Friday, July 24, 2015

Once again

the eloquent and perceptive pattrice jones has written a piece that must be read by all of us who support and advocate for veganism.

She writes:
Do be the person you were when you let yourself learn things you didn’t want to know about animal abuse. That same courage and willingness to confront discomfort will carry you through and inspire you to learn what you need to learn about racism
However difficult and upsetting it was for you to learn about what we human animals do to our sister/brother Earthlings...diving into learning about the active and ongoing ugliness of white U.S. American racism is just as disconcerting or maybe even more so. But...you can do it. It's painful, it's scary and heart and mind boggling. However, if you're committed to opting out of the oppressions that are presented as "normal"...then it must be done.

If you don't want to do that work...then she tells you what you need to do. Read her post. Please. (Thanks to So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan for linking to her blog too)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Decontextualize...

is a snazzy sounding word which means...according to this dictionary site: "to remove from a context." It's sort of in the vicinity of another interesting word, deconstruction, which has as one of its meanings: "the analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy." Deconstruction also has meaning much beyond the one quoted above that you can find here.

Some time ago I was reading some writing by a young woman who works with survivors of domestic violence. She was noting that one of the arguments that is presented to emphasize how lightly or inadequately this very serious and awful issue is regarded is the statement that there are 3 times as many animal shelters in the United States as there are shelters for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

I was sort of surprised at that data initially, in the way that such a decontextualed presenting of the information is apparently designed to accomplish. I first thought how unsettling that we have triple the facilities to protect animals as we do to protect women and children...but...my thinker didn't stop there. And...more digging by my thinker led me to see that there was something sort of hinky and manipulative in making such a statement...even though it was true...at least on the face of it.

A few days ago I was having an exchange online with someone wherein they were asserting something that I was having a hard time understanding, so I wrote them about some of my concerns. In their response they threw that same 3 times statement at me and asserted that it served to confirmed their stance. This time I did a little investigating.

Apparently that statement is based on some data from 1990, that can be found here, where it says there are 1,500 shelters for battered women and 3,800 shelters for animals in the U.S. Obviously 3 x 1,500 is more than 3,800 but this bit of data is close enough for presuming that this source is one basis for the 3 times assertion. More up to date data indicates there are around 5,000 animal shelters and around 3,361 providers of services for domestic violence victims. That isn't even close to 3 x...but...there are still more shelters for animals than resources for domestic violence victims. If you search for that 3x ratio, you find that it is used in many places as some sort of argument that we care more about animals than human victims of domestic violence. For instance, a page associated with Arizona State University touts this "shocking" bit of data.

That's really not the problem with the 3x meme...the problem is that it is thrown around without referencing context. You have to look at the respective size of the populations involved, as well as other factors, for the data to make any kind of useful sense...unless you're just trying to win a dispute and don't really care about accuracy and comprehension. Which, from what I can tell, is most often the context in which that notion is used.

One very important bit of information to take into account is the number of victims of domestic violence as compared to the number of animals who are at risk for violence against them. If we consider this additional information, the 3 x thing starts to look a little strange. For arguments sake let's presume that every female in the U.S. is a victim of domestic violence...that would mean about 150 million females (I'm including both adult and child females into this number) are theoretically victims of domestic violence...if we divide 3,361 (the number of providers of domestic violence services) into the number of victims we can see how many victims there are for each provider. That number comes to around 45,000 victims for each provider. (150 million divided by 3,361)

Of course not all females are victims...I'm using the biggest number possible simply to illustrate the rather fantastic goofiness that's present here.

Ok, let's do the same thing for animal shelters. One source says 10 billion land animals are killed each year in the United States...and that excludes how many sea animals (another 20 billion) are killed each year. If we use the 10 billion figure for increasing our understanding, we would need to divide that population by the number of animal shelters and that would come to 2 million. (10 billion divided by 5,000)

So, using the calculations above, based on a large overestimate of human victims and a big underestimate of animal victims we see that for each shelter for humans there are about 45,000 potential users and for each animal shelter there are abut 2 million potential users. Uh...that sort of makes the 3 x thingee look sort of...well...screwy.

