Keyword: Life

What do you have in mind if I ask you to picture a life with other beings, other lives? The anthropologist Eduardo Kohn invites us to envision a harmonious life within nature, not just with humans but with other forms of life, in his essay, animals. The obvious question is then, what is an animal? Can we differ human from animal? Let me rephrase, if animal is non-human, is human non-animal? Kohn attacks the dualistic tradition of the sharp divide between human and animal that human is non-animal; such dualism essentially hampers the endeavor of the conceptualization of living with other beings in nature. What I find interesting in Kohn’s argument is first, his take on the problem with language. Leading with Ferdinand de Saussure (1959), many have taken language as distinctively human as well as treating “the human linguistic sign as the prime example of what a sign is”. On the one hand, it would be reckless to conclude that only human has language; on the other hand, it is difficult to imagine the non-human language as a human. That is, such grounding in de Saussure’s line of thought, obscures “many other distinctive properties of nonlinguistic semiosis” leading human to “a dualistic prison house with no idea of how to get back in the world without jettisoning the sign altogether” (Kohn, 214). 

Further, when thinking about life, we often take life as the opposite of death, but is it? To really see life as it is, Kohn suggests that we must include death as part of life to complete the picture; “For all living involves killing: our forebears must die to make room for us to live; we have survived thanks to the deaths of others; and all of our food, even our vegetables, are living selves”( Kohn, 213). All forms of life are takers in nature; that is to say, nothing can be alive without taking something from others for it is the law of nature. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the killing between human and non-human is not problematic by itself for it is in line with the law of nature. So then, I ask, how did this natural kind of killing become unjustifiable? 

One thought on “Keyword: Life

  1. Carrie Hintz

    Ying, I appreciate this post not only for its brilliant engagement with this keyword, but for its brave willingness to ask some tough questions! CH

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