Ahimsa Today

Kindness and Compassion as a Way of Life

Eggribusiness Hens

Factory farmers cut the beaks of egg-laying hens to reduce injuries caused by them pecking at each other in confinement. A blog about backyard chicken raising notes, The most common reason for pecking order violence is crowding. Each hen needs a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space inside and another 8 outside. Factory farmed hens get no real floor space at all; they’re in indoor cages that have wire bottoms, not proper floors. The wire mesh cuts into their feet, causing abscesses; the wire walls rub feathers off and abrade their skin.

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Ahimsa and Human Values

What human values are important to you? Perhaps there are certain ones you hold most dear, values that may even be central to your self-identity. I suggest you make a list of your values. If you want to compare your list (or if you need help in making it), try the links to these lists. The values below were represented in at least five of the twelve values inventories studied in this meta-inventory.

(1) freedom, (2) helpfulness, (3) accomplishment, (4) honesty, (5) self- respect, (6) intelligence, (7) broad-mindedness, (8) creativity, (9) equality, (10) responsibility, (11) social order, (12) wealth, (13) competence, (14) justice, (15) security, and (16) spirituality.

Our values reflect who we are and, perhaps more importantly, who we want to be. The extent of our shortcomings, which is to say, how far short we fall of self-actualization (or self-realization, if you prefer) may be reflected in how we impact others. I’ve noticed that some people’s flaws find mostly internal expression, while others’ flaws manifest externally, affecting those around them in major ways. Put another way, some people cause themselves to be the harmed through self-doubt, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors, etc., while maintaining sort of a firewall to contain the problems, so as not to burden friends, family, coworkers, etc., while other sufferers are inclined to freely share their miseries, which manifest as bad behaviors. Just as children develop the ability to care about the needs of others, when we as adults become more self-actualized, that capacity can continue to develop, and I would argue that it should, as a natural progression for those who continue to grow emotionally, or psycho-spiritually, if you will.

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Rodeos

Whatever your views about using animals for food, clothing, or medical research, you probably find dogfights and bullfights disturbing, but rodeos are part of American culture, and many of us accept and enjoy them. There are excellent, brief overviews of what’s wrong with rodeos here and here.

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Factory Farmed Broiler Chickens

Chicken breeds are chosen for the characteristics that maximize profits–at the expense of the birds’ welfare. The hens used for egg production are laying hens, and broilers chickens are raised for meat. Laying hens will be slaughtered for pet food or  for processed foods like chicken soup, while broilers are the chickens sold in supermarkets and restaurants in unprocessed form.

The National Chicken Council has a web page where they report that, in every year from 2006 to 2011, the market weight of the birds has gone up, and the mortality rate has gone down. The average weight has doubled since 1940, reaching 5.8 pounds in 2011. Then they quit reporting the numbers. It could be that the mortality trend has reversed, and that that’s why they stopped the annual updates. Perhaps the increasing weight of the birds got to the point where it became too great a detriment to the birds’ health for them to continue to have reductions in mortality. That sounds very plausible to me, but of course it’s pure conjecture. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to updating the page. I emailed them at their general address, asking that they do so, and they didn’t reply (or update the page). It could be that they get a lot of emails and can’t attend to them all, so I emailed them again, this time to four relevant email addresses, and I included a link to this post. The subject line should have gotten their attention: Blog Post Criticizing Your Statistics. I invited them to post a comment, and got no response.

(I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so let’s set aside questions about the character of people who would defend and promote raising animals genetically doomed to misery in an  environment that doesn’t support their welfare beyond the minimums necessary for profitability, and assume that the numbers reported by the National Chicken Council on their website accurately report the data they collect. But I have to ask, wouldn’t people who make money directly by the means described below (which is to say, factory farmers) be inclined to, shall we say, be less than forthcoming about mortality rates? Is it not a reasonable supposition that the numbers of dead reported are under-counted? And I wonder about the numbers of birds that are sick or injured when they reach the slaughterhouse. Why doesn’t the Chicken Council collect that data and report those numbers?)

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A Lexical Excursion

In school, English was always one of my best subjects. (A tip of the hat to two of my teachers: Tom Clayton at Los Angeles Valley College, and Dr. Jane Walpole at Piedmont Virginia Community College.) I’ve had a longstanding interest in the English language, so it’s only natural that I take up some lexical matters here. (If you share my interest, you’ll enjoy the Lexicon Valley podcasts. I also like onelook.com, where you can look up a word in many dictionaries.) This is a perhaps a logical place to mention that it’s fine with me if you use what I’ve written, even beyond the bounds of fair use, provided you link to this website or credit ahimsatoday.com.

