The Rusty Nail in the Velvet Glove: Aligning my Actions and Ethics: Part 2

publicstock.net-rusty-spikes 800x530

In my last post, I talked about how our system of production is currently built upon cruelty, suffering, and exploitation, and how that suffering is intentionally hidden from us consumers. I call this the rusty nail in the velvet glove. Or, to borrow a phrase from Rich Mullins, “the mask of life I had placed upon the face of death.”

The Apostle Paul himself probably said it best (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (NRSV)

Things that are otherwise or basically good can become elements of evil if they are corrupted, or if they become ends of themselves … which is what happens when you have massive corporate interests involved. Companies don’t generally make the Fortune 500 by caring about who they hurt on the way up.

Lawyer, theologian, and social activist William Stringfellow wrote an incredible book on this, Imposters of God. (I wrote about it a few years back). Bascially, Stringfellow considered idolatrous and twisted good things (patriotism, careerism, even church-ism) to be the current and active face of evil – of the devil – in the modern world.

I can’t argue against that, but I would add to that list of devils the hidden evils we participate in without really even knowing it.

So let me try in a small way to pull away the mask that has been “placed upon the face of death.” The videos about animal abuse are all pretty hard to watch.

This is the image Hershey’s chocolate likes to show you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAw_BmRLiDY

This is where the cocoa in that chocolate comes from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ns6d6rGnfo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM

This is what the pork industry wants you to see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UDq9tpX0w

This is how those pigs spend their short lives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

This is Hormel’s “Spam America,” which attempts to link Spam to artistry and innovation

https://vimeo.com/138027963

This is “The Unauthorized Spam Tour.” Be careful what you eat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AEzOnk3ZBk

The “Bacon Brothers” singing about the “quality protein” of an egg breakfast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a9Ixfg2q1g

The life cycle of a battery-cage chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p83JoTxUZZg

Oh, look. It’s a talking cow. Doesn’t she sound happy about milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xdPfnZynEw

Non-CGI dairy cows … not so happy milk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzS8p727gvM

And it doesn’t stop at public relations. Industries have worked hard to influence congress and state legislatures: the livestock industry alone spends millions of dollars each year influencing elections.

That spending paid off, because just last December Congress and the President gave them a brand new, shiny present: relaxed labeling requirements that make it almost impossible for the consumer to know where the meat they buy comes from, how it was slaughtered, and so on.

Livestock industry political action groups have even attempted to pass “ag gag” laws across the US and around the world, which make it illegal to film animal abuses at processing centers.

They’ve succeeded in six states, including Idaho, whose law was inspired by a viral Mercy for Animals investigation of Bettencourt Dairies, which led to the arrests of multiple farm workers. Yup, the abuse was real and illegal, but rather than fix the problems, the response was make a law to hide them.

Rusty nails in a velvet glove. Mask of life over the face of death. Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Throwing the rock and hiding your hand.

A lot of money is riding on this. Real power is working night and day to make sure we don’t understand the damage we do.

The last thing I want to do is to make the average person reading this feel guilty. We’re not the ones perpetrating cruelty and exploitation, and we’re not the ones covering it up. We’re the ones being lied to, being brought into it deceitfully.

If you want to give up all chocolate you can’t be sure wasn’t harvested by slaves, do it. If you want to become a vegetarian, or even a vegan, do it. But in our culture, these are hard things to do. Because powerful people with lots of money have made them difficult.

The main reason I’m writing these posts isn’t to convince you, but to remind me. My biggest weakness is a lack of follow-through. I start things strong, but then fall away in time. But I’m making this public, so I can look back and remind myself why I’m doing all this … and so that y’all can call me out if I backslide.

Nobody should feel like I’m condemning them for what they have for supper. I’m not.

I’m condemning the Cattlemen’s Association, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, and Mars. I’m condemning lobbyists and the politicians they rent.
Sure, some people genuinely don’t care. But most don’t know. And of the ones who both know and care, some, maybe most, aren’t yet at a point where they’re ready to make major changes. Like I said, powerful people have spent a lot of money making us a part of this, hiding it from us, and making it hard to exit.
But if you’re feeling it, start by pushing back just a little.
Find a few vegan or vegetarian recipes (I’ll post some here, in time) and have one meatless day a week. Or, if you’ve got a family that wouldn’t be on board, give yourself one cruelty-free meal a day, like breakfast.
If you’re not at a point where you can walk away from the major chocolate companies (which all use slave labor), look in the chocolate aisle in your local grocery and or supermarket and see what they have. Maybe you could find something with a Fair Trade label, or a responsible company like Lindt, that would satisfy your sweet tooth.
If nothing else, you can pass the information along. Go to Stop the Traffik and see the little things you can do (email, petitions, etc.) to help end slavery in all industries.
If everybody did one little thing, it could make a big difference.

