Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Instead of Shopping...


This is the title of a timely and excellent post by pattrice jones over on the Vine Sanctuary Blog. I'm writing this primarily as an encouragement to you to visit that post because it is so very very truth full and so very very important. Please go there and read it.

My thanks to pattrice jones for writing it.

Some excepts from that post include:

"...the festival of carnivorous gluttony known as Thanksgiving followed by the carnival of consumerism known as Black Friday offer a case in point of the intersections among colonialism, capitalism, animal exploitation, and environmental degradation..."

"PS — This isn’t meant to discourage folks who use holiday sales to save money on things they need and would have bought anyway (though we do hope that anybody who shops over the Thanksgiving weekend will be mindful of the second annual #BLACKOUT Black Friday boycott by choosing independent and Black-owned businesses rather than big box stores.) This is about resisting the enticement to squander hard-earned funds on unnecessary products that deplete the environment along with your pocketbook, all in the service of amoral profiteers. This is about finding much more substantial pleasure in volunteer work or playful activities that contribute to your own well-being while helping to heal our communities and ecosystems."
I can't go to the Vine Sanctuary but I can go to my local sanctuary, Heartland Rabbit Rescue, and give my time and effort to helping the victims of human callousness. I can go there and my presence lets the humans who are there 24/7 how much they are admired and appreciated. If you can...go to Vine Sanctuary...if you can't...find a local organization in your area that helps our sister/brother Earthlings and give them your time and effort. Please.

If we want human society to operate differently...we have to change how we behave...and doing "holidays" differently can be a step towards having a society that respects and cares about mother Earth and all her Earthlings. Engage in healing, not harming.

Friday, November 20, 2015


is sometimes defined as the changing of social relating into one of an exchange or the buying and selling of feelings. Wikipedia says it is the changing of goods and/or services and/or ideas and/or anything else that isn't usually considered to be a commodity into such a form. Ok...so what's a commodity? Wikipedia says it is "...a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs." Hmmm...what the heck is "fungible"...one definition is that it means the property or essence of goods that are capable of being substituted in place of one another.

So...commodification is making something not usually considered to be able to be bought or sold into a something that can be bought or sold. Commodification is closely related to privatization...which essentially means transferring from public control or ownership to private or individual ownership something that's been commodified.
In the book titled A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the author writes: "Commodification presumes the existence of property rights over processes, things and social relations, that a price can be put on them, and that they can be traded subject to legal contract. The market is presumed to work as an appropriate guide -- an ethic -- for all human action." p. 165


We are in deep doo doo. This article might assist in heightening your alarm...if what you're reading hasn't already done so. You're currently getting slammed with all kinds of phenomena related to commodification because of the year end frenzy of buying and selling that has become synonymous with the "holiday" season.

The market as a guide for all human action? Wow. There's a seriously profound demeaning ugliness in that idea. Look around...you can see what happens when such ideas are put into action all over the place.

The source for the above cartoon is here.

My last years of participation in 'formal' employment put me in a job wherein I had to attend many meetings. I began to notice that the folks who were often given the most attention were those who talked a lot and who sounded like they knew what they were talking about...even when they didn't. Their ideas and notions sounded plausible...and seemed to make sense...unless you really really thought about how people actually behaved and the implications of what they were promoting. These snazzy sounding notions sort of glided over or ignored the sticky parts.

It seemed as if these "good talkers" (and many who listened) were entranced by their words and ideas and they had lost sight of the fact that words and ideas are not living beings or the behavior of living beings or mother Earth and words or ideas don't necessarily correspond accurately to what they purport to reflect nor does the 'logic' of the words or ideas always correspond to reality. But...they sure sounded sensible and/or 'good'.

I had mostly always been a little uneasy with eloquence...not that humans who aren't eloquent can't be full of crap...but crap wrapped up in eloquence is often more difficult to recognize. I appreciate well written things and well spoken folks...but. I've noticed many of us (and me too sometimes) get trapped by that fallacy of confusing a map with the territory. Territory is reality...maps may or may not accurately correspond to that territory. Just because a map looks good doesn't necessarily mean it is true. Symbols are not the things they represent...words are symbols and using language puts you at risk of reifying the symbol and thereby distorting or ignoring reality.

When we use words like "market" we tend to flatten or ignore or invisible the activities that are required for such things to exist. Just like when you go to the supermarket and buy lettuce...the human labor and activities required to prepare the soil, plant the lettuce, water the plants, harvest and package and transport the lettuce are all made invisible. All you see is the end result of a large number of activities which may or may not have included child labor, inadequate wages, toxic chemicals, stolen land...and often that end result is wrapped up in a shiny package and offered to you as a "bargain".

And you buy it because it's "cheap" or you just wanted it. Congratulations...you just provided support to environmental destruction, child or enslaved human labor, exploitation of women, the racialization of objects and people (and your implicit thinking patterns), war and militarization, and on and on and on.

You just sided with the ideological argument that "markets" should guide your behavior and thinking and feeling...and it was easy...nor did you even realize you were engaged in an argument, did you? 

This process of invisibling makes supporting the monstrous destruction of mother Earth and her living beings "normal". Commodification, privatization, markets, profit...words that mask complex and often destructive activities (and unspoken ideological arguments)...be afraid...be very afraid.  



Friday, November 13, 2015

Racist animal activism?

To contextualize this post you first need to read this writing by Lauren Ornelas about a recent experience she had while doing some animal activism. She writes on her blog called Appetite for Justice by Food Empowerment Project. A note on Dr. Breeze Harper's blog led me to Lauren's entry. 

What happened during her activism efforts makes the statement on the graphic: "Proud to be an animal activist" a little dubious.

Lauren ends the piece she wrote on her blog with these poignant words: "I can’t imagine the animals truly wanting us to be so cruel toward one another because, if nothing else, if we can’t live with solidarity among our own species, how can we save them?"

It's a great question. If we think of human animals as if we were a family and the other beings that we share mother Earth with as other families...do we really think that we can behave horribly toward our own family members but pull off the trick of behaving well toward those who aren't in our family?

Readers here are members of the human family, there is also the pig family and the cow family and the sparrow family and so on. It's bizarre to imagine we humans can operate out of a racist framework and/or a sexist framework and/or an abelist framework and/or a heteronormative framework and so on...in terms of our interactions with one another and...while doing all those harmful things and thinking in all those harmful ways...also be able to avoid harm to beings who belong to other families?

In other words do we think we can behave destructively and harmfully toward those we're most closely related to...but be respectful and non-harmful toward those who are relative strangers to us? Maybe so. Maybe we can...but it seems deranged to me to believe something like that. Deranged is actually a kind way to describe my thoughts and feelings about such ugly absurdities.

Wouldn't it be more reasonable and consistent to practice non-harm and respectfulness both with our family and with those who aren't in our family? Why would we want to act like a**holes toward those who are closest to us but be kind and compassionate toward those who are (relatively speaking) strangers to us?

I feel terrible for Lauren. She does good and honorable work with her organization...she's been advocating for animals for nearly 30 years and it is sad that she was exposed to such hateful obliviousness. This white supremacist stuff is ugly and painful...for everyone...and it has tainted all of us. We can do better than this...and we must.

I've come to think that one of the major problems we humans have is the idea that it's acceptable to behave horridly toward one group of beings or another or think one group or another is "superior".

Lauren's post provides much to consider. She questions whether she was correct in speaking out by asking: "But did I do the right thing by speaking up?"

