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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Famous People and Animal Rights: “Remembering” in the Culture of Denial


The names of many women and men are etched in the combined history of humankind by their sheer contribution to the society. These contributions have been in the form of thoughts, ideas, inventions, art, music, science, and so on. Many of us like to enrich our lives by reading the biographies and autobiographies of, and the works by these legendary personalities. We quote from them from time to time. A part of us wants to assimilate with them, be like them. We are “inspired” by them.

Very significantly, many of these stalwarts have volubly written against cruelty towards animals, whether they have lived thousands of years B.C. or after. Along their life journey, they have recognized that “intelligence” is incomplete without a sense of ethics. “Ethical” intelligence or the intelligence to empathize and sympathize with the suffering of non-human animals, when missing, makes human beings less “humane”. Perhaps it is this sense that has made their contributions what they are.

However, living in the culture of denial, refusing to accept that humans are part of the “animal kingdom”, and are “mammals” to be precise, we inflict pain on non-human animals each day of our lives. We refuse to accept that they resemble us in having organs with similar functions – with a brain, a spinal cord, and a heart for example, and are capable of feeling fear, pain, joy, and love. We invent all kinds of excuses and justifications to continue living in the culture of denial and are quite unwilling to change our habits. In this, we disassociate with that recess in our consciousness that makes us humane.

Today, we dedicate this post to seven famous personalities; we briefly examine what they are known for in popular culture, and we explore the part of their selves that have condemned violence against animals in the strongest of words and the most sincere of deeds. These personalities are organized in the ascending order of their lifetimes on Earth.


Source: www.lokashakti.org
1.    Pythagoras (570 B.C. – 490 B.C.): All of us who have undergone formal schooling have learned and written exams on the Pythagoras theorem propounded by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, in middle school. We know that this landmark mathematical equation has been extrapolated to a wide variety of systems that we have invented around us: from calculating the circumference of the moon to building houses and buildings to applying it in music to drawing video game environments! The offers from this genius man born two thousand years ago in ancient Greece are an integral part of our modern day lives.

However, he had made other important offers that our race has largely ignored. He had realized that the evolution of the human race is based on how it treats animals. Perhaps being a Mathematician had helped him see the cause-effect relationship quite clearly and he had articulated it thus, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”(1) Pythagoras fluently spoke his views against meat eating so much so that people who abstained from eating animals at that age were called “Pythagorean”.(2) Pythagoras inspired many other great minds(3), prominent among them were Plato (who wrote: The gods created certain kinds of beings to replenish our bodies... they are the trees and the plants and the seeds.(4)) and Plutarch (who wrote: “The obligations of law and equity reach only to mankind; but kindness and beneficence should be extended to the creatures of every species, and these will flow from the breast of a true man, as streams that issue.”(5)) Pythagoras also inspired the early fathers of the Christian Church.(6)


Source: www.4to40.com/legends
2.    Emperor Ashoka (304 B.C. – 232 B.C.): Every Indian child is introduced to the life and achievements of Emperor Ashoka in school through our ancient history curriculum. Ashoka is popularly known as “Ashoka the Great” and for every good reason. We have learned that he was a regular king in the early years of his rule and had expanded his kingdom from Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east through military conquests. The Battle of Kalinga in 262-261 B.C. became the turning point in his life; although his army won the battle, Ashoka on witnessing widespread bloodshed and plunder for the first time, went into deep repentance, holding himself responsible for the mayhem. He sought atonement by pledging to live the rest of his life on the principles of non-violence. Buddhism was emerging as a religion during those times; it was in its purest form propagating a casteless, compassionate society. The tenets of Buddhism appealed to many as people wanted respite from the acquired rigidity of Vedic religions. Ashoka became a Buddhist. He instructed for trees to be planted throughout his empire, mainly as respite for the traders who traveled from one destination to another, for inns to be built for the Buddhist monks who traveled as carriers of the message of ahimsa, for stupas to be erected with inscriptions of The Buddha’s teachings. What’s more, Ashoka propagated vegetarianism and did the best he could to ban animal killing as part of animal sacrifices, hunting, and food.(7) In one edict he notes,Formerly, several hundred thousand animals were killed daily for food; but now at the time of writing only three are killed.... Even these three animals will not be killed in future.(8) He even established free veterinary hospitals and dispensaries for sick, injured animals throughout his empire.(9)

