Saturday, September 26, 2009

Babbling, hopefully in an interesting way, about veganism

This responds to this article on the HuffPo by Ari Solomon.
Despite agreeing with much behind what Solomon says, I think he undermines himself in this article that is, basically, a screed on vegan's rationality. Yet, he clearly has feelings about veganism that go beyond the rational or "logical." There is nothing inherently wrong about this, but from a rational/logical perspective, I find this sentiment ill-formulated:

"All animals deserve to be free from unnecessary pain, fear, and suffering at the hands of humans."

It may be morally hard to disagree with that, but it *is* a statement on morality, a value statement, not a logical proposition. I wouldn't argue that working to help fellow humans or, say, broad secular humanism are purely "logical" systems. For example, I myself choose to work in an area pertinent to social justice because of my relevant beliefs, not because it is in some unassailable way "logical." And of course, one cannot actually practice what Solomon is talking about literally, because the growing of vegetable crops takes an undoubtedly huge toll on animals as well, from their production (i.e. pest elimination, exploitation of pollinating bees) to their harvest (i.e. threshers killing field animals; tractors crushing soil fauna), their processing (even vegan and vegetarian processed foods tend to be made in plants, where there again will be pest control and likely "maximum allowable" animal parts from processing plant mishaps with resident rodents, say), and their transport (I'm sure we could cut down the number of insect deaths and roadkill if we demanded all food transport took place at low speeds, i.e. not interstate highway speeds.)

This is not to critique veganism as inherently flawed, and heaven forbid that someone think I'm defending careless or thoughtless eating. Local food, ethically produced food, organic food, food where you personally know the farmer, and yes, vegetarianism and veganism all help address numerous problems in our food system, that threaten our ecosystems and ourselves. But come on--addressing many of these issues is a moral choice, verging on a choice of "faith" in how the world should be run and for whom.

"...if we say we care about cruelty to animals then it's time we start caring about all animals. Yes, dogs and cats are companion animals but in terms of suffering our canine and feline friends feel the same as a pig, cow, chicken, lamb, or turkey. To pick and choose species in terms of whose pain we care about is incredibly hypocritical and inconsistent."

There is much, *much* to agree with in veganism. But this article sets out to talk about its logical premises, and then leaves numerous logical holes, filled in with values. Values that may be noble, or righteous, or just, but nobility and righteousness verge on what one could call spiritual choices.

Solomon seems to aspire to the intellectual rigor of, say, a Peter Singer, but seems unwilling to fully embrace utilitarianism or a similar system where there is consistency, but as with any system, absolute consistency or certainty leads to counter-intuitive or extreme results. An absolutely consistent veganism along his lines would lead to conclusions way beyond what most would consider reasonable or, dare I say, "rational". For Singer's utilitarianism, this comes in often with his famous equating of animals with humans without higher reasoning/brain functions; in Solomon's case, the inescapable conclusion that "consistency" would demand could be, for example, not eating almost all crops in the US, considering the animals killed in the production of almost all plant-based products, especially those processed or transported for any significant distance. By the same consistency, one could similarly critique and therefore conditionally ban the use of, say, wind power, airline travel, and tall city buildings that, even with technological advances, will likely inevitably kill significant numbers of birds, etc.; one could conditionally ban non-emergency speeds above, say, 30 or 40 mph to avoid killing insects or inadvertent roadkill.

I don't disagree with the aspirations of veganism; but seeking to avoid the "exploitation" or unnecessary pain on all animals is a *value decision*. It must be discussed as such, especially if you wish to talk about all meat and all animal products; veganism has no special claim on logic, and to appeal to such a claim is not only inconsistent, verging on perhaps hypocritical, but also counterproductive. Just like telling religious people that they can't possibly be religious and care about logic, telling everyone that they can't possibly care about animals unless they follow vegan rules generates far more self-satisfaction and (illogical) righteousness than it does converts or reasoned discussion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

HoYay! brought the Visigoths at the Gates

"I wanna be noted for the fall of your Civilization! At the Gay Bar, Gay Bar, Gay Bar, Woo!"**

