Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It hasn't been said well enough...

I recently re-watched a 1947 movie that is one of my favorites. It's called Gentleman's Agreement with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire. I like to see it again every year or so because I notice and learn something new or different each time. This time was no exception. The dialogue in the movie is, on occasion, profound. For example:
Professor Fred Lieberman: Millions of people nowadays are religious only in the vaguest sense. I've often wondered why the Jews among them still go on calling themselves Jews. Do you know, Mr. Green?
Phil Green: No, but I'd like to.
Professor Fred Lieberman: Because the world still makes it an advantage not to be one. Thus it becomes a matter of pride to go on calling ourselves Jews.
When I heard this exchange this time it struck me how identical this is to the premise that human beings are not animal beings and that it is a definite advantage to not be considered an animal...therefore...to me at least...it is a matter of, not pride, but acknowledgement of injustice (and accuracy) to consider myself an animal.

This time the exchange that struck me most powerfully was:
Kathy Lacey: You think I'm an anti-Semite.
Phil Green: No, I don't. But I've come to see lots of nice people who hate it and deplore it and protest their own innocence, then help it along and wonder why it grows. People who would never beat up a Jew. People who think anti-Semitism is far away in some dark place with low-class morons. That's the biggest discovery I've made. The good people. The nice people.
It is staggering how well this exchange epitomizes much of what drives the ongoing destruction of our fellow Earthlings. It is the "good people", the "nice people" who do not see themselves as agents of cruelty, of oppression, of murderousness who support and perpetuate the enslavement and the imprisonment and the death and suffering of billions of Earthlings.

It is truly all the same....speciesism, racism, anti-semitism, sexism, and on and on. The prejudice, the oppression, the ugliness of superiority/inferiority, the murder of billions because they are "different". The viewpoint that drives each of these despicable behaviors and mindsets is the same and what allows this to flourish is, in the end, the "good people"....the "nice people".

The movie is based on a novel by Laura Z. Hobson. When I read more about her, I realized that I wished I had had a chance to sit down and have a long long conversation with her. She was apparently a remarkable human. "Through her novels, she popularized issues of
anti-Semitism, unwed motherhood and gay rights. She succeeded as a
single mother and as a professional." 
I wonder whether she would have been able to see through the cultural veils and understand the justice and necessity of ethical veganism. I bet she would have in time.

Now, not long before I re-watched Gentleman's Agreement, I had re-watched Schindler's List. That's another movie that I re-see because it helps ground me. Then, this morning I went to Bea Elliot's excellent blog Once Upon A Vegan and found a post delineating the activity of a fellow named Nicholas Winton who helped save over 600 Jewish children from the Nazi holocaust by arranging transport to England for them. Bea was making the point that living as an ethical vegan is equivalent to being a conscientious objector to cruelty. Exactly so.

She was writing about someone who not only lived as a conscientious objector to the war and to violence but who also went further and in addition to opting out of participation but also helped save hundreds of victims of human driven oppression and suffering and death. The same is true of Oscar Schindler...he did not participate in the violence and he also saved many human victims.

The struggle against speciesism is the same as the struggle against racism,  is the same as the struggle against anti-semitism, is the same as the struggle against sexism...and against each and every stance that renders one side "superior" and the other side "inferior". Against each stance that condones oppression and enslavement and violence against those adjudged to be "inferior". It is exactly the same struggle...only the characters involved may change from place to place and time to time. The victims and oppressors may change identities but the "dance" remains the same. And this struggle has plagued our species (and as a result we plague ourselves and all the other species) apparently forever. 

We seem to be so prone to fall into this horrid trap of oppressor/victim. It seems to be sadly seductive to us...since we do it again and again.

Well. I'll tell you what. Morally...if you admire folks like Mr. Winson and Mr. Schindler...you can behave just like they did. First, you opt out of the violence...the dance of death by living as an ethical vegan. That's the first step. Next...you support in each and every way you can...your local animal sanctuaries and rescues. That's exactly what they did...first they caused no harm...that's the conscientious objector, ethical vegan stance...second they facilitated the rescue of victims from harm...that's the supporting by volunteering and donating to your local animal sanctuaries and rescues.

