Archive for the ‘Secular Humansim’ Category

How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus

June 1, 2021
Wum is for Wumbus, my high spouting whale who lives high on a hill.

Everyone knows How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

But have you heard How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus?

Among other Seussisms, “A Chinaman who eats with sticks” (from And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street), was recently declared to be offensive.

On March 2nd 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises issued this statement:

Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.

We are committed to action.  To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.  These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.

These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Hmm…

You have to admit though: that Wumbus high on the hill from On Beyond Zebra! looks pretty happy.

Land rights for gay whales anyone?

A Chinaman who eats with sticks… A big magician doing tricks…

No-one uses chopsticks anymore, right?

What about the “big” magician?

Should robust magicians everywhere suddenly be up in arms as they recall their traumatic childhood being force-read Dr Seuss?

In his recent article And then they came for ON BEYOND ZEBRA!, the American linguist John McWhorter said:

The book is not only entertaining but educational, in ways that a linguist like me especially values. It gently gets across the key fact that our letters only approximately reflect the language we actually speak. Note, for example, that there is no way to indicate with an isolated letter, or even a group of letters, the sound of u in put – if you don’t see it in the word itself, no other approximation works: oughooeueugh … see how nothing works? English has 26 letters to about 43 sounds, and Zebra introduces the idea, in its goofy way, that there could theoretically be more letters. 

But now we are to see the book as some kind of controversial contraband, and why? Specifically, on one page a man of no delineated race (and thus we would declare him “white,” I assume) is riding a kind of camel and has a mustache. A building in the background seems like, if anything (which it isn’t) some kind of pagoda. The man has the billowy pantaloons we would associate with an “Arab.”

I understand, formally, the idea that this picture signals that this is a Middle Easterner. However, I cannot be honest with myself and view it as a “stereotype.” In no way does this picture ridicule the man (or the animal), and in fact, the camel is a special kind (called a Spazzim) with elaborate horns that carry assorted objects which if anything make this man a mid-twentieth century homeowner.

SPAZZ is a letter I use to spell Spazzim, a beast who belongs to the Nazzim of Bazzim. Handy for travelling. That’s why he has ‘im.

I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss Enterprises felt pressure from within or without, but the action to which it has committed itself is an example of political correctness having reached dizzying new heights lately as the word woke has become part of our language.

Wokeness speaks to a keen awareness of social and racial injustice. We hear calls to “stay angry, stay woke”. The derivation is from African vernacular meaning that someone was sleeping but now is awake (“I was sleeping but now I’m woke“).

It’s not at all impossible to relate to such an awakening…

But with wokeness has come cancel culture.

Books from Dr. Seuss, along with other classics, are being cancelled.

Now, I lean pretty far left politically and ideologically. I’m a Green voting vegan atheist. I support freedom of speech, expression, and belief.

But it is arguably precisely these things that are under threat by cancel culture!

It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (index of forbidden books), the Nazi book burnings, and Ray Bradbury’s Sci-Fi story Fahrenheit 451.

To be fair, in the case of Dr Seuss, cancelled in practice just means: no longer being sold, not banned, but there are still books being banned, even if only in some countries.

Nevertheless, I think we have to resist a new index of forbidden books, no matter what form it takes.

Besides, if you did want to cultivate such an index, why on earth would you stop with modern classics?

Why not go after writings about (or by?) the vindictive, jealous, zealous god of the Old Testament, to name just one holy book?

Unless you think that burning witches or stoning adulterers or killing children if they’re disrespectful or slavery or drowning most of the world’s population are acceptable acts?

Or that damning people to Hell (New Testament) because they don’t utter the right magic words is okay?

No? Well, out with a bunch of books from the Bible then too!

But what counts as harm? What counts as injustice? What should be done about it?

If you look closely, you’ll notice that cancel culture is thoroughly anthropocentric.

How ordinary. How boring. How 20th century.

Not to diminish the importance of addressing the injustices still being done to people in various parts of the world, but why stop with human injustice? Why not upgrade racism to speciesism?

Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs: they’re no good to eat, you can’t cook ’em like steaks, but they’re handy in crossing small oceans and lakes.

It’s easy to imagine a different group of outraged people applying Seuss book bans for treating other species, even if fictional or outlandish, as things to be used. And I don’t mean Thing One and Thing Two.

Those poor old mistreated Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs. And don’t forget that the Nazzim only has the Spazzim because he’s handy for travelling. Or how about the udder (groan; dad joke) convenience of an Umbus?