Metaphorically speaking, Ashoka’s spirit dwells somewhere within every Indian today. His symbolism of “The Wheel of Life” known as the Ashoka Chakra that summarizes the ideals of a virtuous life has been assimilated in the Indian National Flag. And, the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka, a sculpture that comprises four lions standing back to back interpreted to symbolize the different stages in The Buddha's life, has been adopted with the words, ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (truth alone triumphs) inscribed in Devanagari script, as the National Emblem of India. This symbol appears in the official letterhead of the Government of India, on all Indian currency, and on Indian passports.


Source: www.kingsacademy.com
3.    Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519): Whether we know in detail about Leonardo da Vinci’s life and works or not, all of us know him as the extraordinary painter who created Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Historians have described him as the most diversely talented person ever to have lived and according to a wiki article, he was a polymath of his times known as a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.(10) His biographer, Giorgio Vasari has described him as, “a supernatural fusion in a single body lavishly supplied with such beauty, grace, and ability that wherever the individual turns, each of his actions is so divine that he leaves behind all other men.”(11)

Leonardo da Vinci was born at the time of the cultural movement in Europe called the Renaissance. It is not surprising that this genius man was a vegetarian, a fact confirmed by his biographer and was quite eloquent about his choice. He wrote the following in his Notebooks that has been translated thus: “If you are as you have described yourself the king of the animals – it would be better for you to call yourself king of the beasts since you are the greatest of them all! Why do you not help them so that they may presently be able to give you their young in order to gratify your palate, for the sake of which you have tried to make yourself a tomb for all the animals? Even more I might say if to speak the entire truth were permitted me.”(12) Another translation reads thus, “Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places!(13)


Source: www.rightwords.eu
4.    George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950): Many of us get introduced to the life and works of George Bernard Shaw through our coursework in high school through his outstanding play, Pygmalion that was later translated to the musical classic film, My Fair Lady. Most of us have fallen in love with Eliza Doolittle, the main protagonist of this play. As our world-view expands, we gradually learn about Shaw in a myriad other ways: as the co-founder of the London School of Economics, Nobel prize winner, exceptional playwright, a committed political activist vying for the equal rights of men and women, the working class, and the landless, to name a few.  

Did we know that his penchant for social justice extended to animals as well and he became vegetarian at age 25? In 1901 he said, “I was a cannibal for twenty-five years. For the rest I have been a vegetarian.”(14) In his biography, Bernard Shaw: His Life and Personality, he has been quoted to have said, “A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses”.(15) Besides, Shaw vociferously advocated a diet devoid of meat as part of preventive medicine, and strongly condemned sports and experiments that used animals. He wrote the play, The Doctor’s Dilemma to bring out the futility and ineffectiveness of animal experimentation. Like Pythagoras, George Bernard Shaw too had recognized the cause-effect relationship and condemned violence against animals in equally strong words, “While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?”(16)


Source: www.discovergoldenindia.com
5.    Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941): Many of us will remember these soulful verses we learned in our formative years in middle school as part of school curriculum.... we can never forget them because these verses evoked strong emotions within us…. these verses conveyed Tagore’s vision of India: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments, By narrow domestic walls, Where words come out from the depth of truth, Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way, Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, Where the mind is led forward by thee, Into ever-widening thought and action, Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore—a genius literary figure, Nobel prize laureate, composer of India’s national anthem – Jana Gana Mana, founder of the Visva-Bharati University—at the age of 33 years wrote in his memoir, Glimpses of Bengal Letters, “....We manage to swallow flesh, only because we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing we do. There are many crimes which are the creation of man himself, the wrongfulness of which is put down to their divergence from habit, custom, or tradition. But cruelty is not of these. It is a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, its protests against cruelty is always clearly heard; and yet we go on perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us – in fact, anyone who does not join in is dubbed a crank.... But if, after our pity is aroused, we persist in throttling our feelings simply in order to join others in preying upon life, we insult all that is good in us. I have decided to try a vegetarian diet.” You can click this link for the online version of the memoir to read the context in which Tagore wrote the above. How many of us really did know about this aspect of the maestro’s personality?


