Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Psychology’

Getting my Ducks in a Row: Understanding the Appetite for Foie Gras

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.

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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?

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 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

Scale: The “Big Chair” and the Metaphor

What’s the big deal about a chair? Well, actually, because this chair is big, about four times as large as a normal chair, and a work of art that has taken on a life of its own. Jake Beckman, a student at Swarthmore College, conceived and built the original chair, which found a place among the other normal-sized Adirondack chairs that dot the stretch of lawn in front of the main hall on campus. The iconic chair even appeared on the Colbert Report.

Several years ago the original chair fell apart and was quietly removed from the lawn. However, the campus community, becoming attached to the Big Chair, clamored to bring the chair back. Jake agreed to return to rebuild the structure, and the chair resumed its place with the others.

I guess I wasn’t the only one beginning to think metaphorically about the Big Chair. Some unnamed inventives would come by during the night leaving the chairs in different arrangements, such as the Big Chair leading a line of the other chairs or the Big Chair in the middle of a circle. One morning the Big Chair stood upright while a semicircle of normal chairs tipped down in front of the Big Chair.

Now I was thinking hard. The chairs assumed the metaphor for power dynamics .  .  . and not just at Swarthmore! I thought about “Big Chair” people, folks that tell us what to do or think: politicians, pundits, advertisers, bosses, CEOs, presidents, board of directors .  .  .  and I’m sure you can think of many more. Do we perceive these folks as big in influence, power, authority, wealth and get drawn into a mindset that binds us to a deferential attitude? Many normal chairs sit on the lawn–there is strength in numbers when we act collectively. And normal-sized chairs serve a real function. We wouldn’t make 25 more Big Chairs.

On reflection, perhaps we do need the Big Chair–reminding us to keep the right perspective.

Winnie the Pooh Sooths the Savage Beasts

Sixth Grade Mayhem

When I was in sixth grade, some of the boys in my class were mean, rough and nasty. One of our former teachers said of our class that they were the worst she had ever taught. The boys were disruptive and opportunistic, seeming to find ways to cause trouble without getting caught. The boys cursed at one another and at the girls. Giving the finger was part of their repertoire but well-hidden from teacher’s eyes.

In past years, I had been injured during rough-housing. In third grade, a boy pushed me off a wall, and I chipped my tooth. A year later, I almost lost my eye when boys were taunting us by lifting our dresses up. I bent down to push my dress down and my head went into a pencil in the boy’s pocket. My Mother always warned me to just stay away from them, which was the strategy I tried to practice through grade school.

175px-WinnieThePooh

Wikipedia

Our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Boyer, was a great teacher and a sweet person. She seemed to manage the class, often by telling stories of her life or reading to us. She would say, “I’m not sure we have time for Winnie the Pooh today.” The class would immediately go into begging mode, “Please read Winnie the Pooh.” As I looked around the room, I would see even the most hardened boy pleading for a story about the bear.  During story time, the class would settle and the students would fold their arms on their desks, listening intently. I remember asking myself how could a story quiet such restless anger.

When Mrs. Boyer read the stories, I could easily visulize the Hundred Acre Wood, and we’d look at the map on the inside cover of the book as if it were a geography lesson. Pooh was the most endearing character, almost the alter ego of the classroom boys. Pooh was never mean-spirited, and he was always kind to his woodland friends.

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh? asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.

Although the bear supposedly was of “very little brain,” Pooh was hopeful and comforting.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”

Of course, school is a place where your self worth is constantly on the line with test taking. In contrast to the academic demands of school, Pooh offers an alternate view of cleverness:

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Good-bye to Elementary School

The next year our elementary school class went off to a large junior high school, and I had little contact with the boys in my class after that. In general I don’t remember that the classroom dynamic in junior high being as hostile as it was back in elementary school. Maybe the boys matured or began concentrating on the grind toward college. I wondered whether in transitioning into junior high, Winnie the Pooh offered emotional support that eventually altered world views, even if slightly.

winnie the pooh

Lone Ranger on Television: Reflections on My Childhood

Over a year ago I wrote a blog post, Lone Ranger and Tonto: A Nostalgic View and Modern Critique, in which I relate my childhood experiences of growing up watching westerns on television, and in particular, The Lone Ranger, and how those programs influenced the way children of my era interpreted that violence. In that post, I also wrote how as an adult, my perceptions of the program changed, understanding the issues of Manifest Destiny and the complexities of the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. This post is a reflection on my experiences on how that show might have influenced the way we played as children.

To us kids, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were heroes, unselfishly searching out the “bad guys” and bringing them to justice during the Old West. It would be only natural that we would want to emulate these two heroes. For girls, it may have been less about guns and more about that there could be someone out there who could look after people who were under the thumb of the bad guy and make things right. The Long Ranger knew how to make a plan and carry it out with the help of his trusted friend, Tonto.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, although girls wore toy guns in holsters, usually as part of a costume, we never aimed our guns at each other or played mock shoot-outs.  For the boys, it was different.

On the Rock with Guns

Photo: Circa 1954

Boys played the games of bad guys versus the good guys, and this play usually involved some degree of aggression, usually in the form of rough housing. If I complained to my mom that the boys were playing too rough, she would say, “Well, it’s time to come in then.” It wasn’t a girl’s place to get involved in fights and tussles. At some level, I thought that boys seemed less civilized than my girl friends because of their aggressive play and coarse language, which sometimes morphed into cursing.  Sometimes they could be outright bullies. If they were playing shoot ‘m up with each other, and if we wandered into the action, we’d be shot!

