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Some thoughts on “the” bible as “divine word” and a justification for killing animals.

In the comments on one of my previous posts about Gary Yourofsky, a person named Grant asked vegans to “respect” non-vegans.  I explained why that will never happen, and the discussion evolved to be about religion and “the” bible.

I found a well-written article that I think addresses the concerns I raised in my discussion with Grant, which are that beliefs are fine so long as they don’t harm anyone, and animals are definitely someone.  Grant argued, saying animals are things put here by god for us to use and they aren’t persons.  I countered that it’s very convenient how religious people cherry pick from their various bibles that support whatever beliefs they feel like having in a moment.  Grant says he doesn’t cherry pick, but I argued that he must, necessarily, as he himself admitted to not sacrificing animals even though “the” bible tells him to.

Here is a wonderful article about why we actually need to cherry pick from “the” bible.  It essentially argues what I was arguing–religion needs to evolve to accommodate current morals, norms and values.  Unfortunately, because it’s written words, and religious folks insist it’s the “breathed” word of some god, the bible or other religious texts don’t change; they remain stagnant, while the rest of the world moves on and evolves.

Here is the article in its entirety (from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-tarico/in-defense-of-cherry-pick_b_7305860.html):

People accuse each other of cherry picking sacred texts, as if the term was an insult. But for those seeking to honor the quest of the Bible writers or to raise healthy children within a Christian tradition, that is precisely the right approach.

No parent with a backyard cherry tree would pick every piece of fruit on the tree and feed it to her children. No matter how excellent a tree, some of the fruit is wormy. Some of it is bird pecked and moldy. Some wasn’t pollinated properly and has been hard and shriveled from the beginning. A loving parent culls through, discarding the bad fruit and feeding her children the cherries that are juicy and nourishing.

But when it comes to handed down ideas about religion — about what is real and what is good and how we should then live — many people don’t apply the same prudent care. They take the Bible or related traditions and pass them on without sifting or sorting.

Bad cherries in the bowl will give a child a stomach ache at worst, but bad religious ideas can leave a person needlessly guilt ridden for life or unable to enjoy sex, or deeply fearful of death, or full of judgment and alienation toward outsiders, or even suffering what some call religious trauma syndrome.

Handing down un-culled religious beliefs from one generation to the next not only passes on psychologically harmful ideas, it is tearing apart our world. Today some of the worst ideas plaguing society are ideas that claim support from the pages of the Torah or Christian Bible or Quran, for example the idea that children are born bad and must be beaten, or that female sexuality is dirty and dangerous, or that homosexuality is abominable, or that religious outsiders lack morals, or that war can be holy, or that the Earth is ours to consume as we please and that God will simply replace it.

These ideas reflect the mentality of our ancestors, but there is every reason to think that they would be far less common today were it not for the fact that they are endorsed in the pages of books now called Holy by hundreds of millions of believers.

To understand how humanity ended up in this dilemma and how we might get past it, we need to understand something fundamental about the Abrahamic religions.

People of the Book

When the Prophet Mohammed embraced Jews and Christians as fellow “People of the Book,” he wasn’t simply acknowledging the shared roots of all three religions in the ancient Hebrew narrative of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was also correctly observing that these two religious traditions were centered around written texts akin to the one he was in the process of creating.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam emerged during the time when writing was coming into its own as humanity’s most powerful cultural technology, one that wouldn’t be rivaled until the 20th Century. To a degree unlike any prior religion (or any religion that is likely to emerge in the future), the Abrahamic religions are structured around a specific communication technology — the written word. It is no coincidence that some of the world’s largest religions spread across continents not only in the minds of individual believers but in bundles of papyrus, parchment, scrolls, illuminated manuscripts, and finally mass produced books.

In Christianity, the advent of the printing press, which brought the written word to the masses, directly fueled the Protestant Reformation. Over time, across vast swaths of Christendom the authority of the papacy and Catholic hierarchy were replaced by the authority of the Bible, the Reformation’s “sola scriptura.” (The irony, of course, is that it was the Catholic hierarchy itself that had assembled the collection of texts and declared them, on papal authority, to be God’s best and most complete revelation to humankind. But I digress.)

This focus on the written word is both the greatest strength and greatest flaw of the Abrahamic religions. It has allowed Christianity and Islam to become more powerful than any religion in history. Today over 3.7 billion people identify with one or the other of these traditions. But it has also allowed both traditions to become stagnant and cruel, profoundly corrupted by a phenomenon that might best be described as “book worship” or “bibliolatry.”

Sacred Text as Golden Calf

Today many Christians assert that the Bible is the literally perfect Word of God, timeless and complete — exempt from addition, deletion, or revision. Many Muslims make the same claim for the Quran, according it such high status that either defacing a copy of the book or denying its divine provenance is a crime worthy of death. In other words, they attribute to the Bible and Quran the qualities of divinity, and they treat offenses against the book as if they were offenses against a god. They behave toward the Bible and Quran precisely like their ancestors did toward the wood and stone carvings that represented the divine for pre-literate people.

In an age of widespread literacy, what better golden calf than a “golden” book?

Bibliolatry Violates Both Book and Writer

Ironically, the idea that our sacred texts are perfect and complete, in final form, is diametrically opposed to the stance of the men who wrote those texts. Each of these men took the tradition and teachings he received, processed them, and then offered what he believed to be a better, deeper understanding of reality and goodness. Had this not been the case, the authors would have been copyists, not writers.

Ironically, too, writers of both the Bible and Quran understood the dangers of idolatry, and within the constraints of their own cultural blinders did what they could to warn against it. They recognized that pre-literate people had sought to convey their understanding of the divine through works of art: sculptures, paintings, friezes, and more. They recognized that these objects became idols, treated as if the icons themselves were as holy as the truths they sought to convey. And they recognized that idol worship bound people to harmful ideas and practices, and to inadequate conceptions of divinity.

