Saturday, December 13. 2014
Alas the principle "Don't hurt unnecessarily" is not strong enough, because "necessity" is too vague: Many will argue that it is "necessary" to hurt animals so they can make more money.
What we really mean is "not necessary for human survival and health."
Maybe "Don't hurt if it is not vitally necessary" will resolve this ambiguity, maybe not. Competition and ambition and greed will continue to bend it in their own favor.
But please let us not make it even worse by arguing that even "necessity for human survival and health" is not strong enough.
We did not create the world, and this Darwinian world does have tragic conflicts of vital (life-or-death) interests, for example, between predator and prey.
Carnivores have no choice -- but we are not carnivores, and we do have a choice. We can survive and be healthy without hurting other animals.
Vital medical research -- research that really cures the sick and saves lives -- is not covered even by the "Don't hurt if it is not vitally necessary" principle.
Maybe there is some other principle. Certainly when there is any non-hurtful alternative it needs to be used. And a lot of biomedical research is just curiosity-driven (or worse), not life-saving, hence unjustifiable. And often it is far more hurtful than need be.
But I am afraid that if those who want to protect animals from unnecessary suffering push too hard on the principle that hurting is never necessary or justified, under any circumstances, they are unintentionally weakening the case for putting an end to the overwhelming proportion of the monstrous and unquestionably unnecessary hurt that is being done every day, hour, minute by the meat, dairy, egg, fish, fur, sport, pet and entertainment industries, where the only interest involved is taste, habit, supply/demand -- and of course money.
Here is a thought-experiment for those animal-rights activists who are (understandably) in anguish about the scale of needless, human-inflicted animal suffering (it is a not-so-silly variant on the philosophers' silly runaway-train thought-experiment):
You are at the helm of a train that is rapidly and unstoppably headed for a track to which your own child is tied. If you quickly throw the switch, the train will instead go to another track to which another child (unknown to you) is tied:
Do you let the train follow its course? throw the switch? toss a coin?
Even the most humane of us live in Darwin's world, and Darwin's world contains some unavoidable conflicts of vital (life and death) interest.
I don't think a world in which conflicts of vital interest all have to be settled by passivity or a coin toss would be a viable one, nor a humane one.
If someone or something forcibly holds my head under water, my medulla force me to struggle furiously to breathe, even if it means trampling on my own child, and even if I would consciously rather die.
Something similar makes most social vertebrates favor their own vital interests, and (hit-and-run egg-layers excepted) those of their kin, over the vital interests of strangers, if they conflict.
In protecting the vital interests of nonhuman animals, let us not suppose ourselves capable of being holier than that. Some of us may have reached such a state, but we could never have reached it without first being ruled from birth by vital self-interest, like every other social vertebrate.
And most of us still cannot voluntarily hold our heads under water indefinitely. -- So let's not try to protect animals on the assumption that others can -- or would, or should (voluntarily hold their heads under water indefinitely).
We need a principle that there is some realistic hope that most people will support. The ongoing agony is too terrible and urgent to allow holding out for an abstract idealism that there is little hope most people today will agree to.
If "Don't hurt if it is not vitally necessary" is not strong enough, let us work to make it prevail as a first step, to end the most and the worst of the horrors. That will already make it a different world, in which to resolve the rest.
Wednesday, December 3. 2014
Reason alone is never enough to make people do right rather than wrong.
A felt, empathic component is necessary too, so you feel why it’s right or wrong.
Sam Harris seems to have some, but not yet enough, of either (the reason or the feeling).
It is definitely not rational to start eating meat again because you develop an anemia, rather than to check why you got the anemia and do something about it.
(A B12 and B6 supplement, or a more balanced choice of plant-based foods would definitely have fixed the problem — and, to be rational, Sam Harris should have looked into that and done it from the very beginning.)
The felt, empathic component is still weak too, otherwise Sam would have had the motivation to look at causes and alternatives rather than going back to eating meat.
Being just a vegetarian is also not what is dictated by reason — nor by feeling. The dairy and egg industry are a part of the meat industry and cause horrific suffering. (mMilk-givers and egg-layers are all eventually killed for meat, and so are all their young, except the ones kept for milk-giving and egg-laying, and their lives are short and extremely wretched).