One language note about how I write: Understandably, many people object to using male pronouns universally to deal with the unfortunate lack of gender-neutral pronouns in English. It’s become increasingly common over the years, I’ve noticed, and now quite acceptable in informal spoken English, and increasingly even in informal written English, to use the non-gender-specific plural pronouns they and their for the singular pronouns he/she and his/her to avoid assigning gender or using the awkward “his or her”: Every student must bring their notebook. I’m of the old school, and not quite comfortable with pluralizing singulars, so I avoid this construction. Where gender is unknown or irrelevant, I’m inclined to use either gender randomly—but not switching in the same sentence, and probably not even in the same paragraph. (When I was in her classes many years ago, Dr. Walpole favored the masculine pronouns as the solution to the gender-neutral dilemma, noting that men had to share theirs because they were used when the gender wasn’t specified, but women were able to reserve the feminine pronouns for their exclusive use.) I can usually structure my sentences to avoid the whole problem: All students must bring their notebooks.

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Introduction to Ahimsa

There can be no life without death. While death is unequivocal, suffering varies in kind, amount, and degree, but likewise seems to be inescapable. People like to think of themselves as being kind and compassionate, or least as not being cruel and hardhearted. But how do we respond the all the suffering and death in the world and in our lives, especially considering that suffering and death are intrinsic to the natural world? Life springs from death, but unless our suffering is extreme and death offers the only way out, we want to live, and it’s reasonable to assume that others, man or beast, also want to live. As far as nonhuman animals are concerned, the question of suffering is particularly relevant today, because the vast, vast majority of us in America are far removed from live animals in agriculture, our first contact with them coming in the form of animal products. (As I’ll discuss in future posts, the response of some people to the horrors of factory farming is to buy locally produced animal products, or to buy those labeled as humane (free range, cage free, etc.), but generally, the practices used by these sources fall short.) (This post and this blog will center on practices in the U.S., as that’s where I live, and where I’m best able to make a difference.)

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Dedication

When my daughter was about seven years old, I called her attention to a bee I noticed in front of our home. He wasn’t able to fly. I cautioned her that if she picked him up, as she wanted to, he might sting her—but she let him crawl onto her finger. She quickly became emotionally attached to him. The next day, we went to an outdoor children’s festival. For the better part of that day, she walked around with her little friend, whom she had named Houdini, on her index finger. Then he fell off her finger into the grass. We searched and searched, but we couldn’t find him.

How heartwarming it is to see a child with an animal—even one so seemingly inconsequential as crippled bee. This affection for our fellow travelers on this sphere diminishes over time. As we age and are socialized, we become desensitized bit by bit or, in the case of “food animals,” bite by bite.

My concern for creatures great and small derives more from a sense of justice and fairness than it does from sentimentality or attachment, but these qualities are not mutually exclusive. Intellect and emotion work in concert to shape how we regard others, whether like us or unlike us. When childhood’s innocent love of animals is left behind, we lose some of our humanity. Ironically, in our unconsidered exploitation of non-humans, we diminish a part of ourselves that we believe makes us special, and superior to them.

I dedicate this blog to the memory of that bee. My daughter was so sad when she lost him. We will never forget Houdini. He represents to me an open-heartedness I would like us to regain, together with a philosophical disposition toward selfless consideration of the will to live, and to avoid suffering, of all creatures.

About Me

I don’t want this blog to be about me, but I’ll tell you a bit about myself here because the evolution of my thinking will provide context when you read my entries. The account below is accurate to the best of my recollection, but the time frames and event sequences may be inexact.

Back in the mid-seventies, without any external influence that I’m aware of, I began to feel that I would prefer to live without killing animals. At the time, I did no further research and didn’t discuss the idea with anybody in order to get feedback. It was just a vague notion, but it was enough. I gradually transitioned to a vegetarian diet over a period of two and a half years. I had, prior to the decision, eaten a diet heavy in animal products, and light in whole plant foods. I didn’t like vegetables. In those days, we didn’t have the vegan analogs for animal foods one finds today. I didn’t know any vegetarians, and it didn’t occur to me to try to seek any out. After I completed my transition to lacto-ovo vegetarianism, it took me another two and a half years to go vegan—which brings us to 1980. (I believe I would have made my transitions a lot faster if I had had some information and social support. The socio-cultural influences that shape our food choices are of great interest to me, and will be topics for my blog posts.) Cheese was the last thing to go, as it seems to be for almost all who make the transition to a vegan diet. (I was about to say that cheese is addictive, so just now I went looking for a web page explaining this, but to my surprise, I found instead compelling evidence to the contrary. Nonetheless, there is something about cheese that makes it very hard to give up.) During my transition from vegetarian to vegan, I was influenced by the American Vegan Society, particularly the writings of Jay Dinshah. After going vegan, I subscribed to the health philosophy of the American Natural Hygiene Society, now the National Health Association. I went vegan because all of the arguments in favor of vegetarianism (ethical, animal welfare, environmental impact, health) seemed to find their fruition in veganism.

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