Saturday, November 28, 2015

I did not create...

the social systems that I was born into. Nor did you. I created no system that included such awful ways of behaving as exemplified by sexism or racism or speciesism (or any other "ism" of oppression). Nope...I didn't do that (nor did you). Whew...we're off the hook then, right? Wrong. (Note: while systems of oppression have similarities in their structures and ways of operating, they also differ, and therefore because of that and because the characteristics of targeted groups differ then that means that the targeted groups have differing experiences when they are oppressed. Oversimplifying the impact is both disrespectful to those who are oppressed as well as misleading and confusing.)

When I write or think about racism or sexism or speciesism or other systems of oppression...please understand that this is done to examine and comprehend more accurately such harmful systems. Any comparisons and/or similarities are from one system of oppression to another...they are NOT from one targeted group to another. Understanding aspects of a system of oppression does not mean that the effects of that system on the targeted group is comprehended. Each iteration of the oppression of a particular group differs somewhat and each group targeted by oppression differs in their experiences of those oppressive systems.

Just because I didn't create social systems doesn't mean that I'm not responsible for my activities in them. It doesn't mean I'm not responsible for doing my part to understand and stop them if they're harmful. And...since I'm in them...my good intentions aren't adequate...I have to actively work at comprehending and resisting these systems of oppression or...I am complicit in them.

No one gets to opt out...there is no "out"...we're all in the system(s). Having a pure heart and good intentions simply is inadequate...you have to actively work against the bad stuff or you're supporting it. This sucks...I know...but that's the way it is. If our ancestors had done their work then we wouldn't be faced with what we have...but they didn't so we must. None of us gets to sit on the couch and watch the world go by and be innocent...if we're living in a society we're either opposing oppression or we're helping oppression...no one just gets to be "nice" and thereby avoid hurting others. (being "nice" and thinking it confers innocence is an insidious sham because it ends up maintaining and preserving oppressive systems...more about this later)

If you aren't actively working to take apart the systems of oppression...you're supporting them. That's hard to comprehend and hard to accept...but...that's the way it is. I didn't make it that way nor did you. I don't like it and it's a pain...but hey...that's what we've got.

Keep this in mind...the discomfort that happens when you work to dismantle oppressive systems is minimal when measured against the pain of the victims of those systems of harm and destruction. Look at the discomfort you might feel in your work against oppression as your dues for being alive and endeavoring to avoid harm to others. If you aren't feeling uncomfortable...then you're probably failing to work toward interrupting the human horror story that we inherited. 

Allan G. Johnson is a sociologist who has written about sexism and racism in several books. One of the analogies he uses to try to illustrate how social systems work is by referencing the game of monopoly. I recently found a video of him explaining this analogy and while he is referring to racism as a system of oppression in his talk...he points out that structures of oppression are quite similar from one iteration of it to another. Again...this doesn't mean that the group targeted by a system of oppression has the same experiences as a result of that oppression (for the reasons I noted previously).

I'm posting the video here, it is about 30 minutes long and if it doesn't work or show up for you here you can access it at this link.



I'm a little uneasy about sharing this video because it features a white man and thereby might, even though I don't desire it, serve to re-inscribe the notion of white male authority. Not that Dr. Johnson is a bad guy...he seems to be working hard at dismantling oppression.

I think the message he's presenting is sufficiently useful to counter balance the implied presumption of white male knowingness. At least I hope it is. Do be aware that. Dr. Johnson is building on and utilizing knowledge and insights that originated from many women and men of color.

He's a bright guy and he's a scholar and academic and no scholar or academic stands alone in terms of what they know and/or understand. Like all of us he draws on the efforts of others to understand and comprehend and like all of us his position influences his viewpoint. But he seems to work at trying to de-center his whiteness and his maleness.

However...as far as I know...he doesn't live vegan hence, like all of us, he still has a ways to go on his personal journey of trying to  interrupt harm to his sister/brother Earthlings. If you want to see why...you can read this post by Syl Ko on the APHRO-ISM site...which is dedicated to black feminist thought and critical analysis. The authors there do some terrific and powerful writing.  

