Hail To The Nihilist

Month: April, 2013

Fools

As I walk through the expansive carpark at the “Homemakers Centre” I spot barely a soul. The formula here is quite simple. Park, jump from shop to shop, buy, leave. From outside you can barely see into the stores. Their front windows cloaked in vinyl stickers comprising copy fastidiously written to compel even the most unsuspecting would-be to penetrate those automated doors. What might be held in this beast’s guts? Who knows? Something nice, maybe? Onwards, solider. There are lifestyle pictures emblazoned on any available surface showing the could-be. A lady reclining on a brown leather couch, at-ease smeared on her face with an artificial, photo-shoot-cobbled smile. Families barbequing. Kids fishing. Husbands and wives doing. Rarely being. At the central of all this, a consistent insistence for things to make it all happen. Not any things. Expensive things. Usually made in China or South East Asia. Usually from unsustainably sourced materials from all over the world. Usually by companies that have larger marketing budgets than inclination for social responsibility.

What of the patrons? The fools that park their indebted 2012 model in the listless car park. The fools that look upon the messages and lifestyle pictures as something to be clagged into the scrap book of wants and must-haves. The fools that spend too much and then feel guilty. The fools that care what their stupid friends think. The fools that hate their jobs, drink too much, eat badly and dread the gym. The same fools that will soon regret not being there for the best parts of their children’s lives.

But, they don’t know any better.

In Progress: Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth”

Finally I have started to give Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth” a good reading. It seems I am one of the readers she expects not to get her or to vehemently disagree. But hey, I am willing to read it to the end which is better than some people, I am sure, who gave up after the introduction.

I can see why they give up. However, I have faith her whole thesis, only a few more pages in, will open up revealing premised conclusions and fewer factual errors and fallacies and outstanding writing. I realise it is easy and tempting to play the error / fallacy card but never (never) have I seen so many in such a short space–I am currently half way through chapter 1, “Moral Vegetarianism”. One of the most annoyingly silly things I have read so far is in one breath she denounces vegans as anthropomorphising, then in the next she writes of the “wants” of plants and their seed-babies. If it wasn’t for the language the argument might have been a little more compelling. What is she trying to do? Appeal to a simpler audience? If so, set our expectations for that. I was expecting something rigorous and intellectual.

Another failure by Keith is her brief touch on agriculture–which I hope she expands on later in the book. Animals are necessary for grass and soil she argues. It’s natural and good. This is a position held by most interested animal agriculturists. It fails to appreciate what the land looked like in its natural state, though. Land is systematically deforested for agricultural purposes–to grow plants too–and would be better off left, or potentially returned to, its original state.  Does native forest need the contribution of introduced animal species? No. (This isn’t an attempt to rebut the whole agriculture argument, just an opinion. The whole thing will come in later blog posts or my full review of the book.)

It’s the sort of book you have to read with a fat notebook next to you. Which is good. I like my thoughts being conjured as I read. Though, it is as infuriating as it is provokative both in the content and style. Wish me luck.

Vegans don’t magically want to end all death

A recent post here, Why I am Vegan, and one at Goodrock Park, has elicited quite a bit of debate. Life in general has been brought into the dialogue. Particularly the life of plants–which vegans must inevitable kill and eat. I found this pithy Q&A over at Skeptical Vegan. It relates to the strawman found in former-vegan, Lierre Keith’s, book, “The Vegetarian Myth”:

The Claim: “I built my whole identity on the idea that my life did not require death…Did the lives of nematodes and fungi matter? Why not? Because they were too small for me to see?” (P. 18)

In Reality: This straw man argument permeates throughout the book. These views are not held by most vegans nor any animal advocacy groups. The goal of veganism is to eliminate direct, unnecessary suffering at the hands of humans—not to magically end all death. Why shouldn’t the cow with its undeniable ability to feel pain, experience emotions and form relationships take precedence over plants and organisms with limited or non-existent nervous systems such as the nematodes Keith frets about in this book?

 

Game of Thrones and Torrenting

Game of Thrones. To be honest, not my cup of tea–not that I have watched it, but I feel this to be the case. I’m told that if you go and “torrent” an episode, you’re met with thousands of seeders, making it a quick and painless process. Plenty of incentive there. But why is it the production houses encourage this sort of behaviour? 

 By encourage I mean they fail to try and control the inevitable to their end. Innovation would have it that they could use people’s predisposition to torrent as an opportunity. 