UM is for Umbus, a sort of a cow with one head and one tail. But to milk this great cow you need more than one pail.

But Seussisms encourage a playfulness with language. And the corny humour never really gets old.

All Dr Seuss characters are essentially caricatures, including the chinaman with sticks, the Spazzim, and the magician.

There will always be someone to offend in this ultra-individualistic world we’ve created.

We have to stop worrying that something we write or say might be considered offensive to some group of people in the future and instead consider writings in their historical context.

That doesn’t mean that we should set out to hurt, to deliberately offend… Of course we shouldn’t…

And of course, we should stand against harm and injustice.

Obviously…

But what’s next: no Irish jokes? No jokes that start like: a priest, a rabbi, and a buddhist monk walk into a bar…

No question should be forbidden. No topic should be taboo.

Unless you think we’re special in some sense, except to one another, irrespective of any special capabilities we may have.

And yet…

We’re better than those others in some part of the world that is not ours. Right?

We’re smarter and superior to every other species. Right?

Wrong!

We have to reimagine ourselves as being a part of nature, the very nature that we seem so keen to distance ourselves from.

Not separate from nature. Not a special creation.

On this, especially, all holy books are misguided or misinterpreted. Usually both.

We are all biased beyond belief about one thing or another.

We are all flawed in some way.

Not one of us is perfect.

We need less judgement, misdirected anger, self-righteousness certainty, talk of those other people

We need more understanding, thoughtful conversation, tolerance of difference, kindness, forgiveness…

All easier said than done, I know…

Then again…

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

(The Lorax, Dr Seuss)

A “Helpful Guide” to the Afterlife from a Church Pamphlet

March 20, 2021
Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

It may be that Jesus never lived and so, never died. But that’s a rabbit hole for another day. We do know at least from the Jewish historian Josephus, that would-be messiahs and crucifixions were common around the time Jesus is said to have lived.

But let’s just suppose there was a historical Jesus, as described in the gospels. Was his death temporary? Did he rise 3 days later? What implications does this have for mammals like us?

35 years ago, when I was a Christian, although I hoped for an afterlife, I focused more on the death of Jesus, the atonement for the sins of the world through his blood sacrifice. But of course the other key piece is the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. Together, these seem to be the core of the Christian message, at least if you are a salvation by faith rather than a salvation by works kind of Christian.

We recently received a little pamphlet in our letterbox from a local Adelaide Baptist church entitled The Empty Tomb.

We’re approaching Easter 2021 so that’s not too surprising.

In my “Questionable Church Signs” posts I obscure any reference to the church to which a sign belongs. The Empty Tomb pamphlet includes the URL for the website, but I won’t include it here.

The Empty Tomb tells the story of the early life of Jesus, his baptism, miracles, downfall, crucifixion and resurrection.

After describing the horror of the crucifixion, it declares:

Just before He died, Jesus shouted… “IT IS FINISHED”.

The penalty for the sins of all mankind had been paid in full.

Now anyone could be saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ.

All fairly standard salvation by faith stuff.

On the next page after the resurrection, we have:

HE IS RISEN!

Jesus DEFEATED Satan, and conquered death and hell.

At this point I could be excused for expecting a land of unicorns, rainbows and butterflies

But, then the pamphlet confronts me with…

All who accept Christ will live with God forever in heaven.

and, inevitably, and with “lovely” pictures…

Those who reject Jesus will burn forever in a lake of fire.

…which I take to mean Hell. Finally, we have…

Someday you will bow before God.

Who will YOU serve?

Jesus ChristSatan

So, no other options then?

Just the two?

Hmm. Wait a sec…

Is atonement really for everyone? Have our sins been paid for in full? Or, is this conditional upon uttering some magic words like “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour”?

Not completely clear from this particular user manual.

Were Satan and Hell actually defeated? Not really, if it’s possible to burn in Hell or to serve Satan (or bizarrely somehow, both at the same time). Was that always possible, and now only optional because of what Jesus did?

The logical contradictions and gaps in reasoning in The Empty Tomb abound.

But worse than that is the ease with which The Other is condemned. Those who do not believe as “we” do.

That is very dangerous thinking.

Hitch would have declared this an example of how religion poisons everything. It’s easy to see why.

What role do liberal-minded Christians have in countering this kind of thinking? Similarly, what role do liberal-minded Muslims have in countering Jihad and other Islamist (“must convert the infidel”) thinking?

I can’t speak for the faithful although I am always happy to converse with them or anyone, to try to find common ground, and to agree to disagree otherwise.

