Archive | October 2013

Taking it personally (?)

Just as a spoiler: this post might be a little more personal than some of my previous entries. I do, however, stand by everything I’ve written thus far on this blog, and I’m more than satisfied if even one person is moved towards a compassionate lifestyle from reading my posts that leaned more towards informational and instructive. That being said, I’ve been feeling the need to express myself from a more personal standpoint, while still (hopefully) providing any readers with any kind of support/encouragement/hope that they might be needing.

    I wouldn’t be going out on a limb here to say that all those who advocate for a compassionate lifestyle occasionally (some more than others) feel discouraged, occasionally depressed, and perhaps burnt out in some way (the phrase I often hear is “compassion fatigue”). We need to begin by restating what should be obvious, but too often isn’t: this is COMPLETELY normal. There is absolutely no shame in feeling a bit let down or bummed out when your friends, family, and co-workers seem to remain deeply entrenched in their views. Remember: if you’re vegan, you are making a choice that saves lives (both human and animal), improves your health, and helps to create a healthier planet. That’s incredible! What a spectacular gift you give not only to the animals and the earth, but you’re casting a vote in favor of a healthier, more compassionate, more peaceful existence for future generations. That’s one of a most powerful choices you could ever make in your entire life. I mean it.

     If you’re an advocate for a more compassionate lifestyle, living that out practically as a vegan, you may be surprised to find that those close to you will often not feel the same way. Which you will find deeply unsettling and quite often very frustrating. In a perfect world, everyone would have the same experiences that we did: “Oh my word. They do WHAT to those animals? It does WHAT to the earth? It does WHAT to my personal health and overall well being and longevity? I had no idea! That’s absurd/horrific/cruel/disgusting. Bring on the tempeh and kale! I’m obviously never putting decomposing animal body parts or their breast milk into my body again”. This, of course, represents an example of a seamless transition. Some of us had one just like this (I did.) And some of us did not. In light of that, we can often become frustrated when our friends/siblings/uncles/coworkers don’t have the same reaction, and naturally be very confusing for us. There are, of course, a number of reasons why this is the case. Don’t allow yourself to be bogged down in the details. And do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to become obsessively fixated on one single person who you REALLY want to see go vegan, if that person is genuinely repulsed by the notion of comprehensive compassion. It will do you more harm that good, and will cause a seemingly endless amount of frustration. Let it go. Breathe. And breathe some more. Your advocacy efforts need not be focused on those who could care less about the suffering of other sentient beings. Your efforts should instead be focused on those who might be a bit curious about the ethics of compassion and the notions of being kind to all animals, and might be willing to have some conversations about these issues facing our world. 

     Always, always, always remember: What you are doing as a vegan is unbelievably powerful. And even if you might feel alone at times, you are simply one of the millions across the planet who are working to create a more just, merciful, kind, healthy planet. The numbers grow every single day, as people everywhere begin to recognize that they possessed this compassion inside of themselves all along, and consequently begin to make choices that reflect, in the words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, their deepest, truest values. 

     A critical point to remember in closing: in all that you do within your creative, non-violent vegan education, remember to be compassionate towards all, even with those who are opposed to your message of mercy. If we are merely kind to those who are easy to love, or simply compassionate towards one species, we have made a grave error. There is no such thing as a wasted kindness, even towards someone who may not wish to receive it. In doing so, we free our minds, hearts, and spirits to keep doing the work that so desperately needs to be done by those who have an abundance of love and compassion in their hearts, in order to create a gentler, more loving world for all beings who share it.

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Brief reflections on “The Dominion of Love”: Part II

     “..There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”- Issac Bashevis Singer.

 

     In reading through Phelps’ book, “The Dominion of Love”, the reader is quickly reminded of the fact that all forms of violence are inherently interconnected on a fundamental level. Violence committed in action has a counterpart, which is the violence created in the hearts or minds of the perpetrators. This is not always an easy or pleasant subject to deal with, but it’s absolutely critical that we understand this phenomena so as to minimize the suffering and pain not only within the lives of the non-human sentient beings, but within our own spirits as well. Dr. Will Tuttle has written extensively on this idea, speaking to the fact that as we desperately attempt to numb ourselves to the realities of how our food is produced, we slowly erode our internal compassion, mercy, and kindness in regards to not only other species, but our own as well. Conversely, this is why so many individuals who go vegan often find a sense of peace within themselves that they didn’t even know was missing.

