Why I Am A Pro-Intersectional Vegan: An Essay

I don’t know how long this will take, but I’m going to explain why I am a vegan who subscribes to intersectionality, or intersectional theory.

I’ll start with slaughterhouse workers, as they are closest to the action, as it were, and they are among the most abused workers in the industrialized world. Eric Schlosser describes the conditions in slaughterhouses, and the abuses the workers endure, in his book, Fast Food Nation; among those conditions are injuries–for which the workers can be dismissed–and sexual harassment of female workers. So why do people work in slaughterhouses? I’ll go out on a limb and guess these folks have little to no other options: many are undocumented workers, chiefly from Mexico, and thus will no doubt take whatever jobs they’re offered, while doing whatever they can to avoid being deported, often failing miserably; they’re not qualified, for whatever reason, for any other jobs; they live in areas where, in terms of gainful employment, the slaughterhouse is the only game in town, and, short of, say, being lucky enough to be athletically gifted enough to gain a scholarship from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (which, I know, comes with its own problems), or to be in a similar situation, they have no way of getting out of town. I’d like to add that not everyone likes their jobs, but take them because they need the money and they don’t have a lot of, if any, other options, and I’m willing to bet slaughterhouse employees are in the same boat. Yes, animals’ lives matter, but so do the lives and circumstances of people employed in slaughterhouses.

In a similar situation are people who work on farms. Think you’re on the right side of the gods simply because you eat a plant-based diet? Think again. Who picked those fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.? The truth is, a lot of farm workers are exploited–forced to work long hours (often under a hot sun and other inclement weather conditions) for little pay, quite a few farm workers are children and youth, and so many of them (in the United States, anyway) are undocumented workers. I know farming is important to feed a civilized society, but all agricultural workers need to be treated fairly. Much like slaughterhouse workers, harbouring the attitude that what happens to these people, including the undocumented workers, is of no consequence serves everyone poorly.

Continuing on the subject of people living in poverty, the vast majority of people can’t afford to buy foods deemed ‘vegan,’ including a lot of fruits and vegetables, mostly because they have neither the money nor the time to make frequent trips to the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or wherever else food is sold. That’s why, in the industrialized world, products like Kraft Dinner are so popular among poor families: you can buy packages of the stuff on the cheap, they’re easy to prepare, and they have relatively long shelf lives, meaning you can keep it in your cupboard, pantry, fridge, or freezer for weeks or even months at a time and it won’t go bad, unlike fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, poor families are headed by parents–one or two–who work, and at two or more jobs, so they don’t have time to buy healthy food or cook healthy meals, nor to teach their kids to do so. Ergo, it’s not really fair to have a go at poor people for not eating healthy, never mind not going vegan. In this scenario, I feel we need to have realistic expectations, while trying not to subject people to the bigotry of low expectations.

As for why so many poor people settle for the jobs they do: It all comes down to the ruling class adopting the attitude of “doing what’s best for business.” And apparently “what’s best for business” includes keeping as many people as possible poor and ignorant–so they will, among other things, take shit jobs and do as they’re told–and viewing Planet Earth and all of its creatures and resources as mere commodities.

I recognize how white cis heterosexual adult males–preferably of means–and their views and desires have been privileged and legitimized over millennia, while everyone else and their views and desires have been minimized and even dismissed. The world we live in now–continued resource extraction, pipelines, bank bailouts, members of ‘C’ suites earning six figures a year while fighting tooth and nail to keep the minimum wage from going up (generalization–yes, I know), wars, continuing oppression of class, racial, and sexual minorities–is a continuation of the privileging and legitimizing of upper-class white cis heterosexual male views and desires.

I also realize religious ideology has influence on society’s attitudes towards women, people of colour, LGBTQ folk, disabled people, intersex people, nonhuman animals, and the environment, confusing ‘dominion’ with ‘domination.’ Christianity, for instance, was for millennia used as a tool of imperialism, colonialism, and social control. And in areas of the world where Islam is large and in charge, this religious ideology dictates politics and society as well as personal spaces.

