Tuesday, May 26, 2015

About five years...

that's how long the veganelder blog has been around. That's about 360 posts.

A big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment. The encouragement and support and observations and information have been valuable beyond what words can express. Thank you.

While I've been maintaining this blog I've also been doing something else. Helping the bunnies out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue. It will soon be five years since I started going there and hanging out with the rabbits.

This is Nikki Blue...she's a baby and the newest resident at Heartland (she was abandoned because some human didn't "want" her). Right now she is pretty impressed with humans which means she really enjoys being held and getting headrubs...she'll often fall asleep while getting those human hand operated strokings.

When I go out, the first order of the day is to pick up Nikki and give her some good morning petting. I assure you that it is a two-way exchange because few things feel as good to a human as does having a bunny enjoy your hand rubbing their head.

I was thinking about some of the numbers from my five years of regular visits to Heartland. I'll do a few of them here and they will all be conservative estimates because I want any errors to be on the low side...so most of these are actually a little bigger than shown here.

An average of 10 potty boxes cleaned each day times 5 days per week times 50 weeks per year times 5 years means: 12,500 potty boxes cleaned. That's lots of bunny poop.

Pretty much each time I clean a potty box a bunny gets picked up and head rubbed a little. That's 12,500 bunny heads rubbed. I do head rubbing on an ad hoc basis too so this number is really very low.

About 3 hours per day for 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year for 5 years means about 3,750 hours spent at HRR as well as driving 25 miles round trip to get there which means about 31,250 miles driven.

The past five years have been the most satisfying and enjoyable ones of my life...absolutely so. Hanging around with the bunnies...and with Jeannie who founded HRR and with her husband Brad...has been and is....seriously fulfilling.  And...my efforts are miniscule compared to theirs...they are at the rescue 24/7 every day of the year.

I'm not putting up the numbers to toot my own horn...I want to show how much can be done by people who are retired and who chose to devote a little time and effort to helping. I would urge you, even if you aren't retired, to spend a few hours a week (more if you can) helping out Earthlings who don't happen to be human and are victims of our callousness and obliviousness and cruelty and neglect. It's a truth that quite a bit can be accomplished just by doing a little as long as you keep on doing that little bit for a long time. Every little bit helps...especially if it is persistent and consistent.

Some people who want to help the harmed Earthlings are, for various reasons, unable to do so. It's sort of up to us who are able to help to carry the load for those who can't...in addition to making our own contribution. So...when you go help...remember that you're doing some helping for those who can't...too. Ok? 

I assure you that whomever you help will appreciate it and I also assure you that you will get much much more out of it than you can ever imagine.

And...if you're of a mind to...do a blog...it is an adventure.

Thanks for reading and commenting and thank you for any and everything you do for our sister/brother Earthlings.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Next week...

in New York City is a forum that brings together social justice activists from around the United States. The Vine Sanctuary has an informative post about this event on their blog.

What's especially interesting about this event is, as the Vine blog post notes, there will be several panels devoted to animal issues. Vine Sanctuary's pattrice jones will be presenting on the topic of "queering" the notion of human rights by considering them as a variant of animal rights.

Rarely do I ever wish I lived near a large city...but...this is one conference I would really like to attend. Hopefully there will be videos available of the various presentations once the event occurs.

If you're able to attend...do...any setting where both pattrice jones and Karen Davis present would be a real treat.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why all this stuff about human animals?

Well, let's start with a video I ran across that does a good job of summarizing some of the issues about racism. I say some because the video is lacking mention of a number of groups of humans who suffer from the impacts of racism, most notably the original human inhabitants of the western hemisphere. But...the fact is that if you are identified as a person of color in the United States, you are targeted by racism in some form or fashion. Also keep in mind that this video only provides partial information about racism directed toward black people (it's even worse than she notes in her presentation). Nevertheless...even with the omissions of information and targeted populations...it is an eye-opening introduction to invisibled information.

Now, consider these words from Mickey Z, who's a long time vegan and social justice activist.

If we do not connect our struggle against speciesism to other anti-oppression struggles, we are failing ourselves, failing our fellow humans, and failing the non-human animals in a major way. Unless we do the work to meet other activists where they are, we’re doomed.
Ok? He's telling us that we must reach out to our fellow humans, especially those who are suffering oppression, and engage them in meaningful ways. That means taking their struggles seriously and making their issues our issues.

Here he talks about this in a brief video.

It doesn't take much thinking to make sense of this. If you or some human important to you was being abused...that's what would be uppermost in your mind and you would be most concerned with making things better for yourself or for them.

Ask yourself...would you be likely to be particularly interested in making things better for other Earthlings while this situation was going on? Who would you be more likely to listen to...someone who allied with you about your concerns and tried to help or someone who ignored your situation or, at best, expressed sympathy but offered no assistance...or someone who pitched in and expended time and effort to make things better for you or those who were important to you?

