Ego, Eco, and More Ego?

I’ve being seeing a lot of this graphic👇of a pyramid and circle, each full of silhouettes of living beings, superimposed on a grassy landscape and blue sky:

Note the difference between the grassy version above and 👇 this image, spotted on the One Terrene International website:

Given the language on its website, One Terrene International could be the origin of the EGO->ECO design concept.

OK, back to the bright-blue-sky-and-green-grass version of the graphic. Why does it include cows and other domesticated animals—not just in the hierarchical EGO-pyramid, but even on the ECO-circle side of the graphic?

The One Terrene (natural, muted design) version appears to show ECO as free-living, not controlled. (There’s a cat, but it could be Felis silvestris lybica, a member of the small wildcat communities of Africa, India, and China).

Darach Croft: Animal Husbandry as Preservation

I found Darach Croft, the possible source of the grass-and-sky graphic design, on Twitter.

I tweeted:

I see your EGO-ECO graphic (and other versions) often, @DarachCroft. I don’t understand your version placing dogs and farm animals on the ECO side of the image. Purpose-breeding strikes me as a clear case of EGO.

Darach Croft responded:

Hiya, I think the point is there are exactly the same animals and plants on both sides of the image and that it is the way that we interact with the animals that differentiates the EGO-ECO relationship. But certainly purpose breeding that is detrimental to animals would be EGO.

And I replied:

I’ll include your answer and I appreciate it. I’d say purpose-breeding is detrimental per se. It twists and thwarts evolution, takes land and water that could have been the habitat of free-living wildcats and wolves et al., respected, living on their terms, not chased off on ours.

Darach Croft is a Scottish animal farm (a croft is a sort of micro farm) based on regenerative animal farming methods, whose members sell flesh, eggs, honey, wool, and wool fat soaps.

That would explain the placement of human-controlled, purpose-bred animals in an image supposedly telling us how to subvert our egos for the sake of the planet. This is a subtle form of hogwash—suggesting that exploiting the other beings of the Earth can be sustainable, eco-friendly, and exemplary.

Questioning the Stewardship Trope

To my mind, it’s hugely important to question this suggestion—when we find it in public presentations, and when we find it in our own minds. For example, if we are committed to animal liberation, respecting our rescued pet or farm animals involves questioning their position of dependence on Homo sapiens—a dependence the other animals cannot outgrow, a dependence we engraved in their Earthly experience through selective breeding, a dependence that made them individually vulnerable to lifelong use and abuse of just about every imaginable kind.

And no matter how gently treated these animals might be, we are not bestowing a benefit on animals by bringing them into an exploitive system that need not exist. 

Some people will avoid a vegan commitment if, at least from time to time, they can find animal products marketed as natural, humane, biodynamic, local, sustainable, or the now-popular regenerative. We can understand the psychology here. Haven’t we all, at some point back in the day, asked: Is there anything wrong with eating eggs if the chickens are allowed to live natural lives? If I look for the free-range label? If the farmers are good stewards of the land? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not “calling out” anyone in any way I haven’t called myself out. 

The Power to Change This Structure

An enormous segment of the human economy is based on taking advantage of conscious life, yet each one of us has the power to change this structure, and we constantly encounter other people with this same potential. We’re all in this together.

When ego gives into an eco-aware human identity, we won’t be “stewards” who justify breeding others for our own ends. We’ll have regained our lost sense of awe and excitement in living among the members of Earth’s great biological community—not according to some ideal we imagine. Not by some process we control. But as they evolve, on their terms.

Love and liberation,

Lee.


Banner photo: People’s Climate March, Melbourne, Australia (21 Sep. 2014). Originally posted by John Englart (Takver) at https://flickr.com/photos/81043308@N00/15120960559 (archive) and licensed under cc-by-sa-2.0; via Wikimedia Commons.