They felt so strongly about this that they encouraged the destruction of religious symbols and icons. In the intervening centuries, both Christianity and Islam have been plagued with bouts of iconoclasm, purges like the one that currently drives members of the Taliban and ISIS to destroy the last vestiges of ancient pre-Muslim culture and religion, as they are able.

The authors of the Bible and Quran had no way to foresee that their words would eventually cause the greatest developmental arrest in the history of humankind. In their Iron Age context, the advent and spread of writing was an innovation on par with the arrival of computing. It allowed so much more depth, nuance and complexity that earlier symbolic systems that the possibilities must have seemed infinite.

It must have been impossible to imagine that inked texts would ultimately fail to keep up with the growth of human knowledge, and that they would eventually be replace by mass printing, then living documents (like wikis) and other media. It must have been impossible to grasp the limits of the written word — that texts, however sacred, can only, ever, convey a finite set of spiritual understandings, static and frozen in time, small and bound by human psychology, utterly inadequate to encompass the power behind the DNA code or the laws of physics.

The High Price of High Fidelity: Static Books, Static Knowledge, Static Priorities

The spread of writing allowed previously unimaginable advances, but like any new technology it created a new set of problems. Before the advent of the sacred text, religious beliefs and practices were handed down via oral tradition and were represented by symbols, icons and rituals. Religion was necessarily more heterogeneous, more place based, and more grounded in practice, or “praxis,” rather than belief. It was also more free to evolve as culture and moral consciousness themselves evolved in response to changing environmental conditions, population densities, and technologies.

By contrast with oral tradition, a book allows an extraordinary degree of fidelity in transmitting a set of ideas across time and space and between strangers with many degrees of separation. That is the strength, but also the weakness of the written word. This fidelity means that any printed text is frozen in time, a snapshot of a single mind embedded in a specific cultural and historical context. And since the knowledge or insight imbedded in the text is static, when people or institutions bind themselves to a text, asserting that it is final and complete — the definitive authority on whatever matter it addresses — they become stagnant too. An institution or person that declares allegiance to an immutable text becomes developmentally arrested, unable to do what the author himself did, which was to take his received tradition and iterate on it, offering new ideas and insights about the subject at hand.

The Fruit of the Spirit

My friend Eckhart inherited two old cherry trees when he bought his current home. The trees were past their prime and the cherries are prone to be buggy. But with selective pruning and care he has gotten a bounty of sweet, wholesome fruit for his family. Eckhart’s story isn’t surprising to anyone who understands agriculture. But why do we so often fail to apply simple lessons from other parts of life to our spiritual endeavor?

Rather than being used as an epithet, perhaps cherry picker should be a compliment, an acknowledgment of discernment, wisdom, judgment, and responsibility. In actual fact, all religious believers (and nonbelievers) cherry pick their sacred texts or cultural traditions, even fundamentalists, even those who deny doing so. A book like the Bible or Quran contains passages that contradict each other, or that demand a level of perfection (or cruelty) that is simply unattainable for most believers. Whether we are Christian or Muslim or post-Abrahamic freethinkers or practitioners of some other spiritual tradition, the question isn’t whether we cherry pick, it is whether we do so wisely and well, based on some higher principle that tells us which passages are spiritually nourishing and which should be discarded.

Humanity’s shared moral core provides guidance in this regard. Religion scholar Huston Smith says that the world’s great wisdom traditions converge on three values that he calls veracity, humility, and charity, each of which both constrains and enhances the others. Veracity means truth telling and truth seeking, including honest self-appraisal. Humility means recognizing that each of us is just one among many and that the yearnings and insights of others matter. Charity, in the King James sense, is not merely generosity but love, the kind that seeks to value the pleasure and pain of others on par with our own.

The Golden Rule, which can be thought of as a shorthand for these values appears in some form in virtually every religious or secular moral philosophy, and likely is encoded into our genes in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand. As Christian author Rachel Held Evans has said eloquently, in Christianity, this ethic is woven into what Jesus calls the greatest of the commandment, to love God and to love your neighbor, the latter being the tangible manifestation of the former. This, he says, sum up all the writings of the Law and Prophets. In the book of Matthew, he warns against false prophets, saying, “You will know them by their fruit.” The Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the spirit as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith. “Against such, there is no law,” he adds, recognizing that these virtues are respected not only within but also outside the nascent Christian community.

These are the measures that let us know what fruit is worth keeping, and what is not. Cherry picking a sacred text doesn’t leave a person without a moral core, lost in a world where anything goes, as some fundamentalists fear. Rather, it anchors that moral core to something clearer, deeper, and more durable than the bindings of a golden book.

Our ancestors were flawed and human, as we are today. And they lacked many of the advantages we have from our privileged vantage in the 21stCentury. They were constrained by their own time and place and individual failings, but even so, they took their received traditions and wrestled with them, offering a new understanding of what was right and real, drawing on the past but facing the future. And in doing so, they offered us genuinely timeless and transcendent metrics by which we might do the same.

When we cherry pick their words in accordance with their highest and most enduring ideals, we honor and further their quest. We also show our selves worthy of the privilege we have been given to live at this point in history. What stories might have been told, and what insights might have been attained by an Isaiah or Jesus or Paul or Mohammed who had the advantage of living in the 21st Century?

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This is a thought-provoking essay on tolerance

Should We Be Tolerant of Intolerance?

— Can Relativism Coexist with Fundamentalism?
01 Aug 2016
If we value multiculturalism then we must not be afraid of being fiercely intolerant towards intolerance. Otherwise we will inadvertently end up destroying the very tolerance and freedoms that are the bedrock of modern multicultural societies.