First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Twelve-Word Tuesday: Chronicles of Narnia Reading Order

Lion

photo by Robek, Creative Commons

For readers new to Narnia, publication order introduces, but chronological order confuses.

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are sold in chronological order now, and have been for twenty years. But for the first forty+ years of their existence, they were sold in publication order, at least in America.

Why did Harper Collins change things? Because of a letter in which C.S. Lewis agrees with a young fan named Laurence that he prefers reading his books in chronological order. Here is a snippet of that letter. You can read more here.

 I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother’s [publication]. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.

So, three things.

First, that’s an awfully tepid endorsement to base a major reordering of a well-loved series on.

Second, Lewis was corresponding with a child. If he had wanted to change the order of his series, he would have sent a letter to his publisher, or done something public that wouldn’t have remained hidden from the world until decades after his death.

And third, and perhaps most importantly, Lewis was talking to a fan who had already read the books multiple times, and had developed a favorite order for reading them that was different from the “pronounced order” at the time. Lewis was engaging with fandom, not a newbie, to use 21st century language.

This is a vital distinction. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is written as an introduction to the world of Narnia. It is clearly and self-consciously the first book in a series, designed to stand alone if no more were published, and to serve as an introduction if the follow-up books happened.

The Magician’s Nephew is just as clearly written as a fan’s book. If you’ve gotten six books in, you like and know the series. You don’t need any explanation as to who Aslan is, or what Narnia is, or any of that. It’s clearly written in the form of a prequel. Sticking it at the front of the boxed set doesn’t change that.

Imagine if you’d never seen anything related to Star Wars, but you’d heard it was good. Then imagine your first introduction to the universe was The Phantom Menace. Well, it’s not quite the same, because The Magician’s Nephew is actually good. It’s also not quite the same as reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince first, either.

But it’s not much better, and I honestly believe that Narnia newbies reading the Chronicles in chronological order is responsible for the decline in the series’s prominence in the last couple of decades.

Now, for established fans, I think it can be fun to go back and reread The Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order. It gives you a fresh look into the series, after all.

But everybody who is new to Narnia should start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

My Sources:

Aaron Earls, In What Order Should You Read The Chronicles of Narnia?

Charlie W. Starr, The Narnian Order of Things

Andrew Rilestone, In What Order Should the Narnia Books Be Read?

Steven D. Greydanus, There’s Only One Right Order to Read the Narnia Books

Meat-Free Monday: My Life So Far (Status Update)

So, I’m three weeks in, and I’m feeling pretty good.

I’m eating like a king, trying new foods all the time (something I always loved doing anyway). And they aren’t all “healthy” foods, either:

  • General Tso’s Tofu
  • Lay’s Kettle Cooked Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper potato chips
  • Baked white potatoes with sesame seeds and either creole mustard or barbecue sauce
  • Pineapple juice mixed with seltzer water (very refreshing)
  • Outshine bars
  • So Delicious Almond Milk Mocha Ice Cream
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter on quality white bread or bagels
  • Bangkok Peanut Sauce on rice or noodles or whatever
  • Dark Chocolate Almond Milk

And that’s in addition to all the healthy food I’m eating

  • salads with apple cider vinegar and course-ground mustard dressing (mix them together and toss the greens – it’s awesome)
  • raw vegetables (crudites – pronounced crew-dee-tays. It sounds like a Mardi Gras parade: “Krewe De Tay”)
  • stir-fries starring broccoli, sugar snap peas, and chick peas
  • stir-fried eggplant
  • oatmeal sweetened with dates.
  • just eating the dates themselves

I’m really just eating whatever I want, whenever I want it, and eating as much as I want. I’m often hungry, but I’m never hungry for very long.

So how do am I doing?

Well, my digestion has been much better. I haven’t needed heartburn medicine since I started.

My energy level is up, though I still suffer when I don’t get enough sleep (and I’m still a coffee addict).

My weight is down 20 pounds, from 375 to 355, and my clothes fit again. Actually, some of them are starting to fall off of me. I’m glad I’ve got a good belt.

It’s easier to get off the ground, and I move around a lot better. I feel a lot lighter, though some of that may be the weight off my conscience 🙂

I actively want to keep this up.

A Missed Opporunity: Transformers Prime and the Smurfette Principle

 

[Note: I’m a little short of time to get this post up. It’s been a long week. So I’ve looked into my archives and found something I wrote but never published a few years back when I finished watching Transformers: Prime. The series was very well made, but like I said about Voltron, it’s neck deep in the myth of redemptive violence. It also suffers from a significant gender imbalance, both of which seem to be epidemic in our popular culture].