Vegetarians are also continuing to eat animal protein, which keeps their metabolisms dependent on and desirous of meat. Once you become completely vegan, your metabolism changes, your appetite for plant-based food increases dramatically, plant-based food becomes much more tasty and much more efficiently metabolized, and your appetite for meat disappears.
So any yearning to start eating meat again is gone, and if you discover you need to take more of some supplement — like B12 or Calcium or D2 or iodine, or omega-6 — you just go ahead and take the supplement instead of using it as an excuse for going back to meat eating.
Richard Dawkins seems to wish we all didn’t eat meat, and thinks we will one day look back on it as having been as awful as slavery. Yet he still eats meat. A speaker as prominent and influential as him could do a lot more good for animals if he set the right example. Rationality would seem to dictate that too.
On Noam Chomsky on animal rights:
The notion that only those individuals who have responsibilities can be accorded rights is irrational, since we accrod rights to bot infants people who are severely ill or handicapped. But instead of thinking it as our according rights to victims, we can think of it as all of our having obligations not to cause any feeling being needless suffering. This has nothing at all to do with whether the victim of the suffering has responsibilities.
Sunday, November 30. 2014
Long-time vegan advocate James McWilliams has lately proposed consuming insects instead of plants.
1. Yes, the moral imperative is (i) to cause no suffering at all to sentient beings if it is not essential for human survival, (ii) to minimize any suffering that is essential for human survival, and (iii) to reduce the rate of human population growth.
2. Yes, animals suffer and die in the plant agriculture that feeds the vast and growing human population, and all means should be developed to minimize that suffering — eliminating it altogether if it ever becomes possible.
3. But the unspeakable scale of agony that is being inflicted on countless sentient animals every moment, hour, day, worldwide today by humans' utterly unnecessary demand for meat, fish, dairy, eggs and fur is so monstrously huge and horrible that it is idle to speculate about one day switching to insect consumption rather than focussing today on re-directing existing plant agriculture to feeding humans instead of to feeding sentient victims purpose-bred, needlessly, to be brutalized and slaughtered to feed those same humans.
4. Speculations about a hypothetical future insectivore alternative, just like speculations about hypothetical future cloned or synthesized meat just give us another excuse to wait, and meanwhile continue to sustain the unpardonable agony caused by our needless consumption of meat, fish, dairy, eggs and fur, instead of taking the small and obvious first step of switching to a plant-based diet and to cruelty-free apparel.
5. If we wish to speculate, let's speculate rather (a) about inventing ways to minimize or eliminate animal suffering in agriculture and (b) about reducing the growth of the human population.
Meanwhile, the very first priority is not to persuade people to eat insects instead of plants, but to eat plants instead of animals.
And for every layman or entomologist who insists that "there’s no hard evidence to support the prospect of insect suffering," there are countless laymen and zoologists (among them Descartes) who insist that there’s no hard evidence to support the prospect of animal suffering.
What is really behind all this is the "other minds problem": The only suffering you can be absolutely sure about is your own. If we give our kin and kind the benefit of the doubt, let's give invertebrates the benefit of the doubt too, even if they are small. The nociceptive systems of insects and snails are much like those of lobsters or octopuses, which in turn are not very different from those of vertebrates and mammals, including us.
The "quick and massive and singular and decisive whack" for "minimal suffering" that James McWilliams seems to be imagining for insects is as self-deceptive as it is in the minds of the countless meat-eaters who imagine that something like that is how cows', calves', pigs', chickens', turkeys', fish' or lobsters' lives are ended for their plates -- or the way foxes', coyotes', seals'' dogs' or cats' lives are ended for their fur trim.
Tuesday, November 25. 2014
The rage of Gary Yourovsky and other militant animal rights activists is completely understandable and morally justified, but it is profoundly counterproductive, and hence unfair and harmful to the daily, hourly victims everywhere.
Aggressive vegans are just preaching to one another: to other aggressive vegans, actual and potential.
But the only hope of animals is if most of the human population is not hard-hearted, meaning that they are potentially empathic to animals’ agony, once they come to realize that the suffering we inflict on animals is both horrific and needless. Most do not know it yet.
