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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Right or Wrong? » » Bev Bergeron article in Linking Ring defending Ringling Bros. Animal Abuse (20 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Melies
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Below is a copy of the letter I sent to Bev Bergeron today, about his disappointing article in the current Linking Ring, defending the use of elephants by Ringling Brothers in their circus act. Regrettably, Mr. Bergeron dismisses past allegations of Ringling's violent abuse of elephants (and other animals) based on his own anecdotal observations of circuses, instead of addressing the documented facts (he even confuses "bullhooks" with "bullhorns" throughout his essay). But see, for example, the year-long investigation by Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/10/ringling-bros-elephant-abuse.

It is a shame that Linking Ring published this piece, and worse still that it did not invite in an alternative perspective. While many magicians continue to support the exploitation of animals in their acts, a small but perhaps growing number of magi are opposed to such archaic practices--and I am among them.

Dear Mr. Bergeron,

As someone who takes both the magical arts and animal welfare seriously, I was very disheartened to read your article in this month's "Linking Ring," bemoaning the disappearance of elephants in the Ringling Brothers circus act, and expressing concern that a slippery slope might lead to the phasing out of live animals in magic acts as well. There is no question that Ringling Bros. abused animals, including elephants: their abuse is a matter of well-documented public record. Moreover, with all due respect, I think that claiming that elephants and other enslaved beings, who spend their entire waking lives either caged or being coerced to perform for screaming primates (aka humans), "enjoy" performing is little more than an anthropomorphic projection--akin to the perception whites once had of blacks as always happy and enjoying their enslavement.

Happily, I know other magicians who also long for a day when doves are not shoved into magicians' sleeves, goldfish aren't spat out of magicians' mouths, and rabbits are not kept in miserable dark spaces--only to be yanked up before howling crowds. We can--and do--perform strong magic without needing to manipulate, confine, and exploit other conscious beings in the process. Juan Tamariz, Dai Vernon, Rene Lavand, Richard Turner--I can think of dozens of world-class magicians who didn't have to resort to such crudity to create astonishing effects, or to charm their audiences. I don't know if you yourself have used live animals in your acts over the years. But I can't imagine that your own career would have been any less illustrious, or brilliant, had you simply left them out.

As public ethics evolve, we should evolve along with them.

Sincerely,

John Sanbonmatsu
Tim Snyder
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Quote:
On Feb 24, 2017, Melies wrote:
Happily, I know other magicians who also long for a day when doves are not shoved into magicians' sleeves, goldfish aren't spat out of magicians' mouths, and rabbits are not kept in miserable dark spaces--only to be yanked up before howling crowds. We can--and do--perform strong magic without needing to manipulate, confine, and exploit other conscious beings in the process. Juan Tamariz, Dai Vernon, Rene Lavand, Richard Turner--I can think of dozens of world-class magicians who didn't have to resort to such crudity to create astonishing effects, or to charm their audiences. I don't know if you yourself have used live animals in your acts over the years. But I can't imagine that your own career would have been any less illustrious, or brilliant, had you simply left them out.

As public ethics evolve, we should evolve along with them.

Sincerely,

John Sanbonmatsu


Your view seems a bit extreme. I once thought about starting a non profit called MEETA -- meat eaters for the ethical treatment of animals. If you do not recognize the difference between a chained elephant and a well cared for rabbit and dule of doves then you might as well quit reading this post. There is absolutely nothing wrong with including a rabbit or dove in a magic act unless you believe that no animal should be enslaved(owned) by humans. Would you rather a pet dove be stuck in a cage all day. Trained animals get exercise and mental stimulation from their jobs as a magician's assistant. Most modern magicians treat their animals humanely... most have a better life than those ignored by pet owners who don't have time for the animals they purchased on a whim.
Dick Oslund
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That's my "like", Tim! Thanks for your comments!

I've been involved with 3 different circuses over the years.

