Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Proxy morality (zwei).

Earlier I wrote about the astonishing disconnect that exists in our lives due to the fact that many of the items (and services) that we use for our lives are made, grown, carried-out or manufactured by organizations and peoples that we do not know and that we have no effective control over.

I didn't mention that, in some instances (not all by any means), we can gather information about items...and make decision based on our acquired information. I didn't write about this because I'm not at all sure that practical use or implementation of this behavior is a viable solution to our ongoing cultural freefall. For one thing, finding out about the parameters of creation of stuff can be (and often is) a major pain in the ass.

For instance, recently a new grocery opened here in Norman. Natural Grocers is one of a chain of stores operating across several states (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma). Now if you go to their website and read about them...well...what is not to like? They use all the buzzwords dear to the hearts of those of us who want to do well by our planet. Words like 'sustainable', 'family farms', 'natural and organic', 'nutritious', yada yada yada. Great, right?

Oops, maybe not so great. Here is an example. They have their own house brand of various items in bulk like organic split peas, organic steel cut oats, organic pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are of interest to me because we use them daily out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue. A few pumpkin seeds a day sprinkled on the pellets of the bunnies serves as a treat for them and also is good for their health. The bunnies love them and it is a good thing all around. Well, we want to always avoid as many pesticides or chemicals as possible so organic is the way to go. There is a problem though...anymore most pumpkin seeds you can find are not grown in the U.S. They come from China. China? China?

Someone else will have to explain the sense of that...and I suspect there isn't any "sense" at all except one of profit. I have little doubt that the reason pumpkin seeds are showing up here that are grown in China is profit. No sense, just profit. And, lest we forget, one of the principal (if not the primary) reasons our world looks like it does now is because of actions taken in the pursuit of profit. So, while things can be done in the name of profit that are not necessarily bad, from what I can see, on the whole, pursuing profit as a primary goal results in disaster after disaster after disaster.

Pumpkin seeds. Now when you shop at this grocery, their house branded bulk items are packed in bags with their logo on it. The label for pumpkin seeds touts that they are organic and they are "packed" in some town in Colorado (Lakewood, I think). The label didn't say "grown and packed" in Colorado, it said packed. Hmmm, I says to myself. If they are so proud of where they packed the seeds why aren't they proud of where the seeds were grown? Obviously they aren't themselves too impressed with the growing place or they would have touted that too. Nowhere on the label does it tell me where the seeds are grown. Hmmm.

In addition, the seeds are "Certified Organic". Hmmm. I had visions of the seeds being grown in say, Tibet, and then I had visions of the United States Food and Drug Administration loading up an inspector and flying her (or him) over to Tibet and that inspector overseeing the growth and harvest of the pumpkin seeds to ensure they are "organic". Look, I am mildly suspicious of the organic certification of things grown here in the U.S. where they actually might be inspected...I have no belief at all that anything coming from outside of the U.S. resembles anything I might think of as being "organic". I am suspicious of the food from here because I am aware that the pursuit of profit produces (even encourages) cheating and I have no doubt that cheating in the "organic" food area goes on...I guarantee that cheating goes on in the food area for stuff grown elsewhere. Still, organic may offer some degree of greater safety in many instanceses so that is what I endeavor to purchase. I am also aware that food "manufacturers" and "producers" are constantly trying to assault, water-down and de-fang any kind of regulation or inspection of their "products" or their operations so who knows how long any refuge is offered by "organic".

Anyway, the "packed" message on the label set off warning bells so I went home and looked online to see what I could find out about the company and about their pumpkin seeds. The online info about the seeds says they "source" from "around the world". Ok. So I emailed them and asked where their pumpkin seeds came from. After about 3 weeks (no exaggeration) I got the message their seeds come from China. I emailed back and asked if they had any pumpkin seeds from the United States. Within 2 days I was advised that all their pumpkin seeds came from China.

