Monday, April 21. 2014
This video was created by Michael Sizer-Watt Michael, a Canadian activist and independent social issue documentary filmmaker with a special interest in the animal rights movement. His recent film "The Whole World is Watching" about citizen journalism for activists is available to be watched free. MS-W's Youtube Channel.
This talk was given at the second annual meeting of the Students for Critical Animal Studies at McGill University by Stevan Harnad, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal and Professor of Web Science at University of Southampton.
Desaulniers, Elise (2013) I am ashamed to have been a vegetarian for 50 years. Huffington Post 05/30/2013
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Luxe, nécessité, souffrance: Pourquoi je ne suis pas carnivore. Québec humaniste 8(1): 10-13
Sunday, April 20. 2014
As usual, this is something I've known implicitly for a long time, but I was just too sluggish and scatterbrained to bring it into focus and realize what it meant:
In a nutshell, Descartes pointed out, correctly, that the other-minds problem (i.e., knowing whether anyone else but myself feels) is just one of the many uncertainties, i.e., the many things that are probably true, but there's no way to know for sure that they're true, so there is room for doubt.
All the truths of science -- including the law of gravitation and the fact that apples always fall down rather than up -- are likewise examples of such uncertain truths, not immune to doubt: probably true on the weight of the evidence, but we can't be sure.
Yet having solemnly pointed out that it is true of almost all truths (including the truth that other people have minds) that we cannot be certain they are true, Descartes nevertheless went on to proclaim a truth about other minds -- and not one that went with the weight of the evidence (such as that apples fall down rather than up) but that went directly against it:
To the eternal misfortune and misery of non-human animals, Descartes confidently assured people with the full weight of his reputation for rationality that, despite all appearances to the contrary, non-human animals do not feel a thing; that despite all the symptoms of agony and suffering indistinguishable from our own, animals are just feelingless reflex automata -- just moving, not feeling. So we can do whatever we like with them.
Philosophers have made many mistakes. But never one that has proven so monstrously costly in agony across the ages -- and is still doing so to this very day -- for countless, helpless, innocent, feeling creatures to whom Descartes -- rather like making Pascal's Wager, but at someone else's risk -- did not see fit to give the benefit of the doubt .
David Sztybel's paper pretty much confirms this.
But I have to say that I felt (sic) something close to nausea in trying to sort out Descartes’ arbitrary and idiosyncratic terminology and obiter dicta on the question of whether animals feel.
It’s like trying to follow a formal chain of deductive reasoning where the axioms are all absurd:
Unconscious feelings? What on earth is that? Unfelt feelings?
A “corporeal soul” as distinct from a “thinking soul”? Do robots too have “corporeal souls”? Souls??
And what is this “first grade of sensation”? It sounds like just movement. But then why equivocally call it “sensation”?
The idea of engaging in this hermeneutic exercise, to pin down what Descartes really said and meant, and to see whether he was consistent, seems rather otiose when something substantive and gravely important is really at stake, namely, whether it hurts them when you hit animals.
Let's pretend we’re being serious about something, rather than just trying to second-guess Descartes’ intentions and sort out his verbiage:
Does it hurt when you hit an animal? A lot seems to ride on that question -- for the animal -- (and it has nothing to do with weasely nonsense like “first grade sensations” or “unconscious feeling): It either hurts or it doesn’t.
If it doesn’t hurt — if animals are just going through the motions — then that is not hurting or feeling or sensing, it is merely moving. (But I think most of us would lean toward the conclusion that that is also dead wrong, and always has been.)
But if it does hurt, then animals have full-blown feelings, the only kind there is. And Descartes' metaphysical and phenomenological speculations have done animals a grievous injustice.