Silence implies complicity. It isn't a neutral stance...if we are in the presence of wrong (pretty much no matter what sort of wrong) and we do not object or interrupt that wrong...then we are...whether intending to or not...supporting that wrong. None of us are exempt from that truth.

Thank you Lauren for speaking up.Your courage and compassion exemplify how we all should behave.

A few months back I wrote about my encounter with the white supremacist mindset that taints many vegan animal activists and about my banishment from a vegan group I helped start up because I objected to "activism" for animals that was racist in nature. I put the quotation marks around "activism" because I have difficulty seeing anything that reproduces oppression as legitimate "activism". Being hateful and harmful toward others, whether obliviously or not, isn't "activism".

Doing harm to the innocent in the name of stopping harm to the innocent is ridiculous. It's just this kind of oblivious recreating of damage that drives much, if not most, human destructiveness.

Please read Lauren's post...it has so much in it that needs to be known to anyone who's vegan...and anyone else, for that matter...who's struggling to escape a colonized viewpoint.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Acoma village

and the peoples who live there were one of the sites we visited on our recent trip to New Mexico.

I wanted to provide some elaboration of my reason(s) for refusing to enter the San Estevan del Rey Mission church which is located in the Acoma homeland.

I  placed this photo of that structure in my previous post.

It's a rather pretty building...but seeing it with some knowledge of how it came to be built makes it not look so pretty.

When I was there it was with a group of European appearing women and men who all followed the guide into the interior and oohed and aahed at the appearance of the place. I stayed outside. From the view of the building in the photo...to the left out of sight of the mission is a graveyard containing the remains of Acoma peoples. Some of those who are buried there were killed by the by the Europeans (Spanish) to get the mission constructed.

It was built by Acoma people who were forced (under threat of being whipped or killed) to carry logs on their shoulders from mountains located some 40 miles away. If a log was dropped...it was considered to be not usable any longer and those who dropped it were whipped and forced to go back and get another log. All of the earth and stone and wood that was used in the building was carried up onto the mesa by the enslaved Acoma peoples. No one knows how many were killed during the building of this church. It is a monument to slavery and suffering and death...but...mostly all anyone sees when they look at it is a pretty building.

The guide briefly related the history of how the mission came to be built to the tour participants...but none of them said anything about the horror (that I heard anyway) and none joined me in not going inside. My avoidance of seeing the inside was a paltry protest...but it was (at least to me) better than nothing. I felt sad seeing that building and comprehending the misery and suffering it represented.

The young Acoma woman who was our guide related some of the history of the building in a matter of fact way and the only comments I heard from the tour participants were statement about the impressiveness of the building.

I don't know what the guide thought about it all...and I never said anything to her about it. I couldn't think of any way to say anything without maybe sounding like I was trying to present myself as a good guy or something. So I kept my mouth shut.

When the Spanish came and started exploiting the Acoma...eventually the Acoma rebelled...several times. The Spanish, in one instance of reaction to the resistance of the Acoma murdered more than 600 men, women and children and all of the men who survived and were over a certain age had their right foot cut off. This is one, and only one, example of how Europe "civilized" the "new world".

If you take the time to read the wikipedia entry about the construction of the mission, you'll see that the authors of the entry say that Father Juan Ramirez "oversaw" the construction. "Oversaw" is a nice word that sort of leaves out the whippings and suffering and death involved in the enslavement of the Acoma people who were forced to construct the place. "Oversaw" is one of the words we Europeans use to sort of elide or smooth over our history of violent murder and enslavement and subjugation towards Native Americans and all people of color. 

In my only overt act of subversion against my European ancestry, I talked to one of the Acoma women who arrange the tours and asked her if the guides had ever written a book about the tours. She looked very serious and said no, because some of the ceremonies and activities of the Acoma people were sacred and not to be shared with those who weren't tribal members. I explained that I wasn't talking about the practices of the Acoma...but about whether the guides had ever written a book about the ignorant and clueless questions and comments the white people made who came for the tours.

She looked shocked and stunned for a moment and then she started laughing and laughing. I felt a little bit of warmth that she was so delighted. She said no, but that was a terrific idea and then she laughed some more and thanked me for the suggestion. Her laughter was the nicest part of the visit.

Most of us who are white skinned do not realize that, in Jane Elliot's phrase, the brown eyed people (many/most of them, not all of them though) look at us white people with skepticism and dubiousness. Rightfully so, given our history. They know how we white people think and comprehend but they also have their own comprehension and thinkings. Very few white people understand this and even rarer are the occasions when white people, in person at least, will be directly let in on these different comprehensions and thinkings. I was gifted with an unspoken acknowledgement of these differences by the laughter of the Acoma woman. I greatly appreciate that she shared her laughter with me.

I doubt that any book will ever be written about the oblivious white people who come for a tour. It would piss off white people and do damage to the Acoma people...even though it would be true...and probably funny in a sad sort of way. But I wish we lived in a human society where such a book was possible. Maybe someday. Other Native Americans have written about their views of white people. If you're interested you can read "Custer Died For Your Sins" by Vine Deloria, Jr. He's a delightful and insightful author.

This "double consciousness" isn't a secret...it's just mostly invisible to white people. We (European ancestored people) don't see it because we are taught not to...our victims have been trying to tell us about this for a long long time...but it evades most of us with white skin because it is uncomfortable and scary and painful...so we mostly pretend it doesn't exist. And we pretend so well that we don't realize we are pretending. It is, in part, what is meant by invisibling.

But...many/most brown-eyed peoples are aware of the pretense and don't buy into the invisibling. They are generally, very wisely, reluctant to let white skinned people know that they comprehend things differently than we do...at least not in person. Because we mostly don't want to hear it and get upset when we do hear it. And...we're dangerous...and if you don't understand that white skinned people are dangerous...go back in this post and read again how that mission was constructed. It's a pretty building that is a monument to European arrogance and violence. In fact, any areas of the planet unlucky enough to have experienced European colonization are invisibled monuments to horror and violence.

That's a long time ago, you say? Well...if that makes you feel better...good. Just don't read anything about Ferguson, or Baltimore or Wounded Knee or or or any of the myriad recent instances of white people harming those they saw as "different". William Faulkner said it best: "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past." But...that makes us uneasy so we white folks ignore it and if we can't ignore it we'll lie about it or minimize it or make excuses for it...anything to avoid taking responsibility and maybe working toward some sort of redemption or rectification. 

I didn't start out to write this much about the Acoma visit. But...it just came out. Acoma is a beautiful place but it was mostly sadness and sorrow that I felt while I was there. I'm happiest that I was able to bring some laughter to the young woman. That was the nicest part of it all, along with the beauty of the land and the plants and the animals and of New Mexico.

Taos trees and mountains, October 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Can one exist alone?

I've been thinking about something that's touched upon in the efforts of a number of authors...a phenomenon called transgenerational trauma. That's a clunky sounding phrase that looks at the fact that harm to someone doesn't necessarily stop or stay contained in the primary victim. The definition on wikipedia reads:
Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.
What I've been wrestling with is the notion of the seemingly complimentary concept of transgenerational responsibility. And by that I mean, just as the initiator of violent acts is culpable and responsible for those acts...does that culpability and responsibility end at the person of the perpetrator or does it reach across generational lines and posit itself with the subsequent generations of the perpetrator?

