Monday, May 24, 2010

What's all the fuss about?

My experience of going completely vegan (after many years of diddling around as a semi-vegetarian) was a profoundly emotional one. Others have written about this phenomenon much more eloquently than I can (see here or
here for instance). By the way, that second link takes you to a copy of the original newsletter about veganism by Donald Watson written in 1944.

My path to reaching that emotional point began because I ended up in a situation in my employment where I interacted with some of the American Indian tribes and tribal members. Folks in Oklahoma drive around in vehicles where Native America is displayed on most license plates. However, most Oklahoma citizens are as ignorant about American Indians as they are about veganism. Poke the typical Okie and she/he will tell you that Indians have it good because they get all that government money and now are getting rich off the casinos. I made the error of deciding I wanted to educate myself about American history and American Indians.

I do not recommend doing such a thing, unless you are prepared to begin a journey that is disturbing beyond that which words can express. I am compressing several years of reading and learning here and I will post some references in the future.......for those interested there are numerous websites (here for instance or here) and resources on the internet that are easily accessible that provide useful information.

To summarize, the United States (and every other country in this hemisphere) is founded on nothing less than theft, Europeans invaded the western hemisphere and over time almost completely destroyed the indigenous peoples living here. Columbus was a rapacious asshole who was out to make a buck and he did so by exploiting, murdering and enslaving indigenous peoples. The prevailing ethic of European contact with the North and South American Continents was and still is "might makes right".

Now, all the wonderful soothing fairy tales that European Americans tell themselves to avoid this knowledge constitutes what passes for American history. Thieves and murders become "settlers", "pioneers", "heroes" and "leaders". Every person in the western hemisphere that does not have indigenous ancestors is a recipient (in one way or another) of the fruits of these crimes. Don't agree? Next time you happen to handle a twenty dollar bill, take a look at the picture on there and then go educate yourself a little about the Cherokee tribe and the "trail of tears".

So, here I am, a well-educated fellow suddenly coming to realize how blissfully ignorant I was and had been. Fooled by the soothing words like treaty, stupidly not realizing that when you hear the word treaty connected to Native Americans you should know that it means the Native American most likely had a gun pointed at her head when she "signed" the treaty. Agree or die. Even then, the treaties meant nothing if the Native Americans ended up with something the white folks wanted. It was embarrassing to discover how ignorant I had been.

I appreciate the patience shown me by my friends that are Native American, they, of course knew all this, had grown up with it, still lived it...... often wryly accepted it in some form or fashion. Continued to be impacted by it on a daily basis.

In terms of innocence, likely some of the most innocent groups of people on the planet are the Indigenous Americans. They are the victims, the survivors, living in the aftermath of the American Holocaust. They were living here, in their lands, and here come the barbarians (who touted themselves as civilized). Coming because they had screwed up things so royally in their own lands they wanted to get out. Welcome to America. Don’t like what you have done to your own homeland? Come on over and invade the homeland of others.

Trying to hold together the remnants of their cultures and tribes and families and lands. Some Native Americans have disconnected almost wholly from their ancestral cradle, others have managed uneasy accommodation with the dominant culture, finding ways to walk in two worlds. Make no mistake, the slow motion disaster continues for Native Americans, just take a look at health, crime and poverty statistics regarding American Indians.

If this country (and others) could so blithely devastate groups of humans and behave as if nothing at all was wrong, what else might be going on that was right out in plain sight but overlooked completely? At least the humans being exploited could sometimes fight back, could protest.

What about living beings that couldn’t fight back, had no voice with which to protest? Who didn’t have a chance of trying to learn the ways of the dominant group, the language of the dominant group, who could never ever maybe fit in and possibly be left alone.

Well, consider the buffalo. These beings were unlucky enough to be associated with the lifeways of a number of plains tribes. Oops, European Americans almost sent them to extinction. Well, maybe that was an accident of history --- perhaps "collateral damage" from efforts to "subdue" the Native Americans. What about the Passenger Pigeon, apparently at one time the most numerous bird on the planet? Oops, all gone. Being "easy" to kill doomed them to extinction at the hands of European Americans. The Carolina Parrot, also hunted to extinction.

Death, death and more death characterizes this culture and its attitude toward any being or groups of beings that possesses something that is desired and cannot resist effectively. I find all this odious and disgusting and prompting of despair beyond words.

The animals, the others, those with no human language. Joy Williams (Ill Nature) wrote it doesn't matter, even if the animals could speak with the tongues of angels they couldn't save themselves from us.

We have deemed their feelings to be worthless, no matter that they suffer at our hands. We ignore their experience of this world we share, care not for their homelands, their shelters, their paths, their families, their fears or joys. If we think their flesh tastes good, all their wonders and dreams are swept away and we slaughter them and slaughter them. We take their children and kill them, the milk meant for their children and drink it, their fur and their skin and wear it, their pain and terror and discount it to nothingness.

We take magnificent beings and make them parade in silly costumes for our entertainment, we terrorize baby animals and rope them and tie them up for "sport". We pretend we are "civilized" yet behave toward the other beings on this earth like the most brutal and depraved despots and tyrants that have ever lived. We inflict suffering and misery beyond measure upon creatures that have never left Eden, and cover it up with stories of contented cows and happy meals.

