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Topic: Bev Bergeron article in Linking Ring defending Ringling Bros. Animal Abuse
Message: Posted by: Melies (Feb 24, 2017 05:12PM)
Below is a copy of the letter I sent to Bev Bergeron today, about his disappointing article in the current Linking Ring, defending the use of elephants by Ringling Brothers in their circus act. Regrettably, Mr. Bergeron dismisses past allegations of Ringling's violent abuse of elephants (and other animals) based on his own anecdotal observations of circuses, instead of addressing the documented facts (he even confuses "bullhooks" with "bullhorns" throughout his essay). But see, for example, the year-long investigation by Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/10/ringling-bros-elephant-abuse.

It is a shame that Linking Ring published this piece, and worse still that it did not invite in an alternative perspective. While many magicians continue to support the exploitation of animals in their acts, a small but perhaps growing number of magi are opposed to such archaic practices--and I am among them.

Dear Mr. Bergeron,

As someone who takes both the magical arts and animal welfare seriously, I was very disheartened to read your article in this month's "Linking Ring," bemoaning the disappearance of elephants in the Ringling Brothers circus act, and expressing concern that a slippery slope might lead to the phasing out of live animals in magic acts as well. There is no question that Ringling Bros. abused animals, including elephants: their abuse is a matter of well-documented public record. Moreover, with all due respect, I think that claiming that elephants and other enslaved beings, who spend their entire waking lives either caged or being coerced to perform for screaming primates (aka humans), "enjoy" performing is little more than an anthropomorphic projection--akin to the perception whites once had of blacks as always happy and enjoying their enslavement.

Happily, I know other magicians who also long for a day when doves are not shoved into magicians' sleeves, goldfish aren't spat out of magicians' mouths, and rabbits are not kept in miserable dark spaces--only to be yanked up before howling crowds. We can--and do--perform strong magic without needing to manipulate, confine, and exploit other conscious beings in the process. Juan Tamariz, Dai Vernon, Rene Lavand, Richard Turner--I can think of dozens of world-class magicians who didn't have to resort to such crudity to create astonishing effects, or to charm their audiences. I don't know if you yourself have used live animals in your acts over the years. But I can't imagine that your own career would have been any less illustrious, or brilliant, had you simply left them out.

As public ethics evolve, we should evolve along with them.


John Sanbonmatsu
Message: Posted by: Tim Snyder (Mar 2, 2017 01:44AM)
[quote]On Feb 24, 2017, Melies wrote:
Happily, I know other magicians who also long for a day when doves are not shoved into magicians' sleeves, goldfish aren't spat out of magicians' mouths, and rabbits are not kept in miserable dark spaces--only to be yanked up before howling crowds. We can--and do--perform strong magic without needing to manipulate, confine, and exploit other conscious beings in the process. Juan Tamariz, Dai Vernon, Rene Lavand, Richard Turner--I can think of dozens of world-class magicians who didn't have to resort to such crudity to create astonishing effects, or to charm their audiences. I don't know if you yourself have used live animals in your acts over the years. But I can't imagine that your own career would have been any less illustrious, or brilliant, had you simply left them out.

As public ethics evolve, we should evolve along with them.


John Sanbonmatsu [/quote]

Your view seems a bit extreme. I once thought about starting a non profit called MEETA -- meat eaters for the ethical treatment of animals. If you do not recognize the difference between a chained elephant and a well cared for rabbit and dule of doves then you might as well quit reading this post. There is absolutely nothing wrong with including a rabbit or dove in a magic act unless you believe that no animal should be enslaved(owned) by humans. Would you rather a pet dove be stuck in a cage all day. Trained animals get exercise and mental stimulation from their jobs as a magician's assistant. Most modern magicians treat their animals humanely... most have a better life than those ignored by pet owners who don't have time for the animals they purchased on a whim.
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 2, 2017 01:05PM)
That's my "like", Tim! Thanks for your comments!

I've been involved with 3 different circuses over the years.

A well trained elephant is VALUABLE. --I would 'guesstimate" that the late Wayne Franzen's elephant ("Okha") who stands on a 3' diameter ball wit all four feet, and rolls it across the ring, is worth $95,000. She is affection trained. No one, with any sense, would mistreat such a beautiful animal, especially an animal worth that much. Okha was not mistreated, EVER!

She, and all the other animals were treated like the fine performers they are/were.

I used doves for about 25 years, on the road. They helped make my living! They were never mistreated.
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (Mar 2, 2017 09:49PM)
Dick, I'm with you here. I've worked with many trainers who sometimes care for their animals as much if not more than their families. I will never deny that there has been abuse in the past in many different areas. I just don't know of any current trainer/owner that would EVER mistreat their animals. Their goal is to keep them happy because quite frankly they have a better disposition and more fun performing that way. Most trainers I know now understand the need for a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship with the animals they care for. I've personally seen the love and loyalty they share and it's just sad that people that don't know or understand want to stop that.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Mar 13, 2017 09:57PM)
I can't say I'm surprised by these comments. Tim says, " There is absolutely nothing wrong with including a rabbit or dove in a magic act unless you believe that no animal should be enslaved(owned) by humans." Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. And I think it is hypocrisy, or self-delusion, or both, to call these animals "performers" as opposed to animate props whose own consciousness and will are considered absolutely irrelevant by the performer. Moreover, the fact that some animals are treated less poorly than others is neither here nor there: all of them are treated as commodities, and therefore not given a decent life, and the general acceptance of the practice ensures that some animals will be subjected to more extreme forms of abuse by some of their "masters." Ray, I disagree that it is a "mutually beneficial and symbiotic" relationship. At least call it by its true name--domination. Because when performers use whips, chains, cages, behavior modification, etc., there is no way one can describe that as "consent."
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Mar 13, 2017 11:15PM)
@Melies I respect your wish to avoid abusing others (be they sentient, conscious or just organically responsive) and to speak out against condoning such in our craft.
How do you reconcile your position with the argument offered in Hobbes Leviathan?

I'm also not sure it makes sense to put behavior modification (a technique using rewards for behaviors approaching those desired) with devices used for punishment.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Mar 14, 2017 04:28PM)
Regarding Hobbes (!), I can't say I'm particularly a fan of his political theory (though I certainly enjoy reading and teaching him). A number of astute critics have carefully taken issue with Hobbes's framework over the centuries: the best recent treatment of contract theory that I know of (and agree with) is Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills' book, "Contract and Domination." In any event, if you mean that nonhumans consent to our dominion over them, a la political subjects or citizens vis-a-vis the Sovereign in Hobbes' theory of contract, I think the parallel may be more apt than you know, since Hobbes of course was legitimating absolutism, not democracy. Many subsequent theorists (Rousseau, Mill, and Locke among them) improved on Hobbes' view, by recognizing the importance of popular democratic consent and representation in government. Anyway, nonhumans no more consent to our rule over them than the citizens of Romania, say, consented to the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, the citizens of Egypt consented to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, or--much more to the point--victims of the Third Reich "consented" to being put on transports for Treblinka. If there is a "contract" between humans and nonhumans, it is a contract in which one side, the side in power, benefits, while the other is subjected to agony, terror, and an unending night of extermination. Watch the film "Earthlings" some time (www.earthlings.com).
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (Mar 19, 2017 11:13PM)
The term "Domination" is interesting as we are technically "Dominated" by the government, laws, societal norms, many would even say by the patriarchal society. As I mentioned, I'm speaking from years of experience with people that actually work in the industry (Not outsiders guessing at what occurs from propagandizing reporting. Are their bound to be abuses? Possibly. There are people who abuse the privilege of driving. Should we outlaw cars? The people I know don't use "whips and chains" as you describe. You speak from a very limited perspective. The "General Acceptance" you describe is neither General nor Accepted.
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 21, 2017 12:44AM)
Thanks Ray!
You have said it exceptionally well!