There's a related notion that requires more consideration...that's for later or for someone else to do...and that is, simply put, can you harm others without harming yourself? I don't think so...but I don't know. Obviously the manifestation of the harm would likely differ...killing someone else doesn't kill the perpetrator like it does the victim but...that doesn't mean some sort of harm to the initiator doesn't occur. Violence/oppression might be thought of as being something like an explosion. In an explosion the waves of destruction spread in all directions and anyone/anything within the zone of damage gets hurt/injured/wounded/harmed. An explosion isn't unidirectional...it's omnidirectional. I may toss a bomb at someone's feet and it blows up...but that explosion can harm not only the victim...but me...the tosser. This seems to merit much more thinking/feeling about than I can do here and now.

The mechanisms (sort of a misleading word but I'll use it here, living beings really don't do "mechanical") of the transmission of transgenerational trauma is hypothecated to be...in the definition above...associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). Interestingly enough, the idea of ptsd is fairly new. Humans have noted for some time that wars (orgies of violence against humans by humans that we, the "intelligent" species periodically engage in) result in damage beyond physical destruction. People get emotionally wounded by the violence of war in addition to being physically harmed...and...not only can the victims experience emotional harm but so can the perpetrators.

In WWI these sorts of manifestations of emotional damage were called shell shock, WWII saw a name change to combat stress reaction...it was only as a result of the Vietnam experience did the name ptsd emerge for this complex cluster of reactions to violent mayhem and terror. The increase in attempts at understanding this stuff that came with Vietnam also resulted in an expansion of the notion to include all sorts of situations of trauma including those not associated with war. I'm not going to go into further detail about it here, that's not what I'm trying to write about and...in truth...I wonder about how well and thoroughly we understand this...even though many very bright and concerned people have devoted much time and attention to trying to comprehend it. 

What I'm wallowing around with is more general in nature. A question of ethics, maybe? A question of symmetry? What I'm wondering is if it is the case that transgenerational trauma can occur doesn't it follow that transgenerational culpability would exist also?

What if, as a result of that violence/harm, there is a benefit. Like, for instance, a human kills another human and steals stuff from them. They then take the stolen goods and give them to their children and their children give them to their children...and on and on. Do those children, and their children's children have any ethical or moral obligation toward that original victim...or to the children or children's children of that victim...who were deprived of that which was taken from their predecessors? 

But beyond that tangible benefit thing...what about responsibility for the harm? Does it stop at the actual perpetrator or does it ripple or cascade down onto the children and children's children of the killer? In regard to the children and children's children of the killed victim? I wonder.

We're big here, in U.S. America, on the individualism thing. It's sort of like we pretend we're all self contained little packages floating around and what we do is what we are responsible for (when convenient) and we're not responsible for what anyone else does...or for what went on before we popped out from between our mother's legs. It's a whopping big part of the ideological lens we get fitted with here in U.S. America. What's funny is we tend to confine it to white people (maybe only white men)...if you think about it.

Groups of humans not identified as white skinned males...Indigenous peoples, African-American peoples, Asian-American peoples, women peoples even, tend to get looked at as if their actions and attitudes reflect on and are indicative of everyone in the particular group they are consigned to. They tend to not get seen as individuals...but rather as representatives of and proxies for their group. The same thing goes on for those beings who aren't human...one cat tends to be seen as a representative of all cats, same for dogs, cows, bats and so on. (I've slowly come to comprehend that such ways of thinking are markers of membership or non-membership in dominant or subordinate groups in this western euro horror story that influences all of us)

But, generally, not white men...white men are seen as kind of magically individual packages blithely floating along, self-contained and somehow disconnected from all other white men (and...mostly everyone else for that matter). I must say, the more I apprehend this weird viewpoint and the more I become able to sometimes spot it when it is presented...the stranger and more bizarre it appears. One rule for white men (individuals)...different rules for all other humans (representative of their socially assigned group) and for all other Earthlings who aren't human ones too. It's even more convoluted than that at times...but that's too involved to go into now.

Joy DeGruy and Michael Yellow Bird and Eduardo Duran and others have all written and talked about the notion of transgenerational trauma (maybe not using that phrase though) and implicit in their thinking/writing is the idea of transgenerational responsibility (again, not using that phrase either). If you want...you can learn more about these ideas by referencing their efforts. I would especially encourage you to watch this presentation by Joy DeGruy. She wrote a book about this sort of thing that details some aspects of these ideas. I cannot recommend your reading this book (especially if you are identified as a white U.S. American) unless you are willing to risk losing a number of comforting and reality denying illusions.

Sensei Aishitemasu references this sort of thing in a video she created. She wasn't, by name, referencing transgenerational responsibility or transgenerational trauma...but...she was talking about aspects of those notions and she did it in such a way that it was sort of funny and sort of sad simultaneously.

Here's an excerpt from the writing she did to accompany this video. She's referencing racism but in her addressing that abomination she points out the sort of magical notion that somehow white people are exempt from all known dynamics of cultural transmission or of ideological comprehension and viewpoints (and, we might infer, corresponding behaviors and/or responsibilities and/or culpability). Her words:
You can't opt out of the system. You can't opt out of your privilege. You can't opt out of its benefits if you're born with white skin.

And it's funny how we understand this when we're talking about other forms of pathology. We understand that people growing up in abusive households have higher chances of being impacted by abuse. We understand that soldiers coming back from violent war zones have higher chances of being affected by post traumatic stress disorder. We understand that people in certain environments will be psychologically impacted in certain ways.

But start talking about learned racism and, all of a sudden, everything we know about the human brain goes out the window because every white person is a unique special snowflake (with the magical mutant x abilities to not be influenced by their surroundings and the constant barrage of racist, white supremacist propaganda).

Dear white people: You are not omega level mutants able to control things with your mind. You are not Jean Gray. You have been born into this racist, sexist, capitalist, white supremacist society and from birth you have been imbued with its beliefs.
All of the resources I'm listing here have to do with humans writing or talking about human doings to other humans. But...it's all about oppression...one group with more power doing large and small awful things to other groups with less power for benefit of some kind or other. Beings belonging to a powerful group harming beings belonging to a less powerful group.

Maybe, in those portraits of human injury and wounding and harm we can dimly apprehend processes of oppression and their similarities from one group of victims to the next...and the similarities of the processes of oppression...from one group of perpetrators to the next. Maybe we can do that.

In the doing though there is danger...and risk...it must ever and always be held in awareness that the lived experience of oppression is unique and individual to each victim (or, maybe in some ways, each group of victims) and great care and caution must be exercised in the face of any temptation to meld or conflate those experiences. While oppressions may look very similar, indeed...they may be similar, that doesn't mean the experience of those targeted is the same.

Using verbal shorthand phrases like "people of color" does great harm to comprehension unless it is kept in mind that the experience of harm (and sometimes even the form of the harmings) differed depending on which minoritized group was being targeted. The circumstances and experience of Native Americans was different than the circumstances and experiences of African Americans and the circumstances and experiences of Asian Americans was different than either of those groups. (It is to be understood that this uniqueness of experience holds for all groups who are oppressed/harmed even if they're not specifically named here)

About the only thing that can be said in general, with some element of accuracy, is that European ancestored white males (and often the European ancestored white females too) pretty much treated anyone who wasn't assigned to their socially constructed group, horribly. And...that many of the processes and dynamics of harm emanating from European white peoples of the past continue to operate in the present.

