Wednesday, October 19. 2016
Sunday, October 2. 2016
The Merchant of Venice is not one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. It is a comedy, making sport of the kind of blood libel that has been used to excuse the sadistic cruelty and oppression with which jews have been wantonly scourged for millennia by non-jews.
Portia's "he is little better than a beast" -- said in jest about one of her suitors -- inadvertently displays the other blood-libel, the greatest of them all: we project our worst vices onto our bloodied victims. We wrest even their name to baptize, disavow and excuse our own depravity toward them.
The play is a comedy, from beginning to end, juxtaposing Portia's father's strictures on her choice of mate with Shylock's strictures on Antonio's loan and Portia's strictures on the ring she gives Lorenzo.
Like all comedies in the hands of a genius, this one has its deeper moments, notably Shylock's "do we not bleed?" speech, but even that, in its vengeful pagan "eye for an eye" punchline, again projecting onto jews the failure of christians to practice what they preach (as forthcoming in Portia's "quality of mercy" speech) is getting out of a stereotype exactly what you put into it. And of course the jew had to be cruel to his daughter and his servants in order to hone our hatred for when the latest variant of the blood libel is launched against the "beast."
I usually deplore the obtrusion of a director's minor talent onto a masterwork, but in this case the most moving moment of the play did not come from Shakespeare but from Jonathan Mumby's closing, superimposing the wailing in Hebrew of Shylock's christened daughter Jessica, over the triumphant latin liturgy as Shylock is led to his own forced desecration.
Yet even here, the shoe is on the wrong foot, for it is not the imposition of an unwanted creed that is the real tragedy of the jews but the sadistic cruelty and oppression with which they have been wantonly scourged for millennia by non-jews for clinging to their own.
The real villain of the piece (though not the one impugned by Shakespeare) is of course creed itself. The rest is just about human nature, and what the majority creed (or kind) is disposed to do with the minority creed (or kind).
Not strictly a monologue -- though all acted and spoken by a single, very gifted actress, Sylvie Drapeau -- this is the narrative, mostly in dialogue form, of portions of the life of a daughter and her dying mother: her absentee father (dissipated, alcoholic and abusive to the mother, yet loved by his daughter), her stepfather (likewise abusive to both mother and daughter but a better provider than the biological father), and her beloved half-brother (sired by her stepfather).
The drama is about the dying mother's wish to see her son (alienated from her by the reliable stepfather who eventually abandoned both the mother and his stepdaughter(s), taking his son, age 8, with him, never to see his mother again). The themes are men's violence and apathy toward their spouses and female kin. Most of the dialogue is the daughter trying, by telling him about their past, to persuade her half-brother by telephone to fulfill his dying mother's wish. (We are left to imagine why he does not already know the story, why he has not been told before, how she can be on good terms with her half-brother despite the rupture and alienation, and what the real character of the mother was, aside from being a victim. We sense that she would have preferred a better life, a better spouse, and that she did the best she could under the circumstances.)
The play has some ambivalent anti-clerical aspects too: The usual impulse to commune with a just deity and the repulsion at the injustices, unprevented, unpunished. A "wise" priest is another fleeting personage in the drama.
In the end, the half-brother is not persuaded to "reconcile" with his mother, so the daughter can only use her mother's last fading consciousness to give her the verbal illusion that her son has come back to her, and is there.
All this is well-evoked, both by Jennifer Tremblay's text and by Sylvie Drapeau's moving performance. In the open discussion with the cast after the play it was repeatedly affirmed that the play evokes familiar familal themes in Quebec. Are male abusiveness and female victimhood really that universal a part of the fabric of Quebec society?
Saturday, September 17. 2016
4pm, Thursday 22 September, Dawson College, Montreal
(part of Humanities & Public Life Conference: Thinking About Identity 19-23 September)
Descartes’ Cogito — “I think therefore I am” — was supposed to guarantee that humans exist: “I must exist because I am thinking.”
But how do I know I’m thinking? Because it feels like something to think. And I know I’m feeling something when I’m feeling something.
