The Hypocrisy of Inaction

The yearly Yulin festival is about to kick off in China in a month. In case you didn’t know what this festival is about, it’s an ancient Chinese tradition where thousands of dogs and cats are brutally sacrificed for culinary pleasure. With it, hundreds of petitions to stop it flood the internet every year. And although the local government has pledged to stop the practice, little if nothing has been done to put a halt to it. In fact, as I type this, thousands of animals, mostly stray or stolen, have already begun to arrive in overcrowded cages to the city where very soon they will be inhumanly killed and consumed.

For the most part these petitions are signed by people trying to help. Among them meat-eaters who see a value in stopping cruel practices even when they are fully aware that their own tastes kill other animals. My beef, pardon the pun, is not with them. But rather with the cynical and sanctimonious justice-warrior crowd who often, instead of actually helping the cause, love to point out the fault in others and hide their arguments behind the most boring argument ever made: culture.

Just moments ago while surfing the toxic Facebook comment section under one of these petitions, I encountered many a one SJWs who point out that Chinese culture  should be respected. An incredibly asinine argument considering the culture of other morally reprehensible acts such as slavery, ethnic cleansing, genital mutilation, or another Chinese tradition that I will touch back on, shark fin soup.

Another equally idiotic argument I encountered is the, actually factual, claim that animals in Western nations are also killed inhumanely for meat. No argument there. It’s true that here in the United States Americans will have consumed approximately 103 billion pounds of meat this year alone. It’s also true that much of that meat doesn’t originate from the most ethically outstanding farms or “farms”, was acquired in the most humane way, and is healthy to consume. In fact, animals such as chickens and cows are often cooped up with little room to move and spend most of their short miserable lives overfed and perpetually breeding. But does that validate the point that because we consume meat, we shouldn’t protect other animals if possible?

That’s a softball rhetorical question. The problem of meat consumption in this case has little to do with the fact that pets in Western societies are food in Eastern societies. It has to do with cruelty. Plain and simple. The real problem is that of misplaced anger. It’s in fact the hypocrisy of inaction.

To the justice warriors I encountered, the problem of Western hypocrisy somehow ranks higher in the list of morally opprobrious practices than the live skinning of household pets. Don’t take me wrong, I abhor some farming practices. Whenever possible I try to buy free-range eggs or withhold meat as often as I can. But for people that have little choice–and there are such people–taking up a cause, any cause doesn’t have to entail a moral emergency. Because if we’re talking blame, no one comes clean.

The argument of culture is an easier one to tackle. Or would be at least if children didn’t have influence in our universities and public arenas. It’s one of those areas where faux activists have failed while proclaiming victory. The problem has nothing to do with liberalism. It doesn’t even have anything to do with Liberals per se. The real problem is selective concern. Social Justice Warriors have almost exclusively infiltrated liberal spaces (widely believed to be the cradles of progressivism) to spread propaganda among people who wish to advance progress in some way but who feel guilty for engaging in any type of behavior that harms, well, anything. Their mantra insists that you should be sorry for anything and everything. Yet somehow these people overlook the fact that their very own existence is somehow linked to some other tragedy.

From the clothes they wear to their modes of transportation, they are also tainted with the blame that something somewhere was harmed for their comfort. The phones we carry were probable made from materials mined in countries that use slave, or child, labor. iPhones for example were infamously made in factories that have suicide nets outside the windows. The shoes they wear, although made in Europe or America, were most likely made by people who make minimum wage. If made anywhere else, probably just cents on the dollar a day. The same people who have to consume cheap meat to survive. Even the silk in their shirts probably came from some unhappy spider whose thread was forcibly pulled to make the shirt. Not to mention the very air they breathe, which is equal to about 2 pounds of CO2 a day. That’s for every human on the planet. You do the math. All of it a contribution to the declining health of our planet.

And yet no one is calling for their banishment to some secluded forest. Or for their arrest or murder. They’re not getting sued for polluting the environment by breathing. No one who sees a value in human action is even calling on them to renounce their possessions. Instead, we support worthy causes while recognizing that more work has to be done in areas where we fail. And just in case you’re wondering if someone is working on those areas, fret not, they are. Someone somewhere is always working on some injustice. Do they need help? Absolutely. But admonishing a helping hand just turns away those who would do something but don’t because they’re constantly reminded they’re imperfect. What’s more, admonishing is failing to recognize that, as Bill Maher would say, we need imperfect allies to win these fights.

