When the Spirit Moves You to Slaughter a Pig (on the Living Room floor)

» February 12th, 2013

I recently read Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997). The book is magisterial and heartrending and more. At some point the spirit will catch you as you read this book and you, unless your heart is made of cement, will fall down (I stumbled into a pool of emotion on page 213).

The story centers on a large and loving Hmong family who immigrated to Merced, California after being driven from Laos in the wake of the Vietnam War. The book’s driving theme is the cultural clash that exploded around the medical treatment provided for Lia, the epileptic daughter of Foua and Nao Kao. The title is the Hmong translation of epilepsy, a condition that the Hmong imbue with spiritual power. If nothing else, that translation alone should provide some sense of how Foua and Nao Kao felt when the most talented and dedicated pediatricians in the world (a married couple who were valedictorians of their class and ran eight miles every other day) decided to treat Lia with the most advanced narcotics western medicine had to offer. What was wrong, the Hmong wondered, with traditional practices, like bathing the child in herbal stew or rubbing hot coins on her chest?

It’s an epic story—and one I encourage you to read.  For now, though, I’m going to focus on a small aspect of the book that led me to confront a big conundrum. Food is a driving force in the narrative. Turns out the Hmong culture is entirely defined by and inseparable from animal sacrifice.  It’s impossible to overstate how deeply these peoples’ collective identity—one they must constantly reify as they are repeatedly displaced—is grounded in ritualistic and, from a western perspective, barbaric slaughter of chickens, goats, pigs, cows, and (it is suggested but denied) dogs. These animals (evidently not dogs) are sacrificed regularly, often within the home, and are consumed to mark births, deaths, marriages, and a variety of celebrations signified by a Hmong calendar structured by the time of day that a rooster calls. Sacrifices are also used to heal (it’s called Neeb). Ritualism complements a rare brand of self-sufficiency, something the Hmong value so instinctively that they’ve been cited for hunting pigeons with a bow and arrow in the streets of Philadelphia.

Fadiman, to her credit, doesn’t ignore the thorny ethics of the matter, although her assessment almost certainly won’t sit well with animal advocates. Essentially, she tells squeamish white people to get over it. It is with more than tacit approval that she quotes a UC-Berkeley professor who says, “So what if the Hmong feel they have to slaughter animals to make the proper kinds of sacrifices? Why not?”  Fadiman herself chides the citizens of Merced for seeking ordinances to ban the household slaughter of animals, noting (in a rare moment of implausibility) that the “animals were killed quickly and cleanly” and, more plausibly, that the rituals were central to “the need to heal sick family members.” She continues to note that, “In Merced, almost every Hmong family I met sacrificed animals on a regular basis,” adding that this activity was so normalized in the minds of the Hmong that, when she asked if white neighbors might be bothered by a cow’s head left on the front stoop during a celebration, Nao Kao said, “Americans would think it was okay because we have the receipt for the cow.”

As my anthropologist friend Ward always says: culture matters. 

It would be easy, as so many animal rights activists do, to dismiss Fadiman and the Hmong practice of ritual slaughter on abstracted moral grounds. That is, it would be easy to reduce this cultural and religious expression to the secular moral imperative that “unnecessary killing of a sentient being is wrong, no matter what the context.” I’ve taken this position in the past, especially when advocates of backyard slaughter in the United States insist that urban immigrant communities shouldn’t be prevented from pursuing inveterate cultural expressions. Fadiman, however, so effectively drives home the fundamental connection between slaughter and identity that it has forced me to rethink the matter, or at least forgo the convenient resort to moral essentialism. If there’s anything that I’m reminded of daily as an advocate for animals, it’s that theory and practice never converge the way we’d like it too. Again, like it or not, culture matters.

I’m well aware how dangerous this shift is for advocates of animal rights, so much so that I’m almost hesitant to raise the issue. After all, if we allow the ethics of slaughter to enter the slipstream of cultural difference we open matters up to a radically pliable relativism, thus allowing any group with a vague cultural claim to justify the unnecessary killing of animals. Humans thrive at fabricating justifications to serve our tribal interests. If we condone it once, we lay the basis for infinite justification. I’m also well aware how easy it has been to avoid confronting this issue, as we have implicitly allowed ourselves to be protected by the common cinematic trope that animal sacrifice signifies cultural backwardness, a form a “genial bigotry” (Fadiman’s phrase) perpetuated by movies such as Borat.

Still, this book encouraged me to rethink the relevance of the cultural context of exploitation. It made me realize that, when culture is taken seriously, and not relegated to an insulting stereotype, it’s very difficult to say that all exploitation is exploitation, period. Lia goes through utter hell with her disease and eventually reaches a state (this is not a spoiler alert) requiring non-stop vigilance by her parents who selflessly dedicate every moment of their lives to loving their egregiously impaired daughter with unfathomable dedication. You become so pulled into the emotional rhythms of this family’s trials and tribulations that when they throw a birthday party for Lia (who at this point in the story is eight), you are more than emotionally invested when, “the sidewalk outside the East 12th Street apartment overflowed with relatives and Hmong children.” That same feeling persists when, “Foua served Hmong eggrolls stuffed with minced pork and onion; steamed bananas with rice, chickens that been sacrificed that morning, and their skulls and tongues examined for divinatory signs. . .”

In isolation, this scene, from an animal rights perspective, is easy to judge. Again, just resort to the handy moral imperative: “It is always wrong to exploit animals if they do not need to be exploited.” Great. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. End of discussion. But the problem now is that I’m not in the land of moral abstraction. I’m on the sidewalk with the Hmong. The decision to eat animals is suddenly inseparable from the family with whom I’ve come to deeply and powerfully empathize and identify. I’ve watched the parents in particular demonstrate a rare and moving sort of love for their impaired daughter. I’ve watched a fiercely independent and loyal Hmong community make the cause of Lia their own. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell these good people, during this rare moment of celebratory bliss, that what they are doing is speciesist. It was in reading (and living) this sidewalk scene that I came to a simple but tectonic-plate shifting realization: there’s a difference between the bar-b-que sandwich going into the mouth of a white Austin frat boy and the minced pork eggrolls being eaten by the Hmong on a sidewalk in Merced.