A well trained elephant is VALUABLE. --I would 'guesstimate" that the late Wayne Franzen's elephant ("Okha") who stands on a 3' diameter ball wit all four feet, and rolls it across the ring, is worth $95,000. She is affection trained. No one, with any sense, would mistreat such a beautiful animal, especially an animal worth that much. Okha was not mistreated, EVER!

She, and all the other animals were treated like the fine performers they are/were.

I used doves for about 25 years, on the road. They helped make my living! They were never mistreated.
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Ray Pierce
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Dick, I'm with you here. I've worked with many trainers who sometimes care for their animals as much if not more than their families. I will never deny that there has been abuse in the past in many different areas. I just don't know of any current trainer/owner that would EVER mistreat their animals. Their goal is to keep them happy because quite frankly they have a better disposition and more fun performing that way. Most trainers I know now understand the need for a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship with the animals they care for. I've personally seen the love and loyalty they share and it's just sad that people that don't know or understand want to stop that.
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Melies
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I can't say I'm surprised by these comments. Tim says, " There is absolutely nothing wrong with including a rabbit or dove in a magic act unless you believe that no animal should be enslaved(owned) by humans." Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. And I think it is hypocrisy, or self-delusion, or both, to call these animals "performers" as opposed to animate props whose own consciousness and will are considered absolutely irrelevant by the performer. Moreover, the fact that some animals are treated less poorly than others is neither here nor there: all of them are treated as commodities, and therefore not given a decent life, and the general acceptance of the practice ensures that some animals will be subjected to more extreme forms of abuse by some of their "masters." Ray, I disagree that it is a "mutually beneficial and symbiotic" relationship. At least call it by its true name--domination. Because when performers use whips, chains, cages, behavior modification, etc., there is no way one can describe that as "consent."
Jonathan Townsend
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@Melies I respect your wish to avoid abusing others (be they sentient, conscious or just organically responsive) and to speak out against condoning such in our craft.
How do you reconcile your position with the argument offered in Hobbes Leviathan?

I'm also not sure it makes sense to put behavior modification (a technique using rewards for behaviors approaching those desired) with devices used for punishment.
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Melies
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Regarding Hobbes (!), I can't say I'm particularly a fan of his political theory (though I certainly enjoy reading and teaching him). A number of astute critics have carefully taken issue with Hobbes's framework over the centuries: the best recent treatment of contract theory that I know of (and agree with) is Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills' book, "Contract and Domination." In any event, if you mean that nonhumans consent to our dominion over them, a la political subjects or citizens vis-a-vis the Sovereign in Hobbes' theory of contract, I think the parallel may be more apt than you know, since Hobbes of course was legitimating absolutism, not democracy. Many subsequent theorists (Rousseau, Mill, and Locke among them) improved on Hobbes' view, by recognizing the importance of popular democratic consent and representation in government. Anyway, nonhumans no more consent to our rule over them than the citizens of Romania, say, consented to the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, the citizens of Egypt consented to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, or--much more to the point--victims of the Third Reich "consented" to being put on transports for Treblinka. If there is a "contract" between humans and nonhumans, it is a contract in which one side, the side in power, benefits, while the other is subjected to agony, terror, and an unending night of extermination. Watch the film "Earthlings" some time (www.earthlings.com).
Ray Pierce
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The term "Domination" is interesting as we are technically "Dominated" by the government, laws, societal norms, many would even say by the patriarchal society. As I mentioned, I'm speaking from years of experience with people that actually work in the industry (Not outsiders guessing at what occurs from propagandizing reporting. Are their bound to be abuses? Possibly. There are people who abuse the privilege of driving. Should we outlaw cars? The people I know don't use "whips and chains" as you describe. You speak from a very limited perspective. The "General Acceptance" you describe is neither General nor Accepted.
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Dick Oslund
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Thanks Ray!
You have said it exceptionally well!

It appears to me that the OP, although well educated (he writes eloquently) has been listening to PETA, and, "...speaks from a very limited perspective."
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Jonathan Townsend
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I'm arguing that non-humans don't have a self or ability to consent to more than the state of nature. Without that self/social large scale notion there's just an eternal state of war - nothing more or less than natural - red in tooth and claw. Do we say a cat is a terrorist to mice?

