Ecce Canis

Towards a Philosophical History of Dogs

Justin E. H. Smith

6a00d8341c562c53ef0120a62ddc6f970c-500wi What is it about the dogs? In recent philosophy everyone from John Searle to Donna Haraway has had something to say about them. And recent philosophy, as I never tire of insisting, is nothing new.

Now I have also been insisting for some time that there is no such animal as 'animals'. That is, when it is discovered, for example, that a chimpanzee in a zoo in Sweden is stockpiling stones to be thrown at a later hour, this does not prove, as the popular media would claim, that 'animals' are capable of conceptualizing and planning for the future. What a chimpanzee does says nothing at all about 'animals', but at most something about chimpanzees, and likely only about some chimpanzees, or indeed only one of them. Animals, I mean to say, need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Haraway, to her credit, recognizes this. Her take on the special case of dogs issues in the somewhat cryptic claim that “we have never been human” (a riff, I think, on Bruno Latour's We Have Never Been Modern). I understand this to mean that, for as long as there have been humans, the denotation of 'we' has never been understood to include all and only members of our species. It also includes dogs: we and they have co-evolved, and in a certain sense this puts our species closer to Canis lupus familiaris than to Pan troglodytes, not with respect to the tracing back of common ancestors, but with respect to recent history, the history of the past 15,000 years or so, the history that lingers in both of our memories, in which humans have been exercising intense selective pressure on dogs, and perhaps also dogs on humans. The result is that we have come out more like each other, behaviorally and expressively, than we are to either of our nearest cousins: the grey wolf in the case of dogs, and chimpanzees in the case of humans. The wolf is the dog's closest ancestor, but this implies no solidarity. Quite the contrary: the dogs are on our side.

Read more »

The Abode of the Righteous

By Aditya Dev Sood

The Buddha of the Airport As we walk off the tarmac, the moon shines full and bright, lending the dark clouds of night a blue-black shimmer, a haunting presence. I hope this is an auspicious welcome to Bihar, the heart of that other India, which is not shining with the glow of liberalization and globalization of the past two decades. I’m here to set up fieldwork for a healthcare initiative in several rural districts of the state.

I get into the white Ambassador that has been assigned to me. The driver heats his engine for a bit, before coaxing it fully to life. kaun hotal chalaile? who hotel I get-go ya, he asks me, as we turn out of the airport parking lot. The language seems sweet, pleasing to my ears and easily disarms the gruff and combative khadi-boli attitude that I bring with me from Delhi. As we pull up to the ITDC hotel, my driver gestures to me to be careful in opening my door, lest I disturb the several women in their finery, who are even now getting out of a Maruti van and making their entrance into the hotel. The moment is striking for the sublime attunement that many Biharis seem to exhibit, towards one another’s consocial wellbeing. It is as if they have all known one another in generations past, which, in fact is true, given the long and continuous record of civilization in this region.

The word Bihar derives from vihara, monastery, truncated from brahmavihara, literally ‘an abode for the righteous, the benevolent, the kind.’ Bihar was the first monastic state, of which the Buddhist polities of Tibet, Sri Lanka and Thailand are contemporary, perhaps vestigial, examples. The region was once crosscut by a network of vihara-s, which provided religious, educational, health, and other social services to the laity around them. They served as an essential social and institutional infrastructure for the region’s ancient empires, the least of their functions having been the provision of hospitality for pilgrims, traders and visitors on official business to any local region.

My own hotel looks a mausoleum dating from the only India that existed in my childhood: white marble floors, shahi korma, and behind the reception, the time in New York, London and Osaka. If all this looks like the past to me, here in Bihar these State-run hotels might represent something like order and stability. Later in the night there are people whistling and chatting up and down the hallways and then, more ominously, people yelling incessantly, for over an hour, as if at a construction site. Sir, ve bhi guest hain, aap samajh lijiye hamari position. That the management cannot maintain decorum among its guests seems part of a larger problem abroad in the land.

Read more »

My Life As An Observer: Target Practice – Part 1

Note: The following is a true story, but the names of certain individuals, and other identifying details, have been changed.

A bullet through the head

The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college was the first of two six-week training programs at the Marines Corps officer training base at Quantico, Virginia. The second six-week training program, in the Marine Platoon Leader Class (PLC), is completed the following summer before graduation and acceptance of a commission in the USMC. The fourth week of my first summer was my first live fire training, which begins on the 100 yard rifle range. The Marine Corps takes rifle marksmanship far more seriously than any of the other three branches of the military. Every Marine officer must qualify each year as a rifleman. Failing to do so, the officer must write a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps and explain the unacceptable marksmanship. Coming to the attention of the top officer of the Corps would be auspicious, except for failure as a rifleman. The officer is expected to do whatever is necessary to re-qualify as soon as possible.


