In the course of our current wars in Afghanistan and (especially) Iraq, I’ve noticed that folks like Bush and Rumsfeld have been pilloried in hindsight for their alleged belief that the people in those places would embrace both American liberators and Western-style political approaches. On the one hand, I suspect that there is serious oversimplification at work in the characterizations of Bush and Rumsfeld there. However, it must be noted that there is a tendency to project our own ways of thinking upon cultures and people who may operate in very different manners, and that’s a dangerous habit.
All this brings me to an interesting article at Reason. Historian Thaddeus Russell begins with Jason Hribal’s new book, which suggests that animals who rebel against trainers, zookeepers, and the like are in fact revolutionaries of a sort, furry Nat Turners in the cause of animal rights. But Russell’s article explores an interesting issue:
[Hribal’s] claims of knowing the thoughts of animals are no more arrogant or absurd than the claims countless academics and activists continue to make about the consciousness of people whose ideas are also inaccessible.
This is ground that has been covered (as Russell notes) by Gayatri Spivak, who argues that much of postcolonial studies have been marked by the same projection of a scholar’s values/wishes, but Russell adds that things may go even farther than that. It’s worth a read.