The Myth of Culture

The myth of culture is how I named something I came up with last week and am exploring now and when I googled it I found a book I immediately bought (it arrived today). I can’t wait to read it. It’s nice to see that I can come up with the same idea as a Cambridge scholar.

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Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vegephobia is Speciesism

“Every Sunday my family was cursing and calling me names”, “My father violently pushed my head into the plate, yelling at me”, “My mom stood up and slapped me in the face”, “My parents refused to see me and their grandchildren during 4 years” – those are just a few of the testimonies collected during the First International Veggie Pride in May 2013 in Geneva, telling how family members reacted when they heard their daughter or son would no longer eat animals. If there are vegetarians/vegans who, at their “coming out” as such, weren’t greeted with either disapproval or aggression from their family, it is because they were either lucky or from vegetarian/vegan parents.

But even those lucky few still have trouble finding balanced vegan food – something more than lettuce and potatoes – at canteens, most restaurants (in some parts of the world almost all restaurants), carnist friends’ parties, hospitals, planes, and so on. And they still remain the target of laughter, offensive comments, exclusion and sometimes even bullying from people outside their family; people who in most cases are friends or co-workers. “I would have invited you for dinner but you’re a vegan, so it’s no fun” (in Veggie Pride vegephobia testimonies).

And then there are the real unlucky ones. Vegetarians/vegans who stopped trusting their doctor because – obviously having received no proper education on the subject – he/she told them they cannot survive without eating meat and/or animal products, and who, in case of an illness, try to treat their children themselves but don’t realize the illness is more serious than they expected and lose their children… There are those who are misdiagnosed because every problem is thought by their doctor to be caused by the meat free diet and die from a completely different illness which the doctor didn’t look for… And, there are those who lose the custody of their child because they are vegans and raise their children as vegans, like the parents of Joachim, the French toddler (http://www.soutien-affaire-joachim.fr/).

For all those reasons, a group of French activists coined the word “vegephobia” during the first Veggie Pride in 2001. “Vege” meaning vegetarian/vegan for the animals (ethical reasons) and “phobia” meaning fear, rejection and all its consequences, as in “homophobia” or “xenophobia”.

Proud not to eat animals

It is important to realize why this word was created precisely during a Veggie Pride: Veggie Prides began in France in 2001 and are annual demonstrations during which people who refuse to eat animals “come out”, speak up about it, show to everyone that they exist and remind society that they have rights. One of its aims is to bring vegans and vegetarians together and to ask every one of them to become a spokesperson of the animals’ cause instead of remaining unnoticed and hidden. The Veggie Pride manifesto states the following:

“We encourage them to express their pride in being veg*an, to join the fight against prejudice against veg*ans and to defend their rights as citizens. In effect, the oppression of non-human animals also implies a violation of the rights of human beings. Amongst these are the following:

– The right to eat correctly in works canteens, in hospitals, in prison and in any other location of communal eating.

– The right to impartial medical advice and information.

– The right to raise our children in accordance with our convictions and without their being marginalized as a result.

– The right to refuse work that goes against our ethical convictions.

– The right to respond in the media to all those who choose to criticize our way of life.”

And adds:

“We are not willing to have our taxes used to support the raising and killing and the fishing for the tastes of others.

We are no longer willing for our actions and our ideas to be systematically silenced. We no longer accept that the only public voices should be those of the corporations and intellectuals who defend the consumption of flesh.

We demand an open debate.”

A political solidarity

The Veggie Pride is therefore a political demonstration. The Italian philosopher Agnese Pignataro wrote that because the Veggie Pride says no to the exploitation, killing and production system, the pride that it expresses is that of disobedience. She adds that the goal of the demonstrators is not to convince particular individuals to become like them but to show their gesture of saying no as a public one, as a contestation of one of the pillars – the most secret and hidden one – of society and that by asking that their rights must be respected they are not – as some may think – egoistically protecting themselves and their community, but, on the contrary, they are extending their solidarity in the biggest possible way. “A solidarity that consists precisely in projecting on the non-human animals, who in the human society are the non-being, the emptiness, the nothingness, the being which is doubly recognized to us, as humans and as citizens. For that reason, among others, the Veggie Pride is an experience that goes beyond compassion. […] Consequently, in the Veggie Pride, the identification with the non-human animals exploited in the food industry experienced by the vegetarians does not represent a simple emotional projection, but the expression of an acknowledgment of a community of a common destiny inside a world of common relations, that of sentient beings: in short, it is a political solidarity.”

