Bear Life: Rhetorics of Terror and Global Warming

Isaac Vayo
Defiance College

[1] In September 2009, shortly before the eighth anniversary of 9/11, an ad created by marketing firm DDB Brasil for a World Wildlife Fund campaign was leaked in both print and video forms. The ad depicts a 9/11 scenario marked by the presence of a swarm of planes, meant to demonstrate the far greater toll of the 2005 tsunami and implying global warming as the cause of similar natural disasters. Two months later, an ad created by anti-aviation group Plane Stupid depicts polar bears falling from the sky in an urban setting and slamming into cars and buildings in an alternate version of the fate of those who jumped to their deaths from the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. The ad compares the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a transoceanic flight for every passenger to the weight of one of the bears, air travel being one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Both ads were met with considerable criticism, though with little real attention to their rhetoric.

[2] Using Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life and The Open: Man and Animal as its primary theoretical touchstones, along with supplementary texts bridging 9/11 and animal studies, this analysis will demonstrate the interrelation between 9/11 imagery and the debate over global warming and the manner in which this interrelation contains powerful implications for notions of the human, for U.S. victimhood, and for the geopolitical and environmental future of the world at large. The analysis will explain the positionality of animal-as-(pseudo-legitimate)victim and its alliance with the U.S.-as-(pseudo)victim (despite U.S. contributions to a climate of terror and to climate change). Finally, this analysis will examine the notion of cross-species collaboration in the person/in the animal of the humanimal, a seemingly post-human aggregation that calls upon Agamben's notion of homo sacer to access a liminal violence at once predicated on and enacting a dehumanization. If future terror is likely to stem from dwindling resources and climate-forced migrations, as many experts have predicted, then examinations of the linkages between the "War on Terror" and the war on warming, as well as their implications for notions of the human, are of signal importance.

The Paws That Refresh: Adding the Animal

[3] To begin this analysis, one must first encounter its objects, gaining an understanding of the ads themselves, as well as both their respective 9/11 referentialities and, equally importantly, their understanding of the role of the animal. Taking first the DDB Brasil ad, the viewer enters the scene via an establishing shot of lower Manhattan, with the World Trade Center towers still intact. Suddenly, an impact rocks the North Tower (though it arrives from a historically inaccurate direction, hitting the west face of the tower rather than the north, as did American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11), and the screen fades to black. Then, the scene reappears, the North Tower now wounded, a plume of smoke billowing into the sky as the second plane arrives, piercing the south face of the South Tower, and completing the known impacts of 9/11, the event referred to in the following title card, which reads: "In 2001, one of the worst tragedies in the history of humanity killed 2,819 people" ("DDB"). As the card fades and the scene reappears, the screen shakes as the rumble of approaching planes returns, this time signaling the arrival of a multitude of likeminded airliners, though the next card appears before any can reach their final destination, reading: "In 2005, the tsunami killed 280,000 people. That's 100 times more deaths. Our planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Conserve it" ("DDB"). Finally, the WWF logo concludes the ad, the trademark panda bearing the message "for a living planet" ("DDB").

[4] In the case of the DDB Brasil ad, the overt 9/11 referentiality is clear: an aerial shot of the World Trade Center towers progresses into the familiar double impact of the planes, which is then followed by a flurry of additional planes. This referentiality is assumed to such a degree that the particulars of the reenactment, including the directionality, elevation, and impact angle of each plane, need not be correct for the reference to obtain. Indeed, the first plane (ostensibly Flight 11) impacting from the wrong direction (from the west rather than the north) and at the wrong elevation (the smoke emerging from well below the actual impact zone), and the second plane (ostensibly United Airlines Flight 175) impacting at the wrong elevation (hitting the tower slightly higher than it should) and angle (banking slightly to the right and hitting the tower squarely, rather than banking to the left and hitting off-center). Further, 9/11 is nearly directly referenced in the ad's assertion that "in 2001, one of the worst tragedies in the history of humanity killed 2,819 people" ("DDB"), an assertion that, while less than date-specific, nods to the elephant in the room while simultaneously giving a certain credence to its purported unspeakability and incommensurability.

[5] What is perhaps less clear is the role of the animal in this ad, which may be ascertained through a consideration of its message's import to discourses of global warming. By invoking the Asian tsunami, and noting that "[i]n 2005, the tsunami killed 280,000 people. That's 100 times more deaths. Our planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Conserve it" ("DDB"), the ad recalls notions of conservation, as well as the associated implication of waste and pollution, and the perhaps specious claim that global warming contributed to the tsunami's occurrence, [1] using a hyperbolic 9/11 scenario to draw attention to the threat posed by global warming. An opening for the animal is also created through the linguistic difference evident between the two title cards, the first of which describes a noteworthy event in the "history of humanity" ("DDB"), and the second of which references the slightly more ambiguous "people" ("DDB"), implying greater tragedies outside the realm of the human, as enacted by and suffered by non- or inhuman agents. Given that the ad was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, such an origin suggests an investment in the outcome of global warming on the part of animals (and/or their advocate proxies), creating a potential for animals to desire further attention for their plight. One might then posit that an animal (or animal positionality), endangered by the changes brought about in its habitat by human-caused global warming, might take action to alleviate its plight. Within the bounds of 9/11-as-symbolic event, as set out by the DDB Brasil ad, that animal may then act as a pilot-hijacker, flying one of the flurry of planes into the towers as a means of exercising agency over its own fate and giving it a voice in what is in this moment a primarily human discussion.

