How much of what we understand of ourselves as “human” depends on our physical and mental abilities—how we move (or cannot move) in and interact with the world? And how much of our definition of “human” depends on its difference from “animal”? Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, a disability activist, and an animal advocate, author Sunaura Taylor persuades us to think deeply, and sometimes uncomfortably, about what divides the human from the animal, the disabled from the nondisabled—and what it might mean to break down those divisions, to claim the animal and the vulnerable in ourselves, in a process she calls “cripping animal ethics.” Beasts of Burden suggests that issues of disability and animal justice—which have heretofore primarily been presented in opposition—are in fact deeply entangled. Fusing philosophy, memoir, science, and the radical truths these disciplines can bring—whether about factory farming, disability oppression, or our assumptions of human superiority over animals—Taylor draws attention to new worlds of experience and empathy that can open up important avenues of solidarity across species and ability. Beasts of Burden is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written work, both philosophical and personal, by a brilliant new voice.
Comment: In this excerpt from her book, Beasts of Burden, Taylor resists the way that animals and intellectual disabled people are often framed in terms of one another. She argues that this does a disservice to both groups. Animals are not voiceless, as they are often constructed. And their comparison to disabled people in the (in)famous argument from marginal cases should not be accepted. Perhaps most importantly, the argument opens for discussion the worth of disabled people’s lives. But this is not something that should be open for discussion, especially given the marginalization of disabled people.