Quick glossary if you’re not familiar with Transformers. Autobots are good guys. Decepticons are bad guys. Optimus Prime is the good guy leader, a sort of father figure to the rest of the Autobots. That and the 1-minute clip I showed above is all you need to know.

 

It’s no secret that I like cartoons. One that I enjoyed recently was Transformers: Prime, a CGI-animated series aimed at older elementary children. It had ongoing plotlines and darker elements that made it a poor fit for little kids, but Transformers: Rescue Bots has covered that age range admirably.

Now, I really enjoyed Transformers: Prime, even though it kind of ran on the Smurfette Principle:

  • one female Autobot, Arcee, out of a team of 5-8 (depending on the season) total Autobots
  • one female human “companion,” Miko, out of three
  • one recurring female adult character, Jack’s mother
  • one female Decepticon, Airachnid, out of a much larger cast of villains

Watch this if you’re not familiar with the Smurfette Principle:

 

The female characters were at least interesting.

  • Arcee was by-the-book and extremely competent, but haunted by the loss of two previous partners.
  • Miko was fearless, reckless, and brave in a way that seemed to fit her youth and personality.
  • Jack’s mother was a smart, competent nurse who was trying to raise a teenage son alone, and doing a good job of it.
  • Airachnid was diabolical, and smarter than most of the other Decepticons.

The truth is, the male characters were often less interesting than the female ones. And that leads me to the missed opportunity, arguably the most boring Autobot of all: Ultra Magnus.

 

It’s not really a spoiler to say that at some point in the series, Optimus Prime is missing and/or injured and/or captured and/or just not available to lead them, and the Autobots are scrambling to regroup and find a way to be effective without their great leader. That pretty much happens in every Transformers series. It’s a tradition.

 

And during this time, a space ship lands, opens its hatch, and out steps Ultra Magnus. Arcee is immediately relieved (and actually shows some happiness, which is rare for her). She knows Ultra Magnus is a powerful soldier and Optimus Prime’s old second-in-command. He can provide the muscle and the leadership the Autobots need to regroup.

 

The only problem? He’s Lawful Stupid. He’s so by-the-books he makes Arcee look like a 1960’s hippie. He doesn’t value the “indigenous organisms” (humans), and he has trouble getting along with the former Wreckers (Autobot special forces: Bulkhead and Wheeljack, who really are indispensable at this point, and Miko, who’s become an honorary Wrecker). Over the next few episodes, he has to learn to bend a little, and the Wreckers (especially Wheeljack) have to learn to listen and work with the whole group.

 

It’s kind of a cliched and lukewarm side-plot that doesn’t really make a major splash in the storyline. Worse, it’s something we’ve all seen a dozen times before. That side plot felt like a rerun, and so did Ultra Magnus.

 

So what’s the missed opportunity? What small change could they have made that would have cascaded into something a little more complex and a little more new?

 

Instead of Ultra Magnus stepping off that spaceship, it should have been Elita One. And they should have used the same exo-armored, broad-shouldered look they used for Ultra Magnus. Just give her a more feminine face and more rounded (but similarly massive) torso, and have a woman do her voice.

 

You instantly add several more wrinkles to the old story of strict authority vs “gets stuff done rogue” that we haven’t seen so much before.

 

It would implicitly raise the question: “is Wheeljack really just against all authority, or does he have a problem taking orders from a woman?” Maybe you don’t even have anybody breathe a word about that on screen, but it still hangs in the air and gives the viewer another angle to think about. Now, given the way Wheeljack chafed against Optimus’ orders, I think the answer to that question would be “he’s got a problem with authority, male, female, or other,” but at least the question would be available to consider.

 

If Elita One is drawn more like Ultra Magnus, then it give an unspoken nod to people who don’t fit in traditional gender roles or lines. Arcee is clearly very feminine. She’s the smallest Autobot by far, and she has curves that look very much like a human woman’s. Ultra Magnus was one of the biggest Autobots (excluding giants like Omega Supreme or Metroplex), and he was clearly built for power. Making Elita One his size and built (but with enough feminine curves to visually convey “female”) would show more body diversity than most shows that have a main cast of ten women.

 

Arcee could look up to Elita One as a career icon, the first woman to hold a position of high command in the Autobot army, the person who inspired her to join the military in the first place. That could make the conflict a little more personal, and the stakes a little higher than just “Lawful Stupid vs. Chaotic Effective.” Now Wheeljack isn’t just bucking the chain of command, he’s personally insulting Arcee’s idol. That could also lead to some drama when Arcee realizes that Elita One isn’t perfect, and turns against her for a little while, until Arcee realizes that she’s idolized Elita One, instead of accepting her for who she is.

