I have written previously (though not well) on Australian ecofeminist activist and intellectual Val Plumwood’s 1994 Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. She offers a theorizing historical examination on the subject of ecofeminism which exemplifies a startlingly brilliant feminist logic. Her brilliantly lucid critique of Western ethics is a consistently theorized and tightly-written examination of just how deeply the philosophical roots justifying Western domination of nature run, and how thoroughly the careless assumptions of mastery are woven through the resultant positivist perspective. The author initially traces this standpoint of mastery — the perspective which identifies Self through oppositional creation of a lesser Other — to Enlightenment thinking. However, she digs deeper than Descartes’ simplistic separation of body and mind, pointing to Plato’s body- and nature-hostile “philosophy of death” (69) as a prime initiator of the dualism which encourages the mechanistic scientific paradigm which is the direct cause of the environmental crises we currently face. Fascinatingly, Plumwood subjects dualism to a sophisticated logical analysis, establishing its characteristics as a denial by the master group of any dependence on or benefit from the other, viewing the other as merely a tool for use, and assuming members of the other are not simply utterly homogenous but also completely unlike the master group. It is this philosophical methodology which Plumwood believes allows the masculinist narrative of mastery to background, dominate, and subjugate both nature and woman — historically the Other — as well as current “others” involving race and class.
The author’s intellectual and academic rigor provides an intriguingly complex examination of Western philosophy’s centering and universalizing of man while simultaneously discounting both woman and nature, thereby rendering them insignificant and inferior and justifying their ensuing exploitation. As Plumwood warns, this so-called civilized master narrative “must end either with the death of the other on whom he relies, and therefore with his own death, or with the abandonment of mastery, his failure and transformation” (195). Only through abandonment of the interlocking oppressions of dualism, she writes, can we implement a socially just ethics based in empathy for the other — an ecological responsibility which both recognizes and respects the similarities and differences between human and nature, subject and object.
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Professor and scientist Temple Grandin is another who attempts to speak for those who cannot. A celebrated autistic, she strongly embodies the ethical dilemma faced by those who, seeing the interrelatedness of all the earth’s creatures, seek to change the modern livestock handling and meat industry from within. While I suspect she would not refer to herself as an ecofeminist, she has nevertheless championed animal welfare causes. For example, she repeatedly emphasizes in her several books that we lose respect for ourselves when we lose respect for animals, and helps explain animal behavior through her understanding that her visual thinking as an autistic is similar to how animals think and feel.
Grandin’s 2008 book Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding Livestock Behavior & Building Facilities for Healthier Animals is a recent effort to improve both our treatment of livestock, and their quality of life, through understanding of their needs and feelings. She also honestly and poignantly relates her ethical struggles and mixed emotions in this personal campaign. For example, she notes her pride in completing the design for a good restrainer system for holding cattle as they die, explaining that “you have to really care about the animals it will hold . . . you have to respect its [the animal’s] every breath, even the last” — and yet after she was done she also found herself weeping uncontrollably (207). However, Grandin also recognizes that her target audience will most consciously search for improved return on investment rather than, say, ecofeminist prose. Thus, throughout the book Grandin underlines the financial wisdom of her exploration of both animal handling techniques and various types of livestock management facilities. She emphasizes keeping animals calm and unafraid — because calm animals produce higher quantities of better quality meat; stay healthier and do not injure themselves, each other, or handlers; do not destroy the facilities, etc. However, she also never misses an opportunity to unobtrusively teach that actually caring about the animals in our custody, such that we ensure a good and low-stress life for them, is simply the right thing to do.