That’s really the only way forward, isn’t it?

However, I also see it as a kind of duty to expose and counter harmful nonsense, such as is promoted in The Empty Tomb pamphlet.

Life is short and we are not at the centre of things. And, our species is in desperate need of growing up.

My concern with religion is that it allows us by the millions to believe what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.

Sam Harris

Voluntary Assisted Dying in South Australia

March 10, 2021
Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation is being discussed starting from March 17 in the South Australian parliament.

A little more than a year ago, my dad expressed a wish to die every day I was with him for the last week of his life. He was living in Tasmania. While there are amendments to be accepted, VAD legislation is now on the way to being passed there.

I recently took part in a discussion of VAD in South Australia at the Blackwood Uniting Church, a special meeting of the monthly philosophy group, supported by a well thought out presentation by a palliative care doctor. The consensus seemed to be support for VAD.

A cursory glance through my blog will show that I don’t believe in gods of any sort. One problem with religion in general is that it encourages people to pretend to know things they can’t possibly know, and potentially (and this is the crucial bit) base important life decisions on such belief. I’ve written elsewhere about what counts as good belief.

With respect to Christianity at least, the more liberal the denomination, the less salvation by faith thinking there is, and the more emphasis on living a good and caring life due to some notion of (a God of) love there usually is. Of course, you don’t need religion for that.

Especially given that there was a “Non-Christian but I wish to support the Group” option, I was encouraged to sign up on the Christians In Support of VAD website after the philosophy group discussion.

The more names on petitions and lists in favour of choosing a “good death”, the better.

Speaking of which, here’s one such (secular) petition. I signed that too.

Try to enjoy life now. There’s a very good chance that this is the only one you’ll get. And if your end of life scenario sucks, remember: it’s your life, not some imaginary sky fairy’s. You should get to choose, in consultation with those you care about.

Whatever you believe, the fact is that each of us was born into a life that none of us asked for.

You can choose to consider life as a gift, or to simply accept the fact of existence and embrace it. Or both, if you like.

We were not alive for 14 billion years (give or take), and we won’t be alive for even longer while the heat death of the universe plays out over trillions of years.

But we should, where possible, have some say in the manner, time, and place of our exit from life.

Anyway, let’s hope that VAD legislation is passed in SA.

Questionable church signs #4

January 17, 2021

I took this quick photo of a church sign from a distance on the way to the train, after a nice afternoon on the beach with my wife. The name is obscured to protect the innocent, so to speak, as usual.

Trust Him. Trust Him?

If 2020 is anything to go by, I’m inclined to place my bets elsewhere. A pandemic, major bush fires, earth quakes, untold suffering, personal loss…

The implication of this church sign is that God knows what’s coming. This makes Him all-seeing. Is He powerless to change the future? If so, He is not all-powerful, in which case He should consider a line of work other than Universe building.

Or did He plan to create a future in which there is suffering. If so, He is not all-good.

There are those Christians who will say that the suffering we see in the world is because of our rebellion against God. If God incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all, and rebellion against God is a sin, then shouldn’t that be forgiven too, rather than God heaping more woes upon humanity?

Yes, I know… Jesus died for our sins and “all we have to do” is believe in Him to have eternal life.

What if we don’t want eternal life?

And forgiveness: don’t we get that whether we ask for it or not because of what Jesus did at Calvary?

Others will say that there is a Grand Cosmic Plan that we just don’t understand.

Either way, God gets all the kudos and we are still left with the puzzle. Adding “God” to a sentence does not contribute to an explanation.

I do understand the desire to believe that there’s a plan, that all the bad things that happen somehow make sense. Especially when we lose those we care about.

But perhaps we should follow William of Ockham’s advice and not multiply entities needlessly. It all just seems too complex, too arbitrary. It has all the hallmarks of being man-made.

In any case, I much prefer questions that do not yet (and may never) have answers over answers that cannot be questioned.

The sign is right about one thing though: 2021? who knows? It should have stopped there.

Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The Church and The Vaccine

September 19, 2020

We no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do now that their faith is optional and private … is a matter for them. We should not care. As long as they make no further attempt to inculcate religion by any form of coercion.

Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Spoiler alert: I am not sympathetic to religion as a source of ethics here.

In mid-2020, concern was expressed by archbishops of Sydney Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches regarding the use of cell lines in vaccine development that originated with a human female embryo that was aborted in 1973.