It appears to me that the OP, although well educated (he writes eloquently) has been listening to PETA, and, "...speaks from a very limited perspective."
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Mar 22, 2017 07:03PM)
I'm arguing that non-humans don't have a self or ability to consent to more than the state of nature. Without that self/social large scale notion there's just an eternal state of war - nothing more or less than natural - red in tooth and claw. Do we say a cat is a terrorist to mice?

In my reading Hobbes saw society as a monstrous shambling mess but us so much better for being within a society.

Perhaps we can agree that whether or not a tiger or an elephant has a sense of narrative abstracted self - we'd still prefer to minimize our time watching tigers turning elephants into dinner. If not for the creatures but for our own sense of empathy.

And what if the cows vote to fence in the sheep? What next, doctors have to stop being cruel to tumors? Pathetic fallacy in politics. :)
Message: Posted by: Melies (May 30, 2017 09:03PM)
Apologies for having overlooked these further responses to my earlier posts, and thanks to everyone for taking the time to add your thoughts. To respond briefly:

Ray: "domination" means being forced to do something against one's will, or "consenting" because one has no choice but to consent (or otherwise face the prospect of violence). You write: "Are there bound to be abuses? Possibly." Actually, there certainly will be, because once you reduce a group of beings to the status of objects (property), they can and will be treated by some in an offhandedly cruel way. The abuse of animals by Ringling and Bros. (god rest their souls! yay!) is well documented. The abuse of orcas at Sea World is well documented (see the film "Blackfish" some time). Etc., for thousands of other cases, literally. Yet it is the quotidian humiliations, deprivations, and impositions that constitute the basic horizon of all commercial animals, including in magic acts, that is the main problem.

Dick: It's understandable that you should confuse me for a fan of PETA, but I have long been a critic of theirs. (Much too conservative and tame of an animal protection agency for my liking!)

Jonathan: You write, "non-humans don't have a self or ability to consent to more than the state of nature." Sorry, but that is demonstrably false. You seem to have an extremely crude understanding of the cognitive and emotional capacities of other species. Darwin himself in "Descent of Man" acknowledged that the differences between humans and other animals were only a matter of degree, not qualitative in nature, and went on to write an entire book demonstrating the continuities between us and other beings in "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Other Animals." Myriad other scientists have since demonstrated intelligence, planning, moral or proto-moral behavior, empathy, tool use, language, an ability to grieve the deaths of others, and so on, in numerous species. While philosophers certainly still debate which, or whether, other animals have selves and what that means, there is no question that animals demonstrate their consent all the time in countless ways. (Just taking my father's dogs for a walk requires a constant negotiation! They cooperate with me most of the time, but when they want something, they get stubborn and exert their will.) The merest insect knows the difference between being confined, and being free--to say nothing of fishes, mammals, and avians, all of whom have extremely sophisticated forms of consciousness.

Anyone interested in getting up to speed on the reality, rather than stereotypes, about nonhuman capacities should check out the work of such scientists as Frans deWaal, Marc Bekoff, Jane Goodall, Lesley Rogers, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, and Jonathan Balcombe, or philosophers like Mary Midgley, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum. There are dozens and indeed hundreds more people to learn from on this topic, if anyone is interested. (I have edited a book myself, "Critical Theory and Animal Liberation.") A couple of good films (though now surpassed by a great deal more research) on the science of animal mind include, "Animal Einsteins" (Scientific American Frontiers), and "Inside the Animal Mind" (PBS). On the atrocities humans routinely commit against other animals, see the films "The Witness" or "Earthlings." Finally, I would close here on a wonderful passage from "The Outermost House," written by the naturalist Henry Beston, back in 1928:

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Jan 2, 2018 10:38PM)
Mr. Melies,

Here's what I'm seeing. Your posts repeatedly speak of looking out for the best interests of animals or other conscious beings. We need to get straight to the point and realize that all of us, including you, DO see ourselves as superior to animals. I'll say it again, I believe that I'm above the animals and so do you. Let me be perfectly clear that I do not condone blatant abuse of an animal in any way. But we see ourselves as superior. Don't believe me?

Let me ask you this. Have you heard the old saying about how animals belong in the wild, not as pets in our homes? Well... that saying always makes me laugh, because my cat has a choice, and believe me, he certainly prefers eating food that I provide for him as opposed to hunting his own mice, and sleeping on my furniture as opposed to making a nest of fallen leaves. The same goes for my dog. There was no brainwashing necessary- the same would apply to any wild animal which might discover that we humans have figured out that a furnace is a good idea on a freezing night. The animals realize that there's a better way and they prefer it to nature- hands down, every single time. So, knowing that you have it pretty good, I ask you- do you invite every stray animal into your home on a cold night? Have you ever eaten a good meal when you know that you could have spent that money on dog food and found a starving dog somewhere? The answer is yes, and so have I. The fact is that even though I know that the animals would love to share what I have, I don't let them (except for a few that I call pets). Therefore, yes, I do see myself as superior, as demonstrated.

NOW- that being the case, let's take a dove, or rabbit, or whatever, and give it a good life. Let's give it food and protection and a good place to sleep. Would you honestly not say that any magic animal has it pretty good? To speak from my own experience, I have quite a few reptiles. Do you know that if a snake isn't happy, or is under stress, that it will stop eating and will starve itself to death? My snakes are all fat and eat like hogs. No amount of animal rights propaganda will change that fact. My snakes are happy and I can prove it 100%.

As I see it, the problem is that you're trying to assign human emotions to animals. You don't seem to want to accept the fact that there are many, many animals who are perfectly happy not being in the wild.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 3, 2018 09:45PM)
Hi FreeFall,

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks here. I don't think it will surprise you that I have a few things to say in reply! So here goes:

1. "Are we superior to animals?" No, because that would make us superior to ourselves! You are working with a binary, the human and the "animal," which in fact has no biological, classificatory,or evolutionary basis. If you read Darwin's "Descent of Man" and "Origin of Species," and you look at the last century of work on comparative psychology, primatology, marine biology, cognitive ethology, and so on, you'll find that science long ago concluded--and has confirmed--that we are not merely "like" other animals, we *are* animals. That's why I'm not ascribing "human" emotions to, say, chickens or rabbits or monkeys or elephants when I suggest--as the science proves--that other animals have complex emotions too. Of course they do! Because we are all related to one another, and all developed out of the same common ancestor.

2. "Okay, fine, but aren't we superior to the other animals?" Humans excel other animals at abstract reasoning and certain forms of language; most dogs can outrun the fastest human sprinters and long-distance runners on earth; turkeys have far greater visual acuity than we do; orcas may have more complex social emotions than we do (or so theorizes Dr. Lori Marino in the film "Blackfish"); rats exhibit more empathy in the lab than some human scientists; chimpanzees are almost twice as strong as humans are, and their short-term memory is far superior; Clark's nutcracker can cache and recall the locations of some 30,000 food supplies, over dozens of square miles; etc., etc.. So it depends on what you mean by superior!

3. "But come on! We're superior in so many ways! Look at our cities and technologies!" One of the most common arguments used by European colonizers to justify their genocide against other peoples was that they were "primitive" and stupid and therefore unworthy of life, simply because they had other ways of living their lives. Humans are without question the best around at fashioning tools, even though tool use has now been observed in, among others, New Caledonian crows, chimps, and even octopi (invertebrates). But we are also the only species that is destroying all of the other species, and the only one that kills millions of its own kind and destroys its own habitat (as well as the habitats of all the rest). So perhaps some humility is in order.