     

     Issac Singer experienced an incredible amount of suffering in his lifetime, losing both a brother and mother to the Nazi concentration camps, and narrowly escaping with his own life. It became very clear to Singer that so much of our violence towards both human and non-human animals stems from this singular principle: “the notion that some groups are inherently entitled to our compassion and kindness, while others are not. Once that basic principle is accepted, it is an easy thing to create new classes of victims simply by pushing them outside our perimeter of protection”.

 

     There is certainly cause for hope in our world. Owing to the fact that millions upon millions of people in America alone care for and love their companion animals on a daily basis, and would do anything to provide food, safety, and love to them. Noting this fact, we can rest assured that the seeds of compassion have not been completely choked by weeds of cruelty. As advocates, we must compassionately make the case to those individuals, as well as all others, that if we are to truly have a world of peace and harmony with creation, we must end our violent acts that are wholly unnecessary. There is no moral difference between a cow and a dog, and yet we love the latter while causing suffering and cruelty to the former. There exists no justification for making this distinction, and when we cease to cause harm to any and all sentient beings, we find ourselves being free from the heavy weight of our actions, and we are able to move forward to create a more kind and compassionate world. 

Brief reflections on “The Dominion of Love”: Part I

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     As a species, humans are deeply peculiar in a number of significant ways. We certainly have the capacity for great kindness, compassion, mercy, and consideration for those who are weaker than ourselves. Yet, more often than not, we express the dark, twisted, and deeply disturbing side of our nature, opting to cause great harm, suffering, and death towards the sentient beings that share this planet with us. Far from being at peace with this destruction of life, we turn away from its occurrence, often finding ourselves averting our eyes at the pain we’ve caused, yet nevertheless allowing to to continue. 

     When we consider what the world’s religions have to offer in regards to the treatment of the non-human animals walk this earth with us, we don’t often find the entire picture, but rather bits and pieces we must put together, much like a puzzle of sorts. The guiding principles that create Jainism and Taosim, as a rule, strongly encourage their adherents to live without causing unnecessary harm to the beings around them, human or animal. The Buddhist and Hindu faith traditions likewise call for their followers to engage in principles of non-violence, with a great many members of these faiths opting to incorporate vegetarianism or veganism into their dietary choices, correctly recognizing that using and consuming animals or their by-products causes a tremendous amount of unnecessary agony and suffering to the creatures themselves, and cannot be justified rationally. 

     Norm Phelps reminds us in his work “The Dominion of Love” that we will never truly find a peace within our lives or within our spirits if we continually contribute to a system that perpetuates violence against animals of a horrific magnitude. There is something within the depths of human nature that seeks to protect us from causing harm to ourselves, whether it’s physical or emotional. Additionally, as previously mentioned, none of us with to believe that we’re on the side of the aggressor in situations where cruelty is being carried out against defenseless creatures. This combination of self-protection and the seeds of compassion are often at odds within us, and it is my personal reasoning as to why so many people consciously avoid seeing films that capture the realities of how we treat animals, as well as avoiding websites, books, and individuals that wish to bring this truth to light: they instinctively suspect that the truth might be difficult to handle, and that their behaviors cannot be justified on a moral, ethical, ecological, or spiritual level.

 

     I’ll be reflecting more on the insights gleaned from this book in the days to follow. It’s certainly providing me with a great deal to consider, particularly in respect to how “all violence is interconnected”, and why veganism must be the moral baseline, in the famous words of Francione.

 

When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, should we fight fire with fire?

   When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, should we fight fire with fire?

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According to the principles of Jainism, we must always promote the application of “ahimsa” (something I discussed at length in my most recent post), for when we do harm to another sentient being, we likewise harm ourselves in the process. This process has been shown throughout history to be dangerously accurate, when we consider (as one example from many) the stories of slaughterhouse workers experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other mental concerns, to say nothing of the worryingly high rates of spousal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and high levels of incarceration in these communities. Data can quite often give us a clear perspective on the truth, and the truth that ahimsa teaches is cause for concern; truly, its quite evident that when we cause harm to those who are defenseless, it certainly causes a deep and ugly from of internal destruction within our minds and our spirits, something that can take years to heal.

Recently, the website OneGreenPlanet.com covered a news story concerning comments that were made by the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki. In light of the swath of ivory-related killings taking place across the continent, Kagasheki’s opinion on how to handle the issue is below:

“Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens…The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.”