The eyes, minds and hearts of human beings need to be opened, by the graphic evidence of the unspeakable horrors and the scientific evidence of the fact that meat, fish, milk, eggs, and fur are not needed for human survival or health. They are just cruel relics and habits of our evolutionary and cultural past that need to be brought to an end, by laws and education, just as slavery, bondage, rape and subjugation have been.
We were not bullied into becoming vegans. Bullying and aggression just hardens hearts. Our hearts naturally led us toward humaneness, once we saw the monstrousness and the gratuitousness of the horrors. Animals’ only hope is that most people are exactly like us — they just have not yet seen, heard, felt the suffering of the victims, nor that it need not be.
Thursday, November 13. 2014
1. Statements cannot be “proved” true unless they are just formal proofs in mathematics. (I am sure Jonathan Balcombe did not say “proof” as cited in Patrick Barkham's article in the Guardian.)
2. We know apples fall down rather than up, not because of proof, but because the preponderance of the evidence supports it.
3. Ditto for the law of gravitation, which explains why apples fall: no proof, just supporting evidence.
4. Ditto for the fact that animals can feel: no proof, just evidence.
5. Ditto for the fact that human animals feel: no proof, just evidence.
6. The sole exception is oneself: each person knows for sure that they feel what they feel when they feel: No need for either evidence or proof for that. To feel something is enough. (We know that since at least Descartes’ “cogito.”)
7. But for anyone else, we know they feel because of evidence, not proof. Not even when they tell us.
8. I think Marian Stamp Dawkins is being more scientistic than scientific in her call for a “cautious” approach.
9. Cautious about what? About knowing whether it hurts if you kick a dog or a calf? Should we keep kicking till we have proof, or "scientific" evidence?
10. I would extend Jeremy Bentham’s oft-quoted words: What matters “is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” [The Principles of Morals and Legislation]
11. What matters “is not, ‘Can they feel pleasure?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” [which includes depriving them of pleasure, and of life]
12. That is what should be governing our treatment of all animals, human and nonhuman.
Wednesday, November 5. 2014
Friday, October 17. 2014
Egon was born in Princeton NJ in June 1970. His parents, first cousins, had been together briefly as tiny children in a refugee camp in Austria in 1945, the only remaining avatars of their respective 25% of what had once been a large Hungarian-Jewish family.
Shipped off to be reared in gentile homes on opposite sides of the American continent, with no encouragement to correspond, they always knew vaguely about one another's existence but never took up the thread in earnest until, in 1969, on their first day of graduate school, they met by chance in Princeton's Foreign Students Center, drawn there, not by the technicality of their overseas birth, but by a subterranean yearning they had always felt, and that they now fulfilled by marrying after only a few weeks of ceaseless and haunting deja vu.
Egon's birth was in Bob Dylan's "Year of the Locust," with cicadas whirring all around. Everyone said he was a hauntingly beautiful baby, but as he got to be one, two, three, four, he didn't speak, and human contact seemed somehow painful for him. His parents, who had by now made Princeton their permanent home, had another child, a cheerful, talkative girl called Anni; all hope was gradually lost that Egon, who was now seven and had shown exceptional drawing ability, would ever speak or go to school. His drawings were remarkably detailed and empathic depictions of little creatures -- birds, mice, insects.
Since his birth, Egon had had severe allergic reactions to foods other than fruits, nuts, greens and grains. His meagre diet and even more meagre appetite kept him very thin and pale, but people still kept remarking how beautiful he was, even from those few head-on glimpses they ever got of him, for he seemed to find it very uncomfortable to be looked at; direct eye contact was almost nonexistent.
Egon was not sent to an institution, although his toilet-training was not secure and he had gone through a period when he had repeatedly tried to injure himself. He was cared for at home, where everyone loved him, even though he did not seem to feel or like personal contact. The only way he seemed able to express himself was his animal drawings, which were getting smaller and smaller, until now they were only close-up details of insects. Anni made up for Egon's silence by being a very gay, chatty, sociable, affectionate girl with a huge appetite who did very well in school and even became something of a local celebrity for her expressive and imaginative performances in a children's theatre.