What that difference implies in terms of reasonable activism is beyond me (at this point) to explain. But it provides—as thinking honestly about animals typically does—yet another problem to take seriously. Very seriously. And it’s not without hope for change toward a more animal-friendly way of life. My starting point for unraveling this complicated matter of ethics and culture and food and the Hmong begins with two distinct observations that I took from the book. First, the final birthday party food listed by Fadiman, alongside the traditional Hmong chicken and pork eggrolls, was a bag of Doritos. Second, Fadiman mentioned cases in which Hmong families who lacked access to livestock used “stones in place of animals” to carry out the essential rituals. The horrifying prospect of a Dorito substitution notwithstanding, culture matters and, fortunately, cultures can, as these examples attest, change without losing the spirit that caught them in the first place.

tomorrow: the perils of academic writing about animals

 

94 Responses to When the Spirit Moves You to Slaughter a Pig (on the Living Room floor)

  1. Jennifer says:

    This story titled “Hmong’s Sacrifice of Puppy Reopens Cultural Wounds : Traditions: Immigrant shaman’s act stirs outrage in Fresno, but he believes it was only way to cure his ill wife.” from 1995 in the Los Angeles Times covers this issue also http://articles.latimes.com/1995-12-16/news/mn-14591_1_hmong-community

  2. Louisa says:

    James, And what’s your opinion on the cultural rituals of genital mutilation and in India, suttee, in which Hindu widows burn to death on their husband’s funeral pyre?

  3. Doug says:

    People perpetrate any number of atrocities on animals and other people in the name of “culture”. As mentioned by Louisa, there is genital mutilation and suttee. Also, exploitation of women and girls in many societies, killing of female babies, killing of rape victims, dog fighting, cock fighting, rodeos, circuses, unbelievable abuse of animals. The list never ends. Is this story saying that we should reconsider our objections to those actions also. I agree that in attempting to change a practice, the cultural context should be taken into account, but that does not mean that we should not continue to fight. What’s wrong is wrong, regardless of how long it has been done or how important it is to the perpetrators.

  4. Edie says:

    just came across this story today (on facebook btw ;)

    Mother bear kills cub and then itself:

    http://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Asia/Story/A1Story20110805-292947.html

    • Edie says:

      The bears on the farm had their gall bladders milked daily for ‘bear bile,’ which is used as a remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

    • John T. Maher says:

      This is an old story and one I show a PPT slide of in my anti Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) presentations. While there is an ethical imperitive to stp these practices, which will increase under the KORUS so-called free trade agreement with Korea (other countries such as China and Vietnam also farm bear bile), I seriously do not think it is apropriate to use this blog as an activist platform which throws up outrageous acts of cruelty with no context, understanding or collegial discussion the way Facebook is used and misused. Cafe JMC is often an agora of conflicting arguments that one is better by knowing but would not be so if it rallied round the cause of the day.

      If you realy want to change something write to the governments where bear bile is farmed and shae them and write to the US government and other TPP countries and tell them this practice is cruel and disgusting and should get them voted out of office. Everyone here already (mostly, I hope) condemns bear bile so posting here does no good for the bears. If you want to make a difference for bears as opposed to passing along the negative karma load of the Beloved-like bear post, then gGo do that instead. I dare you!

  5. Sailesh Rao says:

    Not to mention the Roman practice of beheading slaves and lighting a wick on their warm bodies to light up their night time bacchanalia. But then, the purpose is not to heal a child…

    Take cannibalism – after all, cannibals only ate someone from another tribe. If cannibals ritualistically murdered and ate another tribesman in order to heal their sick child, would that be OK? If that’s not OK, but the ritualistic killing of a pig for the same purpose is OK, then isn’t that speciesism?

    We are at a stage in human relations with the Earth where every culture needs to evolve. The Hmong culture appears to be no exception. While I don’t believe in coercing cultures to evolve, I wish they would do so quickly for delaying has serious consequences for our children and grandchildren.

    • John T. Maher says:

      Rao your broad statement on cannibals is incorrect. Many cannibals, especially theose in PNG, ritually eat ancestors and not at all/exclusively/only members of another tribe. I am extremely suspicious of generalizations such as yours which do a disservice to both sholarship and cannibals.

      I will post again later on cosmopolitanism, the Hmong and human exceptionalism.

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        Sorry, didn’t mean to impugn scholarship or practicing cannibals. However, my point applies to eating ancestors as well.

  6. N. Allen says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all the comments here. Are you going to address any of them? You’re engaging in what I consider the very untenable position of moral relativism.

  7. CQ says:

    Perhaps deserving mention here are the millions (billions?) of rats, mice, dogs, pigs, sheep, and, until very recently, chimpanzees who are tortured and often killed in “scientific” experiments performed to improve human health and save human lives.

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      I sat next to a Post Doc on a plane, whose job it was to cut open a live mouse every day and study some phenomenon in a live cell in her beating heart. Of course the mouse dies soon and another live mouse has to be cut open again.

      I asked him if he has understood the workings of the heart cell and he told me that it would take about 1000-1500 scientists to describe the workings of that single cell. This is called frontier science. And now we discover that many aspects of the mouse don’t really carry over to human beings.

      Perhaps we need to rethink our current paradigm where we pour carcinogens into the environment during the manufacture of industrial products, ingest those carcinogens in concentrated doses through animal foods and then swallow medicines and undergo expensive surgical procedures to fix the resulting problems. It is time to check out of it.

  8. Lori says:

    Whoa! This subject is quite complex and controversial and kudos to you for taking it on.

    As an undergrad at UCLA in “World Arts and Cultures,” my anthropology professors always made the point that culture is not static. It is a living, breathing phenomenon. And as much as anthropologists and elders of a culture may want to preserve it, it will change. It was not the job of we anthropology students and ethnographers to try and preserve it, but to merely record it and analyze it as objectively as possible.

    This is something that stuck with me and it is something that we can keep in mind as we deal with cultural expressions that are harmful to people and animals.

  9. mark gillono says:

    as George Bernard Shaw said “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.” i wonder if it was any comfort to the human slaves who were whipped, raped and killed that slavery was a deeply ingrained custom in the South? to the victims involved, there is NO difference between the frat boy and the Hmong and everything becomes so much clearer if one looks at things from the victims point of view.

  10. Monica Ball says:

    “there’s a difference between the bar-b-que sandwich going into the mouth of a white Austin frat boy and the minced pork eggrolls being eaten by the Hmong on a sidewalk in Merced”

    For the individuals murdered, there is zero difference. For those of us fighting on their behalf, there is no discernible difference. To claim otherwise is to display one’s speciesism unless you’re also willing to find some important difference between violence committed against humans when done out of deeply held cultural convictions as opposed to when it’s done for profit or out of selfishness, boredom, habit, hatred, etc.