Understandably, Kagasheki’s comments have divided the animal rights community. After all, some of these poachers will inevitably be so motivated by the idea of becoming rich through the the black market ivory trade that they would be willing to risk death many times over to profit in this unfortunately lucrative business. As most animal and human rights activists would attest to, justice is a powerful motivator, and it would be very natural for us to hold to the idea that if a poacher was executed for his actions against defenseless creatures, justice would certainly be served, and no one would bat an eye.

Then again, in the course of our personal growth and development, we must learn to restrain ourselves at times when we feel most overwhelmed, emotional, or heated. As an animal activist, my heart breaks when I learn that African elephant populations are being pushed to the brink by illegal poaching, and I desperately want the unnecessary violence and bloodshed to end. When considering options to stem the tide, however, do we not run the risk of creating an internalized violence by allowing ourselves to harbor hate, bitterness, and unchecked anger against our fellow human beings? Francione has put this sentiment succinctly, by being “violently against violence” (a bit tongue in cheek, of course); he reminds us that we have never, ever put an end to violence on any level by attacking the institutionalized action (in this case, the poachers themselves); rather, it is only through changing people’s hearts through non-violent vegan education that true change can occur. If we focus on this approach, changing the hearts and minds of the people, demand itself will decrease, causing the ivory trade to simply fade away. We can be quite sure that the majority of these poachers do not have a personal vendetta against elephants; there is simply a great deal of financial incentive in store for those who are willing to risk personal safety and now, possibly, death, in order to gain access to the elephant’s tusks. We cannot, and will not, solve the issue (however heartbreaking) by adding more death into the equation. Although it might momentarily feel “good” to know that those are creating such violence and destruction towards these beautiful animals might be dealt with in  “just” manner, adding to the death toll (regardless of species) is not by any means a long term solution, and the short term repercussions include supreme violations of human rights as well as the potential to stoke tensions between differing factions within these countries.

Would I ever condone the actions of these individuals? Absolutely not. But that does not mean that we must end their lives on the spot, without due process of a trial and sentencing? I would likewise disagree. Violence in one form does not excuse or justify a violent response. While there should certainly be severe repercussions for these individuals, killing cannot be justified from a moral or ethical perspective, if we truly consider ourselves to be practitioners of a non-violent lifestyle.

Dealing with social justice fatigue: how applying the principle of Ahimsa can help.

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”- Gandhi.

     It is both the blessing and the curse of those who work towards social justice to be engaged in a variety of confrontational settings. The brave souls who fought to abolish the horrific act of slavery were undoubtedly engaged in a thoroughly thankless task, toiling to bring an end to the tragedy that they viewed, correctly, as a crime against humanity. Those who fought for the rights of women to be considered as equals to men were likewise asked to work incredibly hard to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of certain norms that brought both genders up to the same level of worthiness, and that fight continues to this day, albeit in a different form. And there are those who have fought alongside our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, being diligent in their efforts to create a world in which we could show kindness, compassion, and love for all people, irrespective of their orientation.

     These individuals who have rallied about these various social justice causes often go unrecognized in their efforts; their struggles are not always applauded, and in many cases, they fight against the primary perceptions of the world, and those who fight against the “isms” in our history (racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, ageism, along with homophobia) must often do their vital work with a certain disconnect in their hearts, in order to simply continue onwards. For to acknowledge the weight of the matters at hand, to come to terms with the magnitude of the battle before them, can at times feel as if it is too much to bear.

     

     Throughout the course of human history, we have slowly begun to see the fruit of these labors. That being said, the progress that many social justice advocates has made is admirable, although in many cases we still have a long way to go in creating the world that we want to see, a world that we can be proud to leave behind to future generations. 

     

     In light of these social justice issues, one of the more recent struggles that has come to light is the fight against species-ism, which is the belief that one species in superior to another in some significant capacity. The notion that it is morally reprehensible to cause unnecessary harm to sentient, and defenseless, beings, is slowly beginning to take root in the hearts of many individuals across the globe. Having worked in this arena for only a few short years, I have been immensely privileged to watch people open their hearts to their deepest, most true values and principles of kindness, compassion, and mercy towards the most vulnerable beings that share this incredible planet with us.

     

     While there is remarkable progress being made on a daily basis by some of the most incredible activists all around the globe, we do occasionally find ourselves in situations with individuals who simply refuse to have intelligent, thoughtful, and rational conversations about some of the key issues surrounding a compassionate lifestyle, and they rely instead on their own assumptions to guide their opinions, choosing to ignore a reality of their own making. The conversations an animal activist might have with these individuals can so often be frustrating, agonizing, and exhausting for both parties involved, and at times can feel as if little progress in being made. If you’re anything like myself, you tend to allow these interactions to eat away at you, letting yourself obsessively focus on what could have been said more appropriately, or perhaps working to identify their particular cognitive dissonance. It can be overwhelming, to say in the least.