Then Egon reached twelve, puberty, and a sudden change occurred. He was standing in his usual way, with his back to the window, occasionally glancing sideways into the front yard. These were the glances with which he had proved to be able to take in an enormous amount of detail, for this was how he glimpsed the little creatures he would draw, never gazing head-on. Egon looked up abruptly and cried in a clear and penetrating voice: "Mama, wait, don't back out!"
His mother heard the first five words he had ever spoken just as she was pulling her keys from her pocketbook to lock the back door before going out to the garage to get into her car. Anni heard them just as she was starting down the stairs to take over her mother's vigil over Egon.
What they both saw when they rushed to him was Egon facing the window instead of with his back to it, and peering out directly and intently instead of just swaying his head languidly to and fro. Ninety silent seconds went by; then he turned toward them, and back to the window, intoning softly, with a slight pubertal hoarseness in his voice, six more words: "Look, you would have hit him," pointing toward an old dog, dragging a leash, who had been running dazedly up the street for several minutes and had only now reached their driveway, at the same instant the car would have emerged from it if everything had gone as planned. "Can you call his owner, Mama?"
Egon went to school. It turned out he could already read and write, though no one could remember having seen him with books or magazines for any length of time, and even then all he had ever done was turn them round and round passively, never holding them right side up as if to read them.
Not everything about Egon reverted suddenly to normal as of that day. His personal contact was still very vague. He would sometimes smile with some embarassment in response to a glance, but he still rarely looked at anyone directly. And though he could now talk, he certainly was anything but talkative. Days would still go by in which he would not say a word. His family had the feeling that communication was still somehow painful for him.
And he stopped drawing altogether. No one could get him to do it. He had no interest in his sketching materials whatsoever. And of course he had never given any of his finished drawings -- collected across the years, displayed all over the house, and filling boxes and boxes -- a second glance after doing them. Instead, he now began to collect and take care of real animals. Well, not animals, actually, but insects. His room was full of terraria, where he raised and bred all kinds of beetles, spiders, mealworms, roaches.
In school Egon did well in mathematics and history. He had difficulties with English because he did not seem to have a clear sense of fiction. He was extremely slow and hopelessly uncoordinated in gym. And he had almost no social life, although his fellow-students did not dislike him. He would perhaps have been perceived as aloof, if it were not for the endearing fact that he was always to be found crouching intently around bushes or tree trunks, or the terraria in the biology lab, obviously preoccupied with his invertebrate friends rather than snubbing his fellow-vertebrates. And what saved him from ridicule was that he still retained that haunting beauty people had noticed since his birth.
One night, in May of 1987, Egon did not come home after school. Since it was not rare for him to linger over things he saw on the way home, it wasn't until supper time that the family became worried in earnest.
His parents drove back and forth along the streets between their home and the high school. Anni phoned all her friends, and had them call their friends, searching for a trace of who had seen him last. The police were alerted.
At 11 pm an officer patrolling Marquand Park found him squatting by a tree, monitoring the slow march of the legions of cicadas who had been straining upward from the depths of the earth to surface simultaneously at dusk of that very day and march horizontally overland to the nearest tree, then vertically to a safe height, where they would fasten their feet firmly and begin laboriously extricating themselves from the rugged armour in which they had been dwelling underground for 17 years, awaiting this night's summons to the surface by an unseen, unheard biological call that bade them to abandon forever their dark roach-like former forms, still clinging faithfully to the trees, and emerge at last as ghostly white nymphs, awaiting daybreak when their tiny twin backpacks of crumpled yellow would unfurl and dry into enormous transparent wings, their bodies would darken, their eyes would turn ruby red, and their abdomens would begin to whir in the tireless crescendos and decrescendos of their urgent collective lovesongs.
There was no question of scolding Egon. They were just grateful that he was alright. More nights would follow in which he came home late or not at all as he maintained his vigil over the closely timed emergence of the cicadas that had burrowed into the earth as little newborn specks 17 years ago. Many of them now found concrete where there had been soil 17 years earlier. Egon planted his fingers before them vertically, treelike, and they dutfully began to climb. Then he airlifted them in squadrons of six or eight over the perilous sidewalks where they were being squashed in great numbers by passersby, who hardly even saw the slow-moving legions in those last gray moments of dusk in which they were erupting daily. He placed the hand with the clinging cicadas horizontally, touching a treetrunk with his fingertips, and the cicadas would resume their march, along his fingers, till they reached the vertical tree bark, to which they transferred, leaving Egon to secure another handful of passengers.
