Hail To The Nihilist

Month: March, 2013

Being at the top of the food chain and nuclear war

“Humans are at the top of the food chain” is a common justification for using animals that I hear. Just as lions and tigers eat the slow and dumb below them, so too do humans. To this I pose a challenge: Next time you see a cow in a paddock, wrestle it to the ground and chomp away at its side. “Oh, but we have tools and fire” you lend, “and we are technologically and evolutionarily advanced”. Sure, I’ll give you that. So let’s go out and wage nuclear war against one another. We created atomic bomb, didn’t we? And on that logic, if we are capable of it, we ought to…

Francione saying it as it is

If you are not vegan, then you are participating directly in animal exploitation.

It really is that simple.

If animals matter morally, then there is one and only one rational response: go vegan.

To Understand Animal Welfare Issues One Mustn’t be an Urbanite

I just read this comment on an article at The Land about live exports: “Perhaps Sylvia is a city dweller who never mixes withanyone (sic) who understands what is involved in agriculture or knows anything about live export”.

I’m sick to death of hearing this kind of folly from rural / agricultural Australia. I am quite sure there is no mutual exclusivity between urban Australia and animal welfare. The facts of the matter are quite plain–the animal welfare standards which we expect are not being satisfied in some instances abroad. This is not a matter that requires one to be of the land to acknowledge and appreciate. In fact, if one is invested in the land, their response is likely to be one that has their own interests in mind have elements of self-interest. I expect that.. (Well, it certainly seems to be the case, for “livelihood” seems to be one of the most bandied about terms in the debate.) I acknowledge that this is a big, mean issue where there is a lot–economically, socially and emotionally–at stake. However, rural Australia those guilty, most of which are of “rural Australia”, please don’t insult we who live in the city.

(Update: Please read the words of this, and any other, post I write carefully. Please tease out the premises, they will lead you to my conclusions. Read again, carefully. If you find any obvious mistakes, please, by all means, bring them to my attention via the comments. I will either explain them–if they are in fact not mistakes–or will happily correct myself. By stating “I’m sick to death of hearing this kind of folly from rural / agricultural Australia” I mean just that. I am sick of hearing something that a group of people are saying. I am not claiming everybody in that group says or thinks that. I am claiming that some have. I am claiming that as fact. I can, as there is evidence. And I am sick of hearing it. Again, fact. This is evidenced by the fact that I know pretty well and am the only person capable of offering a fairly accurate verbal report on I‘s behalf.)

Savoy: Perhaps Not Right

I was rather compelled by Allan Savoy’s TED Talk on “holistic livestock management” until my critical mind got the better of me. The discussion surrounding this talk would suggest that Savoy may have stumbled upon the silver bullet. This was evident when a collective sigh of relief was exhaled by–some of–the Twitter-savvy animal agriculture community. “Finally” they exuded “a public voice that can convinced the mainstream that cows aren’t bad for the environment”. One would have thought that his theory was squeaky clean and envied by the wider scientific community. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The talk and theory have received much criticism and Savoy has little support in the scientific community. In reviewing articles about Savoy’s theory, TerraTendo found:

– It has failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth.
– Much of it is not based on experiments that can be reproduced by others.
– It comes from an overconfident fringe expert.
– It uses imprecise vocabulary to form untested theories.

Mathematician, Adam Merberg, also offers a review of the literature here.

So where am I on this? Reading the literature on both sides of the fence still. I’m glad I pulled myself up on this. I almost fell for it.

Blogging and Censorship

I do not condone violence. I do not condone abusive language, either*. When it comes to free speech I tend to sit on the words can carry severe consequences side of the fence. However, I do not just condone but advocate for rigorous debate.

I love to be challenged. I love to challenge too. When I read something I disagree with, a news article, blog post or perhaps tweet, I don’t have any qualms challenging it. And I mean it: the thing being said. It an important part of debating to separate the argument from the arguer.  To attack the arguer, especially on irrelevant grounds, is not only uncool but fallacious and is likely to discredit you. So, my debating tip of the day: tear apart the argument as much as you like, just don’t resort to personal attacks.

And that brings me to a blog I read and a common phenomenon that is sweeping parts of the ‘sphere at the moment. The blog is A Conscious Life. I started following it because the authors had some interesting insights to share on veganism, veggie gardening and green living. All stuff I am interested in. There have been a few points where I have disagreed with something or a factual error has been made. I have challenged. I have had my comments deleted and was on one occasion blocked.