My training weapon was the M14, a redesign and upgrade of the WWII M1 Garand rifle. The most obvious difference was that the M14 was fitted with a bottom loading magazine that held up to 20 rounds. It was also modified to allow the rifleman to fire in fully automatic mode like a machine gun, BRRRRRRRRRRRT, with the flick of a selection lever. Otherwise, it was fired in semiautomatic mode like the M1. You squeezed the trigger once and fired one round at a time. 3qd_m14_rifle_001 One squeeze, one shot. With the firing of each round the spent cartridge shell was ejected, automatically, the next bullet was loaded into the firing chamber, and the weapon was ready for another squeeze of the trigger. The M14 rifle was designed to fire the 7.62 mm (30 caliber) ammunition that was standardized for all of the NATO countries. Another improvement was fitting a bi-pod under the rifle barrel for more stability when firing from a prone position.

Read more »

Clausewitz as Educator

Photo_1225_landscape_large Willis G. Regier in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Vegetius, a Roman writer of the fourth century AD, said, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” Carl von Clausewitz sharpened the point: “The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously, but not provide an excuse for gradually blunting our swords in the name of humanity. Sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms.” Darfur has made clear that that is not just a metaphor.

Clausewitz (1780-1831) studied total war. Although he knew nothing of tanks, air forces, or satellite communications, he knew from combat how wars kill, confuse, and terrify. In war studies, expertise matters enormously; he had plenty.

At the age of 12, Clausewitz joined two brothers as cadets in the Prussian army. (Eventually all three became generals.) He fought for Prussia against Napoleon at Jena, was captured, taken to Paris, exchanged, and returned to duty. When Prussia was intimidated into joining Napoleon for his disastrous 1812 campaign, Clausewitz resigned his commission and fought for the czar. In 1815, again with the Prussian army, he fought at Ligny. In 1818 he became director of the Military Academy in Berlin, where he devoted the last 15 years of his life to scholarship. His major work, On War (three volumes of Vom Kriege were published, from 1832 to 1843), was left unfinished at his death.

On War has become something of a classic, often cited, discussed in numerous recent books, seen in the company of Sun Tzu’s Art of War (thought to be circa fourth century BC), and studied in military academies. On War appeals to anyone who wants to see how a general thinks, and to all who suppose that warcraft applies to an office, company, college, or team. Clausewitz himself compared war with commerce and alliances with “a business deal.”

Sunday Poem

Veronica’s face is not like the face on the veil.
It has seen much suffering but it does not wear

last judgment or a crown of thorns. I have seen blood

on her uniform (which happens to be violet today

but is often white), sometimes fresh splashes of it

leaked from an IV or, barely visible, dry specks.

I have observed firsthand her unflinching kindness,

and I have thanked any and all the gods for her,

and I have wondered at her ability to bear

so many crucifixions all at once.

Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Photoquai 2009


Photoquai_2009_10 Photoquai, the biennial festival of photography based in Paris, was founded in 2007. Dedicated to non-western photography, the festival aims to to raise the international profile of artists previously unexhibited or little-known in Europe. It also aims to foster cultural exchange — and the vibrant interchange of different world views.

This year, the Guest of Honor at Photoquai is Iran. The festival has been directed by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, an Iranian gallerist and founder of the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, a space specifically dedicated to photography.

Etehadieh has organised an intriguing exhibition, focusing on the themes of politics, society and poetry, and featuring the work of 50 contemporary photographers from around the world.

More here.

Evolution All Around

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH The Evidence for Evolution

By Richard Dawkins

Wade-600 Dawkins invites the reader to share the frustration of an imaginary history teacher, some of whose students refuse to accept that the Roman Empire ever existed, or that Latin is the mother tongue from which the Romance languages evolved. Instead of concentrating on how Western culture emerged from the institutions of the Roman state, the teacher must spend time combating a school board that insists he give equal time to their alternative view that French has been spoken from time immemorial and that Caesar never came or saw or conquered. This is exactly analogous to the plight of the biology teacher trying to acquaint students with the richness of modern biology in states where fundamentalist opponents of evolution hold sway.

Dawkins has a nice sense of irony, deployed without mercy on the opponents of evolution. If the creationists think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, rather than 4.6 billion, he asks, shouldn’t they assume, by the same measure, that North America is less than 10 yards wide? The book is even more enjoyable when Dawkins forgets the creationists and launches into evolutionary explanations, whether of the hippopotamus’s long-lost cousin the whale, or of the long-tongued moth that Darwin predicted must exist to pollinate a Madagascan orchid with a nectary 11 inches in length. He gives striking examples of “unintelligent design,” forced on evolution because it cannot ever start from scratch but must develop new structures from older ones.

