Friday, January 16, 2015

Aaaarrrgh...this stuff

makes my head hurt. Really it does. Having to re-evaluate "reality" and perceptions of what constitutes reality is for the young. Really it is...old people shouldn't have to do such disturbing and disorienting things. But...what can you do? When ya gotta, ya gotta.

Someone posted this graphic on one of the (way too many) groups that interest me on facebook.

That's pretty innocuous looking...and...there's truth in it. Usually anyone trotting out that response or reaction probably thinks they've ended the discussion right there because they've invoked one of the more holy shibboleths of contemporary U.S. American society that is used to squelch any and all objections and/or resistances to something said or done by an individual. It's a "personal choice" means like can't mess with that, can you? You have to "respect" someone's "personal choice", right? Fiddle with that and "gasp" might be interfering with someone's "freedom" (another U.S. American holy shibboleth that sounds as if it means something everyone knows and understands but actually, it turns out, differs completely from one person to the next).

Mr. Grillo elaborates on the problems with this "personal choice" meme, in this essay, for those who want to delve further into it. Most vegans have had this defense of "personal choice" thrown at them at one time or another and, if so, then Mr. Grillo's writing might be of interest.

This graphic resonated strongly with some notions that were written about in this essay by Robin J. DiAngelo titled "Why Can't We All Just Be Individuals?: Countering the Discourse of Individualism in Anti-Racist Education". For me to read (and half-way understand) her work required a lot of extra effort because she touches on concepts that are unfamiliar and/or unknown to me. Things like "theory of discourse" and "critical analysis" and "dominant discourse"...well, you get the picture. None of this vocabulary and/or concepts were familiar or comprehensible without doing a lot of digging. Whether they are accurately understood is still to be determined...but...I think I have the gist of them (hopefully) and it's all really rather mind-boggling.

Dr. DiAngelo, in her essay, makes the case that trotting out the "why can't we all just be individuals?" notion is a common counter to, or resistance to, or objection to, or an 'answer' to any presentation of the observation that we live in a white-supremacist laced society here in U.S. America. Being an "individual" has achieved the status of some magic invocation in its usage but the scary thing is, when you think about it, it means next to nothing in many contexts.

For instance...can you imagine a human being (an individual one) in a semi-comprehensible way without including all kinds of qualifications and/or specifications that belong to or are associated with that being? Is there such a thing as an individual human without a gender? Without an age? Without a language? Without a historical period in which they lived? Without a mother or father or family or society? Without life experiences? Without social narratives that they've been exposed to? Beyond the word individual meaning a singular instance of something or other (by that I mean one as opposed to two or more or unique) it really doesn't have much meaning at all without considering a myriad of other factors (gender, age, etc). What makes that word have intelligible meaning, beyond that of a single instance of something, is partially or sometimes completely invisible (unspoken, not specified or explicated).

Yet...we all (and I, oh so very much, include me) often trot out that word as if it meant something besides the notion of one...and we trot it out and use it as if it actually meant something when most of the meaning it has is obscured or hidden or invisible....and that hidden or invisible part is not made explicit. The specifics are not presented or considered and we just go blithely on yammering and talking as if we're making sense. When in fact what we're doing is obscuring...we're hiding things...we're trying to express something without saying it or even letting on that there's a whole world of meaning behind what we're saying...we're not going to even hint that that large and powerful meaning is present. In fact, we're often not even aware that this is what we're doing...because it is invisible to us too. Our culture/society/group told us to hide this (for various reasons) and we got the unspoken message (no one told us this explicitly) and we motor on as if we were being perfectly clear and open about what we're expressing or saying.

Look at the graphic above...the meme invoked..."personal choice" has all kinds of invisible factors associated with it...for instance in this particular invocation it is obscures and hides the fact that this particular "personal choice" is an act of violence and there is a victim. There is absolutely no difference between saying that "killing and then eating non-human animal "products" is a personal choice" versus saying "killing and then eating human animal "products" is a personal choice" outside of the species of the victim. Both refer to acts of violence and of eating dead body parts or excretions...the only difference being the identity of the victim.

You would have to be talking to a pretty strange person if they were to make the case to you that "personal choice" carried much weight in terms of behavior justification if they were talking about human animal is the identity of the victim here that has all the meaning associated with it...not the "personal choice" meme. However, the "personal choice" notion is so potent that here it serves to obscure the fact that the identity of the victim is the significant factor...not the "personal choice" idea. Our culture essentially hypnotizes us to go into a fugue or daze when when we hear "personal choice" and we're supposed to say "oh, personal choice, then that's ok" when that one is trotted out. And...much more often than not...that's what's going on with the person that invokes the magical phrase "it's a personal choice". (Carol J. Adams has written about the invisibling of animals in her work too.)

