Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

where’s the line? the body? December 23, 2009

What if special lines aren’t definite? If legally only humans get recognized as persons at what point do we decide who gets counted as human? It seems so self evident, but a lot of things seem self-evident at first. I don’t think that the body is a reliable site for placing beings into humanity or animality.


Kissing Cousins


Homo Erectus

Imagine if hominid megafauna still exist in pockets of wilderness.


Cat Man, "Me, I'm a tiger all the time and I love it."

Lizard Man, "...body based art piece that would explore the idea of what it means to be human from a linguistic standpoint."

Image from Anthrocon


How much machine are we allowed to have and still count as human?



Cyborg Teeth — Bluetooth



Human Ear, Mouse Subjectivity


We grow pigs with human hearts that pump human blood.

Genetic External Harddrive?


Scientists create first successful human-animal chimera, then destroy the embryo.


Not to be beaten, other scientists race to fuse human dna with sheep and cows.



The body isn’t a site for determining whether or not a being is human. Our eyes could fool us, even genetics can’t objectively decide whether or not a being is “human.” How can a being be 15% human (the sheep/human hybrids)? What does that mean? That they are 15% of a person? If I replace all of my body parts one by one at which point do I go from human to animal (or machine) (Hmmm… I seem to be channeling a lot of Haraway lately). What does it mean for a human being to discover that they are actually another sort of creature?

How does a Linnaean view of living things limit the ways we look at animals?

I posit that the category of species is just as socially constructed as race and sex.


8 Responses to “where’s the line? the body?”

  1. Humanimal Says:

    It would seem that ‘human’ is a threshold concept with several criteria. Off the top of my head, the following criteria seem important: looking like a human, acting like a human (personhood), being built like a human (being birthed and having our DNA). The more that a being fulfills each and all of these criteria, the more likely they will be considered human. So yes, it’s a fuzzy concept whose boundaries have been redrawn many times.

    That being said, I’d disagree that “[t]he body isn’t a site for determining whether or not a being is human.” The body is not the only site for making this determination, but it does seem to matter. I would need some convincing to consider a disembodied alien mind as human.

    Some of the territory you’re exploring is a variant of the Sorites paradox. This paradox arises because most of our concepts (including the concept of human) are vague. I don’t think the concept of ‘human’ is significantly more vague or illegitimate than any other commonplace concepts we use without difficulty.

    P.S. – I’ve got a book recommendation for you: Erica Fudge’s “Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, And Humanity in Early Modern England” (2006). It seems right up your alley.

    • Royce Says:

      I would agree that the ligns are redrawn constantly… we can’t even agree on what it means to act like a human (feral children, the insane), look like a human (how long for people of color to be counted as homo sapiens?, and then there are atavisms and genetic anomalies), or being built like a human (how much of our dna does a baby need to be human, what does it mean to be birthed like a human?)

      Humanness seems to me to be like race or gender. It’s self-evident because we know what it it is. I know a human when I see it, like a know a white person when I see them, like a know a man when I see one. Regardless of how wrong I may be.

      I may not have convinced you about the body, but I wonder if you and I are human, or if we have human bodies.

      I’ll definitely look into that book, thanks.

  2. Humanimal Says:

    Ok, let’s continue the conversation. While I’m sympathetic to your position, I think it deserves more scrutiny.

    You concluded your original post by arguing that race and sex are socially constructed and that humanity (or perhaps species more generally) is similarly constructed. Good evidence suggests that there are no innate biological differences that separate humanity into the socially recognized racial groups, but that’s not the same thing as saying that no biological differences exist between those groups. (For more on this point, see chapter 13 in “Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance”.) With slight modification, the same can be said of sex. While these are not essentialist categories, they do have a biological, and thusly corporeal, basis. The same can be said of ‘humanity’. There’s something real and useful about the classical concept of species as a breeding population capable of producing fertile offspring.

    I interpret the subtext of your post as follows: “The concept of ‘the human’ as distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom and the natural world is fundamental to our devaluation and exploitation of the non-human. If we dismantle that concept, then our exploitative attitudes and practices will be denaturalized and deligitimized.” If that’s what you believe, then we’re on common ground; however, I don’t think the recognition of humanity as a valid category inevitably supports the exploitation of other species. Recognizing that we are different is not the same as claiming that we’re superior. Dismantling ‘humanity’ might be a fair price for ending non-human exploitation, but there are other options.

    I think the most practical option is to lessen the moral distance between humans and non-humans while still recognizing the myriad differences between these groups. That is precisely what pro-animal philosophers in the analytic tradition have been doing for nearly 40 years. What do you think?

    • Royce Says:

      I don’t believe I ever said that there are not biological differences between any groups. I merely stated that the groups are socially constructed. There is a biological difference between me and every other being on the planet, the social constructions are how those things are grouped.

      You got close enough to my subtext— though really it was more of a game of “what if” and “why.” Race has generally been been dismantled, and yet we still have racism. I have little faith in the dismantling of concepts on its own as producing any material change in oppression.

      I don’t think the label of humanity necessarily supports the exploitation of other beings. I also never said we weren’t different from other animals— that would be ridiculous. I merely think we are as different from a squirrel as a squirrel is from a whale.

      • Humanimal Says:

        My apologies. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. Your denial of the body as a site of ‘humanity’ seemed to imply a denial of its biological basis. And if one dismantles the concept that underlies “we”, how can “we” be different from other animals?

        In any case, thanks for the dialogue and keep up the good work.

  3. […] Where’s the line? The body? […]

  4. […] time pointing to one single criteria which marks an embryo as “human” (what is “human,” anyway?) and thus deserving of basic human rights. Sentience – the ability to feel […]

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