Recently one of the authors, SJ, wrote about ditching labels and going against her veganism. I actually agree with a few of the points she makes. I have eaten dairy knowingly when a meal has been screwed up. I did so on the grounds of not wanting to waste it–what would that achieve? However, I am yet to give into bodily urges and throw it all away; justifying the decision on some arbitrary basis. Having said that, it’s SJ’s choice ultimately.

I visit the blog today to see whether the debate is still alive. I am met with this:

UPDATE 12TH MARCH 2013 – Regretfully we have decided to turn off comments on this post due to the large number of abusive and threatening messages received from Vegan extremists in response to SJ eating one piece of wild atlantic salmon. Please remember if you wish to participate in future discussions that you…

What? Again? This is similar to what happened at Alex Jamieson’s blog. She didn’t lock out comments but she wrote a response to a handful of commenters along these lines. Using the big “E” word.

Sure, some people are sensitive and cannot bear it. However, I notice something with this phenomenon. These people tend only to be sensitive when it suits them–when they haven’t anything to say back; when they are not confident in their position. I don’t agree that we should jump on these people and make them submit. No way. And I can understand how they feel, when having vitriol thrown at them. However, I contend the majority of comments that are being treated this way are far from inappropriate. What I have read over at Alex’s blog, in particular, is mostly respectful. Respectful though strongly reasoned. It can be difficult to have your views challenged. But think back to how you formed these views. Or how a particular view might have become the norm from a minority view somewhere in history. Think back. Realise how important robust debate is. Realise that most people, arguing well–using sound logic, evidence and not resorting to fallacies,–don’t think anything ill of you for holding a particular view; they just have good reason to not accept what you’re saying. Let them challenge you. Perhaps it will reveal flaws in their argument. Perhaps you will learn something.

*Ok, I’ll come straight. I experience road rage when I am on my bike from time to time but that’s different. Having a car door swung in your face is a bit different than being presented with a different viewpoint.

I’m a horrible person

Welcome to Hail To The Nihilist. This is apparently an “anonymously” written site belonging to a “destructive” vegan. It’s anonymous because my full name, date of birth, passport number and address aren’t published on the “about” page. It’s destructive because I oppose the property status of animals. Two things:

1. Any mildly savvy person can trace this blog back to my full name and telephone number. Want any more information than that? Tough.

2. My mission in life isn’t to destroy an industry employing thousands of people. My mission is to stop animals being treated as property. If thousands of people lose their livelihood because of that, I’m only too happy to help these people, however I can, transition into new industries. Sometimes industries collapse.

The other day a champion of the #agchatoz conversation on Twitter suggested I stop by on Tuesday night to learn a thing or two about animal agriculture. I didn’t expect too much and I am glad. I arrived amidst a hackfest of the #meatfreeweek campaign. Not only were the “agchativists” hijacking the hashtag with such comments as “On menu this week 2 keep in theme #MeatFreeWeek sausages,bacon,pork&lamb chops,rissoles& grass feed steak. Think I got hang of week now!” but there was lots of carry on about the so-called hidden agenda of the campaign’s founders and the socioeconomics of those in support of it. Not being the sort of guy that sits on the fence, I jumped to defence. I learnt a number of things about the #agchatoz crew:

1. Ad hominem attacks are the order of the day.

2. They can give but they cannot take.

3. When it doubt, exhausted and/or frustrated: rant.

Sadly, I resorted to blocking two of the members. Apparently because I am a coward. The way I see it was because I was sick of being harassed. I have a tough skin. I can take what I give. However, there comes a time when enough is enough. I’m not going to answer questions like “why do you want to destroy our lives?” I don’t want to destroy anybody’s life. However, when your livelihood is based around an industry that is on increasingly shaky ethical ground, one has to be responsible for their fate. Coals on the way out. What about all the coal workers? They’ll probably transition to a new industry. That’s what happens. I don’t like coal. It’s bad for the environment. It’s not that I hate coal workers and want to see their lives destroyed at all. I want what is best for the environment and if that means the coal industry collapses, well that may just have to be. People are made redundant every day. It’s a pity but rarely is it a surprise.

I don’t want to ruin people’s lives. I want them to make better lives for themselves. Lives that don’t revolve around the systematic exploitation of animals (humans or other).

A response to Ann Britton

This is a response to a point that beef farmer, Ann Britton made on Twitter regarding who should draft any guidelines and rules for the animal agriculture industry.

She wrote: “unless u have worked in our In u wld have no idea what regulations we have imposed on us with no consultation”. This was in response to my view that guidelines and rules should be written by many relevant stakeholders, not just those with a financial interest–as that can result in all sorts of counter-productive outcomes. My response was somewhat smart aleck: “Well, that isn’t entirely true. For if you or somebody else that did know were to tell me then I would know”. This response was to Ann’s logical error more than anything. I interpret her above argument to read: “Those in the industry know more about certain things than those not in the industry”. In which case, it would logically follow, that if that knowledge were imparted on somebody outside the industry then they too would know.