    • Mountain says:

      Likewise, for the animals killed, there is zero difference between being killed to be turned into meat & being killed because your habitat was the field on which grain was being grown.

  11. mijnheer says:

    Yes, culture does matter and does have ethical weight. But times change and so can cultures. Here are two pieces about Alberta Thompson, who spoke out against the revival of whaling by her tribe, the Makah of Washington state.
    http://articles.latimes.com/1998/oct/04/local/me-29124
    http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2012/04/12/memorial-for-a-brave-and-inspirational-makah-elder-1361

  12. Doug says:

    As a long term horse guardian who spends a lot of time among “horse people” I have had it up to here with talk about tradition and heritage. Rodeos, barbecues, stock shows, cattle roundups, hunting, branding, etc., are all celebrated as part or our “western heritage.” I hear it so much it makes me want to puke. Even feigned indignation about the plight of the wild mustangs on BLM land abruptly ends when it is mentioned that the cattle industry is demanding the removal of the mustangs from our federal land. Talk of cultural heritage is nothing more than a way of rationalizing the continued abuse and exploitation of both animals and people.

    • Lori says:

      Doug, I agree that the American “western heritage” is very hard to take. Sometimes I think it’s much harder to deal with elements of our own culture than those foreign to us. Although I grew up in mostly in California, my parents were born and raised in Oklahoma. I have relatives there and in Texas. I find cowboy culture revolting and struggle to take my own advice about respecting and understanding cultures when it comes to this one. Maybe the closer the culture is to us, the more we see the rotten elements and the more entitled we feel to dismiss it. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this. Perhaps it’s the Hmong born and raised here who will be the ones to force change in that one.

  13. John T. Maher says:

    We get a simila argument with the suporters of Michael Vick who argue, inter alia, that he should not have been punuished because he is black and black males are uniched at a disproprtionate rate; that Vick was under privileged; that dogfighting is part of the black American culture, etc. (These arguements are found on both sports blogs and were argued to me firsthand by a Profesor of Sociology at an animal conference where I recently spoke. As a rootless cosmopolitan with contempt for all cultures equally, I say, is it not racism to hold the Hmong or Michael Vick to a lesser ethical standard which condones cultural practices involving animal cruelty? I stress mainstream middle class American culture is no exception and rtures and kills billions of animals. The legal case of Church of Leukemi Babalu where the US Supreme Court specifically ruled that municipalities may nt discriminate against religious practices involving animla sacrifice proves this point. The Supreme Court ruled this way because it did not want any (well there are so-called religion neutral (they are not) restrictions on human sacrifice and sex acts invoving humans). The evolution of consciousness and resultant law must be away from cruelty no matter what the cultural practices. These cultural practices by the Hmong are as disgusting as any other cultural and religious practices and the same anti cruelty standard should be applied. The problem is working within cultures to change these repugant acts of cruelty. By the way, getting rid of humanism would help a great deal.

    By the way, Anne Fadiman is the silver spoon daughter of midcentury modern lowbrow critic Clifton Fadiman who singlehandedly decreased the average American IQ by a good 15 points of so. I disliked her book and found even Andy White’s “Death of a Pig” and the Daeth of Basque Pig chapter of Mayles’ book a more compelling insight into cultural animal sacrifices such as those of the Hmong or middle class America. I am hoping compassion is an unintended cosnequence of globalisation, although all signs point the otherway.

  14. James says:

    Readers,
    Just now had a chance to read these comments. I think I should have better stressed how integral animal sacrifice is to the Hmong way of life. Life, death, and the meaning of living—and I am not exaggerating—would be ruined for the Hmong of you took away animal sacrifice. They would cease to be Hmong. Folks, I’m not saying this attachment to animal sacrifice is good thing. I’m just saying that it’s a reality. We can hide behind all our moral imperatives all we want, but this hard fact will still be there. It’s very uncomfortable to have our secure beliefs jarred, but here it is: to deny the Hmong their animal sacrifice would be a form of speciesism as well–against the group of humans known as Hmong. It’s important that, as vegan advocates, we learn to live with a little discomfort and humility in face of the complexity of culture. It’s always nice to have a firm foundation under your feet, but the authentic thinker, in my humble opinion, must fall off a cliff every now and then and admit that it’s scary.
    -jm

    • John T. Maher says:

      Absolutely question your own footing. However, the Hmong ceased to be a differentiated culture once they engaged with the usual isms: capitalism, colonialism, modernism and globalism — some of theseinterventions going back to Burmese dominance. Their cultural practices of animal sacrifice are, at best, as sentimental as the attorney who said “god bless you” to me when I sneezed today and are as unworthy of moral and societal protection as any other human superstition. Humanist eyhical cutouts are a slipperly slope and I note it is always the humans who get to decide and the animals who get to die. by the way, I still do not know exactly hw to express my thoughts about the university professor in New York who sacrifices small pigs. All of the above applies to this priivileged white woman as well. Suggestions and counterarguments would be appreciated.

      • Lori says:

        “However, the Hmong ceased to be a differentiated culture once they engaged with the usual isms: capitalism, colonialism, modernism and globalism — some of theseinterventions going back to Burmese dominance. ”

        How so? Particularly since most of these “isms” have been forced upon them. Even so, how does an ism cause one to cease being a culture? Just curious.

      • carolyn z says:

        There is some really intense, unchecked racism and neocolonialist newspeak happening in the comments of this post, I don’t even know where to begin to address it. Is this really the state of vegan advocacy, do we really as a group have this piss poor an understanding of human rights and how to navigate the state of the world and its cultures? It is so upsetting– it is almost enough for me to stop reading any more comments on any of James’ posts. How awful. Somebody please assure me that this is just vegans being asinine behind the comfort of the internet, before I pull a blanket over my head and hide for the rest of the century.

  15. Monica Ball says:

    “to deny the Hmong their animal sacrifice would be a form of speciesism as well–against the group of humans known as Hmong”

    Unless we view the Hmong as a different species, this argument does not hold water.

    And the idea that a certain culture would cease to be if some aspect of that culture was abandoned isn’t very honest. Cultures evolve. Old, barbaric traditions are left behind and new–hopefully less barbaric ones–take their place.