Occasionally, a story in The  Lone Ranger would include a woman. I remember secretly hoping that maybe the Lone Ranger or Tonto might find a girlfriend, and always somewhat disappointed, when they would ride off into the sunset again without a storyline that included a woman. Even at age 8, I realized something was amiss.

loneranger-guns

Got the guns, but where’s the girl friend?

The stories of the Lone Ranger became implanted in our consciousness, and Tonto and the Lone Ranger survive as mythic folk heroes for a generation of television viewers.  Children could not grasp the idea that the Ranger was a vigilante who had no authority to enforce the law and who used guns to impose his will. Instead what we seem to remember is that the masked man and his partner played respectful characters who courageously stepped into dangerous situations with the unselfish goal to stand with those who faced injustice.  As a young child, I guess I might have thought that any man who was that mannerly and courageous would wind up with a girlfriend . . . eventually.

The “Big Chair” and the Metaphore Bigger than its Presence

Perspectives on an Adirondack Chair

What’s the big deal about a chair? Well, actually, because this chair is big, about four times as large as a normal chair, and a work of art that has taken on a life of its own. Jake Beckman, a student at Swarthmore College, conceived and built the original chair, which found a place among the other normal-sized Adirondack chairs that dot the stretch of lawn in front of the main hall on campus. The iconic chair even appeared on the Colbert Report.

Several years ago the original chair fell apart and was quietly removed from the lawn. However, the campus community, becoming attached to the Big Chair, clamored to bring the chair back. Jake agreed to return to rebuild the structure, and the chair resumed its place with the others.

I guess I wasn’t the only one beginning to think metaphorically about the Big Chair. Some unnamed inventives would come by during the night leaving the chairs in different arrangements, such as the Big Chair leading a line of the other chairs or the Big Chair in the middle of a circle. One morning the Big Chair stood upright while a semicircle of normal chairs tipped down in front of the Big Chair.

Now I was thinking hard. The chairs assumed the metaphor for power dynamics .  .  . and not just at Swarthmore! I thought about “Big Chair” people, folks that tell us what to do or think: politicians, pundits, advertisers, bosses, CEOs, presidents, board of directors .  .  .  and I’m sure you can think of a lot more. Do we perceive these folks as big in influence, power, authority, wealth and get drawn into a mindset that binds us to a deferential attitude? Many normal chairs sit on the lawn–there is strength in numbers when we act collectively. And normal-sized chairs serve a real function. We wouldn’t make 25 more Big Chairs.

On reflection, perhaps we do need the Big Chair–reminding us to keep the right perspective.

Do Movies Influence Children’s Psyhe?

When I was six years old, my mother took the family to see the movie, Lili, released in 1953. My mother purchased the sheet music from the theme and would play the song on the piano, singing along. I remembered liking the song, too, and we’d talk about the movie.

The central plot of the story centers around Lili, a young woman left alone, and finding her place at a carnival. She falls for a magician, who rebuffs her. Thinking that all is lost, Lili contemplates suicide. Paul, the lame puppeteer watching her from afar, draws her into conversation with his puppets. Paul hires Lili as part of his act, and her innocent and sincere interaction with the puppets becomes an instant success. Although Paul falls in love with Lily, he is unable to express that love except through the puppets. After an argument, Lily leaves. As she wanders down a long road, the puppet images come alive in her imagination. Through dance, Lily realizes that Paul is the puppets, and she rushes back to the carnival.

Leslie Caron plays the part of Lily, who I remember as most convincing as the naïve girl finding her way in a harsh world. Her brimmed hat and sweater with the lace collar convey a sweet innocence. The photograph below of my mother taken in 1945 reflects style similarities of the time.

My Mother 1945

The expression of love through the puppets stayed with me long after my mother stopped playing the song. I came to believe that showing kindness, but from behind the scenes, made that moment magical. Elements of reality and fantasy co-mingle and mimic the puppet master and the puppets. Everett Ferguson wrote on the modern perspective of magic, which is a result of a universal sympathy.

The laws governing these connections may be unknown to most of us, may be hidden even from the magician; but it is in virtue or organic, natural, that magic works.

Where this all becomes interesting is understanding the effect of movies on children especially as an intersection to their parent’s reactions to the same film, which supports or negates the child’s experience. The borderlands between reality and fantasy are part of all movie-going experiences. While the movie Lily captured my imagination, I’m somewhat convinced that my mother’s influence played into my remembrances and taking in elements of the film personally.

I’d be interested to know if others connect to films through some aspect of their parent’s reactions. Let me know.

Summer’s Day 1987: Reflections on Parenting 25 Years Later

After twenty-five years, we have finally started to digitalized our home movies. Watching one of these videos of our children playing with their cousins on a vacation at Cape May Point, New Jersey, has left me reflecting on unconscious imprinting on our children.

Our children saw us with our cameras almost everyplace we went. As the video shows, we even took pictures of us taking pictures! I didn’t realize the impact all that photography might have had on the children until I viewed these home movies. In the last clip in the video above our daughter says, “I want to do what you’re doing, Daddy.” At six she knew that her parents liked their cameras. Is it just a coincidence she became a professional photographer?

What about her cousin, James who became cinematographer by profession? The videos on the beach show that his Daddy had a telephoto lens for his camera.

Now as adults all the children use photography in one way or another.

Parents model many things, but what seems to stay with kids are those activities which they see as bringing their parents the most joy.

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