May 8, 2012

Mind and Body

Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind. ... Ideas take the place of sorrows; when the latter are transformed into ideas, they at once lose part of their noxious effect on the heart and from the very first moment the transformation itself radiates joy.

[Le bonheur est salutaire pour le corps, mais c’est le chagrin qui développe les forces de l’esprit. ... Les idées sont des succédanés des chagrin; au moment où ceux-ci se changent en idées, ils perdent une partie de leur action nocive sur notre cœur, et même au premier instant, la transformation elle-même dégage subitement de la joie.]

—Marcel Proust, The Past Recaptured
(1932 translation of Le Temps Retrouvé (1928) by Frederick Blossom)

May 6, 2012


Today, the New York Times Magazine published the winning essay in their Ethicist contest for the ethical justification of eating meat. As expected, it is lame.

And in a strange fit, the Times “Public Editor”, Arthur Brisbane, decries the contest for making meat-eaters uncomfortable (which strongly suggests that the ethics of meat eating is indeed elusive).

He cites, apparently as reasonable critique, a blog post by Lisa Henderson, a sophomore at Kansas State University, on the Pork Network: “I believe that humans are omnivores and that meat provides protein and other things that are essential for health. Animals utilize the grass. Animals help us utilize more of the earth. I am not anti-vegetarian, but they seem to be anti-meat, and they seem to want to take that choice away from me.”

The omnivore argument actually justifies a vegetarian diet, because, especially since the invention of cooking, humans can thrive in a large variety of environments without meat. Furthermore, while meat-eaters insist that the imperative of being omnivorous drives their eating habits, they are not in fact omnivorous. Do they eat other humans? Do they (at least the majority in the U.S.) eat horses and dogs? The fact is, they too make ethical and cultural decisions about their diet and do just fine.

It is also telling that meat-eaters always feel threatened by the mere existence of a vegetarian diet. That response suggests that the only justification is indeed cultural in that vegetarians are seen as apostates or traitors.

Brisbane then solicits a comment from Calvin Trillin, which again he cites as apparently meaningful: “If they had a chance, they would eat us.”

Those vicious cows and chickens: terrorists in our midst!

Finally, Brisbane had also noted evocations by animal experimenter Linda Cork of life on the Arctic tundra and arid plains, where she sees fishing and herding to be essential to survival. But that only underscores that animal flesh is not essential to survival in Stanford, California. (Science researchers like Cork, for all their avowed objectivity, generally sugarcoat the fate of their victims as “sacrifice”.)

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So to the winning essay, by former vegetarian Jay Bost, who, like Linda Cork, apparently saw that life in the Arizona desert would be difficult without eating animals and that therefore it’s OK to eat them in North Carolina and Hawaii, too.

In what Brisbane derides as “awfully complicated”, Bost lays down three conditions (not necessity, not imperative) to feel OK about eating the corpses of other animals: 1) accept that death begets life, that all life is just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form; 2) invoke compassion to choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain, and/or meat; 3) give thanks.

Bost defines “ethical” as “living in the most ecologically benign way”. He compares boutique organic beef to monoculture/pesticide agriculture and — quel surprise! — concludes that not eating meat may be unethical. He compares the “best” situation on one side (we're not even getting into the horrors of “organic” dairy) to the worst situation on the other. Of course, meat eaters also eat plants, since healthy life without plants is a lot more unlikely than life without meat. They are implicated in both sides.

But let us consider cannibalism again. Since the greatest burden on the earth’s ecology is in fact the burgeoning human population, why wouldn’t it be ethical, by Bost’s definition, to eat other humans? In fact, one might conclude from his argument that not eating humans may be unethical. After all, if grazing animals help the land, it would be unethical to kill them. Whereas the Gospel of John in the Christian testament notes at 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son”. In the ritual of the eucharist (i.e., “thanks”, Bost’s final condition), believers consume the flesh of Jesus (”just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form”), not a sheep or chicken.