So it’s feeling, not thinking, that matters. In fact, it’s the only thing that matters. There is no right or wrong in a feelingless world. Things just happen. No joy, no sorrow, no mind/body problem, no self or other, no identity, or identity crises.
Descartes also thought that (nonhuman) animals don’t think: that they are just feelingless robots. They have no identity.
I will try to show how very wrong he was about that, and how very much Descartes’ error matters — for the animal victims... as well as for every decent human being.
Wednesday, August 17. 2016
I. CCTV to Inform, Mobilize and Sensitize the Public. Recruit the public to monitor and enforce existing animal husbandry regulations through public crowd-sourcing as well as to sensitize the public to the reality of what is currently permissible in animal husbandry.
Mandatory 24/7 CCTV surveillance and recording in all venues where animals are bred, raised, housed, transported, used in any way, or killed.
All the CCTV data are live-streamed and permanently archived as openly accessible on the web, coded for time and location, so that the public can witness, monitor and report any observed abuses within the existing welfare rules as well as to recommend what rules need to be strengthened.
(Note, that II -- legislation -- is not possible without I -- sensitization -- first. Only public demand and support can lead to the adoption of II.)II. Legislate Graduated Tax to Incentivize Transition to Vegan Alternatives. Implement, facilitate and accelerate a transition to vegan alternatives.
Graded tax, increasing with time, on all consumer purchases of meat, fish, dairy or eggs in supermarkets or restaurants, or any other animal products (such as fur, leather, wool, down). All tax revenue is used as discount on the purchase of vegan alternatives.
Graded tax on all production and vending of meat, fish, dairy or eggs, or any other animal products (such as fur, leather, wool, down). All tax revenue can be claimed by producers and vendors as rebate for the production and sale of vegan alternatives.
All unclaimed surplus from the tax revenue is used to provide sanctuaries for animals that survive from the food and fur industries.
Harnad, S (2013) Luxe, nécessité, souffrance: Pourquoi je ne suis pas carnivore. Québec humaniste 8(1): 10-13 http://j.mp/15JnWHw
Sunday, July 31. 2016
A very fair and accurate picture provided by Christopher Adam. Yes, Budapest is still in many ways a wonderful city, worth visiting. But this is despite Orban’s corrupt and autocratic regime, not because of it.
And, yes, the Orban regime is hypocritically using the memory of the Hungarian refugees of 1956 as part of a cynical and demagogic foreign campaign to capitalize on former worldwide good will toward Hungary to camouflage the regime’s current shameful hate campaign against refugees, soon to culminate in a “Referendum.”
Orban’s domestic hate campaign (now being masked by his charm campaign in Montreal and elsewhere) is not even being conducted primarily because of visceral hatred on the part of the Orban regime. There is real hatred there too, of course, but Orban cultivates it in the Hungarian populace mainly out of self-serving opportunism: Orban systematically foments fear, anger and loathing to distract the Hungarians from his depredations on both their civil liberties and their public funds (along with his enormous cut from all EU subsdidy funds) and their liberties, which he steals to enrich hmself and his accomplices and to keep increasing his personal autocratic powers.
Hungary’s cultural charm is real. The Orban regime’s cynical charm campaign is repugnant, reprehensible, and should be unmasked by all decent, thinking people, Hungarian or otherwise.
Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter
Hard to say whether “dottoressa” is just a fatalist/pessimist or a closet Turul triumphalist. His/her/its/their admirer “e-2016” certainly sounds more like a TT (or should we add the T for Trump too, or our fourth T-word)?
Yes, malign self-interest has a long arm, but without donning Pinker’s rose-tinted specs, slavery is now mostly outlawed; the subjugation of women is on the decline; rape, violence, torture, homicide and genocide are widely condemned and even sometimes punished. The absolute number of human-inflicted horrors is still increasing, but their proportion is decreasing (at least if we count only human victims), so if civilization can master population control, maybe even absolute wrongs will one day begin to shrink.
The day is long, and human nature is raw and savage, but the evidence is at least as supportive for positive developments as negative ones, even in the area of human rights and governance.