 

There you go: one simple change, one little twist, but it transforms (no pun intended) a cliched, lukewarm subplot into something unexpected and rarely explored. Nothing in the main plot has to change a bit, but the subplots and subtext become (ahem) more than meets the eye.

Theory Thursday: Moral Foundations

I’ve been reading and thinking about moral foundation theory, and it’s really been eye-opening. It helps to explain and understand the reasons people hold different political and social positions and beliefs.

I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but I thought I’d start with an overview.

The five primary moral foundations are

  1. Care (vs. Harm)
  2. Fairness/Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. In-Group Loyalty
  5. Purity

Typically, Liberals and Progressives focus on the first two. Conservatives favor all five, typically putting that last three (Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity) above the first two (Care/Harm and Fairness/Reciprocity).

There’s a sixth one, Liberty, that is gaining traction. Libertarians value that above all others, though everyone values it to some degree.

Caring about Care/Harm and Fairness is obvious – we don’t want people to be hurt. We don’t want people to be cheated. And every side of the political fence cares about these two.

But why care about the other three? Order tends to decay unless effort is put into maintaining it. Just like houses and engines and our bodies. In times of chaos, everybody gets hurt. Thus, it makes sense to put some effort into maintaining order. Thus, Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity.

Why do progressives reject these, then?

Because Authority is power. Not only does it corrupt, but it is sought by the most corrupt. Accepting authority with little or no questioning means signing your name to all its abuses. Voting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 meant giving your sanction to Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act. Voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 meant giving your tacit approval to his ongoing an unaccountable uses of drone strikes on civilians in countries we weren’t even at war with, like Pakistan.

Because In-Group Loyalty inherently leads to the marginalization (or worse) of those who do not fit into the group, and the destruction of those who threaten the group. I suffered through enough bullying in K12 to never trust a clique, team, or identity fully, and what I went through was nothing compared to what some of my LGBT+ friends experienced. Nothing at all. This sort of mindset leads to people cheering and dancing in the street when a terrorist leader is killed. This sort of mindset leads to people covering for their fellow cops when an unarmed 12 year old is killed. This mindset is at the heart of racism and homophobia.

Because Purity usually means men controlling women’s lives and sexuality, blaming them for our lusts and our bad actions. Jesus said “if your eye offends you, pluck it out,” not “if your eye offends you, tell whoever you’re leering at to wear thicker clothes.” Purity drives male domination of women across the world.

There are benefits to the moral foundations of Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity, but progressives look at the harm that has been done in their name to ethnic minorities, to women, to gender and sexual minorities, and the harm that is still being done, and figure we’d all be better off sticking to Care and Fairness.

But the question comes about: how do we then create a stable society, especially during a crisis?

It’s no wonder that progressive movements tend to have their greatest gains not during times of crisis, but during times of stability. This is especially true during times when the prosperity is not shared anywhere close to equally between groups: the Gilded Age, the Post WW2-Boom, the last thirty years. During times of crisis (WW2, immediately post-9/11/01) people take a more conservative (or even hardline) turn. This ebb and flow may be a natural part of society’s life cycle, but it’s important to keep an eye on it, to prevent it from giving rise to a violent mass movement (like the Nazis, Al Queda, or the Islamic State).

To learn more about Moral Foundation Theory:

Moral Foundations website

Moral Foundations on Wikipedia

Moral Foundations and Political Backgrounds Quizzes

Here is Johnathan Haidt’s TED talk about Moral Foundations in Politics.

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Thoughts

No, not that Wednesday…

Okay, so part of learning is making mistakes and learning from them. I think I made a mistake with “Willpower Wednesday.”

It’s not that I don’t want to write about Grit, the Growth Mindset, Willpower, Self-Control, and Self-Efficacy … it’s just that I’m just not far enough along the learning curve to write about it every week and have it be worthwhile. I don’t have that much insight yet.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write about these topics from time to time, but only when I have something worth writing.

I’ll do something else on Wednesdays. It may take me a little while to settle on it. I may simply use the day to support the overall themes I’m working on at the time, allowing me to focus on specific topics, rather than dragging them out over several weeks.

I’ve been feeling like the blog had lost touch with its initial vibe anyway, like it had sort of lost its way and become fragmented. Maybe this will let me reunify things a little, while still talking about my experiences with going vegan. This always was a more spiritual than practical and academic blog anyway.

I want to use this space to explore a sort of “unified theory” to the changes I’m trying to make in my life right now, and the Grit stuff just doesn’t fit. C’est la vie.