Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It hasn't been said well enough...

I recently re-watched a 1947 movie that is one of my favorites. It's called Gentleman's Agreement with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire. I like to see it again every year or so because I notice and learn something new or different each time. This time was no exception. The dialogue in the movie is, on occasion, profound. For example:
Professor Fred Lieberman: Millions of people nowadays are religious only in the vaguest sense. I've often wondered why the Jews among them still go on calling themselves Jews. Do you know, Mr. Green?
Phil Green: No, but I'd like to.
Professor Fred Lieberman: Because the world still makes it an advantage not to be one. Thus it becomes a matter of pride to go on calling ourselves Jews.
When I heard this exchange this time it struck me how identical this is to the premise that human beings are not animal beings and that it is a definite advantage to not be considered an animal...therefore...to me at least...it is a matter of, not pride, but acknowledgement of injustice (and accuracy) to consider myself an animal.

This time the exchange that struck me most powerfully was:
Kathy Lacey: You think I'm an anti-Semite.
Phil Green: No, I don't. But I've come to see lots of nice people who hate it and deplore it and protest their own innocence, then help it along and wonder why it grows. People who would never beat up a Jew. People who think anti-Semitism is far away in some dark place with low-class morons. That's the biggest discovery I've made. The good people. The nice people.
It is staggering how well this exchange epitomizes much of what drives the ongoing destruction of our fellow Earthlings. It is the "good people", the "nice people" who do not see themselves as agents of cruelty, of oppression, of murderousness who support and perpetuate the enslavement and the imprisonment and the death and suffering of billions of Earthlings.

It is truly all the same....speciesism, racism, anti-semitism, sexism, and on and on. The prejudice, the oppression, the ugliness of superiority/inferiority, the murder of billions because they are "different". The viewpoint that drives each of these despicable behaviors and mindsets is the same and what allows this to flourish is, in the end, the "good people"....the "nice people".

The movie is based on a novel by Laura Z. Hobson. When I read more about her, I realized that I wished I had had a chance to sit down and have a long long conversation with her. She was apparently a remarkable human. "Through her novels, she popularized issues of
anti-Semitism, unwed motherhood and gay rights. She succeeded as a
single mother and as a professional." 
I wonder whether she would have been able to see through the cultural veils and understand the justice and necessity of ethical veganism. I bet she would have in time.

Now, not long before I re-watched Gentleman's Agreement, I had re-watched Schindler's List. That's another movie that I re-see because it helps ground me. Then, this morning I went to Bea Elliot's excellent blog Once Upon A Vegan and found a post delineating the activity of a fellow named Nicholas Winton who helped save over 600 Jewish children from the Nazi holocaust by arranging transport to England for them. Bea was making the point that living as an ethical vegan is equivalent to being a conscientious objector to cruelty. Exactly so.

She was writing about someone who not only lived as a conscientious objector to the war and to violence but who also went further and in addition to opting out of participation but also helped save hundreds of victims of human driven oppression and suffering and death. The same is true of Oscar Schindler...he did not participate in the violence and he also saved many human victims.

The struggle against speciesism is the same as the struggle against racism,  is the same as the struggle against anti-semitism, is the same as the struggle against sexism...and against each and every stance that renders one side "superior" and the other side "inferior". Against each stance that condones oppression and enslavement and violence against those adjudged to be "inferior". It is exactly the same struggle...only the characters involved may change from place to place and time to time. The victims and oppressors may change identities but the "dance" remains the same. And this struggle has plagued our species (and as a result we plague ourselves and all the other species) apparently forever. 

We seem to be so prone to fall into this horrid trap of oppressor/victim. It seems to be sadly seductive to us...since we do it again and again.

Well. I'll tell you what. Morally...if you admire folks like Mr. Winson and Mr. Schindler...you can behave just like they did. First, you opt out of the violence...the dance of death by living as an ethical vegan. That's the first step. Next...you support in each and every way you can...your local animal sanctuaries and rescues. That's exactly what they did...first they caused no harm...that's the conscientious objector, ethical vegan stance...second they facilitated the rescue of victims from harm...that's the supporting by volunteering and donating to your local animal sanctuaries and rescues.

Look around, investigate the places that save animals in your community. If they promote ethical veganism...great...if they don't...help them grow into such a stance while you assist them with their rescue activities. Otherwise they are just perpetuating the superior/inferior dance that creates the need for sanctuaries and rescue facilities. The very phenomenon that created the need for humans like Mr. Winton and Mr. Schindler.

Unless and until most of us are able to get through this struggle to see beyond superior/inferior then we'll just have to keep doing the same thing over and over and harming over and over and rescuing over and over. Spinning around and around in the same spot really is a poor way to try to get somewhere....unless you're just trying to get dizzy.

