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.
Both Pinker's dreary scientism and Wieseltier's spirited critique are stunningly superficial, and the reason is simple:
"Science" is just systematic common sense: thinking that is constrained by reason and by fidelity to tested and testable facts. These are not the monopoly of disciplines that call themselves "sciences." (They are not even always faithfully practiced by them!)
The English word "science" is an empty scientistic label that attempts to confer a crisp authority where boundaries are fuzzy: "science has found"; "scientists say." Other languages partition knowledge as consisting of the physical sciences and the human sciences rather than the sciences and the humanities -- and by the "human sciences" they don't just mean "evolutionary psychology" or "cognitive neuroscience."
There is, however, a much simpler distinction that does capture a difference worth noting (though on this both Pinker and Wieseltier are in agreement in their distaste for "postmodernism"): the difference between conclusions based on evidence and reason and conclusions based on interpretation and opinion.
Roughly speaking this is the difference between empiricism and hermeneutics. But there is a component of the latter in just about all knowledge, except possibly mathematics. So that's no basis for mapping out two distinct territories either; it's just a difference in degree.
Monday, July 29. 2013
How multitudes of people
can gather to gawk daily
at these magnificent, miserable creatures,
all brutally wrenched
from their devastated families
and forced to perform round after round
of cheap Skinnerian circus tricks,
for the rest of their wretched, ruined lives
in holding containers,
tormented day and night
by the bouncing echoes
from their own hopeless sonar cries,
food-deprived and "trained"
to do whatever it takes
to draw delighted cheers
from grinning crowds of humans of all ages...
Did it really require this revealing new movie, Blackfish, to open our eyes to the ugly, shameful fact that this, and all things like this, are wrong, horribly, unforgivably, wrong?
That we provide the mindless market for such heartless abuse, in order to make our children laugh, is as much a condemnation of the sociopathic spectatorship as of the merciless, mercenary management of sadistic sea circuses -- and all their land counterparts.
Perhaps the most chilling anomaly is how the "trainers" -- of whom some, clearly, "turned," eventually, after years of having been willing accomplices to the abuse of these helpless animals -- were themselves "trained" (by the management along with self-deception) to overlook the obvious, in exchange for the fees and the celebrity ("just following orders"? "being professional"?). It seems to have been various blends of venality and sensation-seeking, though some got into it naively, and then got attached to their prisoners and stayed so as to use what little leverage they had to make their fates less worse, rather than abandon them altogether. -- Or maybe that was just what they said for the camera? (I hope not.)
But most macabre of all was that some professed to have become Seaworld trainers to fulfill a dream that Seaworld itself had instilled in them as a child.
to provide sperm
for breeding more orcas
to be wrenched from their mothers
and put into entertainment servitude
for the rest of their miserable lives
to inspire more children
about the wonders of the sea
Sunday, May 5. 2013
Saturday, May 4. 2013
Friday, April 26. 2013
you need to ask yourself whether you have a heart...
Anyone who replies that this is natural or justifiable
makes an equally good case for torture, rape, slavery and murder.
All in our genes. All practiced in self-interest.
But wait for the day when it is for you and yours
that you must plead for mercy
from the monstrousness you have ignored, tolerated and drawn upon
And from which you avert your gaze now…
"Samuel was less than a day old when he was torn away from his mother. He was a young jersey calf whose mother was kept continually pregnant in order to keep her milk production unnaturally high so it could be sold for human consumption. Although nature intended the milk for Samuel, none was afforded him. Samuel was penned alone, chained at the neck and unable to interact with the other calves.
"The day I found Samuel, he had been loaded into a transport trailer with many other young calves and taken to a Canadian livestock auction. But Samuel was very sick and should never have been loaded and transported. He was so sick, in fact, that he could not even make it through the auction ring.The auction workers dragged Samuel to the back of the auction and discarded him there with no food, water or medical attention. There he was left to die alone, just as he had lived alone.
"I saw Samuel buried in the straw with only his small face poking out and thought he was dead until he started convulsing. My first thought was to load him into my car and get him to a vet who could peacefully end his suffering but he was too far gone. Samuel died in my arms while I stroked and comforted him. Sometimes this is all we can do for the animals we find - provide them with the dignity, care and comfort that they've never been shown.