And, I will have to admit, that when that "personal choice" thingee was first thrown at me by someone it brought me up short. I am, like each of you, partially a product of my culture and "personal choice" is a biggee in this culture and I am just as much a good little automaton as anyone else. I was stymied by the notion of "personal choice" at first because I had been taught to be blind and stupid when I encountered it. Then my thinker started up (it was off somewhere farting around like my culture had told it to) and I realized that the "personal choice" crap was nonsense. Hell, every action we take is, in some form or fashion, a "personal choice"...that's like saying when you do something it is a behavior. It's just words...not's like saying doesn't tell you anything. You have to look at the specifics, at the consequences, at the actions...all of that must be done for any meaningful sense to be achieved.

When we hear "personal choice" we're supposed to stop thinking and just accept it. Just as when we hear "why can't we all just be individuals". Both phrases are part of the discourse of dominance that creates and maintains our norms...both phrases have a myriad of unstated assumptions associated with them...invisible assumptions that serve to hide or obscure the non-dominant "other" and to maintain and sustain the dominant group's norms.

In the instance presented by Mr. Grillo, the dominant group being promoted is human the instance in Dr DiAngelo's paper the dominant group being promoted is white skinned human animals. The dominance is invisible, unspoken, not made explicit...mainly because if it is brought out into the open...well...questions might be asked...thinking might be done...changes might be made. And, those changes might mean some power or privilege loss for the dominant's keep this stuff hidden so the peons and the peasants don't get restless or uppity.

Part of my purpose in writing it was to help me sharpen my thinking about all of it because it is quite new to me...especially the terminology but also the notion that "why can't we all just be individuals" is often a power play by the dominant white group. I had sort of waded through the "personal choice" meme on my own and figured out that it was some flim flam but I hadn't encountered the cultural jujitsu of the individuals thingee.

It is extremely useful to look at the work of the many folks who have done lots and lots and lots of thinking and investigating various oppressions. There is a tremendous amount of information out there and it is important to look and read and's also often discombobulating and staggering. I said...when ya gotta, ya gotta.

It's not so bad though, if you're vegan, you're already somewhat familiar with being skeptical of your dominant culture. Well...I assure you that if you jump into digging into the work done on racism, sexism, abelism and so'll become even more skeptical. Jeez...we're pretty messed up...not that I didn't know that's just that we're much more pitiful than even I thought (and I thought we were pretty pitiful).


Have Gone Vegan said...

Oh I hear ya. It's annoying when after a certain age (in my case, 50+) there's still so much to learn and consider and change your mind about. One of the good things about this though is that hopefully it'll help keep our noggins sharp as we get even older and have to deal with age-related decline and dementia and such.

Completely agree that so many of us trot out terms and phrases like "freedom", "liberty", "individual", and "personal choice" as if these words are self-evident, self-explanatory, and actually mean something concrete, when in fact they're usually short-cut terms for absolutely nothing.

When I now get the "I respect your choice so you have to respect mine" line of drivel, I usually respond with something like, "Yes, but you're acting as if the two choices are morally equivalent when they're not. My choice does not lead to untold cruelty, misery, suffering, torture and death, and yours does." And that usually shuts 'em up pretty darn quick. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love this post. It's so thoughtful. If everything were simply personal and individual choice then we'd have even more violence than we already do.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV and DEM.

HGV: I like your response to the choice cliche...I might borrow it sometime. :-)

DEM: I'm pleased you enjoyed it...anytime I can provide that for you is a good thing. :-)

Christine said...

A thought provoking article. How on earth can people justify eating meat as a personal choice? The same argument could be said about anything! Personal choice doesn’t come into it; it cannot justify unethical behaviour. And on some level I think increasingly more people in our modern society know that it is wrong to kill another living being to eat his flesh, or wear his skin or his fur, use him for entertainment, experiment on him or exploit him in any way. Personal choice is rather like a democratic right. Some people here in the UK - those sickening individuals who enjoy hunting animals - argue that if the majority in parliament voted to return fox hunting than that would be okay as the decision was arrived at democratically. Personal choice or democracy does not enter into what is right and what is wrong and clearly it is wrong to hunt a fox with hounds and watch as the dogs tear the unfortunate creature apart. .

Its personal choice to paint your kitchen yellow or wear that red jumper, it should not be personal choice to eat meat any more than it is a personal choice to eat another human being.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christina. You're quite right...when there's a victim...democracy isn't applicable.