Mama, I killed a deer

Mama, I killed a deer
I saw him come so near
in my headlights it is clear and o

Mama, I killed a fish
snapped him from his stream
thought I heard him scream and o

Mama, I killed a frog
we dissected him in class
the teacher let it pass and o

Mama, I killed a fly
they never asked me why
but I know I cannot lie and o

Mama, I killed an ant
I squashed it with my foot
now I know I’m no good and o

Mama, I killed a cat
I was curious at that
but now it makes me fret and o

Mama, I killed a cow
a butcher told me how
a Hindu disavows and o

Mama, I killed a horse
majestic was his force
sad was I of course and o

Mama, I killed a pig
a hatchet did the trick
it’s more humane than bricks and o

Mama, I killed a snake
hit him with a rake
down by a murky lake and o

Mama, I killed a whale
Melville got it right
I lie awake at night and o

Mama, I killed a duck
he waddled out of luck
but I didn’t give a fu.. and o

Mama, I killed a shark
it happened in the dark
look he has left his mark and o

Mama, I killed a bird
it didn’t take a third
stone for him to die alone and o

Mama, I killed a mouse
I put a trap next to his house
I am not worth my vows and o

please forgive me

Mama, I killed a deer was originally published on Meandering home

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Meditation on Persons

The question: What is a person? is more complex than it appears. Indeed, when we recognize the complexity of the question, and forget our assumption that a person should be a human being. We can no longer thing of a picture of homo sapiens, Vitruvian Man or his slightly obese contemporary counterpart, so the concept of a “person” becomes enigmatic.

What about: the bearer of something? The bearer of free will, or rights, or responsibilities? But this is begging the question. A person is recognized as a person when he is considered the bearer of these dignities. Francis Fukuyama writes about this in his recent book on “Identity”, following Hegel that history is the dialectical play of recognition, resulting in the liberal democratic society at the famous “end” of history. Philosophy in this sense is translating common sense into notions, not investigating some underlying substance.

Such “substance” is the domain of metaphysics and it seems dangerous to let that discipline decide what (who!) counts as a person and who doesn’t. This theoretical question will become extremely relevant of course in the impending era of artificial intelligence. As soon as “chatbots” portray the characteristics of personhood and manage to obfuscate the algorithmic origin of their utterance, we can expect action groups advocating a bill of rights for these computer programs. The right to live, for example, translates into a right not to be shut down.

Machines have to pass the Turing test, or generate enough doubt so we have to assume they could pass, in order to be considered persons. The ability to have a human-like conversation appears to be the only criterion for personhood. This seems to excludes other animals. I would argue that we should be as benevolent as we could be in our interpretation of what we count as a conversation. We talk to our companion animals or pets, and there sure is mutual understanding. Some animals also partake in the life of the mind. And just to be on the safe side, why don’t we include them all and assign them some sense of personhood, and a right to life, dignity and the pursuit of happiness?

Judging if we are dealing with a person becomes the responsible task of other persons, in which they give their best effort to discern symptoms of personhood. We are generous with personhood.

Meditation on Persons was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Dead Animals by John Hollander

The American poet John Hollander (1929-2013) was known for his language virtuosity. His most famous book for a wider audience was his 1981 introduction to form and prosody Rhyme’s Reason, a witty tour through the intricacies of poetry that you can borrow online. Some say that his poems lack personal engagement, that the emotion is never the author’s (which, following Eliot, it shouldn’t be). Here I read a short verse that gives you some impression of Hollander’s craft:

Dead Animals
Granted, then, that the punishment,
-Whether appropriate or not-for that
One tiny universal act (“Come, try it!”
“Yum-yum!”) of disobedience was Death,
It seems obscenely inappropriate
That all the other creatures, furry, smooth,
Scaly or feathered, shelled, gelatinous,
Great- or tiny-winged, swift-legged or slow
(I need-however lovingly-not name
Them all right now) have been condemned, like us,
To death, just to provide those symmetries
And analogues, just to allow us to
Compare ourselves to them whether or not
Condescendingly-I don’t know. I think
I’ll trade this one in for another story.

On offer is a precise and funny rephrasing of Genesis and our culture’s bullshit story of original sin. A ‘tiny universal act’ of disobedience because of a yummy Golden Delicious is totally inappropriate of course and the entire myth has been fabricated to channel a deep and dark hatred of life. Hollander doesn’t need such verbiage – suffice the word “obscene”.