In my reading Hobbes saw society as a monstrous shambling mess but us so much better for being within a society.

Perhaps we can agree that whether or not a tiger or an elephant has a sense of narrative abstracted self - we'd still prefer to minimize our time watching tigers turning elephants into dinner. If not for the creatures but for our own sense of empathy.

And what if the cows vote to fence in the sheep? What next, doctors have to stop being cruel to tumors? Pathetic fallacy in politics. Smile
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Melies
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Apologies for having overlooked these further responses to my earlier posts, and thanks to everyone for taking the time to add your thoughts. To respond briefly:

Ray: "domination" means being forced to do something against one's will, or "consenting" because one has no choice but to consent (or otherwise face the prospect of violence). You write: "Are there bound to be abuses? Possibly." Actually, there certainly will be, because once you reduce a group of beings to the status of objects (property), they can and will be treated by some in an offhandedly cruel way. The abuse of animals by Ringling and Bros. (god rest their souls! yay!) is well documented. The abuse of orcas at Sea World is well documented (see the film "Blackfish" some time). Etc., for thousands of other cases, literally. Yet it is the quotidian humiliations, deprivations, and impositions that constitute the basic horizon of all commercial animals, including in magic acts, that is the main problem.

Dick: It's understandable that you should confuse me for a fan of PETA, but I have long been a critic of theirs. (Much too conservative and tame of an animal protection agency for my liking!)

Jonathan: You write, "non-humans don't have a self or ability to consent to more than the state of nature." Sorry, but that is demonstrably false. You seem to have an extremely crude understanding of the cognitive and emotional capacities of other species. Darwin himself in "Descent of Man" acknowledged that the differences between humans and other animals were only a matter of degree, not qualitative in nature, and went on to write an entire book demonstrating the continuities between us and other beings in "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Other Animals." Myriad other scientists have since demonstrated intelligence, planning, moral or proto-moral behavior, empathy, tool use, language, an ability to grieve the deaths of others, and so on, in numerous species. While philosophers certainly still debate which, or whether, other animals have selves and what that means, there is no question that animals demonstrate their consent all the time in countless ways. (Just taking my father's dogs for a walk requires a constant negotiation! They cooperate with me most of the time, but when they want something, they get stubborn and exert their will.) The merest insect knows the difference between being confined, and being free--to say nothing of fishes, mammals, and avians, all of whom have extremely sophisticated forms of consciousness.

Anyone interested in getting up to speed on the reality, rather than stereotypes, about nonhuman capacities should check out the work of such scientists as Frans deWaal, Marc Bekoff, Jane Goodall, Lesley Rogers, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, and Jonathan Balcombe, or philosophers like Mary Midgley, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum. There are dozens and indeed hundreds more people to learn from on this topic, if anyone is interested. (I have edited a book myself, "Critical Theory and Animal Liberation.") A couple of good films (though now surpassed by a great deal more research) on the science of animal mind include, "Animal Einsteins" (Scientific American Frontiers), and "Inside the Animal Mind" (PBS). On the atrocities humans routinely commit against other animals, see the films "The Witness" or "Earthlings." Finally, I would close here on a wonderful passage from "The Outermost House," written by the naturalist Henry Beston, back in 1928:

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
freefallillusion1
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Mr. Melies,

Here's what I'm seeing. Your posts repeatedly speak of looking out for the best interests of animals or other conscious beings. We need to get straight to the point and realize that all of us, including you, DO see ourselves as superior to animals. I'll say it again, I believe that I'm above the animals and so do you. Let me be perfectly clear that I do not condone blatant abuse of an animal in any way. But we see ourselves as superior. Don't believe me?