In any case, fatalism is self-fulfilling. With Pascal, we have to wager that a good outcome is at least possible.
Perhaps in a completely information-controlled dictatorship (which is hardly possible in the online era, though maybe North Korea comes closest) the “politicians” are to blame if the populace makes the wrong electoral “choice.” But in most of the world, despite the polarized media, it is still possible to make informed choices, if the populace makes the effort.
Yet in the case of Clinton vs. Trump this is not even the problem. One just has to hear Trump (1-2 times) to see that he is a brainless, heartless, cheap, vulgar, self-aggrandizing, lying tycoon. That all non-psychopathic american voters don’t immediately and totally reject him with revulsion is not only an extremely sad — indeed tragic — fact about far too large a proportion of the US electorate, but it is open and shut evidence about who is to blame if he is elected: Trump certainly couldn’t have done it without them.
In Hungary today, with its own Turul Trump, the situation is somewhat different — because the press is highly controlled, the electoral ridings are gerrymandered and rampant conferral of extra-territorial citizenship has stacked the cards, the constitution has been gutted and guttered, checks and balances are nearly gone, mafia-style corruption pervades the regime and its supporters, and the pervasive, systemic corruption together with a partly perverted police and judicial system have intimidated the citizenry — the situation is not the same as in the USA. But the electorate is still to blame for the fact that they keep voting in Orban. The handwriting was already on the wall in 2008, well before the electoral gerrymandering, media control and constitution-busting, with the majority’s readiness to jump aboard Orban’s shameless and completely (completely) groundless FUD campaign of slander against Gyurcsany.
The Hungarians bought that, then, despite its transparent meanness and mendacity, just as Trump supporters are doing now. And they got what they deserved for their unthinking (and unadmirable) somnambulism.
Of course the populace (whether they choose to vote or not) is to blame for their electoral outcome: Who else?
Tuesday, July 19. 2016
Jane Mayer: Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells It AllWhat a shocking article! And yet we all knew it already. It has been there all along in every word Trump mouthed, every grotesque grimace, every vulgar gesture, and the limitless emissions of nasty, mendacious braggadocio and shameless hype. And the utter vacuity.
Schwartz, for all his purported pangs of conscience, is not worthy of sympathy for his part in this lurid lay of lies. He is most Trump-like when he effects remorse for having “made” Trump: No, he took some of Trump’s vile tricks and made them his own, using them to spin a tall tale that would enrich them both. He became a Trump(et). The ghost in the megalomane. It’s no wonder that his confessions are now being channelled by Jane Mayer rather than being told in his own voice. It is indeed his own credibility that he has done in with his self-serving strumpetry. (And yet it’s better that he’s decided to come clean, and now, before the election, rather than after. If (and only if) he is genuinely repenting, his own story has a tinge of tragedy, whereas Trump’s is all heinousness and hubris.)
But at least Schwartz is not running for president of the United States. Surely the most shocking part of all this — and the one that is the most to blame — is this charlatan’s open-eyed, cheering following. Has the US indeed become a Trump nation, ethically and aesthetically blind, oblivious to all this, or an accomplice in it?
Yet the homology with Hungary's Viktor Orban is loud and clear too: the lies, the hype, the manipulation, the philistinism, the megalomania… the psychopathy. And a fair harbinger of what's in store in the U.S. if Trump's tranche of the electorate prevails.
Admiration? For veganism? But it is so simple and easy — not at all what people (including me) imagined. No sacrifice, no hardship — and no reduction whatsoever in gastronomic pleasure: in fact, quite the opposite."...I wish to reiterate my admiration for your veganism..."
I now realize that not only is it true (as we have all heard many times) that our species is neither herbivore nor carnivore but omnivore, but that this consists of two contingent “modes.” When a human consumes animal protein, most alimentary needs are fulfilled, so there is very little need or desire for herbivory. (That’s why it’s hard to get meat-eating kids to eat vegetables.)
But when our metabolism gets the cue to switch to herbivore mode — the cue is the complete absence of animal protein (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) from one's diet — then the taste of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains all transforms and becomes incomparably more delicious and satisfying than when one was in carnivore mode.