And...that's not all there is to the context. When the term shelter is used for animals, that includes (I'm presuming) all the small and large taxpayer funded municipal and county type operations. Guess what happens to animals that end up there?  Most of them...sooner or later...unless the animal is rescued from the shelter...are killed. Shelter is a misleading term...these are (not all of them, but most of them) actually places where animals are killed for human convenience. And...most of the places included in that 5,000 animal shelters are just that type of death camp...the number of sanctuaries and/or rescues where animals are safe is much much smaller. I looked a little for a breakdown of safe places versus kill places and found that to be rather hard to find. You can do your own investigating of that if you're so inclined.

Maybe the best way to think about it is this...how many taxpayer funded shelters for animals are actually devoted to saving lives versus being devoted to scooping up non-human affiliated animals and killing them? There are none in my area...every tax funded operation around here is a place of death...if no human takes the animal out of the "shelter" then that "rescued" animal is killed.

One source says that 3.5 million of the 5 million "companion animals" entering "shelters" annually (that excludes those beings 'routinely' killed for "food") are executed. That's not much of a shelter...as far as I know...that's not what happens at places that provide services to human victims of domestic violence. So...not only are the numbers misleading...even the term "shelter" is misleading. Using screwy numbers and screwy language in the same statement...ouch.

I responded to the person who used the 3 to 1 ratio with only the information about population size...I didn't even add that using the word "shelter" for places of refuge for human victims of domestic violence versus that same word for a place of death for animals...and pointed out the error in the statement. The response I got back was...none...they just ignored the information.

Discussions or exchanges or presentations of information can be used to get closer to reality or truth or they can be used to try to get agreement...or both. I'm much more interested in trying to ascertain truths and/or reality than I am (usually anyway) in trying to achieve agreement. My notion is that truth/reality is the important part and agreement and/or disagreement regarding a perspective to that truth/reality is secondary. Agreement is nice...but jeez...if you're agreeing on an untruth that you're pretending is truth or mistaking for truth...well...there's way too much of that going on in human interactions for my liking.

Among other things, propaganda is designed to achieve agreement, marketing is designed to achieve agreement, flimflam is designed to achieve agreement...none of these three things are much interested in truth/reality except as a tool, sometimes, to get agreement. I don't particularly care for any of those three things...in fact...I get sort of offended when I'm subjected to them. 

When someone presents an assertion that is misleading and/or inaccurate (I include me in 'someone') and information is presented that invalidates that assertion...it's time to acknowledge error or inaccuracy and adjust whatever premises are based on that assertion. If such acknowledging and/or adjusting doesn't happen...in this case the additional information was ignored...it's my presumption that whomever I'm in an exchange with isn't interested in truth/reality, they're interested in their stance and they want agreement, reality/truth is secondary or immaterial to their goal. It's at that point that I pretty much lose interest in dialoguing with them.

Victims of domestic violence need places of safety...yes...but trying to garner support for this by using decontextualized numbers is a lousy way to go about it.

And...presenting another group of victims of violence as somehow getting "more" (and in the process spreading misinformation), that's just reproducing oppression, theoretically in the name of providing relief to victims of oppression. We can do better than that. Such stuff just plays into maintaining the astonishing culture of oppression that we all are subjected to...some extra thinking and contexting can sometimes help to opt out of participation in playing one group of victims off against another group of victims and in avoiding being duped by numbers.

So...if you run across the 3 to 1 meme...beware. All victims belonging to marginalized groups deserve protection...but touting misinformation and/or reproducing oppression is a lousy way to try to achieve that. And...anyone believing that more human effort and resources are devoted to "saving" our sister/brother Earthlings than are devoted to humans...well...they're way way way wrong.



Sunday, July 12, 2015

I, racist

is the title of an essay by John Metta that you can read here. I've shared it with a number of people, I've printed out copies so I can hand them to white people when I get into a discussion with them and I see their eyes starting to glaze over as I struggle to explain how all of us white people are complicit in a racist system. I don't have a great deal of confidence that it will make a difference...but...the essay is so piercingly true that it should be shared widely. And...just maybe...it can help to break through the obliviousness of normality.