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Which leads me to my own (unsent) entry, imagining the only possible ethical argument, namely, the circular one of religion:

Meat: An Ethical Imperative

In the Book of Genesis, Cain slew Abel, because Abel was a meat-eater and thereby found greater favor with G-D. Having distanced himself from the ways of G-D by foregoing meat, Cain’s ethics had deteriorated to the point that his envy turned to murder. After that, he kept to cities, where a greater variety of sin is possible. But as the mark of his crime faded, his envy rose again, and so today urban vegetarians righteously condemn the diet that has sustained humans for millenia. They denounce meat-eaters as cruel, but instead of being cruel to animals, vegetarians must be cruel to other humans, just as Cain was toward Abel.

Violence and murder are a part of the human psyche. If we don’t regularly kill animals — respectfully, gratefully incorporating their spirits into our own — we end up killing other humans, even loved ones, as Cain killed his own brother. To advocate a vegetarian diet is ultimately to advocate murder. To eat humanely raised and slaughtered animals is to promote peace among men, which is why sacrificial meals are at the core of every religion and community.

As the essential bond of society, shared murder is its ethical basis.

To maintain civilization, if we are to avoid human sacrifice, the crime of Cain, we must slay animals and, to honor them as worthy gifts to the gods, eat them.

In choosing a nonviolent diet, vegetarians deny that ethical necessity. In continuing to eat meat, even to our own and the planet’s harm, we recognize the necessary sacrifice that ethical living demands. We must bear the burden of Cain by emulating Abel.


Update, April 7, 2013:  Chris Grattan of Brockport, N.Y., writes: “In paleolithic hunting cultures, the rites connected with the killing of game were oriented toward an expression of gratitude to the animal for having given its life and the belief that its spirit would return in another body. In neolithic horticultural and agricultural societies the rites to promote the fecundity of the land were often gruesomely bloody, often in the form of human sacrifice. I try to keep this in mind when being subjected to vegetarian sanctimony.”

Get thee behind me Cain, ye ferking vegetarian!

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But, back in reality, as omnivores we can choose what we eat. For most people most of the time, there is no need to eat animals. To choose to eat animals is to choose killing and suffering, and ethical justification for that choice — when it is a choice — is impossible.

As I have quipped before, meat-eaters claim to be omnivores, but they can’t swallow the truth.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Art and Society

From The Past Recaptured, by Marcel Proust (1932 translation by Frederick Blossom of Le Temps Retrouvé (1928)):

