Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading...

has been an activity that has been with me a long long time and has brought me much...in many many ways. I read...often...and a lot. I read lots of "mind candy", fiction books without much import nor insight or wisdom in them. Not that fiction can't contain all those things...and the best fiction does...it's just that light reading is what I do before sleeping and I try diligently to sleep pretty much every day.

The field I worked in (psychology and counseling) demanded lots of reading and over the decades I read many articles and books related to that and then when I eased over into teaching computer programming that required tons of reading in a brand new subject area...in addition to keeping up with whatever was going on in psychology. Fiction served as a break from academic writing and it has been something that continues to be a constant source of mild (and sometimes profound) pleasure. For instance, one of the absolute best writers living today is a fellow named J. M. Coetzee...if you want to see fiction illustrating truths...you would have a hard time finding better than his work. (especially his book Elizabeth Costello)

Then came veganism. Ouch. I say ouch because snapping into seeing and comprehending and understanding the world without the crutch of human exceptionalism...or at least trying to divest myself of the distortions and stupidities engendered by this fantasy...has really played havoc with my reading. I alluded to this recently and I'm touching on it again because it seems to be so dreadfully ubiquitous.

I seem to be stumbling into writing semi-regularly about not what I've read...but about what I didn't read and why I didn't read it...sort of a guide to being un-read (as opposed to well-read) and reasons for cultivating such a status. Hmmm.....

I recently obtained a copy of a book called "How Animals Grieve" by Barbara J. King. I was looking forward to reading this and jumped into it as soon as it arrived. By page 5 I started feeling some unease when I read: "The terms "chicken intelligence" and "chicken personality" struck me as oxymoronic, not reasonable descriptions of chicken reality." Now granted, I am/was as immersed in the delusion of human exceptionalism as anyone but undergraduate and graduate studies taught me, quite clearly, that "intelligence" was obviously a relative thing (as well as a human created concept) and that no living organism on this planet existed that didn't possess "intelligence"...yet here is this highly educated person writing that she didn't think chickens possessed intelligence. That might be ok for an uneducated human animal to think...but not someone with a Ph.D.

I kept on reading but page 7 produced this bit: "In writing about animal bereavement, I walk a line stretched taut between two poles. The first is this wish to recognize the emotional lives of other animals. The other is my need to honor human uniqueness." I added the underlining. I stopped reading soon thereafter. When I read that underlined phrase I flashed back on the book title...and thought...she isn't writing a book about the grieving of animals who don't happen to be human...she's writing a book driven by a need to honor human "uniqueness" and she's going to reference grief from the other living beings to do so. I appreciate her honesty and I wonder whether she grasps just how honest a statement that was.

And so I stopped reading. At this point I'm not really interested in reading (with some exceptions) supposedly serious and non-fiction material about living beings that starts off from such a profoundly biased position. I'm just not. To me that would be very similar to reading a book supposedly about human females and their characteristics from an avowed male chauvinist or reading a book about African Americans from an openly racist author. What little accurate information that would or might be presented in those instances would be immersed in and drenched by the ugliness of prejudice and bias surrounding it.

I just don't have the stomach right now to wade around in, what now seems to me to be, silliness masquerading as seriousness. This author may have much to say that is valuable or necessary or interesting...I don't know...I'm not making that kind of judgement. Others may enjoy her work(s) and her observations but I just don't want to subject myself to it. It's too disturbing and sad-making to me...that might change in the future but right now that's just now where I am.

It seems disrespectful and somehow nasty to title a book "How Animals Grieve" and then write that she "needs to honor human uniqueness". I'll give her points for honesty in that statement but I suspicion that the honesty was inadvertent. A better title might have been "The Uniqueness of Humans, as Shown by the Grief of All Other Animals". (she also flunked the index test)

And believe me...our sister and brother animals have a lot to feel grief about as a result of the silly and sad "uniqueness" we ascribe to ourselves. Drop some of your bigger delusions, go vegan, and do your best to quit giving others reason to grieve.

8 comments:

Bea Elliott said...

I'm relating. The way you feel about diving into a good book is about how I feel when I get to read your latest thoughts via your blog posts. I look forward to clarity, honesty and insights put into other words than those that originate in my own head. So at the onset I want to say that I appreciate "reading" here, now - And whenever...

Coincidentally I just finished The Lives of Animals even though I had been "quoting" Elizabeth Costello for years... It never dawned on me that there would be a "sequel" to her character. I absolutely must read this now - Thank you for the heads-up!

