Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Our trashy lives and what we choose to make invisible

October 8th, 2010 No comments

Trash is an amazing thing.  I remember learning in my introductory archaeology class many moons ago about all the things you can learn about people from their trash.  Robin Nagle has taken that fascination to book level.  Here’s an excerpt from an interview at The Believer in which she’s anserwing a question about the cognitive problem of trash …

RN: Well, it’s cognitive in that exact way: that it is quite highly visible, and constant, and invisibilized. So from the perspective of an anthropologist, or a psychologist, or someone trying to understand humanness: What is that thing? What is that mental process where we invisibilize something that’s present all the time?

The other cognitive problem is: Why have we developed, or, rather, why have we found ourselves implicated in a system that not only generates so much trash, but relies upon the accelerating production of waste for its own perpetuation? Why is that OK?

And a third cognitive problem is: Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary, because I think ultimately it points to our own temporariness, to thoughts that we’re all going to die.

BLVR: And the fear, the way you’ve described garbage as being scary, it’s an avoidance of addressing mortality and ephemerality and things like that?

RN: It’s an avoidance of addressing mortality, ephemerality, the deeper cost of the way we live. We generate as much trash as we do in part because we move at a speed that requires it. I don’t have time to take care of the stuff that surrounds me every day that is disposable, like coffee cups and diapers and tea bags and things that if I slowed down and paid attention to and shepherded, husbanded, nurtured, would last a lot longer. I wouldn’t have to replace them as often as I do. But who has time for that? We keep it cognitively and physically on the edges as much as we possibly can, and when we look at it head-on, it betrays the illusion that everything is clean and fine and humming along without any kind of hidden cost. And that’s just not true.

BLVR: You’ve written that a sanitation department that does its job well will make itself invisible, and, more generally but along the same lines, there is a sense in which garbage is the negation of culture. And William Rathje, whom you mentioned just before, has noted that humans are the only animal species not drawn in by garbage’s smells and colors. And yet, sanitation is such a gigantic component of city budgets and urban life, and, in New York at least, has created a landfill that can be seen from the earth’s orbit. That suggests that this blind spot is doing a lot of ideological work.

Animal death is the same way.  Not just death but the kind and amount of death that we cause is everywhere but yet “invisibilized.”  There too we “keep it cognitively and physically on the edges as much as we possibly can, and when we look at it head-on, it betrays the illusion that everything is clean and fine and humming along without any kind of hidden cost. And that’s just not true.”

Entitlement and the American way of life

October 2nd, 2010 No comments

I don’t post too much on other issues but sometimes the overlap between my usual topic and others is instructive.  My usual topic generates from a fundamental bewilderment at the extent to which our notions of what constitutes necessary consumption seem to have degraded our ability to exercise our very humanity in relation to non-human animals.  Learning about the ways in which our basic concrete need for food has been completely subsumed into a dispersion of other abstractions, the way in which food is more the thing signified (class, ethnic, and gender identifier, emotional pacifier, etc.) than the thing itself (mere nutrition), has opened my eyes to the other areas in which we seem to prefer to deal with the symbolic over the real.

We’re  dealing with war and oil in the same ways in which we deal with animals.  We don’t have a framework to deal with the new specifics, the new realities so we just don’t … as if what we don’t want to see won’t hurt us.  We don’t have a framework for parsing knowledge about the extent to which they (other animals, or other people if they stand between us and getting what we think we’re entitled to)  are sentient, self-aware, conscious beings into behavior change so we try mightily to deny that they are and clutch ever more tightly to the fiction of our own uniqueness in those respects.  Similarly, we deny that our lust for cheap meat is coming at a price we don’t want to pay ethically and environmentally.  We’re entitled to it after all.  It reminds me in a way of the story about Israelites longing for meat and being destroyed by their own desire.  Kibroth-hattaavah means “graves of longing.”

“If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—” (Num 11:18–20 NRSV) … But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.” (Num 11:32–34 NRSV)

We seem to be at a place where we prefer seeing through the glass dimly for fear clarity will come with a call.  It’s as if the positive aspiration of freedom to choose how we meet our needs has morphed into the negative notion of freedom from having to choose at all, and isn’t that the essence of entitlement?

