Reading Wuthering Heights: An Appreciation

I just finished Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time, leaving Lockwood poetically musing at the graves of Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff, those quiet sleepers in the quiet earth. Those final lines are the culmination of a poetry-infused final section of roughly twenty pages, in which Heathcliff’s character as the greatest mourner in literature comes to the fore as he wills himself to death in order to achieve his heaven, reunion with Catherine, the only person in his tormented life with whom he has ever known happiness.

Emily Bronte was first and foremost a poet, not a writer of prose, although she had blended storytelling with poetry, penning long story poems, harbingers of her great prose work; however, I sense that having gotten through writing most of Wuthering Heights, in the end, she relapsed into poetry, especially when it came to her favorite poetic topic, death. Thus, we have those mellifluous words, haunting words, sonorous and rhythmic phrases gracing the final pages.  Start reading where Nelly Dean tells Lockwood, when he happens to be in the vicinity of Gimmerton and returns to Wuthering Heights, how Heathcliff’s death came about; then, we are privy to Heathcliff’s previous eighteen year-long, unrelenting grief. It requires Bronte’s poetry for Heathcliff to explain the phenomenon of living with a dream of death so sustained that it finally consumes his existence, defeating even his desire for revenge.

I can read a novel more than once, indeed several times, although I must ration it so as to not to completely wear it out — but, who can wear out poetry? Lines of verse are like scripture for the religious. One can memorize them and refer to them and reflect and call them to mind when needed. Amen. That evergreen quality of poetry helps explain why I can read Wuthering Heights limitlessly, but that does not mean to discount the novelistic aspects that I enjoy undiminished by great repetition: I study how the plot fits together, particularly over the complicated temporal landscape of two generations; I cozy up to my old friends and enter the world of two remote houses in the 18th century. It is not a welcome or desirable world, but it has the comfort of the familiar. Of the two houses, I, as a spoiled native of suburban comfort, would prefer to live at the Grange, with Nelly Dean to make up the fire, bring me soup, and tell me stories. Despite those  elements of narrative, character, and setting that hold up well to repeated use, it is the poetry above all that will support and sustain the pleasure of having the novel in my hands yet again even now, right after putting it down. I know of no other book that I can say that about.  I know of no other book comparable to Wuthering Heights. I am still in the phase of coming out from under the spell. “Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish how will I seek the empty world again.”  Bronte wrote that in the voice of a mourner in a poem with the first lines, “Cold in the earth and the deep snow piled above thee.”  Yes, I have to seek the real world again.

 

The Morality of Horseback Riding

In considering the question whether horseback riding is wrong under an anti-specieisist morality, I have developed a two-part test. However, before applying it to that case at hand, I will briefly reiterate what an anti-specieisist approach to nonhuman animals entails. Peter Singer clarified that all animals have different interests, but that differences in interests are not the relevant consideration in determining how to treat nonhuman animals; the question is “do they suffer.” Humans are not morally entitled to regard their own species as the only species whose suffering matters — ethical concerns should not begin and end with the human species.  We are all animals, we all suffer, and, unless we want to embrace a philosophy of “might makes right,” our conscience should operate for other species, not just our own.  Such is his theory, or, at least, as I understand and apply it.

How an anti-speciesist viewpoint translates to the everyday is clear in many respects: vivisection, meat production, separating a mother from its young, hunting — all manner of treatment that is defended on the grounds that it is acceptable when done to “just animals,” but which would be abhorrent if perpetrated on humans. There are some areas of human / nonhuman interaction that require more thought. A case in point is horseback riding.