Well...one other thing can be said, in general, with some accuracy and that is that understanding all this demands much more sustained thinking and comprehending than U.S. American culture tries to make us believe. It's rather embarrassing to realize how incredibly ignorant most of us (I include myself) who are identified as "white" are regarding many things really...but especially those destructive processes encompassed by the term racism. What's even more excruciatingly dismaying is how many of us who are so woefully ignorant are just as likely to have amazingly strong and certain opinions about that which, we are in fact, almost totally clueless. Being both ignorant and certain about something is an ugly and dangerous combination. 

Hiding the horror and the complexity and the suffering and the nuance and the processes...processes like transgenerational trauma...keeping all those out of awareness and visibility is part and parcel of how they are kept in operation. And...interrupting them...changing them...opting out of them...is virtually impossible until they are more fully and widely known and understood and recognized...by those who are members of dominant groups. Those who belong to the targeted groups know what's going on...it's those who do the damage who evince ignorance and obliviousness.

So...in furtherance of the goal of getting through the thicket of obfuscations and obliviousnesses and invisiblities of oppression...the question that I'm struggling with is whether it is possible to have transgenerational trauma without also having transgenerational responsiblity or transgenerational culpability?

In other words...if harm carries across generations...doesn't it follow that responsibility for that harm also carries across generations? It seems to me that it would...and does. But...it may be that I'm being misled and confused by words or language or skewed logic. I don't know. I don't think so though.

Note: I'm writing and thinking this from the position of an older European ancestored heterosexual male...which means I've been well indoctrinated in obliviousness...for decades. Hence, it is likely I've committed profound omissions and errors or distortions in my efforts to express my thinking on this topic. Anyone choosing to assist in correcting my ignorant or unintentional error making in this post will have my gratitude. Thank you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Mexico is

maybe my all time favorite place on planet Earth...especially northern New Mexico up around Taos. It is an area that is almost magical in terms of the way the beauty of the sky and the desert and the mountains affect me. The sky there is a blue so deep and rich that it almost sparkles.

Our two main goals for a trip were to catch the Aspens and Cottonwoods around Taos as they turned golden in celebration of Autumn and to visit the Acoma Pueblo. We were fortunate enough to manage both.

entry roadway to Acoma
I borrowed the photo from the wikipedia entry about Acoma Pueblo...it shows the road that leads up to the location of this settlement. Up on the mesa where the houses of the traditional Acoma village are located is situated a catholic mission. I also borrowed the photo below that shows the structure.
mission at Acoma
Some time ago I had read a bit about how that building came to be located at the Acoma village and because of what I knew I didn't go inside although the tour includes visiting the interior of the building. I maybe will write about that in another post...it's a sordid and ugly tale as are most that have to do with the European invasion of the western hemisphere.

This post is mainly about one of the three fur people that live with us because in order to make the trip they were kindly cared for by Jeannie (the director) out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue.

Luigi, Jr and J.J.
The fellow on the left who has the dark hair on his nose is Luigi, Jr. He's one of those bunnies that staggers you with his cuteness...his brother is called JJ...who is no slouch in the cuteness department either. I wrote earlier about their coming to live with us.

Mr. Luigi's reaction to being dislocated from his home for a few days was rather dramatic...and for Jeannie...painful. When we returned and everyone was back at home, Jeannie asked me if Luigi was a "biter". He had no history of such and when I told her this she explained that she had asked because he had inflicted several painful bites on her while he was staying at her place, once he bit so strongly that he drew blood and was hanging from her hand while she tried to get away from him.

We had explained several times to the boys and to Gwennie (who also stayed with Jeannie while we were gone) about our trip and their going to visit Heartland while we were gone. Well...explaining with human words doesn't remediate distress and upset. Gwennie reacted by being rather withdrawn and depressed while we were gone and Mr. Luigi reacted by taking out his upset on Jeannie. I'm presuming JJ watched Luigi's aggression and let that serve as a proxy for whatever feelings he was having about being away from his home.

All three are back home now and seemingly happy to be so. Luigi is eager for headrubs and so are the other two and all seem to be settled back into their usual routines. Gwennie immediately cruised around her area in the living room when she got home and asked to be held a couple of times and then passed out for a long long nap. We speculate that the stress of change had worn her out and she needed some recovery time.

Luigi behaved differently (aggressively) than usual even though our intent was not to upset him. The impact on him, however, was upsetting...if his aggressiveness is an indicator that he was upset. Luigi doesn't speak the human English language but he speaks a language common to all Earthlings...behavior. There's an old saying in English that addresses this truth and I bet most of you have heard it at one time or another: Actions speak louder than words.

Yup, that's right, there is a universal language common to all Earthlings...it's called behavior. It can be difficult sometimes to comprehend nuance in terms of what factors produce or motivated the universal Earthling language or even what it means...but...it is a language shared by all of us living beings here on mother Earth.

It overrides and is more potent than human languages and should be given more credence than vocalizations and/or writing because it is what our words or writings reference. Humans can lie with their behavior, so can other Earthlings but...in general...it is much easier to detect lying with behavior than it is lying with human words and it is also generally more difficult to lie with behavior.

Luigi evidently didn't like what happened and he "spoke" with his behavior. impact is more significant and meaningful than intent...all Earthlings speak the universal Earthling language called behavior. Ignoring or misreading one or the other or both will mean you are being oblivious to reality or erroneous in terms of your apprehension of reality. Operating this way, obliviously or erroneously, can be disastrous for others or yourself or both.

Intent is only vaguely (if at all) connected to impact and human words carry little or no import when compared to actions. Two truths that we human animals rarely spend much time emphasizing.

Think about this...given that behavior is a universal and powerful language that is more important than any species specific vocalizing...how much time did you spend in your formal schooling studying this universal language versus studying human languages? I suspect most of you spent much much more time learning about the meanings of human vocalizations and writings than you did learning about the nuances and meanings of behavior.

We humans can believe ourselves to be "educated" and yet have little or no structured or formal explicit learning about the language spoken by all Earthlings. But...that doesn't prevent us from proclaiming ourselves to be the "intelligent" species. Curious, eh?

Apologies to Luigi, JJ and Gwennie...and most of all apologies to the injured innocent one...Jeannie.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The personal is...

political. You can get a feel for the history of that statement here.

Below is a quote that is related to that interesting and brief saying. It references a core component of psychodynamic psychotherapy (other psychotherapeutic approaches utilize this process of making the mysterious become known too). But...it isn't written by a psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy is usually thought of as a very personal sort of endeavor...and yet...another way to think about it is that since it deals with feelings/emotions/perceptions...each of those aspects of a living being can also be considered to be political since they are influenced (almost totally) by our perspectives and our perspectives are profoundly intertwined with...you guessed it... the political elements of our living situation.
"When some experience causes us to question our firmest beliefs about the world, there is a domino-like effect which can change our entire perspective both on who and what we are....Such chains of questioning, such probing of our assumptions, are elementary examples of a process Paulo Freire calls conscientization. Critical theorists often name the state of mind that is nurtured by this process "critical consciousness". Critical consciousness is the mental habit of asking ourselves what assumptions are guiding our actions; why we believe what we believe; who gains and who loses from the assumptions we endorse; whether things might be otherwise, and possibly better; and how we might effect change if we think it desirable."          p. 122-123 Finding Freedom in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory, Patricia Hinchey, 1998.
Psychotherapy often focuses on discovering assumptions about the world and about ourselves and their origins because, in the illumination of those dearly held beliefs, differing courses of action, different experiences as well as viewpoints about ourselves and others automatically present themselves. Often the motivations that resulted in the creation of those beliefs also become visible.

