Saturday, May 26, 2012

Who has time for justice?

"In Memory Of Rosa Robota, Estusia Wajcblum, Ala Gertner, Regina Safirztain and Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, who all died from different manifestations of the same disease."

Thus is written the dedication of a novel titled "The Street Sweeper" by Elliot Perlman. One of the main characters in the novel is a psychologist who travels to Germany in 1946 to interview survivors of the Holocaust. This psychologist, after hearing a woman tell her story of having to abandon her infant daughter in a futile attempt to save the child's life, asks himself: "Who will sit in judgement over all this?"

Close to the end of the novel, a female physician faces a situation wherein she is called upon to intervene on behalf of a fired hospital cleaning worker.
"...what a tremendous injustice it was for him to be accused of theft and fired because of it. She worked at the hospital but not in Human Resources. She had her own life. She had her own problems. Who had time for this kind of thing?

She asked herself this and then wondered what she meant by "this kind of thing."  She concluded a few seconds later that what she had really meant was "justice" of some kind. So what she had, in fact, asked herself was "who had time for justice?" and  the fact that she had articulated this question, even if only privately to herself, jolted her. She caught a vague, elongated momentary glimpse of herself walking past a reflecting surface and, not wanting to be the sort of person who asked her self that question, ..." p.596-597
 I'm not going to 'review' the novel...there are a number of adequate ones available on the web. Instead I want to write about the bitter and tragic fact that in a very well written novel such as a novel that addresses beautifully the disease that kills (racism) noted in the dedication quoted above...this novel is speciesism (which also kills).

One of the more sympathetic characters in the novel is an African American man who is kind and gentle and sensitive, helpful to a fatherless boy, and who also 'works' as a "splitter" in a slaughterhouse...he spends his working life murdering or dismembering pigs.

And yet...and yet...this is a sensitive and powerful and well-written novel about the horrors and damage and suffering and deaths that accompany the ugliness of racism...but the novelist and the characters are oblivious to their perpetuation of the same behaviors and attitudes that so scarred and injured and diminished their lives. How can this be?

I know the novelist did not set out to write a novel about racism and injustice and human blindness and human casualness toward perpetrating or supporting horror that exemplified the very thing he was attempting to explore and highlight in the book...but he did. His work is tainted and diminished so terribly much by his own his (and thereby his characters) own inability to perceive that speciesism is simply another manifestation of that terrible 'disease'.

I found reading the novel to be so disorienting...for instance in one part a mother and daughter are discussing the Upton Sinclair novel "The Jungle" and on the following page are talking about the ugliness and wrongness of using the "Nword" when referring to African Americans. With never a hint that the pigs and cows and sheep murdered by the slaughterhouses referenced in Sinclair's novel are murdered for exactly the same reasons that slavery once was legal...for exactly the same reasons that the Germans built the gas-chambers, for exactly the same reason that using the "Nword" is ugly and wrong.

They were (and are) enslaved and murdered because they are considered to be "inferior", unworthy of serious consideration...or dog and cats and rabbits are murdered because no one wants to care for them...or for "sport". It is the same...the same old story of devaluing those who are "different", of denying the worth of those not the same...your life is forfeit to the group in power if you don't fit their criteria of worthiness.

And Elliot Perlman has written an excellent treatment of racism directed toward African Americans and Jews. And Elliot Perlman casually and apparently with absolute obliviousness supports and reifies and normalizes at places in his book the same ugliness, the same 'disease', when directed toward those who happen to not look like a human animal. Without a thought or a word or a tear for their anguish, for their terror, for their lives. How sad, how very sad.

"Who will sit in judgement over all this?"

Please don't be someone who doesn't have time for justice...ethical veganism is the only way of living that supports justice for those who don't happen be human animals...and...while you're at a just life toward your fellow human animals too.


Have Gone Vegan said...

Who has time indeed. Excellent post, veganelder, thanks for writing it.

It's amazing, isn't it, how we can stare at something (or someone) right in the face and be completely oblivious. Blind. And deaf, and dumb.

