Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skin and what's under...

that layer of your body is something to consider. Skin serves simultaneously as a barrier to the world outside you, as a container for the body that is you and as a more or less permeable membrane that takes in elements from this world in which you live. Interestingly, were you able to wear or be encased in the skin of another...then you would be, appearance wise at least, them.

This week a movie was released on DVD titled "Under The Skin". I had read a blurb about the movie and wanted to see it. I presumed it would be a bit off-beat but was stunned by some of the powerful scenes presented. I laughed out loud at a fairly intense sex scene that occurred toward the end of it. The movie is a dark and quirky work. It relies heavily on imagery and sound for expression...that sort of stuff often irritates me but...if you watch on dvd you can fast forward through any of it that you want.

I'll have to see it a few more times to decide how much I like it. But, having said all that, it is absolutely a must see for anyone who is a vegan. And...it is a terrific way to introduce a non-vegan to some ways of seeing human behavior that are absolutely not supported by the dominant cultural narratives that shape the thinking/perceiving of so many. I think, maybe, it could be an excellent teaching tool to bring someone to view human behavior from a different (vegan) perspective. My wife complained that it was too "obscure"...my thinking is that it would never ever have attained commercial release if it wasn't "obscure".

I'm rather astounded that the vegan community has not been all over this movie. It is a sort of a gussied up and de-violenced version of Meet Your Meat except guess what...the meat you're meeting is you. The movie is scarey and spooky and (for me) laugh out loud funny at times. It shows humans at some of their best and some of their worst.

It is a "weird" movie. Don't think for a moment it isn't...at least that's what my wife told me. She didn't like it at all. It is scary...in many ways...the scene at the beach with the human baby was about as scary as any I've ever seen. I wrote on facebook:

I would urge you to watch it just for the scene that occurs on a rocky beach involving a human baby/very small child. Watch that scene and then think about how many times daily something akin to the behavior of the Scarlett Johansson character is inflicted on our sister/brother Earthlings by human animals. Consider what you think of the Scarlett Johansson character in that scene and, if you're not vegan, realize that you pay people to do things exactly like that...day in and day out whenever you eat anything from or use anything from an animal. What we do, or cause to be done, to others...that is in truth what we are asking to be done to ourselves. Watch this movie and see...
I don't want to write more because...well...because. I would really like to hear your impressions of the movie. I want to let it percolate and settle with me then see it again after a while. I suppose why we haven't heard much about it is that there are a number of scenes in the movie that are sexually charged involving human near nudity and nudity and I'm guessing (from some of the reviews I've read) that naked and near naked people throw culturally indoctrinated human animals off their game so much that that's what they focus on. Aside from the (to me) funny as hell penetration attempt scene I didn't get much caught up in all that...but I think many viewers did and as a result maybe missed the full import of the story.

I'm just amazed that there's been such an absence of talk about this movie. Maybe you have to be a vegan to be able to wrap your mind around what you're seeing...certainly my wife was apparently oblivious to the incredible re-creation of human behavior toward our sister/brother Earthlings that was so well presented in the beach scene. It may be too big a leap for many/most to take in. This reviewer was sort of all over the place about the movie...but we agree....this is a powerful and very very important movie.

If you can watch the movie and not "get it" then it may be because you aren't living vegan. The more I think about this movie, the more impressed and excited I get about it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Trying to make a living...

is a phrase most of us have heard or used at one time or another. I once heard it used in a context wherein it resonated with me so strongly that I can vividly remember the setting in which I heard it and that happened well over thirty years ago. I was in graduate school watching a film about positive reinforcement...the film was shot in Japan and concerned the training of bears to ride unicycles and to do various complicated sequences of actions and the training was all done (supposedly) by using positive reinforcement.


I looked around on the internet and found this image to use as an illustration. There are many images of actual bears riding unicycles and bicycles out there but I didn't want to use a real photo...that seemed to me to be ugly and disrespectful. Any bear riding or doing things to "entertain" humans is a slave and she or he isn't doing those things because they freely chose them.

The narrator of the film was the psychologist who had been hired to serve as the trainer for the animals associated with this entertainment company and he was explaining the processes he used to "teach" the bears how to do various complicated unbearlike behaviors (like riding a unicycle). Basically the idea is that you reward (immediately) any small behavior near what you're looking for and chain small behaviors together into long sequences which then appear to be more complicated behaviors. I'm not going to write a treatise on "learning" theory (behaviorism) so I won't go into any more detail now (and believe me, there's lots and lots of detail).