If you have a stick poking you in the eye and someone comes along and asks you to quit eating animals...and then says...sorry about that stick in your eye...or says nothing about it at all...versus someone who comes along and is genuinely concerned about the stick in your eye and takes steps to try to help you remove the stick and treat the damage...and then asks you to consider stopping harm to other Earthlings...which of the two someones are you more likely to give some credence?

I've been deplorably under concerned about this previously (and I'm profoundly disappointed in myself) and I'm certainly aware that many (maybe most) vegan/animal liberation advocates are guilty of this comprehension void also. There's a real tendency, on my part and on the part of others, to confuse the word for the deed. Vegan groups or individuals will pay lip service to the notion of no racism, sexism, abelism and so on...but then do nothing about these odious implementations of oppression and/or exploitation. The sad sad truth is that if we aren't actively working against this crap we're (inadvertently or not) supporting it...either passively or actively.

If you oppose oppression...and then focus your efforts solely on preventing harm to one group of oppressed beings while ignoring other instances of oppression...or only paying lip service to being against those other instances...you're sort of exposing yourself as not being real serious about ending oppression.

There are lots of cliches...that actually have meaning...about this. If you want to have good friends, be a good friend...if you want to have good neighbors, be a good neighbor...injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere...and on and on. It isn't that we don't know these things...it's that we tend to have allowed the import of them to have been obscured by their familiarity. These are genuine and vital truths but they must be lived in order for them to manifest their power and strength...spouting words just won't cut it. We have to live them.

I'll end this with a cautionary note...if you decide to get off your tush and start to put some of this into action...be prepared for some shocks. You may find that the humans you think you know aren't quite who they seem to be. I recently experienced a surprising and disappointing situation because of some differences between appearance and reality. I'll eventually write about that here...in the meantime you can get some inkling of this by reading about a talk that didn't happen in this essay.

We can be a strange bunch of beings.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ruth Frankenberg

wrote these words in the introduction (page 5) to her book titled: "White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness."
Socialist feminism had also given me an analytical commitment to three axioms: first, that in "societies structured in dominance" we, as feminists, must always remember that we act from within the social relations and subject positions we seek to change; second, that experience constructs identity; and, third; that there is a direct relationship between "experience" and "worldview" or "standpoint" such that any system of domination can be seen most clearly from the subject positions of those oppressed by it.
Axiom One: We're in the system we're trying to comprehend (there's no place to stand outside of it). Hence...everything you think you perceive will be influenced by your position.

Axiom Two: The place where you're standing is going to determine how you understand and perceive yourself (as well as influence what you're able to be aware of), i.e., your 'identity'.. Therefore, who you think you are is a function of the social system in which you exist and the experiences and perspectives associated with your position.

Axiom Three: Those who are being harmed and/or oppressed by a system of domination are going to have the best location for detecting, apprehending and comprehending those domination activities. In other words, those who are being hurt by domination/oppression are going have the most comprehensive viewpoint. If you want to know what is going on...listen to the victims of oppression...they know more than you.

Axioms one and two are fairly self-evident...obviously no one exists outside of a social system and obviously your position is going to determine that which you are aware of and experience. That's fairly apparent...what might be new to consider is that you will likely be oblivious to or only vaguely aware of things that someone positioned differently will know.

We tend to think our position offers us a perspective that allows us to know all that is going on...that's simply untrue...part of the seductive insidiousness of our identities is the fact that the more social power we have the less genuine awareness we have of the experiences and knowings of those with less power. It's sort of interesting actually, almost as if the universe says...ok, you get lots of power but you also get lots of obliviousness or...ok, you get lots of helplessness but you also get lots of awareness. Powerful but stupid, weak but perceptive.

Axiom three, however, seems to be the area that we often see dominators engaging in bamboozling and obfuscation...both of others and of themselves. Remember, we're talking about comprehending social systems and what goes on in social systems.

Think about it...if you wanted to know what went on in Auschwitz (for example)...would you pay more attention to what the official Nazi version or would you lend more credence to those who were incarcerated there? If you wanted to know what went on in domestic violence situations would you pay more attention to the perpetrators or to the victims? If you wanted to know what occurred when a bombing raid was carried out on a city...would you listen to the officials who planned it or would you listen to the survivors of the raid?

If you wanted to know what slavery was like, would you listen to the slave owners or the slaves? If you wanted to know what happened in a factory farm, would you listen to the factory farm owners or to those who were trapped there...if they could speak in a human language wouldn't you lend more credence to their experiences over those presented by the owners?

It is important to realize that, quite often, domination is carried out by those who are perceived as the "authorities". We here in U.S. America are strongly socialized to lend credence to "officials" and "authorities" and "corporate spokespersons". And yet, according to axiom three, the sources positioned to know the most about what is going on are not authorities or officials or those engaging in domination activities but rather those who are on the receiving end of those activities. Hmmm....

This is all associated with what Audre Lorde wrote and with invisibling. Notice that the title of Ms. Lorde's book is "Sister Outsider". She's referencing her position of being an outsider to those engaging in domination activities.