Even in our artistic enjoyment, although sought after for the impressions it gives, we are very quickly content to leave those impressions aside as something that cannot be expressed and confine our attention to those phases which allow us to experience the pleasure without analysing the sensations thoroughly, while thinking that we are communicating them to others with similar tastes, with whom we shall be able to converse because we shall be talking to them of something which is the same for them as for us, the personal root of our own impression having been eliminated. At the very times when we are the most dispassionate observers of nature, of society, love, even art itself, since every impression has two parts, one of them incorporated in the object and the other prolonged within ourselves and therefore knowable only to us, we are quick to neglect the latter, that is to say, the one part to which we ought to devote our attention, and consider only the other half, which, being outside ourselves, cannot be studied deeply and consequently never will cause us any fatiguing exertion; the slight groove that a musical phrase or the sight of a church made in our consciousness we find it too difficult to try to comprehend. But we play the symphony again and again or keep returning to look at the church, until, in this running away from our own life which we have not the courage to face — they call this “erudition” — we come to know them as well, and in the same manner, as the most learned lover of music or archaeology. How many there are, consequently, who stop at that point and extract nothing from their impression, but go to their graves useless and unsatisfied, like celibates of art. They are tormented by the same regrets as virgins and idlers, regrets that fecund labour would dispel. They are more wrought up over works of art than the real artists, because they do not labour arduously to get to the bottom of their emotional state and therefore it is diffused in outward expression, puts heat into their remarks and blood into their faces; they think they are doing something really great when, after the execution of a work they like, they shout vociferously “Bravo, bravo!” But these manifestations do not force them to seek light on the nature of their love; they do not know what it really is. Meanwhile, this unexpended passion exuberates into even their calmest conversation and leads them to indulge in grand gestures, facial contortions and noddings of the head when they talk of art. “I have been at a concert where they played some music which, I admit, did not thrill me. Then the quartette began and, nom d’une pipe, that was another story!” (Here the music lover’s face assumes an anxious expression, as if he were saying to himself, “Why, I see sparks, I smell something burning; there must be a fire somewhere!”) “Good Lord! what a difference! It was exasperating, it was badly written, but it was stunning! It was not something everybody could appreciate.” And yet, ridiculous though these devotees may be, they are not entirely to be scorned. They are nature’s first efforts in the process of evolving the artist; they are as shapeless and lacking in viability as the earliest animals, which preceded the present species and were not so constituted as to be able to survive. These weak-willed, sterile dabblers should arouse our sympathy like those first contrivances which were not able to leave the ground, but in which there was, not yet the means, secret and still to be discovered, but at any rate the desire, to fly. “And let me tell you, old man,” adds the dilettante, as he takes your arm, “that’s the eighth time I’ve heard it and I promise you, it won’t be the last.” And in truth, since they fail to assimilate the really nourishing part of art, they suffer from a continual need of artistic enjoyment, a gnawing hunger that nothing can satisfy. So they go and applaud the same work for a long time at a stretch, believing also that in being present they are performing a duty, an act of piety, as others regard their attendance at a meeting of a Board of Directors or a funeral. Then come works of a different, even quite contrary, character in literature, painting or music. For the ability to launch new ideas and systems and, especially, to absorb them has always been much more widespread than genuine good taste, even among the producers of art, and this tendency is spreading considerably with the increase in the number of literary reviews and journals — and, along with them, of people who imagine they have been called to be writers and artists. There was a time, for example, when the better element of our youth, the more intelligent and more sincerely interested, no longer cared for any but works having a lofty moral and sociological, even religious significance. They had the idea that that was the criterion of the value of a work, thereby repeating the error of such as David, Chenavard, Brunetière, and others. Instead of Bergotte, whose airiest sentences, as a matter of fact, required much profounder meditation, they preferred writers who seemed more profound only because they did not write as well. “His intricate way of writing is suited only to society people,” the democratically minded said, thereby paying society folk a compliment they did not deserve. But the moment our reasoning intelligence tries to judge works of art, there is no longer anything fixed or certain; one can prove anything one wishes to. Whereas the real essence of talent is a gift, an attribute of a cosmic character, the presence of which should first of all be sought for underneath the surface fashions of thought and style, it is by these latter qualities that the critics classify an author. Because of his peremptory tone and his ostentatious scorn of the school that preceded him, they put the mantle of prophecy on a writer who has no new message to deliver. This constant aberration of the critics is such that a writer should almost prefer to be judged by the public at large (if the latter were not incapable even of understanding what an artist has attempted in a line of effort unfamiliar to it). For the talent of a great writer — which, after all, is merely an instinct religiously hearkened to (while silence is imposed on everything else), perfected and understood — has more in common with the instinctive life of the people than with the superficial verbiage and fluctuating standards of the conventionally recognised judges. Their battle of words begins all over again every ten years — for the kaleidoscope comprises not only society groups, but also social, political and religious ideas, which temporarily spread out more broadly through refraction in the large masses but nevertheless are shortlived, like all ideas whose novelty succeeds in deceiving only minds that are not very exacting as to proofs. Therefore parties and schools have followed one another, attracting to themselves always the same minds, men of only relative intelligence, always prone to partisan enthusiasms which less credulous minds, more exacting in the matter of proofs, avoid. Unfortunately the former, just because they are only half-wits, need to round out their personalities with action; therefore they are more active than the superior minds, attract the crowd and build up around themselves, not only exaggerated reputations for some, and unwarranted condemnation of others, but civil and foreign wars, which it ought to be possible to escape with a little non-royalist self-criticism. And as for the pleasure that a perfectly balanced mind, a heart that is truly alive finds in the beautiful thought of some master, it is no doubt wholly sound, but however precious may be the men who are capable of enjoying it (how many are there in twenty years?) it nevertheless reduces them to the condition of being merely the full consciousness of someone else. When a man has done everything to win the love of a woman who could only have made him unhappy and, despite repeated efforts over many years, he has not even been able to obtain a rendezvous with her, instead of trying to describe his sufferings and the danger he has escaped, he reads and rereads this pensée from La Bruyère, annotating it with “a million words” and the most moving memories of his own life: “Men often want to love and do not know how to succeed in so doing; they seek defeat but are not able to find it, so that, if I may so express it, they are forced to remain free.” Whether he who wrote that pensée intended it so or not (and then it should read “be loved,” instead of “love,” and it would be finer that way) it is certain that the sensitive man of letters referred to gives it life, fills it with meaning to the point of bursting and cannot repeat it without overflowing with joy to find it so true and beautiful, and yet he has added hardly anything to it and there remains merely the pensée of La Bruyère.

