Friday, June 3, 2011

Advocating for those without a human voice...

can be sometimes dismaying. Not because of those who harm animals, curiously, but because of those who are supposedly in agreement with you.

Several months ago on facebook someone posted something about Amazon selling rabbits feet. You remember those grotesque body parts supposed to bring "good" luck...obviously they don't represent good luck for the rabbit. I shared the post and complained to Amazon and urged others to do the same.

To my surprise my actions resulted in some 17 separate comments by a person objecting to my objecting. Not because they thought selling body parts was ok but rather because I wasn't objecting to any and everything at all to do with selling something from animals. Now of course I do object to selling anything to do with animals but in this instance I wasn't doing that, I was focusing on this particular instance of human cruelty. I sort of felt like that was my choice, ya know?

However, this person proceeded to "educate" me about speciesism and how single species advocating was bad juju and eventually she wrote that "Seeing welfarist postings is upsetting because it causes violence to animals." She then fired me as a Facebook friend...with the condescending proviso that I might be taken back into her fold if I would read a book by G.L. Francione called "Rain Without Thunder" and get my mind right. (By the way, I'm unable to find any empirical backing for the notion that welfarism causes violence to animals, this is apparently an opinion floating around with no evidence supporting it.) 

Actually I thought and still think the whole facebook brouhaha was sort of funny and sort of sad at the same time. Several friends of mine got rather incensed however and took the woman to task in some of their comments. I responded to her a couple of times but when I saw that she seemed to be on a mission and wasn't ready to back up some of her assertions with empirical data I thanked her for her opinion and just didn't respond anymore.

Thanking her for her opinion seemed to incense some buddy of hers who then chimed in during this comment extravaganza by writing that the person trying to school us...this self anointed guruess: "has better things to do with her time...(and that we were showing a) lack of appreciation of her sharing the science of how easily the human mind is was my work for many years and her understanding is greater than many PHDs."

So, I had a person with understanding greater than many Ph.D.s and a marketing whiz telling me what a goobers we all were for not appreciating the pearls they were casting before us. Wow.

Probably this rather arrogant and silly statement epitomizes what I found amusing and dismaying. First of all, I always get a little nervous when somebody starts claiming to know more about some area than folks that hold a doctorate degree in that specialty. Not that something like that isn't possible, it is just that the likelihood of such is really very small. Certainly the things written by either of these folks wasn't exhibiting some superior grasp of the topic . (Not to be disingenuous here, I hold a Ph.D. in psychology and spent several decades observing and sometimes assisting people struggling to change how they thought and felt and behaved...changing is not easy nor is it something I am particularly ignorant about.)

Again, remember, I firmly am an advocate of and supporter of the notion that all sentient beings have a right to live their lives however they want, they are not property, amusements, slaves, pets or food. That is my position and nothing I was saying contradicted that -- however -- that wasn't good enough for these folks because I wasn't toeing their party line. Gimme a break.

In addition, no one and I repeat no one, has discovered any sure-fire way to get people to change their thinking to some desired way or another. Happily so. If such a certain method had been discovered, governments would all be using it and each society would have only one way of thinking. You can look around and see that such is not the case; ipso facto such a certain methodology doesn't exist. Get real.

I sort of felt like I was in one of those stories where you see somebody being excommunicated by a religious group or someone being expelled or assassinated by communist or nazi party members because of factional disagreements. It was sort of surrealistic.

I'm not a big believer in orthodoxy of thought or speech or feeling primarily because it's stifling and exclusionary and unrealistic and eventually stupid-making. Human animals, like other animals, are individuals and trying to impose a "one size fits all" mandate on what to say or how to say it or how to feel is ridiculous. Convincing someone to change their thinking takes many different approaches. What is effective in one instance may be totally ineffective in another situation.

I'm also definitely not a believer in half-assed notions being promoted as "science". Invoking the term Science usually suggests there is empirical evidence somewhere. I asked for evidence to back up what position these folks were pushing and never was offered any but then they proceeded as if they had presented evidence for their statements and I was just ignoring it.

