing out the personhood category makes sense for humans? And so, I mean, you know, my reaction is to say, yes, it would, but that wasn’t the focus of my book, or focus on my argument. And certainly there have been other scholars who impugned the personhood category just for, you know, women or even kind of the AI technology that is forcing us to confront you know, how are we treating different types of nonhumans. And so
my point here has been the critique on leveraging gains personhood, can be applicable in other contexts, even to human beings, although that wasn’t my point in the book. And of course, there is a bit more to lose with respect to human beings because we have legal form of recognition of personhood for humans. So that’s another point to consider that is quite different from what I said about animals. But I’d like to turn me to perhaps the other way to think about other nonhumans and really plants, you know, in this era of like, you know, increasing awareness about climate change, about carbon admissions and you know, the role of trees, for example, in being our kind of, you know, prime hope for reversing the kind of state of the planet and the warming of the Planet if we no stop killing them, why not? You know being as for plants as well? And so are what about being as for plants? So one of the chapters of the book really takes on this question which I see, you know, generally in animals scholarship is quite under theorised. And understandably so, you know, many animals, scholars in law and otherwise have been very focused on making the case and convincing others as to why animals matter and what that should mean, in terms of policies and protections. And so thinking about well, you know, what would a different legal subjectivity be for other nonhumans? or should there be a different one is kind of a newer question. And I do take this up in the book, just to kind of clarify my position that I also think the property categorization for for trees, for example, and other plants is not the appropriate classification. There are there exploitive relations, not just between human and animals, but between humans and trees, and other plants. At the same time, I don’t extend the category, the new legal category of beingness that I’m proposing for animals, because beingness is meant to be as protective a category for animals as personhood, would be for them. So you know, what is that level of protection? Well, it’s supposed to be a protection from harm, even where it might benefit the overall public good. Or, as you know, a few other people might benefit even a few other people more than one person, you are not supposed to be kind of exploited by anyone else, unless you consent to that, right. Or unless you need to sell your labour for kind of a specific employer. This is the power of personhood. Now, we know kind of personhood just, it’s a, it’s a theoretical abstract in the lives of many humans, and it’s not properly implemented and actualized, we can think of, you know, the precarity of so many people across the world living in poverty, and especially the children in poverty, and not being able to even live through the day because they’re not having their needs met. So it’s not that personhood is a panacea for humans either. But at least legally, there’s supposed to be protection against being used by others being instrumentalized by others, and being including being killed by others not so for animals. Being is, is meant to be that kind of hard stop as well, right from that type of instrumentalisation. Torture, abuse or death. That is also the reason even though I think the law needs to respond much more, much better toward nonhumans, like plants and trees, I don’t extend the category of beingness to this category of nonhumans, ie plants, such as trees, because of this, just, you know, reality that animals and humans need to eat plants. And so visa V human relations, I don’t want to extend beingness to any type of entity that we need to kill, because I don’t want being as of, you know, to be diluted to be really just kind of a humane measure, or some type of you know, welfarist measure, it’s supposed to be a hard stop, disallowing the corporations today, and the humans today, who kill animals for whatever, you know, ostensibly benign human purpose, it’s still very harmful to animals from engaging in that behaviour. And so that’s why don’t extend beingness to plants, because it’s it, we would still need a system where we are instrumentalizing plants to eat them. And again, we can explain that, but it’s still you know, to the planet is still adapt. And so that’s why beingness is not something that I extend to plants. Even though I hope in that chapter I’ve tried to explain why the rationale not to is not like a liberal humanist rationale. Rather, I’ve put it in the kind of logical feminism care theory in terms of understanding another critical theory in terms of kind of drawing that line.
So really, the critique of the whole argument in animals as they call beings, is meant to stimulate conversation about how binary anthropocentric legal orders that place animals in a property category really need to change to kind of catch up with the increasing kind of, you know, scientific evidence and increasing consciousness, you know, throughout the world that we need, you know, brought on by group global growing global awareness about climate change, but also our very recent and ongoing reality of zoonotic pandemics. To understand that we need much more more harmonious relations with animals, and that the legal system is really one of the linchpins in a system that is not enabling those harmonious relationships to occur. And of course, there’s enormous economic pressures undergirding the legal system. But we really need like a leading role played by law, because sometimes society follows legal changes. And of course, sometimes it’s the other way around. So we have to work both ways. But there is really a critical role for legal systems to play to change, to reevaluate the kind of objectification for animals give them a much different accounting, understand, not that we just like them, because they’re similar to humans, but understand that they matter in of themselves, because of their embodiment, their relationality and vulnerability, and work to implement, you know, with the necessary social transitions that will have to be put in place to move people from Emily’s industries, to non exploitive ways of interacting with animals. The law will can then help move us all to that new place. Thank you.