Struggling to break out of cycles of domination and oppression means struggling to find new ways of comprehending and understanding...one wonderfully useful tool is to begin looking at events with the goal of determining oppressors and their victims and evaluating information from the perspective that those with the least power are likely to have the most accurate and/or comprehensive perceptions. This essay presents a variation of this way of thinking in the language of christianity

Here's a thought experiment:...you interview 50 men who raped women...then you interview the 50 women victims....and let's say you magically could absolutely "know" what happened. Then you compared the 50 versions of the perpetrators and the 50 versions of the victims to the "real and absolute truth". Which group of versions do you think would most closely correspond to what "really happened"? (I used all the quotation marks because no one can absolutely know real and absolute truth...that's not possible...we only get approximations of such fantasy constructs as real and absolute truth.)

Always always always remember that those who are doing harm (or oppression or domination or exploitation) have a greater motivation to obfuscate, distort, deceive, hide, euphemize or make invisible their activities than do their victims (or, usually, than do outsiders who aren't perpetrating the harm).

For example...we U.S. Americans often use the term "Conquistadors" for the Spanish people who came to the western hemisphere and plundered and destroyed societies
. That's a fairly straightforward term that indicates aggressiveness and dominance. Conquer...that's what they did to the humans who lived in this hemisphere. What do we call the English speaking people (our U.S. American "forefathers") who came to North America and did the same thing? See how we make ourselves sound much more innocent and innocuous by using euphemisms like 'settlers', 'explorers', 'refugees from oppression' or 'immigrants'. 

If you don't think that the victims, in the thought experiment of the rapists and victims, are most likely to present versions that are closest to "real and absolute truth" you probably don't want to read this blog because all of my life's experiences (including years of doing psychotherapy and listening to the stories of perpetrators and victims) have taught me that those who do harm are most often motivated to hide that harm and those who receive harm are primarily motivated to tell what happened to them.

These axioms present by Dr. Frankenberg are useful tools for comprehending (and possibly interrupting) systems of dominance and oppression...and that's the essence of what veganism is all about. Right?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One graphic

makes clear the silliness of the "but we're predators" argument.

We get confused really really easily. If we omit technology, including fire for cooking, then humans eating other animals sort of disappears as a viable survival method. We don't "naturally" kill and eat living beings any more than we "naturally" drive automobiles.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

We Earthlings...

are much more complex and varied in our behaviors than we human animals comprehend.

This graphic illustrates quite well something that I was lucky enough to learn about my sister/brother Earthlings a long time ago. The fact is though, that many human type Earthlings do not know this. Well, for those who didn't know...here ya go.

Remember...we human animals have a strong tendency to oversimplify...so...the next time you run across some human spouting nonsense about homosexuality being "unnatural"...it might be instructive, for everyone, if you can engage them in a dialogue about the meaning of the word "unnatural".

Always remember...our ignorance inevitably exceeds our knowings and forgetting that usually doesn't work out well...for anyone. I wrote earlier about the fact that most "knowledge" is socially constructed...in other words...some human(s) somewhere made it up. In the graphic there are three terms (homosexual, homophobia and unnatural) that are easily identified as socially constructed notions. I would urge you to always be cautious when fiddling around with socially constructed stuff. It's tricky.

Here's another FYI...we mammalian Earthlings are also much more peaceful than many of us realize. Of all animals classified as mammals, this source estimates that only about 5% are considered to be carnivores. I've seen other estimates that were a little larger, but not much larger. In other words, most (95%) of our sister/brother mammals manage to live (when we humans leave them alone) quite well without routinely hurting one another.

We human mammals could probably live that way too, if we put forth more effort in that direction. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Vegan advocacy can be tricky

and figuring out how to do it, with justice, can be difficult. I ran across this little video recently and while it might seem elementary...sometimes that's the best place. Definitely it is the case that when complexity becomes so extensive that confusion exceeds clarity...retreating to the elementary can often be illuminating.

Everyone has a different set of experiences and capabilities. You haven't lived my life nor have I lived yours. We may both want to get to the same place but...that doesn't mean that we can automatically follow the same path...note the two individuals in the video. If we want to travel together...we have to take into account our differences and sometimes put forth the effort to find a path that works for both of us.

I can quit harming animals, but if I want you to do so too, I have to take into account which path(s) might be available to you. For us to travel together we'll have to find a way that works for both of us.

I can be oblivious (just like the caterpillar) to difficulties and experiences and knowledges that someone else might have that I don't...and vice versa.

This phrase compresses a tremendous amount into just a few words: "positionality biases epistemology." Which is a fancy way of saying that your location in terms of membership in various dominant or oppressed groups has profound implications in terms of what you know and what your experiences might be...and what your unknowings might be.

The article I linked to in the last paragraph contains a quote that tries to express something that is quite important. The quote:
"the narcissist sees the world--both the past and the present--in his own image. Mature historical knowing teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born. When we develop the skill of understanding how we know what we know, we acquire a key to lifelong learning."
The snail knows things that the caterpillar doesn't, the caterpillar knows things that the snail doesn't. Each has to struggle with issues/situations that the other may not. Each, as a result of their struggles, may have competencies/awarenesses that the other does not. 