The main character in Gentleman's Agreement is a writer who is taking on an assignment to write about antisemitism and he really doesn't want to. He has this exchange with his mother:
Mrs. Green: You think there's enough anti-Semitism in life already without people reading about it?
Phil Green: No, but this story is doomed before I start. What can I say about anti-Semitism that hasn't been said before?
Mrs. Green: Maybe it hasn't been said well enough. If it had, you wouldn't have had to explain it to Tommy right now.
Maybe ethical veganism hasn't been said well enough. Maybe it will have to be said again and again until it is said well enough that no one has to explain it, that we all understand and live it.






Sunday, February 17, 2013

I ran across this quote

and I was struck by how similar the sentiment being expressed by Dr. Sagan was to something that happened to me years ago while still in graduate school.

In my program each student selected one of the faculty members to be their major professor...this was the person who oversees their journey through academia that culminates with the granting of the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Everyone had their own theories about which professor to select and mine was that I wanted someone who seemed to combine academic prowess along with some...for want of a better word...wisdom. So I chose mine.

After awhile in any prolonged period of work and study in the department you get to know the professors fairly well. One of the drawbacks to becoming familiar with anyone or several anyones or even becoming knowledgeable about topics is that you begin to see the flaws or drawbacks in addition to the positives or the strengths.

I was as full of myself and as self-righteous as any semi-educated young male human and began to be put-off by my dawning awareness that some of the professors were not all graced with benign intent and dripping with accurate knowledge and scintillating insights and profound vision (such expectations coming from my own flawed notions).

I went to my major Professor with my distress and he heard me out and even agreed with some of my observations and grumpings. I said something goofy alluding to how disillusioned I was with academia in general and psychology in particular. That was when he evinced a bit of fire and let me know that while it was true that there are a number of goobers and flawed folks in the field...he assured me that on a statical basis I would be likely to encounter many more instances of serious ignorance and blindness, especially about what made humans tick, in any area outside of psychology.  He said if I really wanted to see profound examples of reasons for disillusion and dismay, I ought to go hang around, for instance, some business type folks.

He pointed out that science as a profession offered no guarantee that foolishness wouldn't exist and maybe even persist but no other organized human endeavor had a self-correcting mechanism built into it quite like the one in science...the notion that one should and must change their position and/or viewpoint when presented with arguments and facts that dictated doing so.

I was able to hear him, partially because I trusted him, and had lived long enough to suspicion that he was correct. And the years since have borne out his accuracy. I spent many years in the field of the "helping professions". I met many people, some wise and insightful, some not so much. But I would be willing to bet that if you threw together 100 human animals who were thoroughly trained in science and a scientific approach to the world and knowledge and matched them up with 100 from politics or business or religion (or many other approaches) you would come away probably wanting to hang out with more of the science folks than you would with the other folks. At least I probably would...especially if they weren't seriously ignorant about human emotions and psychology (which, by the way, is similar to the emotions and psychology of all animals). (my apologies to all the wise ones and the perceptive ones and the caring ones who can and do exist is other academic areas...I know you're there...and my apologies to all the wise one and caring ones and perceptive ones who don't have anything to do with any academic area...I know you are there too. I'm just writing about this one small thing right now and while it might sound like I'm ignoring and/or dismissing you...I'm really not.)

I was whisked back to graduate school when I saw that graphic showing the quote attributed to Carl Sagan and I was reminded of how grateful I was, and am, that I had the opportunity to hang around with and learn from that now long dead Professor. I miss him a lot.

What does this have to do with veganism? Well, it sort of looks like nothing at all...but actually I think it has quite a bit to do with it. "...scientists are human and change is sometimes painful." That is a truth. We human animals often have difficulty with change, not always, but often. For those of us not lucky enough to have grown up with an ethical vegan approach to the world around us...to get to that position we had to change. We had to change our viewpoint, we had to change our behavior...and that can be difficult and even painful. But...making a change when new information is encountered is exactly what a good scientist must do....even in the face of resistance from those around us...even in the face of resistance from the culture or from society.

I've admired a fellow named Ignaz Semmelweis for years and years, ever since I ran across information about him while I was in graduate school. Few people have ever heard of his name yet he should be very very well known. He was an obstetrician in Vienna in the mid 1800s and figured out that the reason the death rate during childbirth was so high was because the physicians weren't washing their hands before assisting in the labor process. He was ridiculed and ostracized by his colleagues. Here's a part of the wikipedia entry about him:
 Semmelweis was outraged by the indifference of the medical profession and began writing open and increasingly angry letters to prominent European obstetricians, at times denouncing them as irresponsible murderers. His contemporaries, including his wife, believed he was losing his mind, and in 1865 he was committed to an asylum. In an ironic twist of fate, he died there of septicaemia only 14 days later, possibly as the result of being severely beaten by guards. Semmelweis's practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease, offering a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis's findings. He is considered a pioneer of antiseptic procedures.
Many who have become enlightened enough and courageous enough to transition to ethical veganism can identify with Dr. Semmelweis. I can only thank you for your stance and remind you that you are saving lives and you are reducing suffering and that you are not alone and that we human animals have a long history of avoiding truths that are right in front of us.