Ann’s response seemed embittered. “honest 2goodness Y is that my responsibility?” Obviously she didn’t see my motive. Though, she raises a further issue. She claims ownership of knowledge yet isn’t willing to share it. She claims it isn’t her responsibility to inform those outside of the industry about the special knowledge those on the inside have. As another commenter pointed out, there is a disconnection between regional and urban. I carried on: “I’m following your lead. You implied that that can only be known by some. I don’t agree with that”. And then the conversation fell apart. I was twisting her words and telling her she implied things that she didn’t. I did no such thing.

My logic above holds, I am afraid Ann. And the claim that you made is rather typical. But, I think in this instance, there was a mere breakdown in communication. All I was saying was that if you defend the argument that “Those in the industry know more about certain things than those not in the industry” then by imparting knowledge on those outside of the industry, which you must if they are to know–whether that be through discussion or scientific publications,–they will know too. Really, this is a storm in a teacup and a big misunderstanding. I’m sure you agree that we ought to bring regional and urban together?

Having said all that, and I am sure Ann doesn’t defend this position, many in the industry do believe that because they are part of something they know best and surely those that haven’t hands on experience wouldn’t have anything relavent to bring to the table. Take an ethicist. This is somebody who most likely sits in an office in an urban area somewhere. They are unlikely to be on the ground–other than the odd field trip–being exposed to the brutal workings of an industry. But that’s not to say that they have no knowledge of that industry, or their knowledge is not relevant, or not as relevant as somebody that does work on the ground. They have knowledge in a different area–though relevant. They are likely to think differently than the farmer and that’s not a bad thing. We can operate in abstract. In fact, it’s more impartial to do so. By being emotionally and financially invested in a situation, these factors are going to weigh in tremendously and have the potential to taint any critical, self-evaluation. And that’s why I think it is fundamentally important for any animal welfare guidelines or rules to be written by people from a practical and abstract perspective.

The irony of this debate: it started with me responding to a post, retweeted by Ann, on bad practices within the animal agriculture industry.

Edit: Struck out the word “brutal” as it suffered in context.

Getting a Feel

In an old job I had I was responsible for training new administration staff. One particular staffer was an obsessive note taker. Constantly as I showed her things she would ask me to stop so she could note it down.

One day I asked her how often she referenced the book. She admitted hardly ever.

On review of her progress she wasn’t making ground as most other people did and she still asked a lot of questions. The notes were a distraction from getting a “feel” for the tasks and systems. Sometimes it is better to just sit, watch and think for a while and not document those thoughts. Sometimes it is best to watch how something is done a few times and explore the logic rather than just try and remember it.

I’ve just started a new job and the first couple of days have been all about “getting a feel”. I feel I have learnt so much more than I would have any other way following this method. You see, I haven’t tried to remember too many whole things. Rather, how certain things link together.

Cyclists Pay Their Fair Share

The debate between cyclists and motorists is almost as intense as the one between atheists and believers, right and left, omnivores and vegans and Windows users and Mac users. In a relative world, the debates sets out to prove an absolute point. Nobody likes to be wrong. But we mustn’t forget that some things are based on fact and as sociologist turned politician, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, rightfully noted, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts“.

As a commuter cyclist I am passionately pro-cycling. Whilst I acknowledge the concerns of conscientious motorists when it comes to their views on “bad cyclists” I can’t help but point out their fallacies. There is good evidence to support strong confirmation bias amongst motorists that tar all cyclists with the same brush due to a few bad encounters–whilst failing to acknowledge all the “good cyclists” that they have passed without realising it. No doubt similar confirmation bias exists amongst cyclists too but, based on my own anecdotal evidence, the risky encounters are far more common, dangerous and one-sided.

A fact the motorists get wrong is that cyclists don’t pay their way. In recent months there has been a lot of talk about starting a registration scheme for cyclists, as a way of making them more accountable. This idea fails immediately. Cyclists already pay their way. Motor registration fees don’t even come close to covering expenses. The shortfall is covered by general taxation. Also, it has been suggested that any revenue derived from such a scheme would be entirely consumed by administration costs.

Though written in an American context, Elly Blue, makes some good points for Australians to consider:

“There are many reasons for cities to encourage bicycling, and the economic argument is one of the best. Every time somebody gets on a bicycle instead of in a car, the city saves money. The cost of road maintenance is averaged at 5.6 cents per mile per motor vehicle. Add the so-called external costs of parking (10 cents), crashes (8 cents), congestion (4 cents), and land costs and that’s another 28 cents per mile! Meanwhile, for slower, lighter, smaller bicycles, the externalities add up to one meagre cent per mile.