As to human exceptionalism what an ugly disease common in the vain, insecure human ego. Now I'm not about to discredit that we humans do have some cool attributes... But to say that they are any more worthy or better than an Other is a farce! But don't we need to cling to that lie in order to continue to "dominate"? The older (and wiser) I become I see time and again that all our problems stem from the arrogant belief that we have privileges and "rights" over "just animals". Does it all flow from the hierarchy of (male) god-belief? It seems so... Patriarchal edicts have got it down on assigning descending value to everyone.

I found this video a while ago: The War on Humans https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWcEYYj_-rg It's such a twisted tangle... If you can tolerate the listen it plays right into the swill of human "supremacy". If nothing else - You can add to the thumbs DOWN!

Sounds like you ought to save King's book for the burn pile... I don't know - What else is there to do with written pages that reinforce wrong/dangerous ideas? Shredded litter for bunny boxes perhaps? :/

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea.

Uh, I went over to the video you referenced but decided to investigate the source before watching. It's propaganda from some yahoos who push the intelligent design stuff. I really don't need to watch/hear some crap from anyone silly enough to deny evolution much less anyone who thinks humans are "superior" to all living beings. I've found the older I get the less patience I have for nonsense. :-)

I was wise enough get her books via my library...so I don't have to dispose of them beyond dropping them in the return chute, although the bunnies might have improved them with a bit of rabbit poop. :-)

Bea Elliott said...

Hi again - I totally understand what you mean about vetting those who reject or agree with evolution. That's sort of the next question that answers: Are you rational? And for sure this group isn't.

I had to "know my enemy" though... And the video contained lots of references to AR activists and to "farmed" animals/"meat". So I just had to hear what they had to say. Right you are that you missed nothing.

Please do let us know what book you've chosen next to read to get the bad taste of King out! ;)

Have Gone Vegan said...

I'd heard of the Elizabeth Costello book, but definitely want to read it now!

As for Barbara's book, is it possible at all (not likely, but just wondering), that the early pages reflect her initial stance, and that maybe by exploring the subject in greater degree she had an epiphany in later pages? Haven't read the book so don't know, and again, not likely (given index), but I myself might be curious to find out. :)

p.s. if I ever do, I'll let you know

D.E.M. said...

Man, that's weird.... I was just thinking about The Lives of Animals the other day. I had come across a note I made in which I figured Elizabeth Costello contains Coetzee anagramatically. And, here you are writing about it. When Coetzee won the Nobel for literature, he gave one interview & that was to a vegan newspaper :)

Feeling psychically connected to you, dude!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I would suggest you read her book. I had received another book by her (an earlier one) wherein she did what I call the Jonathan Safran Foer two step in that she allowed as to how she could see all the reasons not to harm other animals, and she was sort of a vegetarian for that reason, but she just couldn't get to the vegan position (or words to that effect).

Probably it shouldn't but that sort of dancing around tends to irritate the crap out of me. It reminds me too much of euphemistic phrases like "humane slaughter" and "free-range eggs". I'm reminded of what someone once said to the effect that we keep trying to find the right reasons to do something wrong.

Maybe I'm unwilling to read her because she's still wallowing around in the land of harming others and I've moved on and frankly, nothing she finds there or expresses about being there is of interest to me anymore. She's still speaking the language they use in that country (the one in my rear-view mirror) and I'm struggling with trying to learn the language and culture of my new home. I'm not going back there, there's nothing there I miss. This is the first time I've thought of it that way but it seems to sort of fit.

You're quite right, she can/might change, and when/if she does I might enjoy reading her thoughts but until then I'll pass on messing around with listening to someone who is apparently a sensitive person who figures that it's ok to harm other animals for convenience, profit or pleasure. She's not really as sensitive and she thinks she is. I've quit speaking that language and am too busy with my new culture/language. :-)

If you read her book, let me know what you got out of it, ok?



veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. Anagrams? That's pretty cool. What a hoot.

I'm honored to have you for a psychic connection. Thank you. :-)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting again Bea. When I come across a book I like I will be sure to write about it.

Part of my problem is my age, I always thought I might end up being a grumpy old man and I think I'm falling into that mode fairly rapidly. Human animals tend to irritate me fairly rapidly...but...in my defense I will tell you that the other animals don't. In fact, I'm much more at ease and happy around them than I am with my own kind...with a few major exceptions. And...the older I get the more I enjoy and am nourished by the fur, fin and feather folks than I am most of the skin folks. (and, I know, that's not quite anatomically correct, but hey what the hell?) :-)

And...people that are vegans don't irritate me (most don't anyway). We recently had a vegan group visit the rescue and it was a sort of strange experience...I'll write about in soon. :-)