One might argue that demanding a horse to do the bidding of a human “uses” the nonhuman animal, which is per se immoral because we would not do such a thing to a human. First, in relying on what we do to humans as a guide for what we do to nonhuman animals, we must understand the degree to which we also use humans and how relevant our use of a human is as a point of moral reference in determining the morality of using a horse. Emmanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher whose statements on morality make up most of Philosophy 101, established that people should not be a means to an end, i.e. we should not use humans. However, we do exactly that routinely. Think about hiring someone to do a job. Kant makes an exception when both parties freely agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement; in such cases the injunction against using people as a means to an end does not pertain. Is it possible, though, for a nonhuman (in this case, a horse) to agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement? One would say no because the two parties do not have equal bargaining power. Therefore, we cannot use a nonhuman because it cannot feely agree – such is the conclusion that follows in equating horses with humans. However, equines are not human, having, as Singer established, different interests. For example, horses do not mind and seem to enjoy standing in a large field at night in cold temperatures, whereas a human and many other species would not like that or even survive the night. Therefore, we cannot use a human standard about interests in evaluating everything that a horse does or might be asked to do. Also, there are even humans for whom Kant’s free- agreement paradigm does not apply.  Children do not feely agree to many demands put upon them, but it is not considered immoral to compel them to do a great many things. Further, to rebut Kant for a moment, it is debatable whether humans actually have the free will to make the choice to be in many of the “using” arrangements that occur in life. Factor in DNA, heredity, nurture, environment, and happenstance and the question of just how free our will is, just how freely we enter into “using” arrangements, is not at all so determinable in favor of free will. Whether we are freely exercising choice in life is certainly questionable.

We would not need a two-part test to answer the horseback riding question if the standard by which we judge is solely by equating horses to human: they cannot freely enter into the arrangement, therefore it is immoral. However, based on the fact that horses and humans do have different interests, I suggest that we need to go farther, and that is where the two-part test comes in. For the first part, we must ask: are we treating the nonhuman as an individual or a commodity.  To understand commoditization, I will relate an anecdote that brought home to me the evils of that practice. David Foster Wallace in an essay about his visit as a journalist to a Midwestern state fair,  tours the farm animal exhibits and brings the reader along with him. The  reality of the swine hall haunts me. He describes how one pig exhibited great distress, such that he thought the creature was suffocating.  He felt an innate alarm and looked around for the owner to alert him that the pig was suffering, maybe about to die –then he realized that the “exhibitor” could hardly be bothered about one pig’s suffering.  They were all going to be killed; were raised to be killed. Incidentally, after the “Swine Hall,” he felt great relief when he visited the equine hall and knew that the “winner” would not be hauled off to the slaughter house.)  What that anecdote from the essay shows is creatures viewed as commodities. That pig was not an individual; it did not have a name; no human was concerned about its individual welfare; any veterinary treatment it had ever received was part of a program not for its welfare, but for the mass; its death would either be a monetary loss or gain. It is born for profit, is kept alive for profit, and dies for profit.

Even creatures whom we name, give veterinary treatment, and recognize as having something of an individual identity might still not be anything more than a commodity. Race horses come to mind in this category; they certainly have names, the vet is called for any lameness, they have a groom and riders, and a great deal of attention paid to them; however, none of that counters the underlying view of them as a commodity.  They are like gladiators—well treated only to the degree that it enhances their usefulness as a money-making proposition. Of course, there are exceptions for the few famous horses.  But for each Seabiscuit or Secretariat or Barbaro there are thousands of thoroughbred horses put through the mill and discarded. That means that they are still viewed as a commodity.  All creatures raised for food are soundly in the commodity category, and some other nonhumans – such as horses and dogs used for sport —  might or might not be. Even if a creature does not fall into the category of a commodity, it of course can still be abused; hence the second part of the test, which asks: are we treating the nonhuman with kindness that approximates a golden rule-type principle befitting the interests of the kind of creature. Perhaps even more than our tendency toward commoditization, we have a great tendency to be abusive. We abuse many creatures who are often not viewed as commodities – children, spouses, elders, whomever is vulnerable. That reminds me, as an aside, that the movement for prevention of cruelty to animals sprung up in England in the 19th century after the publication of the novel Black Beauty; the leaders of that movement addressed cruelty not only to horses but also to children.