Most people in the world wish to do the right thing. There’s clear evidence of this in the campaign that Yao Ming, former NBA player, started in defense of sharks. By exposing to unbeknownst Chinese how shark fin soup (a pricey delicacy in China with no nutritional value) is made, his campaign curtailed the killing or incapacitation of hundreds of millions of sharks who would otherwise be killed solely for their fins. Now, whether Chinese people really didn’t know about the practice or not, doesn’t change the fact that in the last few years consumption has been significantly reduced. Would anyone in their right mind dare to say that the Chinese are hypocrites for saving sharks but not children doomed to child labor? Does conflagrating the two issues do anything for either of them?

I don’t wish to blame these people for exposing a hypocrisy in our system, because they are right, we are all hypocrites. But for some of them this seems to be their day-job. They are delusional in their conviction that exposing everyone else is their way of changing the world. It isn’t. These people are misguided in what it means to take up a cause. For the rest of us it doesn’t mean doing something in spite of our mistakes, it means doing it to right them.

But if they truly want to change consumption behavior, they should start with the powerful agriculture lobbies that discourage filming on their properties to hide animal abuse; or the sugar industry that is not required by congressional review boards to put the daily nutritional value content on products, the cause of which is obesity and a whole sleuth of health issues; or they should just tackle poverty, which is the number one predictor of obesity, and by consequence, animal cruelty.

Again, most people wish to do the right thing. But not everyone has the means or leisure to ascribe to all causes. So we must find causes where we think we can make an impact. We don’t have to always hide behind societal norms to do the right thing, we can do the right thing in spite of those norms. So maybe next time you see someone signing a petition, or donating money, instead of unleashing your sanctimonious tongue or Twitter-fingers, maybe lend a helping hand. Let them know where their concern is better spent, and take comfort in the fact that even though their cause might not do much, it at least brought more attention to it. Ultimately what’s better, trying to right a wrong or working actively to wrong a right?

.

If you’d like to learn more about the Yulin Festival and how to help please visit these pages and do everything you can to help. Also, if you know of any other method to end cruelty, not just for these animals, but for all animals please share it. Even the exposure helps.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lychee_and_Dog_Meat_Festival
https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/yulin-dog-meat-festival-explainer-what-is-it-when-start-banned-controversy-a7800721.html
https://www.change.org/p/stop-allowing-the-yulin-dog-meat-lychee-festival

 

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New American Tribalism and the Rise of Trump

It would generally be unfair to say that a Donald Trump presidency will be the end of the world barely a couple of weeks into his administration. Traditionally we would reserve this hyperbole until after the first hundred days. And to rush for the hills before he’s had the opportunity to showcase his presidential side, separate from his campaign persona, would not only reduce our credibility, but it would also make most of us look naively partisan, or worse, Donald Trump.

But if we are to move past the animosity in today’s America, a country deeply divided in mostly everything including what the definition of truth is, and begin the “peace talks” that will hopefully lead to a reunification of the country—an outlandish sentence that would fit better in a Korean or Israeli-Palestinian context—we must, first of all, be sincere about the source of the rift. This is a noble endeavor, necessary for world stability. But it’s a process that will be slow and painful. And one that will most likely worsen our situation before improving it.

The absurdity of this past year’s presidential campaign has left many wondering if everything we know about the world is wrong. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the narrative of experts like Nate Silver and institutions like the New York Times prepared us for a monumental win that would never come.

To the awe of pollsters, scientists, journalists, behavioral experts, politicians, and three million more people than those who voted for Trump, he not only managed to walk away with the grand prize, but Republicans took every piece of the government with them. The result was a humiliating defeat that banished every Democrat from the local-party level up into the cold, with their tail between their legs and licking their wounds. An outcome we’d all been assured was next to impossible. Instead of hopeful, that depressing narrative we remember would come to serve as a cautionary tale for the future.

So was Trump’s upset-win a failure of statistical math or an over-dependence on “predictive” polls? Was it a big “fuck you” from an estranged lower-middle class; or was it a highly organized ruse to exploit the weaknesses in our political system?

It’s painfully obvious now from our obstinacy to consider unlikely outcomes that we can’t discount any possibility, no matter how improbable. Thus, if Trump truly is some sort of Machiavellian savant who concocted an airtight plan to disestablish the establishment, then it’d be more than fair to say that he succeeded magnanimously not only in fooling the opposition, but even many of his supporters as well.

However, with the benefit of hindsight in mind, it seems that the “Trump Phenomenon” offers a much simpler and much more sinister explanation. One that is grounded in years’ worth of evidence about who Donald Trump is, about changing social attitudes, and about deep political divisions that are wider now than ever before. This analysis is not meant as a standalone post-mortem. It’s written as a supplement to everything we already know: the Democrats’ failure with the lower-middle class population, Russian intrusion, political corruption, etc.