WE ARE ALL ONE, and as a reflection of that unity we need to integrate so that we can learn to look past our ideological differences. Whether we are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, left-wing, right-wing, liberal, neocon, fascist and/or Marxist, these belief systems are superficial compared to our shared humanity. Put various people together in an open democratic society and that shared humanity outshines ideological contrasts. The future is peaceful multiculturalism — and it is a bright future of shared humanity.

At least, that is the idealism being promoted in Western democracies by our media, our legal systems, teachers and many progressive thinkers. Of course there is nothing wrong with this sort of idealism, except that it does not reflect the real world. Idealism certainly birthed democracy, social liberty and, most importantly, freedom of speech, and it is the bedrock of civilisation. But idealism has to keep one foot in reality for it to be an effect agent for positive social change.

Today, the idealism of multiculturalism is causing problems because it is based on the false assumption that humanity’s relationship to beliefs is identical, and so all belief systems are equivalent. In other words, we are all equally effected by contradictions and challenges to our beliefs, including our cultural and religious beliefs. This is relativism, and it equates all belief systems as equally valid. But this is not reflected in human psychology.

The ideal of multiculturalism is based on this type of relativism — this equivalence of the validity of belief systems. And as different belief systems are considered to be equally valid, the reasoning goes that they should be able to exist side by side with minimal conflict.

But this overlooks a vital component of belief systems: the believers themselves. How we believe beliefs is actually much more important than what we believe. If we are unconscious of our belief systems and largely confuse them with reality (a position known as fundamentalism), then we will not take too kindly to challenges to those belief systems. And as any contradicting belief system will be considered a challenge to our own, we will have a natural intolerance to other belief systems.

On the other hand, if we are conscious enough to recognise that our belief systems are belief systems and not confuse them with reality, we are likely to be far more tolerant towards those with contradictory belief systems. This relationship to believes shows a level of psychological maturity which recognises a separation between ourselves and our beliefs. If such a separation does not exist, however, any challenge to our beliefs will be taken as a challenge to ourselves, and so will be strongly resisted and rebuked.

In the multicultural ideal, the assumption is made that we can all be equally tolerant of each others’ beliefs, that we all share the same level of psychological maturity. But on this planet right now there are people with Stone Age minds living right next door to people from the 21st Century post-modern world. And that is why multiculturalism does not work: the model does not reflect reality; relativism and fundamentalism cannot peacefully coexist.

That is not to say that there will be a social war between relativists and fundamentalists in the same society, because the truth is that most relativists will refuse even to see conflict. And in this way, the fundamentalists will usually have the upper hand in a relativist society that treats all beliefs as equal, because the intolerance of the fundamentalist will tolerated by the controlling relativists.

And if a government of a largely relativist culture makes the decision to accept a significant influx of fundamentalists, for even the best and most moral reasons, then that relativism is going to be jeopardised because fundamentalism abhors relativism, whereas relativism tries hard to accept fundamentalism. It doesn’t matter how good or bad, moral or immoral those fundamentalists are, they will consciously or unconsciously seek to destroy the relativism of that society one way or another because it is a direct threat to their identity.

In this way, tolerance of intolerance ends up destroying tolerance, especially if the birth rate of those that are intolerant outstrips that of those that are tolerant. But as intolerance to outsiders is regarded as fascist or nationalist, and therefore associated with racism and other abhorrent separatist viewpoints, modern society will not allow itself even a healthy level of intolerance. So in the end, putting no limits on tolerance will end up eroding that tolerance itself. And at some point in the future, we will find ourselves living in an intolerant society.

Even writing these words feels uncomfortable to me as someone who abhors both nationalism and racism, but I have to follow the logic to its conclusion, and admit that unless tolerance has limits, it sows the seeds of its own destruction. We can learn from the yin-yang symbol which, although it separates out black and white, places a little spot of black in the centre of the white and vice versa. In this way, two opposing qualities or viewpoints can harmoniously coexist because they contain an aspect of each other. So tolerance must contain some intolerance for it to last, otherwise it will be too fragile for a modern world.

So if we want a viable multicultural future, we need to be intolerant to intolerance, and this means giving up the ideal of multiculturalism and accepting that, to harmoniously coexist, fundamentalist culture must be challenged and not tolerated. Otherwise, we jeopardise the very freedoms that allow multiculturalism to exist in the first place.

 

Sorry, I can’t seem to locate the author’s name, but the essay appears here: http://www.realitymaps.com/2016/08-tolerancetointolerance.html

 

unless tolerance has limits, it sows the seeds of its own destruction.”  I think this is actually very true, although I admit I share the author’s own discomfort and abhorrence of nationalism and racism.

I have to say, though, that it’s not just other cultures that have intolerant views.  We must not forget that white, North American Christians are incredibly intolerant.  As a woman, I can tell you that I am well aware of their intolerance toward my sex and see the full force of it every single day.

So, if we are going to be intolerant of intolerance, I assume the author includes everyone rather than just certain groups.  I think we need to be intolerant not of other cultures, but of any beliefs that harm others, regardless of which culture hold the belief.  Preventing women from accessing abortions is a form of intolerance (which stems from a belief) that causes harm.  I guess what I am trying to say, poorly, is that it’s beliefs, not particular cultures or nationalities or groups, that foster intolerance.

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More on Yourofsky and violence

I think I may have posted this link in the comments in my previous Gary Y post, but it deserves to be showcased here.  It is eloquent and beautiful and thought-provoking and needs to be shared widely.

http://www.energygrid.com/animals/2015/05ap-yourofskyrape.html

The most poignant words for me were “pacifism is activism without the ego”.  Beautiful.  And watch the videos–who would you rather listen to:  Angry Gary Y or Thich Nhat Hanh?  People who are at peace with themselves draw others to them.  Gary Y needs to learn to stop being an immature man-child and embrace PEACE.