[6] Moving to the Plane Stupid ad, a pseudo-idyllic urban environment marked by a series of skyscrapers is established as the setting, though that idyll is soon shattered by the appearance of an unidentified object falling from the sky, first one, then two, then several. As one of these objects descends past a mirrored glass tower, its reflection reveals it as a polar bear, tumbling to its death on the streets below, that is, for those among the falling who make it that far, the bulk of the bears impacting first with the surrounding buildings, bloodily catching on cornices and other architectural features. One bear hurtles directly at the viewers' perspective, the camera pulling away in time to see the bears slam into wire trashcans, cars, and sidewalks, and the area is soon strewn with gore. Finally, a title card appears, reading: "[A]n average European flight produces over 400 kg of greenhouse gases for every passenger... that's the weight of an adult polar bear" ("It's Not"), and is followed by another featuring the URL of the Plane Stupid website.

[7] In the case of the Plane Stupid ad, the 9/11 referentiality is slightly less overt, though wholly apparent upon a cursory examination: a clear day in an urban setting populated by skyscrapers is disrupted by the sound of a low-flying plane, which is closely followed by living beings falling to their deaths on the streets below, careening off of surrounding buildings, slamming into cars, and meeting various gruesome ends upon impact. The living beings are in this case polar bears, the human analogue being readily located in the close parallel to imagery of jumpers falling from the burning World Trade Center towers, limbs flailing in a horrible choreography of death, though greater attention is given to the bears' impacts than those of the jumpers (in part due to the [in]voluntary media blackout on that footage). Both bears and jumpers have been forced to their ends by the activities of planes, somewhat indirectly in the case of the former via the planes' contributions to global warming, and more directly in the case of the latter via the hijacked planes' damage to the towers, though in both cases it the passengers who are responsible (albeit a smaller selection in the case of the hijacker teams aboard Flights 11 and 175).

[8] What is clearer in this ad is the role of the animal, the polar bear functioning not as agent, but rather as victim. The ad declares "an average European flight produces over 400kg of greenhouse gases for every passenger... that's the weight of an adult polar bear" ("It's Not"), rendering the polar bear-as-victim both by virtue of its analogous weight and its status as specifically affected animal. It is no accident that the polar bear is selected as exemplary victim, a cute, cuddly animal (recall the success of the Coca Cola ad campaigns featuring the selfsame bears) whose victimhood and loss is affecting, much like that of the jumpers, whose helplessness in the face of the event is taken as particularly affecting within a day of numerous traumas. Also evident from the ad copy is the fact that, as agent of greenhouse gas production, the human-as-passenger is the agent of the bear's death, thereby shifting the passenger from victim to perpetrator status, undermining the memorial sanctity of those aboard the hijacked flights. 

[9] What the shorts reveal at this stage is a duality of victimhood and agency. The DDB Brasil ad foregrounds the victimizing of humanity at the paw of the agentic polar pilot-hijacker, the polar bear, or another likeminded animal afflicted by global warming in a manner that exceeds the limited and exclusive human tragedy of 9/11, seizing control of the yoke, removing it from its neck and using it to steer the commandeered airliner into one of the towers. In a related manner, the Plane Stupid ad foregrounds the victimizing of the animal at the hand of the agentic passenger, creating a one-to-one relation in which each European flight costs a polar bear its life, and representing that death not as a result of shrinking ice sheets and unavailable prey, but rather as the more immediate result of enormous impact trauma. Together, these ads suggest a blurry distinction between the human and the animal, between agent and victim, in which no positionality remains stable or discrete, a relation that will be further obscured below.

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?: (Anim)al Qaeda

[10] Such an unerring focus on the impact and implications of global warming, as well as a similarly complicated stance concerning the distinction between the human and the animal, may be found within the ideology of the suspected agent of 9/11, al Qaeda, and its chief ideologue, Osama bin Laden, a presence which further complicates the reading of the ads begun above. Looking first at the focus on global warming, in January 2010, Osama bin Laden released a tape which took global warming as a leaping off point for a critique of U.S. economic hegemony and corporate greed, asserting that major corporations "are the true criminals against the global climate" (Keath and Nasrawi 1). Bin Laden goes on to note that "[t]he effects of global warming have touched every continent. Drought and deserts are spreading, while from the other floods and hurricanes unseen before the previous decades have now become frequent" (1), referencing the recent prevalence of natural disasters, like the 2005 tsunami, and attributing them more directly as a consequence of global warming than the DDB Brasil ad dares. That a bin Laden tape, usually concerned with imprecations against the presence of U.S. troops in Muslim lands in times of peace or war, or continued U.S. support for Israel, should take global warming as its object suggests not only an attempt on the part of al Qaeda to broaden its message and, potentially, its audience, if not its adherents, but also the nearly universal acceptance of global warming (despite the source article's use of the more blame-neutral phrase "climate change") and concern over its impending, if not ongoing, damage and threat to the continued viability of the planet.