Free speech is important, but given that vaccine development is hard and that many (perhaps 95%) vaccines fail in the late stages of human trials, it really matters whether this is a reasonable ethical concern.

Granted, the conversation has been more nuanced than media headlines have often suggested, as can be noted by listening to the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report podcast.

But to what extent does this nuance translate to “the flock”?

We would do well to recall that the flock has in the past been told that the use of condoms was a sin. The Catholic Church’s stance may have moderated a little on this matter, but just think of the calamity that this one, misguided teaching has unleashed, especially upon African adherents to the faith, when AIDS was still a death sentence, compounded by poverty and unchecked population growth.

For this alone, the Catholic Church should be universally reviled, once again having proven its irrelevance to modern life and at the same time, how dangerous it still can be.

We should also remember that a mere few hundred years ago, it was much much more dangerous, when we were collectively more dim-witted and willing to cede more power to it.

That must never again be allowed to happen.

Rejecting a perfectly good vaccine candidate is a kick in the guts for the work being done by the Oxford University team and others worldwide.

Suppose it is the most effective vaccine, or less likely but not impossible, the only one that works?

If it appears that I have unduly focussed on the Catholic Church, that’s only because it makes such an easy target. Other denominations do not have a squeaky clean history either.

It’s important to understand that all ways of knowing are not equal, especially in this context.

Science and reason, not faith, are required when thinking about the fitness of a vaccine and its development process.

None of this is to say that ethical concerns don’t matter here. Of course they do. But ethics must be based upon well-thought out principles and a focus upon consequences, not ill-conceived, brittle rules, and certainly never by thinking that tradition dictates truth.

A comment by Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty in this ABC News article sums it up for me:

If [Archbishop Fisher] finds that objectionable it’s his perfect right to say so and it’s our perfect right to take absolutely no notice of him.

source: ABC News

And, it’s not as if there are no other concerns…

For example, what about animal testing in vaccine development, including for COVID-19?

As someone who thinks that no-one, human or non-human, should be used as a means to an end, it would be an understatement to say that I am ambivalent about testing vaccine candidates on animals.

But, I’ve written about such dilemmas elsewhere; there is a spectrum of concern here…

I still wear boots with suede strips that I owned before going vegan. Suede is soft skin torn from the underside of some poor dead animal. I can’t help that animal now, but every time I wear those boots, I am reminded of my error…

…and, not wishing to add insult to injury, I choose not to discard them while they are still useful, perhaps somewhat akin to the way some of our ancestors are thought to have paid their respects to the animals they killed and consumed. Needless to say, my clothing purchasing decisions now incorporate vegan principles.

In a similar way, perhaps the religious objectors to the use of a decades-old cell line could chill out, just a little, and take a similar approach.

The cell line from the embryo that was aborted 47 years ago has led to great good (an unintentional means to an end), for which we should be thankful. It is unlikely to have suffered in any meaningful way.

If only the same could be said for the animals we routinely kill en masse, because we are collectively failing to tip the balance towards a plant-based diet.

Animalia Commonalis: Truth, Suffering and Ethics

April 19, 2020

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. (Galileo Galilei)

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. (Buddha)

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. (James A. Garfield)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Why do we want so desperately to know whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe when we treat so much human and non-human life on this planet with such disdain?

blue turtles on brown sand
Photo by Jolo Diaz on Pexels.com

I’ve written briefly here about what makes homo sapiens special.

We know that species other than ours exhibit some of these qualities:

  • Problem solving
  • Sophisticated memory
  • Ability to plan
  • Tool use
  • Culture
  • Ability to act contrary to instinctive behaviour
  • Belief in gods of one sort or another

As far as we know, the last item on the list is unique to us. This could mean either that there are gods of some kind or that we have a tendency to mistake certain types of patterns for gods.

What of the second to last? We are not purely instinctive creatures. Without that, we would never have developed Science, mathematics, technology.

But there exist humans with a severe mental handicap who cannot participate in anything approaching the “lofty intellectual heights”. Neither can young children.

For children, this is only transient you say. Rightly so. Children mature.

Not so for someone with a severe mental handicap.

Perhaps questions like “what makes us special?” or “what sets us apart from other animals?” are less than useful.

Perhaps it would be better to ask instead: What do we have in common?

Animalia Commonalis popped into my head when I was writing this post. By this latin-sounding (but not real) phrase, I was trying to capture this idea: The Commonality of Animals.

Of course, there’s a continuum of complexity of animal life starting from self-replicating molecules (RNA, DNA), to viruses, bacteria, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals like us.