Look around, investigate the places that save animals in your community. If they promote ethical veganism...great...if they don't...help them grow into such a stance while you assist them with their rescue activities. Otherwise they are just perpetuating the superior/inferior dance that creates the need for sanctuaries and rescue facilities. The very phenomenon that created the need for humans like Mr. Winton and Mr. Schindler.

Unless and until most of us are able to get through this struggle to see beyond superior/inferior then we'll just have to keep doing the same thing over and over and harming over and over and rescuing over and over. Spinning around and around in the same spot really is a poor way to try to get somewhere....unless you're just trying to get dizzy.

The main character in Gentleman's Agreement is a writer who is taking on an assignment to write about antisemitism and he really doesn't want to. He has this exchange with his mother:
Mrs. Green: You think there's enough anti-Semitism in life already without people reading about it?
Phil Green: No, but this story is doomed before I start. What can I say about anti-Semitism that hasn't been said before?
Mrs. Green: Maybe it hasn't been said well enough. If it had, you wouldn't have had to explain it to Tommy right now.
Maybe ethical veganism hasn't been said well enough. Maybe it will have to be said again and again until it is said well enough that no one has to explain it, that we all understand and live it.






7 comments:

D.E.M. said...

Wonderful, interesting post!

Bea Elliott said...

I'm positively struck by everything you write. We ethical vegans do understand the connectivity in everything... And how it comes to be that the "superior" mindset is the bad seed that spreads the weeds of hate and violence. Somehow we got that message that it was the othering and besting that permits all the insane bigotry and blood spilling.

I'm not surprised that you'd mention Gentlemen's Agreement - I haven't seen it for years. It's on my list to watch with new eyes. I never knew about the author Laura Z. Hobson - Yes! What a remarkable woman. Love how she managed to make situations work for her even by adopting her own son! Wow! I have no doubt either that she would have been receptive and a champion in the ethical-vegan position.

Come to think of it my new eyes might also benefit from re-watching Black Like Me based on journalist's John Howard Griffins investigations of what it was like to be an African American in the South in the 50's...
It surely must be in telling the stories in different ways that eventually get people to grasp the message. (?)

And somewhere recently I read the observation of how man distinguishes himself from all animals too by categorizing us as man"kind"... We don't say "dogkind" or "cowkind" or "catkind"... No - We give classifications for them - canines, bovines, felines... Already we are a "kind" - But they are each a separate group even from each other... But we - WE humans are all one - One big (nice and good)-(conflicted and warring), happy family. :/

For me the saddest thing always is that I AM a man-lover at heart... I truly believe we have extraordinary potential to be "great" - But that capability will never come by stepping on others. It must include empathy and compassion. Any of our "achievements" are just hollow without kindness. Without it it's one step forward, two back. We just can't seem to stop stumbling on our pair of left feet to get into the real dance of it all... Yes the dance! How well you phrased it!

You give very good advice on how proceed so that all good and nice people hear the message. It will be "well enough" said when it is finally understood and lived.

Thanks always for your wisdom.

Olivia said...

Beautiful. I'm so glad Bea steered me to this. As you may remember, I had two recent connections with Bea's OUAV blog, too. I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen Schindler's List, but now I plan to rectify that ommision VERY soon, and watch Gentleman's Agreement after it. I will be on the lookout (listen-out!) for those conversations and more lessons I can learn.

Thank you, veganelder.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. Thanks, I hope it was informational for you.

veganelder said...

Thank you Bea and Olivia for commenting.

Bea: The man "kind" thing seems to me to just sorta be another way we attempt to divest ourselves of our kin (whom we really don't want in our family). Black Like Me...I haven't thought of that work in a long while. I remember reading the book when it came out...I don't know that I've ever seen the movie. I checked my local library and shock of shocks...they just ordered a copy of the movie on dvd...so I will watch it when it arrives. The civil rights issue is a rather salient one to me because I began following those events while in high school and did some low-level participation when I went away to college. I've had long and sometimes acrimonious "discussions" with family, friends and strangers about race, racism, discrimination, prejudice....and on and on. It is an ongoing thing no matter what we think...especially here in this society. The inter-relatedness of all these divisional, destructive topdog/underdog "isms" makes me wonder if maybe we were able to fully resolve (whatever in hell that might mean) just one of them...the rest might disintegrate naturally. Maybe.