So, let’s apply the test – am I treating the nonhuman as a commodity and am I being cruel or kind to that creature. Here is one case at one end of the spectrum: the beloved family dog. No vegan or ardent animal rights advocate would question that having the company of a dog is morally wrong. Why? Because the last thing the dog is for us is a commodity.  The well-cared for dog has a name, which goes beyond identification like the name of a racehorse: its name expresses our view of the creature’s identity and his or her special place in our lives. The dog is well fed (sometimes clothed), given veterinary attention, love, and respect for its wishes.  When he or she dies, we mourn. We do not view his or her passing as an economic boon or as dinner on the way. Although there is always the potential for abuse, under the second prong of the test we would say that they are treated with kindness; we walk them, caress them, get them comfy beds, and care that they are living a good life. Now, there are dogs, however, who are “used” by humans.  They are educated from puppyhood to perform for human benefit; they are bomb sniffing dogs, police dogs, rescue dogs, sled dogs, seeing eye dogs, medical alert dogs, comfort dogs, guard dogs. Is that acceptable to an anti-speciesist morality? I think that under the typical vegan-animal rights evaluation, such uses of the dog would pass muster, assuming that the dog was well-treated.  It cannot pass muster on the basis that the dog agreed to perform any given role, which is the standard we would propose for a human in a using arrangement.  It must be, therefore, that application of the two-part test reveals that working, per se, in not inimical to vegan ethics. We humans are coerced in a sense to work.  We are not entitled to do nothing. I could regard putting on panty hose, carrying a heavy load of documents, navigating mass transportation to a day of confinement in an office with short breaks to maintain my sanity as less than my ideal way of life, but such was the work I had for many years and such is life. Let’s remember Darwin who observed carefully and came up with the all-encompassing truth that life is a struggle.  For me, then, I think that having a job is not repugnant, even if the dog did not request it; however, in that inherently unequal using arrangement the demands on kindness by the more powerful party are exceptionally high. Indeed, there is no situation in life that requires our kindness more than when dealing with a nonhuman because it is the most vulnerable of creatures.

The working dog example, in addition to suggesting that work imposed on a nonhuman is not necessarily morally repugnant nor so dissimilar from what humans do, also reveals the constructive quid pro quo defining the existence of the domesticated nonhuman animal — the arrangement of “this for that” even if not actually agreed to. It is true that the dog is acting at the behest of another without having overtly accepted the assignment, yet it cannot be said that he does not benefit from the arrangement. As lives go, he might and can be seen to exhibit every indication of content in his job. It is obvious when a creature is suffering and not so much less obvious when he is satisfied with the state of things. That situation describes the idea of the imputed contract of domestication—nonhumans lend humans a hand and humans give back in return with food, shelter, care, attention, affection and a home free of the harshest aspects of living in the wild. On that latter point, let us not forget that nature is very harsh.

From working dogs, we move to working horses, since a horse can be said to be working when it is ridden. To what degree does using a horse for riding equate to the uses listed for dogs? Is it moral under the two-part test? I posit that if using dogs passes muster, then, a fortiori, using horses for riding does as well because dogs have a place in the human world purely as companions that horses do not have. So, if we can accept using our idle companions, we can come to terms with using a creature that would not exist if not for use. (With regard to that last assertion, few are the people who have a horse just as a companion.  The requirements for land, the upkeep of at least one other horse to satisfy the horses need for equine companionship, and the cost of room and board are so great that they must fit into some other scheme than a companion creature.)

Positing a horse owner of the type that I am, I will proceed with applying the test. First,  the human who keeps a horse does not view the horse as a commodity. The horse is not owned for the purpose of monetary gain—as I write that I wonder if the gross understatement will be recognized (anyone who has a horse will get it). The riding horse is not kept to fetch a good price or to serve as a main course.  The horse has a name and a very distinct identity – what does the individual like to eat, how many blankets does he need, how often does he get shoes, what weather does he do best in.  The concerns for his welfare are too numerous to list. The death of a horse occasions some of the most intense grief I have ever witnessed, which attests to the strength of its individuality and the bond with the human. The foregoing itemization of individual needs also addresses the second part of the test: is the horse treated kindly in accordance with its equine interests. There the individual human makes a difference; there are abuses, but that a situation can be abused is not an argument against its existence.  That statement is a rather facile argument, however, which would not hold up if there were rampant abuse, such that even if some people could be kind, so many were not such that it would be best to abolish riding horses altogether. I am of the view that the abuses are not so great as to justify the end of riding on that basis alone, and would prefer combatting the abuses.  However, whether the abuse outweighs the ostensibly good aspects of riding is an empirical question for which I have no data, just anecdotal experience of my own.

Therefore, if the horse is not a commodity and it is treated kindly, riding him or her is not immoral unless, as with the dog, imposing a job on the horse per se is immoral. The job alone might be a problem for many, although I don’t know how such people would come out on the question of working dogs.  As for horses, there is a popular opposition to the carriage horses in New York City. Oddly though, I have not heard the same concerns for police horses. I would rather stand in the traces and saunter slowly around the park than stand around with a cop on my back.  Of course, as required by the second part of the test, these horses must be treated with kindness consistent with their interests, and that is where I see the problem equally for both of these working horses.  It is not that they work during the day, if the job is subject to reasonable standards as should apply to any worker human or nonhuman, but rather that the horses never get to enjoy a pasture or field where they can indulge their natural behaviors.  If they live in the metropolitan area, they live in a stall.