Yes: Human Population Is a Vegan Issue

The one thing young people can do that eases their impact on animals, habitat, and the climate more than anything else? Opt out of having children. Humans have already far exceeded the Earth’s capacity to “produce resources” for us, and this is the culmination of decades of ever-increasing growth in our numbers.

Fun fact: About 2.3 billion humans lived on Earth in 1944, when the vegan movement began. The founding members pointed out that two billion people was too much for a small planet with limited energy to sustain all its life! 

Today our population is fast approaching 8 billion. And that’s not all. We humans tend to breed other animals into existence who, like ourselves, are domesticated and don’t fit into nature’s scheme of things. There is little hospitable space left where free-living animals can evolve.

Could voluntarily decreasing our numbers to somewhere between 1 and 2 billion possibly be on our things-to-do list? Yes, there are social, economic, and religious reasons why this would not be easy in some regions of the world. But vegans who do have parenthood planning prerogatives could be doing much more to lead this urgent conversation.

If we don’t commit to easing our pressure on the planet, the planet will commit for us. How? Viruses. Droughts and food collapse. Right now: “The World Bank predicts that more than 1 billion people are at risk of being driven from their homes for climate-related reasons.” (As for the World Bank’s own contributions to bringing this risk about, well, that would be another blog piece. Or series.) 

China and India are projected to suffer famines. Large swaths of the Middle East and equatorial regions of the global south are now certain to experience military conflicts and refugee crises as climate disruptions worsen. 

Isn’t it appropriate to ask that people who can avoid having kids do such avoiding, if only to head off a ballooning disaster?

Of course, we vegans are helping by feeding ourselves protein straight from plants. The more who join us, the more we all avoid the breeding of animals to be raised on monoculture crops or pastures (then killed for us to eat, when we could have used the land for growing food, not for grazing and growing feed). 

The less space we farm, the less untamed habitat we usurp.

Psychologically, our population growth could have something to do with our fear of predation.

Most humans seem to have a strikingly low tolerance for animals such as mountain lions and wolves. There are so many reasons to respect them, but we have constantly imposed population control on them. Sheesh!

Wolves, coyotes, and other carnivores and omnivores play roles on this Earth that we’ve failed to understand. They don’t just naturally curb herbivore populations. Their activity also protects the biosphere.

According to some scientists, it works like this. Where we suppress predators herbivores, don’t need to move so much. Then these herbivores tend to trample the local foliage. The stressed-out plant life breathes out the carbon it would naturally have stored.

Now, if we do acknowledge and encourage the predator-prey relationship as a sound process, what does that mean for ourselves—the human primates? Maybe we don’t like our position as prey. Maybe we don’t like our population to be kept in the Earth’s natural balance, as it was, back in the day. But disrespect for that natural cycle of life and death isn’t working out so well for us.

As our numbers rise and we spread out, our (perhaps fear-driven) belief in our supremacy is constantly weakening Earth’s living communities. And if the web of life unravels because of our presumptuous stance, we are likely to destroy all we’ve known. Life will go on, though—over the stratum of Earth that will store remnants of our history.

But if we change radically—and that includes slowing our rate of population growth—we just might learn the elusive art of co-existence with the forces of this planet. We can curb our sprawl, and become fair-minded members of the entire community of conscious life on Earth.

Those of us in the world’s affluent regions (even vegans) use an especially large share of the globe’s natural resources.

Our grandparents and parents created our home region’s reputation for affluence. Our massive consumption level is responsible for deforesting great expanses of living habitats. Our forebears’ lifestyles can’t be ours. Simplicity must be reconceived as elegance.

We live in a region where controlling our numbers, without oppressive results, is largely possible. We also happen to live on a land that will be pressed to nourish more refugees who are fleeing places that cannot support them. Treating refugees as family? That’s adoption, of a sort, on a national scale. 

Becoming vegan and spreading the word about veganism is action. Capping our car use, cutting out discretionary flying: these, too, are action. Yet “family planning” gets to the root of all the consumption pressures. Moreover, destructive activities would do far less damage if there were fewer people doing them.