Emilia Leese 31:14
Thank you, Professor Dekka. That was absolutely brilliant, and so thought provoking. Yours is such important work. And there’s so much in your critique that challenges and deepens my understanding on this issue, especially with respect to personhood, and sentience, particularly coming from having read pretty much all of Professor Francis Jones work, it was extremely exciting to me to hear you speak. The first time I heard you speak. And now as well, to see an evolution of that, and really bringing those concepts but just, I don’t want to say exploding them in a different way, but But taking them to it to a different to something different and so inclusive, and it’s just just very exciting. So thank you so much. Thank you. I wish your book had been published when we were writing ours, because it would have certainly influenced some of the things that some of the mentioned some of our mentions, and some of some of the things that that we touched upon. So maybe maybe in another in another edition. But before we go, where can people follow your work, whether online or otherwise? And do you have any projects that you’d like to promote?
Yes, well, I’m in terms of projects, that they’re still ongoing, but you know, when they’re ready, they will be marking it. And I hope people will, you know, go to the websites that I mentioned, as well, to find out more so current project is actually a documentary series that I’m doing through the support of the Brooks Institute for Emirates foreign policy, and all the wonderful participants who are, have agreed to participate. And so this is meant to be really, it’s the first of all, a pilot, and if it goes well, we have to extend it. But it will be an opener, it’s meant to be an open access documentary that middle school teachers, high school teachers, perhaps even early undergraduate courses, instructors for courses, you know, in education institutions, in every jurisdiction, English speaking, can latch on to, to show in their classes, to students to help educate people about how the loss legal system is falling short, and protecting animals, I think many people feel like animals are well protected. And this documentary kind of, you know, explains whether or not but we do so in a really kind of, you know, youth responsive, hopefully way and promoting the activism and activism of various youth and how they’ve been able to make a difference, you know, in their schools and their communities on different issues with respect to farmed animals and was in research animals and other forms of captivity otherwise, so once that is ready, we really hope to just drive it distributed as wide and far as we can get kind of maximum attention integration into classes. I must say that, you know, I speak to adults very much so and and that’s important work, but I really think the future of change for this movement in so many others is with, with with children really at their earliest possible time to kind of stop those kind of adulting type of mindsets from encroaching on them that they shouldn’t identify with animals that they should, you know, commodify animals and objectify animals, because I think many Children don’t come into the world with those types of attitudes toward animals.
And another project is a one that it’s very kind of legally immersed. It is thinking about someone like animals, as legal beings thinking about how to take the current legal system and make a change for animals, partly by working with the system. So even though animals are legal beings, that proposal is suggesting a new subjectivity, it’s still one that’s integrated the current system, this project is a rule of law project. As listeners may know, the term the rule of law is very influential in the legal system, because of you know, the British Empire and how much it grew and spread. And it’s also very influential in non legal circles in development work circles, for example, and other international work circles. And so this project is thinking about, you know, can the rule of law, the despite its imperial baggage, and its ongoing associations, actually be mined to, because of its incredible take up and resonance with, with legal thinkers and policymakers, to prompt to stimulate governments in protecting animals instead of for example, with farm animals leaving it’s so much up to the industry as to what they’re going to do in terms of their industry norms. And so we think of societies that are governed by the rule of law. Why is it that so many animal use industries get to decide their own norms, we don’t have kind of more public norms about how animals are treated. So that’s another project I’m really excited about. And some publications are slowly trickling out for that. So but do you stay abreast on both I would encourage listeners to go to two websites. The first is my own. Everyone could find me at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law website. I also maintain another website, which is you know, online academic community. All three words all together online academic community dot u VI, c.ca/and. Then my name together Manisha DAKKA forsage. And the second website is also an online academic community that the Ubik University Victoria meeting. So again, this second one is online, academic community.uvek.ca, forward slash, A S, RI. And Asri stands for Animal Society Research Initiative. So this is a research initiative for which I’m, you know, it’s kind of a grassroots initiative of myself and other interested former students and alum and current students just researching critical animals, you know, studies, feminist animal studies issues on campus, we run lecture series, we’ve done like an Emerging Scholars programme, we run a newsletter. So if anyone would like to stay abreast of what animal society research initiative is doing, please join our newsletter. And certainly any of my projects get featured there as
Emilia Leese 38:13
fantastic. And we’ll make sure I’ll make sure that all of these links are up on the, on all the written materials and on the website and everything like that. So So listeners will be able to find them No problem. Thanks again, really appreciate your time. In this episode, we’ve explored how changing the classification of animals under the law could help shift our relationship not just with animals, but how we view our place in the world. anthropocentrism, or a human centred world in that classic pyramid image with man at the top isn’t sustainable. It never was. We need to do better and have a broader view of on how we can all thrive. And by all I mean all people, animals, plants and funghi. Next time, Professor Sherry Kolb will enlighten us on animal rights and reproductive rights. What are the moral considerations they share? And do they diverge? So, that’s it from me Emi Leese. Thank you for listening. I’ll post a transcript and due course along with links and references to the materials we’ve discussed today, on our website, think like a vegan.com. And the audio will also be available on Think like a vegan YouTube channel. Remember, you can get in touch by email at Think like a vegan email@example.com or find think like a vegan on most social media, or find me at Emmys good eating.com and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to this podcast, share it with others and leave us a review For our book, Think like a vegan it’s on bookshop.org or anywhere you buy books and on your favourite audio book platform to or ask your local library to carry it. Production credit goes to Jim Moore of bloody vegans productions. Music provided by Jenny Moore’s mystic business. The opening tune is flashbacks and we close with tear things up. Things when we go