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Evil Happens in the Sunlight

Palm trees sway in the wind as waves crash on the shore below. Emerald waters stretch far beyond the ancient white walls and neatly aligned cannons. A cool ocean breeze gave relief from the overhead sun. On the other side, a bustling market and dense single-room structures lie between the castle and a hill topped by a colonial fort. This scene is picturesque, cliché, and the setting where a thousand people at a time – some six hundred men and four hundred women – were regularly manacled to each other in solid stone dungeons with a few square inches of sunlight before being sent through the “Door of No Return” onto death ships to the Americas. About 10 million total people went through this ordeal.
Visiting Elmina and Cape Coast Castles, slave trade forts built respectively by the Portuguese and the British, reminded me of visiting Auschwitz four years ago. My first encounter with Auschwitz was as spooky as it gets – waking up at 3 am on the night train from Vienna to Krakow to look out…

Want a Presidential Candidate to Support Animal Rights? Pressure the Good Guys.

There's been a fair amount of talk among vegans and animal rights activists in recent days about the propriety of confronting Bernie Sanders, as my fellow Direct Action Everywhere activists did and as my friend Jay Shooster and I did in the Huffington Post following Russell Simmons' criticism of the presidential candidate over his support for animal agriculture.

Many people feel, arguably rightly so, that Sanders would be the best candidate for animals of any because he is less susceptible to corporate pressure and has at least said he does not like factory farms. So they say that this is just going to hurt him and undermine our cause.

I think this is pretty clearly wrong. I think that's especially true for a cause in its early days - how many votes are animal rights activists going to steal from Bernie Sanders? How I wish we were a threat. On the other hand, the gains from getting this issue on the political table - from even the most cursory of responses - are substantial.

Five Weeks under the Harmattan: Reflections from Tamale

[Note that I tried to add photos but they wouldn't load on my connection. Just google Tamale, Ghana and look at the pictures. I don't have anything special except for that I'm probably even whiter than most of the peace corps volunteers.]
In February I moved to Ghana for ten weeks as part of a study on smallholder crop farmers in the Northern Region. I’m based out of Tamale, the second-biggest city. Coming with American eyes (or even eyes from many other African cities, my colleague tells me) you wouldn’t know it was so large. Modern structures are a minority here, with many tin roofs around and the city surprisingly sparse outside of a tiny nucleus at the center.
It’s very dry and dusty – I arrived here during the season known as “Harmattan,” when the wind from the Sahara blows so much dust into the reason that the sky turns brown and the sunlight is dimmed. After a couple rainstorms the dust has now descended to make way for the hottest month of the year, March. It struck …

We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It: A Lesson the Animal Rights Movement Could Learn

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This fall, I've been listening in on a course I always intended to take as an undergraduate, U.S. Gay and Lesbian History by George Chauncey, and I've had to pinch myself for the last week or two as I read my way through Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities by John D'Emilio to remind myself that I'm not reading about the animal rights movement. The debate is so similar to, and the rhetoric so evocative of, the modern animal rights movement that it's impossible for someone in this movement to miss. So I've decided I should share some of the most interesting parallels in the book with a wider audience.

The book covers the early (pre-Stonewall) movement for gay and lesbian rights, particularly centering around the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, two 1950s groups. The movement was known as the homophile movement in those decades. I don't think many of these examples are that biased by D'Emilio's own perspective, as the previous book we re…

The Complex Bullshit of Meat Foodie Culture

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It's commonplace for American food commentators to discuss the contradictions and nuances of meat. From "The Omnivore's Dilemma" to "The Compassionate Carnivore," authors maintain that meat's moral ambiguity makes it delectable and interesting to ponder. Grist spent this summer on a pedantic expedition into the controversies around "meat." The Wall Street Journal held a panel which I attended on "the culinary and cultural aspects of meat." This past Friday the Yale Sustainable Food Project made its annual pig roast more comfortable for attendees by embedding it in a scholarly conference.
In toasting the pig, organizers read a poem documenting the sexual violence of meat as an example, apparently, of the way our lives are mired in webs of moral quandaries. With chuckles and raised glasses, professors and students toasted and then ate the body of a pig, newly aware of the complexities behind that pig's arrival at the table.
The compl…

United

Something remarkable happened last night at Direct Action Everywhere Mass Connecticut's Day of Action. As we stood holding candles outside Chipotle sharing words about the horrors that happen to animals of other species, a man stepped out of the passing crowd and came up to me. "I love animals. Where do I have to sign?" he asked. Our chapter member Joe and I were confused before realizing he thought we were asking for a petition.

"No, nothing to sign, but you can join in," we told him as Lauri handed him a candle.

"I'm homeless," he told me, "got kicked out of my parents' house and lost my dog. I love animals. it's horrible what we do to them. I want to stand with you." I felt and could sense others' discomfort given the stereotypes and toxic prejudices our society teaches us about homeless people. He stayed with us as we rounded the corner to stand outside a Buffalo Wild Wings. Tiffany, Lauri, and Joe all said a few words as p…

Framing Criticisms of Effective Altruism

This has been said, and better, by Rob Wiblin and others, but I'm restating it here to draw attention to its implications. Many criticisms of effective altruism (even the excellent ones in this Boston Review forum) go like this:
1) X is important (or Y is unimportant). 2) Effective altruism ignores X (or gives undue weight to Y). 3) Therefore, effective altruism is flawed.
If the goal is to criticize the fundamental idea of EA, then I think these criticisms miss the mark. If (1) is really true, then all that implies is that EA should focus on X. If the goal is to criticize the EA community, then these criticisms are more on point, though there's a question of whether a community is defined by what its members do or by the fundamental ideas that unite them.
But similar points have been made by others, so I'd like to focus on two reasons why the framing of these criticisms matters.
1) If they consciously adopted the role of internal critics to EA, those in favor of institutional r…