If you support Gary Y, I encourage you to read the linked article in its entirety–don’t give in to anger and be petulant.  The author is more than fair toward Gary but makes just points about his behaviour.

 

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Other people can be pretty horrible at times–even other vegans.

So, a friend on Facebook–who is a vegan–posted this meme:

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Enter a caption

Thanks, Vegan-ish Outreach.  Ugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry if this doesn’t work right–this is the first time I’ve taken the time to actually post an image.  Anyway, this quote from Jack Norris pisses me off because I thought he was actually vegan.  What he’s basically saying here is, if it’s too hard for you to give up cheese, you can still be vegan and continue eating cheese.

That is bullshit.

Basically, he’s part of a disturbingly large group of people who don’t advocate veganism because it’s just too hard.  People who go vegan just sacrifice too much.  People won’t go vegan if they can’t eat cheese.

Ugh.  No.  Just…no.  A person cannot be vegan and eat cheese.  I’m not a “purist”.  I’m not some sort of aggressive person arguing semantics, etc.  But words MEAN things, and the word vegan refers to a person WHO DOES NOT CONSUME ANIMAL PRODUCTS.  I think that is pretty simple.  It does not include someone who eats cheese!

But lately I’ve noticed that people want to call themselves vegan without actually doing what it is that makes people vegan.  Then when they get called out for it, they say things like they don’t like labels, vegan isn’t an exclusive club, etc.  People like Jack Norris are NOT helping!

And the person who posted this on Facebook had this to say:

“I know there are a few hardcore vegans on my friends list who will find this offensive but I really do believe that even small efforts amount to big changes.”

And of course I responded  🙂    I said:

“It’s not so much hardcore as why not just go vegan? It’s not hard, and there is nothing magical in cheese or meat you can’t get from plants. If we truly care about animals, vegan is the only option. Baby steps, welfarism, and meatless mondays don’t help animals–they help people feel better about continuing to exploit animals. This isn’t me being hardcore. It’s me being honest.”

I think I was pretty “nice” in that comment.  I even added a smiley face.  And of course, my comment prompted thoughtful, meaningful and respectful discussion.

HA!  Just kidding–of course it didn’t.  What it sparked was people getting defensive and angry and twisting my words and then calling me all kinds of things, like aggressive and unapproachable.

Kind of like the comments I get here when I post about Gary Y or Ricky Gervais.  Fucking people–they don’t want to engage in thoughtful discussion; they want to put you down to feel better about their own shitty choices.

Here’s a sampling from the thread:

Person 1:  “Keep in mind, it’s your truth not everybody’s. I posted above, that plant proteins were not an option for me for most of my life. I could go into anaphylaxis and my choices were incredibly limited and due to this attitude I have felt insurmountable guilt and cognitive dissonance when I would eat animal protein. My allergies are luckily going through a state of change and I’m incorporating things into my diet as I can. But nothing is black and white and sometimes a wholistic attitude and encouraging people to take steps IS more helpful overall than a hardcore exclusive hardline attitude.”

Person 2:  ” dont agree i think any step that someone takes is still a step in right direction. A day of no meat is still a step fwd..its a start. People try as they can.”

Me:  Person 2, people are going to do what they are going to do, but as a vegan who understands that animals matter morally and are not things but persons, I do not advocate ‘baby steps’ and ‘every little bit helps’. First, because it does not actually help animals but only makes people feel better about continuing to eat, wear and otherwise use animals, and second, because we can do better. Going vegan is not difficult, so why continue to exploit and harm animals when there is no need to?

Person 2:  But do uou not think if someone starts eating less meat or not using leather etc etc that even that makes a small differance.
If 100people gave up meat for a day thats a fair bit not consumed. Ues it isnt world changing bit i feel its a start. Better than nothing i think.

Me:  Person 2, see, but it’s not a little bit or nothing. If a person cares enough to not eat meat for one day, why not care enough to not eat cheese, dairy or eggs? Dairy causes more harm than eating meat! If a person cares enough to not eat animals for a day, why stop there? Why go back to harming them the next day? It’s because they feel like they’ve done something to help animals by not eating them for a day, but if that person goes right back to eating them the next day, what has been done to help animals?

Person 1:  I’m guessing you haven’t thought of a rebuttal to my argument or see it as an excuse but the point is, is that if you’re concerned with getting more people on your team and embracing veganism this isn’t now to do it. All or nothing is IDEAL but not realistic. You’re ignoring history, culture, economics, legacies that families have lived off of for centuries and while you’re lucky to be above those things and find veganism “easy” most people aren’t so if you really care, you should try seeing things from a wider perspective and create more allies instead of more enemies.

Me: Person 1,  I guess the reason I didn’t offer you a “rebuttal” was that I am not judging you as an individual. What about everyone around you who have no food allergies? Why aren’t they vegan? I don’t make a habit of attacking individuals when it’s institutionalized animal exploitation vegans are seeking to dismantle, which involves all non-vegans, not just you. I stand by what I said. It’s easy to be vegan when the desire to do so is there. I don’t need to see things from any other perspective than that of the billions of animals needlessly killed each year.  i am not ignoring culture, etc. Cultures change constantly. All I tend to get from non-vegans are excuses, because most people don’t like being challenged over their belief in their right to use animals however they wish, particularly eating them. Being vegan IS easy, if a person wants it.

Person 3:  We don’t eat certain animal products, maybe one day we’ll be vegan but even half way makes a difference. People like Kylie telling others they aren’t good enough for trying puts off a large chunk of people from even bothering. People KNOW about what we are doing to animals, arguing that small steps don’t work is just bollocks. You could argue that one vegan in 10 million meat eaters doesn’t work by that logic

Me:  Please indicate where I said anyone was not “good enough”. Thank you.