It is for this reason (and not the opposite, as people imagine: not because vegans can’t find enough tasty things to eat) that many vegans are so obsessed with food, recipes, cooking! It is because everything tastes so good, and such a rich variety of potential gustatory pleasure is opened up by the complete switch to the herbivore mode. For most of my life, while I was still just a vegetarian, still eating dairy and eggs, hence animal protein, I never bothered to cook. It wasn’t worth the effort. Since I became a vegan 6 years ago, my pleasure from and interest in food have grown so much that I have not only taken to cooking things, but I have discovered that I may even have a little talent for it!
And one last thing: The reason I (politely, and appreciatively) decline admiration for being a vegan is not just because it is in reality so trivially easy and rewarding, but out of the belief and hope that in fact I am absolutely no different from the majority of human beings: the majority are decent, and are eating meat only because they mistakenly believe two things to be true that are in fact untrue: that (1) we need to consume animals in order to survive and be healthy and (2) that this can be and is being done in a humane way that does not involve suffering for the animals.
Both (1) and (2) are in fact untrue. And (2), in particular, is untrue in a monstrously horrific way.
So I decline admiration for becoming vegan because I think the only difference between me and the majority — who, like me, would never knowingly cause needless suffering — is merely informational. I (and many others) just happen to have learned already that the animal suffering is (1) indeed needless and (2) indeed suffering, terrible suffering. Hence it is our duty to inform and awaken the rest of the decent majority who are still so tragically misinformed.
Indeed, the fact that the only relevant difference between us and the majority of humanity is informational, and hence remediable, is the only hope of the countless tragic victims of humanity’s greatest crime. (The Holocaust was humanity’s greatest crime against humanity, but our treatment of animals is humanity’s greatest crime tout court.)
If vegans weren't exactly the same as everyone else, it would mean that animals were doomed to eternal, inescapable agony.
Booth, D. A. (1985). Food‐conditioned Eating Preferences and Aversions with Interoceptive Elements: Conditioned Appetites and Satieties. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 443(1), 22-41.
Booth, D. A., & Simson, P. C. (1971). Food preferences acquired by association with variations in amino acid nutrition. The Quarterly journal of experimental psychology, 23(1), 135-145.
Young, P. T. (1957). Psychologic factors regulating the feeding process. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 5, 154-161.
Young, P. T. (1948). Appetite, palatability and feeding habit: a critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 45(4), 289.
Thursday, July 14. 2016
I have been thinking about morality from a very early age (partly, no doubt, because my parents were survivors of the Holocaust in which much of my family was killed).
I don’t know at what age I began thinking about it, but I do know that I became a vegetarian when I turned 17, and that it was because it was only then that I found out that it was possible; I would have done it much earlier if I had known. I don’t blame myself for not having inquired and found out earlier then, but I do blame myself for not having inquired and found out until almost 50 years later that it was possible to be a vegan too.
I am not a believer in gods or the supernatural (apart from a very brief period when I was very young). I am a naturalist.
And I know that nature (i.e., physical laws and Darwnian evolution) are amoral, i.e., psychopathic. The only criterion is (morally blind) causality. Nothing matters. There is no good or evil, right or wrong. In the biological realm, causality has led to mechanisms that engender survival and reproduction.
In the causal system that has evolved in the earth’s biosphere, at some time, and for some cause as yet unknown but no doubt related to survival and reproduction, sentience evolved. And with sentience, the capacity for pain and pleasure. Organisms feel.
Hence morality, too, evolved only then. Not just with the capacity for feeling, but also with the capacity for empathy (feeling for the feelings of others) — mainly present in organisms toward their young, and especially pronounced in mammals and other K-selected species.
Apart from that, there is no law, either physical or mathematical, that engenders, dictates or adjudicates morality, apart from whatever causal forces that led to the evolution of sentience, and of empathy and altruism, no doubt in the service of survival and reproduction. That also means there is no rational basis for morality, if “rational” means deduction or justification via reasoning (assuming that reasoning means inferences based on logic and evidence).