[11] To wit, bin Laden issues a far-reaching call for support, saying "[p]eople of the world, it's not right for the burden to be left on the mujahideen (holy warriors) in an issue that causes harm to everyone... [b]oycott them to save yourselves and your possessions and your children from climate change and to live proud and free" (2), choosing the potentially more inclusive "people" form of discourse common to the second title card of the DDB Brasil ad rather than the "humanity" of the first card, and somewhat inexplicably retreating to "climate change" from the stronger, and more blame-laden, "global warming" of his earlier statement. This call also complicates the notions of agent and victim discussed above, as those electing to combat global warming via bin Laden's suggested boycotts are aligning themselves with the mujahideen,  the same fighters who hijacked the planes on 9/11.

[12] It is the hijackers, purported agents of al Qaeda, who offer an understanding of the human/animal distinction within that organization's ideology, albeit indirectly through an earlier bin Laden dispatch containing an obscure animal parable. In the 26 December 2001 message entitled "Nineteen Students," a title which references the nineteen hijackers and which stands as bin Laden's most direct discussion of the 9/11 plot to date, he attempts to explain the genesis of the event, at once justifying and defiantly celebrating it as he flees from invading U.S. forces in Afghanistan. To do so, bin Laden condemns those who "have viewed the event in isolation and have failed to connect it to previous events or to the reasons behind it" (bin Laden 149), drawing a parallel to this behavior in a brief animal parable:

These people remind me of the wolf who, seeing the lamb, said to it: "You were the one who polluted my water last year." The lamb replied: "It wasn't me," but the wolf insisted: "Yes it was." The lamb said: "I was only born this year." The wolf replied: "Then it was your mother who polluted my water", and he ate the lamb. When the poor ewe saw her son being torn by the wolf's teeth, her maternal feelings drove her to give the wolf a hard butt. The wolf cried out: "Look at this terrorism!" And all the parrots repeated what he said, saying "Yes, we condemn the ewe's butting of the wolf." What do you think about the wolf eating the ewe's lamb? (149).

In this parable, the al Qaeda/hijacker positionality is that of the lamb, subject to petty grievance, generational vengeance, and stigmatization as an agent of "terror," while the U.S. positionality is that of the wolf, agent of faultless innocence, punitive excess, and unrecognized/sanctioned "terror," appealing to an audience of patriotic parrots all too willing to repeat what is said by their leaders verbatim, and without thought, comment, or even comprehension. Though both are animals within the frame of the parable, it is only the wolf/U.S. who acts as such, rending the young lamb limb from limb, leaving the ewe little choice but to take up the discursive terms on offer, the opening to violence made by the wolf/U.S., and to respond with a head butt, a minor violence blown out of all proportion by the wolf/U.S. in much the same manner as 9/11, though a significant event, pales in comparison to the death tolls levied by post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq and halted humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. Within the parable, the human and animal are elided, the respective agents remaining mobile within a joint human and animal positionality, to receive further articulation below.

Human Being...?: Agamben and the Animal

[13] The analysis' objects and 9/11 and al Qaeda referentiality in place, one may now approach the terminology from Agamben that will serve as its major theoretical lens, in this instance the titular notions of homo sacer and "the open." Beginning with homo sacer, Agamben identifies the concept as "homo sacer (sacred man), who may be killed and yet not sacrificed" (Agamben [a] 8), positioning it as a crucial element in an understanding of sovereign power and identifying homo sacer as bare life, placed outside the human and therefore subject to death. Within the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads, overt and implied examples of homo sacer are present, in the former in the implied unapproved yet ongoing sacrifice of animals (given that global warming is discussed primarily in terms of human toll) and civilian death (9/11's deaths unacceptable yet extant as an impetus for renewed U.S. assertion, Afghani and Iraqi deaths purportedly unacceptable yet enacted as collateral damage), and in the latter the bears as bare life, not sacrificial (their parallel to the jumper imagery of 9/11 suggesting an unacceptability and impossibility of suicide, as per the logic that jumpers were forced from the building rather than agents of an elective departure), but still subject to death at the hands of another (in this case, the plane and, by proxy, global warming). 

[14] Turning to "the open," Agamben articulates the notion as the province of the human, which possesses an intrinsic openness to the world that is unavailable to the animal as bare life. In its status as bare life, as that placed outside of humanity in both its paradoxical (un)sacrificial nature and its propensity for being killed, the animal is constituted by lack, its non-semblance of humanity (or, rather, the human's transcendence of animality) placing it at a decided disadvantage in the world. Following on this articulation, Agamben disenfranchises the animal via Russian/French philosopher Alexandre Kojève's description of post-historical Japan, in which snobbery serves to delineate the human and the animal while suggesting certain implications for the suicide act. Kojève asserts that "Snobbery in its pure state created disciplines negating the 'natural' or 'animal'... every Japanese [person] is in principle capable of committing, from pure snobbery, a perfectly 'gratuitous' suicide" (Agamben [b] 11), outlining the possibility of the capacity for snobbery as a distinguishing factor between the human and the animal and, more usefully for this analysis, designating suicide as solely human. In designating suicide as a solely human activity, within the context of this analysis, the statement implies the apparently suiciding animal as either not suicidable (suggesting that its death is inflicted upon it), or the suiciding animal as not wholly animal and, in that sense, capable not of the gratuitous suicide posited by Kojève, but rather a wholly necessary and perhaps unavoidable suicide, an obligatory death such that the deadening of its erasure by "climate change" gives way to the discursive friction of "global warming."