The physical denial of animals by the symbolical denial of vegetarians

Why is it so crucial for the organizers of the Veggie Pride demonstrations to ask vegans and vegetarians to be the voices of the non-human animals? Because too many of them have stopped. Unwilling to face the social pressure, the mocking, the teasing, the omnipresent demand for justification, the ostracism, many vegetarians/vegans start citing health or/and environmental reasons (those are respected and accepted by everyone) or even simply a distaste for meat (you cannot argue about tastes) as being the reason why they don’t eat animals. This is when vegephobia achieves its aim: it erases the issue of animal rights from the public debate and makes not eating meat a personal choice. And the animals loose pretty much the only voice they have in our society.

The social pressure for eating meat is so big, that some even stop being vegetarian/vegan because they don’t want to be excluded, because they don’t want to constantly be the target of teasing and mockery and everlasting questioning, which, in most cases, is of no intellectual value (“What would happen to all the pigs and the cows if we stop breeding them for food?! Do you want them to die?”). All vegetarians are not equal in facing such pressure. A new vegetarian, a child, a timid person, isolated in their social group, will not necessarily be capable of dealing with it.

For the same reasons, others refrain from ever becoming vegetarian/vegan. Even such prominent intellectuals as Richard Dawkins, who, in an interview with Peter Singer, admitted that the only reason why he is not vegetarian is because it is not the social norm. Or the French philosopher Elizabeth de Fontenay, who, even though having devoted most of her work to animal rights issues, including her over 1000 pages long essay Le silence des bêtes, says she cannot be vegetarian because, though never forgetting about the killing of animals, she takes the tradition of conviviality too much into consideration.

A patriarchal domination

Why is the social pressure for eating meat so big? There are two main reasons for that: one is that we live in a deeply speciesist society and the other is that society in large doesn’t like anything that stands out from the norm.

By their mere presence, vegetarians question the status quo. Because to not consume meat is a way of questioning human domination and its privileges. For centuries, humans have gotten into the habit of using and exploiting other species for their own ends. Some think the problem goes even further than that. In Toppling Patriarchy with a Fork,Marti Kheel wrote: “A major factor that buttresses meat-eating in the Western world, I have argued, is its intimate ties to masculine self-identity. Meat eating is both an expression of a patriarchal worldview as well as one of its central supports. It is a symbol of dominance over the natural world that has been intimately tied to the domination of women.” She adds: “Animals are kept on “farms,” just as women are kept in “families.” Significantly, the word “family” derives from the Roman word “famulus,” meaning “slave” and refers to a husband’s legal ownership of his wife and children.” In Eating Well, Jacques Derrida introduces the idea of “carnophallogocentrism”. It is, as explained by Matthew Calarco in the preface for Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat, “an attempt to name the primary social, linguistic, and material practices that go into becoming and remaining a genuine subject within the West. [Derrida] suggests that, in order to be recognized as a full subject one must be a meat-eater, a man, and an authoritative, speaking self.”.

The link between meat-eating and patriarchal domination is something that is also explained in the first brochure on Vegephobia by its authors Sara Fergé and Yves Bonnardel: “Vegephobia often has sexist overtones: sensitivity and irrational feelings are „female qualities“; a „real man“ is rational and always in control of his emotions, he must eat meat with no qualms.” There are many testimonies of men, who, once they decided to become vegetarian, were automatically suspected of being gay. “Next thing you’re gonna tell me is that you are gay!” is what a friend of mine heard from his father. “Then you are not even a real man!” is what another vegan friend’s father heard from his doctor. The resemblance between vegephobia and homophobia appears clearly.