Look, I know the seeds I could buy in my local chain supermarket came from China too. The irritating and dismaying factor here for me is that this "Natural" food store touts that they are the home of "real Natural food" and here they are using all the same slippery and uninformative and misleading "marketing" stuff all the other slimeballs use. In truth, I have no belief that the current structuring of manufacturing, growing and marketing of "stuff" can operate in any way that is going to end up being positive for people or the planet...it is going to operate in  a way that is good for "profit" and nothing else. It will mislead, omit and twist information and data any old time that profit might be enhanced by such dancing and this has been the case since the beginning of "profit".

By the way, Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth of Nations" and often referenced by the current crop of profit mongers seemed to only see a profit system working in a small setting where everyone knew everyone else and cheating or greed could easily be discerned by direct experience. This "global" stuff or stuff coming from somewhere that is not easily inspected or learned about personally is a different sort of thing. As I mentioned before, I can easily end up (and have no doubt that I do) paying people to despoil the earth, use toxic chemicals and pesticides, harm animals and people and then take the profits and support politicians to further defang any sorts of regulations that might slow down their headlong pursuit of profit with no regard for the consequences or side effects.

No, I fear that tweaking the system or fine tuning the system isn't going to work...we've been fiddling around with that sort of thing since the days when coca cola actually had cocaine in it and...well...you can look around and see what is happening and what is happening isn't pretty...or positive...for living beings or the planet herself. We're in a major mess and as far as I can see one of the prime drivers of the mess making has been and is the pursuit of "profit".

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pippin, a bunny with a zenlike demeanor is...

...a new fellow that lives out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue. Pippin is an elder and has shown himself to be a mild-mannered guy with an deep calmness in his demeanor.
Pippin, looking somewhat pensive.
His fur is a beautiful golden color with some white markings on this left shoulder. In the next picture you can see him lit up by the early morning sun.
Pippin in morning sunshine.
The Pip is a fairly small bunny, 3 or 4 pounds, and is about 8 years old. His story, regretfully, is not a happy one for those 8 years. Heartland was contacted by someone who described himself as a grandfather who was trying to find a home for a bunny. Apparently Pippin was "owned" by a little girl (the granddaughter) and now she wasn't interested in him anymore and didn't want to take the trouble and time to care for him and wanted him to be gone.

Pippin was reported to have lived his whole life in a small hutch with a wire floor located in a backyard. As a result (we think) his right rear paw is not fully functional and he holds it out to the side somewhat stiffly when he hops or walks. Wire is not a natural or acceptable flooring for a bunny, a human, a chicken or...any living being that I can think of. When you consider anything but temporary and brief use of "wire flooring", associate that lengthy usage with perpetual low-grade torture and systematic abuse.

One of the perks of encountering rescued animals is getting to know them. (One of the pains of encountering rescue animals is hearing their stories.) When Pippin first came he was sort of shy but after a few days of having regular outside time along with lots of attention he began to move into being the easy going, laid-back sort of bunny that may be his core self.

We try to get him as much outside time as possible and recently he has taken to always finding a patch of dirt and stretching himself out and staying stretched out on the dirt for most of his outside time.
Pippin napping in small indentation in the dirt.
 Here is a photo taken this morning (8/28/2011) showing Pippin enjoying his dirt bed.
Pippin in the 'red dirt'.
 I was reminded of a video I saw recently that was apparently of a lion who had spent years confined in a cage (info about the video is not very detailed) and his obvious joy at feeling dirt under his paws again.  It is a fairly brief clip.

 Watching Pippin, watching the lion is a horrifying reminder of the casual and not so casual cruelty we inflict on our fellow living beings. This planet belongs to them too. They have come into being by the same processes and dynamics that brought human animals into being.

They have just as much right to this planet as we do, yet we confine them, manipulate their breeding and reproduction, deprive them of their birthright...this planet...the earth, the sky, the wind, the rain, the plants, the rocks...all of it is theirs too. They are children of Earth just as we are yet we behave as if they are simply here for our pleasure, our whim, our use.