It was to the site of these airlifts that Egon returned most often in the succeeding weeks to watch the cicadas singing in the trees as they mated and lived out this last, brief supraterranean portion of their life cycles. These were his cicadas.
Egon was visibly distressed in the last days of his cicadas. They had sung and mated and laid their eggs. Now, taking no more food since they had emerged from the earth, they were waiting to die, falling out of the trees as they weakened, flying chaotically into auto windshields and store-fronts, unable to find their way back into the trees.
Egon frantically revived his airlift, taking one errant cicada after another back to the trees and safety. He would stoop down among the legs of bemused passersby, trying to rescue fallen cicadas even as they were being squashed left and right by the insouciant multitudes.
"But Egon, they've finished their life cycle, they're going to die anyway!" everyone kept telling him, but he was bent only on his mission, to rescue his red-eyed friends.
When the car struck him, he had an unusually large flotilla of passengers -- four on one hand, six on the other. Evening was approaching, the congestion of rush hour was over, so the cars were moving quickly on Mercer Street. He was also frail, having done no sports at all during his entire short life. He must have lost consciousness right away, though he only died a few hours later, in the emergency room of Princeton Medical Center. They had to pry the ten cicadas, dead too but still clinging, from his rigid fingers.
Sunday, October 12. 2014
LE STATUT JURIDIQUE D'ÊTRES SENSIBLES DANS LE CODE CIVIL DU QUÉBEC
(11 OCTOBRE 2014, Hôtel de ville de Montréal)
Nous sommes ici à la défense des animaux contre les souffrances inutiles infligées par les humains.
A la défense des êtres sensibles contre les souffrances inutiles infligées par les humains.
Les humains aussi sont des animaux.
Donc nous sommes ici à la défense des humains aussi, contre les souffrances inutiles infligées par les humains.
Mais les humains sont déjà considérés comme des êtres sensibles selon la loi.
Les humains sont protégés contre les souffrances par la loi.
Ça ne veut pas dire que la loi est toujours respectée.
Mais les lois sont là, selon lesquelles l’esclavage, la torture et le meurtre sont illégaux, et sévèrement punis.
Mais ceci n’est pas le cas pour les animaux.
Selon la loi, les animaux ne sont que des biens meubles.
Des biens meubles comme les tables et les chaises et les grilles pains et les ordinateurs.
On peut faire ce qu’on veut avec les biens meubles : Les acheter, les vendre, les scier en deux, les jeter dans la poubelle.
Et il y a une raison pour ça : Les biens meubles sont insensibles. Une chaise est indifférente si elle est sciée en deux : Elle ne sent rien. Elle ne sent pas.
Il y en a qui croient – ou font semblant de croire – que les animaux ne sentent pas non plus.
On ne sait pas si les psychopathes croient vraiment que les animaux sont insensibles, ou font juste semblant de le croire.
C’est sûr que les sadiques savent que les animaux sont sensibles, car ça leur fait plaisir de les faire souffrir.
Je suis sûr que la vaste majorité des humains ne sont ni des psychopathes, ni des sadiques.
La vaste majorité des humains ont un cœur, et leurs cœurs sentent que les animaux sentent.
C’est pour ça que plus de 47 mille québécois ont signé le manifeste pour accorder le statut d’être sensible aux animaux dans le code civile du Québec
C’est sur ce dossier que travaille activement le ministre du MAPAQ, M Pierre Paradis, qui s’est déclaré en faveur d’accorder aux animaux le statut d’êtres sensibles dans le code civile du Québec
Nous sommes ici en partie pour exprimer notre reconnaissance à M. Paradis et notre support pour ces démarches.
Mais il faut en tenir compte que le statut d’être sensible n’est que le tout premier pas, pour protéger les animaux contre les souffrances inutiles infligées par les humains.
Il faut ensuite appliquer la reconnaissance du fait que les animaux sont sensibles pour créer et mettre en vigueur un grand nombre de lois particulières pour réglementer les industries qui causent souffrances aux animaux.