I am familiar with the writings of Dr. Francione. He's a philosopher and animal rights advocate and writes some good stuff re ethical veganism and abolishing the property status of animals. I'm in agreement with that, but he isn't some deity or something. Philosophy is an area of study that generally relies on logic and rationality for the scaffolding of knowledge. Needless to say, straightforward logic and rationality often has only a peripheral relationship to how human animals think or behave.

In his defense, his writings do not come across as arrogant and all-knowing but apparently some of the folks that claim to follow him get almost cult-like about it. I don't know whether he encourages that or not but it is sort of weird and off-putting...and silly. I like silly usually, but when someone is being silly and doesn't know it but rather is being real serious and earnest and can offensive and a bit spooky.

I'm not a welfarist in that I don't think human animals have any right to use other beings, no matter how nicely they might treat them. I do think, while we're trying to implement an abolition of other animal use, if any improvement in the treatment of any or all animals that are being used by humans can be achieved...then go for it...and if you want to put your passion into advocating for one sort of animal...more power to ya. Hell, if we can liberate the fur, feather, skin and scale folks one species at a time that is still better than where we are now.

To act as if anyone has figured out how to get human animals to quit damaging other beings and the planet is sort of goofy. This is a big, big, big problem and a lot more folks are going to need to wake up to this fact and be motivated to change before things get rolling and anything that increases that awakening and motivation...I'm for it.

Not that I am for any and all approaches because some things that are done in the name of helping other animals is simply incomprehensible. For instance…having a non-vegan barbeque or a non-vegan ice cream fundraiser for some animal shelter or something...that sort of stuff exemplifies speciesim in action. Advocating (implicitly or overtly) by using or hurting one group of animals to help another group of animals is so yucky that my head smokes a little when I see it.

It is in these misguided efforts that you see some serious evidence of the disordered thinking supported by our society, of speciesism, of welfarism. Those sorts of travesties uphold the notion that human animals have some sort of right to control, use, "breed", steal from or kill other animals…just as long as humans aren’t overtly mean to these specific types of animals. This is simply wrong and precisely what is erroneous about basing the value of sentient beings predicated on what species they belong to.

I do not, on the other hand, see a problem with objecting to selling animal parts (a rabbit foot) or objecting to the killing of baby seals or objecting to rodeos or circuses that use animals. The more the merrier is the way I see it…as long as you are not condoning harm or encouraging harm or engaging in harm to animals in some other way…go for it....  I'm aware that often such efforts are may not be too effective but…what the hey? Hells bells, if we eliminated the ineffective activities from our lives, I doubt there would be much left…Power to the Ineffective! One of the great lines in the terrific movie “Hospital” starring George C. Scott, occurs when he screams out an open window: “Power to the Impotent!”

As for the orthodoxy enforcers on facebook or anywhere else…confusing opinion with empirical evidence is poor form and doesn’t help anyone, much less the animals. Contentiousness about trivia trivializes what you might be attempting to accomplish. Trying to tell others what to say and how to say it is controlling and demeaning and counterproductive. And rude.

Realize that trying to convince an ethical vegan (who endeavors to harm no living beings) that they are not thinking or saying things the "right way" is a little peculiar. Sort of like bitching at the fireperson trying to put out a fire because she is not wearing the right kind of hat instead of taking the matches away from the kids who started the fire. 

In truth, such an approach exhibits your deficiencies at convincing others. Obviously if you had the key to convincing…I would have been convinced as would everyone else that read what you had to say…that didn't happen.


Christina said...

Assuming things about you is what ticked me off.

Sometimes you have to put out small fires. Its all we have the power to do as individuals often. Taking on the whole world is useless and a waste of passion and time.

I dont join groups, I find the larger the group, the smaller the intellect. But then I didnt finish college so I doubt my opinion would count with that individual anyway. I am not educated enough to offer something valid. Whatever. Tactics are more important than the message sometimes. She needs to work on them and the huge head she has must be tough to carry around. Probably what makes her so angry, its a heavy load.

My question was and is: What does she do to change her part of the world around her? I guess run your mouth and attack people on facebook is all.

Everyone's fight is different. I think we would be in a lot worse shape if nobody faught at all.

Andrew Hunt said...