When I think of this, when I see the joy of that lion, when I see Pippin laying in contentment on his planet I am almost paralyzed with horror and shame at how my fellow humans act. Could we be this way, act this way toward others without there being some terribly important element missing in our make up? Could we act this way if we weren't terribly damaged somehow? I have to not dwell on this too much lest my head explode. It is all too much to comprehend, to take in, to wrap my mind and feelings around. Even if I think of it a little it makes it hard for me to look at other people, hard to talk to them...especially if they aren't living as a vegan. It is very difficult.

We've structured our culture, most cultures, to where dishing out cruelty and suffering is the default position. If you go with the flow, if you act "normal"...then you are inflicting deprivation, cruelty, suffering, pain and death on billions and billions of living beings.

Just think of it, to be normal is to be monstrous...to be kind or uncruel...is to be "different" or "weird" or "radical". To refuse to use, exploit or harm other living beings makes you "strange".

There is a major derangement impacting this planet and all the living beings on it, and I do not think it is centered anywhere but in our own species.

Pippin is very polite when he is carried from his inside enclosure or anywhere, he rides along looking interestedly at the sights (which look peculiar I imagine, to a bunny used to being at ground level all the time) and calmly puts up with the giant clumsy humans. He has slowly come to accept petting and stroking and always gives polite and enthusiastic teeth purring when he gets a cheek massage. Pippin accepts, endures and maybe even forgives.

I have a much more difficult time with accepting and forgiving...so Pippin the zenmaster still has much to teach me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"What's in a name?"

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The quote is from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The astute Juliet is pointing out to Romeo that it isn't his name that she is infatuated with, it is him. In other words not the referring device (a name) but the being or thing referred to (him, Romeo Montague).

I ran across a study some time ago about names that has kept nagging at me ever since. The study itself is a couple of years old and was about the finding that cows kept on a dairy seemed to produce more milk if they were given a name and treated as individuals. Here is a link to a fairly well done summary of the study (conducted in the UK) and what the researchers thought about the results.

Now, keeping cows on a dairy is a not so accurate way of referring to a profit-making activity where living beings are imprisoned and exploited by being raped, impregnated and having their children taken away from them (such children are then killed immediately or sold into slavery) and their lactation fluids stolen...when these living beings are adjudged by their jailers as having decreased "efficiency" they are then murdered.  Dairy takes on a different cast when we expand and explicate what it actually means doesn't it?

Anyway, not discussing for the moment the horrors of "dairy", one of the interesting things in the study is that we find that positive attention to cows seems to make them happier (the presumption is that their making more milk means they are happier). I say positive attention because the researchers point out that assigning a name is a proxy for the cows being the recipients of "nicer treatment" by their exploiters. The results of the study would have been different if the cows had been assigned a name and then routinely beaten every day. It is not the naming of the cow, per se, that is important, it is the behavior toward the cow that results in increased happiness.

A fairly straightforward little study that focuses on greater benefit for the humans if the cows involved are treated nicer.

I found the whole thing repulsive and disgusting.

Let's substitute the animal studied, let's pretend the study is about human animals in a slave labor and death camp called a dairy. The study shows if you treat the human animals better they  produce more when working (prior to your murder of them after they are 'less efficient').

A more accurate name for the study would have been: "How to Maximize Your Profit While Committing Atrocities". But no matter the name; imprisoning, manipulating, hurting and killing sentient beings is unjust and atrocious.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

And babies grow up...

Back in June Linda Barcklay, the founder and director of Mindy's Memory Primate Sanctuary, was brought 3 baby cottontail rabbits someone had found when mowing their lawn. Linda knew I volunteered out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue and asked if I could help out. Linda, like most rescuers and sanctuary operators, often ends up with animals belonging to species other than the ones they concentrate on. Her sanctuary has a number of dogs that for one reason or other have ended up living there and she knew her land would be unsuitable as a place to try to return these little ones back to the wild. (by the way, if you discover some wild babies, unless there is a compelling reason not to, it is best to leave them alone)

I offered to transport them to Wildcare Oklahoma where the knowledgeable folks there have lots of experience with nursing along baby wild rabbits and getting them prepared to return to wild living. Once I picked up the little ones I realized they might be old enough so that they wouldn't need to be bottle fed (or fed with a syringe) and took them on over to Heartland for the director there to evaluate them. It was decided they were mature enough that they were ready to dine on vegetation exclusively so they were put in a safe area at Heartland to wait until they were ready to be on their own. Once it was seen they were eating well and were energetic it was decided to release them on Heartland property.