Subscribing to intersectional theory prevents me from thinking simplistically about issues such as veganism, and why we all, to one degree or another, participate in a system ruled by free-market fundamentalism. I feel looking at issues through a single lens means you see them simplistically, and, in most cases, ultimately end up passing judgment on people whose lives you know nothing about. For me, subscribing to intersectional theory helps me to apply Spinoza’s dictum to everyone, and the situations they’re in.

I realize the thoughts in this essay are by no means complete, but I am merely trying to explain why I subscribe to intersectional theory.

Free-Market Fundamentalism: My View

Now that Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America and Kevin O’Leary is for sure competing for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, I think it’s time–well, past time–I made my thoughts about free-market fundamentalism known.

To bring the uninitiated up to speed, free-market fundamentalism posits that the market should be free to run itself, and make decisions. This, per se, is ludicrous: the market is a concept, and concepts cannot run themselves or make decisions. The truth is, people run the market, and make decisions based on what’s most likely to make money, ergo if the market tanks, it’s on the watch of the people running it. So this idea that the market knows best, and should thus be free to run itself and make decisions, is patently absurd–especially when we take into account all the times the market has gone south.

And the free market does tank every so often, especially if it’s unregulated, or laissez-faire (roughly translated from French, ‘leave it alone’ or ‘let it be.’)  The laissez-faire attitude towards business and economics protects no one, businesses or people. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his treatise, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, “‘Let things be’ actually means ‘let things slide.'” And when the market has no rules as to how people run it, things do slide.

But free-market fundamentalism is helpful to leaders who don’t want to take responsibility for helping out the less fortunate, as they can adopt a ‘blame the victim’ mentality. You see, free-market fundamentalism proponents claim being poor is the result of character flaws on the part of those who are poor, while ignoring the issue of people who are rich who get rich by dishonest means–if those people don’t inherit their wealth. (This is not to say that people who are rich never get there by honest means, but let’s get real.)

Another problem with free-market fundamentalism is it helps create, and foster, a culture of entitlement, which is so entrenched in the psyches of those who live under the rules of free-market fundamentalism we confuse, and conflate, entitlement with freedom. And those who promote free-market fundamentalism encourage this, as it sustains itself by convincing people it’s OK for them to think only in terms of ‘me, me, me,’ regardless of the consequences to anybody else.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is all aspects of society–and that includes the market–need to be run by people who care as much about the human and environmental costs of their decisions as they do about the economy. The people running things need to make sure everyone gets their fair share–no more, no less–there is little negative environmental impact, and the economy runs smoothly. But none of that will ever happen under free-market fundamentalism.

Natsukashii Revisited: Trump and Beyond

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Within twenty-four hours, people marched on Washington, D.C., and in cities all over the world, to announce to President Trump, and the world, that we stand for human rights, diversity, inclusion, and progress.

We must, however, realize that these issues go beyond Donald Trump.

Within the race to fill the leadership role of the Conservative Party of Canada are individuals like Kellie Leitch, who wants newcomers to Canada tested for ‘Canadian values’–which she has been quoted as claiming are conservative values, though not everyone in Canada is conservative. And Shark Tank judge Kevin O’Leary is now running; he has been quoted as saying he wants to, among other things, make unions illegal, saying, “Unions themselves are borne of evil.” He has also been quoted as saying it’s “fantastic” that a small percentage of people are wealthier than the poorest people, saying, “It gives them (the poor) motivation to look up to the one percent.” Very promising potential future leaders of Canada, indeed.

Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary are part of a recent trend towards leaders and political candidates wanting to turn the clock back to a time that never really existed, a time where everybody supposedly ‘knew their place.’ The presence of these folks, and others like them, is a reflection of the desire of a portion of the general population to live in a world without political correctness or left-leaning social justice, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is a manifestation of the current attitude that ‘political correctness’ has gone too far and things need to go back to the way they supposedly were. In short, the people who willingly buy what the likes of President Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary are selling cling to, and benefit from, the status quo, even if it doesn’t work for everyone.

