Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

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Because of my interest in anarcho-syndicalism and my connection to Swarthmore College, a participant in the Tri-College Consortium, I could not miss the opportunity to attend this Mellon Symposium. Andrew Cornell, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies organized the event, which featured a group discussion on “What We Mean When We Say . . . Anarchism, Decolonization, Radical Democracy,” and then broke into three panels: Limits of Liberal Democracy, Self-determination without a State? and Putting Principals into Practice.

Anarchist Symposium

Event organizers moved the overflowing crowd into the auditorium. Students, professors, staff and members from the West Philadelphia anarchist community participated in the discussions:

“Slavery and the Anarchist Rejection of Democracy”
Ruth Kinna, University of Loughborough, UK

“From Anarchism to Ranciére: Radical Democracy as Active Democracy”
Todd May, Clemson University

“Nothing Common about ‘the Commons': Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Difference”
J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University

“Liberating Democracy from the Premises of the Dominant Global Order: The Rojava Revolution”
Dilar Dirik, University of Cambridge and Kurdish Women’s Movement

“‘Making power’: Another Politics, Democracy, and Radical Movements”
Chris Dixon, Anarchist social justice organizer

“Decolonizing Borders and Undoing Border Imperialism”
Harsha Walia, co-founder No One Is Illegal Network

Each discussion began with an acknowledgement that we occupy the lands that once belonged to the Lenni-Lenapi tribes that lived in eastern Pennsylvania before being driven out by the Europeans. The organizers and scholars presented compelling presentations, explaining the extent to which colonization frames the social and economic circumstances that we find in societies today.

The YPJ in Syria

I was not familiar with the current events surrounding the Kurds defense of their homelands against ISIS in Syria so I was very much interested in learning more during Dilar Dirik’s presentation. Dilar, A PhD candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Cambridge, is an activist and advocate of the Kurdish Women’s Movement. Dilar is from Rojava territories within the borders of Syria.

Rojava_Kurdisch_kontrollierte_Gebiete

Territories held by Kurdish forces, jihadists, by the Syrian Army, FSA, or contested in northern Syria, as of October 2014. Wikipedia.org

The Kurds in Syria are fighting to prevent a takeover of their homelands by the Islamic State militants or ISIS, but the YPJ in Syria is loosely associated with the PKK in Turkey, who oppose and resist Turkish rule over the northern Kurdish region. The United States maintains a policy that is favorable to Turkey, a NATO ally, and in support of Turkey, rejects the self-determination of the Kurds because Turkey does not want to lose territory to a Kurdish independent state. In addition, the PKK originally had a communist ideology.

The Kurds’ attempt to organize stateless communities in Norther Syria, called the Rojava Revolution, is often compared with the Zapatista’s experience in Chapatas, Mexico. The YPJ has made efforts to initiate democratic reforms that represent the interests of the people.The Kurds in Syria and their YPJ Star militias are making heroic efforts in a war-torn country for self-determination and receive no support from the Western powers.

Kurdish-inhabited_area_by_CIA_(1992) Wikipedia

Kurdish-inhabited_area_by_CIA_(1992) Wikipedia

 

According to Infoshop:

The US is now maintaining that the PYD is a separate organization from the PKK, so Washington is not breaking its own law by backing a State Department-listed “foreign terrorist organization.” In November, left-wing German lawmakers actually unfurled the PKK flag inside the parliament building to protest the EU’s listing of the group as a “terrorist organization.”

Now that the US, of necessity, is backing the PYD against ISIS, what will become of the Rojava autonomous zone? Once ISIS is defeated (insh’allah!), will the PYD ultimately be crushed in deference to Washington’s ally Turkey? It can seem that the PYD stands an almost inevitable chance of being betrayed—as both anarchists and Kurds, two groups that have historically been subject to serial betrayals.

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The Term “Terrorist” Becomes Coopted

When the US labels a group as terrorist, we think of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and yet our diplomatic corps has deemed that the Kurds in Syria should also be labeled “terrorist.”  The YPG considers itself a democratic people’s army and conducts elections to select their officers. What most of the West does not realize is that the women, long marginalized, have begun to organize around feminist issues. The YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) is the female brigade of the YPG. They do not however, want to perpetuate the old forms of government and power, and are seeking to establish communities that achieve equality with men.

Dilar’s answer to the question: What can we do in the United States to support the Kurds in Syria?:

Dilar’s Webpage: Post, Why Kobani did not Fall

 

Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snow flake.  ~M.B. Ray

 

Store window

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral

As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures of birds. They bring life into a photograph and have a way of conveying freedom because birds either take to sky, spending part of their existence in the vastness of the earth’s troposphere or swim almost unimaginable distances in the oceans. The metaphor of flying captures our hearts . . .