Saying all that to say...whenever I end one of these posts with the exhortation to go vegan...that simple urging can be seen, depending on someone's position, as achievable and admirable or as profoundly goofy and clueless.

This article does a good job of wrestling with some of the issues that are often glossed over and discounted by those of us who seek the ending of oppression for our sister/brother Earthlings. Ignoring issues doesn't help when those issues prevent some of us from achieving what we desire for all. As the author writes: "We can advocate for animals in a way that does not point the finger at underprivileged people."

Think about the video, the caterpillar and the snail both had to do some thinking. Advocating for veganism...necessarily...requires more thinking than the simple sounding admonition: "just don't hurt animals".

Hey...did you imagine that this was going to be simple? Never forget that veganism is about human behavior and we human animals are superlative at complicating the simple (and oversimplifying the complicated).

But...I just want to help the animals you say? Me too...the problem isn't so much helping the animals...the problem is how to do that without creating harm or barriers or ignorings for others and figuring out paths that we can all follow. That's the tricky part.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The complexity of similarity

I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the White supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt—unless they are actively antiracist—they will find themselves carried along with the others.

Author Beverly Tatum from the book titled: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race

Taking the same paragraph and converting it to reflect the process of speciesism is rather easy. It is important however to remember that the lived experience for a human being subjected to racist ideology and institutional and individual practices is quite different than is the lived experience of a non-human being who is subjected to speciesist ideology and practices.

For instance, human children exposed to cultural propaganda demeaning them and their worth and/or value are forced to struggle with disruptions in their self-esteem and feelings of safety. Non-human beings, for the most part, pay little attention to human generated propaganda and primarily focus on overt behaviors directed toward them or deprivations they might suffer...the ideology is simply ignored by them (I think). So...while the placing of beings on a hierarchy of value/worth/power predicated on their race or their species (or their sex, able-bodiedness, class, heternormativity, etc) appear to be similar processes...the lived experiences of the beings placed in such structurings are very different and those experiences are contingent on the species membership of the beings involved as well as the cultural, ideological or behavioral manifestations associated with that hierarichacal placment.

The cat who shares my home doesn't give a flying flip about most of that stuff...or if she does her take on it is beyond my ability to grasp it. She knows what's important and what is fluff...my species freaks over the fluff and screws up what's important.

Calling a child cow a derogatory name in a human language likely means little to that child cow...calling a human child a derogatory name can result in intense suffering and/or distress and/or further lingering effects. All sentient beings have feelings and perceptions and mental abilities but they vary according to the individual being and their species membership. Our non-human sister/brother species members are wise enough to focus on feelings and actions and (so far as we know) pretty much ignore the beliefs/ideologies that so often influence human activities. They don't have their thinking/feeling processes distorted and injured by human culture and belief systems in the same way as happens to those for whom that is the culture of their species.

Here's that same paragraph might look if modified to reflect speciesism.

I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of speciesism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active speciesist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in such active behavior has identified with the ideology of human supremacy and is supporting it by eating habits, hunting, etc. Passive speciesist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway as evinced by eating the standard diet. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active speciesists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the human supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt and unless they are actively anti-speciesist and vegan they will find themselves carried along with the others.

Human identity formation is complex and prolonged and is profoundly affected by the cultural forces of our species. The identity formation of a chipmunk is generally not impacted at all by human culture (insofar as we know)...unless human activity encroaches on the chipmunk's environment or some harmful action is directed toward a chipmunk by a human. Speciesism operates differently than racism because of the nature of the beings involved and the variance in practices and ideology. And yet...speciesism and racism both occur and are maintained by a hierarchical structuring of value/worth/power associated with the beings involved. It is important to recognize the similarities and at the same time it is also profoundly important to not oversimplify and conflate the two phenomena in those areas where they differ.

We have to de-center human experience and perspective and culture as being thought of as the "norm". Being harmed by those who are not your species kin is a drastically different thing than being harmed by your own species members...yes...harm is present in both instances...but the complexities are dramatically different.

Considering the obscene practice of slavery reveals that the lived experience of a human who is enslaved is going to be deeply different than the experience of a horse being who is enslaved. It is important to look beyond the relatively simple physical factors (confinement, "disciplinary" violence, etc). It is critical and needfully urgent to never forget this. One of those significant differences is that a horse being is enslaved by those who are not her/his own kind but a human being must cope not only with the negative physical circumstances of being enslaved but she/he must also try to make sense of and cope with being subjected to this horrid circumstance by her/his own species kinfolk.