The video shows their coming out into the world, they are being released near one of the warrens at Heartland where the vegetation has been allowed to grow and as it turns out they have chosen to stay in this area. It is now past the mid-point of August and each day that I go out to the sanctuary I see the babies hanging out, eating breakfast and eyeballing the sanctuary rabbits when we let them outside to get some exercise and fresh air. The domestic bunnies are much larger (usually, but not always) than the native cottontails but the two sorts of rabbits coexist quite well. If one of the domestics tries to get too close to a cottontail, the cottontail will move away just far enough to feel safe and continue grazing or sometimes just watching the antics of the rescued rabbits.
 The babies are being released early in the morning and while they are tiny they are fully able to survive on their own...as you can see from this photo of one taken a few weeks after their release.

One of the cotties a few weeks after the release, notice the ear size.
 These (and all bunny folk) rabbits rely on their hearing (along with their smelling and seeing) capabilities to alert them to danger. They are prey animals and must constantly be on guard to avoid those that might harm them, their ears are a serious part of their ability to stay away from harm.

This next picture was taken in August, about 6 or 7 weeks after the release. Here you can see one of the babies has grown even more. This particular bunny gives me they eye whenever I am tramping around doing chores but unless I make a sudden move or a loud noise, she (or he) pretty much ignores me and goes about looking for tasty plants without paying me too much mind.
Here she (or he) is almost grown...and keeping an eye on me.

It is somehow nourishing to have some wild ones accept your presence in their world, to not be a human who is a source of terror or pain or death for those we share our planet with.

Central Oklahoma has some really great folks who provide sanctuary for some of our fellow Earthlings. Mindy's Memory Primate Sanctuary takes in monkeys and primates, these are often refugees from laboratories or other settings where these living beings have been treated like objects and then discarded once they have served their 'usefulness'. Wildcare Oklahoma attempts to care for wild animals (native to Oklahoma) that have been disturbed or harmed in some way by humans or natural forces (storms, drought, etc.)...once rehabbed, Wildcare then releases the animal in a safe area.  And of course, Heartland Rabbit Rescue. These three refugee centers operate within a 25 mile radius of Norman, Oklahoma (and I'm not mentioning the several rescues and sanctuaries for dogs and cats in the area), pretty amazing that there are so many committed and caring folks right around here.

Even if you don't operate a sanctuary or rescue, you can do your part to support the right of each living being to their own life by commencing to live as an ethical vegan. I would appreciate it and I guarantee you that the other animals will appreciate your choice.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Morality (or justice, ethics and fairness) by proxy...