Every vegan that I know has had the unsettling experience of having someone get upset when it was pointed out to them that living a "normal" life here in U.S. America meant they were being cruel to animals who weren't human. Most see themselves as non-harmers of living beings...even as they routinely eat "animal products" and "meat". The cruelty has been invisibled and making that cruelty clear is most often experienced as a personal attack instead of an effort to expand perception and comprehension.

Most vegans have learned that truth telling, no matter how gently or kindly or eloquently it is expressed, usually ends up being rejected, ignored, denied or...quite often...with a non-vegan human being upset and angry at the vegan who was audacious enough to point out "normal" cruelty. Exposing this awfulness almost invariably results in hurt feelings because the previously oblivious person feels like you're saying they are "bad". Their feelings get hurt and since you are the one who's sitting across from them...you must be the cause.

Expose awfulness to someone who "normally" participates in awfulness generally means the speaker gets branded as awful. It's as if it is immediately recognized that there's something awful going on and that awfulness becomes a hot potato that has to go somewhere...someone is responsible for it...and the quickest and easiest thing to do is toss it back onto the one who brought it into awareness. It's a variation on the "he who smelt it dealt it" observation.

Each of us can can participate in and support oppression and horror while seeing ourselves as virtuous and kind and compassionate. In fact, that is, horribly enough, what passes for "normal" in any culture where eating our sister/brother Earthlings is accepted. Which is most all cultures.

In addition, the normalized oppression that's meant by the term speciesism, isn't the only routine awfulness we get indoctrinated into here in U.S. America. You get stuck into complicity with sexism too....whether you realize it or not. If you have white skin you get stuck into complicity with racism....whether you realize it or not. And on and on...that's a big part of how the "isms" of oppression just keep rolling along.

Hell, you get stuck into complicity with racism even if you don't have white skin...it's just that you have a much greater chance of becoming de-oblivioused to that routine racism if your skin isn't considered to be white because not only will you be a "normal" participant in that oppression...you'll eventually be a target of it too. And...as noted in this post...if you suffer from an oppression you are much more likely to clearly comprehend and be aware of that oppression.

Please read I, racist...it's one of the most excellent pieces of writing I've ever read. It wonderfully works at "saying it well enough". My thanks to the author of I, racist, he's given everyone a marvelous gift.
 

Friday, July 3, 2015

I get confused often.

This post is about some confusions that bother me.

Stephanie McMillan is a talented artist/cartoonist who has devoted her efforts to activism opposing imperialism and supporting social justice issues...you can read more about this in her bio on her website.

This graphic, which I mostly like, was created by her.



The idea that the graphic is trying to express is that it is incumbent on each of us to de-invisiblize the consequences of our behavior such that those consequences do not...inadvertently...end up furthering or supporting the very thing that we're wanting to oppose.

The mostly qualification about liking the graphic is because I'm sort of perplexed by the military imagery (my notion is that part of human caused awfulness is, way more often than not, driven by our organizing into "soldiers"). It's interesting to consider that maybe her imagery actually lends some support to what she seems to oppose. I say that because imperialism pretty much always involves the organizing of humans into "soldiers".

That's sort of interesting eh? She seems to be someone opposed to imperialism but creates a graphic that seems to support or at least invoke one of the main human roles (soldier) used to support imperialism...in a graphic that argues against not accidentally or unwittingly doing something like that. Sort of cool and sad at the same time. But...obviously I might be totally wrong in my take on the graphic...or...she might be oblivious to the implications.

Maybe I'm just being picky. Here's another graphic she created.

She does many cartoons and drawings and writings wherein she advocates against environmental harm and human-driven climate change and other destructiveness caused by human behavior. Except...oops...obviously Ms. McMillan isn't vegan. The problem presented in the graphic above revolves around how mercury poisons humans...no concern is attached to mercury poisoning the fish or the unnecessary killing of the fish for humans to eat.

Apparently her concern stops at human Earthlings when she thinks about social justice...even though this next graphic hints otherwise.

Is she concerned about plants and animals or are they just being used as props for her advocacy on behalf of her concerns about human Earthlings?