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

During my childhood, my sister and I would sometimes find abandoned birds, bringing them home to care for them until they were able to fly. These experiences gave me insights to their nature. The birds appeared to enjoy a gentle caress, and they recognized the signs of when they would be fed. We developed a bond, much the same as with a dog or cat.

IMG_6353 - Version 2

Understanding our Connection

Some critics accuse those who support animal rights of anthropomorphizing the animals’  experiences, but I would argue that our neglect in seeing the similarities remains the problem. Humans do not stand at the top of the animal kingdom as an isolated entity. All life on earth began with a single common ancestor. Our DNA reflects this shared ancestry, and in the case of birds, we share 50% of the same genes. Our common ancestor was an Amniota, an amphibious creatures that laid eggs on land.

The Bible has perpetuated the idea of human’s domination as absolute–even over the creepy-crawlers:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Many have come to believe that humans are masters of their domain and have every right to exploit any creature, regardless of the suffering that may cause. Unfortunately, that entitlement interferes with logical reasoning, empathy, and compassion.

ParrotBirds are intelligent. The African Grey Parrot understand human words, and members of the crow family have shown in experiments that they can think from the perspective of another and have self-awareness. “Their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes, and only slightly lower than in humans.”

Song Sparrow

“As explained in the NOVA scienceNOW segment, FOXP2 also plays a role in the processes involved in human speech and birdsong: people with an altered form of the gene have difficulty with many aspects of speech, and birds whose FOXP2 activity is disrupted have trouble learning songs.”

What is Cruel?

In clarifying the amount of stress that animals experience in captivity, my argument rests with determining the difference between the environment that animals are genetically designed and for and their circumstances in captivity. If the gap is too great, we can interpret the animal’s treatment as torturous. We cannot ask the ducks how they are doing; but if we alter or remove too many factors in the following list, we can assume these birds’ discomfort would be significant.

Fly and swim in their natural habitat
Pair bond
Eat a variety of food choices
Access fresh air and water
Nurture a brood of chicks
Avoid unpleasant/dangerous conditions

Human Nature and Entitlement’s Righteous Indignation 

Thinking about human nature, particularly our perceived entitlements, offers insight into our relationship with animals. When humans become accustomed to a way of living that becomes so much a part of us, we begin to believe that our view is the only right one, which transforms into a strong emotion. We cannot pull ourselves out of that entitlement belief. Several examples:

  • We become accustomed to receive external rewards for good behavior and believe we are entitled to those rewards.
  • Some folks in my generation who grew up in schools where every December a Christmas trees stood in every classroom, now feel indignant that a holiday tree is no longer permitted. The Christmas tree entitlement strongly outweighs other children’s rights not to have religious symbols in the classroom.
  • Folks who believe that guns have a rightful place in every situation: schools, stores and even churches.

Entitlement can trump self-interest. Sometimes people will defend the entitlements of the rich, even if they are not rich themselves or do not have the same privileges. One case that comes to mind is when people or their families do not have healthcare, and they still rile against government healthcare benefit programs.

Entitlement becomes their moral compass, and if that entitlement is threatened, they feel victimized.

Here’s a comment copied from an article on foie gras that demonstrates an example of how one consumer flaunts his entitlements:

In honor of you vegan preachers, I’m going to have a nice medium rare veal chop made from a baby cow caged in a pen, covered with a lobe of force-fed foie gras, and for dessert, I’ll have a nice panna cotta made using real animal gelatin and cream from a cattle factory finished off with a honey creme anglaise made using battery caged eggs and honey we stole from bees, all while sitting on my leather couch.

Commenter ESNY1077–The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical

Foie Gras: the Controversy

Fois gras is a food product made from the liver of ducks or geese that typically have been force-fed with a feeding tube to create a fatty liver. The industry uses male ducks; female chicks are killed by either being tossed alive into a grinder or by gassing or are shipped to other processing plants. In their 100 days of life, the birds go through several stages in the food production cycle. For their last 15-18 days, the birds are force-fed between two to four times a day: workers force a rod down their throat. The ducks stand in metal cages, which restrict their movement. Then they are slaughtered.

Appetite for Ethics

It was beyond my comprehension how anyone, after looking at the evidence, especially the videos, could justify eating a product that creates such misery in these creatures’ lives.

I came across this article, The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical, to look for the answer to my question. Some of the comments praised J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s analysis, claiming that he wrote a well-balanced article. On careful examination, however, I found many flaws in the arguments and reasoning, the first being anecdotal fallacy, which is relying on a personal experience, an isolated example of conditions on the farm. The farm managers expected Lopez-Alt and his team, so they had time to correct any improprieties. Lopez-Alt was neither a trained inspector or biologist. Because Lopez-Alt had “learned to love” foie gras, he may have held prejudicial biases that influenced what he reported or observed.