Challenging the norm

Homophobia stems from a social order based on clear assignation of male and female gender, male domination and heterosexuality. It wants to suppress male and female homosexuality (by ridiculing, hiding, attacking) because it constitutes a threat to dominant gender ideals and patriarchal domination. Similarly, vegephobia stems from a system based on a strict differentiation between animals and humans, on the refusal to consider the interests of animals and on human domination of animals.

“Individuals who defy the mandatory norm of meat-eating encounter similar obstacles to those faced by people who challenge the norm of heterosexuality. Just as a woman is considered incomplete without a man, so, too, vegetarian foods are viewed as incomplete without the addition of flesh. And just as people often wonder how a lesbian can possibly find sexual fulfillment without a man, many people wonder how vegetarians can possibly find dietary fulfillment without meat. People ask vegetarians,“What do you eat?” with the same combination of incomprehension and

bewilderment that they ask lesbians, “What do you do?” In each case, people imagine the person to be deprived or incomplete, lacking a full sexual or dietary identity. A number of vegetarians report that they had more difficulty “coming out” as vegetarians than coming out as gay.” Marti Kheel in Toppling Patriarchy with a Fork.

To see the resemblance between vegephobia and homophobia is not meant in any way as an unhealthy competition that would show who suffers more (as some people seem to think…) but to understand that the roots of the problem come from the same source and to see that the mechanisms are similar.

Fearing vegetarians is fearing slaughterhouses

“Animals are subjected to an incredible violence. From the moment we say and show that we stand in solidarity with them by not eating their bodies it is inevitable that this violence comes out on the way we are treated. Vegephobia is the trace on us of the violence caused to them.” wrote David Olivier in his article Vegephobia is an integral part of animal oppression. He adds “The violence caused to animals is not a simple mechanical process. It is first and foremost based upon a refusal to hear: to hear the scream of the pig who is afraid and doesn’t want to die, to hear the cow who wants to find her calf. Vegephobia is the refusal to hear vegetarians: the refusal of any real debate on the legitimacy of meat consumption. The violence caused to animals is then an imposition: that of dying. To us, vegephobia wants to impose the act of eating them.”

People don’t like to hear vegetarians/vegans talk about why they refuse to eat animals. They fear discussing with them because they would have to face the horrifying fact of being part of a system that causes such tremendous suffering and billions of deaths every year, not to mention the destruction of the environment and the pauperisation of societies in third world countries. Vegetarians/vegans remind them that the world is full of injustice, and if they feel they cannot or do not want to do anything about it, they prefer to laugh at it and do anything they can to make themselves feel better. They might not even realize that when they mock vegetarians/vegans they mock the suffering of animals.

A social issue

To state that vegetarians/vegans for ethical reasons are victims of vegephobia is not meant to turn them into yet another oppressed group. It is meant to bring the issue of speciesism to the public debate. Vegephobia is a hostility against questioning speciesism. Highlighting vegephobia is meant to help its victims handle the attacks better and understand that it is not them who are targeted but the animals killed for consumption. It is also meant to show that those who attack vegetarians/vegans are victims of our speciesist society and only reproduce patterns which they were taught. We should not blame the individuals, but the system. It is very important for everyone to see that vegephobia is not a personal issue, but a social issue related to the fact that vegetarians/vegans are opponents to a system of domination. This system defends itself by creating an ensemble of social rules that have been named „vegephobia“ and that prevent any improvement to the fate of animals because it stops the diffusion of ideas and distorts the debate. That is why it is so important to expose it and fight it because as long as vegephobia will not be considered harmful and will not be taken seriously it is the animals killed for consumption who will not be taken seriously.

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 6:56 pm  Comments (3)  

The grandeur of man

It amazes me to think that humankind has accomplished so many mind-blowing achievements – moving from Africa, houses, bridges, temples, discoveries etc – while each man/woman who has been involved it them had their own life story with its own problems, insecurities, heart breaks, self-judgment and all kinds of feelings…

Published in: on December 28, 2013 at 1:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Liminal

Rites of passages in various cultures throughout the world always involved a change in the body – in some cultures they would cut off your little finger, in others they would pull out a tooth or torture the body in some other way.

I had my tooth pulled out.

20130611_181041_zps89ab38eb

And it wasn’t just any tooth. It was a tooth that has been badly “fixed” when I was 11, torturing me for 5 hours, which already was a rite of passage, that time into adolescence.

