Monday, January 26, 2015

Lewis Gompertz

I ran across his name early on in this strange and bewildering journey called living vegan. Yet little mention is made of him by vegans. Little, not none, because you can find writings about him here and here.

I was thoroughly impressed by him because the little bit I read made note of the fact that he refused to ride in carriages or ride on horses because he felt that was unjust. He was opposed to enslavement or the "use" of others for ones own benefit whether that 'other' was a human animal or any other variation of animal. He was a vegan before the word was created. What makes him even more remarkable is that he's pretty much the founder of the first official organization devoted to improving the lives of animals....the RSPCA. (at least he was from what I can tell and they trumpet on their website that they're proud to be the "oldest")

Mr. Gompertz should be much better known to vegans. His book about avoiding the oppression of animals was written in 1824. It's difficult to realize the profundity (and serious opposition to "normal" socially accepted behaviors) that he was advocating (and living). This was an era when human transportation and much labor performed for humans was done so by horses and oxen. He had to walk or to ride a bicycle to get around. Imagine going to lunch with him and you jump into your carriage or onto your horse and he says: "I'll meet you there, wait for me" and takes off walking. It makes me smile...good for him. Not only did he avoid eating animals or animal products...he refused to "use" them either.

And...this part is what is so tellingly terrible and wonderful at the same time is that he was driven out of that organization he started because he was "different".

In other words, he started an organization devoted to opposing the oppression of marginalized and relatively powerless beings simply because they were "different" and then he was driven away from participating in that organization because he was "different" and belonged to a group that was marginalized and relatively powerless. How bizarre is that? How terribly exemplary of our species. We aren't the "thinking animal", we are the "erring animal". If you need something to be messed up...give it to a human...if it can be screwed up...we'll manage it.

Mr. Gompertz was Jewish and a segment of Christians became concerned about his presence in the organization and his possible influence...big laugh...since he helped start the organization...and they forced him out.  

There's a lesson in this that we (human animals) still struggle with. Jeez, we still struggle with everything...or so it seems but most tellingly the obvious things. Like don't do what you say you don't want to do.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I've been writing a bit lately about intersectionality (here and here) and the similarities of oppressions and...big wow...look at this...the human who apparently wrote the first complete book devoted to explaining why we should not oppress our sister/brother Earthlings was run out of the first official organization devoted to not oppressing animals (which he founded) because of oppression. The insanity of that exemplifies something so exquisitely true about our nature as a species that it makes my teeth hurt. We're, indeed, the zany species (and zany in a sad and terrible way).

All the isms of oppression...and they are myriad...breaking free from them in one area doesn't give you a pass for any other area. I'm struggling hard with all that right now and the other day when I received a copy of his book via interlibrary loan it struck me right in the face that the animal anti-oppression movement seemed to start right off with oppressing the founder of the first animal anti-oppression organization. Somehow that's fitting in that it exemplifies what a spooky bunch of beings we human animals are.

The only oppression worthy of being practiced is the oppression of oppression? As I said in my last post, it makes my head hurt. Maybe Rodney King expressed it best when he asked: "Can we all just get along?"



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 wow...you can't mess with that, can you? You have to "respect" someone's "personal choice", right? Fiddle with that and "gasp"...you 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 victims...hence...it 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 meaning...it's like saying abracadabra...it 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 animals...in 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 group...so...let'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 learn...it's also often discombobulating and staggering. But...as 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 on...you'll become even more skeptical. Jeez...we're pretty messed up...not that I didn't know that already...it's just that we're much more pitiful than even I thought (and I thought we were pretty pitiful).

Monday, January 12, 2015

The "Civil" War.

The United States engaged in an internal war between citizens beginning in 1860 and ending in 1865. I was born only about 80 years after the end of that war...so this is not like ancient history...this war wasn't fought between Sparta and Athens several thousand years ago. The last (known) participant in that 'civil' war died several years after I was born...if I had known him I could have had a conversation with him.

This incredibly bloody conflict was over whether human animals could be considered the property of other human animals. Apologists for human slavery have tried to make the issue of "union" and "states rights" be placed at the center of the cause of the conflict but if you look at the reason behind those states wanting to leave the union you discover it was because they were afraid they were going to lose the "right" to legally own other humans. And the "states rights" referenced consisted of the "right" to own human beings as slaves.

"Incredibly bloody" refers to the fact that more than 2% of the population was killed in that war. In 1860 there were around 30 million people in the U.S., the civil war resulted in about 620,000 deaths, this compares with WWII where the U.S. had a population of about 142 million people and about 400,000 were killed...which works out to about .0028% of the population.

Why think about the civil war in context of WWII? Well, upon reflection, one of the major notions driving the Hitlerite dictatorship was that human animals could be enslaved and/or exterminated and had no "rights" just because they belonged to a particular group (neither was that kind of thinking unknown to the Tojo government of Japan). A big factor motivating the German/Japan governments was the notion that some human animals were better (or more worthy or whatever) than other human animals...depending on what group they belong to. That kind of thinking seems awfully similar to the thinking of the Confederate state governments.

WWII definitely isn't ancient history...and by the way...the U.S. was still practicing legal segregation while it was fighting the Axis powers. In other words, we were fighting against those advocating slavery while saying that some of our citizens were not worthy of some "rights" simply because they belonged to this or that group...but we didn't enslave them (hooray for us, I suppose).

It's all about the equality thing. We (those of us who are human animals) seem to have really serious difficulties with the idea that we (all human animals) are equal (in terms of our right to life, liberty and so on) to one another. Some of us are audacious enough to envision that equality notion (the right to life and liberty thingee) as applying to all living beings. We are called vegans.

And, for all of us who are vegan, it might behoove us to realize that we're on the side of a cause (equality of the right to live life freely for all living beings) that has prompted a lot of resistance when it was applied to just one group of animals (human ones), much less all animals.

It makes me wonder what might be in store for the future. It's obvious that human animals are willing to kill or be killed to enslave other human animals...that makes me wonder what they might be willing to do to continue to enslave non-human animals. It's sort of spooky.

So, for you who are vegan, the next time someone gets irate and/or upset at your advancing the notion of veganism...realize that you're encountering in some form or another the same kind of passionate resistance that prompted some awfully big and widespread and deadly human conflicts. A lot of human animals have killed a lot of other human animals over exactly these kinds of thinkings...and they did this killing very much in recent times. This all didn't happen long ago and far away.

So, if you thought veganism was just about being "nice" to our sister/brother Earthlings....you might want to think again. It's rather more serious and possibly deadly (and hell if I know why) than that.





Friday, January 2, 2015

It is 2015...

and I thought I start your new year with a few images.

A tattoo to consider:

Tattoo

I found this image to be seriously thought (and smile) provoking.

Hmmm...

As you make your way through your life, living vegan...do remember this image when you're feeling really really alone and realize that others have felt the same way.
Hooray for him.

And finally, anytime this year you find yourself feeling down and sad and want to maybe get a lift...bring this image up in your mind and you might find yourself smiling.
Imagine.

Enjoy your new year...and if you're living vegan, thank you. Remember that you're one of the good folks...even if it sometimes makes you feel really really alone (see previous image).