Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind.

You will recognize (maybe) that line from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is part of a work he wrote that was called: "Ode, Inscribed to William H. Channing."

I found myself thinking about Emerson while I was reading an essay by Chris Hedges titled "Let's get this class war started". I strongly urge you to read his essay and while you do or at least on a second reading pretend that you are not reading about oligarchical domination within humankind but rather that you are reading about humankind's domination of all other living beings. I would be greatly interested in your thoughts on it.

Back to the title of this piece. There are two words in that little line that represent oppression, that epitomize precisely what both Emerson and Hedges are rejecting. Saddle and ride. Saddles are instruments used to assist in the subjugation of living beings...mainly for the purpose of "riding" them and "riding" is the stealing of efforts of one being to benefit the "thing in the saddle".

And eloquent and as perceptive and as good intentioned and Mr. Emerson and Mr. Hedges seemed or seem to be. With all their gifts and their talent neither, as far as I know, have (or did in the past insofar as Mr. Emerson is concerned) arrived at a life-path of living vegan. For instance, this thought was written in a deconstruction of his Ode: "Tactics that rely on force can never, in Emerson's view, add anything to the sum of human virtue; they may control behavior superficially, but the sickness remains and will find other outlets when denied this one." Mr. Emerson apparently strove and strove hard to live virtuously...but he was profoundly marked by "the sickness" if he didn't live vegan.

I find it almost impossible to wrap my mind around the persistent and pervasive ability we...including me...have to believe we are trying to be good and kind and wonderful creatures while behaving as if we were monsters. It's a very frightening thing. It scares me about other humans and it scares me about myself...and it makes me fearful for mother Earth and her children. For instance, as much as I find to admire about Mr Hedges and some of his ideas and far as I can see he's only making a call in this essay to resume the old old dance. Maybe it hasn't been said well enough...I don't know. I have hope that veganism offers the opportunity and path to opt out of this old dance of destruction that plagues us...and that we plague our fellow beings with. If nothing else, veganism offers a way of reducing the number of innocent casualties...and that's a good thing.

Living vegan and thinking vegan and seeing vegan is a dismal choice as a way of some ways. Dismal because of the awareness of the killing, the hurting, the slavery, the imprisonment of most of mother Earth's beings that goes on each day. All by humans. And mostly by humans who believe they are good and kind and wonderful beings who are doing their best to live good lives.

Dismal though it may vegan is the best way of avoiding "the sickness" that I know of. You too can step a little further along the path of "virtue" (for want of a better term) by going vegan...if you haven't already.  


Bea Elliott said...

I too see and fear a sickness. I can only define it with the word "carnism" taking it a step further than what Melanie Joy intended. I take it to mean being enamored and hypnotized by the material world. By any and everything that pleasures our physical bodies and egos. The sickness blinds us to the damage we cause to others. It forces us to live in the concrete moment left with our pitiful, insatiable desires - No matter who must pay to appease them.

That Emerson and Hedges both miss the root point of what domination is is sad. I'd like to think that had Emerson lived today he would be convinced that veganism was the optimal way for man to understand and respect the meaning of life... I believe Hedges was once approached by the justice and rights issue involving nonhumans and he dismissed it as "too extreme".

It's a good question though... Maybe the right reasons weren't presented in the right way yet. (?)

I absolutely agree that this sickness is the blind spot that keeps nonhumans (or any victim) in subjugation to "might". I also think figuring out how to fix it is our most important challenge. The success would catapult us into an only dreamed of level of contentment, health, generosity and a thriving community of Earthlings. Or the lack of it will be our undoing. I truly believe squaring up our relationship to nonhumans is that critical. Nothing is cured about us till we mend ourselves with the planet and her inhabitants. I know... I'm "extreme".

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Bea. You wrote: "I truly believe squaring up our relationship to nonhumans is that critical." Me too.

That's a disappointing note you wrote about Mr. Hedges. His use of the phrase "too extreme" was not a reference to the phenomenon of our behaving justly toward our Earthling sisters and was defining the smallness of the culturally created lockbox that his mentality is confined by. In truth, nothing that involves kindness toward the innocent is ever "too extreme". Shame on him.