 In Australia, apparently GOT is only being aired on Foxtel. This cuts off the majority of Australian’s from enjoying, what seems to be, a show with a cult-like following. People don’t like missing out so what are they to do? Well, without Apple TV, illegally download. That’s what. And even with Apple TV, I’m sure the statistics are going to fall in favour of that which is free and easiest. 

 I’ve a strong interest in content marketing. I believe that by giving away free content you can improve your bottom-line by winning followers and paying customers. It’s an ice breaker. It has worked for me and there is mounting evidence that it works well in general. Then, why don’t the production houses think in these terms? Control the distribution of your content not by trying to stop–by litigation or other–people from consuming it but by encouraging people and capitalising on the opportunities. Their eyeballs. In TV and other mediums, eyeballs are hot currency. By trying to dissuade consumers you’re saying that you don’t care to satisfy a whole heap of consumers in principle. Good luck to you, on that. 

 It reminds me of that gluten free store in QLD just the other week that introduced a $5 “browse” charge to stop time-wasters from entreating her store. The owner was fed up of dispensing information for free to only have the browsers, or ragbags she called them, go elsewhere to buy their things. The fact that this store had so many people passing through its doors is outstanding. It’s up, then, to the owner to convert those browsers into buyers and alienation isn’t going to do that.

 Production houses–or TV networks or whoever–need to stop fighting the unfightable and make the most of the opportunities that are presented to them. 

Letter to my readers

Dear Readers,

 

If you think this blog is anonymous you are mistaken. Sure, my full name, date-of-birth and street address aren’t published on the front page but I don’t consider these details relevant to online transparency. Why do you need to know these things?

Truth is, if you think this blog is anonymous, you’re lazy. Google is your friend, they say. This blog is not anonymous. It traces back to its author in very few steps. If you can’t undertake these steps yourself, that’s not my problem. Stop with the rhetoric. Focus on the argument. 

Cheers, 

HTTN

Use, Treatment

When we speak of animal rights, we speak of treatment before we do use. I think this is wrong.

I think it’s important, first, to establish whether it is appropriate for something to be used in order to be subject to treatment. Then we can determine how it should be treated. For in the alternative, with regard to animals, it is an assumption that it is permissible to use animals. An assumption that is finally being challenged. 

My Dad

An annual household income of $250k isn’t much . Well, if you are MP Joel Fitzgibbon you may believe that. Apparently some households that earn this much are “struggling”. As Mike Doroshenko rightly tweeted, it’s time to appoint the administrator…

My father, a retired welder turned volunteer maintenance worker, gets by on less than $20k a year. He couldn’t want for a thing in the world. Sure, it’s just him and he doesn’t live in any way extravagantly, but that’s the point. Ought we live like kings?

My father is a great example, I think. His transport, a 1997 Mitsubishi Express van: freehold. His house, a caravan and annex in a quiet and picturesque regional caravan park: owned, but he still pays a $75/week site fee. Food: simple, nutritious and home-cooked. Utilities: used sparingly and of little cost*. Fuel: enough to get him from A to B. Dad lives well within his means and as such he has built himself a nice little savings account.

I think we can all learn something from people like my dad. His priorities in life are freedom and happiness. He is free and happy because he doesn’t have to slave away for 40 hours a week to service things that he thinks will make him happy and certainly won’t provide him freedom. He finds his happiness in things that don’t cost much: reading, striking up conversations with strangers, building things and writing in his journal. Not to mention dreaming about visiting the English countryside again–which is a little more indulgent but heck, he has been disciplined and can afford it. He isn’t caught up on the material trappings of life yet doesn’t go without.

I’ve read widely about voluntary simplicity and minimalism and I think it’s going to be more than a trend in times to come–we’re going to have to make sacrifices and in doing so we’ll realise there is green grass elsewhere. We will change: for the good of the planet and for the good of our happiness.

* Dad showed me the extent of the gear that draws power at his place. It was all plugged into a single 4-socket power board. I wouldn’t even know where to start in my house. There must be dozens of appliances plugged in, drawing unknown amounts of energy constantly.

The Reason I am Vegan

This piece has been a long time coming. My position as a vegan is often misunderstood. When I argue for abolition the retorts I receive are welfarist in nature. My peers can’t quite grasp the fact that I want to see the end of all animal use rather than give them bigger cages. Subsequently, I get called an extremist.

My position as an abolitionist is roughly guided by the animal rights philosophy of legal scholar, Gary Franicone. At first I went vegetarian after reading Peter Singer’s brilliant though subdued “Animal Liberation”. I could have stopped there and remained a user of dairy cows and lay hens but it didn’t seem right. I read further. I stumbled upon Francione through his great “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach” website and community. The more I read the more I was convinced that veganism was the baseline. As much as vegetarianism had more mainstream appeal it didn’t see to go far enough.