Person 1:  Kylie, that’s exactly what you’re saying! As soon as people realize that veganism is 99% of the time a privilege (access to resources, economically, culturally, etc) they’ll realize how much more important it is to work with people instead of standing atop your ethical tower looking down on people. For example, I met a vegan in Serbia and she was literally starving because a) she couldn’t afford plant proteins and b) they weren’t available. Sometime the worst thing for veganism is other vegans. I totally support and agree with it but so far the only thing that’s pushed me away (albeit temporarily) is the attitude of other vegans.

Me:  Person 1, that is NOT what I ever said, and I will thank all of you for not putting words in my mouth. Veganism is NOT for privileged people, thanks, it is for everyone. Plant based foods are cheaper than meat and dairy. And if you are put off the entire notion of veganism because you don’t like me or what I am saying, then I don’t even know what to say to you. I have met a few feminists I didn’t like, but I still understood how necessary feminism is. I am sorry you don’t like what I am saying, but I am not the one who made this personal. My attitude has been nothing but consistent and honest.

Person 1:  LOL spoken like a true person of privilege! I’m not putting words into your mouth, but you’re not furthering your case. I theoretically agree with you. But in practice what you’re doing is being exclusive and saying anyone whose effort is a journey is useless therefore not good enough. Anyways, I’ll unfollow these comments because again a closed minded, privileged attitude hasn’t helped an extremely important and wonderful cause. I’m not going to convince you to be more inclusive so I’m going to back off.

Me:  Person 1, what privilege? And what about the privilege of being human non-vegans exercise over animals?! Are you kidding me??  And seriously, please stop putting words in my mouth. I never ONCE said anyone is “useless”.

Person 1:  Okay I’ll just quote you next time instead of contracting all of the efforts you’re saying aren’t helpful into one word. Saying something like meatless Mondays isn’t helpful is saying it’s not useful therefore useless. Does that break it down for you? You’re arguing semantics now and think the idea of privilege is something to “kid” about (it’s real) so we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

Me:  Person 1, you didn’t get the point of my comment, which is that not eating meat for one day does nothing because dairy and eggs harm animals too and what is accomplished if someone eats meat the rest of the week anyway?

Person 1:  I completely get the point of your comment, actually.

Person 3:   I think you must’ve missed your own point Kylie

Me:  I never said privilege is something to joke about. I believe I also pointed out human privilege over non-human animals.

Person 4:  💯% Agree with this post and everybody but Kylie’s opinion. Every step makes an impact, especially if everyone is willing to make those small differences.

Me:  Actually, things like “Meatless Monday” serve to make people feel better about continuing to exploit animals needlessly and do nothing to help animals. In fact, such welfarist campaigns, which focus on treatment rather than use, actually increase animal exploitation. And while one may go “meatless”, what about the cheese, milk and eggs being consumed? Dairy causes even more harm than meat, so Meatless Monday is quite harmful in terms of misdirecting people.

Person 5:  Kylie show me any proof where a step by step approach to behaviour change doesn’t work more often than overnight decisions. I don’t buy that encouragement and gradual change doesn’t work best.

You can’t just say that these welfarist (as you put them) campaigns increase animal exploitation.

Me:  They do. Please refer to the Abolitionist Approach website to see why–Gary Francione has written extensively on that matter.  i am also not saying encouragement does not work. But baby steps don’t–how many times have you heard people who have been vegetarian for years and once they become vegan they say I wish I had become vegan sooner? Well maybe they would have if people had encouraged veganism rather than veg, veggie, and other baby stepping.   i am all for education and encouragement, but i will not congratulate someone for continuing to exploit animals. I will continue to encourage them to do nothing less than go vegan. It’s not an end point, the final destination of some personal journey–it’s a moral imperative and the starting point.

Person 5:   Vegan can still be the goal. But people tend to make decisions for themselves, so being approachable and understanding is a better use of vegan discussion. Usually nobody even wants to talk about it, so why not allow people to feel good about their small changes, and encourage the next step. I really feel like that is more likely to lead to less animal products consumed overall. And that’s the goal here. So not ridiculing over the dairy, and openly discussing alternatives might be better for the animals.  So would you congratulate them for a vegetarian meal if it means they’re more likely to give up even more animal products in the future? You should. Otherwise it’s about your moral baseline and not the animals. And it feels like you care about the animals first.

Me:   how have i not been approachable? If people feel good about meatless mondays and cutting back, why would they continue to move forward? How have I “ridiculed” anyone? Pointing out that dairy is harmful is not “ridiculing” anyone!  I would acknowledge the person’s caring about animals and suggest that they take that caring to veganism, because they might not understand how being vegetarian does not help animals.

Person 5:  You pretty unapproachable if someone goes, “hello friend and/or coworker I just bought a veggie pizza” and you say “I will not congratulate you on this because you’re still a murderer”

Lol like are you serious? This isn’t approachable. And it’s not effective to facilitate behaviour change. I don’t know where we go from here.

Me:  again, putting words in my mouth. I love how you make the leap from “I wouldn’t congratulate them” to I’d call them a murderer! For the record, in ten years of being vegan I have never done that. Talk about all or nothing, black and white. I either congratulate them or call them a murderer. Jesus. Unbelievable.

The thread goes on, but just re-hashing that much made me feel pretty sick.

Sorry for the length, but I wanted to give a sampling of the kinds of people I deal with on a daily basis while advocating for animals.  I get people who don’t listen to a single word I say but jump all over me with lousy arguments full of holes.  They insist that baby steps is the way to go because culture and history and Inuits and a woman in Serbia and world won’t go vegan overnight–welfarist apologist BINGO!