President Trump is also a manifestation, and a symbol, of a larger culture of entitlement, a culture which fosters, among other things, vitriol against left-leaning social-justice advocacy and activism and a desire to uphold the status quo simply because a small portion of the human population benefits from it. This culture of entitlement encourages kyriarchy–white supremacy, xenophobia, classism, patriarchy, jingoism, heteronormativity, cissexism, ableism, etc.–and bigotry.

I’m fully aware this problem goes beyond North America. All over the world, there are people who are afraid of change and will fight tooth and nail against it, because they think the status quo is better, or they think some period in the past was a better time, and the world needs to return to that time, even if it never existed in reality. President Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary cater to these people, and play on their fears to get votes and whatever else they want, and the election of Trump as the 45th President of the United States is very encouraging to them. However, if this trend of electing people with a serious case of natsukashii into positions of leadership continues, the world and all of its inhabitants will suffer.

Jumping at Shadows: What to Do About Syrian Refugees?

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s definitely true in 2016, except the only things that have changed are the names. In 2001, the name was Taliban, soon to be followed by the names al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah; now it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), or the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL. And now the world has to deal with people fleeing Syria to get away from ISIS and the havoc it wreaks.

I’ll get this out of the way: I am not defending Islam, or Islamism. I’m making the case that we should make it easy for people fleeing dangerous situations to find a safe space, and to make those people feel safe and welcome where they go. I know that’s kind of difficult when we have blowhards like Donald Trump flinging verbal feces at everyone from the Middle East, Central Asia, and other nations ruled by sharia and other Islamic-inspired laws, playing on the fears of the general population, but let’s not assume that everyone from these areas has the same morals, values, and mores as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other Islamist or fundamentalist Muslim groups or cults, but, rather, just ordinary people who want nothing more than to live their lives. Just because people identify themselves as Muslims doesn’t mean they’re a threat, but if we treat them like they are, they could very well become one. Let’s face it: ISIS, and other groups like it, take advantage of people’s frustration and feelings of isolation and powerlessness, so laws and measures that make it practically impossible for self-identifying Muslims to start fresh and go about their lives breed potential recruits for groups like ISIS. In short, shunning refugees just because they happen to self-identify as Muslim is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every developed nation screens newcomers, immigrants and refugees, regardless of ethnicity, nation of origin, or belief–or non-belief. We have laws on our books, and police and courts to enforce them. If anyone breaks the law, let the cops and the courts deal with it–it’s kinda-sorta their job, anyhow. Granted, this is not a perfect system–hell, it’s not even foolproof (but, then again, nothing is)–but these measures were put in place to keep society safe. And, let’s face it, with terrorists and criminals–regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or any other circumstances–where there’s a will, they’ll find a way. But let’s not use this fact as an excuse to exclude anyone, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or any other circumstances.

I’ll be one of the last people to deny that religious fundamentalism–of any type or stripe–causes a lot of damage, and is a genuine threat. But, just as we don’t paint all Christians, Jews, or other religious folk with the same brush we use to paint their hard-line counterparts, let’s acknowledge that not all Muslims wish death to infidels or want to impose sharia worldwide. The current fear-mongering aimed at the Syrian refugees, and others like them, will just create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is definitely one of those situations where cooler heads must prevail.

Political Grandstanding At Its Finest

I’m a little tardy to the party in commenting on this, but I needed to take some time to put my thoughts together about what a trio of politicians said recently about different subjects before putting fingers to keys to comment.

