And we’re back! Sorry for the lengthy absence; this was a hell of a summer, but everything should be smooth from here!
Commissioned essay for Shane DeNota-Hoffman
Where Animosity vol. 1 was about establishing animals as an oppressed but rising underclass, vol. 2 is much more about showing us the various ways in which humans and animals have adapted (or failed to adapt) to the new reality that, whatever form civilization is to take, it will necessarily contain both. Nowhere is this more clear than the lengthy guide at the back of the book that describes what is happening in all the states of the U.S. and DC, as well as many other countries around the world. The highlights here are the “horse lords” of Kansas, a ruthless regime ruled by a triumvirate of horses that dominates the state and is beginning to expand into neighboring states; the beloved elephant matriarch who rules much of North Africa in a seemingly benign, utopian dictatorship maintained by a secret alliance with mosquitoes that spread malaria to her enemies; the Mad Max biker gangs that rule Ethiopia, led by a hyena matriarch in a blood feud with the elephant; and the penguin microkingdoms that squabble over control of Antarctica.
All of these are postapocalyptic scenarios in which oppressed people claim power for themselves, which of course is the core concept of our equation of apocalypse and revolution. At the same time, they all show the core problem: to claim power is to become the oppressor. The horse lords create a traditional empire; the elephant something more utopian and the hyena something less organized, but they all end up creating regimes maintained through violence. The penguins fragment into many tiny kingdoms, but a kingdom is still a kingdom, maintained through coercive violence whether it governs a hundred people or a million.
Other scenarios abound. There are places where humans scheme to undo the Wake, which is in essence genocide against animals, and places where animals scheme genocide against humans; places where humans have driven out all animals and now face starvation; places where humans and animals work together to try to understand what’s happened; places where animals rule, or humans rule, or humans and animals cooperate.
All have their flaws, even cooperation.
Most obvious are the flaws in the human-animal cooperation that is the “dragon” cult Jesse and Sandor encounter in teh first couple of chapters of this volume. Humans in animal skins and animals in human skins, working together to devour any animal or human that enters their territory, led by a giant red acid-spitting vulture. It’s undeniably weird, and extremely comic-book-y, but it’s also readable as oppressor and oppressed teaming up–but only to declare themselves a new hegemonic power and begin literally feeding on every outsider they meet. The most prominent example of this in real life is probably large religious organizations of that invite people of many races to join–but as part of an Us that defines itself oppositionally to a Them, or a grand narrative that demands adherents try to assimilate all others into the group.
This then prepares us for the contrast of the more ecumenical group at the waterfall in Virginia. This group is friendly, open, and cooperative, inviting humans and animals alike to gather, rest, and discuss philosophy, religion, and news of what’s happening elsewhere in the world. At the same time, though, the leader is gently but unwaveringly insistent on his own religious interpretation rooted in Christian texts, reminding us that while “ecumenical” is frequently used as if it describes a cooperative venture of people of many different beliefs and worldviews, its dictionary definition refers to cooperation between multiple Christian churches, and in practice it generally means “multiple kinds of Protestants and maybe some Catholics if we’re feeling generous.” There is no violence here that we see, but there are still norms, still demands for a curretn kind of behavior and, even more, a certain kind of person.
Even given apocalypse and a chance to do better, are we doomed to keep making the same mistakes over and over?
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