I lean toward Grene’s conclusion, which is that on this question in particular Descartes’ metaphysical and phenomenological categories ("clear and distinct ideas") are so arbitrary and idiosyncratic that the entire attempt to address the question is incoherent and equivocal, and that forcing it into a formally coherent mold amounts, as noted, to an exercise in textual exegetics rather than a search for truth (which is surely about whether animals hurt, not what Descartes meant by “first grade sensations” or “unconscious feeling").
It is a bit of a head-shaker how any of this could ever have been taken as a paragon of rationality.
I still think, though, that the Cogito, properly construed (“sentio ergo sentitur”), was a genuine (and profound) insight. Pity it came wrapped in so much tosh…
Tuesday, April 15. 2014
A very sensitive and eloquent review by Krystine Berey of an extremely moving and inspired book, photographs and mission by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals.
The only thing one could add is that there is indeed something in particular that the Quebec "les animaux ne sont pas des objets" Manifesto is seeking: and we all have to look in our hearts to discover what that really is.
Everyone who has ever known and loved a family animal knows how unbearable it would be to allow or even to imagine the kinds of horrors that the meat and fur industry euphemistically call "euthanasia" to be done to our own loved ones. This "euthanasia" is no merciful ending of the suffering of an aged, pain-ridden and incurably ill companion with the help of the medical profession. It is the brutal cutting off of the lives of innocent, helpless creatures that have hardly had a chance to live at all.
And the key to listening to what your heart already knows is to question the shameful untruths that we have all systematically heard (and passed on) to the effect that we need to eat meat or wear fur for the sake of our health and survival. That it's natural; we've been doing it forever. And animals do the same sort of thing to one another.
There are many horrible, unnecessary things we did for a long time; and yes, they came from natural dispositions which we share with other animals: those things are enslavement, rape, torture and murder. And we eventually stopped telling ourselves that they were natural and necessary: we declared them unlawful, because our hearts told us that they were wrong and cruel -- and because unlike all other animals, we, human animals, have the choice.
Read Jo-Anne's wonderful book, face her unforgettable images, and then follow your heart.
Monday, March 31. 2014
Monday, March 10. 2014
To not see this film is to knowingly live a lie for the one lifetime you will ever have. It hurts to watch this film, intensely. But it has to be done. Because it is true. Because it is monstrous. And because we are supporting that monstrosity without even realizing what we have been doing. When you have viewed earthlings, you will realise what you have been doing. And if you have a heart, you will stop.
Monday, February 17. 2014
Hurting helpless innocent creatures for pleasure has a name. A "conservationist" working to save "game" for this purpose is a sociopath with the likes of whom any pact is a Faustian one -- for the victims as well as for all decent human beings.
The very same applies to the “royals” like Princes Charles, William, and Harry, not to mention the King of Spain, and their noble attempts to sustain the planet as a game preserve for their age-old blue-blood sport. As of this moment, I am no longer “sentimentally and aesthetically a royalist.”§ § §
The Olympic games, too, have now been shamefully baptized in blood.§ § §
Tuesday, February 11. 2014
On Plantinga on "Is Atheism Rational?"
What a godawful congeries of sophisms — and such feeble ones it’s hardly worth the effort to state the obvious….
Running through it all is the same howler that wobbled Pascal’s Wager: the Judeo-Christian voodoo is just one of a whole motley of competing screeds on offer on this "fine-tuned" planet, all equally arbitrary and absurd, all equally at odds with all evidence and reason — and all in contradiction with one another. Yet Plantinga’s pietist putty is applicable to any of them!
It’s already sophistical to cast it as "atheism vs theism": There are a lot more voodos on offer than just Plantinga's preferred one, including the Dawkins/Russell one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people-eater.
So it’s not "A vs. not-A" (50/50): it’s V1 vs V2 vs V3…. vs. Vn... vs. ordinary reality. And Plantinga suggests that "agnosticism" is a more rational stance than to chuck the whole vat of V’s? Then I need to be agnostic about every bit of supernatatural delusion that any raving madman ever dreams up!