 

     In these situations, as in many others, it can be an invaluable help for us to apply the principle of Ahimsa. The term itself is Sanskrit in origin, and is in fact a primary tenet of several major Eastern religions. One certainly does not have to be a practitioner these faith-systems to gain deep peace and insight from this principle of Ahimsa, as it should be considered a very universal concept in both definition and application. Upon brief examination, we learn that Ahimsa in the principle of non-violence, based on the idea that when violence is committed against another being (regardless of species), that violent act will return to harm you in some form or fashion. We can explore this idea in terms of how it relates to our animal activism below:

 

1. Our conversations with those who appear defensive or antagonistic must be filled with compassion and kindness.

     When we engage in conversation with someone who is aggressive or stubborn concerning veganism, our natural reaction ( at least internally) is to think that they are a “bad” person who might never change. We may allow ourselves to believe that they’re impossible to help, and to judge them for this misguided choices. But if we allow these thoughts to creep into our consciousness, are we not also harming ourselves emotionally by creating an arena of negative energy to dominate our mind? No good can come of this. Darkness does not beget light. 

 

2. As activists, we must never forget that everyone contains the seeds of compassion, and our harvest must be gentle.

     As vegans, we are often taken with the belief that we are somehow different, or special, in regards to how we arrived at our compassionate lifestyles. When we allow ourselves to belief this, we create a sense of refined ego, and pride can creep in, which would cause a harm either within us, and quite often how we would externalize this pride is very harmful, running contrary to Ahimsa. The overwhelming majority of us were not born as vegans; rather, we saw the truth later in life and our hearts were opened to the compassion and kindness we had in us all along. We must never, ever forget that those around us are on a journey that is beautifully unique to them, and we must be gentle and kind in helping them to empower themselves to look deep into their own spirit and find the mercy that was inside of them all along. Some vegans look as this principle as “excusing” the immoral actions of omnivores; I would never argue that we do such a thing. Rather, we must present the truth as we would want it presented to us: in a manner that is loving, respectful, and considerate.

 

3. We must know when its healthy to walk away.

     Activists: we are nothing if not (seemingly) tireless. In our fight for the defenseless, in our being the voice for the voiceless, we can often be extremely tenacious in our pursuit of shining the light into the darkness, particularly in situations where we find ourselves up against someone who is violently opposed to the truth. We often relish the “hard cases”, finding an enjoyment is attempting to show these individuals the truth they so often desperately wish to avoid, for their own particular set of reasons. The animals, people, and the environment desperately need us to continue practicing non-violent, creative, vegan education, but if we harbor bitterness, anger, and self-righteousness in our hearts and minds, we let down not only those who need us most, but we injure ourselves in deep and significant ways, violating the tenets of Ahimsa. We must allow ourselves to have moments where can lose ourselves in an encouraging conversations with a friend, a wonderful book, or a favorite television show. We must allow ourselves to take time out to heal, to recover, and to re-energize. In doing so, we can apply the elements of Ahimsa by causing no harm to ourselves, to others, and to the beings that share this life with us.

Glimpses into the culture’s skewed views on gender and consumption habits.

   “Yes, i realize that WHAT we eat is a personal decision, but WHO we eat is not”. – Kim Flaherty

 

 Humanity is tribal at its core. From an anthropological perspective, we have always sought out a certain level of homogeneity between those with whom we associate, and we seek security, comfort, and affirmation within our own tribal circles. This sociological phenomenon is deeply felt in regards to how we define, categorize, and consume certain foods with respect to particular gender norms. 

    I stumbled upon an ad today when I was browsing the daily news, and while it wasn’t entirely surprising in theme and tone, it did catch me off guard a bit. It was an advertisement for a Dr. Pepper brand of soda, and while I don’t know the exact name of the soda itself, it involved being only 10 calories and being “for men”. Now, perhaps I’m a bit behind the times in terms of how we divide soda consumption (the destructive health issues surrounding their consumption, I’m well aware of), but I has under the impression that sodas were inherently gender-neutral. But what really raised my eyebrows was the tagline at the bottom corner of the advert: “Click if you like bacon”. This bit of advertisement, to the best of my understanding, was making an explicit connection between men, this soda, and bacon.