Let’s start with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments about studies on violence against aboriginal women, particularly his comment about violence against aboriginal women being a crime issue and not a sociological phenomenon. I know that, as a wealthy white male in a position of power, Prime Minister Harper has little, if no, experience with racism, sexism, classism, or any other form of prejudice, so of course he would believe anything affecting anyone who is not a wealthy white heterosexual adult male is not a sociological phenomenon; he apparently has never heard of John Martin Crawford, a serial killer, and the fact that nobody cared about Crawford’s victims because they were aboriginal women, that people adopted the attitude of ‘just another Indian,’ which is the title of the book Warren Goulding wrote on this particular subject. It has also apparently never occurred to Prime Minister Harper that people started caring about the Highway of Tears here in British Columbia only after the first white female disappeared along that stretch of highway; the women who had theretofore disappeared along that stretch of highway were aboriginal. And since First Nations have been demonized by white settlers since first contact…If I didn’t know Prime Minister Harper’s words and actions were ideologically motivated–and they are–I would say the Prime Minister needs to do his homework before proceeding to open his mouth again. But I know better.

Next up: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his ‘surprise’ visit to Iraq as part of dealing with the threat of the newly-formed Islamic State, declaring Canada would help protect, among others, religious minorities in the area. This is the same Minister John Baird who, when the Office of Religious Freedom was created in Ottawa, cited the fundamentalist-Christian line about ‘freedom of religion, not freedom from religion’ when defending the Office’s not including atheists and other nonreligious folk in its mandate. So I can’t help but wonder about Minister Baird’s true intentions in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, nor can I doubt who he really intends to protect from the Islamic State, and those in charge of it, as well as the other Islamists who dominate the region.

Last, but certainly not least: British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, and the way, under her, the provincial government is dealing with the teachers’ strike. In a recent Vancouver free daily newspaper, Premier Clark called for teachers in B.C. to suspend their current strike, while apparently not wanting to give so much as a quarter of an inch vis-a-vis their demands, which include changes to class sizes and composition to better accommodate the needs of students. Whether or not all of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation’s demands are reasonable or not is a matter of debate, but Premier Clark and B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender need to stop flexing their muscles and meet the BCTF halfway. I would strongly suggest Premier Clark learn from the mistakes of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, especially if she wants to remain premier of British Columbia.  On a personal note, I attended high school in Ontario during Mike Harris’ time as premier of that particular province; his policies on everything from education to healthcare made him immensely unpopular, and he didn’t last long as premier of Ontario.  Premier Clark would do well to learn her history, especially if she does not want to repeat it.

Canada’s political system is supposed to be a democracy, yet it seems, within the last decade, the politicians at every level of Canadian government–federal, provincial, and municipal–aren’t acting like it, but rather are ignoring the wishes of the people to act according to their own agendas, and expect us all not to say anything, even if we do notice.  If this situation is to end, then society at large needs to speak up, and thus make sure the people we elect into positions of power are willing to listen to us, and understand that, if they abuse the power we as an electorate give them, we can, and will, take it away.

On Shopping and Activism

On the bus home one sunny day, I saw an advertisement announcing the stores Winners and HomeSense would donate money to the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s campaign to end violence against women. On the Foundation’s web site, http://www.canadianwomen.org, on the page ‘Our Supporters,’ it touts Winners/HomeSense as one of its ‘Platinum Partners,’ and states that, among other acts of support, the stores host an event called Shop for Hope, which confirmed, for me, that my concerns about shopping as a form of activism are legit.

I know Winners and HomeSense aren’t the only businesses to donate money to organizations (such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation) who aim to do good in the community–and to get some extra advertising (for themselves) while they’re at it. My concern isn’t with them, or with the Canadian Women’s Foundation; I’m concerned about the idea of shopping as activism, and the promotion and encouragement thereof.

I can hear you from here: “We vote with our dollars.” Perhaps that’s true. However, promoting shopping as a form of activism can lull those who engage in it into a false sense of satisfaction: ‘I shopped at a certain store, and donated to a good cause. I did my good deed for the day.’ There’s no way of knowing if shopper-activists will take their good-deed drives beyond the shopping, or if they’ll care enough to–after all, issues won’t be resolved just by spending money on them, or, as in most cases, the symptoms. By promoting the idea that shopping is a form of activism, there’s the danger that that’s all people will do, and that they do it just to make themselves feel better about their lives.