Let me ask you this. Have you heard the old saying about how animals belong in the wild, not as pets in our homes? Well... that saying always makes me laugh, because my cat has a choice, and believe me, he certainly prefers eating food that I provide for him as opposed to hunting his own mice, and sleeping on my furniture as opposed to making a nest of fallen leaves. The same goes for my dog. There was no brainwashing necessary- the same would apply to any wild animal which might discover that we humans have figured out that a furnace is a good idea on a freezing night. The animals realize that there's a better way and they prefer it to nature- hands down, every single time. So, knowing that you have it pretty good, I ask you- do you invite every stray animal into your home on a cold night? Have you ever eaten a good meal when you know that you could have spent that money on dog food and found a starving dog somewhere? The answer is yes, and so have I. The fact is that even though I know that the animals would love to share what I have, I don't let them (except for a few that I call pets). Therefore, yes, I do see myself as superior, as demonstrated.

NOW- that being the case, let's take a dove, or rabbit, or whatever, and give it a good life. Let's give it food and protection and a good place to sleep. Would you honestly not say that any magic animal has it pretty good? To speak from my own experience, I have quite a few reptiles. Do you know that if a snake isn't happy, or is under stress, that it will stop eating and will starve itself to death? My snakes are all fat and eat like hogs. No amount of animal rights propaganda will change that fact. My snakes are happy and I can prove it 100%.

As I see it, the problem is that you're trying to assign human emotions to animals. You don't seem to want to accept the fact that there are many, many animals who are perfectly happy not being in the wild.
Melies
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Hi FreeFall,

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks here. I don't think it will surprise you that I have a few things to say in reply! So here goes:

1. "Are we superior to animals?" No, because that would make us superior to ourselves! You are working with a binary, the human and the "animal," which in fact has no biological, classificatory,or evolutionary basis. If you read Darwin's "Descent of Man" and "Origin of Species," and you look at the last century of work on comparative psychology, primatology, marine biology, cognitive ethology, and so on, you'll find that science long ago concluded--and has confirmed--that we are not merely "like" other animals, we *are* animals. That's why I'm not ascribing "human" emotions to, say, chickens or rabbits or monkeys or elephants when I suggest--as the science proves--that other animals have complex emotions too. Of course they do! Because we are all related to one another, and all developed out of the same common ancestor.

2. "Okay, fine, but aren't we superior to the other animals?" Humans excel other animals at abstract reasoning and certain forms of language; most dogs can outrun the fastest human sprinters and long-distance runners on earth; turkeys have far greater visual acuity than we do; orcas may have more complex social emotions than we do (or so theorizes Dr. Lori Marino in the film "Blackfish"); rats exhibit more empathy in the lab than some human scientists; chimpanzees are almost twice as strong as humans are, and their short-term memory is far superior; Clark's nutcracker can cache and recall the locations of some 30,000 food supplies, over dozens of square miles; etc., etc.. So it depends on what you mean by superior!

3. "But come on! We're superior in so many ways! Look at our cities and technologies!" One of the most common arguments used by European colonizers to justify their genocide against other peoples was that they were "primitive" and stupid and therefore unworthy of life, simply because they had other ways of living their lives. Humans are without question the best around at fashioning tools, even though tool use has now been observed in, among others, New Caledonian crows, chimps, and even octopi (invertebrates). But we are also the only species that is destroying all of the other species, and the only one that kills millions of its own kind and destroys its own habitat (as well as the habitats of all the rest). So perhaps some humility is in order.

4. "Because we are superior, we are therefore entitled to do what we like to the other beings." You don't say this, but it seems to be implied in your emphasis on "superiority." Unfortunately, history is full of examples of humans oppressing and murdering others whom they viewed as their inferiors. But most of us would agree today that even radical differences in ability between persons cannot justify or excuse violence against them. Most people also understand intuitively that might does not make right. So even if we grant (which I do not grant) that Homo sapiens is superior to all the other beings, that fact alone tells us nothing about how we *should* treat the others. For example, I am surely "superior" to human infants, and even to the college students I teach, in terms of my education, my ability to negotiate an adult world, etc. But I don't think such facts entitle me morally or politically to kill and eat babies, or to enslave my students--or to cage them and make them appear under my hat or in my stage props whenever I want them to. If you are seriously maintaining that differences in cognitive capacities entitles the stronger or more capable parties to rule over or control less developed ones, then you're taking us back to Hitler's euthanasia program and eugenicism.