It is when we are young that we are most trusting and accepting and least possessive of experience, hence we're most open to receiving assumptions and viewpoints as well as being least able to critically evaluate or consider them. We take what we're given...whether we ever choose to evaluate those beliefs and/or assumptions and/or perspectives predicated on the questions noted in the quote...that's a different thing. Generally that can only occur after we've lived long enough to acquire a fund of experience and knowledge that allows us a foundation from which to engage in competent questioning.

Doing this kind of questioning can be upsetting and threatening hence, many choose to not follow this path. Moreover, many who opt to not do this get riled up if someone else does some questioning...even though they aren't the ones doing it.

When I was a quite young child I was (like many/most children) a big question asker. My parents were strongly invested in their religion and I asked many questions about their beliefs, about god and the bible. They were kind enough to try to answer them but I soon was asking about things beyond their knowing so they would invite various church people to Sunday dinner with the hopes that these folks could answer my questions. I remember ploughing through several of these deacons and preachers until finally one, in their apparent frustration with my questions, said something that has stuck with me. He said...and I'm paraphrasing here..."you don't think about this or question it...you just believe it". That resonated with me because I could see he was on the edge of anger and because what he said felt like a truth. The sort of religion they participated in wasn't one that took too kindly to questions beyond a certain point.

I was reminded of that situation some years later when I was in basic training. A fellow trainee had done something that upset the drill sergeant and he asked (screamed at) this fellow why he had done the upsetting thing and the trainee responded with "I thought...." and the sergeant almost levitated while screaming "don't think...just do what you're told". My parents religion and basic training were similar in many ways...thinking and/or questioning past certain points wasn't welcome and would evoke anger in many situations.

I have neglected to become super proficient at not questioning things...I often haven't questioned when I should have but I never did quite achieve comfort with just believing things without questioning or thinking about them. I used to long for that though...questioning/thinking is often sort of a pain in the ass...life seems lots less stressful if "you just believe it". Or so it has seemed to me at times.

That interest in questioning and thinking was part of what drew me toward the practice of psychotherapy. Various schools of thought there encourage questioning damn near everything...which was right up my alley. You can see why the quote I inserted above was appealing to me. Most psychotherapists have a very different notion of "normal" than the average person. It is refreshing to see notions that fit well into certain psychotherapeutic approaches presented as simply a way of approaching the living of life. Critical theory is snazzy stuff.

Think about all the things your culture presents to you as "normal"...that aren't to be thought about or questioned...but just done. Think about all the times some sort of authority demands that you not question but just follow instructions. Sometimes "normal" things are valid...like don't walk in front of speeding automobiles...but way too many "normal" things are just stuff somebody made up that maybe benefited them or their group and instead of owning up to that it was for their benefit they presented it as "normal" and not to be questioned. One clue about the origin of something indicating whether it is made up stuff or not is whether people get all riled up over the questioning of it...especially when there is no harm apparent in that questioning.

Again...you can question walking in front of speeding cars all day...and that doesn't change the fact that you'll probably get badly hurt if you do it...but questioning whether it's ok for a man to wear a skirt...hey...what's the harm? But...I can assure you that some people will get riled up over the skirt thing...which suggests that it's just made up stuff. 

I have to admit, I sort of get a hoot out of engaging with someone and asking questions about something or other that they present as "the way it is" and observing when they start getting nervous about the questions. That usually means we're getting to that point where the preacher sort of told me to shut up and just "believe". I don't always question like that...but sometimes I do. It's sort of spooky...really...how many of us have those "just believe it" elements in our worldview and usually we don't realize it. (I think that "not realizing" stuff is one way that invisibling manifests itself).

I've noticed, over the years, that the way many/most who don't want to pursue the questions deal with my inquisitiveness is by sticking me into a category where they can discount my questions. They assign me to some grouping that facilitates their being able to ignore or minimize my thinking or questioning. I think maybe that's partially what drives marginalization . If they can tag me as "weird" or "strange" or or or then I can more easily be ignored...and by association so can my questions.

If you choose to question  "firmest beliefs"...be ready to be considered as "peculiar" by those who aren't into asking questions...and be ready to feel uncomfortable. Both because questioning strong beliefs can be disturbing all by itself (because of what you might discover) and...your fellow cultural participants will often reward your questioning by rejecting and/or marginalizing you. It can be rather daunting. Interesting...but daunting.

I suspect that many/most of you who operate out of an ethical vegan framework have encountered this sort of reaction. Whether you asked questions about the "normalcy" of oppressing animals out loud...or whether simply your way of living implied such questioning, I would bet that many of you have been consigned (whether overtly or covertly) to the realm of the "strange" or the "weird" by those who were made uncomfortable by your veganism.

It is sort of instructive to think about marginalizing humans because of their way of being or living. How often does that happen, not because there's anything harmful about their way of living or being, but because it implies a questioning of that which culture said was "normal"? I have to admit that often when I run into the justification for some way of living/being that includes "because it's normal", I think of the drill sergeant with the red face and the twisted and screaming mouth.

Ever hear the phrase "think outside of the box"? That's actually just a variation of saying "question what's normal". What's interesting is that many who use the box phrase don't realize that they're advocating something that, should it actually happen, would probably make them uncomfortable. If you actually do get outside that "box"...don't be surprised if the drill sergeant (whether it's your own internalized drill sergeant or one from the outside) shows up.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lived experience

is one thing...information about or second-hand knowledge about an experience are different things.

I happen to be biologically sexed (this references my external genitalia and other physical attributes...biological sex is not the same thing as gender which refers to the way a culture views biological sex) as male. I have many decades of living as a male, many instances of other humans interacting with me predicated on my being male. I have stored up lots and lots of memories and experiences of the reactions of other humans toward me and included in their behaviors involving me were, almost always, factors influenced by my biological sexual identity.

Since I have much experience living as a male...does that mean I know what it is like for all males in my culture? Nope. Although I might have some good guesses as to what an experience might be like for a male based on such living...those guesses would be based on my unique history and situation and culture and and and. Once I start generalizing from my particulars...the potential for error proliferates. But...my generalizing is likely to be less error prone than generalizations coming from someone who does not have the lived experience of being a male...presuming our general knowledge bases are similar. They might even know facts that I do not...but they cannot know about that experience of being male without being male.

Two things to consider...all males differ from one another in greater or lesser degrees and each male has a specific set of unique life and cultural experiences that have served to influence them...and those differ from person to person hence generalizing always risks greater or lesser error.

I have never lived being identified as a female...but...I'm identified as a member of the human species and human females are identified as members of that same species so I can make good guesses as to what an experience might be like for a female since we're both human, right?

Nope. Even though I share categorization as human (I'm pretending here that "human" is a designation that has some sort of meaning that's significant...I'm not sure that's quite accurate like we pretend it does) the difference in the way others behave toward us based on our sex means many/most (if not all) situations will involve different factors because of the significance associated with our designated sexual identity. No doubt...there probably are similarities...but the differences, whether blatant or subtle, are significant and influential. I can make guesses, sure, but they will be guesses that almost invariably include error...whether small or great. And...most importantly...I would likely be unaware of those errors because my comprehension and understanding would be filtered by my being male.

I do not know what it is like to experience life as a female. Does that mean I can't know? Well, in significant ways, yes it does. That doesn't mean I can't study and learn and acquire information about the lived experiences of females but...having information about is different than having lived those experiences.That's something you can't get around...as far as I know.