At one point, after the subject (the bear) had completed a behavior and been rewarded for it, the narrator said that it wasn't difficult to get the bear to do things, that he (the bear) was just "trying to make a living" like the rest of us. When he said that I nearly fainted, it hit me so hard right then (and has stayed with me) that we're all the same. That captured and confined bear was just trying to get by, trying to live his life...just like all of us.

I wish I could say I went vegan right then...I didn't. Somehow I was able to encapsulate that awareness (I kept it, I didn't get rid of it) from my behavior and from other areas of my knowing and kept on operating pretty much as always. But that phrase...and that bear...haunted me.

I still retain many memories and images from that film, and when I did finally wake up to veganism...memory of that bear and his doing what he had to do to "make a living" came rushing back and brought with it a deep sadness and sorrow that I hadn't grasped what I was seeing and hearing enough to go vegan then and there.

It amazes me on some level that I can, on occasion, get worked up into some state of indignation and outrage over human behavior toward other animals and toward Earth...amazes me because of my own blindness and my own participation in awfulness in times past. Getting upset about some non-vegan now is, in one way, nothing but me getting upset with my past self. And...had some vegan been angry with me back then...I probably would not have seen what they were pointing toward...I would only have seen their anger...their upset and outrage...and thought they were peculiar or strange.

It frightens me about myself...how blind and oblivious I can be...and yet...I was trying to tell myself something...otherwise the images of that bear and that phrase wouldn't have stuck and resonated...I just didn't figure out what I was trying to tell myself until much much later.

Don't ignore your own messages to yourself...if you haven't gone vegan...do so now. And if you've gone vegan...thank you for listening.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Looking through a book

is different than reading one. Recently I received a copy of a book titled: "Animal Madness, How anxious dogs, compulsive parrots, and elephants in recovery help us understand ourselves" by Laurel Braitman. After reading some passages located via the index test...well...I looked through the book, I didn't read it.

Reading the title will tell you most everything you need to know about what is contained in the book (it should...that's a very long title). The last four words "help us understand ourselves" let us know the book is about what humans might get out of the deal. Pretty much par for the course in terms of human beings interacting with other beings. The author is listed as holding a Ph.D. from M.I.T in the history of science. On her website (one wherein she sorta seems to be quite impressed with herself) she touts herself as being a TED fellow...what that means I'm not quite sure. I was overcome by three letter acronym fatigue.

The index test shows that "animal rights" is mentioned in 5 locations in the book...that seems like a good thing except the first mention is brief and dismissive, the second mention is a snarky swipe at PETA, the third is a more lengthy write up about the fellow who trained Flipper the dolphin...with a primary focus on whether suicide occurs in other animals. For some reason that seems to be a hot idea to a certain group. Why, I'm not sure.

The fourth reference is several pages that includes this passage:

"This is why I never trust an animal rights activist who is misogynistic or thinks that Homo sapiens are, at heart, more rotten than any other species. Human rights activists are animal rights activists by default. The reverse should also be true."  p. 281

She seems to be doing some peculiar mixing and matching here, I'm presuming she's referencing the fact that humans are animals hence human rights activists are by definition animal rights activists. She coyly leaves out the fact that most human rights activists do not advocate for the other animals nor do they refrain from harming or eating other animals. The word definition seems to be enough for her. She doesn't say anything about not "trusting" human rights activists who aren't vegan...which should be the case if she's being serious. (I'm also presuming she misuses the word misogynistic when she means misanthropic...or maybe she meant to use it the way she did and was coupling misogynistic (the term) with a definition of misanthropic.)

I'll just say that I would be a bit suspicious of any animal rights activist who isn't a little misanthropic or who hasn't or doesn't entertain misanthropic thoughts and/or feelings based on the actuality and the history of the way human animals behave toward our sister and brother animals. For me any animal rights activist not being a bit leery of humans and their behaviors bespeaks of someone either being much more saintly than seems genuine or extremely naive or disingenuous. Believing we ought to feel all animals are equal in their right to live their own lives is one thing, ignoring the actuality of how different animals behave in regard to this (specifically human animals) is either symptomatic of cognitive malfunctioning or a serious denial of reality.

The fifth mention really isn't about animal rights, it's about animal welfare (arguably as are all the others). I suspect this author is the sort of person that would be characterized as an "animal lover". She seems to have been around lots of other animals and seems to care about them...up to a point. She is a human supremacist, make no mistake about it. She's the sort of supremacist (white, or human or otherwise) who would treat her slaves well...but...she absolutely believes that some sorts of animals (those not human) should be slaves and some shouldn't (humans).

