Wednesday, November 18. 2015
Is evil a "pathology"?
No “professional” opinion, as I'm not a professional in this (or any) area.
My belief happens to be that (apart from the inevitable, but small, quota of genetic psychopaths) what we call “evil” is a consequence of learning and culture rather than genes or “pathogens."
Is learned cruelty a “disease”? Perhaps the way gambling and alcoholism are, in the sense that they can sometimes be unlearned (“cured,” or at least pushed into remission) by “therapy” (and some are born with more of a propensity towards it than others).
But calling such learned behaviors a “disease” is just playing with words. If the effects of air pollution are a disease, what is it when the pollutant is cultural (“cognitive”)?
Or maybe the question should be whether nationalism, religious zealotry, xenophobia, machismo and other malign “memes” are “pathogens"? That’s probably literally true in some sense, yet still remains more metaphorical than medical (just as a lot else that passes for psychology does). “Prevention” and “cure” depend on education and culture, not medicine. The right analogy there is not the effects of air pollution (or poverty, or injustice), but its causes: “pathogenogens”?
Unless someone finds a drug or surgery...
Tuesday, November 17. 2015
Not very deep, but certainly right. The trick will be to genuinely sensitize people to the hurts they inflict, knowingly or unknowingly, otherwise there will only be the pretence of empathy, practised as empty PC method-acting.
I have lately (far too late in life) become meta-sensitized on behalf of victims who are blind to the micro-insults yet suffer infinitely worse macro-injuries (“more than one way to skin a cat,” “squealing like a stuck pig”…).
If that triggered a reflexive smile then you are face to face with the real heart of the problem — and it is indeed about whether one really has a heart, nothing more, nothing less. It’s not called compassion when we care about ourselves or our loved ones. It begins outside that circle. And it encompasses every innocent being that feels.
In a variant on “we always hurt the ones we love”: We always revile the ones we hurt. Helps us live with ourselves...
Friday, October 30. 2015
Matthieu Ricard asked a Montreal audience at ToHu. 29 August 2015:
Are you in favour of causing needless suffering to feeling beings?Not a single hand raised. Most people are fundamentally decent. The rest is about sensitizing them to the fact that most of them are nevertheless unknowingly and needlessly causing unimaginable agony to countless innocent victims -- as consumers of meat, fish, dairy, eggs, fur, leather, the commercial pet trade, and the animal entertainment industry (including zoos) -- which grades continuously into the sadistic blood-sports (rodeos, bull-fighting, dog-fighting) that only the inhumane minority crave.
Êtes-vous en faveur d'infliger la souffrance aux êtres sensibles sans nécessité?
Wednesday, September 9. 2015
Hungarian refugees, 1956
The excuses of Ambassador Odor are rank and all-too-familiar attempts to put a deceptive sanctimonious spin on the calculating and anti-social malfeasances of the Hungarian government.
Blaming the EU and the media for bearing witness to the Hungarian government’s heartless and reckless mistreatment of the refugees — instead of owning up to it and remedying it — is a signature tactic of Viktor Orban's scruple-free regime.
Overwhelmed by an unexpected crisis not of their making?
The months of advance preparation in the form of a concerted nation-wide hate-campaign against migrants and the fortune spent on hastily building a makeshift razor fence whose only bloody victims are migrant wildlife — was that all done sleep-walking?
So that now, being "caught unawares" by a humanitarian catastrophe — with no government provisions whatsoever for feeding, sheltering, reassuring and registering growing numbers of exhausted men, women and children, not even a public address system that can tell the bewildered and frightened victims in their own language what is happening and what lies in store for them — what the Hungarian did (and didn't do) was the only possible option under the circumstances?
The victims — repeatedly called “economic migrants” and not refugees in the Hungarian government’s lengthy advance propaganda campaign against them, well before they even arrived — are right now detained for days outdoors by police cordons in the rapidly dropping temperatures, with the only food, water, tents, medical aid and information being provided for them by individual Hungarian citizens and volunteer organizations, not the Hungarian government, which is busy building hate and fences, along with hastily dispatching its ambassadors with stretched, sanctimonious and legalistic excuses to the rest of the world.
Unable to stop the worldwide media from bearing witness, the only thing the Hungarian government wants to do now is to get the victims herded into refugee camps, out of the public view, where even Amnesty International has been refused admittance.
