Saturday, June 21, 2008

farmer and nazi are two words that should not routinely be linked

Just watched an episode of 30 Days in which a hunter lives with PETA activists for a month. The hunter at first considers all of PETA's stories of animal abuse exaggerations, but eventually he gets to see it for himself and becomes more sympathetic to animal rights, although he doesn't give up hunting or become a vegan.

So I began wondering if there is a place in the world for omnivores who support humane farming, and I found the same answer I found the last time I wondered about that: no, there's not. I tried googling for "meat eaters for humane farming" and found nothing but a list of articles about how "humane farming" is a contradiction in terms and that there's basically no such thing as a humane carnivore.

This is unfortunate. Those who call for humane farming are organizations like PETA whose ultimate goal is to make this world vegan. They've got members, like a woman on the episode of 30 Days, who compare eating animals with the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews. And I think that's nuts.

I actually think the PETA people are similar to the anti-abortion people, in that they divide the world up into the innocent and the guilty. Animal rights people think of animals as innocent beings that should be saved, and humans as fairly evil (like a friend of mine who doesn't care if children are starving in Africa but is broken-hearted about animal deaths). Anti-abortion people think of babies as innocents that must be saved, but once you're out of the womb you're no longer innocent, which is why the anti-abortion people who are pro death penalty are not actually being inconsistent; they just want to save the "innocent."

The problem with extremists is that they don't change the world nearly as much as if they set realistic goals. The world will never be vegan. Ever. Forget about it.

But when I once joined a mailing list for humane farming, I started getting a lot of anti-meat email. And even though I was a (non-judgmental) vegetarian for many years, I considered all those vegetarian-activist emails a waste of my time and dropped off the list. Because there just wasn't much about making animal farming better, only stuff about stopping it altogether. Which as I mentioned before, ain't gonna happen.

(Once again, anti-abortion forces are in the same boat, so focused on ending abortion that they fail to sufficiently focus on stuff they they could actually change - if every person picketing an abortion clinic would volunteer with an organization devoted to giving pregnant women the help they need to bring a baby to term and care for it they could lessen the number of women getting abortions, but by choosing an all-or-nothing approach they fail to achieve much beyond the occasional murder of a doctor.)

PETA, by focusing on a narrow agenda, pushes away people who would support more humane farming. But because extremists have the most energy, they control the agenda because they're willing to do the work. I don't have the motivation to start an organization to make farming more humane, and the people with that motivation tend to be the people who are thinking of each animal as a little innocent person being murdered by Nazi-like carnivores.

It's a shame. If anyone knows of an organization working for humane farming that is not connected with PETA and is not set on vegetarianism, let me know. I may go back to vegetarianism one of these days - I probably eat 90% vegetarian anyway - but I'm never going to support an organization wasting resources on an impossible goal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

how to be unpersuasive

I've been trying to get more reading done lately, grabbing the books I've collected off my shelves and actually looking at what's inside. The latest book I began to read was Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape.

It's a famous feminist book, but what struck me about it is how little it bothers to actually try and persuade anyone at the beginning. First there's an interesting intro in which Brownmiller says she herself once didn't take rape too seriously. That's a nice, disarming way to start. Then she spends a couple of pages pointing out how thoroughly ignored rape was by people like Freud and Krafft-Ebbing, which is well worth noting. But within a couple of pages she wanders into pure conjecture, using the phrase "must have" repeatedly in sentences like "one of the earliest forms of male bonding must have been ... gang rape ...." She ends with a remarkable blanket statement, stating rape is "a conscious process of intimidation by which [i]all men[/i] keep [i]all women[/i] in a state of fear" (her italics).

I have two problems with this. As a reader I just don't like sweeping statements and generalities, because I feel they are almost invariably false. But I have a greater problem with the book as a writer, because for me this book represents a soft-headed preaching to the choir approach that will resonate with those who already agree with Brownmiller while alienating everyone who doesn't.

Great feminist literature like The Second Sex or Backlash (two of the most elegantly reasoned, insightful and persuasive non-fiction books ever written) makes a case the way a lawyer does, introducing evidence and drawing conclusions based on that evidence. To refute a book written like that, one would have to do research, find flaws in the evidence and holes in the logical approach to analyzing that evidence. It's not that it can't be done, you can pick holes in anything, but it would be a lot of work. But it is no work at all to pick apart a book that keeps saying this "must have" happened or that is "probably" the case. If you say, "prehistoric man must have learned to flavor meat with garlic early on," I can say "prehistoric man probably believed garlic was poisonous." We would both just be talking out of our asses if we couldn't offer evidence to support our positions.

There's probably something of interest and value in Against Our Wills. It's almost 500 pages long and it's a famous book, so I will give it that much. But by tossing away all pretense at objectivity or scholarship by the end of the first chapter, Brownmiller fails to make a case for herself as the person qualified to analyze the place of rape in civilization, and thus failed to convince me that it was worth slogging through her seemingly baseless opinions to find what was of value in her book.

For the angry feminists of the 1970s, the book was probably great, because there was a lot of justifiable resentment at the way women had been (and continue to be) treated in society. But that's the problem with the book; if you're not angry already, you are going to instantly notice that Brownmiller is talking out of her ass. And that is no way to convince anyone of anything.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the fat grey lady has sung

Well, that's it, my final game review for the New York Times has run, and I'm feeling melancholy about it. I wish I could have gone out at least with a great game, instead of a couple of decent ones, but at least my final review wasn't of Wii Fit, which I only reviewed to pacify my editor not realizing I was going to get fired a week later anyway.

Now I just need to start pitching ideas to USA Weekend; they appreciate me there.