Les abolitionistes parmi nous (et j’en suis un) – ceux qui ne veulent pas juste des règlements, mais veulent mettre fin à toutes les souffrances inutiles infligées par les humains – devront être patients.
Et les animaux vont continuer à souffrir des agonies, inutilement.
Jusqu’à ce qu’on ne réussit à réveiller les cœurs de cette majorité d’humains qui ont des cœurs au fait qu’on peut vivre une vie saine et juste sans infliger les souffrances aux animaux.
Le premier pas civil, c’est de leur accorder le statut juridique d’êtres sensibles.
Le premier pas personnel, c’est de cesser de contribuer à leur agonie – en devenant végane.
Yes, all the cruel, unpardonable things described by Dr. Danten -- and more -- are imposed on innocent, helpless animals by the pet industry and its customers. But "much more cruel than any other form of animal exploitation, including factory farming..."?
Cruelty is a contest that only psychopaths and sadists are interested in scoring or winning. But in sheer numbers alone, the cumulative agony of factory-farmed victims is surely by orders of magnitude the greatest today. Perhaps only the decimation by habitat destruction comes close.
It all needs to stop, all the cruelty. But although it does not for one minute justify any of the horrors that Dr. Danten has correctly described, if there is to be any hope for ending all the horrors, it must first be possible for people to form close relationships with animals: Without that, how can there ever be the comprehension, let alone the empathy, that will persuade us that we have to abolish it all, all the suffering being wantonly imposed on countless, blameless victims in unimaginable numbers, completely and utterly unnecessarily, by the pet industry, the meat industry, the dairy industry, the fur industry, the sports industry, the entertainment industry and countless independent entrepreneurs? And that is before we even have to face the harder question of biomedical research that saves lives.
Don't buy pets. Adopt the abandoned, abused, homeless ones that have had the sad fate of being created, and comfort them for the rest of their lives. Once you fall in love with them -- as everyone with a heart is destined to do -- you will no longer be able to ignore the tragic fate of all the rest.
And the first step to take to help all the rest is to stop sustaining their terrible fate, by no longer eating, wearing, or buying them.
Thursday, September 18. 2014
A 51/49 electoral mistake can be corrected 4 years later, but a 51/49 squeaker for YES in a referendum for separation cannot be.
(Almost as bad, a 51/49 referendum squeaker for NO can keep being challenged year in and year out, destabilizing the country, until the YES squeaks through. Just keep doubling your bets.)
I'd vote for a 2/3 threshold...
Monday, September 15. 2014
The remarkable feature of language is that you can say anything that can be said in any language in any other language. Only not necessarily in the same number of words.
No translation is "exact," but it can always be made closer and closer -- with more words.
But no verbal expression of a thought is exact either. Verbalization is approximation too. (Do I make myself clear?)
Where Hungarian uses word order and inflections, English uses passives and emphasis markers.
Sajnos a pogácsát Pista ette meg. -- Alas, as to the biscuit, it was by Pista that it was eaten.And the Hungarian originals, like all sentences, are themselves polysemous: other construals than the above ones are possible for the very same words — but they too are translatable…
But I think 5! is an overestimate for the number of possible permutations and combinations. Some of them make no sense even in Hungarian…
I wish it were possible to discuss Hungary and Hungarian in this benign way once again, instead of having to focus on the way Orban, Fidik, and generic (sic, not genetic) Hungarian culture is making Hungary regress on the mean and ever meaner…
Monday, September 8. 2014
Shriners Karnak Temple
3350 Boulevard des Sources
QC H9B 1Z9
I would like to request a meeting in Montreal to discuss the Shriners Circus.
My father was a freemason and I have the highest respect for Shriners and its good works. But I would like to discuss with the Shriners leadership the unimaginable cruelty that has been documented in the raising, training and treatment of animals in the circus. As this evidence becomes more and more public through the web and media it will be much better for children and for animals and for Shriners' reputation to transfer support from circuses with animal acts to circuses with human performers only, coupled with a live exhibit for children by animal sanctuaries, showing rescued animals and how they should be treated, along with pictures and videos of how they have been maltreated in their pasts.
Children are extremely responsive to this, and it will help to foster a new generation of compassionate children and adults.
Stevan Harnad, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences
Professor of Psychology
Université du Québec à Montréal
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