4. "Because we are superior, we are therefore entitled to do what we like to the other beings." You don't say this, but it seems to be implied in your emphasis on "superiority." Unfortunately, history is full of examples of humans oppressing and murdering others whom they viewed as their inferiors. But most of us would agree today that even radical differences in ability between persons cannot justify or excuse violence against them. Most people also understand intuitively that might does not make right. So even if we grant (which I do not grant) that Homo sapiens is superior to all the other beings, that fact alone tells us nothing about how we *should* treat the others. For example, I am surely "superior" to human infants, and even to the college students I teach, in terms of my education, my ability to negotiate an adult world, etc. But I don't think such facts entitle me morally or politically to kill and eat babies, or to enslave my students--or to cage them and make them appear under my hat or in my stage props whenever I want them to. If you are seriously maintaining that differences in cognitive capacities entitles the stronger or more capable parties to rule over or control less developed ones, then you're taking us back to Hitler's euthanasia program and eugenicism.

5. "Animals like to be caged and controlled; it's better than being in the wild." I have observed animals in nature a great deal, both in my own life and watching documentaries and speaking to people, and what I see most of the time is animals filled with joy at being alive. The sparrows in my neighborhood all travel in a gang together, chatting and whirling and having adventures. Years ago I used to watch the sea otters in Santa Cruz, California: they would lie lazily on their backs, tether themselves to the seaweed, and eat urchins. When they weren't doing that, they were playing and frolicking like there was no tomorrow! I could give a hundred other examples. Do animals suffer in the wild? Sometimes, yes. Humans suffer too. We suffer loneliness, depression, deprivation (one of two humans lives on less than $2 per day), and we get sick and die. "Life is suffering": the first teaching of the Buddha. But freedom is one of our compensations for hardship.

You say that captive animals enjoy their captivity, and even seem to suggest that they choose it. If so, then try leaving the top to your reptile terrarium off some time. Or take out the door of the rabbit hutches. The animals will choose their freedom. It's different with cats and dogs, especially if they are truly being treated as autonomous beings and allowed to more or less come and go as they please. I have had cats. But I never once put them in a cage, except to carry them to the veternarian, for their benefit. It was very stressful for them, and I hated doing it. But it was for their good, not mine, so I feel that was justified. However, I would certainly never keep a cat in a small, dark, enclosed place, then pull my cat out in front of a room full of cheering and laughing primates (aka humans).

You say, "The animals realize that there's a better way and they prefer it to nature- hands down, every single time." Actually, that is not true. Most animals prefer their freedom. And even feral cats have to be tamed first, brought into a relationship of trust, before they will consider entering one's domicile. In any event, the point is moot for magicians' rabbits and doves. The only reason they stay with the magician is because they are not free to leave!

6. "Let's take a dove, or rabbit...and give it a good life. Let's give it food and protection and a good place to sleep. Would you honestly not say that any magic animal has it pretty good?"

No, I wouldn't say that. Look, you could put me in a padded cell, feed me the same monotonous food every day, deprive me of any meaningful contact with other members of my species, steal the sun and the rain and the change of seasons and all the other joyous (and yes, sometimes painful) sensuous elements from me, and maybe I would live a long time too. But I would be mutilated. I would suffer existentially, if not physically. I would be stupefied. And I would be your prisoner. Who are you to say that giving me five years of life in your prison is "better" than, say, 10 months living in freedom, even if I come to a bad end? "Live free or die," as the New Hampshire state motto goes. Words to live by. But you and I can at least choose to live by that motto: captive animals have no choice. They are treated either as commodities to be butchered, or, in the hands of the magician, as living props with lungs, genitals, and a brain.

To me there is nothing uglier than exploiting the vulnerability of another being for one's own purposes, whether it is Harvey Weinstein raping and sexually harassing young actresses and interns, the "good" slave owner who sleeps well at night, knowing he treats "his" slaves more "humanely" than the monster down the road at the other plantation, or the human who, proudly believing him/herself superior to every other living thing, inflicts suffering and captivity on flesh and blood beings who are conscious individuals with dignity and interests and experiences of their own.

There are many good books now on the science of animal mind and consciousness. My favorite is Lesley Rogers, "Minds of Their Own." Any book by the biologist Marc Bekoff is good. The three-hour PBS documentary, "Inside the Animal Mind," is good: it relates dozens of scientific experiments demonstrating that nonhumans have complex emotions, can empathize with others, can use tools and language, etc. "Scientific American" recently published an article on intelligence in chickens--check that out.

Finally, here are a few videos demonstrating complex cognition and emotions in nonhuman beings, our cousins:

1. A monkey empathizing with another monkey, who has been accidentally electrocuted at a train station in India:

2. Donkeys grieving the loss of their friend:

3. Chimpanzees demonstrating superior cognition (short-term memory) over human beings:

4. Avian intelligence (research subject Alex, an African Grey Parrot, answering questions--in English):

5. Language use in primates (Kanzi with experimenter Sue Savage-Rumbaugh):

Etc. etc. Elephants and crows grieve their dead, and have rituals for doing that; cetaceans have been shown to have specific cultures; rats have empathy and dream of the mazes they are forced to run in the lab at night; etc.

We are not the only "intelligent" being on the earth, only the most power-mad and the most tragically dissociated from the living earth and its wonderful inhabitants. And we are destroying them all. Half of all vertebrates on the earth have died in just the last 40 years, due to hunting, fishing, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, etc. We kill 50 billion land animals and an estimated 100 billion sea animals each year in the food system--when instead we could be flourishing brilliantly on a plant-based diet. As Mephistopheles ironically comments to God in Goethe's "Faust": "The little god of earth remains the same queer sprite, as on the first day, or in primal light. His life would be less difficult, poor thing, Without your gift of heavenly glimmering; He calls it Reason, using light celestial. Just to outdo the beasts in being bestial."
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Jan 4, 2018 10:49PM)
Yeah, I was fairly certain before that I was wasting my time even commenting here, and now you've confirmed it beyond any doubt. You speak of intelligence in chickens, and I'm sorry but there's just no other way to say this, but you clearly have no idea what you're talking about. If you had ever spent any time around chickens, you'd know that they're just about the stupidest creatures on earth. I have literally seen a rooster stand outside and freeze to death because it didn't have the sense to come in out of the cold.

Far more concerning, though, is the fact that you just put magicians who perform with animals, in the same category as those who rape young girls. There is something SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH YOU. You sir are the type who burns down places that have anything to do with animals, yet have no concern for the people you hurt. I'll say it again- I DO see myself as superior to animals. I love them and would never harm an animal, and my pets receive amazing care. But if you're going to even SUGGEST that me owning an animal is equivalent to someone assaulting my wife or my daughter, you have serious problems and need to have your head examined.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 5, 2018 10:13AM)
Okay, FreeFall, see you later. I would only note that I have been appealing to the facts, and that these don't seem to interest you very much. Because instead of engaging with any part of my argument or the evidence I provide, you lean on ad hominem, i.e. saying that there's something wrong with me and that I should "have my head examined." Well, humans have been on the earth for long enough that by now we should have figured out a way to communicate rationally with one another. Your very email, though, in which you insult me and relate a single anecdote in reply to my many points, shows how far we are from being the "rational" and "intelligent" species you imagine ourselves to be. Finally and for the record, I did not say that keeping animals in your act is the same, morally, as committing rape; what I said is that exploiting the vulnerability of others is wrong, regardless of who those "others" are. It's a shame that our conversation ended this way, but it is all too symptomatic of the wider national conversation and its descent into barbarism. Best, John Sanbonmatsu
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Jan 5, 2018 11:49PM)
John, I have no interest in arguing either. Did I use harsh words? I certainly did, and honestly, I'm not sure that I was harsh enough. You just reiterated what was written above by lumping women who are raped in the same category as magic animals- "others", as you say. Do you have a wife or daughter? I have both. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of them being assaulted. So yes, to see someone mention such an act in the same breath as hiding a cat in a box, well, I don't know what else to say. By the way, I HAVE produced a cat in my show, many times, and to great success.