As people who care deeply about sustainability, could we encourage adoption over reproduction, understanding that human care is meaningful not because it nurtures our biological offspring specifically, but because our love is a gift to anyone who receives it? Can we discuss how adopting (or educating, or caregiving) is as fulfilling as bearing children?

The vegan definition, with its emphasis on the reintegration of nature, obliges us to consider the territory and evolutionary freedom of other animals as well as their individual life experiences, and what we must do in accordance—including limiting our own population growth. Not theirs.

My thanks to Deb Thompson and Patricia Fairey for our helpful conversations on the topic. I welcome further thoughts in the comment field.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

___
Photo source: PatoLenin, via Pixabay.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (A Note of Welcome to the Snakes)

“They are beautiful creatures. This planet is theirs as well as ours.”

— Roisin Gruner

I feel a sense of relief when March comes. The buds on the branches awaken and encourage me. I live on a multi-unit property, so I’m at odds with the management and its domineering relationship with nature. But managers can’t suppress everything. 

The baby garter snakes are here. In a grand event that will not be widely reported, they’re rustling the leaves along the trails, tumbling down the hills, bursting from the Earth into their season in the sun.

Also this week, we have Saint Patrick’s Day. They say the “Enlightener of Ireland”—actually the bishop Patricius, a Romano-British missionary who went to Ireland to rough up the druids—drove the serpents from Ireland into the sea. 

Ireland did not have snakes; the story is a myth. But in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, a snake signifies evil. The serpents’ exile is perhaps a metaphor for Christian conquest. 

Patricius is celebrated in Irish enclaves the world over, with drinking, music, and vague nostalgia. Little is heard about how ancient wisdom was repressed. The druids, so highly respected in their time, were portrayed by Greco-Roman writers as “barbaric” by the invading Romans and their Christian converts. There were stories of druids performing human sacrifice. Some historians accepted those stories; others called them Roman tales. Druid teachings, like the Earthly wisdom and knowledge of snakes, had to be overcome.

But the snakes arise from their nests this week. And I, for one, am filled with joy to see them.

__________________

Inspired by Crystal Dicus. Rise in power!

Further reading: Miranda Jane Aldhouse-Green, Caesar’s Druids: Story of an Ancient Priesthood, Yale University Press (2010); Nora Chadwick, The Druids. Cardiff: University of Wales Press (1966).
Photo: Eastern garter snakes. CC0; Pixabay via stockvault.net.

Make Your Garden or Balcony an Oasis for Bees

North America, 2022—More than a fourth of North American bumble bee communities face extinction risk. The American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) population has declined by nearly 90% and may soon be listed as endangered. The bees’ nemesis is land development. Competition from trafficked honeybees worsens the situation.

Understanding climate disruptions on bees, say researchers, is also vital. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature says one necessary step is to create a global database of bee records. Fine, but let’s do what we can now, before it’s too late to apply anything we might learn in the future. 

Beekeeping is not the answer…

Avoiding the products of animal agribusiness is. Animal ag consumes massive amounts of feed crops—and is thus responsible for most bee use. Dairy companies use alfalfa feed crops, pollinated by bees. Those bees, like the beekeepers’ honeybees, are commercially trafficked to the United States.

Devote a simple patch of garden space to the cause. Choose bee-friendly, indigenous flowering plants, like liquorice mint, joe-pye weed, sedum, bee balm, beardtongue and native asters. Buy them from dedicated native plant sellers.

The growers at the Vegan Organic Network advise us all to do some gardening. Even a little. It’s a life skill, and a matter of animal liberation.

Love and Liberation

Catharine MacKinnon wrote

Loving women is an improvement over hating them, kindness to animals is an improvement over cruelty, but neither has freed them nor recognizes their existence on their own terms.

Yes. 

A lot of sex inequality problems have been brushed under the rug through the generations, covered by the notion that romantic attention is the “natural” way to elevate people whose assigned identity at birth was female. And that their role as society’s caregivers was their “natural” form of creativity. There’s nothing wrong with romantic attention or caregiving when freely given and received. But loving someone does not necessarily mean acknowledging their existence on their terms. 