"Samuel is the hidden face of the dairy industry - one that profits off the milk of a mother who will never nourish her child. Veal calves are sickly, traumatized and lonely. Their mothers are forced into a life of production and are heartbroken, forced to endure an endless cycle of birth and loss."
Source: Twyla Francois, director of investigations at Mercy For Animals Canada.
PHOTO: is of Samuel (R.I.P.) dying and discarded at a Canadian livestock auction
Sunday, March 31. 2013
How can anyone with a shred of decency believe that deliberately causing suffering to the innocent creatures that are the symbol of Christ's suffering can be the way to atone for Christ's suffering?
The insightful March 8 essay on Hungary's Self-Destructive Demons, by poet/journalist Thomas Orszag-Land described the complex and sinister relationship between the stunning success of Viktor Orban's opportunistic megalomania and his unscrupulous exploitation of the unreconstructed cultural affinity of the Hungarian populace for the ugliest and most vicious forms of denial, scapegoating and xenophobia.
Apart from a couple of points on which it (forgiveably) goes a bit over the top (about the potential for kingship and the triple "junk" quote), Orszag-Land's March 8 essay is temperate, timely and telling, and has since been not so much overtaken as confirmed by events, with the self-ratification, by Orban's supermajority, of the constitutional amendment self-indemnifyng Orban's new constitution from oversight by the constitutional court.
Orszag-Land raises the interesting hypothesis that although Orban has successfully used his supermajority (as well as the pork-barreling of the electorate, party faithful and oligarchs) to entrench his power far beyond the possibility of reversal even under any ordinary electoral majority defeat by the (shamefully and self-destructively divided) democratic opposition, he may yet be undone by having profoundly alienated the only forces that can sustain the dictator of a small, poor country in modern times: either powerful international economic interests or the support of powerful surrounding nations.
And there is another potential contingency: Orban is not stable. He has already demonstrated himself to be a psychopath, has already been showing signs of mounting paranoia, is rumored to be under treatment for bipolar disorder, and seems to be less and less aware (or perhaps less and less in control) of the fact that Hungarian is translatable into any other language -- and diffuses at lightning speed in today's online era -- so that his so far successful double-talk (in contemptuous jingo for his compatriots and sugary demagoguery for the rest of the world) may yet prove his undoing, impelling his hitherto intact cult following to jump ship out of self-interest, rather than to continue to sink with their leader, as his antics become more and more dissociated and pathological.
Hungary is not, after all, North Korea (and not just because it lacks China to prop it up, come what may).
Thursday, February 28. 2013
Bless them for abstaining from the horrors most people uncaringly impose on innocent animals.
But I wish they were less interested in trading tasty recipes than in righting animal wrongs.
After all, it's because of the uncaring drive to satisfy their tastes -- and not because of the needs of survival or health -- that people keep imposing those horrors on innocent animals.
Monday, February 18. 2013
On 2013-02-18, at 9:09 AM, Consciousness Online [Richard Brown] wrote:
COUNTING THE WRONG CONSCIOUSNESS OUT
[Commentary on Dan Dennett on "On a Phenomenal Confusion about Access and Consciousness"]
Yes, there was a phenomenal confusion in doubling our mind-body-problems by doubling our consciousnesses.
No, organisms don't have both an "access consciousness" and a "phenomenal consciousness."
Organisms' brains (like robots' brains) have access to information (data).
Access to data can be unconscious (in organisms and robots) or conscious (in organisms, sometimes, but probably not at all in robots, so far).
And organisms feel. Feeling can only be conscious, because feeling is consciousness.
So the confusion is in overlooking the fact that there can be either felt access (conscious) or unfelt access (unconscious).
The mind-body problem is of course the problem of explaining how and why all access is not just unfelt access. After all, the Darwinian job is just to do what needs to be done, not to bask in phenomenology.
Hence it is not a solution to say that all access is unfelt access and that feeling -- or the idea that organisms feel -- is just some sort of a confusion, illusion, or action!
If, instead, feeling has or is some sort of function, let's hear what it is!