These are some of the things I have learned over the past few years, and I am stunned by my knowledge.


dana said...

Powerful statements up there sir...they are stirring my mind, rolling around inside, disturbing me, but then thats the point and I thank you. Its hard to keep from calling you by name Mr. respect for you grows. Keep up the good fight.

Murph's mom said...

My education began very recently concerning the American Indian. I watched the PBS series We Shall Remain and like you was shocked at my ignorance. I knew so little about them, well I knew nothing really. The series was very troubling in so many ways. It was enlightening and I want to know more, although the truth that emerges will likely be just as disturbing. I am in awe of those tribes that have survived and even kept their native language and passed it down to their children.

Laloofah said...

I thought I'd poke around in your archives for a few minutes while I digest my tofu scramble, and learn a little more about you and your story! :-)

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I agree with what you've written.

Have you ever read "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn? Its message, though not vegan per se, would resonate with you, I think. (And I'd wager good money that you've read it already!) :-)

veganelder said...

Thanks Laloofah for commenting. Ishmael set some of the groundwork some years ago for my viewpoint change which ended up at ethical veganism.

I wrote a little about Ishmael in a post called Leaver or Taker ( in January of this year. Take a look at the post, you will likely recognize some stuff. I generally recommend Ishmael to people, I once even required one of the classes I teach to read it and write a reaction paper on the book. It was interesting to see how the book impacted them...a number students were rather angered by it.

My thought is that if that book doesn't blast you out of some of the ruts of your thinking, either you are more enlightened than most or you are grooved so deep into the cultural lies that you apparently cannot recover.

Working with Native American tribes here in Oklahoma also had a significant bearing on my stepping away from the european worldview that most Americans are swimming in (whether they realize it or not)...of use also was some other terrific books, e.g., Lies My Teachers Told Me...and on and on.

Good call about thinking about Ishmael...feel free to email (see complete profile for the email button) if you want to dialogue outside of the structure of commenting. It sounds as if your journey has been similar to mine.

Laloofah said...

Vegan Elder, thanks for the link to your post about Ishmael! I've actually been following your blog for quite some time (as a lurker, lol), but since it was one of 70-something other blogs I follow, I only occasionally read your posts and obviously missed that one! I must check out "Lies My Teacher Told Me" which I've heard of, but never anything about from anyone I know.

Interesting, but not too surprising, that Ishmael laid some of the groundwork on your path to veganism. It does (or at least can, for those who are open to its message) open a large crack in our culture's paradigm and lets quite a bit of light in! And once the light gets in, all kinds of wonderful things can happen. :-)

I'd love to have further discussions with you via email! This is just a bad time, I'm struggling to keep up with things online right now as we have multiple projects going on our house and some time pressures. But one of these days I will avail myself of your email address and invitation to share our stories n'stuff! Yours has me intrigued already, and I've only heard the tiniest tantalizing tidbits! :-)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Laloofah. Yes, do write when you have time. Swapping stories of the paths taken and sights seen is something I look forward to. At some point I want to put out a list of sources...books, films, documentaries...that seem useful to me.

Often things like that are idiosyncratic...what grabs one person leaves another untouched...but what is true is that (often) the same message is said in different ways and those different ways resonate with different people...but the message is the same.

I do remember a sense of homecoming when the full blast of veganicity overtook me. I remembered feeling the same way about eating animals when I was a child...before slipping into the cultural trance...and now I just feel like I have come home...awakened a sleeping part of me.

I remember vividly once...when very very young telling my mother that I liked animals more than people and her bringing to bear heavy guns of guilt and shame toward me...telling me I shouldn't feel that way, it was wrong...etc and yadda yadda. Thanks mom. :-)

You've inspired me to get in gear about the list of sources that might be used to "crack the cultural trance"...a good project...

By the way, one of my heroes is a fellow named Michael Fox ( he is a veterinarian that doesn't eat his patients...and he has been operating this way for decades. If you are unfamiliar with him...then you might find it enjoy visiting his website.

Laloofah said...

That's an interesting story about your mom laying on the guilt because you said you like animals more than people! And it's interesting that humans, both as individuals and as a species, feel so insecure that they have to denigrate non-human animals, constantly drone on about humans' alleged superiority, and are so threatened by any evidence or opinion that questions or diverges from that!

I'm familiar with Michael Fox, but have never visited his web site. Thanks for passing that along!

I look forward to swapping stories too. Have you ever visited either of these web sites?

The Vegan Decision

The Joyful Vegan: Stories of Transformation

(Colleen Patrick-Goodreau is one of my heros!)

veganelder said...

Thanks Laloofah for commenting.

Ah, my mom would rather have invited somebody to take a guilt trip instead of eating when she was hungry. She made it into an art form (almost). Someone once asked me how I ended up with a Jewish mother without being Jewish. :-)

I have visited both of the websites you referenced and have seen C.P.G. in several of her videos. She has a great persona and delivery and makes you want to sit down and have a conversation with her. Good stuff.