In that light I share these words from an interview with Andrew Bacevich

Guernica: Throughout this interview you’ve suggested America scale back its global presence and its policy of interventionism. But that seems increasingly unlikely in light of our dependence on foreign oil. We’ve passed peak oil and it seems likely that many future wars will be fought over it.

Andrew Bacevich: This gets to the heart of the dilemma. What we call the American way of life is premised on expectations of a very high level of personal mobility, which presumes the availability of large amounts of very cheap energy. Given the way the economy has evolved over the last eighty or one hundred years, to cut to the chase, American freedom as we understand it requires lots of cheap oil. Therefore, in order for us to make a serious effort to wean ourselves from this ever-growing dependency would require us rethinking American freedom—revising the American way of life. Were we flexible in that regard, then options to significantly reorient our energy policy would become available. But there is very little evidence that we are willing to bend. The Jimmy Carter malaise speech of 1979 that I wrote about in my previous book continues to be a very telling episode. Carter was courageously and farsightedly trying to get Americans to recognize that there was something very insidious about this dependence on foreign oil. He connected it to our understanding of freedom and he challenged us to re-think freedom. We rejected that council and opted instead to listen to Ronald Reagan who said we could have everything we want forever. We are living with the consequences. And Carter’s abject failure to get Americans to acknowledge the negative consequences of the American way of life scared the bejesus out of the entire political class so nobody is willing to talk about sacrifice; nobody is willing to talk about American culture as part of the problem— but it is part of the problem. It is that fact which emphasizes the extent to which there really are no easy solutions. We are our own worst enemy.

Guernica: When you say ‘revising the American way of life,’ what do you mean—a simpler life?

Andrew Bacevich: To define freedom in a way that is not as intimately connected with conspicuous consumption and individual autonomy. And yes, that probably means in a material sense to be willing to live with less. Try to have that be your campaign slogan and run for the presidency: ‘Vote for me and I will help you live with less.’ [Laughter]

Moses had that problem too.

Public proclamations and goal achievement

September 13th, 2010 No comments

This video has some interesting implications for both vegetarianism and Christianity. Both of those spheres can involve some aspect of Public Proclamation.  It’s true that conventional wisdom says these proclamations serve as a hedge against backsliding.  If you say you’re going to do something publicly then you have the added measure of social pressure, or potentially even stigma, “keeping you in line.”  The underlying principle is a subtle form of coercion.  But, as is true with much of our conventional wisdom (especially about coercion), the actual empirical evidence reveals a much more complicated, if not contradictory picture.  This video gets at the flip side of all that, the downside of the initial reinforcement you get from merely making declarations.

I know some churches put more emphasis than others on making a big deal out of Public Proclamations of faith and/or Committing yourself to following Jesus.  Depending on what the underlying motivations are for that, the practice might benefit from a re-think.

Cleaner than you = Better than you

September 1st, 2010 No comments

This series of studies has interesting implications written all over it.  Granted OT clean/unclean doesn’t perfectly line up with contemporary notions but still, there is some overlap.  Sugar, sugar – white, clean, and neat

A new study shows that people feel morally cleansed when they are physically clean, and as such are more inclined to judge others more harshly.

Read More

This also hooks into the notions of dirty = animal, in some sad but not un-expected ways.  Sad in terms of how some humans can think of the fact that an animal is “dirty” (as in physical contact with literal dirt) and have that as part of the constellation of their justifications for morally denigrating them and even killing and harming them unnecessarily, or worse yet, for fun.  We claim on the one hand to not ‘be’ animals but then somehow pass judgement on “them” as if they were somehow accountable to our standards of cleanliness or personal hygiene.  On what grounds would that possibly make sense?  It’s even weirder given the fact that our own book of origins includes the little tidbit about man being made from dirt.

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7 NRSV)

Did you know people used to use urine as a tooth whitener?*

* Mark Morton, “A linguistic history of things other than food that people have put into their mouths,”  Gastronomica 9 (2009): 6.

silly humans.  dust to dust …

Cognitive dissonance is a social issue.