[15] The animal that results from these implications forwards a notion of humanimality, of a less distinct separation between the human and the animal than might be initially apparent in Agamben. This question of suicide is addressed by an indistinction in the enactment of homo sacer identified by Agamben in relation to the animal, where he notes that "in ancient times pigs fit for sacrifice were called sacres. Far from contradicting the unsacrificeability of homo sacer, here the term gestures towards an originary zone of indistinction in which sacer simply meant a life that could be killed" (Agamben [a] 86). Though not suicidable per se, the animal is in this instance aligned with homo sacer, allowing a linkage between the porcine and the ursine of the Plane Stupid ad, and contributing to the formulation of a humanimality in the animal's possession of bare/bear humanity. This humanimal actor suffers from a "poverty in world" (Agamben [b] 51), with the animal-as-pilot-hijacker arising from both a basic poverty, as well as a non-access, a placement beyond the walls of the city that accords with the humanimal in Agamben. 

[16] Outside the city, the humanimal is less suburban than suburbane, or perhaps sous-urban, beneath civilization, marshalling its forces in the outlying areas while suggesting an originary presence within, and return to, the city itself; as the urban and suburban are symbiotic and coterminous, so too are the human and animal in the humanimal. Likewise, the subject of global warming, typically poverty-stricken populations in warmer climates living near the coast (and thus vulnerable to rising ocean levels, as well as hurricanes) or in drier inland areas (and thus vulnerable to drought and desertification), is similarly excluded from access to technologies that might prove to be its temporary salvation. Here, the human banned from the city, cast out as homo sacer, takes on an identity as "wolf-man and not simply as wolf... [existing on] a threshold between animal and man... exclusion and inclusion" (Agamben [a] 105), further entwining the previously human and the previously animal in a shared designation, the lupine joining the porcine and ursine. As the wolf returns, in this instance resonating specifically with bin Laden's parable, the animal example becoming the exemplary humanimal, it does so in packs, unmoored from that specific iteration to function as a methodological call and response to the terms of war set out by the prior wolf, reappearing in the coordinated grouping of planes seized on 9/11, by the shadowy Taliban forces melting back into the Afghan hills, by the shadowy "insurgents" placing IEDs along Iraqi roadsides, and by the similarly mobilized U.S. and coalition troops unleashed to follow their scent.

[17] The partitioning of the human and animal is internal, "a mobile border within living man" (Agamben [b] 15), with the capacity for the animal lying within the human and, likewise, the capacity for the human within the animal. Within this internalized spectrum, within this shared humanimality, the human and animal are simultaneous, coincident; as Agamben suggests, "[i]f animal life and human life could be superimposed perfectly, then neither man nor animal – and, perhaps, not even the divine – would any longer be thinkable" (21), and in their stead, there is the humanimal, agent of divinity, be it a fundamentalism in thrall to Allah, to an Earth Mother, to financial gain, or to another deity altogether. Rather than a relation in which "[m]an suspends his animality" as a means of counterposing him to the animal (79), as Agamben maintains, man is suspended in his animality, held in suspense by the seemingly animal agent of "terror," rendered humanimal in the more accurate suspension of humanity by the animal, a move from man-as-exception to the animal (a possession of and transcendence of certain animal qualities) to man-as-accepted into the animal, identified as a partner, in crime.

[18] In the moment of the event, both the superficial 9/11 of the ads and their more central meta-apocalypse of global warming, the human makes a further move towards the animal, the two meeting liminally in the interval. As part of an examination of eschatological imagery, Agamben notes that, in depictions of the (Biblical) apocalypse, "the righteous [appear] not with human faces, but with unmistakably animal heads" (2), concluded humanity thus taking on an animality in the face of the end, be it that of Days or of pre-9/11 pseudo-invulnerability (a pseudonymy continued in terms of U.S. victimhood). Agamben contends that perhaps "on the last day, the relations between animals and men will take on a new form, and that man himself will be reconciled with his human nature" (3), and the apocalyptic after of 9/11, following which nothing can be the same, hastens the recognition of the humanimal.

[19] Simultaneous to the humanization of the animal in its alignment with the provisional humanity of homo sacer, "the non-man is produced by the humanization of an animal" (37), including the "foreigner... as [a figure] of an animal in human form" (37), the very foreigner who enacts 9/11 (as well as the animal-as-pilot-hijacker). More specifically, this foreigner is the fundamentalist adherent of Islam, recalling Primo Levi's description of "'the Muslim,'... a being from whom humiliation, horror, and fear had so taken away all consciousness and all personality... [h]e no longer belongs to the world of men in any way" (Agamben [a] 185). Therefore, through a combination of the humanization of the animal through its alignment with homo sacer, along with an animalization of the human in the eschatological, what results is the humanimal.