There are various other drawings/cartoons on her website that indicate much concern with environmental destruction but the theme that seems to run through all of them is worry about harm or inconvenience to humans in some shape or form. She probably would object to this graphic...or at least be only minimally concerned with the notion of speciesism.



Her bio says she is concerned with "social justice" but...we're sort of left in the dark as to precisely what she means when she uses those words, but it's probably safe to say that only human beings are included.

She's concerned about the environment hence the ecocide part of this graphic would be consonant with what she opposes and...she does say "social justice"...so maybe some of those other oppressions in the graphic would be repulsive to her. And yet...if she isn't vegan...her universe of concern is, in essence, human Earthlings and, I presume, mother Earth, at least insofar as mother Earth appears to offer something useful to human Earthlings. I'm speculating...I don't know what her universe of opposition entails but predicated on the dead fish graphic apparently the lives of non-human Earthlings don't make it.

Oppression is defined on wikipedia as: "...the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner." Hence, one way to think about racism is as the use of power by one group of humans against another group of humans,  defined by "race", in a way that is burdensome, cruel or unjust. So the above graphic is using words to identify groups (or something nebulously called ecology or the environment) that are subjected to oppression by various groups of humans. The thing or idea (as denoted by the double headed arrow lines) that connects all of the words above is oppression.

If, as Ms. McMillan seems to do, we exclude any who aren't human Earthlings from our area of concern then we are saying that oppression is acceptable if the target of those oppressive activities does not belong to that group we define as the human species...and maybe the sort of nebulous thing we call the 'environment'. I suppose that's what she's saying...I don't know because I haven't conversed with her...I'm speculating based on my poking around on her website and looking at her graphics.

For me, the problem is with those activities encompassed by the notion of oppression, there's where I see wrongness. It's the oppressing that's the bad stuff...otherwise you're just getting into a stance of deciding which groups (or areas) are ok to behave cruelly or unjustly toward and which ones you shouldn't act that way toward.

Maybe this could be made more visible or understandable if instead of the word oppress I use the word rape (or murder or set on fire...any term that is pretty much immediately understood as destructive and awful). If I then say the problem is not with raping (or you plug in your own word for some invariably awful doings) but with picking acceptable rape victims or conversely picking those who shouldn't be raped.

To take this further...I say that it's ok to rape humans named Mary or William but all others are off limits or I say that it's ok to murder all humans named John or Carmen but all others are off limits. Does that make me an activist or supporter of "social justice"? Or...does that just make me one more voice in the chorus that seems to say hooray for me (and who or what I think is important) and to hell with everybody else and the rest of everything? I dunno...this stuff makes my head hurt sometimes.

Do you get what I'm driving at? In the end, I'm simply not smart enough or sophisticated enough or whatever it might take to sort out who or what it is ok to behave horribly toward...so...my endeavor is to work on not behaving horribly...not working on figuring out who or what it is ok to behave horribly toward. And...in my efforts to de-horrify my behavior I must...absolutely...take into account the risk that de-horrifying my behavior toward one set of victims doesn't accidentally or inadvertently visit horror on another set of victims...or worse, even support or bolster that which I think I'm opposing...because I'm then defeating myself. Shucks, if, in my efforts to stop acting horrible I act horrible...ouch...not cool.

The message in her graphic with the dead fish is that we ought not to put poisons into the environment because they come back and hurt us. It is focused on de-horrifying activities involving the environment and the rationale is that it eventually ends up being horrid toward ourselves. Notice though...that the fish are victimized too...twice...once by the poison and then the second time by being killed by humans for 'food'. Jeez.

Don't get me wrong...I agree with many of the apparent concerns that Ms. McMillan has...but...she's obviously much wiser or whatever than me in that she seems to be saying it's ok to act like a destructive asshole as long as you do it right (depending on how she defines 'right') or pick the correct victims.

That's beyond my abilities...I'm not equipped to figure out where it's ok to be horrid and where it's not...that seems way too hard and tricky to me...so...I'll muddle along with working on de-awfuling my behavior instead of trying to pick who or what I act awful toward and who or what I don't act awful toward. Or maybe I'm missing something?