Only the reveries that are backed up by transcendental experience of personal union with the “divine"? Which one(s)? Every mescal-button hallucination anyone has ever had? And that’s supposed to substitute for sense and evidence?
(This time the relevant quip is not Russell’s orbiting teapot but the one about W. James’s mate who knew the secret of the universe whenever he sniffed nitrous oxide -- and ’twas: “Higamus Hogamus Men are Polygamous…”)
And I find that sociopathic Christian scat — that can serenely survey the planet’s Jovial panorama and squeeze out of that squalor the most “perfect world” with the help of some of the sappiest of eschatological claptrap — to be the most offensive of all. At least the karmic creeds are not so sanctimonious…
Bref: The shenanigans going on here are worthy of an OJ Simpson Dream-Team Defence summary…
Wednesday, February 5. 2014
[Re: Katha Pollitt's The Mind-Body Problem]
My own involutional sentiments are evolving in a rather different direction (perhaps only because I am still blessed with undeserved good health): It’s not all about my body and its ‘druthers (whether indulged or denied) but about the needs of the countless bodies of others with more pressing things to agonize about than mascara or whether to come home at 4am. -- And, come right down to it, it’s about their minds rather than my body…
Sunday, December 22. 2013
Liv & Ingmar: Painfully Connected is a moving documentary about the relationship between Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman. But although it takes the form of a spontaneous interview-like monologue spoken by Ullman, interspersed with very short excerpts from her Bergman films and a little prior documentary footage with Bergman, it is actually a scripted theatrical performance, and a remarkable one, because it is reality, dramatized, with the actress playing herself.
And the metaphor is apt, and doubly self-referental, because so many of the unforgettable roles Ullman had played for Bergman in their films were in fact reflections of their intense but troubled relationship and their respective demons.
The more troubled one was clearly Ingmar. But he remains the revered eminence in the wings. Only Ullman has her say, which is affectionate, loyal and admiring throughout.
Yet one has the occasional feeling during Ullman's extremely insightful and moving performance, that some of it may be art rather than actuality: high art, creative, going beyond merely being "my Stradivarius," the instrumental role her 'Pingmar' accorded her, as she relates with apparent pride and gratitude.
But perhaps they both understood their symbiosis best. Maybe Ullman's roles and scripts -- she refused many that did not fit -- inspired her performances the way Schiller's poems inspired Schubert's songs.
Yet surely she was both the player and the instrument, even if Bergman composed the score. What he might have meant was something closer to the way knowing he has such a "Stradivarius" to play on inspires the playwright too.
The playwright/film-maker is left mostly to our imagination in this film, apart from letting us know that he was a tormented genius, driven to seclusiveness, jealousy, and even psychological and physical violence. But we cannot discern what made him that way. Unlike Ullman, Bergman was far too private ever to make such a "documentary" about himself. What he had to say, he said in his own films, much of it through his "Stradivarius."
Her art was cathartic for her, but perhaps his was less so, for him. Yes, they were painfully connected; but one has a feeling that despite her unquestionable loyalty and lifelong devotion, most of the pain was his (though probably little or no fault of hers).
Monday, November 25. 2013
There really does seem to be something unique in the blend of carping, complacency and collusion in the Carpathian Basin. If it's not in the genes (as hyperbolically hypothesized by the Kossuth-prize winning novelist Akos Kertesz -- for which he then had to seek asylum in Canada at age 80), maybe it's in the drinking water?
Saturday, November 9. 2013
[Excerpt from an exchange with "Anonymous," who had suggested that if I wanted to help animals I should join him in distributing vegan burritos to homeless people. I replied that I did not think that that was the best way to help animals -- and I added that I was very much against homeless people forcing animals to live in the urban streets with them. In prior exchanges, Anonymous had also suggested that PETA does more harm than good and that signing petitions for animals is useless.]
Anonymous: "[T]he large majority of people... view 'animal rights activists' as 'obsessive radicals'.., and... most animal rights activists are indeed 'obsessive radicals'"
Well then I guess that settles that, doesn't it?