Her notion of some future goals of "animal rights" includes this:

"We could stop eating mentally ill pigs, chickens, and cows, and do away with corporate farming practices so cruel they're often institutionalized torture. We could stop trimming our coats with the fur of compulsive mink, foxes, sable, and chinchillas and quit testing our drugs, cosmetics, and medical procedures on lab animals housed alone and in terribly uncomfortable conditions." p. 284

She goes on in the next paragraph to say we should accept that we're just another kind of animal and then she says (rather hilariously): "This kind of change will not be easy or fast." What "change" this would entail, based on her book, seems to be to not be so "mean", I guess...it's ok to oppress, enslave and kill and eat the other animals...just don't be ugly or mean about it.

I laughed out loud when I read the statement about not eating mentally ill pigs...that's a catch 22 for pigs. Sort of: "If you're crazy, little pig, we won't kill you and eat you but if you're not...well...tough tittie...you're bacon." One of the first things I thought when I read that was there goes any notions that MIT grads or TED fellows are the brightest of the bright.

But...it does give us a beautiful example of how denial creates stupidity. When we deliberately blind ourselves cognitively or emotionally then we are going to be oblivious to some absurdities. We are at risk of voicing, in a perfectly serious way, really grotesque and ridiculous (and sad) statements. And MIT or TED or Harvard or Yale or Stanford or or or...no amount of or excellence of education, no superior IQ...no nothing...is going to prevent our viewpoint from being warped and incomplete and distorted if we engage in denial. It is the all purpose stupefier and get you it will if you are under its influence.

Back in February I wrote about the index test, this book has animal rights in the index...but...there's no listing for vegan (or vegetarian) in the index...big big clue right there that here's another book ostensibly about the other animals that is actually about human exceptionalism/supremacy. This book really doesn't need the index test because the title tells you it is all about what human animals might gain from the other animals (help us understand ourselves). Given the denial exhibited by the author, I'm not too sure she has received much help in that respect but...my impression is she's out to gain for herself...her website is rather self-promoting and I suppose she's trying to "milk" the book for all she can.

I presume this is a "well-meaning" human...I don't think she is personally deliberately cruel to other animals (she just pays others to enact the cruelty) and I think she would like to see some of the more horrific ways that we torture and enslave and kill other animals be reformed or eliminated. That's a good thing. But...she's a human supremacist...period. She wants to keep right on oppressing, enslaving and killing, just not do it in such openly cruel ways.

I will give her credit for writing one of the more zany (in a tragic and sad way) statements I've ever seen. Stop eating mentally-ill pigs. Good grief.

I'll tell ya what...just stop eating pigs (or any other beings), whether mentally-ill or not...go vegan. That way you don't have to do any diagnosing for mental-illness or compulsivity or loneliness or anything else.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence day...

is celebrated here on the 4th of July. Like most who were born in the U.S., I've been drenched and soaked in the hoopla and celebrations and fireworks associated with the holiday.

The other day, in a fit of something, I re-watched one of my all-time favorite movies called The Contender. For me, this movie does a superlative job of highlighting and addressing some of the oppressions associated with sexism. I then rewatched another movie (Gentleman's Agreement) which is concerned with racism...another issue of freedom...which gets conflated with independence. Somehow we sort of roll freedom and independence all up into one big ball and celebrate both on this holiday.

Last week I was standing in line at a local grocery and in front of me was an African-American woman and her young daughter. I found myself wanting to approach her and apologize to both of them for any and all crap that they had and would experience because of sexism and racism from their fellow citizens. It was a pretty strong urge, but I talked myself out of it by telling myself that some old white man coming up to them and saying something like that would probably scare them more than anything. So I didn't say anything. But I strongly wanted to, and the thoughts and feelings which urged me still haunt me.

The more I think about and read about speciesism, the more I find myself also thinking about sexism, racism and all isms that have to do with oppression...an ism implies some sort of system and I find it more than ironic that we, as a nation and culture, fail so often at living up to all the high-flown rhetoric we spout about ourselves regarding freedom and equality and all that liberty stuff. We struggle terribly to implement and uphold such very simple notions and more often than not...we simply fail at doing so...but instead of saying this...we talk and write and think as if we have.