Think about the enslaved horse being...if she/he (theoretically) can only escape human grasp and join her free living kin (horse beings living away from human control) then freedom is possible. Her own kind is not her enemy, achieving freedom from humankind offers the chance to enjoy life as intended for her. The situation of enslavement is dramatically different (even though the same word is used to name it) for an enslaved human being. Her enemy is her own kind...how to identify which of her kin are dangerous versus not, how to know where to go to live free, how to live free...and on and on. The complexities and difficulties (ignoring the physical horrors of constraint and forced labor and torture) for the human being are multiple and much more extensive for the human being, when examined, in comparison to those that exist for the horse being.

Think of the difference in experience and ramifications for a small child wherein she is living in a family where one (or both) of her parents is violent and emotionally abusive...the very group of beings who should theoretically offer the greatest safety and care are instead sources of danger and harm. Compare and contrast that situation with the experience of a child who has a caring and accepting family but when she ventures out into the larger world she might encounter human beings out there who behave harmfully toward her. In both cases instances of physical harm might occur...but the ramifications and complexities (and negative cognitive and emotional effects) are dramatically different between the two situations.

If we think of species as family then we can see that in a situation where the members of your own species are your potential enemy species versus a situation where sometimes members of different species are your enemy...well...in the second it is easy to realize that being on guard around those who belong to a different species is wise and prudent. The first, wherein those who are your species kin are potentially your enemy also, offers almost geometrically greater circumstances of needs for discerning perception and identification and vigilance as well as profoundly greater difficulties in knowing situations of safety versus danger around other beings of your own kind. What looks to be much the same at first glance suddenly presents major challenges to comprehension.

Sort of like the difference between cannibalism (eating those like you) versus predation (eating those different than you). Cannibalism vs predation. Both are harmful but the weird/strange/crazy plus harm factor is off the charts in the first instance. Think of those two practices versus veganism. Just writing them out makes the obviousness of the placement of each on the spectrum of most harm to least harm immediately apparent. Cannibalism is equivalent to human enslavement of humans and/or racism and/or sexism and/or etc., predation equates to human enslavement of non-humans and/or speciesism and veganism...equates to live and let live. From the most complex and horrid to the least complex and least horrid. Hmmm...

A cow being never has to worry about being enslaved by other cows, to avoid enslavement she/he has only to avoid humans...he/she may meet other cows or groups of cows who act like a**holes but they can maybe avoid them and hang out with cows who are more fun. Human enslavement creates a situation vastly different for the victim. Who's safe? Who's not? Which humans might enslave me? How to know? Where to go to experience positive companionship with those of my own kind? Leaving one group of humans behaving like a**holes might situate me with a group of humans who will enslave me.

Superficially the enslavement of non-human beings by human beings and the enslavement of human beings by human beings seems to be the same...and there are similarities...but applying more nuanced and deeper consideration to those two superficially similar situations reveals many profound and extensive differences. Differences that simple slogans and comparisons obscure and obviate...differences I've failed to consider and appreciate previously.

Understanding things with greater precision is exciting and gratifying but...such expansions are always accompanied by awareness of previous immaturity and ignorances. I guess one way to avoid ever recognizing previous limitations is to never learn anything new. A scary bargain...one that I fear many humans seem to lean toward and one that we all probably opt for from time to time. Obviously I have on occasion.

Just think, if your civilization/culture teaches you ignorances and stupid stuff...not only do you have to struggle with overcoming ignorances, unlearning stupid stuff and discovering unstupid stuff...you have to wrestle with violating cultural teachings. The moving walkway is western european culture and to live the life of a decent being means you must head in the opposite direction your culture moves. It is a pain in the kabooka.

Maybe all this vaunted complexity and depth we celebrate ourselves for is actually a mislabeled acknowledgement that we can make living a life of minimal harm to others ridiculously difficult and hard to figure out how to do. Not because living such a life is hard...the hard part comes from escaping the lies that seem to proliferate with "civilization" and culture (especially european culture) and that coerce and urge and scam us into living harmful lives and into ignoring and not recognizing our harmfulness. Jeez.     

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lewis Thomas

was the author of a book of essays titled: Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The first essay had that name and I remember reading it not too long after it came out in the mid 1980s. In that essay, which you can read here, there was a sentence that struck me as one of the most meaningful and powerful ever written.

If I were 16 or 17 years old and had to listen to that, or read things like that, I would want to give up listening and reading. I would begin thinking up new kinds of sounds, different from any music heard before, and I would be twisting and turning to rid myself of human language.
In the essay he was referencing the reading and listening to things that were being spouted by Reagan and his administration wherein they were quite seriously wanting to engage in a nuclear war with Russia so they could destroy the "Evil Empire".

That sentence returned, stunningly so, when the disconnecting and invisibling of the viciousness and violence of the behavior of humans toward our sister/brother Earthlings finally diminished enough that I finally began to see and feel and comprehend what we were doing. The sentence haunted me because the more I became aware of what I had done, of what we all were doing, the more I eventually starting wishing I didn't think or feel or speak human. How does a Nazi feel when they realize they are a Nazi and all that such a realization means?