Whether you’re skeptical to Trump’s abilities in either direction, it’s the past few weeks, and specifically the past few days, that tells us the most about what this presidency will be like. It’s in these few days that his moderate-supporters are now realizing what his opponents are being reasserted about, that Trump has no dimension other than the one he displayed on the trail.

Starting with his cabinet picks—which seem more like a concerted effort to undermine the very institutions they are appointed to serve—to his infantile Twitter rants, to his micro-management of every battle no matter how insignificant, to the petty, incessant lies, the choices the president has recently made point to a trend that is much more likely to continue. Aside from the few campaign promises he’s managed to enact into legislation through executive orders (the most of any incoming president on the same time period), there’s a more obscure aspect to his presidency that is worrying, specifically his disregard for expert opinion, his obsessive preoccupation with his popularity, and his readiness to spar with whomever disagrees with him in the slightest degree.

In a bizarre turn of events, Trump has even managed to briefly alienate the same intelligence community that he’ll have to rely on to expand the powers that his predecessor established, which more than likely he will. Admittedly to see two traditionally reciprocal institutions so publicly at odds is worrisome to say the least. It seems clear now that the strong-arming of Trump by the 17 different intelligent agencies and governmental departments involved in the Russian-hacking investigation, was meant as a message that Trump continually failed to grasp or resisted to do, which was simply to read between the lines and roll with the punches to put the whole thing to rest. In the end, in order to maintain his baseline support, he caved.

The aim of investigations, headed by the same institutions that failed to protect American autonomy in the first place, were not meant to change anything, and until now have been only slightly revelatory. Of course, it’s not the job of the intelligence agencies to change public policy. But it’s the nature of the investigations that do reveal a lot. First, by being primarily a product of public outcry, not of internal inquiry. And second, by exposing Trump’s demagoguery.

Now, ten days into his administration—predictably the most unpopular in record time—he continues to defy the logic of presidential governance by appointing White House Chief-Strategist Stephen Bannon to head the National Security Council, a post usually reserved for high military roles, such as the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff. Whereas before any intention to reorganize this cabinet-level department was widely criticized, this time the voices of opposition are silent. However, as reviled as Bannon is by nearly everyone who knows him, he does share the same qualifications to chair the NSC as Donald Trump does to the presidency.

These moves fly over the heads of the fiscally responsible Christian Republicans who just approved a wall that would cost anywhere from $15-25b, and who are more than content to deny entry to visa-holding travelers from Muslim majority countries, excluding Muslim countries Trump has business ties to. After all, he did just win them all three branches of government.

But what does this say about the American public who voted for an”unconventional guy”? It matters to know for two important reasons. One, because unconventional is not necessarily a good thing. Especially in a job, like the presidency, where predictable conventionality is mostly always an asset not a liability. And two because these conclusions say even more about Trump’s base than they do about him.

We can guess as to how the establishment will react. However, for his most ardent supporters, which compose a little less than half the country, the ends, necessarily, justify the means. The irony is lost in some of them when they are confronted by the reality of his style, much in keeping with the opposition and establishment they abhor, which seems, as always, diametrically opposed to people’s attitudes.

A scary-enough prospect considering that in order to pass a lie as truth, truth has to mean absolutely nothing.

This behavior doesn’t grow out of nowhere. It is directly the byproduct of manufactured convictions, the same which have been employed by religious extremists for thousands of years. Unfortunately, in this climate we currently live in, where untruths are allowed to fester and grow like bacteria in the petri dish of ideological bubbles, no one wins. And although one side bears most of the fault, both camps are guilty of this behavior.

Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher has said as much in his show Real Time, noting that Liberals like himself had done the country a disservice by yelling wolf one-too-many times in accusing Republicans and Conservatives of being the harbingers of doom. Equally, Republican and Conservative commentators like Glenn Beck have accused Democrats and Liberals of the same. Now, in light of the potential danger that Donald Trump signifies for the democratic process, both commentators have expressed regret about the role they’ve played and agree that in the end it is the American people who will, once again, suffer the most. But they come too little too late. The American people are through listening.

The end-result is that the country has become desensitized at a very critical moment. Years of mistreating the truth has caused tribal polarity among those who ascribe their allegiance to a group or party, rather than country; and, it has caused people to be much more cynical, more fundamentalist, more unprincipled, and less inclined to search for the truth. This means that seasonal societal clashes that a healthy nation needs to advance progress, are not happening due to the safe-spaces that both sides have created for themselves. Bubbles of animosity that are already bursting with disastrous consequences. In short, we’re fighting each other and disengaging from reality at the same time.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Ideological conflicts have always occupied a space where strong claims exist, which politicians have always been willing to exploit. The difference between today and say, 1930s Germany (a time many compare to today) is that the abundance of information has made it much harder for anyone to excuse their ignorance on lack of resources. But with new solutions come new problems. The main factor being that sifting through the mud to find the gold-nugget of truth is now proving to be more time-consuming than ever due to misinformation. Add in the eternal unwillingness of people to engage in conversation or even agree on the basic rules of public discourse and it makes the situation worse. Conversations of unanimity depend largely on a compromise to define truth in a post-truth world. The good news is that post-truth can easily be eradicated if we are willing to. The bad news is that we can’t even agree on this compromise.

