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.

But...it's the victims who are forced to feel the terror, the horror, the misery...not us. We try to hide their bodies from ourselves...in 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"...now...I'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 dirge...it'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 language...it'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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Knowledge is constructed...

or produced or created...or whatever other word you want to use to signify being made up by humans. That doesn't mean that physical laws, like gravity (I'm using the word "law" in lieu a better term), are made up but rather that all human knowledge excepting those apparent physical laws is not "objective" and value free. Scientific research is human driven and that means there are instigators of it that have human driven agendas and there are users of the results of such research that have the same type of agendas. For instance, no ethical vegan would buy into the argument that scientific research that confines and tortures animals is "value free". 

Knowledge is not "discovered", it is created...and it has creators. And they are humans just like you...and me. And those humans that made up "knowledge" had/have a viewpoint and ideologies and motivations and desires just like you...and me.

Therefore...

Here's a quote from a paper I'm reading. When I first read this I had to put the paper down and walk away from it because is was so very unsettling to me and I think it was so unsettling because I dimly understood what the author was saying. The passage I'm reproducing has been paraphrased (and underlined) by me to fit in a little better into this bit of writing (don't worry, I'll link to the paper so you can read the original if you wish) but I won't mangle the core meaning of the passage.

If you are reading this essay, you are likely enrolled in a course that takes a critical stance. By critical stance we mean those academic fields (including social justice, critical pedagogy, multicultural education, anti-racist, postcolonial, and feminist approaches) that operate from the perspective that knowledge is socially constructed and that education is a political project embedded within a network of social institutions that reproduce inequality.
In your course, you will be studying key concepts such as socialization, oppression, privilege, and ideology and doing coursework that challenges your worldview by suggesting that you may not be as “open-minded” as you may have thought. You are encountering evidence that inequality not only exists, but is deeply structured into society in ways that secure its reproduction. You are also beginning to realize that, contrary to what you have always been taught, categories of difference (such as gender, race, and class) rather than merit alone, do matter and contribute significantly to people’s experiences and life opportunities.
This bit of information (that I paraphrased) came from a paper you can find here if you want to read the original. It's located on a website called Academia.edu that offers free registration (if you want) and downloadable pieces of writing from folks in all kinds of academic areas.

Knowledge is socially constructed and and education is politically driven and exists within a network of social institutions that reproduce inequality.

The passage above is saying that all these things you or I thought we "knew" (excepting some "laws" like gravity) were/are things that somebody else "constructed". They took some bits and pieces and put them together into sort of a "just so" story and then used that story to "explain" things...and that explanation was repeated and repeated and repeated for generations and morphed into "knowledge". Something we "know". Some people call this made up stuff "common sense". And...those people that made up "common sense" had ideologies and biases and viewpoints and those factors influenced that "common sense" that they constructed.

Here's one example, now, some of you may have already glommed onto this, I hadn't grasped it much beyond broad strokes until relatively recently, but some you might have pieced this together some time ago. Race. Race is "socially constructed", it's made up. There's no more biological difference between any of the various races of humans than there is between a calico cat and a tabby cat. Yes, some people look different than others, just like a calico cat looks different than a tabby, but they're still cats...with all the cat features and all the cat behaviors and likes and dislikes. And, various groups of humans look different from one another but they're still humans...with all the human features and all the human behaviors and likes and dislikes. That's not disregarding the fact that, while all cats are the same they are also each different, in that each of them have their own unique personality just as each human has their own unique personality. Ok? A thoughtful discussion about the persistence of the fantasy of a biological foundation for "race" can be read here.

Now, don't lose sight of the fact that the social consequences of our made up idea of "race" are real...because they are but...the foundation of the actual concept of "race" is simply a fairy tale that we've been told and have been telling ourselves for several hundred years. Obviously you're welcome to embark on your own journey of discovery or investigation and I would be glad to hear about what you find...in the meantime when you hear "race", just think calico cat and tabby cat.

More entries here and here for reading related to the "race" thing.

Now...what does this have to do with anything? Well, in my last post I wrote a corollary to Audre Lorde's saying that you can't dismantle the master's house with the master's tools and that extension of her observation was that if you want to learn about the master...don't listen to the master or the master's sycophants. Who's the master? Well, essentially it's your culture. The master is essentially the same notion that Daniel Quinn wrote about in Ishmael. I wrote about Ishmael here and a little more here.