If you really want me to address your points, I think we'll disagree because I do not believe that humans are animals who evolved. I believe we are created by God- and that's another argument for another time. It points out, though, how we would certainly reach different conclusions based on our wildly different starting points.

Now, I can say that two things did jump out at me. For one thing, you point out how we (humans, animals, every living thing) should all be free- free to live or die or whatever, on our own terms. You point out that a tiny bit of freedom is better than many years of captivity, because it's all about not having another creature decide what should be done with you. You say this over and over and over... yet you admit to taking a cat to the vet! You say that it was for it's own good. This strikes me as odd, because by your own logic, who are you to determine what was in the cat's best interest? Did you ever think that maybe that cat didn't want to go to the vet, and should have been free to make it's own choices? I can see no way in which a person of your belief system could justify doing anything to another creature because you felt that you knew better.

Second- if, as you say, we are all just animals, then your entire argument falls apart because in the animal kingdom, violence reigns. Yes, many animals appear quite capable of showing varying levels of things like cuddling with each other or grieving for a lost youngster, etc. BUT- there's no denying that violence is the ultimate judge in almost every species. For most animals, it's perfectly acceptable to kill the outsider. Are you seriously lumping people in the same category? Humans are very different- we know that in 90% of cases, it's not necessary to kill other humans. Animals also eat other animals (yes, even chimps eat meat). The weaker animal becomes dinner. If we're merely animals ourselves, then you have zero argument as to why I can't (or shouldn't) eat a cow.

Am I not correct on both points? They make perfect sense if humans and animals are different.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 6, 2018 05:10PM)
If we can't agree on such a basic fact as evolution, I am not sure we have the basis for productive argument! (Some time you should read or watch the movie version of "Inherit the Wind," about the Scopes trial.)

One of the things I teach is ethics, so I am tempted to go into some of the relevant moral theories here. But a good rule of thumb is always the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you like to be kept in a tiny enclosed place, carried around, and then hauled out before a bunch of screaming maniacs from another species, against your will? If not, then you shouldn't do that to your cat! In many forms of ethics, one's intentions matter a great deal in terms of evaluating the rightness of an action. If I confine my cat in a box to bring him to the vet--because my vet doesn't make house calls (which vets should)--that is not the same thing as confining my cat or another animal in order to exploit the animal for my own selfish purposes. You ask, "Did you ever think that maybe that cat didn't want to go to the vet, and should have been free to make it's own choices?" Fair enough. However, a companion animal is in some respects a dependent, i.e. someone I have a responsibility to care for. When he was younger, my son hated to go to the pediatrician, and feared getting shots. But I had to take him, anyway, against his will. Because while I do try to maximize my son's freedom, parents some times have to thwart that freedom for the child's own safety and well-being. I would not let a young child cross a busy intersection alone, for example. But that does not give me permission to, say, test drugs on my child, "harvest" his organs, or to pack him inside my stage illusion.

As for our own animality being an excuse for keeping, reproducing, killing, and eating animals, the position is insupportable. First, many animals--including many animals that we humans eat, like rabbits, cows, horses, sheep, etc.--are "vegans" who don't kill and eat anyone. Second, even it were true that all animals kill and eat other animals (which is not true), such a fact would still have no bearing on the question of how or whether we have moral duties towards other beings. Why? Because whereas sharks, say, are obligate carnivores--they must kill in order to survive--humans (1) are omnivorous (meaning that they can survive on a vegan diet, as well as a meat-based one), and (2) have the ability to exercise moral choices. I *can* torture and eat my neighbor's dog, but that doesn't mean that I *should* (that I am morally *entitled* to do so). Third, if you are saying, assuming that I am right about us being animals (which, by the way, is a scientific fact and not open to debate), that I am justified to eat animals because some other animals do it, then you are saying, in effect, that we should model our behavior on the behavior of other species. Fine. But then why not model our behavior on bonobo chimps, who are peaceful hippie vegans who have sex all the time? But for that matter, perhaps women should model their dating behavior on the praying mantis, who eats her mate after sex! Etc. In other words, we are still faced with having to decide which animal to model ourselves on. And that in turn brings us back to the inescapability of our moral choices. We have to decide how to behave. And what I am saying is that the way we should behave towards other beings is with respect and love, rather than with contempt and violence. Even if you believe that we were created by an invisible supernatural Being, no where in the Old or New Testaments does it say we are obligated to exploit or kill other animals. Indeed, one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is in Genesis, which depicts Adam and Eve as "vegans" who live in complete peace and harmony with the other beings. But you know the rest: we screwed it up and were booted out of Paradise. Well, it's still up to us to decide how to behave, both towards one another and toward the other beings.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 7, 2018 12:41AM)
A moral calculus with values held as invariant across moral participants looks appealing. How would this be consistent with the world as we find it? Is our distant relation the Bonobo a moral example or happy accidental left-over?

[quote]On Jan 6, 2018, Melies wrote:
..some times have to thwart that freedom for the child's own safety and well-being. I would not let a young child cross a busy intersection alone, for example. [/quote]
You're illustrating our shared world, and from your experience in specific - thanks. There's a social and moral chasm between "a young child" and your child.

[quote]...the inescapability of our moral choices. We have to decide how to behave. And what I am saying is that the way we should behave towards other beings is with respect and love, rather than with contempt and violence. [snip] it's still up to us to decide how to behave, both towards one another and toward the other beings. [/quote] Agreed and we live in world where cars are advertised to have answers to Trolley Problems.

I'm looking for context; where such a theory of moral value becomes compelling as advantageous.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 7, 2018 03:13PM)
The whole point of normative ethics, generally speaking (because there are always dissenters), is indeed to uphold either a set of values or a consistent form of moral reasoning, across different contexts. Otherwise, we risk lapsing into moral relativism, e.g. the idea that the slavery was moral in 1776 because most (white) people thought it was, and the Holocaust was moral because most Germans hated Jews, etc. So I don't think I'm suggesting anything unusual here. Certainly the idea that we could--and should--simply stop exploiting and committing acts of violence against other conscious beings is both controversial and, in the current atmosphere, strongly counter-intuitive. However, humans for millennia also believed that slavery was natural and right. In my father's lifetime, women couldn't vote; in my own, it was legal in all 50 US states for a man to rape his wife (not until the mid-1970s did states begin to strike down the so-called marital exemption to rape). So we know that ideas which at the time may seem radical and run counter to popular belief, practice, or institutional habit can nonetheless later be shown to be morally right. Correspondingly, we know that an idea or practice that many accept as self-evidently true or right may not be. (The best treatment I've seen of how taking other animals' lives and interests seriously would entail a new form of society can be found in "Zoopolis," by Donaldson and Kymlicka.)

So, to answer your first question, my whole point is that treating animals differently would *not* be consistent with the world as we find it. That is what radical ideas of equality and justice do--they overturn the conventional order, just as the French and American Revolutions overturned monarchy.

In your question about bonobos, you seem to be hinting at some sort of speculative anthropology, i.e. suggesting that our biology (or genes) is destiny. But whether we are more related to violent chimps than bonobos is neither here nor there. The question is, should we nuke North Korea? Should abortion be legal? Should bump stocks be sold at Wal-Mart? Should we confine and kill animals? Etc. In other words, our biology cannot serve as a guide for our behavior. At worst, it suggests instinctual constraints to overcome. But it sounds like we may agree on this point?

