Monday, January 26, 2015

Lewis Gompertz

I ran across his name early on in this strange and bewildering journey called living vegan. Yet little mention is made of him by vegans. Little, not none, because you can find writings about him here and here.

I was thoroughly impressed by him because the little bit I read made note of the fact that he refused to ride in carriages or ride on horses because he felt that was unjust. He was opposed to enslavement or the "use" of others for ones own benefit whether that 'other' was a human animal or any other variation of animal. He was a vegan before the word was created. What makes him even more remarkable is that he's pretty much the founder of the first official organization devoted to improving the lives of animals....the RSPCA. (at least he was from what I can tell and they trumpet on their website that they're proud to be the "oldest")

Mr. Gompertz should be much better known to vegans. His book about avoiding the oppression of animals was written in 1824. It's difficult to realize the profundity (and serious opposition to "normal" socially accepted behaviors) that he was advocating (and living). This was an era when human transportation and much labor performed for humans was done so by horses and oxen. He had to walk or to ride a bicycle to get around. Imagine going to lunch with him and you jump into your carriage or onto your horse and he says: "I'll meet you there, wait for me" and takes off walking. It makes me smile...good for him. Not only did he avoid eating animals or animal products...he refused to "use" them either.

And...this part is what is so tellingly terrible and wonderful at the same time is that he was driven out of that organization he started because he was "different".

In other words, he started an organization devoted to opposing the oppression of marginalized and relatively powerless beings simply because they were "different" and then he was driven away from participating in that organization because he was "different" and belonged to a group that was marginalized and relatively powerless. How bizarre is that? How terribly exemplary of our species. We aren't the "thinking animal", we are the "erring animal". If you need something to be messed up...give it to a human...if it can be screwed up...we'll manage it.

Mr. Gompertz was Jewish and a segment of Christians became concerned about his presence in the organization and his possible influence...big laugh...since he helped start the organization...and they forced him out.  

There's a lesson in this that we (human animals) still struggle with. Jeez, we still struggle with everything...or so it seems but most tellingly the obvious things. Like don't do what you say you don't want to do.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I've been writing a bit lately about intersectionality (here and here) and the similarities of oppressions and...big wow...look at this...the human who apparently wrote the first complete book devoted to explaining why we should not oppress our sister/brother Earthlings was run out of the first official organization devoted to not oppressing animals (which he founded) because of oppression. The insanity of that exemplifies something so exquisitely true about our nature as a species that it makes my teeth hurt. We're, indeed, the zany species (and zany in a sad and terrible way).

All the isms of oppression...and they are myriad...breaking free from them in one area doesn't give you a pass for any other area. I'm struggling hard with all that right now and the other day when I received a copy of his book via interlibrary loan it struck me right in the face that the animal anti-oppression movement seemed to start right off with oppressing the founder of the first animal anti-oppression organization. Somehow that's fitting in that it exemplifies what a spooky bunch of beings we human animals are.

The only oppression worthy of being practiced is the oppression of oppression? As I said in my last post, it makes my head hurt. Maybe Rodney King expressed it best when he asked: "Can we all just get along?"


Laloofah said...

Man, thank you so much for bringing Mr. Gompertz' story to my attention! I don't think I'd ever heard of him (his name rings a distant bell, but then I think maybe I'm confusing it with Samuel Gompers!) What a principled man of courage ahead of his time. How sad he's so little remembered/known and how much sadder that he'd all-too-easily recognize the same maddening struggles he endured still stubbornly going on today: the infighting and discrimination and "radical extremist" labels - and worse, the continued use and abuse of non-humans, when it's even moreunjustifiable (if that's possible), and on a scale he never could have imagined in his worse nightmares. I'd like to think, however, that he'd be gladdened to see veganism and the animal rights movement - and principled people of courage like you - still fighting the good fight and making progress, agonizingly slow as it may be. Anyway, the Green Planet article about him was fascinating, tragic, and inspiring and I've pinned and tweeted it so others can learn about his life and his work. He should not be as forgotten as he is, so thank you again for shining a light on him! xoxo

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Laloofah. When I ran across information about Mr. Gompertz years ago I was simply stunned at the incredible commitment and strength his actions showed. I can't even fathom how much grief he endured and how much more difficult his life was made because of his desire to not harm other beings. We who see ourselves as vegans have much to live up to in terms of "walking the walk". I'm glad you were apparently as impressed with him and his efforts as I am.

I did not comprehend the dynamics of his being ousted from the RSPCA before I received a copy of his book, reading about that was when the tragic irony struck me of the demonizing and banishing of a champion of anti-oppression by a group engaging in oppression (while identifying themselves as a group devoted to not oppressing animals). It makes smoke come out of my ears when I think about it.

It's always heartening for someone to be made happy by knowing about someone or something that elates me too. Thanks for enjoying (and xoxo right back at you). :-)