The Hungarian government reckoned well that (with the help of its own domestic media control) its hate campaign would further desensitize and brutalize much of the Hungarian populace. (The wonderful volunteer helpers are alas just a small and exceptional minority.)
But perhaps the leadership didn’t reckon with the effect this very graphic glimpse of the Hungarian government M.O. would have on the rest of the world, which, till now, had not been quite ready to believe that the alarm signals about what is going on in Hungary were not exaggerations.
For this entire refugee catastrophe was premeditatedly fomented by the Hungarian government — muscularly resisting the alien hordes, as the defender not only of the sovereign Hungarian nation, but the rest of Europe — fomented for three reasons that have nothing to do with either the crisis in the Middle East, or the vast numbers of resulting refugees invading "Christian Europe," or the threat of terrorism (as they are being cynically spun):
The plight of the refugees was simply stoked in every way by the Hungarian government in order to divert domestic press attention from mounting government corruption scandals (so far just minor mysteries to the world press) that could threaten the government’s electoral base. Scare tactics plus a muscular guardian stance, stoutly resisting the alien hordes, in contrast, wins Hungarian votes.
But, just as an insurance policy, in reality the primary reason for fomenting the refugee crisis was so as to provide a pretext for introducing new police-state laws that will be adopted September 15, but will last long past the refugee crisis — laws that plan to (1) criminalize asylum-seekers, (2) call up the army and the police forces to "defend" Hungary against them, with deadly force if deemed necessary, (3) allow warrantless entry into Hungarian homes on suspicion of harbouring refugees and (4) prescribe lengthy prison sentences for those found guilty.
(Under the new laws, for example, the current PM’s arch-rival, the former PM, could immediately be imprisoned as he has been sheltering an average of a dozen refugees every night since the crisis began, as well as feeding them and providing medical care. The current PM has long been seeking — so far in vain, because the Hungarian judicial system is not yet 100% under his control — a pretext for imprisoning the former PM, dictatorship quashing democracy.)
Viktor Orban likes to cite the letter of the law to justify his every misdeed. So he re-writes Hungarian law as needed and cherry-picks EU and member state laws to fit the occasion, creating a Frankenstein patchwork out of the worst from everywhere, to which he can claim to be faithfully adhering to the letter, while stifling the spirit of all that's intended to be good, honest and decent. His refugee atrocities are a paradigmatic example of this unscrupulous legalistic strategy.
Princeton University’s renowned constitutional-law expert, Professor Kim Lane Scheppele -- who has been studying and warning about the Hungarian government's abuse of its 2/3 majority to adopt an undemocratic constitution undermining human rights as well as checks and balances on government powers -- has written an extremely sobering analysis of what the latest piece of legislation portends.
In a police state, there would no longer be any need to fear being voted out of power...
"IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY, YOU CANNOT TAKE AWAY HUNGARIANS' JOBS"
National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism
Hungarian Government Posters, June 2015
Sunday, September 6. 2015
It is by now patently obvious that the refugee “crisis” that Hungary's PM Viktor Orban has artifically and systematically created had 3 goals:
(1) to divert attention from Orban’s many mounting corruption scandals,(The bonus of the new emergency right to break into the homes of people suspected of giving refuge to refugees (sic!) is that Orban will now at last gain the legal right to break into the home of his arch-enemy, the former prime-minister, Viktor Gyurcsany, whom he had ousted through dirty tricks and character assassination and who is now giving refuge to the refugees: perhaps Orban will even be able to do what he has so long tried, so far unsuccessfully, to do, which is to find a legal pretext for imprisoning Gyurcsany.)
This is the standard M.O. of psychopathic dictators, if they are not stopped by concerted resistance from normal, decent people.
Friday, September 4. 2015
What a huge difference between the psychopath whom the Hungarians twice elected — Viktor Orban — and the decent human being whom that psychopath ousted through demagoguery and character assassination: Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany
Perhaps at long last the brainwashed Hungarian populace will now wake up to who is the decent one and who is the deceiver.
(The Orban propaganda machine will of course howl "It's all a publicity stunt!" -- Well even as a publicity stunt it would send a far more humane message than Orban's shameful, shameless hate-mongering.)