5. "Animals like to be caged and controlled; it's better than being in the wild." I have observed animals in nature a great deal, both in my own life and watching documentaries and speaking to people, and what I see most of the time is animals filled with joy at being alive. The sparrows in my neighborhood all travel in a gang together, chatting and whirling and having adventures. Years ago I used to watch the sea otters in Santa Cruz, California: they would lie lazily on their backs, tether themselves to the seaweed, and eat urchins. When they weren't doing that, they were playing and frolicking like there was no tomorrow! I could give a hundred other examples. Do animals suffer in the wild? Sometimes, yes. Humans suffer too. We suffer loneliness, depression, deprivation (one of two humans lives on less than $2 per day), and we get sick and die. "Life is suffering": the first teaching of the Buddha. But freedom is one of our compensations for hardship.

You say that captive animals enjoy their captivity, and even seem to suggest that they choose it. If so, then try leaving the top to your reptile terrarium off some time. Or take out the door of the rabbit hutches. The animals will choose their freedom. It's different with cats and dogs, especially if they are truly being treated as autonomous beings and allowed to more or less come and go as they please. I have had cats. But I never once put them in a cage, except to carry them to the veternarian, for their benefit. It was very stressful for them, and I hated doing it. But it was for their good, not mine, so I feel that was justified. However, I would certainly never keep a cat in a small, dark, enclosed place, then pull my cat out in front of a room full of cheering and laughing primates (aka humans).

You say, "The animals realize that there's a better way and they prefer it to nature- hands down, every single time." Actually, that is not true. Most animals prefer their freedom. And even feral cats have to be tamed first, brought into a relationship of trust, before they will consider entering one's domicile. In any event, the point is moot for magicians' rabbits and doves. The only reason they stay with the magician is because they are not free to leave!

6. "Let's take a dove, or rabbit...and give it a good life. Let's give it food and protection and a good place to sleep. Would you honestly not say that any magic animal has it pretty good?"

No, I wouldn't say that. Look, you could put me in a padded cell, feed me the same monotonous food every day, deprive me of any meaningful contact with other members of my species, steal the sun and the rain and the change of seasons and all the other joyous (and yes, sometimes painful) sensuous elements from me, and maybe I would live a long time too. But I would be mutilated. I would suffer existentially, if not physically. I would be stupefied. And I would be your prisoner. Who are you to say that giving me five years of life in your prison is "better" than, say, 10 months living in freedom, even if I come to a bad end? "Live free or die," as the New Hampshire state motto goes. Words to live by. But you and I can at least choose to live by that motto: captive animals have no choice. They are treated either as commodities to be butchered, or, in the hands of the magician, as living props with lungs, genitals, and a brain.

To me there is nothing uglier than exploiting the vulnerability of another being for one's own purposes, whether it is Harvey Weinstein raping and sexually harassing young actresses and interns, the "good" slave owner who sleeps well at night, knowing he treats "his" slaves more "humanely" than the monster down the road at the other plantation, or the human who, proudly believing him/herself superior to every other living thing, inflicts suffering and captivity on flesh and blood beings who are conscious individuals with dignity and interests and experiences of their own.

There are many good books now on the science of animal mind and consciousness. My favorite is Lesley Rogers, "Minds of Their Own." Any book by the biologist Marc Bekoff is good. The three-hour PBS documentary, "Inside the Animal Mind," is good: it relates dozens of scientific experiments demonstrating that nonhumans have complex emotions, can empathize with others, can use tools and language, etc. "Scientific American" recently published an article on intelligence in chickens--check that out.

Finally, here are a few videos demonstrating complex cognition and emotions in nonhuman beings, our cousins:

1. A monkey empathizing with another monkey, who has been accidentally electrocuted at a train station in India:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/......ia-video

2. Donkeys grieving the loss of their friend:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfmvwsOcKTw

3. Chimpanzees demonstrating superior cognition (short-term memory) over human beings:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsXP8qeFF6A

4. Avian intelligence (research subject Alex, an African Grey Parrot, answering questions--in English):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0E1Wny5kCk

5. Language use in primates (Kanzi with experimenter Sue Savage-Rumbaugh):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4bVqcsuOi0

Etc. etc. Elephants and crows grieve their dead, and have rituals for doing that; cetaceans have been shown to have specific cultures; rats have empathy and dream of the mazes they are forced to run in the lab at night; etc.