April 30, 2012

new translation of first 2 lines of the divine comedy

In the midst of the walk through our life
I found myself by a hidden forest
When I had left the right way.

(Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai
Per una selva oscura ché la via diritta era smaritta.

April 25, 2012

Vermont Congress members and big wind

The American Wind Energy Association's WindPAC has donated the following to Vermont's congressional delegation, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission
  • Representative Peter Welch: $1000 in 2009
  • Senator Patrick Leahy: $1000 in 2010, $1000 in 2011
  • Senator Bernie Sanders: $3500 in 2009
David and Jan Blittersdorf of Hinesburg, CEOs of NRG Systems and Earth Turbines, have donated $41,000 to WindPAC since 1997.

Barton Merlesmith of North Ferrisburgh, Director of Business Development, NRG Systems, donated $500 in 2011.

Thomas Gray of Norwich, VP of AWEA, donated $3,450 from 1997 to 2004.

Earth Turbines also accounts for $5,000 donated directly to Peter Welch so far in the 2012 election cycle.

Turbine manufacturer General Electric has directly donated $8,000 and its employees $8,750 to Patrick Leahy so far in the 2012 election cycle.

wind power, wind energy, Vermont

April 20, 2012

Hope, a Tragedy

From Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander:

Pessimists, Professor Jove replied, don’t start wars. It was hope, according to Professor Jove, that was keeping Kugel up at night. It was hope that was making him angry.

Give Up, read the sign on the wall behind Jove’s book-covered desk, You’ll Live Longer.

But you’ve been to Yale, Harvard, Cambridge, said Kugel.

That’s how I know, said Professor Jove.

Kugel had waited weeks for an appointment.

We are rational creatures, Professor Jove explained; hope is irrational. We thus set ourselves up for one dispiriting fall after the next. Anger and depression are not diseases or dysfunctions or anomalies; they are perfectly rational responses to the myriad avoidable disappointments that begin in a thoroughly irrational hope.

Kugel wasn’t sure he understood. Professor Jove smiled warmly.

Tell me, he said. Hitler was the last century’s greatest what?

Kugel had shrugged.