The horse whose job is carrying a human around for pleasure and sport, I would conclude, is not inherently treated immorally. It is not commoditized and is treated well –at least by me.  And it is my actions that concern me most in writing this analysis.  I don’t think for a moment that I am persuading anyone that riding a horse is or can be squared with an antispeciesist-vegan morality.  I know from experience that I am powerless to convince anyone of anything. If I can show a generally decent person how farm animals are treated and that person still feels okay with participating in that atrocity, then I certainly cannot convince anyone on a question having as much nuance as this one. In addition to not seeking to persuade, I do not need to mount a case to protect my continued enjoyment of my equine activity; no one threatens that. I have meandered through this issue for myself.  As the Stoic Seneca said, “Don’t ask why you learned this thing, you did it for yourself.”  Beyond Stoic self -sufficiency, I am wary of being the fish that does not know he is swimming in water.  I have for so much of my life, like most people, accepted whatever culture handed out as the way to live, only to finally realize that just knowing what part of culture to question is a huge first step.  I know not to think that just because we have ridden horses for centuries it must be okay to do it.  If something has been done for centuries it has all the indicia of very much needing to be questioned. I am open to the possibility that I will someday decide that I was wrong. So, I have questioned. Now I will quit cogitating and drive to the barn with my large bag of carrots, brush my horse, rub his face and behind his ears with a towel, show him my love and then respectfully request that he indulge me for an hour.

 

 

Another Fabulous NYC Restaurant

Re: When Meat is Your Destination by Pete Wells New York Times February 8, 2017

Dear Mr. Wells,

Your review of the restaurant White Gold Butchers certainly is long overdue. I have been searching for a place to find meat, meat, and more meat. I was beginning to think there was a shortage and that those pesky animal rights advocates had started to illuminate people about the torment of farm animals. But no, thank god—the torment still goes on.  Kudos to the chefs for buying whole animals, but you didn’t say whether they buy them alive or dead. Why not give diners a real treat and let them choose the live animal and kill it then and there? How fresh its flesh will be!  Who cares about screams and blood flowing and the aroma of death filling the room.  Death is so good when it happens to something we can sink our teeth into. We can stand by and not just watch but grab some bread to sop up the blood—why not? we love it when it drips from the chunk of flesh on our plate. While eating, we diners can visualize what the meal looked like before its final agony to our greater enjoyment, since suffering adds that special zest to any meal.

I will be calling for my Valentine’s reservation today, not only because I love animals (ha ha to eat!) but because my health is still a little too good.  I am still working on my gout, heart decease, and high bad cholesterol. I have a huge gut and am a good thirty pounds overweight, but I don’t care if I am starting to look like my dinner when it was alive. Who cares that meat has no fiber and I will get chronic constipation taking me to diverticulitis; I have had the pleasure of eating hearts and guts (offal they are called as you point out– what a quaint anglo-saxon word that sound just like the adjective that describes it) and know that I have the privilege as a homo sapien of tormenting and taking the life of other creatures and gobbling them up like the charming ogre of fairy tales. (Big grin showing my yellowing choppers, which are not exactly made to tear through flesh but work fine once the flesh is tenderized for my herbivore molars).

I will make sure to meet these creative chefs who have devoted their lives to cutting up animals and finding new ways to simmer the legs of babies (and the little ones do taste best—give me lamb and calf and piglet—the mother didn’t want her offspring anyway—better off in my tummy!)

Thanks again Mr. Wells, see you in the ICU and in hell (aka, White Gold Butchers)

Sincerely,

Laura Inman

 

 

 

 

 

Coerced Morality

Is it good enough for a person to stop doing an immoral act at the request of another if he does not believe that the act is wrong? That is the general articulation of the following question that I came across on Facebook recently: my fiancé will stop eating meat because I have told him I cannot marry him if he doesn’t become vegan, but he says that he doesn’t agree that there is anything wrong with eating meat and is abstaining just for my sake. Is that good enough?

First, I want to leave out any considerations of whether he will resent his “sacrifice” and take it out in other ways because such possible consequences depend entirely on his personality and the dynamic of that relationship, which are not pertinent to the general discussion of the morality of doing something when your heart isn’t in it.