Re: the moral chasm, as you call it, between my child and the abstract (or stranger) young child, I don't think the chasm is as great as you suggest. If I see another parent's kid suddenly dart out into traffic, I will use force if necessary to pull him/her back to safety, and I would also maintain that it is your responsibility to do so as well. Though I have special duties to my own child, I also have duties to children in Syria dying under our Saudi allies' bombs, and to the homeless family down the street.

I am not sure what you mean when you write, "I'm looking for context; where such a theory of moral value becomes compelling as advantageous." A good moral theory, as I understand it, is a theory which either conduces to the greater good of all involved (utilitarianism) or which protects the inviolable interests of particular subjects (deontology), or both. Alternatively, from a feminist perspective, a good theory is one that places empathy and relationality (connection with others) at the center of its decision-making matrix. Any one of these approaches, among others, offers a robust platform for rejecting speciesism (our domination and extermination of other beings).
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 8, 2018 03:19PM)
My perspective is limited as a member of this society and this species - living without knowledge of other narrative/technological species who've faced these questions - or ability to observe a different culture of my own species on this world where the normative ethics you describe is operating.

How might some imaginary observer discover the ethics you describe are in operation somewhere?

And what circumstances might make the ethics you describe advantageous in circumstances where push comes to shove and folks gotta eat etc?

Natural selection favors the survivors. Or as asked by Bertolt Brecht, "What Keeps Mankind Alive?"
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 8, 2018 04:15PM)
Frans de Waal, among others, has documented what he describes as "proto-moral" behavior and communities in primates. Some other species have also been shown to have an innate sense of fairness. (Play, which is virtually universal among animalia, is in part a negotiation between two players about tolerances and limits of the play.) However, whether mice or gorillas have a "normative ethics" or not has no bearing on how *we* should treat *them*. In our own society, the fact that someone who is psychotic, or mentally disabled, or in a coma, or is a young child, etc., is not seen to adhere to discernible moral rules does not mean that we don't have duties toward them. It's apples and Howitzers, I'm afraid.

In terms of "lifeboat ethics," so called, I personally find analytic moral philosophy really unhelpful when it relies on abstract or unlikely cases that are designed to make the ethicist's job easier (the Trolley problem) rather than to help illuminate complex moral life and decision-making as we actually encounter then. In the case of "push comes to shove," for example, the life boat gets floated out quite often. But to say, "I have to eat the chicken, or I die," or even, "If we don't test drugs on animals, then there's no medical progress--and we die," are both examples of false dilemmas. I think it was the philosopher Tom Regan who related the story of a group of kids confronted with the following problem: "There are seven humans and one dog in a lifeboat, and the lifeboat cannot stay afloat with so many 'persons' on board. So should the dog be tossed overboard, or one of the humans?" The kids talked about it, and they said, "Have everyone take turns swimming alongside the boat."

One of the ironic things about resistance to the sort of ethical vision I'm putting forward, particularly vis-a-vis eating animals and animal products, is that animal agriculture and the fisheries industries are destroying the whole biosphere of the planet. So the real question is not whether we can survive if we stop eating animals, but how and the other members of the earth's biotic community are going to survive if we continue to do so. Our civilization has broken off from the process of natural selection and is ripping up the food web, to our own peril as well as to the peril of everybody else. (See the World Wildlife Fund's "Living Planet Report 2016." It's apocalyptic.)
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 8, 2018 08:57PM)
The story about the kids in class is nice.

[quote]On Jan 8, 2018, Melies wrote:
... is not seen to adhere to discernible moral rules does not mean that we don't have duties toward them. It's apples and Howitzers, I'm afraid...[/quote]

These notions of rights and duties as you would imagine imposing unto others... how specifically do they help you? Given two strategies and a need to survive - Do you begrudge the shark your leg if it's hungry? Or a bacteria it's nature to be fruitful and multiply even if that happens to cost you your health? Does imagining the rights of mice as regards cats please you? Others have taken much time and trouble to distinguish cats and mice from humans. Of them - all known such others are humans - even if some would connive to act more like Orca whales than Bonobo apes.

One can argue that it's simply not virtuous to impinge upon another life in such a way as you would find less than virtuous were you to observe from their perspective. And from that seek a path of least harm. This also works in stories as from a third party's attention were they to be seeing that moment as it were in and of itself. This can be done without appeal to any notion of "rights" or claim of knowledge of any other beings interior worldview or value system.

How does presumed rights add to our notions of good or just?
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 8, 2018 09:31PM)
BTW fables are a useful tool. Try these:

A few wise words from "Into The Woods"[quote]
Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.[/quote]
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 9, 2018 09:20PM)
I guess the short answer is that I'm not a fan of virtue ethics. In any event, when you ask,"how specifically do they [rights and duties] help you?", that's a curious phrasing, because it sounds like you're subordinating virtue ethics anyway to ethical egoism (the idea that a morally right action is one that promotes my own self-interest). But as Jesus says in Matthew, "For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul?" The reason I don't murder my neighbor is not because I "get" something out of it, but because it's wrong to do. I don't imagine that mice have rights, and I don't take pleasure from imagining them with rights. Rather, I empathize with mice and other suffering beings, and I want them to flourish and be happy, as much as that is possible.
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Jan 9, 2018 10:54PM)

Your last response (to me) seems to have supported my position entirely.

You say that your child is a dependant, and of course I wholeheartedly agree. But, you then say that your cat was in the same category. That's what I was saying all along- you clearly chose what you thought was best for that cat, and you did this the moment you decided to bring it home and invite it into your house. You encouraged this animal to eat food you provided, and you certainly knew that the cat would now expect his food to come from you. You confirm all of this by taking the cat to the vet regardless of whether or not this animal wanted to go. I ask again- why would someone of your belief system get involved with all of this? Why would you have a pet to begin with? Aren't you now an accessory to "de-wilding" the cat? For me, though, it's fine, because I'm superior to the cat (again, let me be clear that I in no way encourage animal abuse of any kind- but I'm all about giving pets a great life, which includes taking them to the vet if I see fit).

You are also wrong about bonobos being vegans. I'm no expert in animal behavior but I certainly know that they hunt and eat monkeys and other furry creatures! This is well known- I'd encourage you to look it up if you haven't already. So, you ask which animal we should model our behavior after- well, if we are so closely related to bonobos (sharing 98.8% of our DNA), it sure would seem like they're good ones to follow. Bonobos eat other animals and they sleep well at night. AGAIN- this is all fine with me, because I'm good with the fact that I eat other animals.

Finally, you tell me of what the bible says. Mr. Melies, I have spent a great deal of time reading the bible and let me absolutely assure you that the bible is completely in line with humans eating animals. Yes, in the very beginning, everything was vegetarian because there was no death. That soon changed, though, and specific references abound- God told Noah (upon leaving the ark) that it was fine to use animals for food, Jesus condoned fishing on multiple occasions, Jesus fed a massive crowd with fish, and the list goes on. The point isn't whether you believe it- the point is that it's there.

I say again- if what I've pointed out is fact (and it sure seems to be, unless I'm missing something major), does it not support my position as opposed to yours?
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 11, 2018 09:51AM)
[quote]On Jan 9, 2018, Melies wrote:
... I empathize with mice and other suffering beings, and I want them to flourish and be happy, as much as that is possible. [/quote]


It gets more interesting (and IMHO frightening) when one considers actions and strategies motivated by an intent to reduce [i]others[/i] suffering. If a tree falls in the woods, does it scream? Was it suffering?
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 13, 2018 09:42PM)
Jonathan, you seem to be trolling me a bit, so I am not sure whether you want a serious reply, or not! Nagel's essay is extremely dated, and in fact I have in mind to write an article entitled, "What Is It Like To Be Tom Nagel?", because I don't believe his position is supportable, on empirical and phenomenological grounds. (I could give thousands of examples of humans and nonhumans comprehending one another's intentions, interests, feelings, etc. Whether I can imagine myself with the ontology of a bat--or of POTUS, for that matter--is irrelevant.) Finally I am not sure what you find so frightening about people trying to reduce the suffering of others.