Just limiting ourselves to mammals, all have:

  • A common body plan. Animals as diverse as whales and bats share the same basic skeletal structure and organs.
  • An apparent desire, or at least a strong instinct, to care for their young.
  • The ability to feel pain, to suffer.

The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? (Jeremy Bentham 1789, in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation)

Bentham said this more than 200 years ago!

Where on this continuum from viruses to us does the ability to suffer begin? Dogs don’t pass the mirror test whereas chimps do, but few would say that a dog cannot suffer.

Do bees feel pain or is the avoidance of harmful stimuli purely mechanical with no pain response? It seems that no-one really knows the answer yet.

I’ll be honest and say that right now I’m more concerned about dealing with the more obvious and well-documented suffering of mammals, birds, and fish by our hand. The “low hanging fruit”. Even choosing not to consume one of these groups is a big win at this point. The jury is still out for me regarding insects.

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. (Albert Schweitzer)

Whether starting from the idea that not consuming animal products may be healthier for us, from worrying about the environment and sustainability, or from a concern for the welfare of animals other than ourselves, one can eventually be led to the realisation that what we once did only to people taken out of Africa to America and to other “civilised” countries, we are now doing to other species, but worse.

The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Speciesism is just a generalisation of racism beyond the borders of homo sapiens.

In my view, along with Climate Change, Speciesism is the defining issue of our time, and we will be judged by future generations on how we responded to both.

If Climate Change is an existential crisis, Speciesism can be thought of as a battle for the collective “soul” of homo sapiens.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. (Mahatma Ghandi)

On How Not to Protest (again)

January 19, 2020

Recently, Karen and I were waiting for a tram in Bourke Street to take us to a vegan pizzeria in Melbourne I’d heard good things about.

IMG_4752

Before the tram was able to come, hundreds of climate change protesters emerged. It was an unseasonably cold, wet day, as the picture suggests.

Now, as someone who in late 2019 attended a climate rally and a protest against oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight, I’m broadly supportive of such public protests and marches.

However, there were a few problems with this one…

It seemed to Karen and I that the protesters were mostly preaching to the converted.

It took place in a street in which trams run. Trams. Not cars. Public transport.

Sure, not very efficient public transport given Victoria’s current reliance on coal for power (perhaps that was at least part of their point).

Why not march up a street where cars ran instead? They, at least, could have taken a different route. There was a police presence since this was a planned event, unlike another recent protest in Melbourne.

Yes, I know that disruption was probably part of the aim.

But the truth is that you don’t have to be completely disruptive to get attention like a two year old having a hissy fit.

Another problem was they appeared to circle around multiple times…

After the boredom set in, Karen and I got to wondering what a poll would show about just how seriously participants in the protest were about finding solutions to climate change.

Which of these people, we wondered, use vehicles (theirs or others) in a responsible way in order to minimise emissions?

Which of these people were vegan or at least made some significant attempt to reduce the consumption of animal products, given that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for a similar quantity of emissions as the whole of the transport sector.

Which of these people regularly waste food?

Which of them recycle? And so on…

Yet another problem was that at one point, the chants changed from being climate related to:

Always was, always will be, aboriginal Land

I encountered the same thing during the 2019 oil and gas exploration protest in Adelaide.

Now, no matter how sympathetic you are to the plight of aboriginal people in Australia (and there is good reason to be), how much you support the notion of land rights, or how positively you view the aboriginal people as good stewards of the Land, this is a problematic statement.

For one thing, it is astonishingly anthropocentric, the very thing that has gotten us into so much trouble with climate change.

For another, it’s a claim that can only have any validity for the last 60,000 years or thereabouts. Before that brief geological time span, the land “belonged” to other species.

Such a view may not be politically popular these days, especially with Australia/Invasion Day on January 26, but it has the distinct advantage of being true.

Of course, none of this excuses the terrible things done to the aboriginal people by our white settler ancestors and it is important to separate the massacres of two centuries ago from the broader historical place of homo sapiens, and the future of our species.

I’ve written more on this theme elsewhere. As I said there:

I’ve always found the Cosmic Calendar quite compelling. Popularised by Carl Sagan on Cosmos, the whole timescale of the universe is compressed into 12 months. Nothing remotely human begins until late morning on December 31. The original settlement of Australia by seafarers didn’t happen until 11:58pm and the last few thousand years of human history occupies the last 30 seconds of the day!

cosmos-04-hulu

Getting back to the chant… It was out of place in the context of this protest.