Anonymous said...

I think Emerson was a vegetarian (or vegan, maybe). I will have to look back into it. I know he was for at least a while, if not for his whole adult life.

I will have to read Hedge's essay.

Christine said...

Thank you for a very interesting post, indeed much food for thought. The Chris Hedges essay so well sums up the situation in the world today. It is just the same here in the UK, the advances made in the last sixty years have been destroyed in the last three years. I agree that what he says could just as well apply to our treatment of animals, in fact it is mostly the unbridled greed of the rich and the spread of unfettered capitalism that has increased the exploitation of non human animals, most notably the factory farming system. indeed man or at least the elite, the one percent, have in place “a brutal tyranny” to enslave animals as well as other human beings.

Ethical Veganism I believe offers a way out of what you call the “old dance of destruction that plagues us” The ethics of Veganism should encompass both human and non human animals and the environment. It is a slow and frustrating process as people simply do not make the connection. I agree that people consider themselves good while continuing to exploit animals on a massive scale as by eating meat and other actions they are all complicit. It took me forty years to become vegetarian and another eighteen before I become vegan, though there has always been a nagging discomfort for as long as I can remember. Many people agree with the abolition of animal exploitation until it effects them. Most notably their income or even their taste in food. While most decent people abhor obvious cruelty they ignore the cruelty they cannot see, such as factory farming. Maybe it is ignorance but few people have this excuse nowadays. Many people may see for example a documentary on TV about factory farming and may for a time try to go vegetarian or vegan but after a while the horror of what they saw fades and soon they revert to their former ways. People need constant reminders of what happens to animals in factory farms, in laboratories and other abuses such as entertainment. I only wish there was some way to speed things up as day after day millions of animals suffer the most appalling cruelty imaginable.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. I've seen references to Emerson as being vegetarian but I couldn't find anything written by him re this. Let me know if you find something concrete. I look forward to your take on the essay.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. Societal growth, like personal growth seems to follow the pattern of the spiral. The same positions are revisited...almost. Each return involves some differences and each return offers the opportunity for further growth. We seem to returning to the "bad old days" in many ways...and it is distressful and destructive...yet...maybe that's what we have to do to progress even further.

I'm with you...the ongoing suffering cries for relief and anything that would speed that relief would be welcome. Here's hoping.

Thank you for your efforts.

Have Gone Vegan said...

I do believe veganism is the only (or at least, the best) cure for our "sickness", but I see Canada, and the US and the rest of the world getting sicker faster and faster, and fear that there may not be enough time left before enough others see what we do. I would be very happy to be proved wrong though.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Now don't attack me folks, but I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan. I would like to be. It's hard overcoming cultural behaviors. I am working on it though.

You'll probably get mad about this too. I ride horses. The reason why I don't feel bad about riding my horses is because I think of it as their job. Just like my husband and I have jobs. We all have to work in this world. My horses work extremely little, way, way less than my husband works. They probably average an hour a week, and they have a wonderful life with nice shelter, feed, pasture, medical care, heck, they go to the dentist before I do! These horses spend their days grazing in the sun and when they hear my door open, they start nickering and come running. They look great and act happy. And they have a home for life. I don't feel conflicted about this at all, like I do about eating meat. Sadly, in the horse world, I also see a lot of abuse.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Greener Pastures. And congratulations (and thank you) on your efforts to become vegan. It is indeed difficult to work through the cultural conditioning that permeates our society. Not only can it be can be disorienting and disturbing and sad-making. If ever I can assist...please feel free to call on me.

Riding horses...hmmm...well I have my take on that. One of my fallback tactics is to do a thought experiment when I am considering whether my behavior toward other animals is respectful or not. I try to imagine living in a setting where I had no social power (or virtually none) and was controlled by another group of beings who had all the power and who decided they wanted to ride on my back. Given, there might be some humans that might like that (I personally don't think I would). For those that did like be it...but it would have to be their choice...not the choice of the beings controlling them. And knowing what their choice might be could be difficult or maybe impossible to know.