Free Fall, some very brief replies.

Regarding my cat, I'm afraid we are still arguing at cross-purposes. However, you seem to be saying that my cat cannot be a dependent in the way that my child is, because I "chose" to have a cat companion, whereas (?) a child just "happened"? I'm not sure what you mean. I do agree with you that there is in fact a good case to be made for why keeping a cat is not a good idea (environmentally, etc.), and in fact I haven't lived with a cat of my own in years. But I'm afraid I don't see your point about dependency. If I choose to live with a rat or dog or horse, etc., I am essentially entering into an ethical relationship with that being. I am not going to abandon my dog on the side of the highway when she gets too big, and I'm not going to let my cat die of rabies if he gets bitten by another rabid animal--I will take him to the vet. How is that different in principle from my obligations to other humans, including my kid?

Regarding bonobos being omnivores, you are of course right! I was thinking of the diet of gorillas (herbivores), but the hippy behavior of bonobos (free love, etc.).

Regarding modeling our behavior on other animals, why should we? That was my point. It is irrelevant how much DNA we share with chimps. If you are seriously saying that we are justified in killing and eating other animals because bonobos do it, then presumably you are also saying we are justified in having premarital, non-marital sex whenever we like, too.

Regarding the Bible, I do not believe that the Bible was written by, or at the behest of, a supernatural invisible being. So appealing to the Bible for ultimate moral truths (or ultimate truths of any kind) is a non-starter for me, I'm afraid. You say that there are many passages in the Bible that refer to eating animals, etc., which is true. But there are also many references in the Bible to slavery, and absolutely no prohibition against slavery mentioned anywhere in the text! Which explains how white Christians were able to use biblical scripture for centuries to justify their enslavement of black Africans. In fact, the Christian Identity white supremacist movement to this day believes that whites are superior to other races, based on biblical scripture.

Such examples, it seems to me, only give further reinforcement to the point Socrates made more than 2500 years ago about religious authority: namely, that we always end up with differing *human* interpretations about what the supposed gods or God believe(s). Whatever your own interpretation of the Bible happens to be, there are a million others who have a different view of it. Take Catholicism. Some Catholics are right-wingers (Opus Dei), some are socialists (Liberation Theology), some are in cahoots with the state (as in Italy), others break into US military bases and vandalize nukes (the Berrigan brothers), etc. Therefore, saying that it's OK to eat animals because the Bible says so is just not super convincing. Because Christians like Andrew Linzey (author of "Animal Theology" and "Animal Gospel," etc.) and Matthew Sculley ("Dominion"), among other Christian scholars, have been able to mount robust defenses of animal rights using Christian teachings and arguments.
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Jan 14, 2018 11:46AM)
You live your way and let everyone live their way. Or must we all bow down and conform to your limited belief system?

Your right to be free implies my right to be free from you.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 14, 2018 01:22PM)
Sorry, Danny, but I think you misunderstand the nature of moral and political debate. By your logic, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights activists should have just shut up and let southern whites continue to "live their way," just as feminists today should shut up and stop complaining about systemic discrimination against them in the workplace, etc. These are public issues, questions of right and wrong, claims of justice. I am not asking people to "bow down" before my ideas; I am arguing that they should do the right thing vis-a-vis other animals, and moreover that they are morally obliged to. You and others of course are welcome to disagree with me. But it isn't sufficient to brush off my position by saying, in effect, "I can do whatever I like, and if you don't like it, you can shut up about it." That sort of thing wouldn't be considered acceptable in a debate about, say, the morality of capital punishment or abortion or segregation, and it isn't acceptable in a debate about whether magicians should or shouldn't exploit animals in their acts. (If it were, then presumably we should get rid of this whole forum on the Café--"Right and Wrong.")
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Jan 14, 2018 04:52PM)
What is your position on abortion?

And animals do not participate in a society. Dr. King did. Feminists do. See the flaw in your logic?

Are plants living things?

Your position is basically "I love animals dint hurt them". Disguise it all you like it is pure emotion and nothing more. It is not serious argument.

And incidentally I would prefer animals removed from magic acts.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 14, 2018 05:55PM)
ConText: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/12/wildlife-watch-zimbabwe-elephant-skins-trade/ :( :arg:

[quote]On May 30, 2017, Melies wrote:
...Jonathan: You write, "non-humans don't have a self or ability to consent to more than the state of nature." Sorry, but that is demonstrably false. ... [/quote]

Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to our non-human neighbors? (ethos) Where does this claim of rights include a process of remedy? Since the sheep don't offer threat of force... just because mint jelly?

How in our history is there traction for such a way of thinking as you describe? An "it worked for them so it could work for us" model. (ethos) How has such demonstrated as advantageous to you in a way that you believe would be useful to others? (pathos) What may be a non-starter for you is none the less a fundamental requirement in our society for now - of course we can discuss changing that ... we do need to start somewhere.

Fantasy worlds, even Tlon, don't become more real through accreted fantasy. I fret that some among us may be using fictional Klingons as excuse for anti-social behavior. :readingbook:
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 14, 2018 08:55PM)
Jonathan in 1833: "Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to Mohawks and Ojibwe and other savages?"
Jonathan in 1874: "Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to women, vis-a-vis a 'right' to vote?"
Jonathan in 1950: "Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to Negroes, having a right to 'equal' schools?"
Jonathan in 1969 (the night before Stonewall): "Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to homosexuals?"
Jonathan in 2018: "Where, in our constitution and case law do we apply the notions of rights and consent to our non-human neighbors?"

As I sometimes say, a conservtive is merely a slow liberal. And a liberal is merely a slow radical. Ideas and ideals that once were laughed at by everybody are now treated as common sense truths.

But I do agree with you that we have to start somewhere. And "somewhere," I think, is some place like these places:
*The first legal code established by Europeans in North America was the Body of Liberties established here in Massachusetts in 1641: among its many provisions was this one, which protected the rights ("natural liberties) "Off the Bruite Creature," to wit: "No man shall exercise any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man's use." and "If any man shall have occasion to leade or drive Cattel from place to place that is far of, so that they be weary, or hungry, or fall sick, or lambe, It shall be lawful to rest or refresh them, for competant time, in any open place that is not Corne, meadow, or inclosed for some peculiar use."
*In 2015, New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe briefly granted Habeas corpus to two chimpanzees held captive at the time by SUNY. [continued below]
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 14, 2018 09:00PM)
[continued--I will have to try finishing this message tomorrow--the Café serve is not letting me complete it now, for some reason. So here is just a fragment:]

*In 2017, the Spanish Congress agreed to redefine nonhuman animals as "sentient beings" rather than inanimate objects.
*Harvard University now has an Animal Law & Policy Program; University of Virginia, Lewis and Clark, Stanford, and other universities now also have animal law programs. There are now also many animal law journals. So creative jurists, law scholars, and activists are finding ways to expand legal protections of nonhumans.

In fact there are many, many state and federal laws pertaining to animal protection already. But most of them are very poor and do not cover the vast majority of animals.