February 11th, 2010 No comments

While we’re talking about dissonance and eating dogs and whatnot …

This arbitrariness, this apparent lack of coherence in our attitudes and behavior toward animals, perhaps reflects a fundamental conflict of interests. Viewing animals as unconscious, Cartesian automata places them in the same morally neutral space as objects or inanimate entities that can be used or abused with virtual impunity. But if we regard animals as unfeeling and uncaring objects, then their apparent interest in us—their affection and companionship—must be just an illusion, an epiphenomenon that has no real social or emotional value. Conversely, if we truly regard animals as equivalent to friends and family, we cannot expect to be able to exploit them harmfully without experiencing moral anxiety in the process.

We are, in effect, trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If we place animals beyond the pale of moral consideration, we can harvest their economic and instrumental benefits with a clear conscience, but we cannot simultaneously claim that these animals are members of our families, the subjects of profound emotional attachments, or sentient and cognitively sophisticated beings worthy of special treatment and protection. So, our solution to this dilemma seems to be to compartmentalize—to allocate our moral obligations to some animals but not others—and to invent elaborate belief systems and “just-so stories” to explain why animals do not actually matter even when our gut instincts, our moral intuitions, tell us that they do. These are, of course, precisely the same techniques that people have used throughout history to justify the abuse and persecution of other humans (Bandura, 1999), and that, more then anything else, is why animals are a social issue.

J A Serpell, “Having our dogs and eating them too: Why animals are a social issue,” Journal of Social Issues 65, no. 3 (2009): 633-644.  can also be found here.

The Christian Origins of Suicide Food

November 10th, 2009 No comments

An unexpected little blurb about suicide food.    Martyrs are fed to vicious animals to propitiate the vicious animals, God seething mob.  Pigs and cows are martyrs animals .   Jesus was an animal God incarnate, who, as the ultimate martyr, was fed to vicious animals slaughtered for the animals, God us so we could be fed saved.  It’s all the same clear now.

In the transition from a pagan to a Christian culture, Christian conceptions of sacrifice were sometimes combined with traditional conceptions.  From the Nolan countryside, the Christian monk Paulinus wrote in 406 ce about a pig and a heifer that offered themselves for slaughter at the tomb of Saint Felix (Carmen, 20).  As Denis Trout has recently shown, when animals were slaughtered at the tomb of Saint Felix, the needs of rural life were thus taken care of, and Christian and pre-Christian religious practices were combined. (Trout 1995; cf. Trout 1999: 179-86).  It is worth noting that in the Christian amalgamation of traditional sacrificial ritual and Christian piety, the animals were not merely cooperating as they had been expected to do in the traditional sacrificial cults.  The pig and the heifer were eagerly and happily hurrying towards their destiny as the Christian martyrs were thought to do.

~ Ingvild Saelid Gilhus, Animals, Gods And Humans:  Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas (New York: Routledge, 2006), 157.   The Trout reference is from Trout, D.E. (1995) “Christianizing the Nolan countryside: animal sacrifice at the tomb of St. Felix”, Journal of Early Christian Studies 3, 3, 281-98.  and  (1999) Paulinus of Nola:  Life, Letters, and Poems, Berkely, Los Angeles and London: Univ. of California Press.

Friends or Food?

October 17th, 2009 No comments

Thanks to the Grumpy Vegan for pointing to the Animals Asia Foundation.  Dog eating is an issue in Asia.  Sometimes it takes seeing a victim you can recognize before you can really begin to see the rest.  The cross comes to mind but that’s a long Girardian tangent for another day.

A tidbit from the Friends or Food? faq:

  • What is fundamental to the practice of dog and cat eating is that the cruelty is often deliberate and slaughter methods are designed to intensify and prolong the suffering in the misguided belief that “torture equals taste”.
  • In situations where the torture is not deliberate, the method of slaughter is still tragically cruel. Markets in China employ killing methods that leave both dogs and cats suffering a lingering, violent death as they are either bludgeoned over the head, stabbed in the neck or groin, hanged, electrocuted or thrown conscious into drums of boiling water.