    “Fadiman mentioned cases in which Hmong families who lacked access to livestock used ‘stones in place of animals’ to carry out the essential rituals” — I don’t think those families are now considered to be something other than Hmong.

    And I have to wonder if you would be so understanding of the integral role of sacrifice in Hmong culture if those being sacrificed were human children. If so and if you would still be advising against the use of moral imperatives in that case, then that would at least be consistent. If however, the victims were innocent humans, and this someone changed the equation for you, that is speciesism pure and simple.

  16. Doug says:

    James,
    Would you feel the same way if we were talking about human sacrifice instead of animal sacrifice? Let me change a couple of words in your response and see if you would feel the same.
    Life, death, and the meaning of living—and I am not exaggerating—would be ruined for the Hmong of you took away human sacrifice.
    to deny the Hmong their human sacrifice would be a form of speciesism as well–against the group of humans known as Hmong.
    So, are you saying that we just sit back and accept this because “that’s the way it is”? Yes for me it’s a moral imperative. I’m not hiding behind it. On the contrary I’m fighting for it.

    • Mountain says:

      If the sacrifice of one (1) human prevented the abuse and killing of two (2) animals, would you be in favor of it? If not, how is that not speciesist?

      • Edie says:

        “To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man…. It is my constant prayer that there may be born on earth some great spirit, man or woman, fired with divine pity, who will deliver us from this heinous sin, save the lives of the innocent creatures, and purify the temple. How is it that Bengal with all its knowledge, intelligence, sacrifice, and emotion tolerates this slaughter?”

        Taken from Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth.

      • Doug says:

        Totally irrelevant. That’s like asking if the death of one woman prevented the rape of two, would I be in favor of it. No, I would be adamantly opposed to both, as I would be with your hypothetical trading of human lives for animal lives.

        • Mountain says:

          Not irrelevant at all, since there is a direct link between human use of resources and its impact on animals. There is no plausible link between the death of one woman and the rape of two. If we are serious about preventing or minimizing harm to animals, instead of (as James would say) not having a cow, shouldn’t we instead not have a kid?

      • Monica Ball says:

        And what if you were on a deserted island with only a chicken? Would you eat her? (Or insert any other ludicrous “what if” scenario. Point being that there isn’t any plausible situation in which sacrificing a human will save two animals. This has nothing to do with the Hmong culture or any culture and is a ridiculous question.)

        • James says:

          Monica,
          With all respect, I don’t think these hypothetical scenarios are any more ridiculous than thinking it’s possible for humans to live life without harming animals. Incidentally, in so far as we should live lives that reduce animal suffering as much as we can, the Hmong undertaking the occasional slaughter are, by virtue of their general impoverishment, far less harmful to animals than a middle or upper middle class vegan living comfortably in a modern capitalist society. These are simply tough issues.
          James

          • Monica Ball says:

            James – I agree that it’s impossible to live without harming animals. I don’t believe I’ve stated anything to the contrary. I do however believe it’s a waste of time and energy to entertain ludicrous “what if’s” that will never happen. People who raise these scenarios are simply attempting to divert the focus from the real issue and/or find a loophole wherein an ethical vegan might admit they might be OK with harming an animal or engaging in some other unethical activity in some bizarre, random, implausible circumstance. And therefore, in their minds, it magically becomes OK to hurt animals and engage in other unethical activities in other circumstances which actually do occur on a daily basis.

            And I agree that the lifestyle of middle class vegans in a capitalist society causes far more harm to animals than the Hmong or any group who’s culture compels them to ritually sacrifice animals. This is a good argument against focusing one’s activism on getting the Hmong to stop sacrificing animals. But it isn’t a very compelling reason not to condemn the Hmong’s practice of sacrificing animals. The “don’t criticize others because you’re not perfect” argument is another classic method of attempting to silence activists. I’m disappointed to see it used here in response to simply pointing out the fact that sacrificing animals is wrong. Because as ethical vegans, it seems pretty straightforward to acknowledge that sacrificing an animal is wrong, regardless of the justification, and regardless of whether those sacrificing animals happen to be responsible for a lower body count than middle class vegans living in a capitalistic society.

            Furthermore, I’m surprised that an ethical vegan would choose to defend any culture’s barbaric speciesist traditions. In particular, this paragraph stands out:

            “In isolation, this scene, from an animal rights perspective, is easy to judge. Again, just resort to the handy moral imperative: ‘It is always wrong to exploit animals if they do not need to be exploited.’ Great. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. End of discussion. But the problem now is that I’m not in the land of moral abstraction. I’m on the sidewalk with the Hmong. The decision to eat animals is suddenly inseparable from the family with whom I’ve come to deeply and powerfully empathize and identify. I’ve watched the parents in particular demonstrate a rare and moving sort of love for their impaired daughter. I’ve watched a fiercely independent and loyal Hmong community make the cause of Lia their own. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell these good people, during this rare moment of celebratory bliss, that what they are doing is speciesist. ”

            The problem with this is that, as you state, you’re on the sidewalk with the Hmong. You deeply and powerfully empathize and identify with this family. But I wonder why you would choose to identify with and empathize with these humans and their “need” to kill some other individual–someone else’s daughter or son, someone who has been denied the right to display any independence or familial love–instead of deeply and powerfully empathizing with the individual whose throat will be cut, whose blood will be spilled, whose life will be taken from her. What could possibly compel someone to value a cultural tradition and those who cherish that tradition more highly than someone’s life? But I don’t really have to wonder. I know why you give greater value to these humans and their culture than to the very life of an individual who happened to be born into another species. It’s because no matter how hard we may try to break free from its grip, the speciesist indoctrination we’ve all gotten is very, very effective. So much so that we often can’t see our own speciesism even when it’s right in front of us, staring back in black and white.

            (And to be clear, I think we should have empathy for the Hmong and other oppressed groups of humans. And as a citizen of the Empire, I’m very aware of my own complicity in the oppression of huge segments of the human population. However, my highest sympathies will always rest with those who are the most oppressed, most exploited, and most victimized. And invariably, those are non-human animals.)

        • Lori says:

          In response to Monica Ball, February 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm comment.

          Monica,

          You make some very important points. And I too hate the endless “what if” scenarios, even when they are used to the benefit of the vegan argument. Although they can sometimes point out hypocrisies, (and I admit to having sometimes used them), most “what if” scenarios are simply intellectually dishonest or, at the very least, irrelevant.