The first premise to establish is that giving up meat is a moral action: it is a refusal to participate in or perpetuate the misery, suffering, and terrifying death of conscious, sentient creatures who are animals just as humans are animals. Anyone who doubts the misery, suffering, and terrible death can easily come to understand that reality by the most cursory research and application of imagination.

Desisting from acts of cruelty is moral under any of the following notions of morality, deontological or utilitarian. As for the former, refusing to participate in cruelty constitutes doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, which is the Golden Rule.  Not participating in cruelty is also a maxim (in the terminology of Emmanuel Kant) that you would want as a universal law: you would want everyone, universally, to do the same action and therefore the action is moral. Also, another way of seeing the immorality of participating in the cruelty of meat and dairy production is by evaluating whether a powerful group is pursuing a self-serving action to the severe detriment of a less powerful one. Clearly that is the case because the meat and dairy industries benefit financially from the suffering and death of scores on nonhumans every day.  From a utilitarian standpoint, with its focus on the consequential amount of suffering, the enormity of suffering to nonhumans caused by the meat and dairy industries show the actions of those industries to be immoral as is perpetuating them by consuming  meat and dairy.

Therefore, the fiancé in giving up meat is willy-nilly acting morally; however, is that morality undermined by his state of mind? One response would be a resounding “no” from the Existentialist school of thought. According to Existentialists we are the sum of our actions—the only thing that matters is actions, thus the maxim, “existence before essence.” When applied to everyday examples, the truth of that position appears. If I sat around claiming that I cared greatly about the homeless, couldn’t sleep at night for thinking about them on the sidewalk, and with every bite of food wished I could share with them, but I do nothing at all, my state of mind is morally meaningless. I have to do something or abstain from something, not just think, because morality deals with actions (as seen from the above statements of how to judge morality). Conversely, if I sacrifice my time, money, and comfort to achieve some result that does not directly serve my aggrandizement I am acting morally. (Note, on the topic of whether an action can be moral if you derive some benefit, such as satisfaction, from doing it, Kant argued that any act that is motivated by the desire to achieve a result or is consistent with an inclination is not moral because the only really moral act comes purely from duty.  I think he then went on to conclude that there was no action in reality that could be divorced entirely from self-interest, so I won’t delve into the degree to which giving up meat and dairy is not self-interested in some way).  All of the above ideas about the necessity of an action finds expression in the adage: actions speak louder than words or, in this case more precisely, thoughts.

Last, the fiancé who foregoes meat upon request is acting morally as opposed to hypocritically. Peter Singer wrote that “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”  That bit of philosophical poetry expresses the central fact of hypocrisy that the hypocrite knows what is virtuous and what is bad because he gives lip service to the first and acts in accord with the latter; thus, in Singer’s phrase, the hypocrite even while acting badly acknowledges verbally, i.e. pays tribute virtue to, the right action. Every hypocritical action entails words versus deeds, good words and bad deeds — it is never the other way around, bad thoughts or words and good action. The inconsistency between words and deeds runs only one way – why? Because words / thoughts are not important – actions are. In our example at hand, it would be hypocritical if the fiancé voiced his thoughts on animals to express his love for them and concern about their treatment and then ordered the cheeseburger.  It is not hypocritical to say or think whatever he thinks he might believe at some point in time while refusing to participate in animal cruelty.

That digression into the nature of hypocrisy brings us back to morality and the nature of it as something concerned with actions, doing to others, acting as you would have the world act, acting so as not to contribute to the suffering of others.  Where nonhumans are concerned, just get it straight who “the others” are—all sentient beings.

Philosophy aside, there is still the “Dear Abbey” aspect of the question, and in that regard, I have to say that I would like a fiancé who would give up meat and dairy for me. He is really smitten with me, flexible-minded, or maybe even Stoic enough not to think that his palette is of the highest importance; he possibly knows that far from being hungry, he will eat delicious food and be in better shape and health than before. Over time our tastes can change, and the action will become a self-fulfilling prophecy — a moral vegan will be born.