We are not the only "intelligent" being on the earth, only the most power-mad and the most tragically dissociated from the living earth and its wonderful inhabitants. And we are destroying them all. Half of all vertebrates on the earth have died in just the last 40 years, due to hunting, fishing, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, etc. We kill 50 billion land animals and an estimated 100 billion sea animals each year in the food system--when instead we could be flourishing brilliantly on a plant-based diet. As Mephistopheles ironically comments to God in Goethe's "Faust": "The little god of earth remains the same queer sprite, as on the first day, or in primal light. His life would be less difficult, poor thing, Without your gift of heavenly glimmering; He calls it Reason, using light celestial. Just to outdo the beasts in being bestial."
freefallillusion1
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Yeah, I was fairly certain before that I was wasting my time even commenting here, and now you've confirmed it beyond any doubt. You speak of intelligence in chickens, and I'm sorry but there's just no other way to say this, but you clearly have no idea what you're talking about. If you had ever spent any time around chickens, you'd know that they're just about the stupidest creatures on earth. I have literally seen a rooster stand outside and freeze to death because it didn't have the sense to come in out of the cold.

Far more concerning, though, is the fact that you just put magicians who perform with animals, in the same category as those who rape young girls. There is something SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH YOU. You sir are the type who burns down places that have anything to do with animals, yet have no concern for the people you hurt. I'll say it again- I DO see myself as superior to animals. I love them and would never harm an animal, and my pets receive amazing care. But if you're going to even SUGGEST that me owning an animal is equivalent to someone assaulting my wife or my daughter, you have serious problems and need to have your head examined.
Melies
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Okay, FreeFall, see you later. I would only note that I have been appealing to the facts, and that these don't seem to interest you very much. Because instead of engaging with any part of my argument or the evidence I provide, you lean on ad hominem, i.e. saying that there's something wrong with me and that I should "have my head examined." Well, humans have been on the earth for long enough that by now we should have figured out a way to communicate rationally with one another. Your very email, though, in which you insult me and relate a single anecdote in reply to my many points, shows how far we are from being the "rational" and "intelligent" species you imagine ourselves to be. Finally and for the record, I did not say that keeping animals in your act is the same, morally, as committing rape; what I said is that exploiting the vulnerability of others is wrong, regardless of who those "others" are. It's a shame that our conversation ended this way, but it is all too symptomatic of the wider national conversation and its descent into barbarism. Best, John Sanbonmatsu
freefallillusion1
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John, I have no interest in arguing either. Did I use harsh words? I certainly did, and honestly, I'm not sure that I was harsh enough. You just reiterated what was written above by lumping women who are raped in the same category as magic animals- "others", as you say. Do you have a wife or daughter? I have both. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of them being assaulted. So yes, to see someone mention such an act in the same breath as hiding a cat in a box, well, I don't know what else to say. By the way, I HAVE produced a cat in my show, many times, and to great success.

If you really want me to address your points, I think we'll disagree because I do not believe that humans are animals who evolved. I believe we are created by God- and that's another argument for another time. It points out, though, how we would certainly reach different conclusions based on our wildly different starting points.

Now, I can say that two things did jump out at me. For one thing, you point out how we (humans, animals, every living thing) should all be free- free to live or die or whatever, on our own terms. You point out that a tiny bit of freedom is better than many years of captivity, because it's all about not having another creature decide what should be done with you. You say this over and over and over... yet you admit to taking a cat to the vet! You say that it was for it's own good. This strikes me as odd, because by your own logic, who are you to determine what was in the cat's best interest? Did you ever think that maybe that cat didn't want to go to the vet, and should have been free to make it's own choices? I can see no way in which a person of your belief system could justify doing anything to another creature because you felt that you knew better.