Anonymous: "I felt... your almost contempt for homeless people."
No, you mistook my more-than-contempt for anyone who forces an animal to live in the urban streets for a contempt for the homeless.
(Of course the rescue of a homeless animal by a homeless person may sometimes be a better fate for a homeless animal than being on its own in the streets, but I don't know how often it turns out that way -- and I wasn't talking about the homeless rescuing the homeless. James Bowen himself writes that his case, and his cat, were special, and urges the homeless not to acquire pets.)
Anonymous: "the animals of the homeless [that] are suffering [are] the exception... when compared to the pampering that 'family pets' typically receive…"
Having read this, I came very close to cutting off this correspondence. I find it too insensitive to even begin answering. Is this another thing that "the large majority of people" are right about?
Anonymous: "[T]hey are animals. They are made to adapt to the outdoors... evolved from the wild, where the conditions are far more taxing than they are as a pet of a homeless person."
I can only answer this as a biologist, because this remark was far too far from reality to answer ethically:
1. No, domestic animals are not "made": they are selectively bred and designed, by humans, to suit their purposes. That's why so many have disfigured, dysfunctional bodies and are susceptible to so many inbred diseases.Anonymous: "I believe that one either possesses a genuine compassion, or one does not…. One cannot pick and choose what type of suffering is 'worthy' of one's compassion, and which is not. If you care, you care about all legitimate suffering."
All suffering of feeling creatures is "legitimate."
But I don't know what word would better describe what it is that one is lacking if one thinks that pets are pampered and better adapted to live in city streets.
And I can't share your apparent satisfaction with generic, unfocussed compassion ("panpathy"?) either. I think that alone may be more likely to lead to complacency -- a symmetric, benevolent embrace of both the victims and the victimizers, rather in the spirit of Christian "charity," as if there were nothing wrong with the world that radiating love won't fix (if not in this life, then the next).
I actually think that now that we have outlawed (if not completely eliminated) genocide, homicide, slavery, child abuse, rape, torture and violence, it's time to face the biggest remaining moral abomination of our species, which is the way we treat other feeling species.
This doesn't mean lack of compassion for humans, or less of it. But there's already incomparably more selective compassion for humans than for nonhumans, and always has been: It's animals who need human compassion most now. And the more there are of us, the more they need it (because we keep on breeding and abusing more and more of them).
I don't think that those who have an acute sense of the urgency and enormity and disparity of this are "obsessive radicals" -- or at least no moreso than the opponents of genocide, homicide, slavery, child abuse, rape, torture and violence were.
The homeless are a worthy cause and are in undeniable, urgent need. So are those who suffer from muscular dystrophy. Both always have been. Almost everyone agrees that homelessness and muscular dystrophy are bad, and should be remedied (even if most people are not actively doing anything about either). But none of them are actually doing -- or condoning -- anything that actually causes homelessness or muscular dystrophy either.
Not so with the monstrous things we are doing and condoning every minute to animals, as food, as entertainment, as decoration, as sport and, yes, as pets.
So, yes, if there is something substantial that I can do personally to reduce suffering, I think it is neither in the area of campaigning for (or doing research on) muscular dystrophy, nor in distributing vegan burritos to the homeless. I may be wrong, but I suspect that there may be far more real burritos, suffering real agony, every moment, than there are homeless people on the planet, and next to no one cares about them, even in principle. And they are but the tip of the iceberg of human inhumanity that will never be melted if human compassion continues to be reserved for its anthropocentric targets -- or treated as if it were some sort of subjective, undifferentiated spiritual exercise rather than an objective, focused, urgent imperative.
Anonymous: "I feel [PETA] are, overall, doing more harm to animals than good... I'd have thought that you'd see PETA in a very similar context that I do."
