Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Elephant Car Wash In Winston, Oregon? Really? What Does That Say About Capitalism And Nature?

According to an e-mail petition effort, Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon is forcing their elephants to wash visitors' cars.They make the elephants fill their trunks with soapy water, spray the cars, and then sponge them down, says the petition. Wildlife Safari makes $25 for the work. The photo above comes from the petition.

The petition also says that "the elephants would not do this without being tortured into submission by bull hooks" and says that this can be seen in the pictures and videos taken by visitors.

Outside of the damage done to these elephants and the cruelty and exploitation involved, we have the question of our relationship to animals. Socialists struggle with understanding and explaining this relationship. Joseph Fracchia recently wrote a difficult to understand but important essay on this topic for Monthly Review.

From Fracchia:  

In 1845, in a comment that can retrospectively be taken as an anticipation of Darwin, Marx noted, “We recognize only one single Wissenschaft [field of study], the Wissenschaft of history. History can be observed from two sides, it can be divided into the history of nature and the history of human beings. Both sides are however inseparable; as long as human beings exist, the history of nature and the history of human beings mutually condition [bedingen] each other.” Having thus established a unity in difference of the natural and social/human sciences, Marx greeted the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 as “the book that contains the natural historical basis for our view.” Marx did object to Darwin’s excessive reliance on the Malthusian notion of the “struggle for survival.” He was also amused that Darwin discovered “among the beasts and plants” a mirror of the struggle for economic survival in the existing capitalist society. He found Darwin’s “English writing style” rather “crude.” But Marx was nevertheless convinced that Darwin had made possible the bridging of the gap between a materialist conception of human “natural history” and a materialist conception of human history, creating the possibility for the development of a single Wissenschaft with two distinct, but corporeally related dimensions.

The affinities between Darwin’s conception of natural history and Marx’s conception of history lie in their unabashedly materialist focus on corporeal organization. As the foundation of peculiarly human modes of objectification, human corporeal organization can thus be conceived as the mid-point and link between the two dimensions of history—pointing both “backward” toward the natural history of its evolution, and also forward to the worlds that humans have made for themselves with this corporeal organization. Students of paleoanthropology disagree, often vehemently, in their explanations of human origins—whether the key element in human evolution was bipedality, the opposable thumb, toolmaking, the sharing of food and sociability, the larger brain, or language and culture. Nevertheless, they all focus on the emergence of the uniquely human corporeal organization; and they all recognize the evolved human body as the source of Homo sapiens' unique social and cultural capacities. The emergence of human corporeal organization is at once the last fact of human natural history and the first fact of historical materialism, that approaches human histories “up from the body.”

I think that what Fracchia is saying is that we accept without much thought that we are different from animals, but that we mistake what these differences consist of, and that we need to be about the work of looking at physicality differently than we do---from a scientific and revolutionary-class based position rather than one which starts from what seems most apparent and is centered on exchange-value, differences and exploitation. If we consider ourselves as apart from the world of other animals we are saying that we are alienated from the world. If we include ourselves in that world, and find our place in it, then every relationship changes. No more elephants washing cars. If you wouldn't make your grandmother do it, you shouldn't make an elephant do it.

Even if I'm getting Fracchia wrong, my point is valid. People who find elephants being forced to wash cars amusing or interesting either aren't thinking things through or are accepting a form of alienation basic to capitalism and one which despoils and exploits the environment.

I'm assuming that the petitioner got her facts right and that Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon has the elephant carwash going. Whether that is happening as described or not, the point remains that a socialist society---a society based on cooperation, shared social responsibilities, equality, collective ownership and environmentalism---would not allow such a thing, and that this would be based on a holistic view of our natural world.

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