The primary reason I chose this video is that he ties oppressive systems to capitalism and that often is omitted when folks write or speak about these topics.

I've been grappling with comprehending the operation of oppression for a while now and each time I find some path that seems to provide some illumination for me...it always seems to end up implicating the economic system that we're all enmeshed in...capitalism.

Oppression can exist (and does exist) outside of capitalistic economic systems...but...no capitalistic economic system exists that isn't conducive to and supportive of and rife with...oppression. In other words...as far as I can comprehend it at this point...you can't have capitalism without oppression. It is a core component of that system. Large systems of capitalism require/encourage exploitation and oppression can be understood as a manifestation of exploitation.

This is a video that, in the last 10 minutes or so, addresses various features of capitalism and how they are inextricably intertwined with the "isms" of oppression and trying to comprehend these various structures of oppression without also paying heed to the overarching economic system that supports and encourages them is, at least for me, incomplete.

I'm sharing his talk because I find his insights and analogies to be helpful. Maybe they will be for you too. I would appreciate any observations and thoughts you might have about it. If you know of videos you have found useful in understanding oppression...especially if the relationship of capitalism to oppression is elaborated upon I would be very grateful for links and/or sources. Thank you.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Instead of Shopping...

Volunteer!"

This is the title of a timely and excellent post by pattrice jones over on the Vine Sanctuary Blog. I'm writing this primarily as an encouragement to you to visit that post because it is so very very truth full and so very very important. Please go there and read it.

My thanks to pattrice jones for writing it.

Some excepts from that post include:

"...the festival of carnivorous gluttony known as Thanksgiving followed by the carnival of consumerism known as Black Friday offer a case in point of the intersections among colonialism, capitalism, animal exploitation, and environmental degradation..."

"PS — This isn’t meant to discourage folks who use holiday sales to save money on things they need and would have bought anyway (though we do hope that anybody who shops over the Thanksgiving weekend will be mindful of the second annual #BLACKOUT Black Friday boycott by choosing independent and Black-owned businesses rather than big box stores.) This is about resisting the enticement to squander hard-earned funds on unnecessary products that deplete the environment along with your pocketbook, all in the service of amoral profiteers. This is about finding much more substantial pleasure in volunteer work or playful activities that contribute to your own well-being while helping to heal our communities and ecosystems."
I can't go to the Vine Sanctuary but I can go to my local sanctuary, Heartland Rabbit Rescue, and give my time and effort to helping the victims of human callousness. I can go there and my presence lets the humans who are there 24/7 how much they are admired and appreciated. If you can...go to Vine Sanctuary...if you can't...find a local organization in your area that helps our sister/brother Earthlings and give them your time and effort. Please.

If we want human society to operate differently...we have to change how we behave...and doing "holidays" differently can be a step towards having a society that respects and cares about mother Earth and all her Earthlings. Engage in healing, not harming.



Friday, November 20, 2015

Commodification...

is sometimes defined as the changing of social relating into one of an exchange or the buying and selling of feelings. Wikipedia says it is the changing of goods and/or services and/or ideas and/or anything else that isn't usually considered to be a commodity into such a form. Ok...so what's a commodity? Wikipedia says it is "...a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs." Hmmm...what the heck is "fungible"...one definition is that it means the property or essence of goods that are capable of being substituted in place of one another.

So...commodification is making something not usually considered to be able to be bought or sold into a something that can be bought or sold. Commodification is closely related to privatization...which essentially means transferring from public control or ownership to private or individual ownership something that's been commodified.
In the book titled A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the author writes: "Commodification presumes the existence of property rights over processes, things and social relations, that a price can be put on them, and that they can be traded subject to legal contract. The market is presumed to work as an appropriate guide -- an ethic -- for all human action." p. 165

Yikes!