Hunting, High and Low: Biting bin Laden

[20] No individual fits the profile of Levi's Muslim better than Osama bin Laden, whose imbibing of the proxy horrors of the Afghan War of the 1980s, as well as the Gulf War and the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict (despite his relatively limited involvement in each, participating in Afghanistan more as a fundraiser than a fighter, having his offer of mujahideen rejected by Saudi royalty in the run-up to the Gulf War, and offering rhetoric only in Palestine) has removed consciousness (or at least a consciousness legible to the West) and absented bin Laden from the world of "men" (read: Western men). Yet, his personality is far from diminished, instead being taken away from comprehensible metrics of appropriate warfare (which at the same time sanction state "terror") to become larger than life, the man become myth become legend, requiring an active demonization that relies on tropes of the animal to gain a foothold. Recent discourse reveals three chief examples in which notions of the animal are brought to bear on bin Laden, all of which hold substantial relevance to the articulation of humanimality begun above and to continue below: first, PETA's creation of vegan chocolate "bin Laden Bites" to be distributed to troops; second, bin Laden's juxtaposition alongside purported eco-terrorists on the FBI's list of most wanted "terrorists"; and third, the use of tracking methods developed for wild and endangered animals to ascertain bin Laden's hiding place in the tribal lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A brief examination of each of these examples will reveal the role that bin Laden's animality, or rather humanimality, plays in the negotiation of meaning surrounding 9/11, much like that taking place in the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads.

[21] In an effort to boost troop morale prior to deployment to Afghanistan, in April 2010, the Chattanooga-based 212th Transportation Company was the recipient of "'bin Laden Bites' – special dark chocolates embossed with the image of Osama bin Laden" (Byrne 1), created by PETA for the occasion. Though perhaps more broadly understandable as a product of simpler factors, including the need for portable snacks during missions, as well as the desire to exact some measure of revenge, even if gustatory, on bin Laden (as the perpetrator of 9/11, as the impetus for unwanted deployment and re-deployment, or both), the PETA press release announcing the bin Laden Bites’ distribution points to more immediate beefs:

PETA has its own bone to pick with bin Laden. In addition to bin Laden's murder of humans, one of his sons wrote a memoir in which he revealed that his father gassed the younger bin Laden's two dogs in a chemical-warfare experiment. Also, countless animals suffered and died of starvation and dehydration when their guardians were killed in the September 11 attacks, leaving the animals without care. Many more animals suffered and died from exposure to toxic fumes and from other causes after apartments in the "hot zone" were sealed off for many days and dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, and other animal companions were left to languish inside. In memory of all of them, PETA is selling the "bin Laden Bites" online (1).

The implications of this line of criticism are five-fold. First, the prioritization of humans over animals among bin Laden's victims implies a hierarchy of victimhood and the according ability to be killed and/or mourned; second, the death of domesticated animals ignores the at times problematic nature of domestication, as well as the ways in which the human failure of stewardship stands as a microcosm of larger homeland security errors; third, the notion of memory via commerce trivializes the animals' deaths in a manner that would likely be unacceptable in the case of human victims, reinforcing the earlier hierarchy; fourth, the punishment of bin Laden via edible chocolates suggests a will to cannibalism that is typically attributed to "savage" races; and fifth, the double mention of gas and fumes previews the logic of the camp that appears below, as does the problematically dual criticism of "notoriously cruel dairy factory farms" (1) and advocation of "animal-companion sterilizations" (1), recalling the T-4 program and its status as a precursor to the Holocaust [2].

[22] Once branded as an enemy of animals, bin Laden's demonization may extend to encompass others by sheer association, with no more interesting example being available than that of Daniel Andreas San Diego, an alleged "eco-terrorist" placed alongside bin Laden on the FBI's list of most wanted "terrorists." Bin Laden's own demonization benefits from this encounter as well, as his earlier negative branding by PETA is amplified in comparison to San Diego, "a committed vegan... [who] avoids consuming or wearing anything made with animal products" (Potter 1). As such, San Diego's placement on the FBI's list serves two primary purposes beyond the simple supplementary demonization of bin Laden as a lesser human being (and therefore less human, and thus humanimal): first, by placing San Diego on the list, a move consistent with the FBI's history of "labe[ling] animal rights activists and environmentalists as the 'number one domestic terrorism threat'" (1), the animal rights and environmentalist movements may then be stigmatized as "terror," likely dissuading many from taking any of their missives to heart due to a misplaced sense of patriotism and/or a knee-jerk post-9/11 defensive posture and discounting their message as akin to bin Laden's own cave tapes; and second, by categorizing the environmentalist/green agenda as simply another iteration of "terror," bin Laden's own use of global warming discourse comes to be seen not as a timely and largely accurate critique of flaws within Western and/or capitalist society, one capable of changing some minds initially categorically opposed to anything that he might have to say, but as a different way of saying "terror," albeit one more palatable than those that preceded it.