I, Animal

It is a well-established fact that language perpetuates the agenda of the powerful because the group in control creates language just as it creates society. Take, for example, men as the group in control. Our language reflects male dominance at every turn. “Man” is the name given to the species; alternatively there is “homo sapiens” and “homo” itself denotes the male not the female. I will not go into gender in language, as that topic could support a symposium of essays. My quarrel is with the speciesism of our language that serves to continue in the most pervasive and insidious ways the ideas that human beings enjoy a special privilege and have moral obligations only to other human beings. Just as euphemisms allow humans to hide their atrocities behind words, as George Orwell pointed out in “Politics and the English Language,” so do terms and phrases support our depraved treatment of nonhuman animals.

The first and overarching instance of human bias comes with the use of the word “animal.” There on the front page of the New York Times today is a statement “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” Clearly there is something horrible going on (and of course I would say that no creature should be “slaughtered”), but the linguistic subtext is that humans are not animals. Has anyone disproven the validity of Carlos Linnaeus’s taxonomy of animal, vegetable, and mineral? There, in that first category is the species homo sapiens. Does anyone doubt that we are animal? Why is that derogatory?  Our language has made “animal” a handy insult.  “You are acting like an animal” is so common that it reinforces the idea that humans are not animal and that non-humans are depraved and beneath “us.”

Then there are the euphemisms, which are as bad as the political ones that Orwell denounced. We do not have a dead cow for dinner, or ground up cow, or the flesh of a pig for dinner, we have beef and pork.  The worst of all is the marketing phrase, “grass feed beef.” Beef does not eat grass, cows do. Also, there are a slew of colloquial expressions like, “I have my own fish to fry,” “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” and “Filthy as a pig.”

Culture, informed by religious tradition and a myriad of insecurities that lead to the human need to feel superior by all means to something, have subjugated animals and created a language to support that endeavor. The more we identify ourselves in our speech accurately, as animals, the more difficult it would be to accept the atrocities that we heap upon them.

We are animals. We do have instinct. We are mammals who are born, suffer, and die just like all the other animals. Why must we feel the need to be above?  Why the recurring drive to put things in a hierarchy with the most powerful at the self -designated top, giving license for any kind of deplorable behavior?

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the parent of modern Stoicism, classed humans and the other species as one in considering that we all have a special talent. Man, he said, has a special talent and so do each of the other species. Seneca said that Man’s special talent was reason. With all due respect, I beg to differ (which questioning Seneca would endorse because he did not think anyone should follow the views of others without applying one’s own power of reason). I think, and the many recent studies of “animal” (non-human) cognition support my view, that other species do have reasoning ability even if it is not identical to Man’s. As a second basis to differ, sadly, there is more evidence of hypocrisy and cruelty as Man’s unique talents.

The New Yorker, Highbrow Ignorance

The New Yorker never ceases to amaze me in its split personality. On the one hand, the view of the magazine’s contributors (and the tenor of the thing as a whole) is hard core liberal of the most literate kind, suggesting that its staff and contributing writers are highly educated, reasonable, insightful, and compassionate. There is another side to this group of oracles of the erudite message, however, which is as backwater and uninformed as the hairiest yahoo. I first encountered the underbelly of the glorious beast in a restaurant review of Benoit Restaurant, in which the food critic delightfully described how the chef (aka Dr. Evil in my view) served up whole piglets to celebrate spring. To complement that are articles about barbecue that seem more suited to Redneck’s Home Journal than a magazine claiming itself as a spokesman of sorts for one of the most enlightened cities in the world.

Now we have one of the team, Nathan Heller, who apparently was absent from the discussion of morality during Philosophy 101 back at Old Ivy. Heller takes on the topic, couched as something more and making of it something less, of animal rights as a moral issue. His jaunty little piece, “If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?” is an exercise in superficial, tired, pseudo questions on morality as it concerns non-humans. For one, he calls humans “omnivores,” an old wives tale of a justification for meat eating, so easily countered by the fact that many species do not eat meat, and we have more in common with those species that do not eat meat than the predators that do. And even if we had the teeth and digestive system of a meat eater (which we don’t) the confinement and killing of farm animals has no similarity to predation at all. He also goes over the old ground of differentiating between humans and non-humans on the basis of cognitive ability, when it is an easily discernible reality that there are many humans who are not “cognitive peers” (e.g. infants and the brain-damaged) who are not excluded from moral treatment. He pontificates: “Until we can pinpoint animals’ claims on us, we won’t be clear about what we owe robots—or what they owe us.”  We, or some of us, have “pinpointed” how we should treat nonhuman animals: we should follow the Golden Rule and abandon the maxim of “might makes right.” However, that does not address robots and what we owe them in the least because robots unlike humans and other species are not animals.