We are in deep doo doo. This article might assist in heightening your alarm...if what you're reading hasn't already done so. You're currently getting slammed with all kinds of phenomena related to commodification because of the year end frenzy of buying and selling that has become synonymous with the "holiday" season.

The market as a guide for all human action? Wow. There's a seriously profound demeaning ugliness in that idea. Look around...you can see what happens when such ideas are put into action all over the place.

The source for the above cartoon is here. Apologies for the "leather" reference.

My last years of participation in 'formal' employment put me in a job wherein I had to attend many meetings. I began to notice that the folks who were often given the most attention were those who talked a lot and who sounded like they knew what they were talking about...even when they didn't. Their ideas and notions sounded plausible...and seemed to make sense...unless you really really thought about how people actually behaved and the implications of what they were promoting. These snazzy sounding notions sort of glided over or ignored the sticky parts.

It seemed as if these "good talkers" (and many who listened) were entranced by their words and ideas and they had lost sight of the fact that words and ideas are not living beings or the behavior of living beings or mother Earth and words or ideas don't necessarily correspond accurately to what they purport to reflect nor does the 'logic' of the words or ideas always correspond to reality. But...they sure sounded sensible and/or 'good'.

I had mostly always been a little uneasy with eloquence...not that humans who aren't eloquent can't be full of crap...but crap wrapped up in eloquence is often more difficult to recognize. I appreciate well written things and well spoken folks...but. I've noticed many of us (and me too sometimes) get trapped by that fallacy of confusing a map with the territory. Territory is reality...maps may or may not accurately correspond to that territory. Just because a map looks good doesn't necessarily mean it is true. Symbols are not the things they represent...words are symbols and using language puts you at risk of reifying the symbol and thereby distorting or ignoring reality.

When we use words like "market" we tend to flatten or ignore or invisible the activities that are required for such things to exist. Just like when you go to the supermarket and buy lettuce...the human labor and activities required to prepare the soil, plant the lettuce, water the plants, harvest and package and transport the lettuce are all made invisible. All you see is the end result of a large number of activities which may or may not have included child labor, inadequate wages, toxic chemicals, stolen land...and often that end result is wrapped up in a shiny package and offered to you as a "bargain".

And you buy it because it's "cheap" or you just wanted it. Congratulations...you just provided support to environmental destruction, child or enslaved human labor, exploitation of women, the racialization of objects and people (and your implicit thinking patterns), war and militarization, and on and on and on.

You just sided with the ideological argument that "markets" should guide your behavior and thinking and feeling...and it was easy...nor did you even realize you were engaged in an argument, did you? 

This process of invisibling makes supporting the monstrous destruction of mother Earth and her living beings "normal". Commodification, privatization, markets, profit...words that mask complex and often destructive activities (and unspoken ideological arguments)...be afraid...be very afraid.  
 





 




 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Racist animal activism?

To contextualize this post you first need to read this writing by Lauren Ornelas about a recent experience she had while doing some animal activism. She writes on her blog called Appetite for Justice by Food Empowerment Project. A note on Dr. Breeze Harper's blog led me to Lauren's entry. 


What happened during her activism efforts makes the statement on the graphic: "Proud to be an animal activist" a little dubious.

Lauren ends the piece she wrote on her blog with these poignant words: "I can’t imagine the animals truly wanting us to be so cruel toward one another because, if nothing else, if we can’t live with solidarity among our own species, how can we save them?"

It's a great question. If we think of human animals as if we were a family and the other beings that we share mother Earth with as other families...do we really think that we can behave horribly toward our own family members but pull off the trick of behaving well toward those who aren't in our family?

Readers here are members of the human family, there is also the pig family and the cow family and the sparrow family and so on. It's bizarre to imagine we humans can operate out of a racist framework and/or a sexist framework and/or an abelist framework and/or a heteronormative framework and so on...in terms of our interactions with one another and...while doing all those harmful things and thinking in all those harmful ways...also be able to avoid harm to beings who belong to other families?

