Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Response to the Violence in Norway

Where to begin, when this has no actual beginning but for my own slow realization that the world can be a terrible place, full of grief and horror and pointlessness? Of course it contains other parts, but the informed world has been once again shaken by an act of violence perpetrated upon a defenseless and unexpecting group of human beings, who contained the hopes of their families and who were loved, and for all purposes, innocent--an act certainly small in the grand scheme of things but crushing for all who were touched by it.

This is not a eulogy but rather hopefully a lens by which I hope we would all intensify self-scrutiny. 

I was on a plane the other day, and without being asked a man offered to give up his seat in the front so I could sit next to my partner. To get to it, however, I had to travel opposite the flow of other travelers to their seats. The seats being only three across, the dimensions of the plane barely allowed for comfortable seating much less a two-way path down the aisle. The young man I faced in front of me was sympathetic, apologetic even, for being unable to step aside to let me pass so as to get only three rows further, as the seats were full all around us and there were a few people stacked behind him. The woman directly behind him, however, was worrying angrily aloud about me, saying, "What is she doing? We can't go back! What is wrong with her?" as if what I was asking was equivalent to flying the plane into a tornado. I understood the small fix my reversal was causing, but the complete negativity which she responded was ridiculous to me. Within fifteen seconds the man in front of me said, "Wait, everyone's backing up now, you can pass," and he smiled and then apologized again for the process being so difficult, though of course he was not in the least at fault, and I felt bad for causing any stress. After I took my seat, Brooks said, "Did you hear what that woman was saying?" It was a small incident, but odd and surprising due to her refusal to see other options in the most simple of circumstances. How was she when she faced real challenges, or when people truly needed her help?

So today the small, peaceful country of Norway is rocked by the deaths of almost 100 of its citizens, many of whom were only teenagers, away at a summer camp for kids of Labor Party youth. The Labor Party, Norway's largest and currently ruling political party, is known for its sympathies toward immigrants, those seeking political asylum from violence in their own countries, and for its social services.

The killer is a 32-year old man, Norwegian-born, and his purpose seemed to be to avenge the damage he saw as bred by the Labor Party, by which I mean the long-standing policies that tax those with more to serve those who have less.

Though this man is no doubt a sociopath, the principles that propelled him to plan and effect yesterday's horrors lie not only within his own mind. They were the unlikely but not unheard of result of a lifetime spent in cultivation of antipathy, hatred, disgust, and separatism. He found fodder for his beliefs everywhere, not only in extreme religiosity and conservatism but also in the individuals who surrounded him on a regular basis. These people did not share his extremism, probably, but we have all been around those who would rather disperse negativity and confer blame than look for ways to better understand those who appear different from themselves. I know of no one, including myself, who is not guilty of at one time or another of encouraging (rather than stanching) the dispersal of negative stereotypes, even if they are directly relevant to my own description, be it white, female, a U.S. citizen, younger, Southern, and so on. All the while, I have often been sickened by any proximity on my behalf to discrimination, closed-mindedness, or simple negativity toward a single individual, especially if that individual is me. 

This murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, is a product of modern culture. We in the United States see Norway as a peaceful country, and justifiably so. Our own culture has far more failings in the area of civility, historically fighting tooth and nail for the sustained privileges of the few who have far more than they need already, and our denial of personal guilt is simply a guilty reflex, and a window into a legacy of shame that we all carry as survivors of any part of history's violence. Each race and religion has its demons and disgraces, even if only due to the actions of a relative few. Perpetuation of this guilt without understanding its roots, however, only directly serves to fuel hatred in order to excuse us from blame. Breivik would not have felt nearly as potent were it not for having run with the views of those who came before him, from being supported within online forums, hate groups, and conservative politics.

This is not an appeal for welfare benefits, for immigration reform, for non-violent responses to cruelty. This is simply a request that each person who has a problem with yesterday's murders and the countless that came before it decide from now on to try harder to act out of love instead of fear, paranoia, jealousy, refusal to change, or unwillingness to see humanity in spite of difference. If this seems difficult, act first out of love for one's own children, friends, fellow citizens, even environment. Any form of violence will carry on if you allow it, and will find its way back to you or those you love. Pre-emptive condemnation will not save you from future suffering. Would you not rather suffer the pain of the innocent than wonder if something you have said or done stole enough joy from another human being that they passed the pain onward until it found you again?
It is that culture that mocks love and empathy and praises violence in whatever form, from unkind words to machismo to enslavement to war, that allows for the construction of human monsters at all. Be a part of recovering from violence like this and simply stop participating. You don't need to be a beacon of positivity, just stop being part of the problem, and stop letting it pull you down with it. 