Throwing around hackneyed arguments in support of culturally endorsed cruelty only adds to the message that we don’t need to really think too long or too hard about what we do to animals. Tee hee, an animal, shoot, it’s kinda like a robot. Come on Nathan Heller, why not read more than a few lines for the purpose of your article of the authors whom you cite: Peter Singer, Johnathan Balcombe, Sherry Colb, Michael Dorf and Christine Korsgaard. If you do and you still come out with statements like you made in the article, then your education and intelligence failed to equip you to perform the most important kind of critical thinking—to question the forces of culture and self-interest.

 

 

 

Holiday Season Approaches

Dear Friends and Relatives,

As the time to gather for holidays gets closer and gathering means eating, I want to explain what it means to be vegan to hopefully prevent misunderstandings. First, it is not a diet, per se. The reason to be vegan has nothing to do (for me) with eating healthier foods or losing weight, although those are two consequences of being vegan. Second, it is not a belief, like a religious belief, because as a matter of science humans are but one species of animal, and all animals suffer, just as humans do. I do “believe” that suffering is bad. I think you do too, if you consider it.

You might think that I shouldn’t care whether others eat meat or not, as long as I don’t have to, but a vegan does care, just as people care about dogs suffering that are chained up outside in the heat, or about monkeys stuck in cages for a lifetime for “science,” or as abolitionists in the past cared about slavery. As that last sentence shows, underlying veganism is the idea that we are all animals and the difference between the the human species and all the others does not give humans the right to inflict suffering on others, unless we adhere to the callous and unreasonable moral code of “might makes right.”

One way to get an idea of the effect of meat is to imagine that you had a Chinese guest who brought dog casserole to a pot luck dinner.  You would not like the thought or the sight of a chopped up dog or even better puppy (the equivalent of veal, lamb, or certain pig dishes) on your table. So, if I ask you to please not bring those “pigs in a blanket” or if I decline the invitation to come to your house and “just eat the vegetables,” keep that visual of puppy fricassee in mind.

I just wish that my perspective would at least spark some curiosity so you would look into what goes on to produce that piece of meat on your plate: a loving, sociable creature lived a life of torment and died a terrifying death. Such suffering does not add to any holiday spirit.

Cheers,

 

 

 

Milk upsets many IBS tums … But should you miss it anyway?

nursefromnature

this post is about changing people’s attitudes about living lacto-free. The perception that it’s something your lumbered with, a victim of  inferior digestive powers… That isn’t how I feel about living milk and dair y free here’s why 🙂

We see milk and other dairy products as a part of a normal human diet. We accept it as we accept bread, meat and fruit. Without hesitation, because we were raised to do so. Dairy is a part of the food pyramid and has a big chunk of it. We know that some dairy products are not really healthy (like cheese) yet still we find reasons to eat them regularly. Probably we eat cheese more often than we eat an apple. Is that a concern? Is dairy even healthy? Is it helpful or is it harmful?

We are used to see dairy products everywhere, we accepted them as a food source…

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Shelley, Wish You Were Here

percy_bysshe_shelley_by_alfred_clint

Vegetarian or vegan statements in literature are rare, just as they are rare in everyday life (which does not include Facebook where like-minded people seek each other out). Reading literature frequently serves up one dead animal after the other, akin to the quotidian reality of driving down the road and passing the meat truck and turning on the radio to hear that politicians are cramming down dead pigs in Iowa. Case in point is All Quiet on The Western Front, where hardly a page goes by without canned meat, a dead fowl, some occasion to find and kill an animal as if vegetables and grains do not exist. Maybe there is a thematic link between the ubiquity of animal slaughter and the horrors of WWI, as the novel depicts to the veganistically aware reader the notion that one insensate carnage deserves the other.

How thrilling then to meet the anti-speciesist philosophy of Percy Bysshe Shelley inhabiting the lines of his lofty poetry. Over two hundred years before Peter Singer helped us out by clarifying speciesism, Shelley had the concept down pat: he saw all animals (humans included in that category) as kindred and abhorred the cruelty of raising animals for slaughter whether in the name of religion, sport, or food. He gave up meat, as did Mary Shelley, his second wife. Mary Shelley, by the way, created one of the most famous characters in literature, the creature in Frankenstein, who is a vegetarian; existing in a natural and childlike state, he is innately good and therefore does not eat animals. He only turns to vengeful acts after suffering cruelty and isolation.