He sums up the other creatures (I think he has a knack for completeness. Hollander was a celebrated anthologist and enjoyed formal perfection in poetry). Here, he skillfully implies weaker rhyme like slow-now or like us-symmetries or condescendingly-story. What do we make of his insecurity in the end? Which story does he want to trade, the book of Genesis, or his own poem (playing with meta-poetry is a common feature in Hollander’s work)? Or both?

The obscenity is that animals are mortal like us yet without sin. It allows us (compels us, maybe, it alliterates now and that’s what is really going on) to compare ourselves with the animals, to look down on them because they can’t be seduced, they have no will of their own against the flow of Being, as it were. The animals are there to make us go “look they die just like us but we have deserved to be treated like them because we have sinned; had we not sinned, we would also die, but we take on that burden consciously. Our reward is to feel better because we can name our situation. We have a mind that can create for us the illusion that we have an independent will and thus the ability to sin. Of course it is all bullocks, but that masochism gives us at least the satisfaction of being more ‘advanced’ than the animals.

Do you think this is what Hollander means?

Reading: Dead Animals by John Hollander was originally published on Meandering home

Animals.

If there is any justice beyond human justice, the human race should be eliminated yesterday.

Animal welfare activists don’t shy away from coining their message in radical slogans. We all know horror stories of illegal PETA activists setting fire to legitimate porc factories or chicken breeding facilites, and we shiver at the idea that such terrorists are allowed to publish their campaigns in our magazines. What are they fighting for, anyway? There is nothing remotely comparable to human desolation and misery hiding under a pig’s hide, is there? Compassion with animals is as ludicrous as compassion with a person on a photo, or a character in a fictitious movie. The screams of these beasts are mere mechanical noises like the cracking of a rock or the roar of a river; their gaze is but a numb reflection of the outer world; their heartbeat – meaningless pounding, functional only to the production of meat, leather and other “consumer goods”.

Is that it? Is that an adequate statement of our relationship to animals, at least the ones we don’t choose to be our mates and pets? It is clearly the implicit view of the vast majority of human societies that have existed on this planet. Sacredness of animals, as some religions have it, is either an application of the abstract principle of the sanctity of all life, or a corollary of a religious association with a deity.

Recently I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent 2009 book “Eating Animals”. Based on three years of research, the famed New York writer blends the stories of slaughterhouse murder witnesses, PETA activists and small alternative family farmers with philosophical anthropological observations about how we remember and the role food (and hence, meat) plays in this. The pivotal question of his book, he says, is “Should we or should we not eat turkey at Thanksgiving?”

I am not going through the arguments pro and contra in this article. Everybody has to sort that out for themselves. You will have to go through unpleasant questions of what it means to be human, about the essence of suffering and pain, stewardship and responsibility.  Read, watch, observe as many videos of factory farming (readily available on youtube) as you can digest and decide if you will digest the meat of these corporations. To give you a hint, look for “Smithfield”, the #1 producer of porc in the US, chicken giant “Tyson foods” (a major supplier of KFC),  Temple Grandin (nonhumans torturing and killing facilities corporation), or Gail Eisnitz’s book “Slaughterhouse”.

Safran Foer compares a complete vegan lifestyle with the idea of being a selective omnivore, because he used to be one of the latter. Of course, it is good to decide consistently not to eat any factory farmed meat while eating “responsible” meat, but is it a commendable attitude in the long run? I find this a difficult question, a strong test for philosophical pragmatism. Foer mentions a vegan who is building more humane slaughterhouses (that are inflicting less pain). If we offer a sustainable alternative to factory farming that doesn’t torture, vivisect, force feed, brand, genetically manipulate into cripples, and deny basic “species-specific” needs to animals that surely is a good thing and helps consumers make the transition to eating better.

Eventually, with 7 billion people on the planet and counting (and more and more of them counting on a meat diet), it will be impossible to feed everyone a meat-rich diet without rendering the planet ultimately inhabitable. Already, meat production is contributing 40% more to global warming than all transportation combined. Vast areas of farmland are needed to produce food for the animals, and with depleting freshwater resources this amounts to sheer madness. If we are to survive and live long and happy lives as we have gotten used to, we need as humanity to lower meat consumption dramatically.