          Your comment brought to mind my experience of last night. I was channel surfing (yep, I do it occasionally) and I came across the series America’s Heartland (which, btw, if anyone here has never watched it, do yourself a favor if you want to see some first hand documenting, and propagandizing at the same time, of our food system). Yesterday’s show portrayed a “salt of the earth” American family who raised cattle. The family came across as smart, loving, and respectful to the animals. Their family had been doing this for generations and I would argue, the ranch lifestyle is as integral to their life as animal sacrifice is to the Hmong. I came to empathize with them after watching the show, just as if I were on the sidewalk outside the Hmong house. I also wondered (as the show didn’t go this far), what went on in their minds when their lovely cattle were shipped off to the CAFO and slaughter house.

          So the question is: a what point do we draw the line in regards to culture? It’s a valid question, made no less important by acknowledging the fact that our own culture has arguably done more damage than most and that, even as vegans, we still do vast harm. (My simple act of watching TV was doing harm to birds just a few miles away at the windmill farm.)

          I hold to my earlier statement about understanding, empathizing and including all people and cultures, with a keen and steady focus on our own practices and our eventual goal of ending animal exploitation. One day, one step at a time, with compassion for all always in mind, even ourselves.

          • Monica Ball says:

            James-

            Having grown up on a small family-run concentration camp that exploited, brutalized, and ultimately killed cattle as well as a few pigs and chickens, and having come from an extended family of farmers (though I prefer the term “harmers” as it is more accurate) who still exploit and kill pigs and cows, maybe I simply find it easier than the average person to reject and throw off cultural traditions that I find immoral and offensive. I’m not saying that sarcastically. I really mean that because it was so easy for me to walk away from repugnant traditions, perhaps I’m not someone who can understand the extreme importance traditions hold for others.

            Nevertheless, as I read your description of the ranchers, I don’t think for an instant what it must be like for them. All that comes to my mind is what life and death is like for their victims. And I wonder why this isn’t what instantly comes to mind for you as well. I wonder if you would, upon learning about the individuals and their traditions, also empathize with the cacao plantation owners in the Ivory Coast who enslave humans to harvest their crops or the plantation owners in the pre-Civil War South who enslaved humans (which was deemed essential to their traditions and their way of life). I just don’t see any difference between slave holders (and that includes my own family) regardless of which species they choose to enslave and brutalize. Without recognizing speciesism, there seems to be a difference. But once we are aware of speciesism, I can’t fathom how there is a difference. And then I can’t fathom how anyone can empathize with the slave holders and ignore the plight of those they are enslaving and brutalizing.

            So I’ll also hold to my previous statement about always siding with the most victimized–regardless of what species they happened to be born into.

          • Lori says:

            Monica, you do get that this is Lori speaking and not James, right? It was I who described the ranchers. And if you’d settle down a bit, you’d get that I was supporting your viewpoint for the most part. Saying that yes, questioning culture is important. However, I’m against doing so without compassion for all involved.

          • James says:

            Monica,
            Two observations, neither in any way sarcastic or snide.

            a) I’m in a coffee shop right now and on the board there’s a “turkey bacon club” being advertised. I will say nothing to anyone about this sandwich. However, if it said “human infant club” I’d ask to have a word with the manager. Very speciesist of me, I suppose. But true, as I imagine it is for you?

            b) If your focus as a human is on the most victimized, I wonder why you are not out advocating on behalf of insects, as we kill more of them than any other animal, often to provide vegan food.

            I’m just trying to give concrete examples as to why your arguments are not sticking with me.

            James

          • Monica Ball says:

            Lori (and James) – Sorry, yes I did misread your reply and was thinking it was from James. But the same point remains. Why would any animal rights advocate immediately identify and empathize more with the oppressor rather than his/her victim? The answer is speciesism and what hope can there ever be for having a world where speciesism is viewed with the same disdain as any other violent and oppressive “ism” when even animal rights advocates/activists can’t seem to get there?

            And in response to James’ replies below: In terms of the scenario at the coffee shop with the turkey bacon club, I hope that you at least feel the same or a very similar level of disgust at the mention of a turkey bacon club as at the thought of a human infant club. Not saying something in the former case is unfortunately pragmatic because speciesism is the norm in our culture. Your chances of achieving anything by speaking up about the turkey bacon sandwich are zero whereas our culture would support your efforts (which would likely be successful) if you attempted to have human infant sandwiches removed from the menu. But to take this back to the scenario with the Hmong people, I’ll only hope that when you see the ad for the turkey bacon club, your thoughts are with the turkeys and pigs and not with those who enslaved, brutalized, and killed them and who are now profiting from their torment and death. And this simply doesn’t seem to be the case in terms of your reaction to the Hmong and their animal sacrifices.

            With regard to the idea that insects are the most victimized beings, I’m guessing that the majority of those killed are not ones who have been intentionally bred into existence so that we can kill them and profit from their deaths. (I honestly don’t know any stats on this, so I’m open to being completely wrong here.) And I understand for the one who is killed, intentionality doesn’t matter, but for those doing the killing or who are complicit in any way (as we, as eaters, all are), there is a difference between intentional and accidental killing.

            I would guess that the majority of insects are killed accidentally due to human farming activities, transport, etc. And unlike the Hmong who can simply replace animals with stones or some other object in their rituals, I don’t know of a way to farm on even a small level without causing the accidental deaths of insects. And until we come up with a solution to that issue, I’ll continue to spend the majority of my activism advocating for and educating people about adopting a vegan diet–wherein far, far less insects will be killed because far, far less plant materials need to be grown, harvested, shipped, etc., than if one consumes an animal-centered diet.

        • Mountain says:

          “there isn’t any plausible situation in which sacrificing a human will save two animals.”

          Actually, there are almost no plausible scenarios in which sacrificing a human wouldn’t save at least two animals. Even in the best case scenario (from a vegan perspective) of a vegan child raised by vegan parents, there is almost certainly going to be a rebellious period during which that human consumes more than two animals.

        • Mountain says:

          As for your deserted island scenario with only a chicken, the answer is: of course I wouldn’t eat her. Not because I’m categorically opposed to eating a chicken, but because I want to make the best use of the available resources on this deserted island, and there will assuredly be things (plants & insects) on the island that she (the chicken) will consider food but I won’t. It would be much smarter for me to eat her eggs (which, after all, can’t be fertilized), and focus on the plant resources that I would consider food & let her eat the resources she considers food.