Amen! Amen! Amen! Great post. I'm a big fan of a lot of what Gary Francione has to say, and I give him full credit for having a big impact on my position about veganism. But there are some of his followers (by no means all!) that are like Maoists or McCarthyites. I've gotten nailed more than once for "speciesism," a term applied to me when I said it was wrong to kill/harm/use an animal for any reason other than that animal being a sentient being. In other words, if I say that chickens love their babies, therefore it's wrong to kill chickens, the dreaded "speciesist" label gets slapped on me by the purists, because I SHOULD have said chickens shouldn't be killed/harmed/used because they are sentient beings - period. I shouldn't cite any other reasons. If I do, I might as well be standing in the slaughterhouse, slitting jugular veins for a living.

It's a form of idiotic political correctness that is mind-numbing and asinine and completely misguided. It also represents a self-defeating way of going on the warpath after the wrong people. The same flawed logic is applied to "single issue" advocates - opponents of rodeos, the seal hunt, rabbits feet, etc. The reason the animal rights movement is successful is because of its breadth and diversity. Social movements succeed when they adopt a broad range of tactics and attract a wide array of constituents. If the Civil Rights Movement had a policy that activists could only perform sit-ins, or only register people to vote, or only do this, or only do that, it would've failed. It succeeded because it contained conservatives, moderates and radicals, and a variety of tactics were tried on a hundred different fronts. It's best to reject dogmatic thinking in every instance. If your gut tells you something is wrong, and you feel you should do something about it to fix the problem, then - damn it - do it. Don't listen to the self-appointed judge/jury/executioners who set themselves to be the police force within a tiny segment of the population that is fighting for what's just and what's sane.

veganelder said...

Thanks Christina for commenting. I appreciate your viewpoint and thoughts. I tend to agree with your notion about groups yet sometimes grouping together can be an effective way to accomplish something...but ya gotta watch out for the funny ones in the group. :-)

Something I once read made a lot of sense to me about education...once you get into college how much education you get depends on you, not the college...a college is just a convenient place to educate yourself. Education can and does happen anywhere and everywhere and educated people are anywhere and everywhere whether they went to college or not. The nice thing about a college is there usually are a lot of folks there who enjoy learning new things and that atmosphere can be exciting. To tell ya the truth college didn't get to be fun until I was in graduate school...that was fun because I was able to focus on what I was interested in and be encouraged in doing so. It was a terrific experience. But being educated is an individual thing in the end, not a college thing...I do think it is much more difficult to educate yourself outside of a college (or something like it) because you have a harder time finding people that can guide you. But, it can be done and is done and I happen to know you are quite well educated. :-)

I love your statement: "Everyone's fight is different. I think we would be in a lot worse shape if nobody fought at all." Excellent!

veganelder said...

Thank you Andrew for commenting. You write wisdom and truths. I sort of enjoyed the stuff on facebook because I knew they were full of crap and weren't making much sense but so full of "the sound and the fury." It is my thought that folks of that ilk are struggling with some personal issues and letting their internal turmoil spill over onto and into whatever "cause" they happen to be latched onto. I saw something quite like that at a civil rights meeting I went to many many years ago...squabbling over trivia.

The sad thing is that such stuff can be off-putting to folks that are new to or are interested in learning about an issue or cause.

Dogmatism and narrow-mindedness is virtually always self-defeating and erroneous. Your observation about breadth and diversity is right on regarding the success of any social movement. Hell, any social movement that isn't broad and diverse isn't a social movement because it is too exclusionary.

One thing the dogmatists can be useful for is by paying attention to whether they ever get after you or not...if you never get attacked by them maybe you aren't doing enough. :-)

It was actually sort of cool to get "fired" as a facebook 'friend'. We are often as defined by those that don't like as we are by those that do. :-)

Anonymous said...

OMG! What a post and what a trip. And what a crock of sh** to tell you off like that.

I advocate for animals all along the spectrum: I want sows out of gestation crates (welfarist); I want people to stop eating them at all (rights); I want smaller communities who can stand up to the nation state and just be vegan (liberation).

I like to think and advocate for them all, when I have the time.