Unfortunately tribal polarity is not the only side-effect of vilifying the opposition. Acclimation to hate rhetoric is an even more corrosive adverse effect.

As of November 2016, 77% of Americans were convinced that the country was divided. Comically enough, respondents in that same poll were just about evenly split on whether Trump would be a uniting or dividing force.

So most people agree that America is in terrible conflict. But in trying to analyze the situation most people can’t seem to agree where the problem is. Most Democrats agree that the problem starts from the top-down, with our politicians and financial institutions being too powerful and oligarchic. Most Republicans think it’s from the bottom-up with people not being willing to accept personal responsibility and by blaming their problems on others. But as Americans, people seem to be incapable of accepting uncomfortable truths when they see them, or unwilling to compromise their views when they don’t serve their interests. When confronted, most people retract to what they know instead of inspecting the claim. And really who could blame them when it has become increasingly difficult to stay objectively informed.

This doesn’t mean there are no reputable sources to follow, only that they’re hard to find. It’s only logical to assume that in the absence of a trustworthy solution people will resort back to what their familiar with, their tribes.

Donald Trump found a behavioral loophole in our social construct and benefited from it. His opportunistic nature to seize on weaknesses, which has made him a very successful businessman, has also given him the tools to create a narrative right out of a mediocre political thriller. Whether he believes it’s in his own interests or the country’s, his imaginative, although simple, mind devised all the plot-elements necessary to make it work. He created an antagonist and a conflict, and then he alone provided the hero and the solution. Sadly, it is the very real weakness of an antiquated system that provided the twist, and people abandoned by the system bought into this narrative wholesale.

It is an absolute truism that Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Yet now he claims, without any factual basis, that he lost it because of staggering voter fraud. As embarrassed as we are to have to watch his tantrums on national TV, there’s no doubt that the king believes his case wholeheartedly. And who are we to contradict him?

From the actions taken during his first days in office, it is obvious that the president is more than willing to use his powers against those who swim against the tide of the official line. The imposed gag-orders on all federal agencies even remotely opposed to the president’s philosophy, especially on environmental matters, and the convenient “alternative facts” provided by the administration point to that direction.

Yet even still, no one seriously wants Trump to fail in the general sense just to spite him or his supporters. What the country also doesn’t want is for Trump to succeed in abandoning reasonable governance for the benefit of the doubt—or the ruling party’s interests. Nonetheless, this is the direction we’re headed.

Paradoxically enough, the virulently obstructionist actions of this new administration are now motivating Republicans, the party of small government, to exert more government control, while forcing Democrats to fight to reduce its size. An ideological flip that hasn’t happened since the early 20th century.

In the end it’s up to the people to be cognizant of the fact that representatives are a product of their communities. And we, and we alone, are responsible of forming our own criteria by analyzing opposing and supporting points of view. This makes the very important point that to resist the power of the president is not un-American. It’s perhaps the most American thing there is.

To pre-emptively trash Trump based on nothing but personal convictions is both wrong and irresponsible. To resist him based on established behavior is wise and necessary. It’s possible that this falling plane will stabilize as time goes by. But based on what we’re witnessing today, we wouldn’t be wrong to predict a recurring pattern, one in which Trump creates monsters out of kittens to frighten the children who will in turn hand him all the power he needs, just as we did with Bush. Whatever the future holds, the answers  will never be found in the comfort of tribalism. As a society, Americans would benefit from using distress as a scaffold toward rationality and political centrism.

So to say that Trump is the worst thing that can happen will undoubtedly turn away people who might just be willing to have an honest conversation. But seeing the alternative to a rational presidency, we would be remiss not to be at least a little worried for the future. A future that while we may be inaccurate to classify as dystopian, it’s also now a bit less utopian than what we’d been working for.

Many, including myself, still hold out hope that Trump will find wisdom behind the same desk where Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt sat. His supporters already see him as one of the greats, though obviously with a different set of problems. His opponents, however, remember that the presidency has also produced the likes of Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. Two of the most flawed and unpopular presidents in American history who were not only socially closer to their constituents than Trump is to his, but also much more learned in political theory than Trump is.

Whatever our destiny may be, it’s in everyone’s interest to heed the wise words of author and inspirational speaker Denis Waitley, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised”.