[23] Now both an enemy to animals and animalistic in his violence, both wanted and unwanted in his status as homo sacer, bin Laden is subject to potential search and seizure, his person being situated within an animetrics of non-human tracking, the mimicry of quarry querying being enacted by his human pursuers as a means of rendering him captive. In February 2009, a team led by Thomas Gillespie of the University of California at Los Angeles suggested that bin Laden might be located and rousted from his hiding place in the wilds of the Afghan/Pakistani borderlands, providing an answer to what Gillespie calls "one of the most important political questions of our time" (Farmer 1). Indeed, this question exceeds the political, extending to the wider scope of definitions of humanity, animality, and the humanimal. As such, its importance dictates that the tracking effort may not be left to mere flights of fancy and/or threats of illogic, and must accordingly be situated firmly within the distinctly human pursuits of math and science, as present in Gillespie's research model. Early returns on this research state that "[m]athematical models used to explain how animal species spread out say he should be close to where he was last spotted" (1), a conclusion that, while far from daring or even particularly insightful, yet claims the imprimatur of impartial mathematics, and is therefore to be believed. Similarly, Gillespie asserts that "[w]e believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his [bin Laden's] current location" (2), again validating the work through its distantiation from the animal, and simultaneously invalidating all previous efforts as being crucially flawed. In this instance, to catch bin Laden-as-animal, one must at once think like him, while still avoiding his animal excesses, reinstating a false divide between the human and animal. 

[24] The manner in which the search is described in various press outlets is also telling, suggesting that the prey in this case, bin Laden, is, though perhaps not recognized as human in accordance with prevailing efforts at demonization, just as easily beyond the bounds of pure animality, inhabiting the liminal space of humanimality. Gillespie's location efforts are alternately described as being reliant upon "a system used to track wild animals" (Morrissey 1) and similarly dependent on "patterns of how animal species spread" (Farmer 1). In the former iteration, bin Laden is akin to a wild animal, at once unpredictable in his savagery and predictable in his intellectual simplicity, subject to systematic quantification and locatable through the same methods; in the latter, he is a separate species, removed from the human as per the numerous efforts at stigmatization, yet a profligate one, capable of setting up outposts far and wide, suggesting a more deliberate spread than haphazard animality would allow. In his piece entitled "Tracking Wild Animals Could Help Find Bin Laden," Ed Morrissey asserts that "[w]hile I want Osama hunted down like a wild animal, I doubt seriously that he has left this much to instinct" (1), suggesting a status for bin Laden in excess of the animal, in recess from the human, and successful in terms of evasion. Morrissey's statement demonstrates that, though described as such, bin Laden may only be like a wild animal, and is not wholly animal as such, suggesting a liminality on that account. Likewise, bin Laden does not leave his flight purely to instinct, as would the animal (by implication), confounding Gillespie's statistical models (given their failure to date) via a conscious manipulation of variables beyond the predictability of the animal. Bin Laden, as yet immune to capture, deftly eluding the grasp of sovereign power, is consigned to the camp, both the nomadic enclosures necessitated by a fugitive existence, as well as the extra-legal space of exerted force, in which he is revealed as and reveals that he is far from alone in the realm of the humanimal.

Men of Aktion: Notes on the Camp

[25] Politicized via its relation to the event, the (polar) bear life is at once within the conflicts of post-9/11 militarism and global warming and itself conflicted, torn between the human and the animal in the rendering of the rending events and their multiply martial aftermaths. In the run-up to World War II, the Collège de Sociologie "denounce[d] the passivity and absence of reaction in the face of war as a form of massive 'devirilization,' in which men are transformed into a sort of 'conscious sheep resigned to the slaughterhouse'" (Agamben [b] 8). Such is the case following 9/11 which, perceived as an act of war, must necessarily generate a (masculine) response, restating the humanimal while also creating an analogy between the relatively insignificant toll of 9/11 and not only the larger swath created by the tsunami, but the even greater daily Holocaust of the slaughterhouse and those promised by the conditions of global warming. However, rather than succumbing to this animalization, the post-9/11 U.S., self-positioned as unassailable victim, goes on the offensive, exercising its sovereign prerogative as sole superpower, "defined... through the instantaneous transgression of the prohibition on killing" (Agamben [a] 113). It is then the U.S. that may decide who to kill, who to designate as homo sacer, using the humanimal to its own discursive ends in the course of exercising "the power to decide the point at which life ceases to be politically relevant" (142), and thus disposable without consequence, both through war, the industrialization of food, and through the continued pollution that threatens distant populations. The animal (or animalized) counts when the U.S. says it counts, all body counts aside.

[26] For the U.S., the humanimal is in this instance an available transitive state, not a more permanent locus of identification, a positionality that may be briefly inhabited, used to specific ends, and then discarded, or at least thought to be so. However, once one crosses that particular Rubicon, delving into the animal via the seemingly limited discursive use of the humanimal (though more accurately via a more thoroughgoing inhabitation of that position that exceeds mere linguistic mobilization, instead permitting the sort of actions normally prohibited to a self-claimed moral paragon), it is apparent that all available bridges are burned, all boatmen on break, and that the humanimal may take on its status as the graveyard of the fictive "human" (much as Afghanistan stands as the "Graveyard of Empires"). With the post-9/11 U.S. as unassailable victim, that victimhood permits a practical carte blanche in terms of retributive action which, accompanied by the capacity to largely control the language through which such action is discussed, allows the U.S. to both count the animal, to quantify the enemy as legion and its defensive measures, however execrable, as justified, and to count itself out of the animal, to reassert its own unassailable humanity in a world of animals. The U.S. may then wield its blade with impunity, all the while convincing itself wholly (though others less so) of its unimpeachable humanity, as if it could never be dragged down to their level, that of the animal. Instead, the descent occurs of the U.S.' own accord, accompanied by the ascent of the animal, the two encountering each other in the humanimality of the event.