That sentence has never really left me since then and yesterday it came crashing back and the feelings were stronger than ever. We took a day trip to visit the Chickasaw Cultural Center about 60 miles south of here. It's a really beautiful place and has to be seen and experienced to fully appreciate that fact.

Kochcha' Aabiniili' Amphitheater
This is one photo of many that are available on the website they've created. The name of the amphitheater means "a place for sitting outside".

When we were walking onto the grounds I found my self pulling inward, I was looking forward to visiting the center and was puzzled by my reaction. I kept listening and waiting to see what was going on with me and as I did I felt heavy and then even more heavy and finally sadness and sorrow started welling up inside me. Tears started falling as I realized that I was visiting a place the ancestors of the survivors of a genocide (a past genocide as well as an ongoing slow-motion current debacle) had created to try to keep their ways of being. And I was one of the ancestors of the perpetrators and I am one of the members of the group who drive the current manifestations of subjugation.

I felt such a deep sense of shame and desolation, similar to that which I feel when I see a small torn and smashed fur-person lying beside a roadway or when I see cows or horses behind barbed wire. The cause of all this violence and death and theft of lives and freedom and land and water is the group I was born into. That pain and suffering was caused by us. We caused that harm.

And they were the victims and they experienced the loss and the misery. And we blithely lollygag along, la ti da, la ti da. We don't think we're bad people, we don't think we oppress others...we're the home of the brave and the land of the free (especially if you're white and male) with liberty and justice for all (?). Hooray.

We should be the ones suffering and grieving, we should be wailing and be covered in sackcloth. We're the bad guys and unless and until we take onto ourselves awareness of this and begin feeling the harm and horror we've inflicted on others (and continue to do), we're going to keep right on harming...and singing la ti da, la ti da. The pain and suffering they experienced belongs to the perpetrator, not to the victims. Just as the pain and suffering we inflict on our sister/brother Earthlings who aren't human belongs to us, the perpetrators, not the victims.

But...it's the victims who are forced to feel the terror, the horror, the misery...not us. We try to hide their bodies from ourselves...in the case our animal victims...and in the case of our human victims we just pretend nothing is wrong...or we try to hide them too.

And...if the human victims get upset...well...they're just "too sensitive"...or they misunderstood...or we tell ourselves (not outloud, that's not nice) that they're not like us. If the animal victims resist or scream or try to escape, well, they're "just" animals. We pack the animal victims into "factory" farms, we cram the Native Americans into reservations, we squash the poor black victims into ghettos or "inner-city" neighborhoods or move away if they buy houses in areas where we live. It's all too awful to comprehend.

What if it is the case that if we're going to get to a place where we quit harming that we have to take back some of that pain we've been inflicting on others? What if we have to feel miserable (no way could we feel all of what we've done...there's way too much of it). But what if we have to feel some of it? What if, in order to break out of the viciousness, we have to feel some of the horridly devastating awfulness?

Every one of you who lives vegan has probably had the experience of someone getting upset with you when you tried to tell them about the suffering of the animal victims, of their excuses, their rejection of their own culpability. It's only bad, mean people who hurt animals, not them...even though they eat them. They're not being mean, they're not cruel. Bad people are cruel. Trying to tell white european humans about their racist tyranny and cruelty toward other peoples elicits dismay, rejection, denial and...just as when you try to convey the vegan message...the likelihood is high that they'll turn on the messenger.

 Many vegan activists use graphics similar to this to promote their message. Choose compassion, quit harming animals, go vegan. But...what about the other two, racism and sexism? We vegans tend to compare our efforts to those struggles that are ongoing against those other two "isms"...but have we done the work of feeling the pain and misery that are products of racism and sexism? If we're vegan we've probably felt some of the pain and upset associated with hurting our sister/brother Earthlings who aren't human but what about our sister/brother Earthlings who are humans?

What about their pain and suffering and misery? Have we felt any turmoil and pain and dismay about those victims? Or is it just talk? Are we comparing ourselves to movements that are driven by the same sorts of resistance to oppression and injustice that we are fighting against without having done the hard and gut-wrenching and mind-blowing work of "getting it" regarding what those movements fight against?

Six months ago I would have said "of course I get it"...now...I'm not so sure. Now I think that it was the case that I was kidding myself six months ago. I wrote this post back in December about the racially offensive exploitation of African Americans ostensibly to promote veganism and/or to make money. The words are pretty much there...but...I wasn't feeling it. I knew the words to the song but I wasn't hearing the music. Now, I think (notice that I say think) that I'm starting to hear the music...and it's a dirge...it's sad music full of pain and misery and hard feelings to bear. There aren't any words for it. I wasn't where this young woman obviously is. My denial was operating then...I think it's a little less powerful now. I hope it is.

Watch the video of the young woman expressing her pain and upset over the mocking of African American culture and language...it's about 12 minutes or so. See if the experience of hearing and seeing her expressing herself doesn't impact you. We can promote veganism without hurting others but...that wasn't done in this case. Some objected, Breeze Harper, Pattrice Jones and others, but not all vegans objected....some defended it. Some championed it and pooh poohed those who were upset.