In Shelley’s philosophical poem “Queen Mab,” a fairy leads a spirit on a tour of humanity — past, present, and future. (I wonder if Dickens got the idea of his various ghosts taking Scrooge on tours from this poem.) The future constitutes his utopia of which one feature is that animals are no longer subjected to the cruelty of Man.

“. . .no longer now
He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which still avenging nature’s broken law,
Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime.”

Also, in “Alastor,” the narrator/poet avows that he has not injured any “bright bird, insect, or gentle beast . . .but still loved and cherished these my kindred.”

Aside from the feeling of serendipity that discovering such lines brings, can any importance attach to the fact that one or two random literary geniuses from the past share in my beliefs? Shelly’s veganism has importance to some degree as inspiration for others, those English majors who take a course in Romantic poetry and pay attention to what Shelley says. For me personally, Shelley’s magnanimity of spirit endears him to me, attracting me even more to his work. However, just as I have to associate with nonvegans in daily life, I still must and will read non vegan writers and will still revere my household gods, Emily Bronte and John Keats, who were not vegan. (By the way, I do believe that Emily Bronte would have been if circumstances had been different.)

Beyond serving as possible inspiration to the select few and a kindred link to my world, his conviction against cruelty to nonhuman animals illustrates what I, as a Stoic, value most among Stoic ideals: self-sufficient thinking and the application of reason. How odd he was at the time, not eating meat (and not believing in god, an avowed atheist). He knew of Pythagoras as a vegetarian forerunner, but his decision to quit meat made him a renegade and activist facing a culture notable for an extremely callous attitude toward nonhuman animals, fueled by a religion that insisted that Man, of all the species, was the only to have the all-important soul. He arrived at his principles through the exercise of his own reason and he had no qualms about living in accordance with his principles.  Although I might value my own independent judgment and don’t need Shelley’s example to endorse what I know is right, I suppose there is nothing wrong in harboring a hero or two and feeling slightly smug that I am in good company.

 

I think therefore I’m vegan

Most people might assume that being a vegan is about food; however, I, as a vegan, think about food very little. One reason is that what is generally considered food, images of which bombard me relentlessly, is not an edible substance but chunks and shreds and pieces of dead animals—a blatant fact that meat eaters like to ignore. As for edible stuff, I am happy about what I consume, but thoughts of it do not consume me. (That approach to food happens also to be part of Stoicism 101.)  Eating is the easy part. There are lots of tasty things to eat without inflicting cruelty and death on any creature, and once one adopts that approach, the culturally programmed desire for a meat product vanishes and leaves in its wake a sense of the repulsiveness of putting a part of a dead animal into one’s mouth.

Rather than dwelling on food, then, I think a great deal about philosophical and social issues: morality, human selfishness, human cruelty, evil, culture, the extent to which culture will inure humans to any atrocity, nonhuman suffering, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty, religion, and why some people develop compassion, while others don’t.

For example, one vegan-related thought I have frequently is that humans generally have it really good and should stop complaining about their petty troubles because unless they are among the truly oppressed (enslaved, held captive by a sexual predator in a basement, etc.) any trouble in their lives pales in comparison to the lot of all the sentient creatures we forcibly impregnate, confine, deprive of their young, and drag to a horrifying death. (Putting our own lives in perspective and stopping the whining about whether or not we are satisfied, happy, having a good time etc. is also an idea imported from my adopted philosophical  system of Roman Stoicism). Along those same lines, when I heard that the Boston Marathon bomber was condemned to death, I thought, okay, I am not going to get worked up about that even though I am against the death penalty (yet another manifestation of our love to-kill society) because how many other creatures who are innocent suffer the same fate.

On the level of the day-to-day, I think about how to live with and maintain respect for people , some very near and dear, who so willfully disregard the reality of meat that they seem to revel in their ability to be ignorant. I grapple with disgust at people who have huge incomes and can’t think of anything to do with it other than buy a bigger house or another car when great wealth could fund a campaign of awareness.

I hope that all my thinking will be productive, since as a Stoic I know there is nothing more pointless than pointless thinking. We are the sum of our actions not our thoughts, so I need to figure out more ways to do and justly deserve the epigram: “I am vegan therefore I act.”