[27] Continuing with the slaughterhouse analogy, Charles Patterson's Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust has much to offer to the discussion of bear life and the designation of certain portions of humanity as subject to sacrifice, as well as the means through which such a sacrifice may be accomplished, taking the most notorious instance of such logic, the Holocaust, as its object. If, as posited by Theodor Adorno and quoted in Patterson, "Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals" (quoted in Patterson 53), then both 9/11 and global warming fall under this same cruel rubric, the former resulting from a joint designation in which "they're only Arabs/Muslims" (in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere) and "they're only infidels/Jews" (in New York City, Washington, Israel, and elsewhere), and the latter resulting from a similarly bipartite designation in which "they're only poor people" (in areas most immediately afflicted by the changes wrought by global warming) and "they're only animals" (in the case of species threatened by rising temperatures and disappearing habitats). The designation as "only," regardless of what follows, always already condemns its subject to at best a devalued humanity, and more likely an animality, such that that subject becomes immediately expendable, be it at the point of a box cutter (on 9/11), at the mouth of an exhaust pipe (whose pollution contributes directly to global warming), or at the barrel of a bolt gun (in the slaughterhouse).

[28] If the absence of reaction in the face of war creates man-as-conscious sheep, as willing victim, then reaction creates an unconscious herd, either following its shepherd without even thought of a question (as seen in the blind patriotism that follows 9/11), or unwillingly falling prey to the predations of an invading enemy who assumes that, if one is not actively seeking to overthrow the invalidated power (be it the hypercapitalist, neocolonialist West, with the U.S. as its chief agent, targeted by al Qaeda, or the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban targeted by the U.S.), one may be designated for slaughter. As per bin Laden's canny critique of corporate responsibility for global warming, Patterson locates further presaging of the Holocaust within Fordist mass production (the foundation of the ever-cheapening labor on which corporate success is founded), which borrows on the innovations of the slaughterhouse to streamline the work of the factory, the killing floor allowing its agents to make a killing through a further distantiation from the animal in their grasp. One slaughter yields another, the stockyards giving way to stock investments ceding the ground to stock language, an us versus them of humanity versus animality in which all distantiation fails, the human and animal instead meeting, the human becoming animalistic in its victimizing, and the animal becoming human in its victimization.

[29] Moving from the slaughterhouse to its necessarily preceding enclosure, the fenced zone of exception through which its victims must pass, Agamben's identification of the camp (of which the Nazi konzentrationslager is the primary example) as the purest manifestation of the confluence of sovereign power and bare life permits an extension of the conflictual U.S. as humanimal, as exemplified by the nature of its response to the event. For Agamben, the camp arises "out of a state of exception and martial law" (Agamben [a] 167), the very sort of exceptionalism expressed in both U.S. victimhood and U.S. non-concern for global warming, as well as the assumed superiority of human over animal. It is to the martial that the U.S. turns as a means of responding to the encamping of the World Trade Center site (as "Ground Zero"), the locus of visceral fallibility akin to that present in the slaughterhouse, creating additional camps elsewhere, in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. Within this camp, with its "Muslim" and its (polar) bear life, "everything is possible" (quoted in Agamben [a] 170), as maintained by Hannah Arendt, opening the field for slaughterhouse-esque militarism and a cavalier use of resources, accompanied by a similarly indiscriminate approach to civil liberties domestically. Instead of Agamben's assertion that "[m]an suspends his animality and, in this way, opens a 'free and empty' zone in which life is captured and a-ban-doned in a zone of exception" (Agamben [b] 79), in the case of U.S. response, it is animality to which man turns, performing (non-)manhood as a counterpoint to devirilizing passivity and environmental and interspecies sensitivity.

[30] The sort of exceptionalism that creates the conditions necessary for the presence of the camp, i.e. the presence of a sovereign power and the delineation of a bare life, fosters a dual exclusivity for the sovereign power such that it may both hold and be held captive by that bared/beared life. In defining its own exceptional power, the sovereign agent produces a climate in which "entry into [the camp] meant the definitive exclusion from the political community" (159), such that the (polar) bear life is immediately and irrevocably absented from the political realm, or at least its more commonly recognized discursive locales. Yet, in this bare/bear life, in this apparent reduction of the human to the animal, it is important to recall that, as formulated by Martin Heidegger, "[t]he mode of being proper to the animal... is captivation" (Agamben [b] 52), both the act of being encamped, as well as that of holding the attention of the sovereign power, and as such rendering that sovereignty impossible without its counterpart, the in- or un-sovereign. As the sovereign power holds bear/bare life within the parameters of its camp, outside of the city, so too is it held, captivated, by the exclusivity of the status it has itself defined, desiring a participation in that animality that takes place in the humanimal. The walls that exclude, that encamp, that keep the bare/bear life in/out, also keep the sovereign power out/in.