If you’re going to have a protest about climate change, stick to the point!

Don’t dilute the message!

Also, ensure that you are really making an attempt to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

We eventually got to that vegan pizzeria, but it was far enough that we caught a cab.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate catching a cab if I don’t have to!

So, thanks for that (not).

On Being Special

January 19, 2020
sunset person love people
source: Josh Willink (pixels.com)

I’ve had some conversations in recent times that have ended in disagreement over the question of whether members of homo sapiens are more important or special than members of other animal species.

But what do we mean by special?

Relationships with other beings, human or non-human, make the participants special to one another.

Particular things about us make us special, e.g. tool use, intelligence, culture.

The holy books of some religions and other ideological traditions often claim that humans are special, perhaps even chosen in some way.

It’s important to distinguish between these different types of special-ness.

The first type is subjective and derives from a shared history, an emotional bond. For some people, the death of an animal can be as devastating as the loss of a relative or human friend to someone else. There’s no right or wrong in that. It just is.

The second type can be tested; other species use tools, have high intelligence and some may even have their own kind of culture (e.g. humpback whales).

Although a person of faith is unlikely to agree with this, the third type must be supported by evidence, and since, as Carl Sagan reminds us, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, this is a difficult requirement to meet.

Humans are meaning creators. Relationships are central to being human and meaning is often created in relationship with others; not always, but very often; some do choose to find meaning in solitude.

My father’s health was in decline late last year and more rapidly before my eyes in the first week of 2020. However, his death on January 7 2020 has not changed my view of the special-ness of homo sapiens relative to other species.

Dad was special to me because he was, well, my father. We had an emotional connection, a shared biological and social history, a relationship spanning more than 5 decades. I am in the process of mourning his loss. This does not necessarily imply that we or members of homo sapiens in general are special in any other sense.

We are free to choose who to become. If we are special in any sense, it is due to the responsibility we have to accept the human condition and to leave the world better than we found it, irrespective of the fact that we will not be around to see our legacy.

…but what is not possible is not to choose…if I do not choose, that is still a choice. (Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism)

African Swine Fever: with a whimper…

October 15, 2019

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

(T.S. Elliot)

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source: https://ab.co/2IQVbpS

ABC News today reports that a woman has been deported back to Vietnam for trying to bring 4.6 kg of uncooked pork into Australia via Sydney airport.

Sigh. Apparently some people don’t read the news. Or just don’t care…

The Australian Pork Chief Executive Margo Andrae is quoted as saying:

“I’m outraged that someone thinks they can bring 10 kilos [sic] of pork products in their suitcases and not declare it and risk our entire $5.3-billion industry.”

Sure. Outraged, yes.

But again, the talk is all about risk to the industry, not about the consequences for the millions of gentle creatures who may be exterminated in the process.

Imagine if we treated the human carriers of infectious diseases the way we treat livestock who may not even yet have been infected, let alone those who have.

That’s speciesism in action.

Wombat stoning and other insults

October 7, 2019
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source: https://ab.co/2LQ8ysw (ABC)

A South Australian Aboriginal elder recently defended the killing of wombats by throwing rocks at them until they die (aka stoning) as a “cultural practice” used to obtain food…

…in the 21st century…

He was cited by the ABC as saying that:

This has been part of our culture and the way we’ve gone about it for thousands of years.

Hmm…

Stoning is an ancient tradition for adultery in Judaeo-Christian cultures, and still is in some Muslim majority countries…

…and how many of us in western democracies (whatever they are now) consider that to be a Good Thing?

On the flip side, killing animals without first stunning them is yet another tradition in some religious cultures…

…and in case you were wondering: no, I don’t think throwing rocks would count as a method of stunning.

Generally, when I hear “tradition”, I translate it in my head as “the way we’ve always done things around here” or simply, “just because we want to”.

Tradition can be harmless and even fun.

But, when your “tradition” is combined with careless treatment of sentient animals or the environment, other than making me angry, you should also imagine me sticking my fingers in my ears and uttering:

la la la la la la la la la la…

When you’re ready for a civilised conversation, let me know. Maybe then you can join the United Federation of Planets, er, People.

Until then, don’t bother me with your “it’s tradition” nonsense.

And please, please, please don’t expect me to respect your harmful tradition.

Postscript: Since I first wrote this, another aboriginal elder has spoken out to condemn the action and a 10 daily article claims that this “…has sparked a national debate on what’s culture and what’s cruelty.” While debate is always healthy, is there really anything much to debate here?