In order to present a logical argument, the premises and the conclusion must be statements, capable of being true or false. The conclusion must follow from the premises. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt does not put his case into a logical format, so I will make an honest attempt at interpreting his argument:

The physiology of foie is not cruel or tortuous, therefore, the practice of raising ducks or geese for foie gras is ethical. Lopez-Alt makes a further qualification:

Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I’m going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

Therefore, refining his argument:

The physiology of foie is not cruel or tortuous, therefore, the practice of raising ducks or geese for foie gras is ethical as practiced at LeBelle Farms. 

Let’s check the arguments used in the article.

But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck.

Since the argument only concerns LeBelle Farm, we would have to throw out this argument. And neither does it prove the opposite: that one plant managed ethically does not prove that foie gras as a practiced at other farms is ethical. Also, we don’t have the specific evidence that only one farm has been accused of cruelty.

Longwood Gardens Ducks

A Mallard Pair

Straw Man Arguments

In these statements, Lopez-Alt throws out the straw man. “All cities smelled” before plumbing implies justification of unpleasant odors. “Certainly far better lives than the millions of . . . ” Lopez-Alt diverts the reader’s attention to the treatment of other farm animals. The reader becomes distracted from the original premise by justifying and referring to what the author believes are other standard practices. He argues because “nobody will listen” is reason enough to not confront the problem.

Granted, it did smell—a distinct barnyard aroma with a hint of ammonia (the chicken shed we visited afterwards had a much stronger ammonia smell to it), but as anyone who’s worked on an animal farm will tell you, all farms smell, just as before the introduction of modern plumbing, all cities smelled as well.

We’d seen the process from start to finish, and from all outward appearances, the ducks seem to live perfectly comfortable lives—at least as well as you can expect for any farm animal. Certainly far better lives than the millions of cows and pigs and billions of chickens that are raised every year for our consumption. 

Personally, I find this kind of protesting abhorrent. If you are going to protest anything, it should be the industrial production of eggs, where chickens are routinely kept in cages so small that they can’t even turn around for an entire year. The problem, of course, is that you tell people to stop eating cheap eggs, and nobody will listen.

Anthropomorphizing in Reverse

Lopez-Alt inadvertently uses anthropomorphism, as he believes he can interpret the ducks’ experiences in each of these examples.

The facts so far: for at least the first 12 weeks of their lives, these ducks are sitting pretty in a stress-free, spacious environment.

A machine whirls, a small bulge forms where the food is deposited, and the duck walks off, giving its head one shake, but otherwise seemingly unaffected.

First off, the key to understanding this is to make a very conscious effort not to anthropomorphize the animals. As waterfowl, they are distinctly not human, and their physiology differs from ours in a few key ways.

As long as the animal shows no sign of stress or discomfort—and the ducks we saw today certainly did not—then what harm is a few extra pounds?

The stunning [in electrified water] makes for a quick, painless death . . .

Fallacy of Unwarranted Assumption

In the fallacy of unwarranted assumption, the argument’s conclusion is based on a premise which is false. In the following quote, he assumes that because the duck does not struggle, the duck has acquiesced to the treatment because “it is the same type stress in the wild.” He creates an equation: ducks natural behavior to eat heavily before migration = force-feeding. Prior to migration, ducks eat voluntarily until it has enough food for a migration; in the force-feeding case, the duck is gorged with many more feedings than that the bird would typically eat; the two comparisons are completely unequal.

 But the question I had was, why aren’t they more uncomfortable? Why doesn’t a duck struggle with its large liver or having a tube forced down its throat?  . . .   Incredible, right? And that, folks, is the reason why ducks don’t struggle when a feeding tube deposits food in its throat. Its body is built for exactly the same type of stress in the wild.

Do the ducks refuse to struggle because if they resist the process that consequent behavior becomes painful, a behavior they may have adapted through conditioning?

Reductio ad Absurdum Argument

This argument attempts to show that a statement is true by declaring a false or absurd result follows from its denial or acceptance.

It’s a food product that is marketed directly at the affluent, and the rich are always an easy target.

In what way are the rich an easy target? Here the use of the faulty generalization, “thought-terminating cliché,” finishes the debate with the “easy target” phrase.

Amber Defense Fund

Amber is a courageous young woman who exposed the force-feeding processes and saved two geese from their confines. Please consider helping Amber with her legal fees. Because she entered a factory without permission, Amber is facing felony burglary charges and could be sentenced up to seven years in prison.  Link. 

For me, even one case of animal cruelty is cause for investigation by the animal protective institutions. To witness the conditions in the video is heart wrenching. Is that observation scientific–no. I can conclude, however, the practice of foie gras deprives waterfowl of all of their behaviors that are part of their DNA. Twenty-two countries have banned farming animals for foie gras, but France continues to sanction the industry stating,

French law states that “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.”