And...to tell ya the truth, I hadn't put together that Mr. Quinn and Audre Lorde were referencing the same thing until I started writing this blog post. None of this is new, I've just had a horribly hard time putting it together. It's slippery and hard to grasp and hard to hold in awareness. Interestingly, this was all being stirred up decades ago, way way back in the 1960s, except then it was called the "counterculture". And many many others have objected to and resisted and decried the hegemony and ideology of western european culture since its inception...that's something you can investigate further for yourself if you're so inclined.

It wasn't nearly as coherent then...mostly the ideas of the counterculture were those of opposition to the mainstream culture. There were no academic fields of study that had spent lots and lots of time in an effort trying to understand and comprehend counterculture or the elements of counterculture or where they came from and what they meant historically and operationally.

No, it mostly was just that a fair sized group of somewhat overprivileged (mostly young) people knew something stinky was going on and they wanted to get out of it. But, their attempt at leave taking was pretty disorganized and not well informed and it sort of flamed out, or subsided. The awareness that stinkiness was going on didn't disappear, nor did the impulse to get out of it...it just sort of went off the radar of generally disseminated information. Knowledge that stinkiness is happening is a lot more widespread and well known than the master wants to let on. Many many different humans for many many years have tried to grapple with this but it's been really fragmented and incoherent and suppressed...who suppressed it? The master (western european culture).

Well, it's back...and it's been back for several decades...and it's called the critical stance. And it's been busy. And I apologize to myself and to anyone else who cares to hear it. I apologize for not putting this stuff together before now. It's still really really fuzzy to me but not as fuzzy as it was.

Look, think about this, isn't veganism just another way of saying that something stinky is going on? Veganism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how human animals treat other animals. Feminism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how one group of human animals treats another group of human animals. Environmentalism focuses that awareness of stinky onto how human animals treat mother Earth.

From what I can see, every social justice movement is about something stinky that is being done to one group of beings (or mother Earth) by another group of beings. Oh...and all the doing of the stinky stuff is always by human animals. We have met the enemy and he is us...as Walt Kelly so wisely wrote over 40 years ago. And...the something stinky is invariably the same thing. It's taking things from the other or enslaving the other or harming the other or denigrating the other...by force...or by threat of force or by "common sense". Isn't it? Doesn't that pretty much cover it? And, stinkiness is embedded into our culture and often masquerades as "common sense"...and that makes it really really hard to resist without recreating it.

I apologize if this seems weird to you. So many different things and ideas and knowings are starting to coalesce for me right now that it's sort of overwhelming. I regret not being more coherent. I sorta feel like people have described feeling when they were on an acid trip (which, by the way, many who took acid did so because they were trying to break out of the masters house and the master's version of reality...it didn't work too well but ya gotta appreciate the effort).

It's the weirdest thing, truly. This time of my life is developing (seemingly) into the most exciting and astonishing time I've ever experienced. At the same time it is, in some ways, the most awful and the most painful. Who was it...Dickens...that's who...it was Charles Dickens who wrote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". Old Charley could turn a phrase...one with staying power.

I realize this all might sound goofy to you...it sort of sounds goofy to me...but it really isn't. In some ways I'm less goofy than I've ever been even though I might sound just the opposite. A long long time ago I did something that was spectacularly "crazy"...I mean really strange, dramatically strange (not harmful or destructive...just very weird). It took until many years later when I related this incident to a wise friend who helped me make sense of it (prior to that I simply felt horrified and scared and ashamed about what I had done). He pointed out that sometimes when we think we are at our "craziest" is when we are at our most sane...and his saying that suddenly made that "awful" thing I did pop into complete clarity. It made me see what I was trying to do and it wasn't "crazy" at all...it was about as truthful and sane and real as it is possible to be. It was an amazing moment...it's still amazing. (crazy isn't being used derogatorily here, it's just a shorcut word for meaning not corresponding to what most think of as 'reality')

And these times right now resemble that, they feel like the most disconnected from "reality" ever and at the same time they feel like the most connected to "reality". Another way of understanding the word "reality" is that it is a short cut for the phrase "the just so stories that we tell ourselves to help us understand everything going on inside of and outside of ourselves". The reality created by western european culture is characterized accurately as being one that creates and reproduces inequalities wherein various groups of beings dominate and oppress other groups of beings. No wonder abdicating from stinkiness is so damn hard.

"A network of social institutions that reproduce inequality"...remember that phrase from above? What we think of as "reality", the ways in which we understand ourselves and the world we are in is mostly stuff made up by other humans...and the culture/reality that is home to me is one that is characterized by its devotion to reproducing inequality. When I try to think about not doing inequality, I use the tools of the 'master' and I often unwittingly and unknowingly simply reproduce inequality. But...I've changed the way it looks so...I probably don't recognize it as inequality anymore. Then I feel "good" because I made "progress". But...maybe I didn't...maybe I just rearranged the inequality to where I don't recognize it as such anymore and maybe, later, I will see that I just created another problem of inequality...or maybe not...maybe I'll never catch onto the fact that I didn't.