          If, instead of talking about a hypothetical deserted island we are talking about planet earth, all the same logic still applies. There is a tremendous amount of life on this planet that humans don’t consider food, but chickens do.

  17. Lori says:

    Culture is not sacred. But to ignore it, and to relegate all cultural activities that we disagree with to the “bad culture” that we middle-class, white, educated, Westerners want to have done away with, will only lead to more failure on our part. If we don’t understand it, how can we work to change it? I think that may just be James’s larger point (I am speculating here), that other cultures matter, especially in the way we deal with and think about them. This harkens back to a post I made awhile ago about poverty too. The way forward is help and understanding and inclusiveness. And giving alternatives, once we understand the needs.

    I like the part at the end where James describes some Hmong who have used “stones in place of animals” for their rituals. If we want to be successful AND compassionate towards all beings, we would be wise to look for more stones. Otherwise, we can be upset, pass laws that may or may not work, and generally demonize people, to our own and our cause’s detriment.

  18. Doug says:

    Monica and I were thinking the same thing at the same time.

  19. Doug says:

    Understand a culture with an eye toward changing it is very different from accepting it because “that’s the way it is.”

  20. carolyn z says:

    I lived on the Thai-Burma border for a while and worked with many of the ethnic hill tribe groups there, and though the Hmong are generally concentrated on the Lao border, I worked with Hmong at the Burmese border as well because of the mixing/moving of activist hill tribe communities along all the borders there.

    What I learned is that no culture is simple, all cultures have compassion at their core, a compassion which can be tapped into if we are skillful. This compassion is the potential of the human condition and it is a seed in all of us. It is not skillful for anybody to enter another culture on a moral high ground and expect to change that culture, whether directly, or from comments on a blog post with loaded and shamefully– god, almost terrifyingly– simple questions like, “Well, what do you think of bride burning? Well? Well?” You will just be a colonialist if you do that. It will make you feel morally superior, but it will be little more than ego-masturbation.

    Instead, if you must, go into a culture assuming they see themselves as compassionate and good, just as you see yourself. Because in fact, this is the truth– they are compassionate and good. From there, you will be able to understand how change works and does not work, given that culture. You will be able to understand what there is to work with. You will see that all cultures, because human psychology requires that we see ourselves as good, have the seeds of animal liberation in them. But even better, you will also be able to understand your own biases and standpoint in a revolutionary way. If you are Western, you will begin to understand that you come from the most destructive culture that has ever existed, the culture that created capitalism, factory farms, vivisection, and colonialism, and you will stop and breathe for a moment before you judge those cultures that ours has almost entirely destroyed, such as the Hmong. Then you will be humbled and you will really being to understand the complexity of the human situation, and the need to advocate creatively and compassionately given complicated circumstances. If you do not come out of your exploration with this understanding, you are doing something wrong in terms of your own compassion, advocacy, and self-awareness.

    • Lori says:

      Excellent!

    • James says:

      Thank you so much for this perspective, Carolyn.
      James

      • Edie says:

        but it’s not about picking on a culture or pointing fingers (for that we are all guilty) – it is about not harming any beings at all:

        “If a person does not harm any living being… and does not kill or cause others to kill- that person is a true spiritual practitioner.”
        Dhammapada

        All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. Whosoever tries to find happiness through hurting other beings, will not find happiness.
        Dhammapada

        to me it’s just too easy to sacrifice an animal no matter how spiritual – where is the sacrifice really?? people can go on living their lives in contrary to the one of the animal that was killed……

        • mark gillono says:

          very wise thoughts and great quotes too Edie! the bottom line is that a beings right to live and be free from suffering is vastly more important than a cultural story which people choose to live by. i have little hope for humans as a species unless we start treating all beings the way we wish to be treated.

          “Asking vegans to respect your decision to eat meat is on par with asking feminists to respect sexists, asking people of color to respect racists and asking homosexuals to respect homophobes. It is ludicrous to think that difference in opinion warrants mutual respect, especially when the opposing opinion in question not only stands for everything you are against but also appropriates suffering, defends oppression and encourages the continuance of exploitation.” — Felix Sampson

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      Excellent perspective, Carolyn! From that compassionate standpoint, we will also realize that there is no culture that cannot change and that it is not right to judge the Hmong have a higher barrier to cross than our dominant McDonalds culture.

  21. Bea Elliott says:

    I simply can’t and won’t excuse any needless killing regardless of whether the reason is ignorant superstition or profit-oriented pragmatism. If I were in a position of being able to confront one or the other though, my tactics and reasoning would vary accordingly. I’d assume the former is blinded by ritual and their cultural influences never allowed questioning (yet). The later however – The McDonald’s producer and consumer should be held to a different level of responsibility as they have had the opportunity of “civilized” enlightenment.

    Sacrificial killing of pigs on the living room floor doesn’t elevate the act of murder.

    • Lori says:

      And what about the American consumer who has had the opportunity for civilized enlightenment who stubbornly refuses to stop using electricity knowing that the power plant down the road is killing fish and the windmill farm is killing birds and the coal factory is killing children’s lungs, not to mention the occasional father and husband? Or are these not considered “needless” killings?

  22. Lori says:

    Bea, I’m not justifying anything. Really. And I’m not condoning the Hmong or the rancher. What I’m saying is we should be careful about how we think about and approach other cultures, and even our own. My point is that we are all complicit in hurting animals. (The Hmong could say to us: Well using your computers harms birds and fish, why don’t you deal with your issues before you condemn us?)

    As James has repeatedly pointed out, whether it’s eating grains that have caused rodents and birds to die, or our windmill farms, coal, hydro-electric power, or driving on roads and possibly killing animals there, or eating plants that are driven by trucks that have killed animals and all the hundreds of more examples that could be given as to the detrimental effects of living a middle-class consumer lifestyle, even as a vegan, we are complicit too. Do you think our vegan shoes have caused no harm? And as many vegans will and do say, intention is key. But I would then point out their own arguments about the victims not caring about our intentions, as has so often been pointed out in this thread.

    I’m not totally in agreement with James’s emotional defense of the Hmong. But I am in agreement that they are no worse necessarily than we are, and certainly no worse than our meat eating friends and family members whom, I’m assuming you still love?

    So, yes, by all means, let us continue to work towards the ending of animal exploitation, but let us do it with the knowledge that none of us is without blame. And let’s do it in a way that allows for compassion for all, including ourselves.

