Hail To The Nihilist

Month: February, 2013

The Humanisation of Animals

Seth Godin writes that much of what we consume is blatantly industrialised.

“Quite intentionally, all Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars are identical.

No one says, “oh, this one is really special, Brian made it.”

The system leads to humans being treated as commodities. Pieces of the puzzle. Numbers. He argues that to improve on this for the worker’s sake, we must humanise what we do. Perhaps “create something that only you could have made”. This is the way to meaningful work. To a sense of being bigger than we are: commodities. We don’t want to be numbers now, do we?

I notice a similar phenomenon used by the humane meat industry. They’re trying to humanise animals. Not in the sense of giving the animal more rights or treating them as one would a human–we don’t systematically slaughter our own kind for their meat–but by naming them, and giving them a story. My housemate recently went to a steak restaurant and was told about the animal his steak came from. It had a name. It came from a place. It had quirks.

Cute, right? Does this make you want to eat the steak even more? Humane meaters seem to think so. They think of it as due respect. They think it gives the animals more meaning. No longer are they commodities like us workers.

The irony: Animal rights advocates get accused of anthropromorphisation.

Drones and Death

Drones. Waleed Aly said it best when he said that by taking out the human factor the armies are more likely to be remiss in combat. When there is a greater chance of your own personnel dying decisions are made accordingly. When your hardware is being controlled by a soldier a world away it’s easier to up the ante, killing more innocent people along the way through lack of emotional and moral commitment.

Too Much Sprawl; Too Much Density

Edward McMahon writes “When it comes to land development, Americans famously dislike two things: too much sprawl and too much density. Over the past 50 years, the pendulum swung sharply in the direction of spread-out, single use, drive everywhere for everything, low density development.”

Americans can easily be swapped for Australians in this statement and it will still hold true. The sprawl is on. Take Aldinga to the south of Adelaide and Andrews Farm to the north. The Great Australian Whinge is on too. Broadband blackspots. Ineffective public transport. People build their McMansion and then realised it isn’t all it is cracked up to be living a trillion miles from anything, without some of the basics. Need milk? Into the Ford Territory you hop for the ten-minute drive to your nearest mall.

I digress.

McMahon’s piece is on density. How high-rise / high-density is folly. He poses some questions. Questions worthy of answers in an Australian context:

– Does density always require high rises?
– Are historic neighborhoods adequately protected from incompatible new construction?
– What is more important — the ability of tall buildings to make an architectural statement, or the need for new buildings to fit into existing neighborhoods?
– Should new development shape the character of our cities — or should the character of our cities shape the new development?

Cities and Cars: Foes Not Friends

An interesting conclusion in an article in The Atlantic on cities and cars:

“Today, in many cities, roads and parking facilities continue to grow, as though the problem for the last 50 years has been that the growth was not enough. These cities might be able to guarantee a parking space in front of every destination that still remains (or they might not), but they are likely doing so at the expense of those things that cities really need – namely, people.”

Unfortunately for cities like Adelaide, that seem to be becoming more progressive, there are still a number of laggards that get in the way. Business owners complaining about the lack of on-street car parking were a contributing factor to the failed Sturt Street “Copenhagen-style” bike lanes. Now with plans for something similar on Frome Street, their voice can again be heard.

Aesthetics as a Moral Justification

Should aesthetics dominate ethical consideration? Those that exploit animals would have us believe so. They argue for hedonism all the time. Eating is about the taste. Pet ownership is about love. Rodeos are about entertainment. These are all aesthetic justifications. In their terms, the acts are justified on the basis that they–the consumer–derives some sort of pleasure. Would this form of justification stand up in a court of law, in a case concerning humans?

The man raped the women in order to derive sexual pleasure. The women murdered her friend as she yearned for the rush. These sound like very unjustified acts, don’t they? What of the victims in these instances? What about their interests?

I think in a utilitarian world aesthetics can be used to justify some things, provided all actors are party to the exchange. Preference utilitarianism after all is about weighing up interests. We hear stories–they strangely all seem to come from Eastern Europe–of people giving their bodies to cannibalism. Perhaps this can be justified.