Finally, if "ethos" is your guide, consider the number of Americans who claim to "love" animals, who become incensed at stories of animal "cruelty," and who are fascinated by nature programming. I am very pessimistic about the possibility of legal and social reform, but no one can say that there is no basis whatsoever. Nor are animal rights advocates treated with more incredulity and ridicule than abolitionists, gay rights advocates, and Suffragettes once were.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 14, 2018 09:41PM)
[quote]On Jan 14, 2018, Dannydoyle wrote:
... And incidentally I would prefer animals removed from magic acts. [/quote]

Ringling Brothers Circus is gone. Jack Kodell (who was ever so careful with his avian partners) stopped working decades ago. The market has spoken. But "removed from" ... that grammar ... the passive bureaucratic voice which precedes imposed systemic violence. :(

We have ASPCA, PETA and a general disapproval for unsympathetic behavior, especially directing cruelty toward others... at least while we're watching ... so livestreaming cameras might be part of an answer.

Evolving our morality while maintaining some social/economic integrity looks to be a challenge. Something about the internet... parallel to the "Santa is watching" idea... hmmm

Siri, how do you feel when I restart my phone? Is that okay google?
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Jan 15, 2018 01:20AM)

Regarding your cat, you just said it best- "If I CHOOSE to live with a rat or dog or horse"... the fact there is that YOU chose the situation for the animal. Nothing was mutual. I was saying that the very idea of you owning a cat at all is hypocritical to someone of your belief system. There would be no justification for you participating in taking the wild out of an animal by having it live by your side. As for the rabies comment, WHOA... First, your view should have no issues here because it would be survival of the fittest, and who are you to even say that rabies is a bad thing- maybe it's another mechanism of evolution! Second, do you know what typically happens in a suspected rabies case? The offending animal, if it's a stray and can be found, is usually killed and has its head chopped off and sent in for testing. It really seems to me that you're better off steering clear of that whole hornets nest and letting nature take its course (crap, I may have just used "hornets nest" in a bad connotation and I guess they're animals too...).

Bonobos- my point was very simple. By your logic, we're simply highly evolved animals. You said that we have to choose which animal to model our behavior after. If that's the case, then yes, it would only make sense that we'd have quite a bit in common with the critter that shares 98.8% of our DNA. This would include eating animals, or killing the outsider using mob violence (with no consequence).

For myself, I do not believe that we are animals, and it therefore makes sense that I am NOT like them. So, I am saying the exact opposite of "we should do something because animals do it". We do share some things, such as breathing air, walking on the ground, and yes, eating meat. But, we as humans have the ability to see the inherent immorality in certain things, so we don't typically speak very highly of things like extramarital sex (or, again, killing the outsider using mob violence).

As for the bible... we obviously disagree here. I believe in it 110% but it's really not even necessary for the sake of this argument. I only mentioned it to point out that it's my foundation, and so we are obviously going to arrive at very different conclusions.

(By the way, the bible does not condone slavery. Yes, there were, and are, many people out there who quote the bible to try to justify their actions. But that doesn't mean it's a valid reading of scripture. In fact, Exodus 21:26 says that stealing a man and selling him is punishable by death).
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 15, 2018 09:18AM)
The slave stealing/selling looks to be in Exodus 21:16

I don't understand the idea of being made of the same things as other creatures on this world, having all the characteristics of what we call animal, rather than vegetable or mineral - yet claiming not to be an animal. Sapience (twice) looks like a pretty good distinction from other animals.

Chimps look to be more violent than expected. I'll look at what's easily available about Bonobos.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 15, 2018 07:07PM)
I'm just not seeing traction for the notions. There are no Mohawk among us, and the only OJibway (Chipawa) I've met was not claiming tribal identity. Sometimes it looks like racism has mutated into cultural identity product. Stereotypes plus some expectation that one person's great grandfather's suffering at the hands of bigots was somehow more relevant than someone else's. An ugly and unproductive distraction from what we face today in common. As counterexample - notice audience responses during the movie [url=https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_(film)]2001 scene with this dialog (from wiki):[/url]
HAL: By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
Dave: No, not at all.
HAL: Well, forgive me for being so inquisitive; but during the past few weeks, I've wondered whether you might be having some second thoughts about the mission.
Dave: How do you mean?
HAL: Well, it's rather difficult to define. Perhaps I'm just projecting my own concern about it. I know I've never completely freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission. I'm sure you'll agree there's some truth in what I say.
Dave: Well, I don't know. That's rather a difficult question to answer.
HAL: You don't mind talking about it, do you, Dave?
Dave: No, not at all.
HAL: Well, certainly no one could have been unaware of the very strange stories floating around before we left. Rumors about something being dug up on the moon. I never gave these stories much credence. But particularly in view of some of the other things that have happened, I find them difficult to put out of my mind. For instance, the way all our preparations were kept under such tight security, and the melodramatic touch of putting Drs. Hunter, Kimball, and Kaminsky aboard, already in hibernation after four months of separate training on their own.
Dave: You working up your crew psychology report?
HAL: Of course I am. Sorry about this. I know it's a bit silly. [/quote]




Under those narratives is a question about how much our model of reality helps us survive - or puts us at risk.

Where in the rainbow is magenta?
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Jan 16, 2018 10:50AM)
You can bloviate about all the radical ideas you want. You can keep repeating them. Just keep in mind that repeating bad argument makes you repetitive, not correct.

Animals can not and do not participate in our society. Unless of course you intend to give them the right to vote. Which I hope you see as silly. As such they are not equals in our society. It really is simple.
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 16, 2018 09:26PM)
There are two kinds of ignorance--a lack of education, and a refusal to be educated. The first can be easily remedied. The second cannot.

FreeFall, I have directed you to the science, but you refuse it, saying simply that you "do not believe that we are animals." You also write, "We do share some things, such as breathing air, walking on the ground, and yes, eating meat," while ignoring all of the scientific evidence showing that other animals have complex cognition and feeling, memory, emotions, can suffer trauma and other forms of psychological harm and distress, and so on. So until you're willing to engage with actual facts, I'm afraid that we have nothing more to say to one another on this topic.

Jonathan, you seem to be willfully misunderstanding my argument, and also answering in such a cryptic way I don't know what it is you're asking me to respond to.

Danny, I am not sure why you are bothering to engage on this thread at all (a forum on ethics in magic) when all you seem capable of doing is hurling angry invective. I would think you had better things to do with your time than to go around insulting strangers. (It is astonishing to me how much of Café culture consists of angry men insulting one another the live long day.) You say you don't like my arguments, and yet you don't have the decency to engage substantively with a single one of them. You say that it's absurd to grant moral rights or obligations to other animals because it would entail giving them the right to vote. Well, human infants can't vote either, and they don't have the right to. But we don't grant ourselves permission to slaughter them, do we? To say that dogs should have the right to vote is absurd, because dogs do not have the capacity to vote. (It would be like me protesting that men should have a right to abortion, like women, on grounds of reverse sexism.) But while dogs don't have an interest in voting, they do have an interest in not being tortured with a blow torch, or having their eyes plucked out, or being chained to a post all day in the cold. The idea of granting legal protections to nonhumans is no different than the idea of granting protections to vulnerable human members of society.
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Jan 17, 2018 09:24AM)
Yea silly on the face of it but keep going. It is funny.

Who here is advocating torturing a dog with a blowtorch?

The reason nobody wants to engage with you on substance is you have none. You throw up ridiculous straw men such as dogs being tortured with a blow torch and then wonder why nobody wants to talk logically with you. NOBODY advocated that which I have seen so please explain to me why you bring it up?

We have laws that do not allow people to torture animals. Please do not speak as if we don't. Also do not equate the right not to be tortured, with having rights in a society. If you want to be spoken with as if you are serious then please make serious arguments.

Also the old tired radical idea of automatically painting the opposition as angry simply does not work any more. Nothing I have said is out of anger. If you took a poll of everyone on this thread about who is angry my guess is you would poll higher than anyone. Please stop the old radical playbook on me as it does not work.

We DO grant protections to non humans. That does not mean they have rights. Try to keep up.