To use the reasoning for cultural gastronomical heritage could also justify cannibalism! France has used two red-herring fallacies in one statement: first, red-herring appeal to authority by evoking French law, and second, the appeal to tradition, a conclusion justified because the custom is considered part of their heritage.

Links:

Stop Force Feeding
Foie Gras, Force Feeding of Geese and Ducks
Foie Gras: Delicacy of Despair
Video: What’s Wrong with Foie Gras?

IMG_7851 - Version 2

 Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.
–Victor Hugo

In honor of the first day of Spring, March 21.

Fresh Orchid

WordPress Photo Challenge: Fresh

March 17, 2015

Should I go on this trip? Would you go?

For two years I planned this vacation: taking a smaller cruise ship to various ports across the Mediterranean Sea. I gathered over fifty pages of research on the trip locations, studied guidebooks and constructed a google map. I watched videos of each port. After I purchased the the trip tickets and packed my suitcase, current events left me in a quandary on whether I should take this vacation.

On February 15, ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt on the coast of Libya near Sirte, a port town. By Mid-March ISIS and the State-affiliated militants were engaging in violent clashes.

In October of 2014, ISIS began a propaganda campaign, threatening the Vatican, claiming to launch a war against the Catholic Church and invade Rome. On March 15, the Vatican, which in the previous months had downplayed the threats, its Geneva ambassador suggested that military force should be used against ISIS, if settlements could not be reached.

What I found alarming is that Cruise News.com reported:

But sailing into a port in Morocco or Egypt on a cruise ship? It’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when.

Fisherman on Lampedusa, a small island halfway between Sicily and Libya, raised their concerns with the Italian government that they were fearful of being boarded by the terrorist group.

I called my cruise company. The representative reported that their insurers would not allow the ship to go anywhere near where they perceived danger. I guess protecting their investment will also protect me. It’s kinda funny that it comes down to money. He said they would change their itinerary if there were any threats. He also said the cruise line could not guarantee safety 100%, which I understand.

Statistically, I should be more concerned with these possibilities if I stayed home: about 40,000 automobile deaths and 32,000 firearm deaths occur in the United States each year. I’m in more danger driving on the 95 Interstate or catching a stray bullet from a crime or accident than anything happening on the high seas. So far, not one American tourist has been killed by ISIS.

Still, the situation in the Middle East does give one pause. Whereas I have a choice to go, I know that those folks caught in the middle of these conflicts have no choice.

The State Department has issued travel alerts and warnings for over 40 locations.

How does a traveler remain aware without being hyper vigilant?

As a traveler, have you faced a similar situation and what did you decide?

Would you stay home or go on this trip?

UPDATE:

The next day, after I composed a draft of this post, tragically militants killed 17 tourists as they stepped off buses to visit the National Bardo Museum in Tunis. My cruise line has listed the Bardo Museum as one of their excursions.

Someone wrote on Facebook that didn’t understand why anyone would travel to Tunis. Last year 6.2 million tourists visited that country without major incident. Tunisians have invested in the travel industry, as 20% of the population benefit from tourism. The people of Tunisia will suffer the long-term effects of reduced revenues if the tourist industry collapses, which would further weaken the country economically and perhaps give ISIS a further foothold in the ensuing chaos. Tunisia has taken positive steps toward democracy, a positive outcome of the Arab Spring. Let’s hope the militants have not derailed their democratic initiatives.

Link

Balkanalysis.com Special Report

Almost every civilization, including our democratic society, has constructed walls, mostly for keeping the “other” out. Sometimes the “other” is an enemy, where conquering, exploiting and enslaving citizens becomes the objective. In other cases, walls are built to keep out those whom society deems as undesirable.

A wall never works. Technology eventually catches up and produces mechanisms to scale the ramparts. Past civilizations continued to build higher and stronger fortresses, but eventually these walls were breached and societies fall, as opponents becomes hell-bent in destroying the barrier.  Walls carve a separation that perpetuates the wounds on both sides, and the effects of the wall continue to influence people’s lives in terrifying ways.

Our ancestors have been on both sides of the wall, as conquer and vanquished. Will we ever be able to deconstruct the barriers in our minds to realize peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and put a stop to our perpetual compulsion of building and destroying walls?

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
–Robert Frost, Mending Wall

St. Malo

St. Malo, walled city in Brittany, France. Built in the 12thC, rebuilt in the 17thC, destroyed during WWII, and again rebuilt by 1960.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall

Photograph rebloged from J. R. Blackwell, photographer for Philadelphia Weekly.

Orange Chairs in Snow

Weekly Photo Challenge Orange

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