I beg you pardon for this frag-men-ted account of the topic. What have I just written? It has something to do with global warming, oh yeah, and there was some argument with pain did I miss that? He mentioned the word “slaughterhouse”  somewhere, how unappetizing. What were the names of the culprit corporations again? And in the end it was all just philosophy, wasn’t it?

I would much rather hit a hairy gorilla fist hard on your table and decree “Enough you damned fools!”

If you haven’t seen the documentaries “We Feed the World”, “Supermarket Secrets”, or “Food, Inc.” yet, I can recommend you to watch it and would be glad if this small article was helpful.

Animals.

If there is any justice beyond human justice, the human race should be eliminated yesterday.

Picture of a symbolically tortured animal (homo sapiens “sapiens”)

Animal welfare activists don’t shy away from coining their message in radical slogans. We all know horror stories of illegal PETA activists setting fire to legitimate pork factories or chicken breeding facilities, and we shiver at the idea that such terrorists are allowed to publish their campaigns in our magazines. What are they fighting for, anyway? There is nothing remotely comparable to human desolation and misery hiding under a pig’s hide, is there?
Compassion with animals is as ludicrous as compassion with a person on a photo, or a character in a fictitious movie. The screams of these beasts are mere mechanical noises like the cracking of a rock or the roar of a river; their gaze is but a numb reflection of the outer world; their heartbeat – meaningless pounding, functional only to the production of meat, leather and other “consumer goods”.

Is that it? Is that an adequate statement of our relationship to animals, at least the ones we don’t choose to be our mates and pets? It is clearly the implicit view of the vast majority of human societies that have existed on this planet. Sacredness of animals, as some religions have it, is either an application of the abstract principle of the sanctity of all life, or a corollary of a religious association with a deity.

Recently I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent 2009 book “Eating Animals”. Based on three years of research, the famed New York writer blends the stories of slaughterhouse murder witnesses, PETA activists and small alternative family farmers with philosophical anthropological observations about how we remember and the role food (and hence, meat) plays in this. The pivotal question of his book, he says, is “Should we or should we not eat turkey at Thanksgiving?”

I am not going through the arguments pro and contra in this article. Everybody has to sort that out for themselves. You will have to go through unpleasant questions of what it means to be human, about the essence of suffering and pain, stewardship and responsibility.  Read, watch, observe as many videos of factory farming (readily available on youtube) as you can digest and decide if you will digest the meat of these corporations. To give you a hint, look for “Smithfield”, the #1 producer of pork in the US, chicken giant “Tyson foods” (a major supplier of KFC),  Temple Grandin (non humans torturing and killing facilities corporation), or Gail Eisnitz’s book “Slaughterhouse”.

Safran Foer compares a complete vegan lifestyle with the idea of being a selective omnivore, because he used to be one of the latter. Of course, it is good to decide consistently not to eat any factory farmed meat while eating “responsible” meat, but is it a commendable attitude in the long run? I find this a difficult question, a strong test for philosophical pragmatism. Foer mentions a vegan who is building more humane slaughterhouses (that are inflicting less pain). If we offer a sustainable alternative to factory farming that doesn’t torture, vivisect, force feed, brand, genetically manipulate into cripples, and deny basic “species-specific” needs to animals that surely is a good thing and helps consumers make the transition to eating better.

Eventually, with 7 billion people on the planet and counting (and more and more of them counting on a meat diet), it will be impossible to feed everyone a meat-rich diet without rendering the planet ultimately inhabitable. Already, meat production is contributing 40% more to global warming than all transportation combined. Vast areas of farmland are needed to produce food for the animals, and with depleting freshwater resources this amounts to sheer madness. If we are to survive and live long and happy lives as we have gotten used to, we need as humanity to lower meat consumption dramatically.

I beg you pardon for this frag-men-ted account of the topic. What have I just written? It has something to do with global warming, oh yeah, and there was some argument with pain did I miss that? He mentioned the word “slaughterhouse”  somewhere, how unappetizing. What were the names of the culprit corporations again? And in the end it was all just philosophy, wasn’t it?

I would much rather hit a hairy gorilla fist hard on your table and decree “Enough you damned fools!”

If you haven’t seen the documentaries “We Feed the World”, “Supermarket Secrets”, or “Food, Inc.” yet, I can recommend you to watch it and would be glad if this small article was helpful.