Second- if, as you say, we are all just animals, then your entire argument falls apart because in the animal kingdom, violence reigns. Yes, many animals appear quite capable of showing varying levels of things like cuddling with each other or grieving for a lost youngster, etc. BUT- there's no denying that violence is the ultimate judge in almost every species. For most animals, it's perfectly acceptable to kill the outsider. Are you seriously lumping people in the same category? Humans are very different- we know that in 90% of cases, it's not necessary to kill other humans. Animals also eat other animals (yes, even chimps eat meat). The weaker animal becomes dinner. If we're merely animals ourselves, then you have zero argument as to why I can't (or shouldn't) eat a cow.

Am I not correct on both points? They make perfect sense if humans and animals are different.
Melies
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If we can't agree on such a basic fact as evolution, I am not sure we have the basis for productive argument! (Some time you should read or watch the movie version of "Inherit the Wind," about the Scopes trial.)

One of the things I teach is ethics, so I am tempted to go into some of the relevant moral theories here. But a good rule of thumb is always the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you like to be kept in a tiny enclosed place, carried around, and then hauled out before a bunch of screaming maniacs from another species, against your will? If not, then you shouldn't do that to your cat! In many forms of ethics, one's intentions matter a great deal in terms of evaluating the rightness of an action. If I confine my cat in a box to bring him to the vet--because my vet doesn't make house calls (which vets should)--that is not the same thing as confining my cat or another animal in order to exploit the animal for my own selfish purposes. You ask, "Did you ever think that maybe that cat didn't want to go to the vet, and should have been free to make it's own choices?" Fair enough. However, a companion animal is in some respects a dependent, i.e. someone I have a responsibility to care for. When he was younger, my son hated to go to the pediatrician, and feared getting shots. But I had to take him, anyway, against his will. Because while I do try to maximize my son's freedom, parents some times have to thwart that freedom for the child's own safety and well-being. I would not let a young child cross a busy intersection alone, for example. But that does not give me permission to, say, test drugs on my child, "harvest" his organs, or to pack him inside my stage illusion.


As for our own animality being an excuse for keeping, reproducing, killing, and eating animals, the position is insupportable. First, many animals--including many animals that we humans eat, like rabbits, cows, horses, sheep, etc.--are "vegans" who don't kill and eat anyone. Second, even it were true that all animals kill and eat other animals (which is not true), such a fact would still have no bearing on the question of how or whether we have moral duties towards other beings. Why? Because whereas sharks, say, are obligate carnivores--they must kill in order to survive--humans (1) are omnivorous (meaning that they can survive on a vegan diet, as well as a meat-based one), and (2) have the ability to exercise moral choices. I *can* torture and eat my neighbor's dog, but that doesn't mean that I *should* (that I am morally *entitled* to do so). Third, if you are saying, assuming that I am right about us being animals (which, by the way, is a scientific fact and not open to debate), that I am justified to eat animals because some other animals do it, then you are saying, in effect, that we should model our behavior on the behavior of other species. Fine. But then why not model our behavior on bonobo chimps, who are peaceful hippie vegans who have sex all the time? But for that matter, perhaps women should model their dating behavior on the praying mantis, who eats her mate after sex! Etc. In other words, we are still faced with having to decide which animal to model ourselves on. And that in turn brings us back to the inescapability of our moral choices. We have to decide how to behave. And what I am saying is that the way we should behave towards other beings is with respect and love, rather than with contempt and violence. Even if you believe that we were created by an invisible supernatural Being, no where in the Old or New Testaments does it say we are obligated to exploit or kill other animals. Indeed, one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is in Genesis, which depicts Adam and Eve as "vegans" who live in complete peace and harmony with the other beings. But you know the rest: we screwed it up and were booted out of Paradise. Well, it's still up to us to decide how to behave, both towards one another and toward the other beings.
Jonathan Townsend
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A moral calculus with values held as invariant across moral participants looks appealing. How would this be consistent with the world as we find it? Is our distant relation the Bonobo a moral example or happy accidental left-over?