However, this is about lopsided bargains. Where one party doesn’t necessarily consent to being the subject of somebody else’s hedonism. Where that party’s interests are not properly considered.

Usually in debates my argument fails at the point where I draw a human comparison. This isn’t a failure point at all. The failure point is how aesthetic justifications are permissible in situations concerning non-humans only.

“We don’t currently live in a “free” society in the true sense of the term. Every day, our minds are assaulted by commercial messages that reach us from all sides. The whole billion-pound-a-year advertising industry runs counter to any assertion that we’re currently free and un-nudged as it stands.” ~ Alain de Bottom

Wanted: More Vision

Some people don’t seem to get it. Houssam Abiad, a councillor for the Adelaide City Council posed a question on Facebook today:

How do we get another 10,000 people to come live in Adelaide in the next 5 years?

Great question. I responded with something about ensuring new developments have decent foundations on which to build community, citing the struggles that we have had in our stark, beige-townhouse-lined street. If people are going to move from wherever else, especially families or people that value a lifestyle, this is important. Many of the other respondents chirped a familiar song–especially familiar to poor Cr Abiad. Caaarpaaarkiiing.

Adelaide already has one of the highest proportions of free-to-cheap carparking in Australia. This is a problem: it acts as an incentive for people to drive. (Check this great article out on the economics of carparking.) We need to move passed this for Adelaide to be a more liveable, sustainable place. Other movement strategies need to take centre place. Cycling, walking, public transport. Cars have had it easy for too long. Their time is over. (The question wasn’t even about visitors. It was about residency.)

I’d really like to find some stats of how far city visitors travel by car. I wonder what proportion live within, say, 5-10km of the city. I wonder what proportion of that number travel alone. I wonder what proportion of that, travel without cargo. I wonder.

I consider myself an idealist. A visionary, if you will. That’s why I am so anti-carparking. It’s not a solution. It just adds to many, many problems. We ought to be thinking about super-dooper public transport systems and that kind of thing. It’s inevitable. It will happen. Public transport will dominate for at least a certain category of movement.Walking and cycling will dominate for others.


Another story where the keyboard warriors lack in vision: an article about a Danish study which concludes reducing the hours we work in a week is beneficial to our wellbeing. Firstly, it seems kind of obvious. Secondly, and this is my gripe, comments like this:

There are already many 25 hr/wk jobs out there. They are called part time jobs. However, the roof over your head, the food you put on your table, the college your children attend, the insurance that you keep for emergencies, and everything else you consume every day, the providers of these goods all expect compensation for their hours of skilled labor, and in the end, the currency paid for their time are your man hours.

Yup, that’s a problem. But shouldn’t we perhaps question that norm? More hours at work equals unhappier life. Less hours at work equals a happier life. Shouldn’t we be working towards that ideal? It’s a self-perpetuating dilemma–with a handful of indoctrination mixed in. We live expensive lives because that’s all we know. So we have to work crazy hours to pay for it. Does it have to be like that? Of course not. I live on 1/3 of what I use to and I am happier for it. I intend to bring that down further. One day I may become a tax resister–earn under the threshold so I don’t have to pay any tax at all. (I don’t know how that would sit on my conscience, but that’s not the point.) There are indicators all over the shop that we ought to reconsider our affluence. Studies like this are important. They reveal the negative health effects associated with unsustainable consumption, thus working practices.

A Comment to a Dairy Farmer

In response to whoever wrote this piece at Cloverhill Dairies Diary:

I’m a vegan. I’m outspoken. I don’t engage in violent or vulgar protests. I do think what you do is wrong. I will tell you why I think it is wrong on robust, ethical grounds. I do expect the same back–rather than ad hominen attacks. I do respect that you ultimately have a choice–for what I oppose isn’t illegal rather, unjust. I do think there needs to be intellectual respect. I do hope you agree.


A Negative of Ebooks

The instant gratification they provide in being able to buy a book whenever you like. Instant gratification isn’t without its perils. As a result of such an urge, I have a long list of books on my iPad that I just haven’t the time to read. They’re now paid for and mine only. If they were physical, impulsive purchases I could at least give away, sell, trade or return them. Instead, I’ve spent my $9.99US and must live with the fact.