 Morality generally refers to notions about what constitutes 'good' or 'bad' behavior...in whatever way someone chooses to define slippery words like good or bad. 
 In general we evaluate our own actions according to our structure of morality, deciding whether something we do is a good thing or a bad thing. Now, how someone goes about determining to themselves what is 'good' or 'bad' is a complex and often murky phenomenon and is an area of interest all its own…but for now let us focus on the use of someone else acting as our ‘moral agent’. For the purposes of this writing, justice and/or ethics and/or fairness are words being used as 'good enough' synonyms for morality.  Proxy is a word that means acting for another as an agent or substitute.
The title of this post is a statement about the activity of letting a substitute for one’s self (i.e., someone else) determine what is good or bad...in our name or on our behalf. They act as our ‘moral agent’ and their activity is, morally at least, the same as if we had behaved in that way. Another way of putting this is that in a culture/society configured the way ours is, we often prompt others to act as our agents and their definitions of morality (or justice, or fairness) are substituted for our own.  
In a culture where people pretty much do all the things for themselves that they need for living, behaving in ways that are consonant with their own value structure is fairly straightforward. If you think something is wrong, don’t do it. But in a culture like ours, where most of the things we use for everyday living are made or obtained by someone else…things get complicated and out of our control very rapidly.
For instance, I firmly believe that all sentient beings have a right to their own life. No sentient being should be enslaved, exploited or murdered. I can implement those values somewhat (notice that I say ‘somewhat’) by avoiding any food or clothing or anything else made from animals.
Believing that those animals have a right to their own lives includes believing they have a right to live on this planet, to travel around where they want and to do what they want (pretty-much). I also use toilet paper (a quirk of mine). Toilet paper is made from trees, that means that trees are cut down, destroying living areas for those other animals…who then either are killed during the tree cutting, or die from lack of food and shelter or they may be able to move to a different area from where the trees were cut and survive there. But the fact remains that my use of toilet paper means, most likely, that some animals suffer and die.
By proxy, I am encouraging, facilitating, pay for…the destruction of animal habitat and thereby causing the death of animals. I am, via the use of toilet paper, encouraging human animals (likely with no regard for animal lives) to engage in behaviors that cause fear, pain and death to sentient beings. Think of the many components, minerals and materials used in the manufacture of an automobile, think of the energy used (not to mention the pollution caused by its operation),  think of the land spoiled because of the chase after minerals, after oil, after coal…each of these activities destroys not only the human environment but the environment for all living things. Yet all of these activities are carried out by people acting on my behalf because I purchased these items.
I can think of numerous examples wherein my using or purchasing items means I am (by the paying of money) facilitating or encouraging behaviors that violate my morals, or sense of justice or ethics or values.  I can with little effort or by accident, by proxy, encourage sweatshop labor practices, environmental destruction, environmental pollution, animal suffering, animal deaths, war, obscene executive salaries, racial or sexual discrimination, torture, ignorance and stupidity and ugliness and on and on and on.
It is, when you think about it, amazing and staggering how our culture has ended up putting us in the astonishing position where we each can (and regretfully, does) encourage and reward behaviors that we may actually abhor and reject. In fact, it seems to me, it is much more difficult and laborious to activate, by proxy, behaviors that do minimal damage or harm or maybe even do good.
Be that as it may, it is the case that we live in a setting where we are encouraged to abdicate power over whether we adhere to our rights and our wrongs. Buy this, shop there, live here, drive over yonder…each of these seemingly innocuous decisions and behaviors actually are fraught with questions of morality, of encouragings of some values over others, of harm or no harm, of suffering or pleasure, of life or death…for some being or other. But, and this is a very large and looming but, for the most part these decidings about behaving in accordance with our morals are hidden, or ignored, or ridiculed or lied about.
We are not encouraged to think about these things…in fact we are most often encouraged to not think, to not consider consequences and meanings, to have ‘fun’, to ‘enjoy’, to consume, to live for now and worry about what it all means later (later meaning never or when it is too late). If we want to maximize our ‘doing right’ (behaving in a way consistent with our values), directly or by proxy, then we have a major task because of these ways our culture operates. 
In the book Endgame by Derrick Jensen, the author (p. 91) recounts a conversation with John Osborn a Seattle physician and environmental activist. Dr. Osborn pointed out that many environmentalists start out wanting to protect a piece of land and end up questioning the foundations of western civilization.
The cultural (including economic) ways we have inherited of looking at nature, at our fellow Earthlings, at our place in nature and our behavior toward ourselves and toward other living beings…I find most of them profoundly wrong and destructive...and one of the factors that make them so awful is how we are pressured and pushed and seduced into abdicating our own morality and turning over the power of deciding what is good or bad to strangers…and those strangers are almost always motivated primarily by profit…not by minimizing harm or helping the environment.
What’s the solution? I’m not sure it’s time for figuring out solutions yet, we need to do lots more thinking and seeing and understanding just how badly that stuff we call ‘western civilization’ has served the Earth and Earthlings...and by the seeing of the bad and what makes it bad...maybe there will be some clues as to how to remedy our culture and ourselves.