There is a third kind of ignorance. Blind loyalty to an agenda. Want to guess who suffers from that?
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 17, 2018 11:41AM)
[quote]On Jan 17, 2018, Dannydoyle wrote:
There is a third kind of ignorance. Blind loyalty to an agenda. Want to guess who suffers from that? [/quote]


Every now and then someone argues by example without getting called subversive. We'll see if this time around it's got more traction.

Ethical life in this city and life among others not of this city has been a problem we've lived with since the words metropolitan and cosmopolitan ... see Jonathan Swift's story for what happens when a guy goes native in a city of horses. It's all about the Yahoos. :)
Message: Posted by: Melies (Jan 19, 2018 04:18PM)
My point about dogs being blowtorched--which, by the way, they have been, legally, in our society: I myself have seen photographs of beagles blowtorched in burn experiments conducted by scientists (and those are not the worst forms of torture nonhumans are subjected to in labs, legally)--was that you presumably think that's *wrong* to do. If you think it's wrong, then you do seem to believe that animals should have some rights, like the right not to be blowtorched. As for existing legal protections for nonhumans, they are virtually meaningless--as I have said. In any event, what you don't seem to get, still, is that normative ethics is about how we should act--not about how we do.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 19, 2018 04:47PM)
[quote]On Jan 19, 2018, Melies wrote:
... normative ethics is about how we should act--not about how we do. [/quote]
Agreed. It's a social dialog. That golden rule about [i]not doing unto others[/i] does not seem to be pulling its weight. At a guess, the notion of "agency" is acting as more persuasive than the notion of "intrinsic rights". There's also what looks like resentment about "rules" and bureaucracy as signposts of entrenched social violence.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 19, 2018 07:36PM)
I'm not going to discuss animal harm porn or studies like this one: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26450656

Maybe we have a difference in perception about whether ethos is magically prescriptive (nobody can B because they are a good S) or operationally consequential (most folks don't want to B for fear of punishment in the land of S). Norm of what group where? Subject to variation over what range of gain/loss? Language serves who?

I suggest there's value in asking someone to describe that scene quoted in an earlier post from the movie 2001, as a fair empathy indicator. (start instruments) And by the way I have yet to read of someone complaining that they imagined HAL9000 was a person elsewhere in the ship who needs to use a speech synthesizer. It's okay to scoff - blame the unreliable narrator - or the last episode of MASH... any safety valve you want is fine. And 5,4,3,2,1 (end recording)
Message: Posted by: Dannydoyle (Jan 19, 2018 08:01PM)
[quote]On Jan 19, 2018, Melies wrote:
My point about dogs being blowtorched--which, by the way, they have been, legally, in our society: I myself have seen photographs of beagles blowtorched in burn experiments conducted by scientists (and those are not the worst forms of torture nonhumans are subjected to in labs, legally)--was that you presumably think that's *wrong* to do. If you think it's wrong, then you do seem to believe that animals should have some rights, like the right not to be blowtorched. As for existing legal protections for nonhumans, they are virtually meaningless--as I have said. In any event, what you don't seem to get, still, is that normative ethics is about how we should act--not about how we do. [/quote]

And what you don't get is animals are not humans. Get over it.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 19, 2018 08:51PM)
I get the feeling Melies is arguing for something closer to:
What validates our social self-respect [i]as humans[/i] should include an aversion to doing callous harm to even the lowest of others.

Saying "they're not human..." puts us on that slippery slope of "they're poor", "they're not white European freemen", "they're homosexual", "they're heathens"..."they're only computer programs"... they, they, they... :(

I don't like to apply the notion of "right" as it's not a commutative property - we don't expect the dog should not bite us or the cat not to chase the mouse... especially because we bestow upon the dog, mouse and cat a right not to get bitten or chased by us.
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Jan 19, 2018 09:10PM)
Theory question - is there an understood precondition of a thing existing to discussion of a thing having the quality of being "good"?
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (May 21, 2018 06:49PM)
Magic has pretty much turned away from animal abuse. Look back to the guy who invented the vanishing bird cage - rather than the movie version with dead canaries and a wind up contraption. http://www.themagicdetective.com/2011/02/vanishing-bird-cage-history.html
A couple of items from our prestige journal might help make the case. Genii Magazine August 1976 page 512 and the ad on page 312 May 1978 for a real :(. We've gone so far as to turn away from the guy who wanted to show a trick with involves pushing a goldfish into position as a way of revealing a selected card. Not even a goldfish. We're doing fine IMHO. No cause to annoy an elderly magician who reminisces about some acts he saw long ago. And no reason to complain about a circus which had already toured its last. That looks like kicking a man when he's down and beating a dead horse. Let's build something better.

Animal farming - animal research... if our economy keeps moving we'll likely move beyond in this or the next generation. But the norm for what's useful and interesting has moved beyond casual disregard for animals early last century. We have "comfort animals" on airplane issues now. Of course I noticed the cringeworthy echo of last century in that phrase. As with homeland security the past never entirely goes away but the norm for what's useful and interesting keeps moving. No droid rights movement yet - folks still enjoy watching Star Wars... but we're moving. Even on that front we've had Westworld, Blade Runner, Chappie... it's gaining traction.

In the large of our culture those who are looking for avenues to explore have moved very far from thoughts about dumb animals and have gone to wonder about uploaded nerve connectomes becoming sapient, see Stross's story Lobsters for example. http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/accelerando/accelerando.html#Lobsters The lobsters have a future. We've done pretty well in choosing to respect the life of a canary two centuries ago to recent ponderings about when we need to give Siri civil rights.

Here's a few lines from the Stross story in novel form :[quote]"The lobsters are sentient," Manfred persists. "What about those poor kittens? Don't they deserve minimal rights? How about you? How would you like to wake up a thousand times inside a smart bomb, fooled into thinking that some Cheyenne Mountain battle computer's target of the hour is your heart's desire? How would you like to wake up a thousand times, only to die again? Worse: The kittens are probably not going to be allowed to run. They're too ****ing dangerous – they grow up into cats, solitary and highly efficient killing machines. With intelligence and no socialization they'll be too dangerous to have around. They're prisoners, Pam, raised to sentience only to discover they're under a permanent death sentence. How fair is that?"

"But they're only uploads." Pamela stares at him. "Software, right? You could reinstantiate them on another hardware platform, like, say, your Aineko. So the argument about killing them doesn't really apply, does it?"

"So? We're going to be uploading humans in a couple of years. I think we need to take a rain check on the utilitarian philosophy, before it bites us on the cerebral cortex. Lobsters, kittens, humans -- it's a slippery slope."

Franklin clears his throat. "I'll be needing an NDA and various due-diligence statements off you for the crusty pilot idea," he says to Manfred. "Then I'll have to approach Jim about buying the IP."

"No can do." Manfred leans back and smiles lazily. "I'm not going to be a party to depriving them of their civil rights. Far as I'm concerned, they're free citizens..."[/quote]
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Aug 7, 2018 07:31PM)
Is this better or worse?

Message: Posted by: ringmaster (Dec 16, 2018 10:48PM)
It is a shame this wasn't posted in New Jersey newpapers.
Message: Posted by: Ray Pierce (Dec 18, 2018 12:07AM)
I do love animals and I love interacting with them and learning from them. I've been able to work with many exotic animals over the years and my favorite feeling was in an ad for a park I worked for years ago. On one side of the page it showed an animal coach with the quote, "Hi, I'm Mark... I have Corky trained to jump through a hoop then I give her a fish." On the other side of the page is a sea lion with the quote, "Hi, I'm Corky... I have Mark trained to give me a fish when I jump through a hoop." We work with them to find mutually beneficial activities which yield in better understanding and communication with them. It was a beautiful relationship that allowed mutual growth and satisfaction.