How do we move from thinking about bodies in our world to feeling and standing with those bodies?
I am always scratching around the edges for imaginative visions and practices that widen the boundaries of who is in or out of our communities of concern. The goal is to undermine systematic violence toward excluded populations—the creepers and crawlers, the hoofed and winged, the not-recognizeable-enoughs who knock on our frameworks impatiently.
In an experiential universe of provocative and responsive entities, Life Insists. Bodies resist capture in cages and concepts; they demand to be given their due; they persistently co-shape our possible futures between what is and what yet might be.
On this hinge of decision, life indeed has a cost, and hierarchies of the past and present lurk everywhere. But admitting these facts need not resign us to tragic necessity. Quite the opposite! These necessary affirmations are just the start of minimizing that price, imagining futures with less loss, and shaking up the structures that define winners and losers at the outset. In short, the responsive work of ethics.
And we are all in the ethical stew together! So we have to stir up and create concepts that imagine futures of less loss, that widen the boundaries of who is in or out of our communities of care, looking for ways around old prejudices, biases, and habits. Second, we engage in personal, social, and institutional activities that can bring these futures to reality bit by bit.
One of the most important tasks is to critically examine the foundational assumptions we hold about what life counts and what life is passive, subordinate, or disposable—whether in religious, political, or scientific narratives, whether theological or secular—and doggedly engage their merit. We must put these implicit assumptions squarely on the table if we hope to alter them, and no discipline, art, law, or habit is off limits.
In this work, I have found friendship with many dissonant world visions that, in some way, strive toward these aims amid the inconsistencies of practice: Jainism's nonharm to all life forms, Sikhism's political fearlessness, the peace church witness against state violence, deconstructive thinkers, A. N. Whitehead's claim that reality creates itself in constant process, numerous critical/animal theorists, as well as poets and artists who reflect ourselves and our worlds back to us, maintaining the knife edge of grief/goodness, pain/beauty.
I live toward the creative adventure of a plant-based life, and work to illuminate the suffering of creatures—as well as examples of their joy and freedom—the damage to ecosystems, as well as the complex entanglements of workers amid the border-crossing web of industrial agriculture and other contemporary bioethical issues.
Some writings can be found here, and curated events and exhibits here.
I research and work with Vegan Outreach, have taught philosophy and religious studies at Claremont School of Theology and Monmouth College and currently serve as The Bhagwaan Mahavir/Chao Family Postdoctoral Fellow in Jain Studies at Rice University. I am most at home playing guitar, contra dancing, or hiking with my beagle pals.
Photo header: Seed Corn Harvest: (In)edible Paradox, Monmouth, IL Fall 2015; B. Donaldson