Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bodies and non-consumable justice

I had started out writing a blog entry on street violence and social justice, and I think that is an important topic that I hope to cover soon. Certainly it has been in the headlines a lot lately, given all the recent gun violence in particular, both right here in Toronto and also with the recent tragic theatre shooting in Colorado.

But it struck me that there was more to be said about the last entry's discussion, which has already ranged widely. Quoting Wedell Berry, Jennifer raised the question a few days ago, "are bodies understood as 'product[s], made delectably consumable'? And if so what are the devastating consequences of such an understanding?" Delectably consumable is quite a phrase, but I think it points to a deep problem we do face when it comes to conceptions of our bodies and other people's bodies. We spent some of the discussion in the last entry speaking indirectly about what happens when the environment is understand as something like delectably consumable. What about bodies, though?

Berry's quote rings true to a certain and current construction of culture, at least from what I have seen, and when we view our bodies as products instead of living, relational creatures, we put them in different categories that have as their goal not flourishing or living, but rather marketability. One can put a product on the market, get a fair price for it (or not) and turn a profit, or sustain a loss. While it is often used metaphorically, this language can also become a very real and painful reality in cases of human trafficking, where humans are quite literally the product being sold. (though in those cases, I would refuse to go near words like "fair price", since there is no price that can or should be put on humans) But there is an different and more subtle (though no less real, I deem) danger than openly or metaphorically putting prices on our bodies. If we think of our bodies as products, we put ourselves in the position of competing for a share of what the market can hold. Perhaps I put my product out only to find someone else has already put a newer, shinier product out. When bodies are that product, instead of recognizing the worth that we all have inherent to us, now my body appears to have little to no worth, and any worth it has it only has in a kind of competitive relationship to all the other bodies. When this happens, notions of justice get very unfortunately tied to these market relationships. The question becomes not "are human rights and dignity being respected" (or animal rights, or the question we faced last entry regarding environmental rights) but instead "are we getting a fair trade?" The mechanics and consequences around trading, marketing and economizing bodies, and whether it can allow for justice for humans is not itself examined. 

I wonder, hearing about the various recent violent episodes both here and elsewhere, whether there is an underlying connection. I know that with much street violence, problems such as poverty, hopelessness, and even other forms of economic disability are some of the root issues (so I am not poo-pooing economics itself as such; rather viewing our bodies as yet another commodity). But I wonder whether thinking of our bodies as a commodity also contributes to the problem of violence? It is much easier to dispose of or 'consume' a product than a person with a name and a life story. Additionally, justice surrounding a consumable product has to do not with the thing itself--I don't think it makes sense to talk about justice for my toothbrush--but with the people or creatures for whom the product is intended. It becomes consumable justice then; when the product is gone, or the trade is finished, isn't it true that other concerns take over? We, as living bodies however, need justice that is not consumable, that constitutes a real norm that doesn't go away. Even if we misconceive of our bodies as products, we are still living creatures, and the claim for justice remains. So my question for this week is whether my link between thinking of bodies as products in some way does contribute to a greater possibility for violence, given the catalysts of other root causes like poverty and hopelessness that I mentioned above?

(Note: as of Friday the 27th, I will be away from any computers for a few days (camping in a field), but I will be checking back in on the conversation shortly. Please feel free to continue leaving comments and discussing, and I will join back in as soon as I can find an internet connection, which should only be a few days. Talk with you all soon!)