I might could achieve a distorted and warped and rather inauthentic version of such experiences if I lived as a female. By that I mean if I dressed and acted like and presented myself to other humans as if I were a female. But...that would be problematic because I would still be a male and that would profoundly influence my experience (it would be problematic for other reasons too...obviously) because I wouldn't be a female...I would be a male pretending to be a female....which is not the same. I would not have the experience of being responded to as a female from birth...that would not be available to me.

None of the images I've used in this post are "perfect" in terms of what I'm grappling with here...but each provides a varying take on something similar. I'm uncertain whether Dr. Einstein actually made the statement in that first graphic...but...it does express something that's important to keep in mind.

It's also important to keep in mind that information about...oh say baking a cake or any other area of doing or engaging in tasks...is not the same thing as experiencing something. Knowing the steps to follow in making a skydive is not the same thing as having the experience of doing a skydive. And...the experience of learning how to do a skydive and the doing of a skydive would be different for a female (because of her unique history and learnings) than for a male. There would be similarities, of course, but there would also be differences. Differences would also arise based on other socially emphasized aspects of identity too...such as age or race or ableness.

The "me" that I experience as me is profoundly and completely affected by my sex and my race and my physical ableness and my age and my class and my education, etc. Primarily not because those aspects of me are necessarily "real" or that big of a deal by themselves but...because in U.S. American culture those factors strongly influence how others react to me and behave towards me and how I'm taught to think about myself and those who are not me.

And those factors are often...probably more often than not...hidden to me in terms of how their influence determines what I experience and how I interpret that experience. They point me toward paying attention to certain things and also toward ignoring other things and thereby steer my knowledge acquisition and awareness.

The skydive example is illustrative of the point of this post. A human can learn all the things they need to learn to be able to successfully skydive...they can learn from books and/or other humans...they can practice or watch videos over and over. But...until they actually skydive...they will not...nor can they...know what the experience of skydiving is like. You can't substitute learning or practice or imagining or thinking about for the actual experience of a skydive.

I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences that someone has if they are biologically sexed as female. I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences of someone who has never been able to hear. I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences of someone who is identified as Native American. And on and on and on. I can learn about those experienced lives from those who have lived them...but I cannot know in the way that each who live those lives knows. And...if I try to learn about that experience of being female without listening...and listening for a long time and very carefully...to those who live as females...then I'll learn erroneous and misleading things.

So what?

Consider opinion polls. Here in the U.S. opinion polls have become quite popular in the public media. They can be useful (maybe) but they can be profoundly misleading and are often used in ways that are much more misleading than they are illuminating. Think about this...if say the question asked in a poll is about going to war? Take a look here and you'll see the "opinion" results of just such a poll. But...notice...the poll results lump all sexes and all races and all ages and and and...all together. We can't tell from what is presented to us what the opinion of folks are depending on whether their lived experiences are those of a black female, a white male, a gay female, or or or.

Here's a link to an NPR interview of a reporter who notes that 70% of African Americans opposed the Iraq invasion before it began...but...you would not know that just by looking at that poll I linked to in the previous paragraph.

Lived experience profoundly influences our comprehensions. The lived experience of those in charge of every major social institution here in U.S. America is that of a white male. Think of it...Education, Government, Corporations, Media, Medicine, and so on...all of the societal configurations of power and influence are "led" by humans who have only the lived experience of being a white male.  This source estimates that as being only about 36% of the U.S. population (and that includes children...so it's even less for adults).

If we take the 36% value as semi-accurate (remember that includes white male children, so it is inflated) then I'll make it 30% to sort of take out the children...it would actually be even less than 30%...but even then...that means that 70% of the U.S. population's lived experiences are only vaguely (if at all) known to those who "lead" our major societal institutions. Consider...those who are sexed as female are the numerical majority in the U.S. And...the major social institutions that are lead by females is exactly zero. That's so bizarre that it would be laughable if it weren't tragic and sad and ignorant making.

I'm really really old to be just now fully appreciating this. If you're younger than me...and I'm pretty sure you are...don't stay ignorant and oblivious about this as long as I have. I wish I had read something like this 50 years ago but...maybe I did and just ignored it. Do better than me. Please. Remember...knowing about something is not the same thing as having a lived experience of something.

Whenever you encounter someone coming from a "knowing about" position trying to override or obviate or dispute someone coming from a having lived experience of something....be very very dubious. No one is perfect and having a lived experience of something doesn't include achieving perfection of knowing...but...the odds are strongly in favor of the one with a lived experience accessing awarenesses that the one without the lived experience simply cannot.

To presume that those without the lived experience of something can speak for or can "know" about that lived experience more truly or accurately than those who went through it is....well...silly. But...our culture really works hard at trying to convince us to lend more credence to those with power over something instead of those with the lived experience of that something. 

Imagine folks who read books about skydiving (but haven't skydived) trying to tell folks who have skydived what skydiving feels like. It's sort of pitiful when you think about it. No wonder we have so much trouble figuring things out.  


Friday, October 2, 2015

Unanticipated consequences...

can be surprising.

Consider the phrases "unanticipated consequences" or "unintended consequences" while thinking about that notion of not knowing what you don't know. There's a big difference between thinking about or considering an ideology versus actually making shifts in your ideology...because when you make such changes...things that were hidden can come into awareness and/or what might be in your awareness will begin (slowly or suddenly) to be perceived and experienced differently. Those sorts of changes can often be surprising or shocking or disorienting. Aph Ko and Syl Ko, on their excellent blog Aphro-ism, write about these phenomena here.

For instance, grappling with decreasing my oblivion regarding how we human Earthlings behave toward our sister/brother Earthlings resulted in my pretty much avoiding any movies that include humans riding or "using" horses...which encompasses a lot of 'western' movies (ignoring the ubiquitous lies and distortions about Native Americans that often permeate 'western' movies). I find it too unpleasant and painful to watch such abuse and so mostly I don't. I certainly didn't expect that maintaining an ethical vegan viewpoint would interrupt the viewing of 'western' movies...but there ya go.

Speaking of unanticipated consequences...I started reading a book titled Blowback by Christopher Simpson but found it to be disturbing enough that I decided to stop reading it. It's about how the U.S. decided, immediately following WWII, to enlist thousands of Nazi war criminals in their efforts to "resist" Soviet Russia...and in the process to exempt mass murderers from any punishment. It's equivalent to a group of men being afraid of women so they decide to hire Ted Bundy to advise them on how to resist women...and to absolve him of any criminal charges as a payoff for helping. Or...it's much akin to our government's justification of torture as a way of "obtaining information". In each case...we opt for excusing despicable behaviors because "we're really scared". Jeez.

But the unanticipated consequence that hit me recently was both surprising and sad making. One of my (formerly) favorite movies of all time, Judgement At Nuremberg, which stars Spencer Tracey and Burt Lancaster suddenly looked completely different to me. I ran across it recently and started to watch it and I realized that I was feeling disgust as I watched.

I've always enjoyed Mr. Spencer and Mr. Lancaster as actors and this movie had it all...high minded moralizing...punishing bad guys...consideration of different viewpoints and so on. The movie is shot in black and white (which I often enjoy) and, aside from the somewhat irritating Richard Widmark, cast with some other excellent actors. The story is sort of based on a trial soon after WWII wherein various Hitler era judges were held to account for their participation in some of the awfulness of that time. It was released in 1961.