Picture: The dancing sifaka lemur of Madagascar, which Richard Dawkins calls “possibly my favorite species in all the world.”

More here.

Abstraction has its place in science as it does in art

Roald Hoffmann in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 11 10.30 Although abstract art has been with us for only about 100 years, sometimes it seems that there are more abstract-art movements than there are scientific “-ologies.” The list begins with cubism, and will not end with postmodern painting. Recognizing that there are degrees of the abstract, my perception of the essence of this artistic direction involves several factors.

First of all, abstraction is oppositional, wanting to be seen as alternative to such ideals as naturalistic representation and the figurative. I will not say “alternative to reality,” for (to paraphrase Magritte) the two-dimensional surface of the most photorealist painting still is not its subject. Not unexpectedly, much theory of the abstract disclaims a definition by opposition. Art desires a broader conception of what stirs the imagination…

To be abstract, chemistry might thus have to be oppositional. But opposed to what?

More here.

Americana That Barack Obama Has Made Un-American

John Cook at Gawker:

It's been getting kind of confusing keeping track of what's truly American anymore, so we came up with a handy list of things that are socialist and foreign because Barack Obama has soiled them, by doing them.

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize
Used to be a win for America back when Henry Kissinger won it. Now it's a sign of a “weakened, neutered U.S.,” unless John McCain had won it, which he should have, in which case it would have been awesome.

Bo is a ringer, a fake rescue dog who was personally raised by Ted Kennedy for the Obamas and the press won't look into it because they're too busy writing about how cute he is. And he's Portuguese!

That's where kids get indoctrinated. Keep them away.

Community Organizing
What sort of person helps other people?

More here.

Social Science for Public Knowledge

Craig Calhoun in Transformations of the Public Sphere:

Cc Public engagement was a strong feature of the social sciences from their birth. Could one imagine Hobbes, Locke or the Scottish moralists as mere academics? Weber, Durkheim, and the great Chicago School sociologists had university jobs but both public concerns and public audiences. Social scientists today contribute to public understanding of issues from social inequality to transformations of the family. They also inform public policy on problems from educational reform to economic productivity. But since World War II, dramatic growth in universities and research institutions not only created opportunities for social scientists, it contained much of their communication inside the academy. An ideology that opposed academic professionalism to public engagement and a prestige hierarchy that favored allegedly pure science over applied added to the tendency.[1]

Today there are widespread calls for more public social science. Academics have recognized the problems that come from being too much cut off from public discussion. But two questions arise. First, what is the relationship between effective participation in public discourse and the maintenance of more or less autonomous academic fields with their own standards of judgment and intellectual agendas? Second, what is the relationship between “public intellectual” work, informing broad discussions among citizens, and “policy intellectual” work informing business or government decision makers?

More here.

War and Peace

Alexander-Cockburn Alexander Cockburn in Counterpunch:

I suppose we should not begrudge Barack Obama his Nobel Peace Prize, though it represents a radical break in tradition, since he’s only had slightly less than nine months to discharge his imperial duties, most concretely through the agency of high explosives in the Hindu Kush whereas laureates like Henry Kissinger had been diligently slaughtering people across the world for years.

Woodrow Wilson, the liberal imperialist with whom Obama bears some marked affinities, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, having brought America into the carnage of the First World War. The peace laureate president who preceded him was Teddy Roosevelt, who got the prize in 1906 as reward for sponsorship of the Spanish-American war and ardent bloodletting in the Philippines. Senator George Hoar’s famous denunciation of Roosevelt on the floor of the US Senate in May of 1902 was probably what alerted the Nobel Committee to Roosevelt’s eligibility for the Peace Prize:

“You have sacrificed nearly ten thousand American lives—the flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of the people you desire to benefit. You have established reconcentration camps. Your generals are coming home from their harvest bringing sheaves with them, in the shape of other thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind. You make the American flag in the eyes of a numerous people the emblem of sacrilege in Christian churches, and of the burning of human dwellings, and of the horror of the water torture.”

TR was given the peace prize not long after he’d displayed his boundless compassion for humanity by sponsoring an exhibition of Filipino “monkey men” in the 1904 St Louis World Fair as “the missing link” in the evolution of Man from ape to Aryan, and thus in sore need of assimilation, forcible if necessary, to the American way. On receipt of the prize, Roosevelt promptly dispatched the Great White Fleet (sixteen U.S. Navy ships of the Atlantic Fleet including four battleships) on a worldwide tour to display Uncle Sam’s imperial credentials, anticipating by scarce more than a century, Obama’s award, as he prepares to impose Pax Americana on the Hindukush and portions of Pakistan.