The average driver travels 10,000 miles in town each year and contributes $324 in taxes and direct fees. The cost to the public, including direct costs and externalities, is a whopping $3,360.

On the opposite pole, someone who exclusively bikes may go 3,000 miles in a year, contribute $300 annually in taxes, and costs the public only $36, making for a profit of $264. To balance the road budget, we need 12 people commuting by bicycle for each person who commutes by car.”

I can’t imagine the case to be much different here in Australia. It’s not as though our bikes do any more damage to the roads than the ones in America. Likewise, I am sure our roads are of a similar–perhaps better–quality. The fact is, and I think this premise is quite self-evident to most people, bikes do less damage to and take up less space on the road. And for the sake of costs, encouraging people to cycle is of paramount importance.

On some things motorists and cyclists will remain divided. However, cyclists do not freeload. They pay more than their fair share. That’s a fact.

SA’s New Logo: The People Divider

SA's New Logo

SA’s New Logo

South Australia’s new “brand” has done a great job at polarising people: sharply and not at all evenly. It seems, but I could be wrong, that the majority of punters don’t just dislike the new “brand” but vehemently hate it–to the point of wanting to gouge out their own eyes. Perhaps it is underwhelming. Perhaps it isn’t very good, even. But I’d like to challenge a few popular points.

A logo isn’t a brand. Stop calling the logo a brand! It is part of a brand. No brand strategy can get by on its logo alone. There is more to this strategy people than the poor little logo.

Does the logo have to be explicit? A lot of the criticism surrounds what the logo is meant to convey. In her article in the Sunday Mail, Lainie Anderson asks some contacts overseas what they think of it. An ex-pat Aussie in China shared the views of some Chinese folk. They didn’t “recognise the shape as Australia”. Another respondent opined “If I was forced to guess, I would have thought this was the logo of a real estate agency or mortgage broker”. This sentiment made me wonder about the logos of other Australian states. Check ’em out:

Tasmania's Logo

Tasmania’s Logo

NSW's Logo

NSW’s Logo

NT's Logo

NT’s Logo

QLD's Logo

QLD’s Logo

Victoria's Logo

Victoria’s Logo

WA's Logo

WA’s Logo

Are any of these logos more or less explicit than the new South Australian logo? Do we hate them any more or less? Do they serve their purpose? And more importantly, how successful have they been as a part of their respective branding strategies.

Logos can be too clever and set out to achieve more than is required of them. What is the purpose of a logo? Is it to tell a 1000-word story or to add polish to the overall brand? I tend to side with the latter. A logo needs to be relevant, for sure. But it shouldn’t be too much. If it is too clever it can be overwhelming. If it is too clever it can be confusing. Are logos meant to be a practical equivalent of a Blexbolex or something less than that?

For the most part the new SA logo is going to be used with the words “South Australia”, no? And even when it’s not, the point is to create synonymity between the symbol and what it stands for–a representation of South Australia. Consider all the other seemingly unconnected symbols out there in the world of marketing and how they have become synonymous with a word or philosophy.  Nike’s “tick”, anybody?

A 5-year-old or yourself in MS Paint didn’t and couldn’t have done the same. I have some formal art training. I did a certificate through TAFE SA and was thankful that the course covered both traditional and contemporary mediums. We got to draw, paint, splash ink on a canvas; do all sorts of cool stuff. Some of the results were technical and outstanding. Others were more abstract and messy, though thoughtful and with base all the same. I remember working hard on typography exercise. It was very much about visual communication, so design with utility. I was proud of my work and got a brilliant mark. I took it home, showed my family and some friends and many of the comments were that it looked like something my niece could throw together. I was livered. Many of them drivers: A monkey could be taught to drive a car, right? Or, given enough time, rewrite Shakespeare’s Hamlet, right? As simple and effortless as a design may appear, it isn’t all about execution. It starts with an idea. A narrative. Some sort of inspiration. It has to evolve. For something to be just right takes an investment of time and thought. To make something that is more than just a drawing requires more than just the act of drawing itself. That’s why, I guess, we don’t see kindergarten students pumping out poignant, visual representations of Plato’s “Second Alcibiades” on a regular basis.

I might add, anybody can reproduce a work but having the idea in the first place is more complex. Life drawing–we draw what we see; most people are okay at it. Drawing something from scratch–what to draw? why draw it? how to draw it? This is why people–from small business owners to CEOs of billion-dollar companies–pay designers.