So the movie is all about awful stuff that was "legal". It's about showing how terrible these judges were for going along with the harming of humans because they happened to belong to particular groups...not because of anything they had done...but just because of being identified with a group. There are a few complexities thrown in (fear of the Russians) and such and some interesting attention paid to many German citizen's protestations of innocence because they "didn't know" what was going on...and so forth. I had liked this movie for years and it was one of my favorites. Well...no more.

Here's the problem...the movie is set in 1947 or 1948...it's all about these nasty disgusting Germans who treated people awful because the Germans (most of them anyway) had decided that people in certain groups were not ok. The movie centers on the terrific and freedom loving U.S. Americans who are all concerned with "liberty and justice" and taking these miscreants to task. And it's all sort of true...about the trials occurring...but the concern with "liberty and justice" by U.S. Americans...well that's simply not true. Here you might want to refer back to the paragraph above re the Blowback book.

Yes we did some trials and we punished some people...but in 1947 back here in good old U.S. America we white people were treating some of our citizens horribly (including murder by lynching) just because they belonged to certain groups. In fact, this crap was still going on in 1961 when this movie was made.

One victim was portrayed by Montgomery Clift playing the role of someone who had been forcibly sterilized and much was made of his anguish...all the while back here in the U.S. such forcible sterilizations continued until 1981. Or maybe for longer.

Another case, referencing illegal liaisons between Jewish identified people and non-Jewish identified citizens, was presented by the actress Judy Garland....and...back here in the U.S. "inter-racial" marriages were illegal in various states up until 1967. Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American was murdered in 1955, supposedly for whistling at a white woman and his murderers were freed by our "legal" system. And yet...this movie is asking us to be outraged over the awfulness of the German prohibitions against the behavior of Jewish identified peoples.

Watching the movie this time around was simply repugnant to me. The hypocrisy was of such a magnitude that I couldn't bear it. I had to stop watching. It was white people fantasy at full tilt. The hideous disconnect from reality was too much. Good grief, in 1961 in many areas of the U.S., people were legally prevented from attending school together or eating in the same restaurants or watching movies together...simply because of their belonging to differently identified groups. But we're holding trials for German judges and imprisoning them and even executing some of them...for behaviors similar to those we (white people) in the U.S. were engaging in at the same time?

The movie was highly regarded and and nominated for and received numerous awards. The wikipedia entry tells us that several of the 'big-name' actors worked for a fraction of their usual salary because they felt the movie was socially important. One way to think about the movie is that it was identifying injustices perpetrated by some German judges...and by Germany the nation. But...those doing the pointing at Germany apparently didn't know what they didn't know about their own nation's behaviors. Decrying the behavior of others while being oblivious to your own actions is problematic. If the makers of the movie had prefaced it with some statement indicating their awareness of the awfulness in their own country and judicial system...that would have been refreshing. As it is though...it's just sort of embarrassing and also insulting, especially toward members of targeted groups here in the U.S..

While this trial of German judges was occurring and even while this movie was being made...the U.S. Public Health Service was lying to hundreds of African-American men about providing them with health care...all the while the health service knew these men had syphilis and did not tell them what disease they had and did not provide them with drugs which would have stopped the disease because...they wanted to know the effects of the disease as it progressed.

And...we're trying and imprisoning and executing German people for what they did? Of course what they did was inexcusable...but to have the nerve to hold them to account and totally ignore what we were doing? We're in never never land here. Hypocrisy seems like a concept that's too small to characterize our oblivious and other-directed moralizing.

What are we? Who are we? By we I mean primarily white U.S. American people because that group (mostly white men) controls...and has always controlled...government and business and education and the military and the police and the media and and...ever since this nation started. We present ourselves one way...but if our behavior is examined...a whole different picture emerges. Struggling to step away from being centered in, excuse the awkward phrase, "U.S. American white man's dominant worldview" is...hell, I don't know...I don't have words for what it is. Whatever it is, it isn't fun...that's for sure.

I'm fearful too, as these shiftings happen, that I'm unable to clearly communicate about them. Good grief...they aren't at all clear to me and trying to write about them while in the midst of experiencing them...means I probably end up spouting gibberish. Maybe that's part of what Aphro-ism's posting about confusion was pointing out.

I really liked that movie. I feel sad about that liking going away...and I feel duped and angry about being duped...but I also participated in the duping by not breaking through my obliviousness. Chagrin is a good descriptor for some of my feelings.

Abagond writes semi-humorously about Apple-pie America but I can't read his writing about this without thinking that humorous and horrid begin with the same letter and so does hurt and it all makes my head hurt...and the rest of me too.

Being oblivious is not a desirable way to blunder through life because that makes it too easy to inadvertently harm others and one's self, for that matter. However...decreasing obliviousness is a change and sometimes change means loss. So...goodbye to my liking for this movie...that doesn't mean I can't watch it and learn from it...but that liking (based on obliviousness) is no more.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I don't know

that I don't know what I don't know. Or, I'm ignorant about those things that I'm ignorant about being ignorant about. It's a big and positive step, I think, to get rid of that first I don't know or that first I'm ignorant about. If I can move from there to a stance of knowing that I don't know what I don't know...that's a seriously big improvement, right?

I wrote something like that in a previous post. When I ran across a statement akin to that it sort of threw me. Maybe it created some discombobulation for you too. I found a graphic that sort of suggests something about what that could mean.

Right down at the bottom of the graphic, where the 01 is located, is where sentences like I don't know that I don't know what I don't know would be located. It would be in this area that things that we think we know but what we know is inaccurate or incomplete would sit too...because we would not know that we didn't know because we thought we knew. Whew.

Don't be mislead by the linear like configuration depicted in the graphic because, depending on the topic or subject, we're all mostly all over the place and the places we're at, in terms of learning, change all the time. No graphic that's a still snapshot is going to do anything but provide sort of a vague approximation of our knowing/learning. It's vital, I think, for us to understand that "knowing" is always tentative, uncertain, incomplete. What we know is pretty much always open to revision or being added to (hopefully in terms of becoming more accurate).

That 01 level is intriguing because I wonder if that isn't the place where culture can have a seriously potent effect on us...with ease. That's where it could have the biggest influence with the least amount of effort...or so it seems to me. I suspect that it is there that invisibling or oblivion often happens. There's where we could easily be flimflammed with nonsense and lulled into believing that new knowing wasn't needed and/or possible.  

If we can exist in a state wherein we accept, and are conscious of, that we don't know what we don't know...and be open to new (or more accurate) facts or theories or insights...that's a good thing. Sometimes it's uncomfortable and sometimes it's disconcerting but a good thing nevertheless.

One of the authors I've referenced recently, Robin DiAnglo, uses the word humility when she writes about that openness to new learning. The wikipedia entry I linked with humility describes it as being the opposite of narcissism. Hmmm.

But...if we operate by engaging life as if we know...and that there is nothing new to know...oops...we're in deep trouble. The saying that twenty years of experience isn't the same thing as living the same year over twenty times is one that I've always liked...because it means you have to keep on accepting that you don't know what you don't know.

If, like me, you came to ethical veganism as an adult after having not been living as one...then you have had the experience of realizing that what you thought you knew was inaccurate...and...there was much that you didn't know. I didn't know what I didn't know...but...I thought I knew. I was in error. For me...that apprehending of my error and ignorance was seriously disconcerting...it frightened me. Because...it clearly exposed to me that I was quite capable of stumbling along through life thinking I was behaving ok...when I wasn't. I was harming others, all the while, thinking I was living an ok life. That's scary.

