Rites of the nomads: from animal rights to nomadic ethics

I recently presented at Earth Animal Communities – a conference organised by the Institute for Critical Animal Studies in Africa, of which I am a member. Here is the abstract of the paper I based the presentation on. The full paper is downloadable here.

In recent years ethical philosophy has taken up a sustained engagement with the ‘animal question’, exploring both the myriad ways in which we overlap and intersect with other animals and the consequences this has for us as beings ostensibly capable of ethical praxis.

To a large extent, however, this work has remained within the ambit of normative conceptions of morality, producing appeals to transcendental, a priori conceptions of rights and duties that are grounded in liberal Enlightenment-era assumptions around subjectivity, rationality and universality, and that result in sets of abstract rules, imperatives, obligations, permissions, principles, proscriptions and procedures – whether deontological or utilitarian – that in turn serve not to compel us to act as best we can but, rather than aiding us, Gilles Deleuze argues, in fact separate us from our full capacities for ethical and political thought and action. Although it has been more than a century since Nietzsche – whose ethics is reflected in much contemporary and diverse work, ranging from post-structuralism to speculative realist and anarchist theory – first contested the epistemological grounds required by the project of normative morality, this destabilization has not yet achieved its full impact, producing instead a profound sense of dis-ease around the loss of certainty coupled with charges of ‘moral relativism’ and nihilism.

In this essay I shall attempt to allay such concerns through an exploration of the consequences of post-Nietzschean ethics for questions concerning animals – both ourselves and others – and argue that the loss of this universal certainty, which I will critique through the lens of critical rights theory,  is in fact the starting point for an ethics and a politics worthy of the name. I shall focus primarily on Deleuze’s conception, reiterated by Rosi Braidotti, of ethics as a radical practice of inventiveness and creativity – of becoming-other-together (without having to posit an always-transcendent Other) through the construction and conjugation of new arrangements of beings – events that pose new problems from which ethics can emerge.

Full paper available from Academia.edu