Since the beginning, some 4-odd years ago, my position has been refined. However, it still has its feet in the works of Singer and Francione. I suggest if you want for this piece to be elaborated on, check out “Animal Liberation” (especially the chapter, “All Animals Are Equal”) and “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach“. Here I shall give only of an overview of my position. For posts hereafter will all contain elements of my philosophy in a more practical context. Already I have written about outreach and the environmental and health aspects of animal usage, all touched by my position as an abolitionist. There is a common thread: veganism is the baseline if you genuinely believe that animals deserve moral consideration.

One thing I would like to get straight first. I write from the position of a non-subservient person in an affluent country. I don’t believe for a moment that my plights are the same as somebody in Mali or who has found themselves lost in the jungle with only a waterhole full of arapaima for sustenance. I live in a society of choice. As does the audience for whom this post is intended.

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The animal welfarism movement–“new welfarism” it is often called by abolitionists–wants a world in which the least amount of harm is imposed on non-human animals. This world is starting to come into effect. Wander through your supermarket and you will see “humane” this, “free range” that, “sow-stall free” pork and “sustainable” seafood. The welfarism movement–often called the “animal rights” movement–has its central focus on the regulation of animal exploitation. Animal exploitation is okay, provided it is regulated to cause the least amount of suffering.

Consider two worlds. In one world children are molested and beaten. In the other they are only molested. Which of the two worlds is better? The world in which the least amount of suffering is imposed is always better. This is a moral intuition most of us will possess. It is true, too, of welfarism. A world in which the suffering of animals is reduced is the aim. However, this thesis asks nothing of the use of animals. Animals are allowed to be used, provided they suffer less.

According to Wikipedia, “The abolitionists’ objective is to secure a moral and legal paradigm shift, whereby animals are no longer regarded as things to be owned and used“. The basis for this is the fact that animals like cows, pigs and sheep are all sentient. They have the capacity for subjective experience. The axiom which Francione’s version of abolitionism seeks to postulate is that “all sentient beings should have at least one right—the right not to be treated as property”.

Why should this be true? Why should animals have this right? Sentience.

It is without question that some animals–including the ones that end up on our plate–are sentient. This sentience ought to stand for something. In the welfarists view, sentience equates to the way in which we ought to treat an animal. Because an animal is sentient means that it should experience the least amount of suffering that is practicable. It’s okay to kill the animal provided it lives a good, stress-free life. This view is flawed. The way in which animals are treated, regardless of our best intentions, would be considered torture if a human were involved. Animals are bred for the table. Sure, they may get to stand in a lush field all day and gnaw on grass. But well before the end of their natural life they are crammed into the back of a truck, marched down a concrete corridor to waiting captive bolt pistol. They will the be chained up and pulled to pieces. Before being wrapped in plastic and sold to you on the premise of being “humanely raised”. So why a cow but not a human?

The answer is speciesism. Wikipedia defines speciesism as the “assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership“. Should a man treat a woman differently to the way that he wishes to be treated on the basis that she is a woman? The same for skin colour, age or sexuality. Few open-minded people would tolerate such behaviour. Yet speciesism is culturally and institutionally condoned. It is okay to treat an animal in a way in which for a human it would be considered torture because they are an animal–they belong to a different species. Like most conscientious people don’t accept racism, abolitionists don’t accept speciesism.

So we agree animals are sentient, right? We agree that if humans were treated the same way as even “humanely raised” animals, it would be considered torture, right? We agree that speciesism defines this attitude pretty well, right? Then what are we left with? We are left in the same position as we were when confronted with sexism or racism in the past, and homophobia more recently. Would have incremental change been an acceptable tactic during the civil rights movement? Or a more daring example: would it be acceptable to regulate murder so that murders kill only less rather than not at all? We seem to consider these matters differently. I get told regularly that “You can’t compare the two” or “It’s not the same”. The worst thing I can do, it seems, is use slavery as an example. This is the thing, though, I am not trying to compare the two. I am merely showing the similarities in how things ought to change and provide a critique of welfarism.

From all this, for me at least, it follows that veganism is the moral baseline. No ands, ifs or buts. I will not entertain any other position in order to be polite. Welfarism doesn’t work. Abolitionism, as it was for slavery, is the only way. Unless, you can convince me otherwise. 😛