I did a little internet research on this question and found a couple of writings where the authors had given some consideration to this question. You might want to read their thoughts.


And here:

You also note that you see much abuse going on with how horses are dealt with. Therein lies one of the most odious aspects of "owning" a living being. The power differential invites and virtually guarantees abuse. In the end slavery of any kind is not benign...neither for the victims nor for the slave-owners. I've lived long enough to have discovered the truth of the notion that power tends to corrupt (and you probably have too) and absolute power tends to corrupt completely. Or maybe putting it another way is more clarifying...there are very few humans that I've met that I would feel perfectly fine if it were the case that they had absolute and unlimited power over me...yet that is the situation all our fellow Earthlings that aren't members of the human species are subjected to throughout their lives. And while some are lucky...the percentage that are is miniscule.

Thank you for looking out for those horses who live with you and I agree with your belief that much more concern and attention should be given to the question of confining and killing others or not than a question of whether to ride the back of a cared-for and loved companion who seems to agree to being ridden.

Again, thank you for your movement toward veganism both from me and on behalf of those animals whose lives you save.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV, I apologize for the delay in responding. I'm right there with you fearing that awful is liable to happen before desirable. Fingers crossed.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Veganelder, thank you for the nice response to my honesty. I will go to those links when I get a chance. I am sick right now but I didn't want you to think I just dropped off the face of the earth. I'm interested in this conversation and will be back.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Well, I read those articles but I still feel the same. I agree, it is slavery, in effect. But most of us are slaves then. We have jobs that we are only doing because we have to. Most of us have no choice. I HAD to consent to cleaning toilet bowls for a living because that's how I kept the roof over my head. Many of us hate our job. That's why we get paid for it. It's something you do to get something back that you need. Few people are lucky enough to have a job that they would do for free. Pleasant jobs don't pay because everyone is willing to do them. "Pleasant" isn't a job. My husband just left for his job installing flooring. He is as sick as a dog today but he had to go. Ironically he could probably take time off if we didn't have to feed these horses! He will kick carpet into the wall by using his knee--wham! wham! wham! It is not natural, it is not something he enjoys, it may even harm him. But someone gives us something (money) that we want in exchange. I admit I don't think horses would voluntarily offer their backs for me to climb onto but we wouldn't voluntarily put someone's carpet in if we didn't have to. When people say, "Oh, my horse wants to go to the horseshow--he was whinnying like crazy when we left! He wants to work!"--that's ignorant. The horse, a herd animal, just wants to be with the horse who's leaving. However, I am not hurting him when I ride him even though he'd rather be twiddling his thumbs in the pasture. Domesticated horses who aren't abused or neglected live twice as long as wild horses. I can see that my horses are quite happy. All my animals have the perfect life. But some of them have jobs. Lucky for them their jobs don't suck nearly as much as my husband's.

On a related matter, horses can really use our help in stopping horse slaughter. They are trying to open up the plants again. A judge granted a temporary stay but the slaughter industry is rallying and screaming. If you are interested, check out: and

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting again Greener Pastures ACGGC. When I was starting out as a very inexperienced and unskilled young psychotherapist an older and more skilled one pointed out to me that facts do not change attitudes. At least not with most of us human animals. I thought, at the time, that maybe he didn't know what he was talking about. Many encounters with humans struggling with life issues over a long period of time (including myself) taught me that it was true...facts rarely change attitudes. That's just the way we tend to be. Change is often difficult and arduous and frightening and facts alone rarely offer enough to sustain us through such ordeals.

I didn't really expect that the information presented would produce change...but presenting the information is important I'm glad to have offered it to you.

I'm a little concerned that you seem to be making the argument that since this human culture has arranged things such that humans "have" to have jobs, often unpleasant ones, to be able to get what they want then imposing that arrangement on other beings is acceptable. I'm not too sure that's a valid leap but I can see that this is how you explain it to yourself. And we all explain things to ourselves, in one manner or another.

I'll simply say thank you for being as kind as you are to those animals over whom you have power and thank you for being aware of the injustice of harming any living being...even if that being looks and behaves differently than us.