Interesting article on the otherwise-annoying-me-quite-a-bit-recently Slate today, reviewing James Davidson's "The Greeks and Greek Love." Author Emily Wilson goes over Davidson's "fascinating, meandering, funny, and thought-provoking study of how ancient Greek men loved one another." Observing the current state of things vis a vis gay marriage and the status of same-sex relationships, Wilson calls it
"a central problem for modern Westernized societies. Many countries allow same-sex couples the right to a "civil union" but withhold from them the name of marriage. The Netherlands was the first modern nation to legalize marriage proper for gay people, in 2001. Since then, seven U.S. states have also legalized gay marriages, although one, California, has just backtracked. On May 26, Californian lawmakers upheld a ban on same-sex marriages in the state... The ban is based on the idea that there is—or should be—something fundamentally different about sexual and romantic relationships between people of the same sex and those between a man and a woman. Since history is so often invoked, either implicitly or explicitly, on both sides of the debate, now is a particularly good time to look back at the history of same-sex relationships."
She goes on to say that the book
"ought to be required reading for anybody curious about the antecedents of the current impasse. [It] is a landmark study that challenges earlier historical interpretations of the evidence. For instance, [some] scholars... have argued that the Athenians were obsessed with anal sex, which they saw as an act of domination and humiliation. Davidson brilliantly shows that this interpretation is largely a projection on the part of modern historians, who have been reluctant to imagine a world where gay relationships could be expressions of love, affection, and appreciation, rather than deeply skewed power arrangements."
Observing Davidson's arguments on the Athenians ("same-sex relationships—which seem to have generally taken place between youths in their late teens and young men in their early 20s—were an important part of a boy's journey to manhood... [and] many men continued to be interested in "boys" even after marriage; happily married poet Sophocles and unhappily married philosopher Socrates both flirted with young men at drinking parties and caused no scandal in doing so. (The amazing thing about Socrates' sex life, according to Plato's Symposium, was not that he fancied the gorgeous Alcibiades but that he resisted having sex with him, even when snuggling under the same blanket"), Cretans ("Cretan rituals were equally strange, from an Athenian perspective..."), and Spartans ("In Sparta... a curious kind of sex seems to have been the custom between well-behaved men and chaste teenage boys. Apparently the lover was supposed to relieve himself only by rubbing against the boy's cloak: The cloak had to remain on at all times, as a sort of all-body condom"), I realized that I must have missed that part of The 300.

Of course, the funniest thing to me about the article (and somewhat exemplifying Slate's more-than-occasional breathtakingly tone-deaf and dumb contrarianism) is that it reminds me of a typical Slate contrarian years ago who was all "can't we have just ONE uber-violent movie with mainly manly men battling, oiled and sweaty, without just ASSUMING homoerotic tones?" To which I thought, sure, go ahead, but if I were you, I wouldn't take my stand on HoYay's inappropriate over-application and tie up the end of my mediocre article on the (lack of real) homoerotic undertones in action movies by talking about "The 300" and fucking SPARTA, where there actually WAS homoeroticism, you know, in the form of HOMOSEXUAL SEX. Not explicitly in The 300 itself, if I recall, but in that silly thing called "real life."

This being, after all, the same real life where two of Western Civilizations's most influential cultures, Greece and Rome, had common and rather accepted forms of gay love and managed to, oh, form the rhetorical and historical basis for much of modern Western society. (Not to mention the many celebrated philosophers we so often cite in our paeans to reason or democracy who, at the very least, batted for both teams, and of course that historical war juggernaut, Alexander the Great.*) But, I'm sure Rome's eventual fall was probably due to a lack of heteronormative "family values."

*"Alexander the Great, just steaming through Persia; took out Darius the 3rd as we all know. And then he ran on... and after a while his army's going, 'Hang on. Alex, I think we lost 'em. You know, I don't know where we live any more, and we've killed most of the people we've met. So would you just like to chill out.' And Alex is going, 'Look, I'm 32, I'm gay, I'm on a roll. Let's go!' On you go."


Monday, September 21, 2009

Brilliance: "Obama Administration Statements On The Public Option or A Nervous Boyfriend Trying To Talk His Girlfriend Into Anal Sex"

From J-Fave Fire Mickey Kaus:

Which is it?
Obama Administration Statements On The Public Option


A Nervous Boyfriend Trying To Talk His Girlfriend Into Anal Sex

"I’d be happy [if we didn't] do it ... and if there was a way of doing it that [was okay with you], I’m happy to do it that way, as well."

"I'm just kinda talkin' about how it might be okay to do. If you're into that sort of thing."

"No-one is being forced to [do] it."

"I see nothing wrong with having [it] as a choice."

"Whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the [issue]."

"It's certainly not a deal-breaker."

"Only if you're cool with it."