A greater danger in the idea of shopping as a form of activism is that it has the potential to encourage and perpetuate shopaholism. Now, I know shopaholics will shop even without the idea of shopping as activism, but the ‘activism’ part will give shopaholics just one more rationalization for their compulsive spending. Lesley-Anne Scorgie, in an excerpt from her book Well-Heeled: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich, and the book and movie Confessions of a Shopaholic describe the consequences of shopaholism, for shopaholics themselves, the people around them, and the economy; in fact, in Well-Heeled, Scorgie states shopaholism helped bring about the 2008-2009 economic collapse, particularly in the form of unpaid consumer debt. So, is it really a good idea to carry on encouraging people to buy things they don’t need to support good causes?

And is it even necessary? Why not just give money directly to the organizations, and cut out the stores/middlemen? People will still shop at the stores of their choice, and donate to the organizations of their choice, stores and other businesses will still donate to the organizations of their choice, organizations will still get money to their work. So there’s no need for ‘shop for the cause’ events, or to encourage and perpetuate consumer culture and debt just to donate to organizations dedicated to one cause or another. In fact, now that I think about it, the concept of ‘shopping for the cause’ seems to benefit chiefly the stores and businesses who promote it, in terms of publicity, and perhaps revenue, as well.

Family Values

Today sees Vancouver’s 36th annual Pride Parade, and I’m about to write about family values.
Full disclosure:  My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by a single mother.  To be honest, I’m not sure what my views on the subject of family values would be if my circumstances were different from what they were, but, as it stands, my actual circumstances colour my views on the subject, which are as follows:

-Attraction can’t really be controlled; sexual orientation and identity can’t be controlled.  People should not have to live a lie just to be considered socially acceptable.
-One size does not fit all in terms of family composition; there is not one type of family which is better, or worse, than others.  As with everything else in life, people need to do what works for them, as individuals and as collectives.  P.S.: Even nuclear families can be bad, even abusive and toxic.
-Certain segments of the population should not be denied rights just because other segments don’t approve of the way they live; eg. the LGBTQ community shouldn’t be denied the right to marry, and/or raise children, just because social conservatives of all types and stripes don’t approve of how they live.
-Gender, and gender roles, are social constructs among the human species.  Humans invented the concept of gender, and that of gender roles. Nature has nothing to do with it.
-Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception and abortion are necessary for a stable society, as ways to curtail overpopulation and putting a strain on resources, which are finite.  Ignorance–oops, I meant abstinence-only education, especially on its own, has been proven to not only not work, but to be counterproductive.

The thing is, with everything else that effects society at large, staunch social conservatives of all types and stripes have hijacked the terms ‘family’ and ‘family values,’ to promote their shared agenda of turning the societies they live in into dictatorships in which they run the show, and the rest of us just fall in line and blindly follow the leader.  The social-conservative version of ‘family values’ promotes rigid gender, race, and class roles, and race and class, if not gender, divides–in short, a re-adoption of Victorian attitudes about gender, race, class, and everything else that forms society, under the guise of protecting and preserving the ‘traditional family.’  In this manner, ‘family values’ is a euphemism for kyriarchy (where all forms of oppression intersect), or what scholar bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy–in short, another tool of social control.
More full disclosure:  Both of my parents were born into nuclear families, in the 1950s.  My paternal grandparents were Quebec-born Roman Catholics, and stayed together until my grandmother’s untimely death, after which my grandfather never remarried.  My maternal grandparents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and raised my mother and uncles as such.  Neither of my parents finished high school; my father was a trucker for most of his life, and died in debt and without leaving a will, while my mother moved from one low-paying job to another, mostly in customer service.  I am now an antitheist, who finished high school, and I have a university education, and all the while managed to stay on the right side of the law–though I was borderline anorexic and bulimic in my early adolescence.  It just goes to show there are no guarantees in life, for anyone; not even the type of family one was born into provides certainty about anything, including one’s future.
It is rather maddening, isn’t it, that it’s 2014, and we’re still arguing about issues such as gender, sexual orientation and identity, and family composition?