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67 FOUR Scarce Resources? Levinas, Animals, and the Environment DianePerpich But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. —Job 12:7 What haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy, I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. —Werner Herzog, spoken in the 2005 documentary, GrizzlyMan Readers have persistently noted the absence of animal others in Levinas’s philosophy. They have worried about the humanism and anthropocentrism of his ethics. They have suggested that what concern for the environment is conveyed by his works is at most an interest in stewardship of the natural world for the sake of human ends rather than a direct ethical concern with nature or ecosystems. In effect, it seems to many that Levinas, that quintessential thinker of alterity and ethics, was relatively uninterested in the alterity of animals and of the possibility of ethical claims coming from the natural environment. His work, it would seem, provides us with but scarce resources for thinking ethical alterity outside of an anthropocentric framework. This chapter does not challenge that suggestion outright. 68 Diane Perpich Indeed, a search of Levinas’s writings and interviews uncovers neither an assurance that animals have a face nor the conviction that they do not. All one finds, again and again, is his uncertainty and hesitation on this issue. Taking into consideration, on the one side, those who criticize Levinas for failing to recognize nonhuman others and, on the other, those who find in his work positive (if still limited) resources for an ecological ethical stance, this chapter argues against both sides that, claiming that they rest on a shared misconception about the face of the other and the manner of its commands, and that they thus overlook the possibility that the best way to think about a Levinasian response to environmental issues is not to ask about an environmental or animal ethics but to think about these issues in the register of what Levinas calls politics. The question of how to understand the force of what Levinas calls the face is central to the issue of “Levinas and animals” or “Levinas and the environment.” For example, some critics maintain that there is no way to extend the notion of the face to nonhuman animals or the environment, and they thus worry that there can be no obligation or responsibility in the Levinasian sense for animals or plant habitats . In accordance with this view is another that suspects Levinas’s thought of being irredeemably humanist and anthropocentric and thus seriously limited for projects that want to extend moral consideration beyond the human. Other readers, even as they acknowledge the limitations of Levinas’s own thinking on these issues, suggest that an extension of the notion of the face may indeed be possible, but only if we take Levinas’s thought beyond the borders in which the author himself seems to have kept it. For both kinds of readers, however , the working premise is the same. Roughly put, they suggest that without an encounter with animals or the environment face-to-face, there can be no responsibility for the nonhuman other. For this reason , it is crucial for these accounts to know who can face me or with whom or what I can be face-to-face, and this is, indeed, the principle question they raise. In what follows, the discussion turns first to a set of criticisms advanced by John Llewelyn, David Wood, Jacques Derrida, and others who worry about the humanism and anthropocentrism of Levinas’s account, generally following the first path described above. The essay then looks to the work of Edward Casey and Alphonso Lingis for two Scarce Resources? 69 accounts that, still deeply critical of Levinas, nonetheless appropriate a recognizably Levinasian ethics in the name of environmental concerns. Finally, I argue for viewing these same issues as political questions in Levinas’s sense and suggest that they can be treated as ethical ones only so long as we cling to the misunderstanding that the face is a cause of obligation. Relying on the account of the face I have defended elsewhere,1 I suggest that the face does not create value nor is it the recognition of a value. To think of the face as something that has value, or to think of the other who faces me as asserting...


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