I used to; but the more I see of their campaigns (and so little else, coming from elsewhere) the more I think that that may just have been a superficial stereotype I had. I may be wrong, but I am less sure about things than you, in your undifferentiated compassion, seem to be: toward "obsessive radicals," PETA activists, petition-signers, and pampered pets.
Anonymous: "I feel that if one possesses a compassion for animal suffering, it would logically follow that the same person would possess a compassion for the suffering of human beings - as in homeless persons."
But you see, it is you who have made the assumption that I lack compassion for homeless persons; in fact, you have made a lot of assumptions.
Anonymous: "I feel that if one cares, one cares - without being selective, and without prejudice. Vegan burritos seems a natural for compassionate people - it is showing a compassion for the animals in not using anything from them, and feeding the suffering homeless in this way. It also, naturally, shows people that one can be efficiently fed and nourished... without any animal products - something that most people (including many homeless people) do not believe is possible. This may result in them eating less meat and choosing more often the non-meat items (when they're in shelters, at 'soup kitchens', etc.)."
Homeless people are also hungry people, eating whatever they can manage to get. It is not with them that I would start preaching the renunciation of meat as unnecessary for survival or health; inspiring the homeless to do it can wait till after we've inspired the well-fed and well-to-do -- who have a choice -- to become vegan. And made sure the homeless have homes, and enough to eat,
Anonymous: "people smoke…[and] do other things which are harmful to themselves... and this is why people consume meat and dairy even after they've been told of the abuses and suffering of the animals."
You seem to be missing something here: People are not (as with smoking) consuming animals despite the fact that it harms themselves: they consume it despite the fact that it harms animals.
(In other words, there's a missing bridge here, something of the order of "it is harmful to ourselves to harm others" -- or, "it's harmful not to be compassionate"? Well if the hope of inspiring everyone to become vegan is a faint one, I would say the hope of inspiring everyone to become "panpathic" is even fainter -- though becoming a vegan would be a good start.)
Anonymous: "It's as if people of all ages in these situations revert to being very young children... imagining that they are definitely one of the 5% of people whose health is not negatively affected by smoking; that the animals killed for their meals were not abused and did not suffer, etc…"
You are right that people delude themselves that the animals they consume don't suffer, were better off than in the wild, were necessary for survival and health, etc.
But your reasoning here nevertheless reminds me a little of the circular reasoning in your first paragraph. You are conflating self-interest with altruism: Yes, people keep smoking even though it is likely to harm them; but that is not quite the same sort of thing as to keep eating animals even though it harms animals.
Anonymous: "I saw on the news that Temple Grandin is in town for an autism related event… maybe [you want] to find her and speak with her?"
I may be wrong, but from what I've seen in the media and on youtube, I'm afraid I might find that I can't like TG too much; nor do I think I'm likely to learn much from her. (I thought she cared about animals; but she seems to care more about killing them efficiently -- and stressing them too much just happens to be inefficient… If someone arranged a meeting, I would not turn it down; but I would not seek one of my own accord. I'd much rather meet with people like Melanie Joy & James McWilliams -- or even Ingrid Newkirk…)
Monday, November 4. 2013
Letter of Miklos Horthy to Count Pal Teleki, 1940, 14 October [note especially the italics added]:
"As to the jewish Question, I have been an anti-semite all my life, I never had anything to do with jews. I find it intolerable that here in Hungary every last factory, bank, fortune, store, theatre, newspaper, business, etc. is in jewish hands, and that the image of Hungary abroad is that of the jew. However, since one of government's most important tasks is to raise living standards, and for this we have to increase our wealth, it's impossible within a year or two to phase out the jews, in whose hands everything resides, and replace them with loud-mouthed incompetents, otherwise we'll be ruined. To do this requires at least a lifetime. I was perhaps the first to proclaim my anti-semitism loudly, yet I cannot calmly countenance inhumane, sadistic, pointless humiliation -- not while we still need them."