It's tempting...when a big new learning like that happens...to grab onto to it and think "whew, now I've got it figured out". When...once all the dust settles...what a new learning like that should signal to us is that there may be other things that we think we know that we don't or other things that we don't know that we don't know. Why should there be just one? What if there are others? How can we know? How do we go about discovering or realizing that?

One thing that has occurred to me about doing that (not that I really know or anything) is maybe, if I sort of consider what's going on around me, I can get some clues about finding areas where I don't know what I don't know.

The analogy that pops up for me is maybe if I think about living my life as sort of like driving a car...I'm going along thinking I'm driving ok and steering with what I think is some skill and care but...I look in the rear-view mirror and see behind me the bodies of beings I've hit with my car and mail boxes I've knocked over...oops...time to reconsider my notion that I'm driving competently or carefully.

What if I consider my society or culture or nation as if it were a car I was riding in as it was going down the road and I look behind it and see many injured and harmed victims...maybe that's a clue that some/many/most of the things that society/culture told me back there at that 01 level of learning were erroneous...or maybe it neglected to tell me something I needed to know to live in a way that does the least harm.

Would that be a way to maybe realize that there were some things I didn't know that I didn't know (or that my culture/society/nation had mislead me about) and maybe to point me toward areas that I could do some more learning about?  I wonder.   


Saturday, September 19, 2015

"I would have lived...

my life differently." This sentence, which was written in a post titled White Happened to You over on Dr. David Shih's blog, stunned me when I read it.

It echoed with me because it perfectly expressed a dismal and uncomfortable truth that's stung me at various points in my life but never so pervasively and wholly as it has since I was lucky enough to become a little less oblivious and began stumbling along the path of veganism.

Culture is a word often used to reference ways of living and understanding and comprehending...pretty much everything. What's often left out of thinking about or writing or speaking about culture is that it also teaches us obliviousness. In addition to identifying how to do things and understand things, culture also quietly and stealthily teaches us what to not know or comprehend or be aware of. This aspect of 'culture' doesn't get much thought and yet...in ways large and small...a case could be made that this strategic and purposive hiding of knowings and comprehensions is just as significant and influential (maybe even more so) than the acquisition of knowledge and understandings that happens to us with a culture.

We are taught what to know...but also what not to know. The sentence that began this post was voiced by a woman who had been guided into becoming aware of some of the knowings that her culture had hidden from her...and...as a result she realized that she would have made different choices and done her life differently had those things not been hidden from her.

I think (tentatively) that maybe those several years ago when I experienced my vegan 'transversion' (or whatever word fits better) was the first time it came home to me how much I had been carefully taught to be oblivious. It both shocked and scared me. Shocked at the awfulness I had participated in for years because of this important obliviousness and scared because I couldn't help wondering what else didn't I know that I didn't know I didn't know. (I realize this sentence looks strange to you...it really does make sense and if you don't get it...keep struggling with it)

When I was an adolescent the books of J.D. Salinger were extremely popular with a segment of young humans. I too was smitten with his writing (he's a white man who's whitely oblivious in many ways...so there are many limitations in his perspective). He did express some things though that possess truth that endures.

One thing I remember vividly that he wrote that has stuck with me for over 50 years...it came from a book of his titled Franny and Zooey. I don't have a copy of the book right now so I found the sentence online but there's no page reference...my apologies. The meaning of the sentence has stayed with me all these years and it's still with me. He wrote:

I don't think it would have all got me down quite so much if just once in a while- just once in a while- there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time.
Wisdom is defined in this dictonary entry as "the ability to discern what is true, right or lasting; insight". I would add that I include being able to comprehend what is fair and compassionate in my private notion of the meaning of wisdom.

I appreciate encountering that which seems like wisdom to me. I linked to Dr. Shih's blog at the beginning of this post. I only recently found it and I'm sharing it here as an offering to you. I've found a number of thoughts/insights there that are worthy of being tagged as "wisdom".

He writes about "race" but he's actually writing about things in addition to "race"...he's writing about oppression and oblivion and the harms we do while believing ourselves to be innocent. His writings are worthy of being read and re-read and re-read once again.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Little LuLu was

a character in a series of comic books that I sometimes read when I was a child. When I was thinking about this post I realized that, in some ways, she was a feminist. While Little LuLu was a girl, she did many things that weren't "girlish" and that probably had more impact on me than I realized.

There were a number of "boy" characters in the comics but Little LuLu was the main character and generally occupied the "leadership" role.

That's interesting to think about. But...I'm writing about her not because of that but because I used to do something with her name that would often provide me with great fun and delight...and...it would upset my mother...invariably.

For some reason, I discovered that I could say her name, Little LuLu, over and over and over...out loud...and after some number of repetitions the meaning attached to that combination of sounds that is her name would disappear and I would be left with simply the movements of my tongue and lips and the breathing in and out involved in making those sounds.

And it was delightful. I loved it and would start laughing and laughing. It was almost delirious making in the strange sense of freedom and joy that it would bring me. My mother, who was a fairly conventional (not always, but mostly) white woman would become upset if she heard me doing this and scold me and tell me to stop. Being "silly" wasn't particularly well thought of by her. I learned to do this in places and at times that she couldn't observe me. Sometimes I would do it quietly as I was falling asleep and I would drift off with a big smile on my face. (note: this phenomenon may have been similar to some forms of meditation)

Weird, right? Maybe so...but...consider this. By repetition of that name, Little LuLu, maybe I was interrupting something that I didn't have a name for then...something that is profoundly important and meaningful. If this were a class here is where I would ask the students to speculate about what was happening when this little boy said Little LuLu over and over until joy overtook him and he started giggling.

Probably many would suggest the boy needed treatment of some sort.

But...what if...by those repetitions...I was unknowingly demolishing a social construction? What if that was happening...and...that demolishing produced a sense of freedom? What if that repetition freed those particular lip and tongue and breath movements and subsequent sounds from any human imposed meanings and that freeing brought with it a sense of joy? Social constructions can be useful and they can also be inaccurate and they can also be confining and they can also be confusing and and and.

Language is a social construction. By that I mean it is simply a bunch of sounds in various combinations that everyone who employs that language agrees upon attaching some particular meaning to some particular combinations of sounds.

One of the things that we are often closer to as children, that we often forget as adults, is that language like all other social constructions, is just crap that humans make up. And...by itself...without that agreement...it is just a bunch of sounds made by lips and tongues and breathing. It's the agreed upon meaning that counts...not the sounds. And...the meaning is arbitrary...it's an agreed upon fantasy that everyone attaches to particular sounds.

An aside...the word barbarian apparently came from early Greek sources and it meant babbling because people who used a different language made sounds that had no meaning for folks who spoke Greek. Notice how the agreed upon fantasy for the word barbarian has changed over time.

Additionally, as you have each learned through living your life, many have fantasies attached to a word that vary somewhat from the fantasy you might have. That's when we hear phrases like: "that's not what I mean by that word" or some such thing.

What other things are just made up? Or...if you prefer a more important sounding phrase...what other things are social constructions? What other things have no more "real" meaning than does Little LuLu?

It can be frightening and confusing to realize that...way more of the "world" (by the word "world" here I mean human society and our conceptualizations) that we humans pretend is a certain way...is just stuff we make up...it can also be quite liberating to realize this. But...quite often achieving liberation involves discomfort and apprehension. I'll write more about how Little LuLu relates to veganism in a later post...disconnecting Little LuLu from agreed upon meaning also relates to many other "isms" of oppression...but...that's for later.