"These are legitimate concerns, but ones, I believe, that can be overcome."

“I just want to figure out what works.”

"No, I'm just kidding! Unless you were serious ..."

I can't top or add anything to that, except to say that these all seem to be Obama, except the last and fourth-to-last. And the second... ok, so it looks like there are 3 examples that are, as far as I can tell, "Nervous Boyfriend Trying To Talk His Girlfriend Into Anal Sex", and 7 "Obama Administration Statements On The Public Option (That Could Feasibly Double As 'Nervous [and Overly Officious] Boyfriend Trying To Talk His Girlfriend Into Anal Sex')".

Thursday, September 03, 2009

*Addendum to previous post (Genetically modified Crops: Critics of the GM Critics Gone Wild?)


I'd already half typed this out and then accidentally deleted form the copy'n'paste clipboard... argh.


Let's give it another go...

----begin digression----
*One may ask how this fits with my and others generalized critique of corporations, especially as relates to their role in food and GM crops. That is, you could fairly argue that I tend to paint them with a broad brush, rather categorically. Firstly, I wouldn't really consider corporations a "side" the same way I consider "pro-GM" as a "side." Corporations are not equivalent to a point of view, and my point was that you can't (or shouldn't) dispute a point by dismissing everyone advocating that point as cynically motivated. Corporations are far from everyone advocating GMs; you have food activists, university researchers and even researchers within ag. corporations who cannot be uniformly assumed to be irrational or motivated by, say, greed over the welfare of others. (Of course, I don't really accuse corporations of being irrational in their pursuit of objectives I think are often detestable, or at least questionable.) Indeed, I have friends and colleagues who believe in the potential and need for genetic modification, and I don't presume that they are irrational, motivated by greed or other ulterior motives, or anything but, in most cases, genuine concern for others and an intellectual belief in the need/utility of GM crops. This is more what I was referring to. One shouldn't, of course, categorically dismiss *groups* OR *sides*, but besides pointing out that corporations aren't, to my mind, a proper "group" in this sense (in that they're made up of people with a wide diversity of opinions, even some that dispute the primary positions of their own company) and insofar as they are a group, they're a group that as a matter of record and fact are committed to profits and not to social welfare; when the two conflict, they have and do argue that the former must come before or even at the expense of the latter due to the rules of their constitution and "personhood." This is a topic for another time, but is a primary component of what I see as problematic with corporations.
---------end digression-----------

Genetically modified Crops: Critics of the GM Critics Gone Wild?

See this story in Nature on the backlash against an article published finding that
"...[caddis-fly larvae] fed only on Bt maize debris grew half as fast as those that ate debris from conventional maize. And caddis flies fed high concentrations of Bt maize pollen died at more than twice the rate of caddis flies fed non-_Bt pollen. The transgenic maize "may have negative effects on the biota of streams in agricultural areas" the group wrote in its paper, stating in the abstract that "widespread planting of Bt crops has unexpected ecosystem-scale consequences.""

I've said much on GM before, but as far as this article about the swift and forceful critical attacks--as attacks they can be described, when the scientists are charged of scientific misconduct by critics, as we were in an article on organic agriculture, when most would admit that the "misconduct" is usually, at most, from strident but perhaps valid disagreement on wording or analytical approach, my challenge to the types critiquing the GM crop critiques is:

1) Find studies that *find negative effects from GM crops* that you feel are well-conducted. The probability that all studies that critique/find negative effects of GM are poorly done is exceedingly low.
2) If you actually feel all the research finding negative effects are poorly done, for the sake of science and balanced analysis, point out how this is similar/dissimilar to problems in "pro"-GM articles. That is, while it's unlikely all "anti"-GM science is badly done, the probability that all of them are badly done and all of the studies supporting GM are well done (back of the envelope calculations here...) zero point zero percent. A synthesis of the methodological flaws in each body of literature would be far more helpful than systematically decrying all articles with contrary findings and pointing to all positive findings.

In essence, it would be nice for those advocating GM to stop pretending all the evidence against it is bunk, bad science, or politically motivated. The feeling that those opposing GM accuse you of the same is not an excuse, especially considering the attitude in the Nature article of some critics that "That's just science." Accusing people of intentional misconduct is not an everyday reaction, or it shouldn't be, and anyone categorically insisting that their side is rational and the other sides aren't (or otherwise assumes bad faith on an entire side of a discussion and not on the others*) shouldn't really be listened to.