Wesley L Smith’s article, Animal Rights Zealotry Hates Animal Welfare ("Human Exceptionalism" in National Review) is full of unreflective stereotypes and over-simplification. Here’s a much more circumspect account:
Most people will agree (if they are not sadists or psychopaths) that it is wrong to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily.
(To disagree would be to hold that “it is fine to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily — e.g., for pleasure or profit.”)
Animal welfare advocates are working to reduce the suffering of animals who are being hurt or killed, regardless of whether it is being done out of necessity or for pleasure or profit.
Animal rights advocates are working to prevent animals from being hurt or killed unnecessarily at all. They feel that all animals (including humans) have the right not to be hurt or killed unnecessarily (i.e., that that's what it means to say it's wrong to do it).
The rest is down to what is “necessary.” Most people will agree that necessity has to do with conflicts in vital (survival or health) needs, as between predator and prey, or aggressor and victim.
There are extremists who hold that no animal (whether nonhuman or human, presumably) should ever be hurt or killed, under any circumstances. This is either like saying that there should not be any disease or hunger — or conflicts of vital interest — in the world (a commendable but utopian pipe-dream); or it is based on imagining that if they were attacked by a nonhuman or human aggressor they could or would or should not fight for their lives.
That’s all there really is to it, if you think about it.
Craig, W. J., & Mangels, A. R. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(7), 1266-1282.
Harnad, S. (2013). Taste and Torment: Why I Am Not a Carnivore. Québec Humaniste 8(1): 10-13
Sunday, August 30. 2015
People go to circuses and rodeos for “entertainment.” Many are hostile to any “killjoys” who want to spoil it. So, depending on their character, there are several familiar ways they resolve the “conflict”:
1. IGNORANCE OR DENIAL: “The animals are not suffering”Few people, there to entertain their children, are ready to say “I now realize it’s terrible and I will take my children home.” And virtually none of them will decide on the spot to become vegans — although of course everything that can be said about animals suffering for entertainment, which is unnecessary, can be said about animals suffering for clothing, which is also unnecessary, or for meat/dairy/eggs, which is also unnecessary, except in some impoverished or subistence environments. Only (some) medical research faces the troubling question of life-saving necessity.
So my own strategy has been just to silently hold up images that show the suffering, offering pamphlets to those who willingly take them, and answering questions if asked. Those who ask are usually in category 1 (ignorance or denial) and sometimes 2 (defensiveness). They truly don’t know, or don’t want to believe the horrors. And there is some hope that some of them will change their minds once they know — not on the spot, but eventually. I never argue, and don’t even enter into discussion at all with categories 3-5, because it is useless and it only provokes them to become more hostile toward animals, their suffering, and those who try to defend them.
I don’t know of a poll, but I believe (or at least hope) that although categories 3-5 are more aggressive and they are also the ones we notice and remember, the most numerous ones are categories 1 and 2 -- decent people, with hearts, but unaware of the suffering -- and that they are the ones who may later reflect and eventually change.
Friday, August 21. 2015
Saw a TV program about Dancing Bears
Children are delighted
to watch these big, surprisingly light-footed beasts
do a jig
as their eyes roll lovingly,
toward their human partners
("Roms," as gypsies prefer to be called)
holding the rope
that leads to their nose.
It never enters the children's mind
that the dancing bear
could be anything but happy,
just as they are,
in watching it.
would their parents bring them
to watch a horribly cruel display
could the gay rhythm to which they dance
possibly be that of unrelenting, excruciating tugs
to the nose-ring, tongue-ring, jaw?
and could what the bear goes through
in their presence
conceivably be only a small glimpse
of its agony?
Yes, they wonder
why the bear's nose
has that funny curve,
and why its jaw is askew
and permanently agape,
and why its frothy breath
but they assume it's just smiling.
So Turkey has finally,
banned the practice --
which has not made it disappear,
but has simply made it more profitable
to cater to a new demand,
in which the bear cub is duly purchased,
disfigured, tortured, displayed,
and then sold to animal-welfare activists,
who take it to a retirement farm
while the Rom re-invests part of his profits
in the next bear cub.
Supply and demand.
They say that the nose ring
the world has placed in the Rom people's noses
is almost as painful as the bear's.
But that's hard to credit,
from the bear's end of the rope...