Source: www.caroljadams.com
6.    Carol J Adams (born 1951): Carol Adams represents the power of women’s voices and women’s writings on animal rights in the 21st century. Carol Adams is the author of many books that have drawn the connections between the different forms of oppression that the “perceived” less powerful humans are subjected to by the more powerful ones (black v/s white, women v/s men, and so on) and how this mentality is linked to the oppression that the human race as a whole (more powerful) inflicts on animals (less powerful). Through her writings, she has challenged the dominant notion of “power”. Is power to be used only to subjugate, oppress? One of her most prominent work is the feminist-vegan classic, The Sexual Politics of Meat. The New York Times has hailed this landmark book as “a bible of the vegan community”(17) and it is widely cited in college courses in Canada, UK, and US.(18) For a slideshow of the book, you can click this link. All of Adams’ writings call for the creation of a world of compassion and equality for both human and non-human animals.


Source: www.carnism.com
7.    Melanie Joy (born 1952): Dr. Melanie Joy is a professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston whose doctoral dissertation on carnism has formed the basis of one of the most important books of this century, her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, And Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Dr. Joy is the leading researcher on carnism or the psychology of eating meat. Carnism is the word used to describe the invisible belief system or ideology that conditions us to eat certain animals. Carnism is a dominant ideology, which means it is entrenched and normalized, shaping beliefs, behaviors, laws, norms, and so on. It is a violent ideology, whose tenets run counter to core human values. Dr. Joy is a celebrated speaker who has written a number of articles on psychology, animal protection, and social justice, which have been published in a variety of journals and magazines. She travels all over the world transforming minds with her slide shows on carnism. For an interview with Dr. Melanie Joy published in this blog, you can click this link.


References:
1. http://www.ivu.org/history/greece_rome/pythagoras.html
2. http://www.ivu.org/history/greece_rome/pythagoras.html
3. The World Peace Diet, p. 25
4. http://user.xmission.com/~jmr/VEG/VEGQUOTE.HTM
5. http://www.ivu.org/history/greece_rome/plutarch.html
6. The World Peace Diet, p. 25
7. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=oAOUyDe7_GMC&pg=PA119&lpg=PA119&dq=ashoka+ban+on+animal+killing&source=bl&ots=ngxXkLRlgU&sig=EsQHNrfpUY1k8xTeDqlUXYUCaGA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=T5lPT6GiFM3QrQfQm-jHDQ&sqi=2&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=ashoka%20ban%20on%20animal%20killing&f=false
8. http://people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/59/gita/ashoka.html
9. http://people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/59/gita/ashoka.html
10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo_da_Vinci
11. http://honorsjournal.colorado.edu/content/fact-or-fiction-myth-leonardo-da-vinci
12. http://www.ivu.org/history/davinci/hurwitz.html
13. http://www.ivu.org/people/quotes/lifedeat.html
14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bernard_Shaw
15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bernard_Shaw
16. http://www.angelfire.com/stars3/larika0/index8.html
17. http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Politics-Meat-Feminist-Vegetarian-Critical/dp/0826411843
18. http://www.triroc.com/xcj 

For a comprehensive list of famous vegans and vegetarians, you can click this link on the Happy Cow website.

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Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha! Non-violence supersedes all other duties! This blog is work-in-progress to make the Earth a little less violent. Are you on the same task as well? Best wishes to you and thank you for reading this post. Do feel free to type in and share any information that you think might be significant to this story.

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