Logic can indicate what follows formally from what (from axioms to theorems). Empirical evidence can indicate what is probably the case in the world. But neither of them can engender or dictate morality, because both the object and the subject of morality is feeling (sentience) itself. Without feeling there is no morality.
What do feelings have to say about morality? Only one thing. It is wrong to hurt. From this it follows that it is right to minimize hurt. Nothing follows about pleasure, at least not morally, except where being deprived of pleasure hurts.
The rest is all about determining what minimizes hurt. And that necessarily requires inferences, predictions, hypotheses. If there were a way to know when we have a valid hypothesis about how to minimize hurt, then the rest is just implementation and can perhaps be described as applied negative utility calculations.
But pleasure (other than pain from pleasure-deprivation) has no place at all in the moral equation, any more than mass, momentum or position do.
The only border case is painless euthanasia, and for this I can only propose the ad hoc moral intuition that depriving a sentient organism of its life needlessly is much the same thing as hurting it.
The mission of all animal advocates (indeed of all those who are concerned with right and wrong) should be to minimize pain in sentients. (Nothing to do with pleasure, or maximizing pleasure.)
“Speciesism” is a misnomer, in an effort to liken animal mistreatment to racism. There is some validity to the intuition, but it does not generate a general principle, because if applied to all sentients based on numbers, it could lead to absurd (and immoral) conclusions such as: euthanize all sentients other than the most numerous ones, insects, in order to minimize overall net pain (if we bracket the ecological uncertainty).
So “minimize" hurt needs another constraint, based on conflicts of vital interest: Minimize needless hurt, where “need” refers to vital needs in cases of conflicts of vital interest.
And since humans are the only species that are in the position to conceive or implement moral principles, their own vital interests must take some sort of relative (but not absolute) precedence (otherwise we are again left with the strictly numerical option of euthanasia and insects).
To summarize: By my lights, morality is rational, but it is not based on rationality. It is based on sentience (feelings) and on feelings about the feelings of others: the moral intuition that hurting is wrong. The only feelings that are morally relevant are negative ones: hurt. (We have intuitions about pleasure too, but they are not moral intuitions, except if somehow correlated with pain.)
And I would repeat that if pure selfishness -- obliviousness to the hurting of others in the pursuit of one’s own interests, vital and non-vital — is psychopathic (much the way Darwinian evolution and physical causality are psychopathic), so to is pure selflessness — obliviousness to proximity, consanguinity and collateral damage — in the strictly numerical dispensation of net welfare across sentient organisms (and time) according to formal calculations. (Purely formal calculations are as psychopathic as causality and evolution.)
Transitional Plan: (1) Use the recent amendments according animals the status of "sentient beings with biological imperatives" (as in Quebec) to (2) adopt laws making 24-hour CCTV video/audio recording mandatory everywhere animals are commercially bred, transported, used or slaughtered, (3) mandate the permanent open web-streaming of all the videos to allow crowd-sourcing surveillance to ensure that all existing regulations are complied with. If (as is to be hoped) the widespread awareness of the reality in the videos sensitizes the majority to the fact that the animal industries are intrinsically cruel and need to be scaled down and phased out, then (4) mandate a gradually increasing tax on all animal products and production -- on the consumer, the vendor and the producer, (5) allow a full rebate on the tax for all consumers, vendors and producers who instead buy, sell and produce non-animal alternatives. (6) Any tax surplus should be designated to use for (6a) sanctuaries for animals liberated by the switch to alternatives (i.e., subsidies so they should not be killed) and (6b) any residual should be used to fund research on non-animal alternatives.
Harnad, Stevan (2015) To Close Slaughterhouses We Must Open People's Hearts. HuffPost Impact Canada
Monday, June 20. 2016
Matthieu Ricard débute toujours ses entretiens concernant les animaux avec la question: « S'il vous plaît lever la main si vous êtes en faveur du fait d'infliger la souffrance sans nécessité ». Personne ne lève la main. Ensuite il demande « S'il vous plaît lever la main si vous mangez de la viande ». Beaucoup de mains se lèvent, mais avec beaucoup d'hésitation et de murmurements inquiets.