It's a toughie, isn't it? What a trip. Just wow. I'll stop for now with this...if I'm feeling like I do now and I ever meet the two women who wrote that paper I quoted from previously...I will hug them both while wearing a big big smile and thank them from the core of my being. What a wonderful and excellent thing they wrote. Jeez.






Friday, March 6, 2015

Sayings

Audre Lorde might be a name you're unfamiliar with, if so, you can read about her here. She is credited with this quote:


While you're mulling over what she said, I'll add a corollary to her statement. Finding accurate information about the Master and the Master's doings will not come from the Master or those who agree with the Master...seek your knowledge from those who are oppressed by the Master. I wish someone had repeated that to me many many times many many years ago...I might have been able to see things a bit more clearly earlier. At worst I would have been exposed to viewpoints not drenched in unperceived and unacknowledged privilege.

Here's another quote from quite a different human. "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

These are two very different human animals...it is quite likely you recognize the second one...he's probably one of the most well-known humans who ever lived, it's also likely you have never heard of the woman in the first photo. Yet...they both grasped something that is (for me, anyway) quite profound, obvious and elusive. The two of them essentially represent the virtual end points, from maximally denigrated to maximally celebrated, of the western patriarchal and racial hierarchy of human beings.

Albert Einstein was a white (although an asterisk has to be attached to him because he was Jewish and that grouping of humans has sometimes been considered to be not quite white) heterosexual male and Audre Lorde was a black, lesbian female. A curious combination of humans seemingly well separated in terms of positioning in the social hierarchy of European origin...yet...both definitely experienced instances of oppression...Audre Lorde's experiences are easily imagined and Albert Einstein's having to flee Hitler's Germany certainly qualifies as an instance of oppression. Oh, and just to confuse things more, Einstein was really no friend of women.

Whether they were thinking about the same thing or not is not as significant as the interesting similarities of their observations. They both reference a something to change, Audre Lorde's use of the term "Master's house" and  Albert Einstein's use of the word "problems" can be thought of wherein they're both saying there's something wrong going on and however you got into the wrong won't be solved by continuing on that path. That seems similar to the notion that you can't find the right way to do the wrong thing. Such a simple and glittering truth and yet one that appears to incessantly bewilder human animals.

Over the past several months I've been doing much reading and Youtube viewing and thinking about veganism and how it seems to be an attempt to cease the same sort of other horrid follies that we humans do...over and over. The only thing that varies is the identity of the victims. It's not that hard to come up with a listing of groups that are targets of oppression. Animals who aren't members of the human species, human women, humans who are too young or too old (children or elders), humans who are physically or mentally disabled, humans who don't pick accepted sex partners (LBGTQ), humans who have skin color outside the accepted range, humans who belong to a particular religion....and on and on.

The common factor isn't the victims so much (although there is a common factor and it is that the victims don't have the power to effectively resist their being oppressed), no the common factor that is sort of spooky is that one group of beings pretty much (sometimes with others piling on) figures prominently on the side of the oppressors in every instance noted in the previous paragraph. One, two or three characteristics pretty much cover all instances of oppression I can think of and most often it's all three...male, white, heterosexual...oh...and one other is a given for all and that is being a member of the human species.

It's iffy to find a group of beings who's wholly innocent insofar as refraining from oppressing other beings simply because of their membership in some group or other...except...probably it's difficult to make a case that any non-human groupings of animals engage in such nastiness. Think about this...what if you stuck all human males in a box for a few years and let the rest of the world roll on...what would it be like? Fewer pregnancies, obviously, but what other changes might occur? Think about it this way, ignoring the fewer pregnancies, would the pluses outweigh the minuses?

It's something to think about...please live vegan while you're thinking and while you're at it...go ahead and avoid other ways of oppressing living beings too. Also remember that it is highly unlikely that the ways that got us into this mess we've made of ourselves and of mother Earth is going to be the path we can follow out of the mess.

That means profound changes are going to be required...and the changes are going to have to go beyond identifying victims (although that's a necessary part of it). No, the change is going to require seeing/thinking/comprehending/understanding things differently and changing how we relate to and behave toward other living beings and mother Earth. Veganism addresses the group of victims harmed the most severely but...it doesn't address the mindset of oppression...and that must be changed else we'll just continue going from one set of victims to another to another and on and on. This is a process that is very much still in play...much thinking and understanding still needs doing by us. (Thanks Angie)