Friday, November 1. 2013
If the Hungarian populace is fatuous enough to let Fidesz get away with it, what can one say other than that they deserve to reap what they sow? One feels enormous pity and compassion for the decent minority in Hungary that is outraged by the foulness of Fidesz. But they are only a minority, as the polls show. The Hungarian majority’s willing fall into the fell thrall of Orban's peacock-strutting kleptocracy is going to leave (yet another) indelible blight on the historic reputation of this Balkan backwater so full of petty jingoes with delusions of grandeur.
Sunday, October 27. 2013
The cheap sensationalist dimension of PETA -- as in some of its perverse pubic ads about fur -- is obviously pathological.
The trouble is that mass movements and causes of any kind -- good and bad -- also tend to attract the lunatic tail of the Bell Curve. And some in PETA seem to think that any kind of attention is good attention.
And of course, as in all charities, there is a split between good works and fund-raising.
It's so hard to say whether on balance PETA does more harm or good.
I appreciate the way they monitor and call attention to abuse (sometimes terribly graphically -- but I'm beginning to think that that might be necessary, with most of the planet unaware of the horrors, or in denial).
I don't know if the petitions and campaigns end up reducing suffering. I sign. I'm informed about the appalling scope and scale of the abominations. I hope. And I'm trying to find a non-token way I can help.
The distribution of vegan burritos to the homeless in Montreal is good: It helps people. It also proves that vegans don't care only about nonhuman animals.
But just about everyone is in favor of helping people (whether or not they actually do it). And most people are not contributing to harming people, or in favor of it.
Not so for animals. Most people are contributing to harming them, and most are not opposed to -- or even aware of -- the unimaginable scale of that harm.
So I think animals need help even more than homeless people do. And of course there are incomparably more of them, purpose bred, industrial-scale, for exploitation.
(And I deplore the way urban homeless people acquire animals to share their fate (or sometimes just their life-style choice) and soften people for a handout. I've even seen them sitting on St. Denis in the cold holding on to shivering kittens or cats they've co-opted for that purpose, very much the way the Romany use their own babies for begging; similar practices in India. We protest to the use of the babies; no such chorus for the animals. -- No, the ones that need help the most, and most urgently, are animals. While we continue to countenance the treatment of animals as property we will never treat people properly either.)
(And if we used the arable part of the planet to grow food to feed people instead of to feed it to animals that we purpose breed, brutalize and butcher to feed ourselves, there would be more food to feed more people. And a far more humane attitude toward both human and nonhuman animals.)
Sunday, September 8. 2013
Why on earth should the democratic opposition seek electoral victory?
Viktor Orban has robbed the country blind.
Even if the opposition wins the next election, Orban’s long-term appointees, oligarchs, croneys and infrastructure will be there to make sure the opposition fails and Orban gets quickly and triumphantly re-elected the next time round.
Meanwhile, the poop is set to hit the propellor in the next few years, big time, as Orban’s Ponzo Kleptocracy implodes.
And the Hungarian populace is fully media-primed to pin the blame for the catastrophe on the opposition yet again, if they are in government at the time.
So it seems to me like lose/lose for the opposition to aim for electoral victory.
The opposition should instead pull out all stops on telling it how it is, whether or not the populace is yet ready to believe it — and this seems to be exactly what Ferenc Gyurcsany's Democratic Coalition is doing.
Let the public hear the truth, loud and clear, vote for Fidesz just the same, and then face the consequences.
Just deprive Orban of his supermajority, which allows him to paper over every piece of piracy with a new law.
The economic catastrophe of the next four years is now inescapable: Let it fall on Orban’s head, deprived of the superlegislative power to protect him from the consequences.
And let the free and foreign media trumpet the Democratic Coalition's message loud and clear throughout.
Hungary is beyond any quick fix now; but allowing effects to coincide with their causes is the only hope of awakening the gormless Hungarian electorate to who and what is the real cause of their misfortunes.
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