Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lewis Thomas

was the author of a book of essays titled: Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The first essay had that name and I remember reading it not too long after it came out in the mid 1980s. In that essay, which you can read here, there was a sentence that struck me as one of the most meaningful and powerful ever written.

If I were 16 or 17 years old and had to listen to that, or read things like that, I would want to give up listening and reading. I would begin thinking up new kinds of sounds, different from any music heard before, and I would be twisting and turning to rid myself of human language.
In the essay he was referencing the reading and listening to things that were being spouted by Reagan and his administration wherein they were quite seriously wanting to engage in a nuclear war with Russia so they could destroy the "Evil Empire".

That sentence returned, stunningly so, when the disconnecting and invisibling of the viciousness and violence of the behavior of humans toward our sister/brother Earthlings finally diminished enough that I finally began to see and feel and comprehend what we were doing. The sentence haunted me because the more I became aware of what I had done, of what we all were doing, the more I eventually starting wishing I didn't think or feel or speak human. How does a Nazi feel when they realize they are a Nazi and all that such a realization means?

That sentence has never really left me since then and yesterday it came crashing back and the feelings were stronger than ever. We took a day trip to visit the Chickasaw Cultural Center about 60 miles south of here. It's a really beautiful place and has to be seen and experienced to fully appreciate that fact.

Kochcha' Aabiniili' Amphitheater
This is one photo of many that are available on the website they've created. The name of the amphitheater means "a place for sitting outside".

When we were walking onto the grounds I found my self pulling inward, I was looking forward to visiting the center and was puzzled by my reaction. I kept listening and waiting to see what was going on with me and as I did I felt heavy and then even more heavy and finally sadness and sorrow started welling up inside me. Tears started falling as I realized that I was visiting a place the ancestors of the survivors of a genocide (a past genocide as well as an ongoing slow-motion current debacle) had created to try to keep their ways of being. And I was one of the ancestors of the perpetrators and I am one of the members of the group who drive the current manifestations of subjugation.

I felt such a deep sense of shame and desolation, similar to that which I feel when I see a small torn and smashed fur-person lying beside a roadway or when I see cows or horses behind barbed wire. The cause of all this violence and death and theft of lives and freedom and land and water is the group I was born into. That pain and suffering was caused by us. We caused that harm.

And they were the victims and they experienced the loss and the misery. And we blithely lollygag along, la ti da, la ti da. We don't think we're bad people, we don't think we oppress others...we're the home of the brave and the land of the free (especially if you're white and male) with liberty and justice for all (?). Hooray.

We should be the ones suffering and grieving, we should be wailing and be covered in sackcloth. We're the bad guys and unless and until we take onto ourselves awareness of this and begin feeling the harm and horror we've inflicted on others (and continue to do), we're going to keep right on harming...and singing la ti da, la ti da. The pain and suffering they experienced belongs to the perpetrator, not to the victims. Just as the pain and suffering we inflict on our sister/brother Earthlings who aren't human belongs to us, the perpetrators, not the victims.'s the victims who are forced to feel the terror, the horror, the misery...not us. We try to hide their bodies from the case our animal victims...and in the case of our human victims we just pretend nothing is wrong...or we try to hide them too.

And...if the human victims get upset...well...they're just "too sensitive"...or they misunderstood...or we tell ourselves (not outloud, that's not nice) that they're not like us. If the animal victims resist or scream or try to escape, well, they're "just" animals. We pack the animal victims into "factory" farms, we cram the Native Americans into reservations, we squash the poor black victims into ghettos or "inner-city" neighborhoods or move away if they buy houses in areas where we live. It's all too awful to comprehend.

What if it is the case that if we're going to get to a place where we quit harming that we have to take back some of that pain we've been inflicting on others? What if we have to feel miserable (no way could we feel all of what we've done...there's way too much of it). But what if we have to feel some of it? What if, in order to break out of the viciousness, we have to feel some of the horridly devastating awfulness?

Every one of you who lives vegan has probably had the experience of someone getting upset with you when you tried to tell them about the suffering of the animal victims, of their excuses, their rejection of their own culpability. It's only bad, mean people who hurt animals, not them...even though they eat them. They're not being mean, they're not cruel. Bad people are cruel. Trying to tell white european humans about their racist tyranny and cruelty toward other peoples elicits dismay, rejection, denial and...just as when you try to convey the vegan message...the likelihood is high that they'll turn on the messenger.

 Many vegan activists use graphics similar to this to promote their message. Choose compassion, quit harming animals, go vegan. But...what about the other two, racism and sexism? We vegans tend to compare our efforts to those struggles that are ongoing against those other two "isms"...but have we done the work of feeling the pain and misery that are products of racism and sexism? If we're vegan we've probably felt some of the pain and upset associated with hurting our sister/brother Earthlings who aren't human but what about our sister/brother Earthlings who are humans?

What about their pain and suffering and misery? Have we felt any turmoil and pain and dismay about those victims? Or is it just talk? Are we comparing ourselves to movements that are driven by the same sorts of resistance to oppression and injustice that we are fighting against without having done the hard and gut-wrenching and mind-blowing work of "getting it" regarding what those movements fight against?

Six months ago I would have said "of course I get it"'m not so sure. Now I think that it was the case that I was kidding myself six months ago. I wrote this post back in December about the racially offensive exploitation of African Americans ostensibly to promote veganism and/or to make money. The words are pretty much there...but...I wasn't feeling it. I knew the words to the song but I wasn't hearing the music. Now, I think (notice that I say think) that I'm starting to hear the music...and it's a's sad music full of pain and misery and hard feelings to bear. There aren't any words for it. I wasn't where this young woman obviously is. My denial was operating then...I think it's a little less powerful now. I hope it is.

Watch the video of the young woman expressing her pain and upset over the mocking of African American culture and's about 12 minutes or so. See if the experience of hearing and seeing her expressing herself doesn't impact you. We can promote veganism without hurting others but...that wasn't done in this case. Some objected, Breeze Harper, Pattrice Jones and others, but not all vegans objected....some defended it. Some championed it and pooh poohed those who were upset.

We have a lot further to go than I thought...and I include me in that. I think the most unconscionable thing of all is that it's all so unnecessary. We have a lot of pain to feel and process and suffer through in order to legitimately use comparison graphics like the one I stuck in this post. Shame on me for not realizing that sooner. I feel awful and I know my feelings are as nothing when compared to the misery and suffering and horror inflicted on the innocent by speciesism and racism and all the numerous systems that maintain domination and oppression.


David Ashton said...

A powerful post, and a reality check. Thank you.

veganelder said...

Thank you for reading and commenting David. One of the paradoxes of aging that I've noticed is that living with some modicum of attempted awareness becomes both simpler and more complex simultaneously. What a trip. :-)

Have Gone Vegan said...

Sadly, I think we vegans (and I'm certainly including myself here) have been better at paying lip service to the idea of dismantling other isms than actually doing so.

And if we really don't see the difference (but only the similarities) between racism, speciesism and sexism, than we have more work to do, but I'm already jumping ahead to the next post so will continue my thoughts there... :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I have a terrible tendency (shared, I think, with many) to somehow believe that my conscious mindset defines "me". Actually that is of considerably less import than my actions and their subsequent consequences. The solipsistic fallacy is very seductive for we's sort of a headwind of illusion that we all have to navigate somehow. It all seems to be very much tied in with confusing the intent of a behavior with the actual impact of a behavior.

I sometimes think of the example of a child being hit by an adult and with the adult telling the child that the hit was "for their own good". Then you have a confused and hurt child and a self-righteous adult. No wonder we have difficulty sorting things out.