For example, our continental neighbors Mexico and Canada both abolished the legal slavery of humans some 30 years before it ended in the U.S. And both did it without having a bloodbath of epic proportions or even a small bloodbath. We call our bloodbath the Civil War and few of us now apprehend how epic the death toll was. This source estimates anywhere from 600,000 to 750,000 deaths. Around 2 to 2.5 percent of the total population of the country died as a result of a violent argument over whether it should be legal to enslave a human. This...in a country that annually goes into an orgy of celebration of "freedom" and independence around the 4th of July. "Freedom for all" is an aspiration, not a truth or a reality.

Even after all those deaths, the south (and some other areas) substituted segregation laws and poll taxes for slavery...trying to avoid freedom for former slaves. Most Americans don't realize that the U.S. was becoming seriously embarrassed on the world scene because of our oppressive and backward racial policies. WWII brought many face to face with one outcome that can accompany racism...the holocaust of the Nazi era. Immediately after WWII the cold war started and Russia didn't hesitate to point out the hypocrisy of the U.S. styling itself as the "leader of the free world" even as many of our citizens weren't "free" in any meaningful sense because of racism.

It is no accident that the civil rights movement began gaining strength and started expanding during the 1950s and the 1960s. This was the height of the cold war and there was serious pressure from other countries on our administrations to do something about racism. We looked stupid bellowing about freedom and liberty considering how we treated some of our citizens based on "race". Many of us believed our own lies to ourselves...but we were getting our noses rubbed in the hypocrisy by the communist countries.

I recently watched an excellent documentary named Traces of the Trade. It concerns a number of members of a well respected, upper class family from Bristol, Rhode Island. Ironically the documentary includes some home movie clips of one of the family members as a very small child waving an American flag during the Bristol Fourth of July parade...which is apparently the oldest Independence day celebration extant. I say ironically because her prominent family amassed a humongous fortune by trading slaves. In fact, one of her ancestors, at the time of his death in 1837 was reputed to reputed to be the 2nd richest man in the U.S. He was sort of the Bill Gates of his time and also was a respected and powerful U.S. Senator and his wealth and concomitant power was built on the slave trade.

The documentary concerns some of the family members getting together and tracing the route taken by the slave trading ships that belonged to the family and their trying to come to grips with the stunning knowledge that their family prominence and respect was gained via the oppression and enslavement of human beings. It is a very well done documentary...and yet...in 3 or 4 brief (very brief) scenes we see enslaved beings who don't happen to be human. There is no mention made of this in the film but my eye caught them and my comprehension resonated with the bizarreness of what I was seeing. A film about coming to understand the hollowness of prestige and wealth acquired because of evil...and yet the presence of evil practices are shown in the film and are not commented on and are accepted so fully they aren't even recognized as evil.

I think many committed to animal liberation and animal rights don't realize how much of a boost it was to the movement against racism here that there were countries who were our military and cultural rivals that were capitalizing via propaganda on our hypocrisy of saying we were "free" when the truth was dramatically different. Wouldn't it be cool if there were a human run country we could point to and say...see...everyone, including animals not human, are safe and free there. Not only would it be cool...it would serve as a serious pressure point and as a tremendous beacon of hope.


The graphic above is from some children's animal liberation literature dated 1913. Someone was imagining a place of genuine freedom over 100 years ago. Some country will have to be the first to become vegan in practice and in law. Predicated on our past (and our present) I have doubts it will be the U.S. We seem to be the world leader in talking up 'freedom' but we seem to mistake the word for the deed.

I won't be celebrating anything on this 4th of July. Because I know that independence has little or nothing to do with freedom and all the hoopla and such is in honor of something not real. I really don't see much sense in honoring fake stuff. I'll go empty and clean some poop boxes for some of victims (Heartland Rabbit Rescue) of oppression and try to give them some comfort and maybe some pleasure. They won't be celebrating hypocrisy...they're too smart to be fooled by false words and empty slogans and meaningless gestures.

Honoring and practicing and supporting freedom means living vegan...anything else is a shortcoming, a failure. I would urge you to take this holiday and think about what actually is versus what we say is. Watch these three film/video examples of rhetoric or false belief versus reality then think about the oppression and absence of freedom for beings of all sorts and sizes. We are all animals and "freedom" remains, for most, an aspiration...not a reality. Go look, with honesty, in the mirror and see if you can spot an oppressor of others, a racist, a sexist, a speciesist. If you can't, thank you, if you can...you have some work to do before you do any celebrating.