20130611_195328_zps44efdddcThe pain was atrocious.

This year already is a year of transformations in many ways. Now that my body is initiated let the change come completely.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Myths and I

Myths and fairy tales emphasize the truth in order to understand it, to see it better, like a magnifying glass.

I have realized that I do the same thing in my life: when I love or even like someone I always idealize them and when someone or something hurts me it’s a complete tragedy and my emotions are wild and hyperbolical, so that I can really truly understand the problem and, hopefully, solve it.

I work like a fairy tale.

Published in: on July 4, 2012 at 9:36 pm  Comments (2)  

The birth of myths

It may be hard to imagine how hostile the world must have appeared for the first human beings.  With no natural defences such as claws or teeth against predators and no fur to protect from the cold and wet, humans seem to be indeed the forgotten animal specie of the gods, as told in Plato’s Protagoras. In that dialogue, Protagoras gives us a version of the tale of Prometheus: Epimetheus and his brother Prometheus were assigned to prepare the animals for their arrival on Earth and give them the assets for survival but Epimetheus forgot about the humans (that is why Prometheus stole the arts and fire from the gods (Athena and Hephaestus) and gave them to man).

Humans are left harmless against predators but must survive. It was probably during the end of the Pliocene epoch that the homnids began to eat meat, possibly first from scavenging and then hunting. Scavenging would prove that eating meat was vital to humans because they coudn’t find their ealrier prefered food (fruits, vegetables and nuts) in sufficient amount after leaving Africa but were not yet prepared to and never thought before of  killing other animals.

Killing animals, living surrounded by predators, often in the cold and in the dark must have led humans to believe that, as Micrea Eliade tells us in number of his books, the world was created with murder. Killing gave humans life, so they extrapolated that to their idea of the gods and the creation. They had no choice but to accept murder as part of their life.  Embracing violence was a means of fighting the hostility of the world.

Therefore, the rites of most traditional societies glorify the first act of killing made by the gods, as if to justify their own acts of murder. More so, the rites of passage, as described by Arnold van Gennep and Hutton Webster to name just a few, were incredibly horrendus in order to prepare young men to a life were they have to kill and be strong.

However, the genuine gentleness and desire of good of mankind is proved by the fact that almost every (if not all) traditional soctiety cultivates what Eliade called the “nostalgia for origins”, where there was no time, where everything was sacred and where the primordial murder did not yet occur. And this primordial murder was seen as their decline, because humans had to come to life and be determined by time. The rites were a way to stop time and stay in the sacred instead of the profane. We find traces of this nostalgia for origins in modern religions and their descriptions of Heaven. As for instance, in Isaiah 11:6: “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion…”.

With the coming of civilisation and of more safety and protection against natural dangers, man had no use of such violence and rites became more symbolic. In The Historical Roots of the Wonder Tale, Vladimir Propp  notices that fairy tales, which are in some ways secularized myths, often tell stories that glorify a now good behavior – saving the princess from the dragon – against an earlier necessity  – human sacrifice as a plea to the gods.

Myths were made to understand the world and to define what we should do in that world, give us examples to imitate.  What kind of myths, if any, do we need in our world today? What is the good example of today? What is good? That’s a very simple question to which Charles Darwin gives the perfect answer in The Descent of Man: good and evil are social instincts. Social instincts are directed towards ‘the good of others’ (within the group). Humans as well as animals have social instincts. Darwin observed that higher social animals are inclined to aid their fellows. He reasons that animals exhibit qualities which in us would be called moral. In humans the ‘general good’ may be defined as the means by which the greatest possible number of individuals can be reared in full vigor and health.

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

What Eliade doesn’t say

In number of his books, Mircea Eliade tells us that most primitive societies ritually kill in order to repeat the first act of killing made by the gods; an act which has created the world. But he doesn’t tell us why do primitive societies believe that the world was created by murder in the first place. Or am I wrong? I have read some of his books and never have I found any clues to that assumption.

Anyone has any thoughts on that?

Published in: on December 12, 2010 at 6:12 pm  Comments (1)