 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

We have issues...

By we I mean we human animals who live in the United States. Most of us are aware that on December 14th of 2012 a 20 year old white male named Adam Lanza entered an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut and murdered 20 children and 6 adults. We who live here in this country are sadly familiar with the news of a mass killing by, usually, a "deranged white guy" wielding a "semi-automatic firearm" of some sort or another. By the way, from the time of the Newton shooting up until yesterday (about a month and a half), we Americans have managed to kill another 1,619 of ourselves with guns (murder, suicide, accidental).

Like most other human animals who live in the U.S., I've been hearing about such instances of mass violence against groups of humans for years. According to this source there have been 62 such violent happenings since 1982...that's about one such killing spree every 6 months.

Consider this: Here's a table showing all American deaths in all the wars we've been involved in, including the first one noted....the Revolutionary war. (source)

Revolutionary War
4,435
War of 1812
2,260
Mexican War
13,283
Civil War (Union and Confederate, estimated)
525,000
Spanish-American War
2,446
World War I
116,516
World War II
405,399
Korean War
36,574
Vietnam War
58,220
Persian Gulf War
383
Afghanistan War
2,175
Iraq War
4,486
Total
1,171,177

Now one of the first things I noticed about this table was the absence of any reference at all to the number of "Americans" killed in what was actually our first "war"...the one where the arriving Europeans killed the people living here first...the Native Americans. This table implies there never was a war against Native Americans...or maybe it presents a greater truth...so few of the invading Europeans were killed that they weren't worth noting.

Context that number of dead in the preceding table...1,171,177 killed in all wars since about 1776, a span of approximately 236 years,  with the data in this figure which covers only 44 years.

 Total deaths caused by firearms in the United States (excluding war deaths, source):
 
1968 to 1980 377,000
1981 to 1998 620,525
1999 to 2010 364,483
2011 32,163
Total 1,384,171

Since 1968, since the year in which Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered with a gun (about 44 years ago), we "Americans" have managed to kill more of ourselves with guns than we have had killed in all the wars we've ever fought. When I stumbled across that information I was stunned. Just absolutely stunned. But the topper for me was the following graphic (source):


Like many, I've read about the belief by some that somehow civilians owning guns would keep the "government" from turning tyrannical and oppressing "the people". As the above figures show, for every firearm (handgun, rifle or shotgun) owned by the U.S. military or police, civilians own 79 firearms (handguns, rifles or shotguns). I'm sorry but that's simply sick. Those numbers don't reflect a concern with freedom or with rights...those numbers reflect a societal illness.

For a number of years I've been uneasy with anyone who seems to like guns. I grew up in rural Oklahoma, guns were all around and "normal". I spent some years in the military where I carried a gun every day I was on duty. Even there, even in the military, I was mildly uneasy around people carrying guns (including myself). I guess my take on guns and those who like guns is very well summarized by this graphic I saw on facebook.

Now I don't know the source of this assertion nor am I certain the issues involved are simply esteem issues. But I have absolutely no doubt that a significant number of the people in this country have issues...and guns aren't going to fix them, in fact, guns are going to make the consequences of those issues even worse than they are already.

I'm not unaware of the fact that some people do fear for their safety and it may be that their fears have some justification...If you're fearful...get a good taser or some other non-lethal device to protect yourself. You won't ever read about a "mass tasering" or a "mass pepper-spraying" where there were lots of dead. If you're determined to have a gun at least, at the very least, only have non-lethal ammunition in your gun and your home.

Bottom line, we've killed more of ourselves with guns in the last 44 years than have been killed in all the wars we've ever fought. Civilians own 80 guns for every 1 gun owned by the police or the government. Just how much more do we need to know to understand that we have serious problems with violence and with guns? We seem to be delusional and irrational about all of this...or at least many of us are. Why are we listening to people who are working out personal issues...especially when they seem to be working them out by acquiring devices designed to cause death? The whole thing is appalling and repulsive and alarming.

My posts are primarily directed toward our behavior toward our fellow animals, toward whom we are horribly violent and harmful. Well...we're also pretty violent toward ourselves, at least in this country and all of these things are connected. Certainly violence and killing is violence and killing...no matter who are the dead. The notion of thinking it is a good thing to have devices around that are designed to cause death is a notion that concerns me. Period.

Living as an ethical vegan means not harming other living beings. Wanting to have lots of devices designed to kill living beings...well...that seems to be the opposite of ethical veganism.