Monday, August 17. 2015
(Version française suit ci-dessous)
The Debate "Should we stop eating animals? "Organized by the Quebec Skeptics at the Quebec Humanist Centre August 13, 2015 is easy to summarize:
Both voices for YES (Christiane Bailey, U Montreal, and Dany Plouffe, McGill U) argued that:
1. Eating animals is unnecessary for our survival or health
2. To breed, rear and slaughter animals causes suffering
3. We should not cause unnecessary suffering
So we should not eat animals.
(In addition, they added that if we stopped eating animals it would be better for the health of the planet and for human health.)
The two voices for NO (Cyrille Barrette, Laval U, and Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, U Montreal) argued that:
CB1: There are continuities and discontinuities in the Darwinian evolution of species: we should respect the differences and distances between species
CB2: Humans are the only species that is “altrusitic” and has the capacity to make choices and laws; pain is not the same as suffering; we should respect these differences
CB3: We evolved as omnivores; let’s continue to eat everything we evolved to be able to eat
J-PV1: Animals industrially bred and slaughtered suffer, but not that much
J-PV2: Whether they suffer too much to justify eating is a matter of opinion and free choice
(J-PV also challenged the degree of benefit for the planet if we stopped breeding animals to eat; he also cited the business interests of the meat industry)
There was no vote taken. Readers can draw their own conclusions from my summary. I think I have not omitted anything important, nor distorted or biased anything.
DÉBAT : DOIT-ON CESSER DE MANGER DES ANIMAUX ?
Saturday, August 15. 2015
James McWilliams used to seem ok, but he is apparently a historian-turned-philosopher first and a feeling human being only second. The disembodied abstractions of utilitarianism always missed the point, whichever way they cut: The point is simple and obvious -- but you need to have and use a heart to perceive it. Don’t hurt except if vitally necessary. You don’t need axiomatics to solemnly enumerate the actual, transitional and hypothetically imaginable cases of vital necessity. But nothing new follows from them. And certainly not carnivory or the meat industry.
Pain and pleasure are incommensurable (except for a blinkered utilitarian). No amount of pleasure justifies inflicting pain on others. (How much pain I choose to inflict on myself in exchange for my own pleasure is another matter, but irrelevant: this is about inflicting pain on OTHERS in exchange for MY pleasure -- or for the pleasure of N of US, in utilitarian metrics.) The only faintly utilitarian moral truth is that we should try to minimize pain; but, again, pleasure is not part of the equation. And "don't hurt except if vitally necessary" already covers that.
The Road-Kill Retort. I am astounded that anyone considers road-kills relevant to any serious discussion of veganism: Even if it is true that more animals are killed by roadway accidents than by hunting, the only decent response, it seems to me, and the one in keeping with the gravity of the topic of both animal suffering and roadway accidents, is not to treat roadway deaths as some sort of abstract and immutable given in some utilitarian debate but as a compelling reason to work on ways to reduce highway accidents (just as collateral animal deaths in vegetable farming should not be taken as an abstract, immutable given, but a compelling reason to work on ways to make vegetable farming more humane). Accidental road-kills are certainly not a scaleable, sustainable way to feed the world. And what is important is practical ethics, not hypothetical ethics.
Whenever a student raises the issue of road-kills as it were some sort of argument against veganism I immediately assure them that we are not talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder here: Anyone, vegan or not, is cordially invited to eat all the road kill they encounter and relish: it is of absolutely no consequence or relevance to anything whatsoever other than the need to improve highway safety for all. (But it is usually carnivores, not vegans, who prefer to keep the discussion focussed on abstractions rather than on the flesh and blood and terror and agony that are the real issue. But when a vegan is also an abstract ethical theorist….)
Thursday, August 13. 2015
Immense disappointment -- for me, but I left Unity (the successor of Earthlings after a decade) after 20 minutes when I couldn't take anymore. Horror upon horror, accompanied by exalted banalities solemnly voiced in sound clips by assorted celebrities.
Earthlings had been - and still is - immensely powerful and effective in awakening the world to the otherwise unimaginable agony inflicted on (other) animals by humans, the agony that ag-gag laws strive to hide from us. I hadn't been able to bear watching Earthlings either, but I recognize that its graphic evidence is essential for sensitizing that vast majority of humankind who are ignorant of and insulated from the fact that such horrors are being committed, being committed everywhere, and being committed in our name, so as to feed those who crave meat and to clothe those who crave leather and fur. Earthlings was not a movie for vegans. It was a movie for creating vegans.