In other words do we think we can behave destructively and harmfully toward those we're most closely related to...but be respectful and non-harmful toward those who are relative strangers to us? Maybe so. Maybe we can...but it seems deranged to me to believe something like that. Deranged is actually a kind way to describe my thoughts and feelings about such ugly absurdities.

Wouldn't it be more reasonable and consistent to practice non-harm and respectfulness both with our family and with those who aren't in our family? Why would we want to act like a**holes toward those who are closest to us but be kind and compassionate toward those who are (relatively speaking) strangers to us?

I feel terrible for Lauren. She does good and honorable work with her organization...she's been advocating for animals for nearly 30 years and it is sad that she was exposed to such hateful obliviousness. This white supremacist stuff is ugly and painful...for everyone...and it has tainted all of us. We can do better than this...and we must.

I've come to think that one of the major problems we humans have is the idea that it's acceptable to behave horridly toward one group of beings or another or think one group or another is "superior".


Lauren's post provides much to consider. She questions whether she was correct in speaking out by asking: "But did I do the right thing by speaking up?"

Silence implies complicity. It isn't a neutral stance...if we are in the presence of wrong (pretty much no matter what sort of wrong) and we do not object or interrupt that wrong...then we are...whether intending to or not...supporting that wrong. None of us are exempt from that truth.

Thank you Lauren for speaking up.Your courage and compassion exemplify how we all should behave.

A few months back I wrote about my encounter with the white supremacist mindset that taints many vegan animal activists and about my banishment from a vegan group I helped start up because I objected to "activism" for animals that was racist in nature. I put the quotation marks around "activism" because I have difficulty seeing anything that reproduces oppression as legitimate "activism". Being hateful and harmful toward others, whether obliviously or not, isn't "activism".

Doing harm to the innocent in the name of stopping harm to the innocent is ridiculous. It's just this kind of oblivious recreating of damage that drives much, if not most, human destructiveness.

Please read Lauren's post...it has so much in it that needs to be known to anyone who's vegan...and anyone else, for that matter...who's struggling to escape a colonized viewpoint.  


Friday, November 6, 2015

The Acoma village

and the peoples who live there were one of the sites we visited on our recent trip to New Mexico.

I wanted to provide some elaboration of my reason(s) for refusing to enter the San Estevan del Rey Mission church which is located in the Acoma homeland.

I  placed this photo of that structure in my previous post.


It's a rather pretty building...but seeing it with some knowledge of how it came to be built makes it not look so pretty.

When I was there it was with a group of European appearing women and men who all followed the guide into the interior and oohed and aahed at the appearance of the place. I stayed outside. From the view of the building in the photo...to the left out of sight of the mission is a graveyard containing the remains of Acoma peoples. Some of those who are buried there were killed by the by the Europeans (Spanish) to get the mission constructed.

It was built by Acoma people who were forced (under threat of being whipped or killed) to carry logs on their shoulders from mountains located some 40 miles away. If a log was dropped...it was considered to be not usable any longer and those who dropped it were whipped and forced to go back and get another log. All of the earth and stone and wood that was used in the building was carried up onto the mesa by the enslaved Acoma peoples. No one knows how many were killed during the building of this church. It is a monument to slavery and suffering and death...but...mostly all anyone sees when they look at it is a pretty building.

The guide briefly related the history of how the mission came to be built to the tour participants...but none of them said anything about the horror (that I heard anyway) and none joined me in not going inside. My avoidance of seeing the inside was a paltry protest...but it was (at least to me) better than nothing. I felt sad seeing that building and comprehending the misery and suffering it represented.

The young Acoma woman who was our guide related some of the history of the building in a matter of fact way and the only comments I heard from the tour participants were statement about the impressiveness of the building.

I don't know what the guide thought about it all...and I never said anything to her about it. I couldn't think of any way to say anything without maybe sounding like I was trying to present myself as a good guy or something. So I kept my mouth shut.