     This form of messaging smacks of the themes that Carol Adams succinctly highlighted in her work “The Sexual Politics of Meat” , and the takeaway from this messaging is that men are to consume bacon, and presumably wash it down with a can of low-calorie (but still manly!) soda. This form of messaging also reminds me of the work of Dr. Will Tuttle, where he notes that ever since we have become a herding culture, it has been the duty of men to domesticate, dominate, and oppress non-human animals for whatever resources they can provide us with. Never mind the fact that we’ve known for decades that even moderate amounts of red meat can cause terrifyingly high levels of heart disease, which is (by far) the number one killer of men in America, with levels of mortality rising around the world as other countries adopt our dietary habits. Tuttle reminds us that it has been the norm for centuries for older men to teach the younger generation to suppress their internal compass of compassion, in order to be “dominant”. 

     We have created a culture that insists that it is the domain of men to consume dangerously high levels of animal proteins, which we conclusively know that these actions foster a number of physiological dangers, including but not limited to a number of diseases that derive from this behavior, as well as the highly increased mortality rate. What does it say about our culture’s definition of masculinity when we glorify making cruel, unhealthy, and selfish choices?

Brief review of “Eat Like You Care” by Gary Francione.

     I’ve had the sincere privilege of reading a great number of works by a host of intelligent, passionate authors who have, in many cases, dedicated their lives to being a voice for the voiceless and creating a more peaceful, compassionate world. I wish to begin by stating that while many of these books have shaped my thinking about the larger picture of veganism and how to become a more effective advocate for animals, I’ve come to realize that “Eat Like You Care”, Gary Francione’s and Anna Charlton’s newest work, is certainly in the running for being the most effective, rational, and powerful argument for veganism that I have ever come across. The book itself is not terribly long, only a little over one hundred pages. It begins with a few disclaimers: the authors do not attempt to present a case for the defense of animals rights, and they do not seek to persuade the reader that animals and humans have equal moral value. These statements help to put the non-vegan audience at ease, for many books have proposed the aforementioned ideas and fought for them, but this book does not seek to recover those ideas. Francione and Charlton seek to help the reader understand that we must commit ourselves to a compassionate vegan lifestyle due to a belief in two ideas that the vast majority of us already accept. The ideas are as follows:

 

1. “We have a moral obligation not to impose unnecessary suffering on animals”. 

     For the purposes of this concept, Francione proposes that we can agree on the idea that we have no true need to cause pain and suffering on animals for our entertainment or our enjoyment. 

2. “Although animals matter morally, humans matter more”. 

     The authors do not take a great deal of time to unpack this statement, owing to the fact that this idea has already been explored in many previous works, and since most people already agree with it, it’s acceptable to continue from this point. If we were to find ourselves in a terrible life-and-death sort of situation in which we could either save a human or an animal, most of us would opt to save the human, and Francione has no qualms about this. But during the 99.99% of our lives, we never encounter these types of situations, and therefore we cannot justify an unnecessary allowance of suffering and cruelty towards a sentient being. 

     If we accept the notion that truth is not relative, that is has to have some sort of foundation to it, then we are left with a very black and white understanding to the aforementioned statements: either is it morally acceptable to be cruel and to cause suffering to sentient beings, or it is morally unacceptable, and therefore we must become ethical vegans. It is logically fallacious to believe that both positions can be morally acceptable. This notion that we love and care for certain animals yet condemn others to horrific lives of unimaginable cruelty is so terribly archaic that it must quickly be dismissed to the dustbin of outdated views, along with sexism and racism. If we consider ourselves to be rational being, capable of kindness, mercy, and compassion, and filled with the wonder of the natural world spread before us, we must go vegan. If we wish to leave behind a more peaceable, healthy planet to our children and grandchildren, we must go vegan. If we wish to find an end to the nightmarish levels of violence perpetrated against all living beings, human and non-human, we must go vegan. 

     I would highly encourage both non-vegans and vegans alike to pick up a few copies of the book to read and to share with friends and family. Veganism is only radical so far as the notions of comprehensive compassion, mercy and kindness are “extreme”. We exist within a world that tells us that abuse, exploitation, and cruelty are acceptable norms. Deep down, we know this unacceptable and horrific, much as many activists before our time knew that slavery was wrong, that sexism was wrong, and a host of other “norms” we one held as perfectly tolerable. As activists, we must remember to always teach creative, non-violent vegan education to as many as we can. In doing so, we free ourselves from the bonds of a culture that glorifies oppression, and arrive at a deep inner peace that can only be found when compassion is practiced as a daily expression of love and kindness.