As for kindness to animals, it matters, of course. The rejection of blatant cruelty should be a baseline of human decency.

But that kindness is incomplete when we routinely decline to acknowledge other animals on their terms. Not as (even beloved) adjuncts of our lives, but as animals who ought to be capable, free members of their own communities, free to evolve without our interference. If we can agree that animal liberation is about that freedom, then we need to think about other beings as optimally free from human society rather than treated kindly within it. 

And this recognition, in turn, underscores the importance of distinguishing two groups of animals:

  • Animals who rely on the care ethic as long as they are alive, for they cannot escape the trap of being tamed by humans (and please let’s not sugarcoat it).
  • Animals who could flourish on their own terms (those who live free from our management (whether cruel or protective).

The Respectful Stance

We treat free-living animals as though they were supposed to be under our management when we impose reproductive control on them. The concept may be well-intentioned: a sort of lesser-evil remedy to reduce the numbers of inconveniently located birds or deer or other grazers. The respectful stance is to campaign for the birthright of free-living grazers and carnivores alike to continue to co-evolve. Let animals balance themselves, as they have done since the beginning of time, long before we showed up.

Conversely, we treat dependent animals as though they were untamed when we say animals bred as pets should have the “right” to roam free, or when we “liberate” animals raised in captivity into backyards, ponds, rivers and woods. 

Autonomy is real for a wildcat in habitat. For house cats, not so much. I’m not disrespecting house cats here, but being honest about how we have treated them. We domesticated these cats out of their natural habitats. To serve our purposes, we deliberately (through selective breeding) diminished the coping skills they evolved with. Please, let’s not sugarcoat it.

Dogs are widely praised for their motivation to co-operate with us. But again, a lot of this isn’t their choice. Meanwhile, wolves, who attend to the demands of their own communities, not ours, are vilified for existing anywhere near us. We have gradually exterminated animals who scare us, and produced other animals who will accommodate our desires. And we end up calling it love. Please see MacKinnon, above.

The Beginning of Radical Love

Domestication has become so customary that few people question it, and almost everyone accepts it. We need a coherent animal-liberation philosophy that questions it at all stages. It’s only fair.

Hard questions would come from a social movement that interrogates our control over other animals, whether we perceive them as food, entertainment, service providers, therapists, research subjects, guards, or beloved beings in our homes. That interrogation, I believe, is the beginning of a deep, transcendent love. 

A movement of radical love would put us at risk. It would meet social resistance. It would have us do what our society seems to fear most: acknowledge other beings on their own terms.

With best wishes to all for Valentine’s Day,

Lee. 

The bobcat photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Kramer Gary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This applies worldwide.

The Year of the Tiger

…In my nearby national park at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, white-tailed deer have been baited and shot for many winters. A decent policy would call us to respect both the deer and the area’s free-living predators. They are the Eastern coyotes—animals trying to fill the vacuum we created by extirpating the wolves—and the bobcats. Long ago, bigger cats roamed this same land.

Beneath Valley Forge National Historical Park, in an ancient fissure, is a trove of fossils. In Pleistocene times, the land was home to Miracinonyx inexpectatus, or American cheetahs, and Smilodon gracilis—sometimes called sabre-toothed tigers.

These cats died out in a major extinction event some 12,000 years ago. The event is sometimes attributed to climatic change and the cats’ narrow range of prey. But some researchers believe the die-off resulted from the pressure of Homo sapiens, who arrived on the continent around then, and likely dreaded the trouble and risk of competing with these apex carnivores. We are not at the top of the food chain, except through artifice, deliberate cruelty, and sprawl.

Unlike the sabre-toothed cats, the tigers of the world are still with us. Barely.

Continue reading on CounterPunch.


Image source: Alekvelez.