When the Spanish came and started exploiting the Acoma...eventually the Acoma rebelled...several times. The Spanish, in one instance of reaction to the resistance of the Acoma murdered more than 600 men, women and children and all of the men who survived and were over a certain age had their right foot cut off. This is one, and only one, example of how Europe "civilized" the "new world".

If you take the time to read the wikipedia entry about the construction of the mission, you'll see that the authors of the entry say that Father Juan Ramirez "oversaw" the construction. "Oversaw" is a nice word that sort of leaves out the whippings and suffering and death involved in the enslavement of the Acoma people who were forced to construct the place. "Oversaw" is one of the words we Europeans use to sort of elide or smooth over our history of violent murder and enslavement and subjugation towards Native Americans and all people of color. 

In my only overt act of subversion against my European ancestry, I talked to one of the Acoma women who arrange the tours and asked her if the guides had ever written a book about the tours. She looked very serious and said no, because some of the ceremonies and activities of the Acoma people were sacred and not to be shared with those who weren't tribal members. I explained that I wasn't talking about the practices of the Acoma...but about whether the guides had ever written a book about the ignorant and clueless questions and comments the white people made who came for the tours.

She looked shocked and stunned for a moment and then she started laughing and laughing. I felt a little bit of warmth that she was so delighted. She said no, but that was a terrific idea and then she laughed some more and thanked me for the suggestion. Her laughter was the nicest part of the visit.

Most of us who are white skinned do not realize that, in Jane Elliot's phrase, the brown eyed people (many/most of them, not all of them though) look at us white people with skepticism and dubiousness. Rightfully so, given our history. They know how we white people think and comprehend but they also have their own comprehension and thinkings. Very few white people understand this and even rarer are the occasions when white people, in person at least, will be directly let in on these different comprehensions and thinkings. I was gifted with an unspoken acknowledgement of these differences by the laughter of the Acoma woman. I greatly appreciate that she shared her laughter with me.

I doubt that any book will ever be written about the oblivious white people who come for a tour. It would piss off white people and do damage to the Acoma people...even though it would be true...and probably funny in a sad sort of way. But I wish we lived in a human society where such a book was possible. Maybe someday. Other Native Americans have written about their views of white people. If you're interested you can read "Custer Died For Your Sins" by Vine Deloria, Jr. He's a delightful and insightful author.

This "double consciousness" isn't a secret...it's just mostly invisible to white people. We (European ancestored people) don't see it because we are taught not to...our victims have been trying to tell us about this for a long long time...but it evades most of us with white skin because it is uncomfortable and scary and painful...so we mostly pretend it doesn't exist. And we pretend so well that we don't realize we are pretending. It is, in part, what is meant by invisibling.

But...many/most brown-eyed peoples are aware of the pretense and don't buy into the invisibling. They are generally, very wisely, reluctant to let white skinned people know that they comprehend things differently than we do...at least not in person. Because we mostly don't want to hear it and get upset when we do hear it. And...we're dangerous...and if you don't understand that white skinned people are dangerous...go back in this post and read again how that mission was constructed. It's a pretty building that is a monument to European arrogance and violence. In fact, any areas of the planet unlucky enough to have experienced European colonization are invisibled monuments to horror and violence.

That's a long time ago, you say? Well...if that makes you feel better...good. Just don't read anything about Ferguson, or Baltimore or Wounded Knee or or or any of the myriad recent instances of white people harming those they saw as "different". William Faulkner said it best: "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past." But...that makes us uneasy so we white folks ignore it and if we can't ignore it we'll lie about it or minimize it or make excuses for it...anything to avoid taking responsibility and maybe working toward some sort of redemption or rectification. 

I didn't start out to write this much about the Acoma visit. But...it just came out. Acoma is a beautiful place but it was mostly sadness and sorrow that I felt while I was there. I'm happiest that I was able to bring some laughter to the young woman. That was the nicest part of it all, along with the beauty of the land and the plants and the animals and of New Mexico.

Taos trees and mountains, October 2015