Check out the Friends or Food? campaign here.

pictorial of the process of dog slaughter for meat in Vietnam (unrelated to the Animals Asia campaign, but informative nonetheless).  The photographer notes that

“Food dogs” are not pets and they have no names.  They are bred and raised in farms, just like pigs, cows, lambs, chickens and other farm animals.  They are put down “humanely” just like any other farm animal, usually by slitting the throat and beeding the animal until it passes out.

The issue of dog meat points most clearly to the arbitrariness of our designations of “food” animals.  The inherent properties of dogs don’t change based on the label we put on them.  It does point to the linguistic shift we have to make in order to treat animals like things. It’s not the reality of the subject that changes but we have to do a linguistic move, a conceptual move in order to treat them a certain way. The same is true for cows and pigs and chickens.  Just because we choose to not know them doesn’t mean they can’t be known as the individuals they are.

Delicacy and Disgust

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

Hell is when we consider what it might be like to live under our own dominion.  Our popular idea of ‘going to hell’ basically means that God (or Satan, depending on your theology) will treat us (creatures under his care) the way we treat the animals under our care … merciless slaughter, burning flesh, you get the idea.  Hell is the very worst thing we can imagine – but only when it happens to us. Take the following, for example, describing a forced feeding procedure …

The idea, proposed by the government, that experience demonstrated that forced feeding was harmless, was a convenient myth. The government most likely knew that forced feeding was a painful procedure that often caused both biological and psychological damage.

…  the men in power shoved feeding tubes down their throats and force-fed them …

… tubes often damaged the larynx and pharynx, and if by mistake the tube was pushed into the trachea instead of the esophagus, fatal aspiration pneumonia could result from the error

(from a victim) “Knowing what to expect I braced up my nerves and sat quietly in the chair instead of struggling and fighting … The passage of the tube through the nose caused me but little inconvenience … but its further passage caused me to retch, vomit, shake, and suffocate to such an extent that in the struggle for air I raised my body till I stood upright in spite of three or four wardresses holding me down, after which I sank back in the chair exhausted. When the tube was withdrawn I seemed to be afflicted with chronic asthma and could only breathe in short gasps. To take a deep breath caused me excruciating pain.  Two wardresses helped me back to my cell where I lay in agony, the pain becoming worse every moment.”

This is actually text from an article describing the forced feeding of suffragettes by the British government in the early 1900’s. That’s disgusting.  Having your body violated that like …  Evil.  No questions asked.  It’s also the description of what we do to geese in order to have foie gras, here and here.  Watch as they shake, wretch, try to vomit, have trouble breathing … all in the name of literally creating a diseased liver we’ll later consume as a gourmet delight.

Having their bodies violated like that … Delicacy.

Hell is imagining ourselves.  We are the mouth that swallows the damned.

They Pity, and Eat the Objects of Their Compassion

September 18th, 2009 No comments

This is the second installment from the book “Ethical Vegetarianism“.   The editors have given a section to Oliver Goldsmith, British poet and essayist, drawing from his work “The Citizen of the World”.  In it Goldsmith “satirically scrutinized the norms of eighteenth-century England through the eyes of Lien Chi Altangi, a fictional Chinese visitor to the West who regales his Pekin correspondents with sometimes bewildered accounts of British customs.” (61)  This content epitomizes what my contemporaries generally refer to as the schizophrenia we exhibit towards the rest of the animal kingdom, the fundamental irrationality with which we relate to other creatures.  Our hearts rejoice when we see a creature washed clean after an oil spill, or in any other way really, saved from the injustice of our recklessness … while at the same time refusing to see the face of that same creature on our plates.   I really believe, deep down, we know something is wrong.  We don’t want to see precisely because of the pointedness with which it reminds us of our fundamental error.  They have faces too. Read more…

Self-indulgence and the Love of Death

August 27th, 2009 No comments

It’s a peculiar state of affairs when a food magazine can speak more truth about a thing than theology generally does, notable exceptions excluded of course.   Here’s Mark Morton in the winter ’09 edition of Gastronomica, in an article titled “Joie de Mort”, which translates “Love of Death”. Read more…