The Psychopathology of Animal Extermination

The Psychopathology of Animal Extermination
Zipporah Weisberg

“Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of His Meat”
Sue Coe, 1990

Saturday, February 4, 2023, 10 AM-1 PM Eastern US Time

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The Psychopathology of Animal Extermination

In this seminar I will explore the relationship between animal extermination and human alienation, despair, and other psychopathologies. Building on Freud’s writings on repression and the early Frankfurt School’s integration of these insights into the critical theory of society, I suggest that the active participation and complicity in institutionalized atrocities against other animals has caused profound psychic damage to the human subject in late modernity. A society that systematically tortures and kills billions of creatures each year – the same creatures we idealize in storybooks, dote on at home, and glorify in our imaginations – is dangerously sick. 

For millennia, humans have been waging a war of extermination against other animals. Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have subjected other animals to heinous forms of physical, social, and psychological subjugation and violence, with the 21st century proving to be the most brutal so far. Every year around the world tens of billions of animals are systematically tortured and killed in factory farms and laboratories for human use and consumption. In circuses, rodeos, bullfights, and other forms of ‘entertainment,’ animals are horrifically abused, degraded, and humiliated for human pleasure, while captive animals in zoos are often driven insane by the unrelenting boredom, loneliness, and the stress of confinement. Human activity, including industrialized agriculture and fossil fuel consumption, has brought about the sixth mass extinction on earth and since 1970, wildlife populations have declined by almost 70%.

Although other animals clearly suffer the most egregious harms under this zoocidal system, human beings are also negatively impacted. People directly involved in mass killing at industrialized slaughterhouses, for example, often develop post-traumatic stress disorder and/or substance abuse issues, while researchers who subject other animals to painful experiments enable callous indifference to usurp any natural impulses towards fellow feeling they might otherwise have. Overall, humans’ commitment to animal extermination, which depends on the radical repression of human animality and on the active suppression of life-affirming tendencies such as care, kindness, and solicitude, compounds our self-estrangement under capitalism and has led to a host of collective neuroses and pathological tendencies including ambivalence, guilt, and misplaced aggression. 

Seminar Structure

Zipporah will present her argument in the first half of the seminar and open up the floor for questions and discussion in the second half. 

Facilitator. Zipporah Weisberg is an independent scholar, freelance editor, animal activist, and experimental dance video artist and performer currently living in Vienna, Austria. Her academic areas of specialization include critical animal studies, the critical theory of the early Frankfurt School, and existentialism and phenomenology. In 2013, Zipporah completed her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University in Toronto, Canada. From 2013-2015, Zipporah was the Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at Queen’s University under the supervision of Will Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy. Zipporah’s postdoctoral research focused on the ethics of biotechnology and the phenomenology of animal life. In March 2021, Zipporah was awarded a Culture and Animals Foundation grant for her project on animal agency in animal sanctuaries. Her artistic work is grounded in the absurdist tradition and theatre of cruelty, and deals primarily with themes of alienation, isolation, and aimlessness. Her creations contain elements of Butoh, a Japanese avant-garde dance form, and draw on the movement techniques and aesthetic universes introduced by Polish physical theatre innovators Jerzy Grotowski and Tadeusz Kantor.

Events are free/discounted for members of Incite Seminars. 
Become a member.



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