    • Lori says:

      And BTW, I want to make it clear that I don’t always succeed in the compassion/non-judgemental aspect. I often judge, get angry, lash out and write snarky or angry things. But I always feel bad afterwards, and I have serious doubts that I made any positive changes from it. This is where compassion for ourselves comes into play.

    • Bea Elliott says:

      Hi Lori – But I did originally say “my tactics and reasoning would vary accordingly” (with one instance of animal killing over the other). For me though, both are equally wrong.

      BTW – I have no “vegan shoes” all my man-made material shoes have been bought over the last 5 years – “used”. I suppose then one could argue about the gas I spent finding them – Or the fact that buying them denies someone else the ownership of them. The list could be never ending about how breathing harms others… And it’s probably true to some degree – But in some instances (required for life beyond a hut or cave) degrees (and intent) has to matter. Even in killing humans there’s manslaughter and intentional homicide.

      So – I do take the blame for the unintentional harm done to others while sourcing my plant-based food… I do take the blame of harm done to innocent creatures while in the process of moving my body. And I accept the blame for those harmed while utilizing electricity. But sorry if I still seem dense if I don’t hold those infractions as damaging (or cruel) as direct, calculated, and celebrated killing. For me – orchestrated intent DOES make a difference. :/

      • mark gillono says:

        as you said Bea, intention is everything. i believe i’ve heard it said the best in this way:”i would rather have 100% of the world be 99% vegan than to have 50% of the world be 100% vegan”. the fact that we cannot be perfect does not absolve us of relentlessly striving to do the least harm possible.

        • Bea Elliott says:

          Thank you mark for articulating what I was attempting to say. I’m not suggest or trying to make (me) or other vegans “higher” than anyone else – It’s just a fact that everyone draws that line somewhere – And for me deliberate killing without necessity of physical survival is it.

          And as a personal goal if I ever could achieve anything near “99% vegan” I’d be thrilled. I don’t know that any journey headed for kindness could ever begin with a sign that instructs intentional killing along the way. If we do our best to minimize accidents and some still occur I don’t think that makes the road traveled a “cruel” one. Intent matters.

  23. Sailesh Rao says:

    “Going Vegan is a Journey, not a Destination” – Kim Stallwood.

    If people from a factory-farming, vivisectionist culture can stop eating animals and go vegan, then the Hmong also have the capacity to stop sacrificing animals and go vegan and perhaps, more so, since their simple culture wasn’t using mechanical means to commit a constant holocaust on animals. I suggest that we please leave them to find their own way to join the journey.

    Let’s agree that we all have something to improve no matter how much we’ve already changed. Therefore, our advocacy should be for the journey, while having the humility to realize that we haven’t arrived and never will.

  24. mark gillono says:

    “While it’s true that many animals are killed due to conventional agriculture techniques, it’s quite clear that being vegan reduces the amount of land used, habitat destroyed, and wildlife displaced. It’s also clear that vegans aren’t intentionally killing animals for unnecessary reasons, such as our palate pleasure or our culinary traditions. And that’s an important distinction. Just because we can’t avoid all harms to others (given institutional circumstances beyond our individual control), that doesn’t give us permission to participate in intentional and unnecessary violence and killing. For example, we know from statistical analysis that when we build roads, many people will die on those roads, but we don’t use that as an excuse to intentionally drive over pedestrians. If animals die incidentally in the production of vegan foods, then the proper solution is to improve the production processes—not to go kill animals intentionally.”-Timothy Putnam

    • Mountain says:

      The death of animals in the production of vegan foods isn’t any more incidental than the death of animals in the production of animal foods. The consumer of bacon may have no desire to harm the pig, but that pig will surely die in order to produce that bacon. Likewise, the consumer of Tofurkey may have no desire to harm field animals, but those animals will just as surely die in order to produce that Tofurkey.

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        The consumer of bacon would have compounded the incidental deaths of field animals when the pig was fed grains for months on end. This is fundamental with eating high up in the food chain.

        • Mountain says:

          Only if the pig was fed grains. Considering the vast quantities of food waste that exist in any system (even a veganic one), there is no excuse for feeding pigs grains (or any other feedstock, for that matter).

          • Sailesh Rao says:

            Food “waste” is truly an oxymoron. Any output of photosynthesis is precious and needs to be sequestered to grow the carbon in the soil. Failure to do so is simply due to a lack of imagination on part of the “waster”.

            Mountain, unless you have genetically modified a pig to do photosynthesis, please don’t equate the consumption of bacon with the consumption of Tofurkey. It just doesn’t compute.

          • Mountain says:

            No, Sailesh, there is no contradiction in the term. Food waste is food that people have wasted, or that is wasted on people.

            Grains are not a part of a diet pigs evolved to eat, and it’s incredibly wasteful to grow grains (& soy, always soy) to feed to pigs. The deaths of field animals is in no way fundamental to eating high up in the food chain, and has everything to do with the wasteful paradigm people apply to pigs & other farm animals.

            Meanwhile, when one eats Tofurkey, one is necessarily supporting the deaths of field animals. So, you’re right: the consumption of Tofurkey is not equal to the consumption of bacon; it’s worse.

  25. Lori says:

    I believe intention is important, but it’s not everything. And then their is ignorance to deal with in addition. And as so many of you have pointed out on this thread in condemning the Hmong, intention doesn’t make a bit of difference to the animal who loses their life.

  26. mark gillono says:

    Lori,

    as far as i am concerned, ignorance and the intention to harm to others for our own benefit go hand in hand. it is the ignorance or lack of awareness that everything is connected and that our separation is an ego-driven illusion which allows us to hurt and kill others for our own personal gratification. having the intention to do the least harm possible and following through by aligning our actions with our beliefs is pretty much the extent of what we can accomplish as human beings. the world would be a much more peacful and mush less violent place if the majortiy of people would follow the Golden Rule.

  27. Jim Sneed says:

    “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell these good people, during this rare moment of celebratory bliss, that what they are doing is speciesist.” – James McWilliams

    I read a book about men in Saudi Arabia. It caused me to deeply empathize and identify with Saudi Arabian men and their culture. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell these good people that what they are doing is sexist.

  28. Tonya Sneed says:

    The question is NOT whether or not vegans in the U.S. should focus on condemning the Hmong. If that were the question, obviously most American vegans would agree that we have plenty enough to do already, and the Hmong’s brutality against animals should not be a priority. The question I am left with after reading James’ blog entry IS whether or not the Hmong are speciesists, and I think that answer should be obvious as well. Of course they are.