We have a lot further to go than I thought...and I include me in that. I think the most unconscionable thing of all is that it's all so unnecessary. We have a lot of pain to feel and process and suffer through in order to legitimately use comparison graphics like the one I stuck in this post. Shame on me for not realizing that sooner. I feel awful and I know my feelings are as nothing when compared to the misery and suffering and horror inflicted on the innocent by speciesism and racism and all the numerous systems that maintain domination and oppression.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Knowledge is constructed...

or produced or created...or whatever other word you want to use to signify being made up by humans. That doesn't mean that physical laws, like gravity (I'm using the word "law" in lieu a better term), are made up but rather that all human knowledge excepting those apparent physical laws is not "objective" and value free. Scientific research is human driven and that means there are instigators of it that have human driven agendas and there are users of the results of such research that have the same type of agendas. For instance, no ethical vegan would buy into the argument that scientific research that confines and tortures animals is "value free". 

Knowledge is not "discovered", it is created...and it has creators. And they are humans just like you...and me. And those humans that made up "knowledge" had/have a viewpoint and ideologies and motivations and desires just like you...and me.


Here's a quote from a paper I'm reading. When I first read this I had to put the paper down and walk away from it because is was so very unsettling to me and I think it was so unsettling because I dimly understood what the author was saying. The passage I'm reproducing has been paraphrased (and underlined) by me to fit in a little better into this bit of writing (don't worry, I'll link to the paper so you can read the original if you wish) but I won't mangle the core meaning of the passage.

If you are reading this essay, you are likely enrolled in a course that takes a critical stance. By critical stance we mean those academic fields (including social justice, critical pedagogy, multicultural education, anti-racist, postcolonial, and feminist approaches) that operate from the perspective that knowledge is socially constructed and that education is a political project embedded within a network of social institutions that reproduce inequality.
In your course, you will be studying key concepts such as socialization, oppression, privilege, and ideology and doing coursework that challenges your worldview by suggesting that you may not be as “open-minded” as you may have thought. You are encountering evidence that inequality not only exists, but is deeply structured into society in ways that secure its reproduction. You are also beginning to realize that, contrary to what you have always been taught, categories of difference (such as gender, race, and class) rather than merit alone, do matter and contribute significantly to people’s experiences and life opportunities.
This bit of information (that I paraphrased) came from a paper you can find here if you want to read the original. It's located on a website called Academia.edu that offers free registration (if you want) and downloadable pieces of writing from folks in all kinds of academic areas.

Knowledge is socially constructed and and education is politically driven and exists within a network of social institutions that reproduce inequality.

The passage above is saying that all these things you or I thought we "knew" (excepting some "laws" like gravity) were/are things that somebody else "constructed". They took some bits and pieces and put them together into sort of a "just so" story and then used that story to "explain" things...and that explanation was repeated and repeated and repeated for generations and morphed into "knowledge". Something we "know". Some people call this made up stuff "common sense". And...those people that made up "common sense" had ideologies and biases and viewpoints and those factors influenced that "common sense" that they constructed.

Here's one example, now, some of you may have already glommed onto this, I hadn't grasped it much beyond broad strokes until relatively recently, but some you might have pieced this together some time ago. Race. Race is "socially constructed", it's made up. There's no more biological difference between any of the various races of humans than there is between a calico cat and a tabby cat. Yes, some people look different than others, just like a calico cat looks different than a tabby, but they're still cats...with all the cat features and all the cat behaviors and likes and dislikes. And, various groups of humans look different from one another but they're still humans...with all the human features and all the human behaviors and likes and dislikes. That's not disregarding the fact that, while all cats are the same they are also each different, in that each of them have their own unique personality just as each human has their own unique personality. Ok? A thoughtful discussion about the persistence of the fantasy of a biological foundation for "race" can be read here.

Now, don't lose sight of the fact that the social consequences of our made up idea of "race" are real...because they are but...the foundation of the actual concept of "race" is simply a fairy tale that we've been told and have been telling ourselves for several hundred years. Obviously you're welcome to embark on your own journey of discovery or investigation and I would be glad to hear about what you find...in the meantime when you hear "race", just think calico cat and tabby cat.

More entries here and here for reading related to the "race" thing.

Now...what does this have to do with anything? Well, in my last post I wrote a corollary to Audre Lorde's saying that you can't dismantle the master's house with the master's tools and that extension of her observation was that if you want to learn about the master...don't listen to the master or the master's sycophants. Who's the master? Well, essentially it's your culture. The master is essentially the same notion that Daniel Quinn wrote about in Ishmael. I wrote about Ishmael here and a little more here.

And...to tell ya the truth, I hadn't put together that Mr. Quinn and Audre Lorde were referencing the same thing until I started writing this blog post. None of this is new, I've just had a horribly hard time putting it together. It's slippery and hard to grasp and hard to hold in awareness. Interestingly, this was all being stirred up decades ago, way way back in the 1960s, except then it was called the "counterculture". And many many others have objected to and resisted and decried the hegemony and ideology of western european culture since its inception...that's something you can investigate further for yourself if you're so inclined.