It’s an Animal Liberation Thing; They Wouldn’t Understand.

I’m talking about pollination. It’s not what they say it is.

They say it’s significant because we need it for our almonds. They talk about conserving bees to the extent they can get them to keep working to produce our food supply.

They don’t talk about the interest of the bees.

We can exploit the beejeesus out of animals until, one day, legal panic sets in because we’ve just about cleared them completely from the face of the Earth.

American Bumble Bees Are in Crisis.

The population of American bumble bees dropped by 89% in the past two decades. The bees no longer live in much of the United States. What if the bees are listed under the Endangered Species Act? Will we see increased attention to bee habitat? Agribusiness could have to make changes. We might need to look at the impact of pesticides, climate crisis, and sprawl. Grazing businesses, “green” energy sites, and real estate developers are all implicated in sprawl.

The National Association of Home Builders has opposed ESA listings for other bee communities, so we can guess what they’ll do here. At its core, home building sprawl is a human population issue.

The Answer Is as Plain as the Peas on Your Plate: Go Vegan.

Stop supporting grazing. Just stop. Join the conscientious objectors. We don’t need animal ag. It’s bad for us, for other living communities, and for the Earth as a whole.

Farm animal waste, runoff, and feed operations are detrimental. The very complexity of animal agribusiness multiplies the harm done by our food systems.

We can opt out today, right this second.

And there’s more to being vegan than what’s on our plates. Consider human population a vegan topic; let’s talk about it (without xenophobia). Consider how we maintain our immediate physical surroundings. What we do to the climate, we do to habitat. And what we do to habitat is at the core of veganism.

Good Gardening Helps: Veganism Respects Our Shared Habitat.

Leaf blowers not only emit toxic gases; Doug Tallamy has explained that when leaves are banished, the land loses a form of temporary stormwater holding, and therefore leaf blowing exacerbates erosion and flooding. And bees have connections with leaves. Some bees and wasps try to nest under leaves.

Homo suburbanus has decided that lawns are necessary, and that chemicals are needed to maintain them. Common lawn sprays are tested on animals. What kind of people are we, that we’d blind rabbits to have a dandelion-free lawn that repels bees?

Native plantings matter so much, in so many ways. Never mind the birdfeeders; get natural nourishment rooted in any green space you might have. Of course there is a money incentive that keeps the landscapers in their old habits. Contracts for toxic chemicals communicate entrenched economic relationships among human businesses. But new relationships can be forged.

New year; new us. We need to strive to coexist with the naturally evolving life on our patch of Earth. This is a matter of liberation ethics.

When the U.S. Military Enlisted the Mexican Free-Tailed Bats

This is a guest post by Ben Wunderman, who writes:

This story is pretty much accurate as far as I could research—most of it is supported by a few sources. The biggest question is to what extent Donald Griffin was involved and at what stage, but he was involved. That was actually the element that surprised me the most.

Why talk about Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis)?

Because being “free-tailed” is a pretty cool thing, as is being identified as Mexican yet also being among the most widely distributed mammals of the Americas. They can “jam” the echolocation calls of a rival bat species using an ultrasonic vocalization. They are said to have the fastest horizontal speed of all animals – although they have resisted measurement. 

They also have a weird military backstory that confirms their lack of interest in being subject to human interference.

An enterprising Pennsylvanian, Lytle Adams, went to Donald Griffin (or FDR went to Griffin; it is unclear) after Pearl Harbor with the idea to use Mexican free-tailed bats to carry and detonate incendiary payloads over Tokyo. Adams had visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park and had the bright and highly questionable idea there. Griffin didn’t seem too wild about it (hard to tell), but FDR approved it and the project was launched.

The result?

Most of the free-tailin’ bats escaped their confines (bombs attached) and exploded a fuel tank that burned down the Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico and destroyed the test range.

The Plowshares ain’t got nothing on the Mexican free-tailed bat.

Photo credit: Ann Froschauer USFWS Public domain, via Pixnio / cc 0