I approach the topic in a reasonable and factual manner, but because I don’t clap others on the back for going vegetarian or doing meatless mondays, I am “unapproachable”, “ridiculing” and whatever other things they were calling me, telling me my approach makes enemies not allies.  So I am faced with the false dichotomy of either applauding others for half-assing it or telling them they are “murderers” (which I have never done).  Apparently, appreciating people’s moral concern for animals while letting them know they can do better makes me a horrible person.

Wow.  I can’t even communicate my frustration with others right now.  Posting all that made me re-live it, and I still reel at how truly fucking awful other people are.  And at least one of those people, maybe more, was vegan.  How fucking disappointing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Vegan article on Elephant Journal

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/08/dear-vegan-theres-something-i-have-to-say/

Oh, here’s a wonderful article from a non-vegan to a vegan, posted by a “friend” on Facebook recently. Predictably, within the first 100 words, this comes up: “I understand why you force your beliefs upon me”. It’s quickly followed by this: “Because yes, although I am a farmer, I too believe there are many practices farmers can undertake that would show more compassion for animals, significantly improve the sustainability of our earth, reduce carbon emissions, and leave a brighter future for following generations.”

The author claims to understand the vegan viewpoint but then says “But then you begin to throw words at me. Words like cruel, savage, uneducated, unintelligent, closed-minded. You say that I need to wake up to your perspective, which you believe to be the one absolute truth, and anybody who is not following this truth is unenlightened”.

Jesus H. Christ tap dancing on a cracker—where to even begin with this steaming pile of crap?

And then, for the win: “Because you preach compassion for all living creatures, yet refuse to treat a fellow human with respect and kindness when they exercise their freedom in a way that differs from yours.”

I can’t even with this drivel, but I’m going to try. I will try to have patience to explain all the ways this is just so stupid and wrong.

Let’s start with what veganism is. It’s not a religion, the way the quoted blog entry is making it out to be. It’s not about “beliefs”, at least not the way the author views beliefs. There are some things in this world, albeit not many, that ARE truth. It’s not about belief, or opinion—it’s just true. For example, most of us accept as true that human life has an inherent worth. A human life has value not for what it can do for someone else, but because it has value to the person whose life it is. Your life may not be worth a single thing to me, and I may not benefit from it in any way, but it has value to you because you are the one living it and it means everything to you.

I hope it’s clear that it’s a truth that human life has inherent worth. It means something to the person whose life it is. I think we’d all agree on that.

But somehow when the subject of a life is a non-human, that “belief” goes out the window. All of a sudden, we start talking about intelligence, or ability to recognize oneself in a mirror, or ability to use tools, or whatever, and we argue that non-humans do not value their own lives. We argue that their lives have no meaning to them, and what matters is not that we use them but how we treat them. We argue that it doesn’t really matter that we kill them, and that there is no inherent harm in killing them—what truly matters is how we treat them while we are using them.

In other words, we distort the truth to suit ourselves. We take something that we accept completely as truth for humans and discard it when it becomes inconvenient and threatens our use of non-humans.

Fundamentally, veganism is about justice for non-humans and recognizes that they value their own lives in the same way we value ours. However they experience the world, and whatever shape their lives take, they value their lives and want to continue living. And we have no right to use them to suit our own purposes.

This is a vegan’s truth. And when we talk about it with non-vegans, we are not “forcing beliefs” on them. Most non-vegans already believe this truth, particularly any who have spent time around other species of animals. If you’ve lived with a dog or a cat, or looked into the soulful eyes of a cow or a horse, or watched the antics of a pig, you know—you KNOW—that they are sentient beings who enjoy their lives and want to keep living. Vegans are not “forcing” anything. We are reminding non-vegans of what they already know to be true.

Vegans use words like “cruel” and “closed-minded” because they are apt. It IS cruel to understand another being’s sentience and their desire to continue living, but to ignore that and exploit, torture, abuse and ultimately kill that being because you profit from it, or you enjoy how their flesh tastes, or because you enjoy riding them or keeping them as pets.

What other words can we use to describe non-vegans? “Cruel” is correct—that is why vegans use it. As is “closed-minded”, as non-vegans very rarely just listen to what a vegan has to say. They are too busy arguing, rationalizing and defending their cruel behaviour to listen, hear and make the simple adjustments required to longer be cruel and closed-minded!

The quoted blog entry goes on to talk about how vegans don’t treat non-vegans “with kindness”, whatever that means, and states the usual “I would have been vegan if it weren’t for the nasty, mean vegans who were mean to me and hurt my feelings!”

Here’s my issue with this bullshit rhetoric: injustice is injustice, regardless of who is talking about it and how they are talking about it. It should not matter how the message is delivered—and my experience has been that no matter how “nice” a vegan is about veganism, non-vegans get angry and defensive with no provocation beyond hearing the word “vegan”.

I’ve been nice. I’ve been the silent vegan who sat at the table with non-vegan “friends” and family who eat dead animals in front of me, not once caring about how that makes me feel. And I sit there quietly, not saying a word, because if I do, I get shit on. I get called “militant”, “negative”, “joyless”, and “angry”. The ONLY way a vegan can be liked by non-vegans is if he or she sits there silently, or better yet, says things like “veganism is a personal choice that may not be for you. It is totally OK with me that you are sitting here in front of me eating meat.” This would be lying. It is definitely not OK, but as a vegan, you must remain silent or be disliked.

“Nice” means never challenging anyone on their thinking patterns. It means never questioning anything. It means not “making” people feel guilty for their shitty choices. Being nice means being what everyone else wants you to be. Being nice means not being true to yourself and your commitment to veganism.

I’m not “nice” anymore. I should not have to change who I am to suit others, particularly when they are participating in something horrible and completely and utterly immoral.

You can accuse me of “callous disrespect”, as the author of the quoted blog calls vegans, but you’d be wrong. “Callous disrespect” is refusing to understand that in every way that matters, a cow, pig or chicken is exactly like the dog or cat you love so much and would never dream of harming. The non-vegan’s disrespect for those beings’ desire to live is so far beyond callous it makes me want to scream.