Profile of Anders Behring Breivik:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let Them Eat People Food!

I share my food with my cat, and I think it's the right thing to do. I sincerely cannot stand when people tell me that they don't give their pets "people food." The only thing that I define as people food is processed, shelf-stable, fortified junk that people shouldn't eat, anyway. All animals, including us, deserve to eat fresh, healthy food. Whether there is enough to go around or not is moot in my opinion, because the majority of us here in the States are stuffing ourselves while our dogs sit, quivering and drooling, staring at us as we lick the bacon fat and egg yolk off our plates, or worse, as we throw away perfectly good scraps right in front of them.

Most people justify their choice to feed their pets only processed, shelf-stable, petrified, byproduct animal slurry compressed with corn, gluten, or other filler grains foreign to their digestive systems because it's easy, cheap, and they don't want their pets to beg at the table (like the rest of us). Domestic animals must know their place, and that is by their food bowls, eating crunchy bits of tasteless and nutritionally devoid junk food. Why not every once in awhile put those meat scraps in the fridge and mix them in with your animal's kibble when it's time for them to eat? Take one forkful of tuna out of that can and put it in your pet's dish when you're making your own tuna melt.

Stop wondering why dogs and cats get fat and smelly and itchy and cancerous when they don't have to, and start feeding them real food, even if only occasionally. Of course they want your food more than their own--because it's actually food. All of us animals evolved eating what was available in our immediate environments, or what we could hunt down and kill. We grew stronger, smarter, and faster eating plants, roots, berries, eggs, meats. Every species diet is slightly to vastly different, but pet food is still a humanmade product. Even humanmade (processed) food made for us is killing us, and we have a multitude of choices, unlike our animals. We are becoming weaker, softer, and dumber than our predecessors because of our certainty that easier food is just better, and that's simply not the case. Not for us, and not for our beloved animals.

Do I expect you to start preparing every meal for your pet, even if you don't prepare the majority of your own meals? Hardly. I certainly don't (though I feel guilty most days about that). But why not give your dog a carrot or some raw cabbage mixed in with her crunchies? Why not throw your cat some chicken or raw fish when you have it around? It's not like you're starving (and if you are, stop reading this blog right now and go dumpster diving ASAP).

With cats it's a little more complicated, because often if they've been eating kibble all of their lives they don't know what to do with anything else, even just another brand of kibble. So start small, and mix it in. Know for yourself that even if they don't know it's better for them (and of course tastes far better) that they will ultimately benefit from it. A commonly cited experiment is one in which cats were fed only cooked food, but the experiment had to end early because by the third generation none of the cats could successfully reproduce. There are flaws within the study (see Pottenger's Cats) but it's hard to deny that the vast majority of our housecats come from strays that had access to a rodent diet, and then (I HOPE) we neuter or spay them, anyway. There are books out there with recipes for nutritionally correct meals for both cats and dogs, but to keep it simple, just add a little meat to your carnivorous cat's diet whenever you have some to spare. Research what not to feed them and what's good for them, and seek out multiple opinions.

Dogs are more suited to an omnivorous diet, but there are some things you shouldn't share with them, like grapes (can cause renal failure), eggs, avocados, nuts, dairy products, et cetera, but just like humans, they need fresh vegetables and quality protein. If you want your animals to live long, active, and disease-free lives, treat them as you would yourself were you to be concerned with the same thing (and you should be). The dry and wet food you feed your pets should be grain-free whenever possible, i.e. no corn, wheat, barley, etc, as well as free of soy, any kind of byproduct (often simply cartilage, bone, lungs, spleen, even cancerous tumors, essentially all "meat" deemed unfit for human consumption), and brewer's rice. Know that by choosing to feed your pet packaged food without these fillers that your pet will require less to eat overall (plus, as a side benefit, they will poop less since more of their food is usable), so the extra dollars that higher-quality food costs is an investment that immediately pays off as well as benefits your wallet long-term in fewer vet bills--though, of course, if you have your pet around a few more years you'll have to feed them then, too...

Remember that we live in a nation of fat, malnourished human beings. This is only possible because we have access to cheap, fast and easy food that is virtually empty of nutritional value. Our bodies are starving because they need nutrition and we are giving them unhealthy, rancid fats, sugars, grains, and processed food instead. Don't fall into this trap, and don't throw your animals into it even as you decide to save yourself.