In the twenty minutes that I could bear of Unity, the horrors were mostly inflicted by humans on humans, in the context of war, but there were also Earthlings moments in Unity, where the human aggression was on animalls - and we could already sense that there would be more later in the film.
I left before they came. There will probably still be extracts from Unity that activists can use to inspire people to become vegan. But skip the human/human aggression. There is no horror we have inflicted on animals that we have not inflicted on humans too. The “rules” of war allow it all. But in peacetime, it is illegal to do that to people.
For animals, it's always wartime, and they are always the helpless victims. They are all in the state of terror and despair of that indelibly soul-tormenting first scene of the calf facing and frantically, hopelessly, struggling to escape that all too narrow passageway to merciless slaughter.
The film brings us no new solution for ending human/human war, just the banal cliches we already know.
And for animals, apart from the new supply of episodes to add to the heart-convulsing Earthlings excerpts of ten years ago, this new film adds only a miscegenation of wickedness and words that form no unity: a congeries of horrors and homilies.
For me what was missing in this call for ecumenical unity among molecules, organisms, earth, planets, galaxies, and universe was the one property that distinguishes the trivial from the tragic — the property that unifies humans with the (other) animals and distinguishes both from molecules, earth, planets, galaxies - and even trees: That property is sentience, the susceptibility to suffering.
Towards other humans, we violate this property in times of war (and crime). But towards other animals we violate it at all times.
Maybe a miracle awaited those who stayed until the end. If so, maybe someone can tell me about it...
[Afterword: Friends later told me that the punchline turned out to be "Homo spiritus." But (apart from the pedantic fact that it should have been "Homo spirans," since the notion of "spirit" is inspired by divine incoming breath, and Homo is not the only breathing organism) even the more relevant taxonomic tag -- Homo sensibilis -- would have been a misnomer, because all other organisms with nervous systems are sentient, not just us. And our potential for sensitivity to their sensitivity is useless if we don't use it.)]
Immense déception — pour moi, mais je me suis sauvé après 20 minutes lorsque je n’en pouvais plus. Horreurs suivies d’horreurs, accompagnées de banalités exaltées et insipides prononcées solennellement par des vedettes en clip sonore.
Tuesday, August 11. 2015
Although it sounds like an impassioned plea for mice, Australian ecologist Mike Archer’s 2011 "blood on your hands" argument against veganism is really just an uncritical defence of the status quo, rightly pointing out some relevant problems but completely ignoring others.
1. First and most important of all: The animals killed for cultivating land do matter, enormously. The remedy for that is humane herbiculture, which is definitely possible, and practiced, but rarely, because of the preference for factory agriculture, which is cheaper.
2. The picture drawn by Archer is of Australia, where it is claimed that 98% of beef (and all kangaroo meat) still comes from natural range-feeding animals. This is not at all true elsewhere in the world, where a lot of arable land is used to produce livestock-feed instead of food for humans. Australia, where wildlife habitat encroachment has not yet gone nearly as far as in Europe and America, is not representative of the rest of the world.
3. The free grazing argument, such as it is, applies only to cattle (and kangaroos), not to pigs and chickens, which require agriculture to grow their feed.
4. The calculation in terms of protein percentage is greatly skewed by the fact that we eat far more protein than necessary for survival and health.
A. Leave the free-grazing animals for last. Phase out all the other meat-eating that is not even implicated by the herbicultural collateral-damage argument.(George Monbiot has done a few flip-flops on this topic too...)
Bruers, S. (2015). The Core Argument for Veganism. Philosophia, 43(2), 271-290.
Matheny, G. (2003). Least harm: A defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis's omnivorous proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16(5), 505-511.
Wednesday, August 5. 2015
Every day it becomes harder and harder to believe the depths of heartlessness to which the Fidik-minded populace of Hungary has sunk.
Shameless, shameful. The historic stigma this will leave on the government and its supporters — mitigated only by that wonderful minority of Hungarians who have hearts and are helping the helpless victims of their countrymen’s odious apathy and antipathy — will be indelible.
The righteous Hungarians will one day prevail, but meanwhile Orbanistan is a pariah among nations, an odious blight on humanity itself. Shame, shame and more shame.
Read, reader, and weep.
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