But vegans are “callous” for hurting the non-vegans’ feelings.

Give me a goddamned break.

If you don’t want to be thought of as ignorant and uneducated, then stop being those things, non-vegans. Open your eyes and take a good long look at the incredible devastation your shitty, selfish choices are creating all around you. For once, look beyond yourself, your taste buds and your fashion preferences. There are MORE IMPORTANT things at play here! Educate yourself. Learn something. Read a fucking book. DO. SOMETHING.

One final thing for non-vegans to consider—vegans were not always vegan. We used to like eating meat, and cheese, and all the other shit you still eat. Like you, we were ignorant about the harm we were causing. We didn’t understand, until some vegans told us what dumb shits we were being.

Yes, that is right. Some vegans were mean and nasty to us! But instead of writing long-winded, cry-baby rants about the big bad vegans, we LISTENED to what the vegans were saying and realized what utter hypocrites and assholes we were being. And instead of defending our shitty behaviours in badly written, selfish blog posts, we changed what we were doing. We realized quickly how easy it was, and we fucking DID IT.

If we did, so can you. And you know what? Despite your ongoing dipshittery, we STILL fucking believe you can change. THAT is why we keep talking about veganism—we KNOW you can do better. We were once just like you, and there is nothing magical about us. We are just everyday, plain folks who woke the fuck up and realized what we were doing was wrong. We took responsibility for our actions and attitudes, and we changed them. You can too. So forgive us for having faith in the better parts of you.

Edited because I forgot to address this garbage:  “Because you preach compassion for all living creatures, yet refuse to treat a fellow human with respect and kindness when they exercise their freedom in a way that differs from yours”.

It is not “freedom” to victimize other sentient beings.  It’s not “personal choice” to eat meat, eggs or dairy or otherwise use other species for your own purposes.  You remove the “personal” when you exploit another.  And other species cannot consent, so yeah–NOT PERSONAL CHOICE.  Can we just stop saying that, please, non-vegans?

 

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On pet ownership

https://aeon.co/essays/why-keeping-a-pet-is-fundamentally-unethical

Here is a well-written essay on pet ownership and animal rights, by Gary Francione. Like the man or not, he’s right. Please read and consider what is said in this essay.

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“A Report from the ‘Intersectional Justice’ Conference”–Gary L. Francione (http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/report-intersectional-justice-conference/)

I found this a very interesting read, as I have little respect for Corey Lee Wrenn and her followers, for various reasons. I am interested in the message of Abolitionist veganism, and I do NOT believe using the word “abolition” is “appropriating” the experiences of African-Americans. I also do not give a single shit if the Abolitionist vegan message, which I agree with 100%, comes from a white male. Whatever your thoughts about the man himself, Gary Francione’s theory of Abolitionist veganism is a sound one, and I have yet to see anyone actually convincingly argue against it. So until I see otherwise, I am going to advocate based on his theory.

A Report from the “Intersectional Justice” Conference
by Gary L. Francione
I have written about those who identify themselves as “intersectionalists” but who embrace a very speciesist position. I have also written about a recent conference on “intersectional justice.” The following essay is from Dr. Mark Causey, Lecturer in Philosophy and Liberal Studies at Georgia College and State University. Dr. Causey attended the “intersectional justice” conference. I have never met Dr. Causey and I do not know him other than in connection with his reaching out to tell me about this conference. He wrote the following essay, which I am posting in its entirety as exactly as he sent it to me. He made no changes in response to any observations I made.

**********

I recently attended the Intersectional Justice Conference on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Based on the way the conference billed itself as dealing with the intersections of animal rights, human rights and justice issues, I naively assumed that it would deal with the intersections of animal rights, human rights, and justice issues. I soon learned the danger of making assumptions. The main focus of the conference seemed to be voicing the anger and rage that many of the speakers felt at their being marginalized within the animal rights (or “animal whites”) community. The Abolitionist Approach, which oddly enough doesn’t even consider itself part of the mainstream “animal rights” community in the first place, came in repeatedly for explicit and pointed criticism [well, criticism is not really the correct term because that would imply a substantive engagement with ideas which was not so much on offer here]. As far as I could gather there were at least 3 main complaints about the Abolitionist Approach:

1. Veganism as a moral baseline is too simplistic and assumes (white) privilege
2. Calling it “abolitionist” appropriates the lived history of the African-American experience and seems to assume that since legal slavery has ended that there are no lingering issues of systemic racism
3. Abolitionist veganism focuses too much on nonhumans!

I will attempt to address each of these in turn now.

1. Veganism as a moral baseline is too simplistic and assumes (white) privilege:

Indeed, it would seem from what I gathered that having any sort of universal or at least potentially universalizable moral principle, like veganism as a moral baseline, is a sign of patriarchal, white male privilege that takes its viewpoint as the universal and thus erases the perspectives of differently situated others [the truth of a proposition being determined more by who the speaker is than by what it is they say]. Telling someone to “go vegan” implies that they have money and access to vegan options. It is consumerist. The whole notion of “voting with our forks” implies buying power and privilege to vote. One speaker, I honestly don’t remember which one, was thanked, to much applause, for not asking us to all “go vegan.”

