Monday, June 24, 2013

on eating animals, being animals, and taunting animals with consumer electronics

The other day, my aunt emailed this great little video out to me and a bunch of my family.

Responses varied, but not that much:

"If God didn’t want you to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of meat."

"Oh my goodness Luiz is sooooo cute!!! I would never eat an animal in front of him."

"I always thought chickens were vegetables -- just based on their intellect."

a) This is why I’m not on facebook. (One reason, anyway.)

b) It’s hard to know how to respond here. Where to begin?

Reasons for not eating other animals (especially factory-farmed animals) range from the practical/economic and environmental, to questions of human health, to serious ethical considerations, including meat prohibitions and restrictions in many religious traditions.

On the other hand, justifications for eating other animals basically fall into two categories: “It tastes good.” & “It’s what we’ve always done.” While totally subjective, the taste argument is sound enough on its own terms. But the second argument is way more problematic in its sloppy historical determinism. It’s what we’ve always done. And nearly every word here (it’s, we, always) is loaded with some pretty reckless assumptions and generalizations.

Incidentally, I’m not telling anyone how to eat, here. Trying hard not to, anyway.

But if we have the access, time, and leisure to, say, read blogs like this, we probably also enjoy the privilege of making some choices about what we eat. And we should be able to honestly and reasonably explain why we choose to eat what we do. (OK, I guess I did use the “should” word there.)

I guess the reason I’m getting so bossy here is to illustrate our larger schizophrenia about how we relate to other animals. Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin note, for example, "an implicit irony … evident in the practices of medicine and behavioural sciences: because animals are not humans, we may subject them to pain, loss of freedom, destruction of their environments, or the cruelties of contemporary agribusiness. Yet it is only because we ourselves are animals that we can gain material, physical or psychological knowledge and rewards from their ill treatment." (2010)

That is, to the degree that other animals are like us, we’ve found ways to benefit materially from their exploitation and abuse. As animals ourselves, these practices have, in turn, required us to strain our rationale for their continuation, their accelerating rate and severity, and their expanding scale.

For example, over the last several centuries, in order to limit human rights and other moral considerability to just our own species, we’ve had to patrol the boundaries of human exceptionalism with increasing vigilance, coming up with more and more contrived standards for what makes us human.

These criteria have slid from possessing a soul, to possessing reason, and then on to using tools. When we noticed other animals using tools, we moved the goal posts to making tools, and then to altruism, and on to language. Again, when other animals (whales, birds, apes, prairie dogs, molluscs, etc.) were shown to be fully demonstrating all of these in many ways, the lines have since been redrawn around even more subjective, abstract things like linguistic novelty, grief, remembered identity and consciousness, aesthetics, poetics, and so it goes.

Now, with most of this conversation decades behind us, it’s sort of adorable to see how surprised we are when other animals take an interest in things like smartphones. Consider, for example, how pets themselves have become a kind of technology to us, and we, ourselves, a sort technology to them.

Tons of people have posted youtube videos of their cats playing games on ipads and even more of gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees, who are now using tablets at over a dozen zoos in Toronto, Edinburgh, Mexico City, Miami, Milwaukee, Kentucky, Washington DC, and so on. As you might guess, most of these clips open by lobbing up awful puns about "monkeying around with ipads" and "going ape (or "bananas") for idpads," echoing the consumerist language of novelty-gadget marketing: "It turns out that tablets aren't just for humans, but for orangutans too!" and "It’s not just humans who can’t wait to get their hands on an ipad." This is followed by a lot of footage of hands reaching out through cages and bars to diddle on screens, "keeping bored apes amused" with music and painting apps, watching videos, and skyping with other apes at other zoos.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean to hate on all of this. Most of these projects are part of Orangutan Outreach’s "apps for apes" program, that gets tablets out to zoos to help keep apes stimulated, and to enable them to become "ambassadors for their critically endangered cousins in the wild." And, for all the anthropocentric talk about apes being “trapped in those bodies,” without the “equipment to communicate (with us),” there’s even a case of an orangutan without arms using the program. This is definitely very good work.

But if it takes an orangutan using an ipad to choose her own lunch, for us to exclaim “they can finally show us they are feeling, thinking creatures,” what does this say about the rest of us?

related: corvids, goats who stare at men, the obliging cephalopod, the immense journey

Thursday, June 20, 2013

swarm behavior(s):

1. a murmuration of starlings over the River Shannon in Ireland

  Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

2. the cicadas currently emerging across North America
Return of the Cicadas from motionkicker on Vimeo.

To hear David Rothenberg play his clarinet with a cicada “sex orchestra,” you should definitely listen to this radiolab from last month!

And, contrary to what the EastCoastlibrulmedia would have you believe, there’s a brood singing out here in central Utah, too. Last weekend we collected ~50, sautéed them with olive oil, shallots, basil, and had them in tacos.


There are other recipes all over internets. If you’re curious, you might start here.

If you’re curiouser, check out Chapul bars! and this little article by David Madsen in Natural History.

3. the totally redonkulous media coverage of this season’s cicada emergence

ex: 26,000 google hits for “cicadapocolypse,” 12,000 for “cicadapocalypse,” and 6,000 for “cicadageddon.”

(I refuse to even search “cicadagate” or “cicadapalooza.”)

In the zombie-epic-superhero-media-saturated wake of “snowzilla,” “snowpocalypse,” “obamacare,” “beghazigate,” “snowbamapocalypse,” and so on, it seems we have run clear out of material for silly, overdramatized portmanteaus.

4. and public assembly, evidently

“When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the protesters in the streets of Istanbul plunderers (çapulcu in Turkish) on June 2, he contributed a new verb to the English language.… And the new English verb was born: to chapul.”

“When a defiant Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the protestors as ‘Capulcu’ (pronounced ‘CHA-pul-dju’ and roughly translated to ‘riffraff’), instead of taking it as an insult, the protestors embraced their newfound labels with pride. Overnight, the word morphed from an insult to a compliment. … The root of the Turkish noun (Capul) was then converted into a verb by adding the English suffix ‘ng,’ creating a neologism (Capulling) that now means ‘standing up for your rights.’”

“What began as a local protest to save a park in Istanbul has turned into a national resistance against the government’s authoritarian rule.”
Washington Post

Monday, June 03, 2013

roundup: 5th annual 4.01k suit run!

board meeting, review of minutes & quasi-legal melodrama!

trust falls & hearty self-congratulation!

coming in robust, & with plenty of bandwidth!

maximizing ROI

so beautiful! what does it mean?!

related: business time!, roundup 1