"Great"? I don't much think of human animals as having that kind of capability. I would be ecstatic if we could just behave half-way decently. I've thought about this a number to times and it seems to me the two areas that we might actually have something to offer to our neighbors on the planet are that of healing/medicine and that of art (specifically music). I haven't been able to see much of anything else we do that is worthwhile really. My take on most of our "accomplishments" are that they are things that we see as beneficial (short-term) to ourselves and to hell with any other consequences...and most eventually turn out to be more damaging than beneficial. I fear we're much more impressed with ourselves than the evidence supports. But...I'd like to hear more from you (or anyone) on that. :-)

Olivia: Thanks and I look forward to hearing your impressions re the movies.

Bea Elliott said...

Hi again - After I posted it - I thought long and hard on that "great" adjective too. If there was an edit thingy I would have altered it. You're correct about the only real phenomenally impressive thing we have is our creativity through art... I think not music though because other beings make incredibly harmonious sounds. There's a symphony every morning orchestrated by birds outside my window! ;)

My vote would go to the visual arts... When I think of how magnificent the sight of some physical objects are - mountains, oceans, skyscapes, and living natural wonders - Especially the latter in the plumage of birds, fish, reptiles and insects... To think that some certain highly talented humans can actually capture that beauty in art is amazing. But there's such a tiny percent of people who can actually do this (or create music, sculptures, etc.) that doesn't appear to be part of our general makeup or list of abilities at all! It's rather a rare anomaly.

I don't even know if medicine should be included in our repertoire. If you consider the offsets of the harms we've done on our way to healing - The cost-benefit doesn't tally there either. :/

We can also document our history and tell stories --- Some whoppers too. And yes... Our language skills are always to our benefit of manipulating reality.

Our mathematical abilities are rather striking though... Ironically once we've been able to calculate that 2 is more than 1 that "more" becomes the "greater" and man started adding up his material wealth based on that logic. But math isn't really a skill. Like fire... It's an invention. And yes for all its uses - most meant totally to serve us and actually damage others in its use. (sigh)

No - The more I think about it I must be afflicted with some remnants of un-earned man-love through my indoctrination that we are "great". Without becoming a total misanthrope - It's something I need to work on. I still think though that the highest virtue we will ever achieve will be the selfless service to the planet and inhabitants. If we ever can reach that end... Maybe - maybe then man will be living up to potential. (?)

Most of the time I'd settle for a Star Trek kind of attitude: We can search for new life to exchange knowledge. Don't interfere with anyone in a hostile way. Use violence only in self defense... Have no predatory economic system. And don't eat or exploit other creatures. Beam me aboard!

I hope you get something out of a re-visit to Black Like Me. Funny thing - I was raised around a lot of racial conflict too. I can't remember anyone in my circle who wasn't on the "white-side" of the top-dog comparison. I never got that though. My best friend was black and as beautiful a soul as I had ever known. Gail died when she was barely 20... A short life filled with trying to escape bullies and the torture of being "othered" for the worst. Sad. Given the chance Gail would have understood the vegan imperative.

Yeah - I agree. I'd be ecstatic too if our "kind" were just plain decent. That would be great.

Thanks again for the thoughtful exchange - I always learn something while ironing out the wrinkles in short-sighted premises. It always feels good to do so. ;)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting again Bea. I realized after reading your excellent follow-up that I hadn't fully clarified what I meant. We are profoundly excellent at amusing ourselves, making ourselves comfortable and on and on and on. But in the end most of what passes for "great" is that which is narcissistic and selfish. Those two instances I noted...the alleviation of suffering and music....I mentioned because they are the only two areas I can see where we might be either of use to our fellow Earthlings...or a source of pleasure. There are a number of species who enjoy hearing some of our music. Medicine and healing (that achieved without harm to others) is the single area where we might have the potential to be "great". I know Nessie Ray...who takes a daily anti-inflammatory medication because of her arthritis...is much more comfortable and pain free because of it. To me...that approaches "great". :-) We have the potential to serve as the healers of all Earthlings...instead of the harmers. Whether we have what it takes to become that...well. We'll see.

Thanks again.