Quote:
On Jan 6, 2018, Melies wrote:
..some times have to thwart that freedom for the child's own safety and well-being. I would not let a young child cross a busy intersection alone, for example.

You're illustrating our shared world, and from your experience in specific - thanks. There's a social and moral chasm between "a young child" and your child.

Quote:
...the inescapability of our moral choices. We have to decide how to behave. And what I am saying is that the way we should behave towards other beings is with respect and love, rather than with contempt and violence. [snip] it's still up to us to decide how to behave, both towards one another and toward the other beings.
Agreed and we live in world where cars are advertised to have answers to Trolley Problems.

I'm looking for context; where such a theory of moral value becomes compelling as advantageous.
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Melies
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The whole point of normative ethics, generally speaking (because there are always dissenters), is indeed to uphold either a set of values or a consistent form of moral reasoning, across different contexts. Otherwise, we risk lapsing into moral relativism, e.g. the idea that the slavery was moral in 1776 because most (white) people thought it was, and the Holocaust was moral because most Germans hated Jews, etc. So I don't think I'm suggesting anything unusual here. Certainly the idea that we could--and should--simply stop exploiting and committing acts of violence against other conscious beings is both controversial and, in the current atmosphere, strongly counter-intuitive. However, humans for millennia also believed that slavery was natural and right. In my father's lifetime, women couldn't vote; in my own, it was legal in all 50 US states for a man to rape his wife (not until the mid-1970s did states begin to strike down the so-called marital exemption to rape). So we know that ideas which at the time may seem radical and run counter to popular belief, practice, or institutional habit can nonetheless later be shown to be morally right. Correspondingly, we know that an idea or practice that many accept as self-evidently true or right may not be. (The best treatment I've seen of how taking other animals' lives and interests seriously would entail a new form of society can be found in "Zoopolis," by Donaldson and Kymlicka.)

So, to answer your first question, my whole point is that treating animals differently would *not* be consistent with the world as we find it. That is what radical ideas of equality and justice do--they overturn the conventional order, just as the French and American Revolutions overturned monarchy.

In your question about bonobos, you seem to be hinting at some sort of speculative anthropology, i.e. suggesting that our biology (or genes) is destiny. But whether we are more related to violent chimps than bonobos is neither here nor there. The question is, should we nuke North Korea? Should abortion be legal? Should bump stocks be sold at Wal-Mart? Should we confine and kill animals? Etc. In other words, our biology cannot serve as a guide for our behavior. At worst, it suggests instinctual constraints to overcome. But it sounds like we may agree on this point?

Re: the moral chasm, as you call it, between my child and the abstract (or stranger) young child, I don't think the chasm is as great as you suggest. If I see another parent's kid suddenly dart out into traffic, I will use force if necessary to pull him/her back to safety, and I would also maintain that it is your responsibility to do so as well. Though I have special duties to my own child, I also have duties to children in Syria dying under our Saudi allies' bombs, and to the homeless family down the street.

I am not sure what you mean when you write, "I'm looking for context; where such a theory of moral value becomes compelling as advantageous." A good moral theory, as I understand it, is a theory which either conduces to the greater good of all involved (utilitarianism) or which protects the inviolable interests of particular subjects (deontology), or both. Alternatively, from a feminist perspective, a good theory is one that places empathy and relationality (connection with others) at the center of its decision-making matrix. Any one of these approaches, among others, offers a robust platform for rejecting speciesism (our domination and extermination of other beings).
Jonathan Townsend
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My perspective is limited as a member of this society and this species - living without knowledge of other narrative/technological species who've faced these questions - or ability to observe a different culture of my own species on this world where the normative ethics you describe is operating.

How might some imaginary observer discover the ethics you describe are in operation somewhere?

And what circumstances might make the ethics you describe advantageous in circumstances where push comes to shove and folks gotta eat etc?

Natural selection favors the survivors. Or as asked by Bertolt Brecht, "What Keeps Mankind Alive?"
...to all the coins I've dropped here
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