Optimist, said Professor Jove. Hitler was the most unabashed doe-eyed optimist of the last hundred years. That’s why he was the biggest monster. Have you ever heard of anything as outrageously hopeful as the Final Solution? Not just that there could be a solution — to anything, mind you, while we have yet to cure the common cold — but a final one, no less! Full of hope, the Führer was. A dreamer! A romantic, even, yes? If I just kill this one, gas that one, everything will be okay. I tell you this with absolute certainty: every morning, Adolf Hitler woke up, made himself a cup of coffee, and asked himself how to make the world a better place. We all know his answer, but the answer isn’t nearly as important as the question. The only thing more naively hopeful than the Final Solution is the ludicrous dictum to which it gave birth: Never Again. How many times since Never Again has it happened again? Three? Four? That we know of, mind you. Mao? Optimist. Stalin? Optimist. Pol Pot? Optimist. Here’s a good rule for life, Kugel, no matter where you happen to live or when you happen to be born: when someone rises up and promises that things are going to be better, run. Hide. Pessimists don’t build gas chambers.

I just want my family to be safe, said Kugel. I just want the world to leave us alone. Is that asking too much?

What, asked Professor Jove, did Jesus Christ say when they nailed him to the cross?

I don’t know, said Kugel. What did Jesus Christ say when they nailed him to the cross?

He said Ouch, said Professor Jove.

I don’t get it, said Kugel.

There’s nothing to get, said Professor Jove. It hurt. First they whipped him half to death, then they held him down and nailed iron spikes through his wrists. If he was lucky, they did the same to his feet. The weight of his body bearing down on his chest made it difficult to breathe, and he died, slowly and agonizingly, from respiratory distress.

I still don’t get it, said Kugel.

There is hurt in this world, said Professor Jove. There is pain. Hoping there won’t be only makes it worse.

April 16, 2012

Arbeit macht nicht frei

“My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy and getting good jobs for their kids and for themselves. They are concerned about gasoline prices, the cost of getting to and from work, taking their kids to school or to practice and so forth after school. That is what women care about in this country and my vision is to get America working again.”

That's what Mitt Romney said in a speech on April 4 to the Newspaper Association of America.

Here's what Hilary Rosen said on CNN on April 11:

"What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, 'Well, you know my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and why do we worry about their future."

The rest is history, with most people revealing that they have thrown away their humanity in picking what political team they root for.

Mitt Romney and Hilary Rosen are saying the same thing. They deny the other's right to say it, because they are both expressing false concern. And both are wielding their comments as a weapon against the other.

What this whole stand-off illustrates is the false divide in U.S. politics.

Hilary Rosen is a right-wing corporate flack, famous for leading the Recording Industry Association of America's campaign against people sharing the music they've bought with friends. She still advises Obama on the issue. After quitting that job, for a short time she was interim director of Human Rights Campaign, which awarded their 2011 Workplace Equality Innovation Award to Goldman Sachs. While working at the Huffington Post, she was outed as a consultant for BP.

Ann Romney is married to one of the predatory capitalists that Rosen serves. They may not have anything in common in personal style and beliefs, but they both serve the same master.

At least Ann Romney only raised a few children and supported her husband on behalf of that system, whereas Hilary Rosen has actively contributed to its evil. Her dismissal of Ann Romney appears to be because the latter has only listened to women on the campaign trail, without a history of actively working to maintain their economic misery.

Many "liberal" commenters on this issue have expressed a hatred for women who choose to stay at home as a betrayal of feminism, as if feminism is only about a few women getting to the top of the exploitative pyramid and everyone else being forced to toil in "service" jobs as somehow liberating.

Rosen's strong support of Obama and the Democratic Party is clear evidence that the only difference between the parties is that one is slightly more tolerant of gays.

That's certainly a good to be counted, but it does nothing for the 99% of the people, women and men, gay and otherwise, who are not striving to triumph in a cut-throat system. It's good that Goldman Sachs extends benefits to gay partners, but that hardly makes it a benign force in the world. Human rights are rather a broader issue.

What is work for? Actively raising a family should not be the privilege only of the rich. Is either Mitt or Hilary suggesting an economic system that makes raising a family easier for everyone (as in many European countries)? They are both against women, against men, against families, against humanity.

Arbeit macht nicht frei. Work does not make you free.

human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism