Thursday, August 26, 2010

Time travel and a thought experiment................

Ever wonder what you would have thought of slavery if you had lived in, say, Georgia in 1838.  Would you have owned slaves?  Would you have opposed it and engaged in activism against it?
 
Consider....slavery is legal, the population of the united states in 1830 was 13 million of which 2 million of those were  slaves.  There was one person in slavery for every 5.5 that were not. About 15% of the population was owned by the other 85%. 

The law was on the side of the slaveholder, tradition and custom were on the side of the slaveholder.  Slavery was commonplace, it has always existed, it is in the bible. The churches, social clubs, community groups, governments and businesses supported slavery.  African Americans (most of whom are slaves) are considered to be inferior, stupid, dirty, undisciplined, insensitive, uncivilized, ignorant beings.
 
Would you have opposed the institution of slavery, at the risk of ridicule, at the risk of being thought to be strange, weird, silly, sentimental, foolish, stupid?  Slaves were property, would you have risked arrest, fines, prison for helping slaves escape?  What would you have done?
 
Do you believe you would have had the courage to oppose and resist this way of living?  Or would you have gone along with it, participated in it.  Maybe you would have ignored it, turned your head, pretended it didn’t exist and thereby tacitly condoned its continuation.  What would you have done?

There was some resistance, the Quakers for instance.  Nat Turner’s rebellion had occurred in 1831.  William Loyd Garrison was actively calling for abolition, Oberlin College was accepting African American students. If you had objected you would not have been alone, there was spotty and inconsistent support for those opposing slavery.

What would you have done if faced with this obscene spectacle of human behavior?  Would you have joined the resistors, supported them, leafleted on their behalf, spoke out in their defense and agitated against slavery?

Consider the American Indians, 1838 was the last of the Indian Removal from Georgia and other states (The Trail of Tears).  The Supreme Court had ruled the removal to be illegal, the president (Jackson) ignored the ruling and took away the lands and homes of the American Indians in the southeast and forced them to walk to Oklahoma, thousands died along the way. American Indians are considered to be inferior, stupid, dirty, undisciplined, insensitive, uncivilized, ignorant beings.

Would you have objected, protested, resisted?  Or would you have gone along with it, participated in it.  Maybe you would have ignored it, turned your head, pretended it didn’t exist and thereby tacitly condoned its continuation.  What would you have done?

There is a curious thing about life, each of us in our own time of living can be faced with significant moral questions.  Great injustices and horrors occur on a seemingly perpetual basis.  We often ignore or deny or seek obliviousness to these occurrences, nevertheless, they exist.  You can pretend they don’t…but pretense does not magically make them disappear nor does it absolve you and your actions or your failure to act.

We live in a time of injustice, of horror and obscenity....the American people....annually, cause the unwarranted and unnecessary deaths (and prior to that death a life of unending misery and suffering) of 10 billion living sentient beings (land animals only....the number of fish is incalculable). Sentient beings that feel fear, form friendships, feel love, care for their children, cry in terror when frightened, scream in pain when injured. That is 10,000,000,000 lives.
 
Lives of beings that had mothers, that would have sought comfort from those mothers had they been allowed, that had they had the opportunity they would have run and played like Bella the pig does in the video.  They would have played with a friend like the deer plays with the dog in the video.  They would have played in a puddle, if they had been able, like the young elk does in the video.
 
The law is the side of the animal owner, tradition and custom are on the side of the animal owner.  Killing and eating animal people is commonplace, it has always existed, it is in the bible. The churches, social clubs, governments, community groups and businesses support killing and eating animal people.

Animal people that are not human animal people are considered to be inferior, stupid, dirty, undisciplined, insensitive, uncivilized, ignorant beings.
 
Being able to rise above and see beyond the current traditions and customs and “common sense” of the time and culture they were born into is part of what prompted those whose efforts helped end past injustices.
 
Your thoughts, beliefs and actions or lack of actions help make the world how it is.

What would you have done in 1838?
 
This is your time of life, great injustices are being practiced as if they were “normal” every second of every day.  You have the opportunity to rise above the awfulness of your times.  You have the opportunity to object to, to resist and to not participate in a great injustice.

What are you going to do now?
  
Do you have the will and the courage to oppose and resist this way of living?  To have friends and family and your culture perhaps think you are weird, silly, strange, sentimental or peculiar.

Or are you going along with it, participating in it.  Maybe you are ignoring it, turning your head, pretending it doesn’t exist and thereby condoning the continuing suffering and death.
 
What are you doing?  What are you going to do?

(Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle whose adherents seek to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind.)

(Vegetarianism is the practice of following a plant-based diet including fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, nuts, and seeds, with or without dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat meat, including red meat, game, poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish.)


(Animal rights, also referred to as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. Advocates approach the issue from different philosophical positions, but agree that animals should be viewed as non-human persons and members of the moral community.They argue that human beings should stop seeing other sentient beings as property.....)


(This post  was inspired by Marjorie Spiegel's excellent book: The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery)

6 comments:

Krissa said...

Well this brought tears to my eyes. I certainly hope that I would have stood up for those who were tortured and enslaved back then. It took me a long time to really "get it" and stop participating in the slavery, torture and slaughter of the natural animals we share this planet with. I really hope that even if it had taken me a long time to see the light back then, that I would have eventually. It's a painful light though. And thanks for pointing out the fish. I have been so upset about what happened in the Gulf for all the creatures who were tortured to death and lost their homes and I especially think about the fish and the plants a lot of times. They seem to not "count" in a lot of people's minds who actually do care about what happened and they get lost in the 'animal rights' shuffle too, I think. Sigh. When will ALL life be respected and seen as equal...the truth.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Krissa, I was trimming back some plants yesterday so some other plants could get more sun and was worrying about what impact I was having on the trimmed ones. Even what seems to be trivial from the outside maybe isn't for those involved.

Ah, the fish...much more needs to be said than can be placed here.

Standing or speaking up for those who can't do so for themselves is an ongoing opportunity and a choice that all of us are faced with again and again. Profound consequences accompany the choices we make with each meal we eat.

Again, thank you for your terrific comments.

So I'm Thinking Of Going Vegan said...

Sadly, human slavery is still widespread as well. Human trafficking (a contemporary form of slavery) is a billion dollar industry, and according to this Wikpedia article, nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries are being trafficked around the world! Boggles my mind. This doesn't diminish the awfulness of animal slavery in any way, but it makes me think that if people don't even mind enslaving the species they favour and feel is most important, then the freedom of non-human animals might be a long way off. :(

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan. You're quite correct re the worldwide human trafficking fiasco.

I find hope in the fact that while human trafficking exists in some areas of the world (on a large scale even), as far as I can tell there is nowhere that human slavery is legal. This is a major change from 1838, when human slavery was legal in many countries. I suspicion that were this odious practice legal, such activities would be much more widespread than they are now.

Bea Elliott said...

What great timing for such a thoughtful piece... Just days before M.L. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. And of course the dream is fairness and justice to All who benefit from such concepts. I don't know how we will ever advance our civilization without extending this regard to all Others.

veganelder said...

Thanks for your comment, Bea. I didn't make the connection about the anniversary of the speech. Good for MLK and his eloquence and activism.....and tremendous admiration from me for Coretta Scott King who spent the last 10 years of her life as a vegan.