I want those pigs out of cages and elephants out of circuses so badly that I'm willing to take the welfare rap.

I think you're soooo right about the self-defeating nature of dogmatism.

P.S. I hold a PhD too, and I use my position to argue with the Faculty of Agriculture. And don't nobody better tell me off about it ;)

Christina said...

Ha! Love your last line. I always say if certain people dont like me, I must be doing something right!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. Sticking up for our fellow Earthlings however and whenever we think it is needed could possibly be called eclectic advocacy.

Interestingly enough you can see the same sort of narrow-mindedness in various academic circles. In psychology strict behavorists deny validity to other theoretical approaches to understanding and changing behavior and pretend that everyone else is in error. Folks that pick and choose from different approaches, depending on what they think is true or effective, are called eclectics (sometimes scornfully). It may be that human animals are wired to be more or less rigid in their cognitive activity.

Challenging the agricultural folks sounds daunting! I admire your courage and energy. Maybe spreading around some copies of Ishmael would loosen up some thinking patterns.

Anonymous said...

Ishmael? what's that? any relation to Moby-Dick?

Yeah, that Faculty of Agriculture is one difficult place to deal with, with the plant scientists, soil scientists and animal scientist all united in one front against animal rights people.

And pork producers printing off my blog and sending it up the ranks at my university.

And on it goes.

I dream of a Faculty of Animal Rights.

Have Gone Vegan said...

And I thought the last post was great! This one is super fantastic and I have so many thoughts on the topic, but will get back to you when they're a bit less scrambled and I have more time. What I will say for now though is that I really like the idea of vegan eclectic advocacy as that makes the most sense to me. Oh, and I don't know who that FB person was but you rock as a vegan, and if they don't see that then it simply proves that all the education in the world can't help some people.

veganelder said...

Thanks for your 2nd comment DEM. Ishmael? Well, Moby Dick was apparently narrated by Ishmael but the one I was referencing was the novel by Daniel Quinn. That book was germinal in waking me up re the con job that we have perpetrated on ourselves about ourselves and our relationship to the rest of the world. It remains one of the most disturbing books I have ever read, it might serve to disturb some of the smugness and complacency I imagine you encounter in the faculty.

I am impressed that animal murders ('pork producers') print off and send your blog to university folks. That's quite a compliment to the power and precision of your writing. Congratulations!

Your dream of an enlightened faculty of human animals is an excellent one.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting HGV and thank you for the kind words. Truly, the thing with the FB person was sort of fun...I ended up feeling mildly bad for them.

I am looking forward greatly to your thoughts on the topic, your perceptions and insights always enlighten.

Bea Elliott said...

Oh - Oh! You were nabbed by the vegan police too! Yikes!

I love facebook for the reasons of sharing information and meeting many, many like-minded advocates. The sharing part is wonderful and has offered many of us consolation when the RW weight is too heavy to bear.

But I've been "patrolled" too... A few times. I've been accused of "picking low hanging fruit" by signing petitions to end seal or bison slaughter. "WHAT ABOUT THE COWS, CATS AND DOGS? THAT'S SPECIESIST!" :( (sigh)

Just a few months ago I posted an article about "Quorn" products doubling in sales due to more people eliminating meat from their diets. I thought it was positive news. I was not "advertising" Quorn or promoting it. I just wanted to "high five" the information about more people eschewing meat. Well! Boy did I get slammed and put in my place for that one: QUORN IS NOT VEGAN!!! And the comment went on and on about the chickens who suffer in cages, with their beaks cut off, and the male chicks being ground while still alive. (Really???) I got the works thrown at me like I was suggesting people go and buyout the meat/egg and dairy cases! According to them, my post "encouraged" people to eat animal products. Ugh!

It made me think... Perhaps since I don't conform to the "exact" "perfection" of what a flawless vegan ought to be... I should start wearing a shirt that says: "It's because of me that the Animal Rights movement has failed".

My saving grace has been to consider the source... And to have thick skin. And you veganelder are 100% right in this... There is no one size fits all. If something were that much a sure-fire success, we would have had these cages empty by now.

Just because our paths don't align *exactly* with each other's course, doesn't mean all our eyes aren't on the same prize.