Now I certainly see the point that not everyone has equal access to fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables [not to mention all the analog vegan products that so many falsely assume necessary for a vegan diet] based on where they live and their socio-economic circumstances. I also know that statistically the majority of those so disadvantaged are people of color. I absolutely agree that this is a fundamental human justice (food justice) issue that must be addressed and that vegans should be at the forefront of such efforts. As we were reminded, and I fully agree, that unlike natural deserts, “food deserts” don’t just happen. They are constructed by systems of discrimination both racial and economic. Now that is an intersectional issue. Enabling disadvantaged peoples to be able to go vegan would save animals’ lives as well as the lives of these humans who also disproportionately suffer from diet related diseases. But as Gary Francione has repeatedly explained, the necessity for some to eat animal products in order to be adequately nourished doesn’t mean that it is just to consume animals, it only means it is justifiable given the circumstances—unjust circumstances we should be working hard to change! It is possible, as Ellen Jaffe Jones has demonstrated, to eat vegan on $4 a day (the amount of the average SNAP allotment). We even learned at the conference about some amazing work being done in inner-city Baltimore to introduce people to vegan diets, so why not ask people to go vegan and then help them do it rather than ridicule the very notion? Eating a vegan diet [and I by no means want to imply that veganism is only about diet] in these circumstances then becomes a powerful means of non-violent social protest against a food system that is admittedly rigged against these communities. Indeed, the conference seemed at times an odd combination of people with solutions and people with complaints with the two never seeming to connect.

As to the notion that having any sort of universal or at least potentially universalizable moral principle, like veganism as a moral baseline, is a sign of patriarchal, white male privilege that takes its viewpoint as the universal and thus erases the perspectives of differently situated others—this is simple moral relativism. Now here’s the thing: I am a philosopher who has actually published on Nietzsche, one of the chief proponents of what he called “perspectivalism” and a darling of the critical theory crowd. Nietzsche was one of the chief practitioners of what Paul Ricoeur called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” which sees power dynamics and hegemony behind all claims to “truth” and even “morality.” But what I see in this criticism of veganism as a moral baseline is a speciesist power play that maintains our human hegemony over nonhuman others. It is a claim that whenever human rights interests conflict with nonhuman animal rights interests, the human interests always win. Nietzsche to one side, the very notion that we shouldn’t have moral absolutes is counterproductive to any justice struggle. The very fact that these speakers are complaining about the very real injustices they have experienced as non-dominant group members demonstrates that they have a universalizable concept of justice—it’s just that they apply it unevenly across the species-divide. I do not doubt for a moment that they care about animal justice nor wish to suggest that they are in any way insincere. Many of them have been vegan longer than I have and have done far more justice work than I have or perhaps ever will do. I am only suggesting that speciesist attitudes have created inconsistencies in their own positions. If animals matter at all morally, that is if they are members of the moral community as we all agree that they are, then our treatment of them is just as much a justice matter as our treatment of each other. We should never be doing things to them that we would consider unjust when done to another human.

2. Calling it “abolitionist” appropriates the lived history of the African-American experience and seems to assume that since legal slavery has ended that there are no lingering issues of systemic racism:

I was told at the conference that the term “abolition” implies that slavery and the racist attitudes that made it possible are simply a thing of the past. Done and dusted. Time to move on to liberate someone else now. Such an attitude ignores the persistence of slavery (albeit not legalized slavery, like that of the Immokalee tomato pickers) and the systemic racism. Despite the Abolitionist Approach’s 5th principle which clearly rejects all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism, I was told that it is not enough to just say it. A fair point. I was told that veganism is not like some badge to be earned but something you have to do every day. It is more like a verb than a noun. Amen. So what are we arguing about?

The thing is, and someone please correct me if I am wrong, I have never seen where Gary Francione [who was called out by name in the conference] has ever denied that racism, sexism, heterosexism….. still exist and are still active justice issues. He explicitly states that, “We cannot say that we reject species as a morally objectionable criterion to discount or devalue the interests of nonhumans but that we do not have a position on whether race, sex, or sexual orientation/preference are morally objectionable criteria when used to discount or devalue human interests. Our opposition to speciesism requires that we oppose all discrimination.” Comparing human slavery and abolition to animal slavery and abolition, I am told, is to try to compare suffering. African-Americans were “animalized” and denied their proper recognition as full human beings, so to then compare their suffering to animal suffering simply repeats this dehumanization. But the intent here is not to compare suffering. We can’t. The intent is to highlight the systems of domination operative in both cases [here we all can agree on blaming the white males who set up this system and still profit from it]. Indeed, I would argue that speciesism is the original form of domination. That is why every subjugated group in the past, women, people of color, members of nondominant religions, and so on have always been “animalized” in the minds and depictions of the oppressors. Our domination of animals back at the beginning of domestication led to the domination of other humans as well (especially the appropriation of female bodies and reproductive capabilities). All humans still profit in various ways (but not all equally) from our continued domination of the nonhumans. I suspect the real complaint here is related to number 3 below: that abolitionist vegans spend too much time focused on nonhuman animals rather than human ones.

3. Abolitionist veganism focuses too much on nonhumans!

I suspect that much of what is behind this complaint is the notion that until we have solved all the human problems, the animals will just have to wait. Needless to say, that is hardly an intersectional approach. The idea seems to be that human justice simply matters more. That is speciesist. In terms of sheer quantity of suffering [oops, I was told not to use this comparison!]—trillions a year—animal suffering is on a scale that simply defies comprehension. This is not to compare the quality of the suffering, it is just a fact that humans have never been bred , slaughtered, imprisoned, enslaved, etc., on anywhere near the scale that we are currently doing to nonhumans. What I expected to hear at the conference was how attacking our speciesist exploitation of nonhuman animals would be actually striking at the root of all forms of oppression. That is what I thought would be the intersectional message here. Instead, the message seemed to be more a complaint that animal activists weren’t more engaged in the various struggles for human justice. But that seems to reinforce the idea that these are separate struggles rather than truly intersectional ones and that the human issues are more important and pressing than the animal ones. It also ignores the important differences between the abolitionist approach and other “animal rights” groups that explicitly reject the vegan moral baseline.

Mark Causey, M. Div., Ph.D.
Lecturer
Philosophy and Liberal Studies
Georgia College & State University