The Posthumous Posthuman: Heart to God, Paw to Man

[31] The interplay of humanity and animality evident in the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads demonstrates both the mobility of that discourse (in this instance moving into the realm of 9/11), as well as its status as a concern of essential importance in the present and future. Agamben identifies "the decisive political conflict, which governs every other conflict, [as] that between animality and the humanity of man" (Agamben [b] 80), and it is with this centrality in mind that the seemingly central discourse of the new millennium, 9/11 and its discontents, must be filtered through the humanimal to maintain its relevance. This merger, where "the difference vanishes and the two terms collapse upon each other... and in its place something appears for which we seem to lack even a name" (Agamben [b] 22), is endless, presently nameless, yet unlikely to remain so for long, specifically designable in relation to global warming, an agonistics between the polluting human and the polluted animal (itself an inversion of the discourse of humanity being polluted by animality). Indeed, Agamben elsewhere contends that "the politicization of bare life as such – constitutes the decisive event of modernity" (Agamben [a] 4), and the politicization of bear life seen in the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads is likely to prove as, if not more, decisive, in the postmodern, post-9/11 moment.

[32] The liminal agent of the humanimal, like Agamben's homo sacer, may "save himself only in perpetual flight or in a foreign land" (Agamben [a] 183), and the fundamentalist Muslim acts with this notion in mind, which is present directly in the flights of 9/11 and the endangered pilots at the helms of the DDB Brasil flights, and indirectly in the notion of Afghan exile. Though Heidegger states that "[i]t would never be possible for a stone, any more than for an airplane, to elevate itself toward the sun in jubilation" (quoted in Agamben [b] 58), it is (polar) bear life, at the controls, from which this discourse around 9/11 arises, and to which the discourse of global warming is addressed. The geopolitical and environmental future of the world depends upon the arbitration of the human and the animal: if the trend towards the former continues, with according financial prioritization of anti-terror initiatives, then the latter is doomed, its eschatology becoming human-headed; and if the emergent turn to the latter persists, with according prioritization of anti-warming initiatives, then both may survive in a humanimal future.

[33] Rather than evidencing any sort of post-human or post-humanity, a notion which not only suggests the possibility of moving beyond a rather shakily defined humanity, but which implies the human as a beyond, as an excessive state that is separate from, and likely superior to, the animal, there is instead the faux-human or faux-humanity, the revelation that the human is not as, or even at all, separate from the animal as typically believed. This theorized and mythic post-human is indeed an aggregation, though less of combination than reunion, the self-exiled human returning to the animal in the humanimal, the liminal encounter of 9/11 and its aftermath highlighting the at best marginal, at worst rhetorical, divergence between the human and the animal. What takes place in the course of this event, as well as its depiction in the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads, is a cross-species collaboration of a sort, not between man and animal, but between Homo sapiens and Ursus maritimus, two entities within the same spectrum of animality, the former not as human as its superiority complex might suggest, the latter not as animal as its ongoing victimization by global warming might suggest. As 9/11 proves an effective, if subtle, discursive entry point for a discussion of a far more pressing and important issue, global warming, so too does global warming serve as a forum in which the humanimal might receive an overdue hearing, and in which collaborationism of the sort seen in the DDB Brasil and Plane Stupid ads might become less the exception than the rule.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio [a]. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Agamben, Giorgio [b]. The Open: Man and Animal. Trans. Kevin Attell. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

bin Laden, Osama. "Nineteen Students." Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Ed. Bruce Lawrence. New York: Verso, 2005.

Byrne, Ashley. "Each Morsel Allows Chattanooga-Based Reservists to Get Sweet Revenge." PETA home page. 19 April 2010. 14 July 2010 «».

"DDB, WWF Reeling From Fallout Over 9/11 Ad." Ad Week home page. 1 September 2009. 2 August 2010 «».

Farmer, Ben. "Geography Professor Claims to Have Found Osama bin Laden." Telegraph home page. 17 February 2009. 14 July 2010 «».

"Hijackers Notes From 9/11." A Living Text home page. 19 May 2007. 31 July 2010 «».

"It's Not Really About Polar Bears Any More..." Plane Stupid home page. 10 February

Keath, Lee and Salah Nasrawi. "New Osama Bin Laden Tape: Blasts US For Climate Change." Huffington Post home page. 29 January 2010. 25 February 2010 «».

Morrissey, Ed. "Tracking Wild Animals Could Help Find Bin Laden." Hot Air home page. 18 February 2009. 14 July 2010 «».

Potter, Will. "Animal Rights Activist Named Alongside Bin Laden on FBI's Terrorist List." Green is the New Red home page. 23 April 2009. 14 July 2010 «».

Tailor, Hideaki. "DDB Brasil 9/11 Ad." Weekly World News home page. 3. September 2009. 10 February 2010 « headlines/11466/ddb-brasil-911-ad/».

Weiner, David. "DDB Brasil Commercial Shows Planes Crashing Into World Trade Center, New York." Huffington Post home page. 2 September 2009. 10 February 2010 «».


[1] Though this claim, tied to notions that melting ice caps place stress on tectonic plates, increasing the chance of tsunami-generating undersea earthquakes, has been largely disproven, the tsunami reference does draw attention to the threat posed by rising sea levels to those living in coastal and low lying areas, a phenomenon more readily attributed to human behavior's affect on climate.

[2] The T-4 program was an early eugenics measure undertaken by the Third Reich, in which individuals deemed to be "unworthy of life" were killed by physicians. This program also served as a testing ground for the extermination methods later used on much greater populations in concentration camps, including the use of gas.