  29. Tonya Sneed says:

    This reminds me a great deal of one of my trips to Haiti. Every morning I would get up and watch a fisherman leave from the shores of Cyvadier on his rickety boat. He wore a pair of shorts that were severely torn. I knew that he was fishing for survival, not even for profit, because if he were making a profit, he surely could have purchased for himself a decent pair of used shorts. Is this fisherman a speciesist? No doubt he is. He wouldn’t do to a human what he was doing to fish each day. But would I spend my life as an American animal rights activist condemning poor fishermen in Haiti? No way. I have plenty of other priorities. Besides, I would agree that my middle class vegan lifestyle in the U.S. causes far more animal deaths than this impoverished fisherman would ever dream of causing.

    But I also would not celebrate what he was doing. I would not promote fishing. While I think that this man’s situation is more about me (why didn’t I help him find him some other means of survival?) than about him (he’s SO poor and lacks choices), I wouldn’t argue that it’s OK that these fish are suffocating, suffering and dying. The death of these fish is still tragic, still wrong. . .

  30. Lori says:

    And what I’m left with after this post and thread is this: It doesn’t really matter at this point in the game, if someone or a culture is speciesist. What matters is the day-to-day reality of people. Until we are able to give people alternative choices and convince them that those choices will work better for them, speciesism is irrelevant.

    • Mountain says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. If this Haitian fisherman had been willing to harm people for his living (say, through robbery), he wouldn’t have been speciesist, since he would have been just as willing to harm humans as any other species. But his actions, whether fishing or robbing, would have been just as deplorable and just as harmful.

      • Lori says:

        I agree. We’ve got to be practical if we want to make real change. It’s great to debate what is speciesist and what isn’t and who is acting as a speciesist and who isn’t, but at the end of the day, the Haitian fisherman, the Hmong spiritualist, and the American rancher aren’t really going to care…not at this point and, from what I can see, not anywhere in the near future. We who care about animals would do better to provide options for people that work as well or better than what they are doing now as well as providing convincing reasons–but reasons that they can relate to. And you as a Paleo, I take it, are not convinced to eat only plants by the speciesist argument, right?

        • Mountain says:

          I’m not sure how to sum up my beliefs about eating animals, but I would certainly say we shouldn’t be raising animals for their meat, just as we shouldn’t be raising humans for their blood & organs. That said, there is nothing wrong with valuing the blood & organs of humans if they come from consenting individuals who aren’t being raised for that purpose. I can see how eggs could be collected from free-living chickens and ducks, and how milk (somewhat more problematically) could be collected from free-living goats, sheep, and cows. Of course, I recognize that our current food system doesn’t remotely resemble one in which animal products could be (essentially) harm-free.

          • Lori says:

            Nice points, especially about the human blood and organs. I was assuming as a paleo, you ate grass-fed beef and/or game.

          • Mountain says:

            There is currently no way to consume meat in a harm-free way. In the future, one could imagine a technology that alerts people that an animal has died of natural causes, at which point the meat (and other tissues) could be harvested in a harm-free way. But that would be the future, and it would have to be a future in which people value the lives of animals enough to let them live full lives– neither the truncated, tortured lives of factory-farming, nor the non-existence of a vegan world.

  31. Tonya Sneed says:

    I think speciesism absolutely is relevant, even in the case of the poor Haitian fisherman, and even in the case of the Hmong. This war on animals on our planet only takes place because of speciesism. It is the root cause. While culture explains why the Hmong, the Haitian fisherman, and the average American eat animals without thinking, culture doesn’t make it OK.

    Oh, and I disagree that fishing is just as deplorable as robbing. I’d much rather be robbed than killed.

    • Lori says:

      It may be relevant, but again, it’s not everything, and it’s not that practical in my book.

      I was having a discussion about speciesism with a friend last night (who is no dummy, having graduated from UC Berkeley law school). He eats primarily a plant-based diet and mainly for health reasons. He cares about animals and the environment, but those are not his main motivations in his diet. Heath, taste and money are. His questions to me about speciesism were this: Is a polar bear a speciesist if he kills you? Is a wolf a speciesist when he kills a bison for his pack? When I answered that only humans could be speciesists, he asked, Well, isn’t that speciesist to say only humans can be speciesists? You see where this kind of conversation goes with the average American, right?

      We’d be better off giving people better reasons and choices to choose their foods and lifestyles than claiming speciesism.

      But more power to you. I don’t want to get into a lengthy debate about speciesism or the practicalities of claiming that as a vegan strategy. There is room for all of us in this movement.

      • Mountain says:

        As for your Boalt school friend, he is completely correct that it is speciesist to claim that only humans can be speciesist. Clearly, most animals are not only speciesist, but tribalist– preferring those they are familiar with (their tribe) over those who are unfamiliar. Tribalism may well be a mindset worth opposing, but there is no reason to think it is uniquely human.

  32. Nora says:

    Speciesism is definitely relevant here, but I think it’s all part of the far bigger issue of violence and domination in general. It’s the slaughterhouse/battlefield idea Tolstoy talked about. If there’s to be any hope for our world (and I don’t know, is there?), we all must move away from the idea that because we have power and CAN therefore use any and everyone and thing on this earth for our own purposes, that it’s acceptable and within our (God- or culture-)given right to do so. We can’t excuse the Hmongs any more than we can anyone in our own culture for what amounts to the use of violence by the strong against the powerless.

    I think this is where I’m struggling to understand your message here, James. If people in the AR movement don’t agree that really nothing excuses the violence inherent in the taking of a life, I don’t know where we stand.

  33. Tonya Sneed says:

    James, I’m with Nora here. I’m struggling to understand your message, too. As I see it, culture provides an explanation, but not an excuse.

  34. [...] may recall perhaps the most controversial post I ever wrote: it was on the Hmong decision to eat animals and how culture mattered when trying to [...]

  35. nick says:

    Surely James you could also be taking a look at western society all the way through this article. Isn’t our entire culture, in fact led by the west, sacrificing by the billion to satisfy some set of beliefs, including science, philosophy, law and the like?

    BTW keep it going. I registered just as you were saying goodbye or something a few months ago. Glad to see you haven’t.

    • James says:

      Thanks Nick. Still trying to feel my way into a newish approach—and am doing my best to avoid any and all vegan personal politics. Thought the name change would be a good start. Anyway, glad you stuck around.
      jm

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