I don't know the answer. We see what we want to see? Know what we want to know? There are of course strong powerful forces at work who don't want us to see, hear, or know. But how did so many for so long not see that the colour of skin should be irrelevant when it comes to how we treat people? How on earth could a sweeping annihilation have occurred in Germany? (My mom, by the way, who grew up during WWII in Holland, says it was fairly common knowledge where the Jews who were captured were going and what would happen to them.)

How did I not see for so long? How DO we get people to see?

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Oh wow, common knowledge...I don't know what to say.

I've been reading a great number of books on the Jewish Holocaust lately...I do not recommend doing so. There really isn't much hopeful there about human animals as a group. Most all of us seem to be profoundl flawed.

If I could accurately and effectively answer your last two questions...I would be out shouting in the street.

Bea Elliott said...

I admit too that I am oddly fascinated with the Nazi regime - specifically the Holocaust. And that was even before I had any clear understanding of prejudices and "othering".

Just recently I watched Varian's War, the true story about a man who helped more than 2,000 people flee France during the German occupation. And just as in your book, there are callous references to the nonhuman species. And I find myself wondering too - What is it - Why is it that they just don't get it? They just don't see the connection. (!)

We think how awful to treat people "just like cattle" - Yet... It's as horrible (if not more so) to treat innocent cows "like cattle". Knowing this makes everything - Watching movies, reading books, interacting with the unaware world that much more challenging (read:depressing).

Sad that so many otherwise great minds cannot spot the ugly "dis-ease" for what it is. And the vegan cure is so simple. :/

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea.

Most of the references I read or hear about accounting for all the attention to the Nazi fiasco/debacle has to do with the thing being enacted by a supposedly "modern" western civilization. Germany was a world leader in "culture", had the highest percentage of literacy in the world, etc, etc. Hence...Germany wasn't one of the "primitive" or "backward" cultures of "savages" that the west had supposedly progressed beyond...yet the most horrific, state-sponsored systematic murder of innocent human beings took place there using the technology and processes of "modern" industrialized technology.

Certainly it is very easy for us to see ourselves in such a setting...even more so now given the current penchant for police forces to wear black uniforms...we're even going it all one better and masking the faces of the black-clad potential oppressors.

I hadn't heard of the movie you mentioned and found a site you might enjoy looking over (

I've watched enough interviews with surviving perpetrators of that Holocaust in Europe...perpetrators who acknowledge what they did and deny that anything was wrong with it...I've watched enough of it to begin to wonder if maybe seeing the wrongness of it is the astonishing thing...the rare thing...maybe I've been getting it all's not that "everybody knows it's wrong" but rather it is astonishing that "anybody knows it's wrong".

Certainly the fierceness and unrelentingness of the holocaust we continue to visit upon our fellow animals would argue on behalf of such a view. Sadly.

Bea Elliott said...

Ah - Thank you! It's an interesting site with more to learn...

As far as the film goes - A few of the scenes that were most troubling were the ones where Varian and his assistant had to determine who was qualified to be saved. Not unlike Schindler's List... It was awful to see that even liberators had to prioritize who's life had value or not. :(

The next video on my list is Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport - And I'm certain that those individuals will be saved based on the merits of their youth... And punished for their age.

Hierarchy. Over and over we do this - It then makes total twisted sense that it IS a rare thing that we see the wrong at all - if ever. You're on to something that it IS astonishing that anyone knows it's wrong at all! Even at our best we are left with choosing who is "better" and who isn't.

And you're right too - That our errors aren't limited to some ancient past... The more technological we become - The more savage it seems. Indiscriminate killing with drones, long range missiles, chemical warfare it makes it all so "normalized". Choose your weapons. Choose your victims. Anything - Anything but peace. :(

Andrew Hunt said...

That was an extraordinary post. I especially enjoyed reading your reflections on Elliot Perlman's The Street Sweeper. The mark of an excellent Blog post is one that makes you want to actually go out and buy the book and read it from cover to cover, which this one did. Well done! And I appreciate The Jungle references, too.

veganelder said...

Thank you for your comment Andrew. I hope you enjoy the book if you chose to read it.