It wasn't nearly as coherent then...mostly the ideas of the counterculture were those of opposition to the mainstream culture. There were no academic fields of study that had spent lots and lots of time in an effort trying to understand and comprehend counterculture or the elements of counterculture or where they came from and what they meant historically and operationally.

No, it mostly was just that a fair sized group of somewhat overprivileged (mostly young) people knew something stinky was going on and they wanted to get out of it. But, their attempt at leave taking was pretty disorganized and not well informed and it sort of flamed out, or subsided. The awareness that stinkiness was going on didn't disappear, nor did the impulse to get out of it...it just sort of went off the radar of generally disseminated information. Knowledge that stinkiness is happening is a lot more widespread and well known than the master wants to let on. Many many different humans for many many years have tried to grapple with this but it's been really fragmented and incoherent and suppressed...who suppressed it? The master (western european culture).

Well, it's back...and it's been back for several decades...and it's called the critical stance. And it's been busy. And I apologize to myself and to anyone else who cares to hear it. I apologize for not putting this stuff together before now. It's still really really fuzzy to me but not as fuzzy as it was.

Look, think about this, isn't veganism just another way of saying that something stinky is going on? Veganism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how human animals treat other animals. Feminism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how one group of human animals treats another group of human animals. Environmentalism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how human animals treat mother Earth.

From what I can see, every social justice movement is about something stinky that is being done to one group of beings (or mother Earth) by another group of beings. Oh...and all the doing of the stinky stuff is always by human animals. We have met the enemy and he is us...as Walt Kelly so wisely wrote over 40 years ago. And...the something stinky is invariably the same thing. It's taking things from the other or enslaving the other or harming the other or denigrating the other...by force...or by threat of force or by "common sense". Isn't it? Doesn't that pretty much cover it? And, stinkiness is embedded into our culture and often masquerades as "common sense"...and that makes it really really hard to resist without recreating it.

I apologize if this seems weird to you. So many different things and ideas and knowings are starting to coalesce for me right now that it's sort of overwhelming. I regret not being more coherent. I sorta feel like people have described feeling when they were on an acid trip (which, by the way, many who took acid did so because they were trying to break out of the masters house and the master's version of reality...it didn't work too well but ya gotta appreciate the effort).

It's the weirdest thing, truly. This time of my life is developing (seemingly) into the most exciting and astonishing time I've ever experienced. At the same time it is, in some ways, the most awful and the most painful. Who was it...Dickens...that's who...it was Charles Dickens who wrote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". Old Charley could turn a phrase...one with staying power.

I realize this all might sound goofy to you...it sort of sounds goofy to me...but it really isn't. In some ways I'm less goofy than I've ever been even though I might sound just the opposite. A long long time ago I did something that was spectacularly "crazy"...I mean really strange, dramatically strange (not harmful or destructive...just very weird). It took until many years later when I related this incident to a wise friend who helped me make sense of it (prior to that I simply felt horrified and scared and ashamed about what I had done). He pointed out that sometimes when we think we are at our "craziest" is when we are at our most sane...and his saying that suddenly made that "awful" thing I did pop into complete clarity. It made me see what I was trying to do and it wasn't "crazy" at all...it was about as truthful and sane and real as it is possible to be. It was an amazing moment...it's still amazing. (crazy isn't being used derogatorily here, it's just a shorcut word for meaning not corresponding to what most think of as 'reality')

And these times right now resemble that, they feel like the most disconnected from "reality" ever and at the same time they feel like the most connected to "reality". Another way of understanding the word "reality" is that it is a short cut for the phrase "the just so stories that we tell ourselves to help us understand everything going on inside of and outside of ourselves". The reality created by western european culture is characterized accurately as being one that creates and reproduces inequalities wherein various groups of beings dominate and oppress other groups of beings. No wonder abdicating from stinkiness is so damn hard.

"A network of social institutions that reproduce inequality"...remember that phrase from above? What we think of as "reality", the ways in which we understand ourselves and the world we are in is mostly stuff made up by other humans...and the culture/reality that is home to me is one that is characterized by its devotion to reproducing inequality. When I try to think about not doing inequality, I use the tools of the 'master' and I often unwittingly and unknowingly simply reproduce inequality. But...I've changed the way it looks so...I probably don't recognize it as inequality anymore. Then I feel "good" because I made "progress". But...maybe I didn't...maybe I just rearranged the inequality to where I don't recognize it as such anymore and maybe, later, I will see that I just created another problem of inequality...or maybe not...maybe I'll never catch onto the fact that I didn't.

It's a toughie, isn't it? What a trip. Just wow. I'll stop for now with this...if I'm feeling like I do now and I ever meet the two women who wrote that paper I quoted from previously...I will hug them both while wearing a big big smile and thank them from the core of my being. What a wonderful and excellent thing they wrote. Jeez.