(Back to the [one, single, familiar] mind/body problem -- lately, fashionably, called the "hard" one.)
To comment further, please go to Philpapers.
Organisms with nervous systems don't just do what needs to be done in order to survive and reproduce. They also feel. That includes all vertebrates and probably all invertebrates too. (As a vegan, I profoundly hope that plants don't feel!)
There's no way to know for sure (or to "prove") that anyone else but me feels. But let's agree that for vertebrates it's highly likely and for computers and today's robots (and for teapots and cumquats) it's highly unlikely.
Do we all know what we mean when we say organisms feel? I think we do. I have no way to argue against someone who says he has no idea what it means to feel -- meaning feel anything at all -- and the usual solution (a pinch) is no solution if one is bent on denying.*
You can say`'I can sorta feel that the temperature may be rising" or "I can sorta feel that this surface may be slightly curved." But it makes no sense to say that organisms just "sorta feel" simpliciter (or no more sense than saying that someone is sorta pregnant):
The feeling may feel like anything; it may be veridical (if the temperature is indeed rising or the surface is indeed curved) or it may be illusory. It may feel strong or weak, continuous or intermittent, it may feel like this or it may feel like that. But either something is being felt or not. I think we all know exactly what we are talking about here. And it's not about proving whether (or when or where or what) another organism feels: it's about our 1st-hand sense of what it feels like to feel -- anything at all. No sorta's about it.
The hard problem is not about proving whether or not an organism or artifact is feeling. We know (well enough) that organisms feel. The hard problem is explaining how and why organisms feel, rather than just do, unfeelingly. (Because, no, introspection certainly does not tell us that feeling is whatever we are doing when we feel! I do fully believe that my brain somehow causes feeling: I just want to know how and why: How and why is causing unfelt doing not enough? No "rathering" in that!)
After all, on the face of it, doing is all the Blind Watchmaker really needs, in order to get the adaptive job done (and He's no more able to prove that organisms feel than any of the rest of us is).
The only mystery is hence how and why organisms feel, rather than just do. Because doing-power seems like the only thing organisms need in order to get by in this Darwinian world. And although I no more believe in the possibility of Zombies than I do in the possibility of their passing the Turing Test, I certainly admit frankly that I haven't the faintest idea how or why there cannot be Zombies. (Do you really think, Dan, that that's on a par with the claim that one hasn't the faintest idea what "feelings" are?)
*My suspicion is that the strategy of feigning ignorance about what is meant by the word "feeling" is like feigning ignorance about any and every predicate: Whenever someone asks what "X" means, I can claim I don't know. And then when they try to define "X" for me in terms of other predicates, I can claim I don't know what those mean either; all the way down. That's the "symbol grounding problem," and the solution is direct sensorimotor grounding of at least some of the bottom predicates, so the rest can be reached by recombining the grounded ones into propositions to define and ground the ungrounded ones. That way, my doings would contradict my verbal denial of knowing the meanings of the predicates. But of course sensing need not be felt sensing: it could just be detecting and responding, which is again just doing. So just as a toy robot today could go through the motions of detecting and responding to "red" and even say "I know what it feels like to see red" without feeling a thing, just doing, so, in principle, might a Turing-Test-Passing Cog just be going through the motions. This either shows (as I think it does) that sensorimotor grounding is not the same as meaning, or, if it doesn't show that, then someone still owes me an explanation of how and why not. And this, despite the fact that I too happen to believe that nothing could pass the Turing Test without feeling or meaning. It's just that I insist on being quite candid that I have no idea of how or why this is true, if, as I unreservedly believe, it is indeed true. It's an ill-justified true belief. Justifying it is the hard problem.
@Richard Brown: "felt representing (i.e. consciousness) occurs when one represents oneself as being in some other representation in a way that seems subjectively unmediated... There is no equivocation here; the claim is that feeling (i.e. consciousness) consists in a certain kind of cognitive access. What’s the argument against this view? That there can be these kinds of representations without feeling? That is called begging the question."The argument against this claim is that it is an ad hoc posit: an attempt to solve a substantive problem by definition.
My critique is on-topic (access vs. feeling), the matter is far from settled, and neither your comments nor mine prevent Dan or anyone else from responding.
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