Comme le dit Dr. Kona-Boun, on cherche à sensibiliser le public concernant deux faits fondamentaux: (1) Manger de la viande n'est pas nécessaire ni à la survie ni à la santé humaine et (2) la quantité de souffrance infligée aux animaux par notre consommation de la viande est indiciblement horrifique.
Les activistes sont motivés par une foi en la décence humaine: Lorsque les citoyens sauront que (1) et (2) sont vrais, il vont certes vouloir cesser de manger de la viande et vont vouloir fermer les abattoirs: Brefs, ils deviendront des activistes aussi.
On ne peut pas faire le changement du jour au lendemain (malgré le fait tragique que ça prolonge les horreurs) sans l'accord de la majorité. D'abord on sensibilise les gens (avec le CCTV dans les abattoirs, diffusé sur Internet), pour que la majorité décente appuie l'adoption d'une taxe progressive (pour le client ainsi que le producteur) sur la viande, remboursée (pour le client et/ou le producteur) s'ils achètent/produisent une alternative non-viande. Toutes les taxes non-remboursées paient les sanctuaires pour les animaux ainsi sauvés.
Sunday, June 12. 2016
There’s nothing to admire in the slogan (or sentiment) “I’m the greatest,” whether from Muhammad Ali or Donald Trump.
Maybe it’s an effective way to pump yourself up for combat if you're a prizefighter, but that calling’s not one to admire either.
Muhammad Ali had at least had the real experience of being the victim of bigotry; his aggressive response — combat and braggadocio — is understandable, even excusable, since no one has written an etiquette book on how to behave politely when you are being systematically discriminated against.
But Trump’s life has been lucre, luck and lechery from the start, and the only thing it has inspired in him is the crudest form of narcissism and demagoguery.
If the American electorate has any sense (and decency) it will award him the crashing defeat he deserves.
And may all his undeserved fortunes fail him while he is still compos mentis to collect the wages of his vicious and vacuous vanity.
Tuesday, June 7. 2016
I sincerely hope that Peter Singer's "The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically" will do a lot of good by inspiring a lot of people to do a lot of good.
But when I reached this sentence:
"Aaron Moore, an Australian international aid worker and artist, is one of the relatively few Christians who have taken the words of Jesus seriously. On his website, Moore links them to a statement of mine..."I knew I would not be finishing this book. I put it down when I got to:
"Everyone has boundaries. If you find yourself doing something that makes you bitter, it's time to reconsider... Now Julia doesn't scrimp on ice cream because, as she told the class, 'Ice cream is really important to my happiness'."The book has the style of a self-help book, but of course it can hardly be that, since what it is promoting is other-help. I guess it's not for me because what it is recommending already seems very obvious to me. But I was also disappointed to see most of it devoted to helping people, just as most charities are. Of course people need help, and certainly much more help than they are getting. But I'm not sure they need the most help, nor that they need help the most.
There is no misery that animals undergo that humans don't undergo too, whether "natural" or human-inflicted. But most animal misery is human-inflicted, one way or the other. And most humans are not undergoing that misery. Nor is most of human misery deliberately inflicted on people by people; on animals, most of it is. And it's legal to inflict that misery on animals. And most people inflict it, or demand that it be inflicted on their behalf. And most of it is not necessary to human survival or health. (Nor even to human wealth: there are more humane ways to make a living, or even a killing (financial). I also doubt that ice cream, hence bovine agony, is necessary for human happiness.)
I think the most good you could do would be to inspire people to stop causing gratuitous misery. I am not sure how inspiring people to get rich so they can donate most of what they make to charity to reduce mostly human misery is the most good you can do. But Peter Singer did write "Animal Liberation," which has inspired a lot of people to help animals. Maybe there will be some trickle-down from "effective altruism" to animals too. I hope so. I don't pretend to know any more effective solutions. I just wish this book had devoted more than a chapter to the most numerous and wretched victims on the planet -- and to doing the least harm you can do with the money you spend.
(Page 1 of 24, totalling 352 entries) » next page
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.