All things are connected: Finding truth in a fake speech

quote-what-is-man-without-the-beasts-if-all-the-beasts-were-gone-man-would-die-from-a-great-loneliness-chief-seattle-350890“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts are gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”

Never did a phony speech ring so true. By now we all know (don’t we?) that these words–and that whole web of life riff–come from a fake speech attributed to Suquamish chief Seattle. Its falsified provenance has been exposed many times over, but its staying power persists on posters, T-shirts, bumper stickers, garden plaques (I have one, a gift), in a children’s book–and in hearts. We want to believe that a seer, wise and eloquent (which Seattle was for a fact), speaks to us so poignantly about the strong bond between all species: our irrevocable connection, our shared fate. That a mid-19th-century visionary addressed us directly in the early 1970s–just when our environmental movement was taking off (imagine that!)–and continues speaking ever more urgently in these rapidly-warming, species-depleting 21st-century days.

This is perfect, I say to myself in more cynical moments–and those are many. The species plundering the Earth is the same one (although in far lesser number) affixing prophetic but fictional words of warning to the bumpers of our fossil-fuel burning vehicles even as the plundering accelerates. We feel helpless, realizing it will be a cold day in hell before humans–at least those in charge–believe we are merely strands in the web of life and not its master.

Our dominion has translated into mountaintop removal, coal ash poisoning, tar sands apocalypse, deforestation, depleted oceans, factory farming of sentient fellow animals and all its attendant horrors, and global warming scenarios any one of which could be our undoing. Water scarcity, mutating pathogens, food supply failures, extinctions whose ramifications we don’t yet understand–the list is long and frightening and best not dwelt upon, for whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are connected. The clueless meddling that led to the near-extirpation of burrowing owls in Oregon is just one small example that brilliantly exposes our pathetic human machinations when attempting to manipulate nature, whose complexity is beyond our grasp:

Whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. “The depot lands” referred to above are the Umatilla Chemical Depot, an army installation that had stored tons of chemical warfare agents since 1962–and before that, supplies and munitions for World War II. Just a reminder that the species able to destroy all others is also willing to destroy its own.

The Earth does not belong to us. No prophet from Chief Seattle’s time could have foreseen the powerful influences that have created this life out of balance–koyaanisqatsi (a Hopi word and a 1982 film by the same name)and the suffering of our fellow beings, though the wanton slaughter of tens of thousands of American bison was surely a harbinger. Ancient migration routes are blocked by fences, cities, roads, and dams. Habitat is appropriated for livestock grazing, fuel production, and subdivisions–its native dwellers subsequently killed as nuisances. Invasive species–often intentionally introduced for trivial human benefit–further displace them. Nuclear accidents create radioactive dead zones. Corporations genetically engineer and patent life. And when Mammon conflicts with Mother Earth, corporate lobbyists ensure that lawmakers choose money over mom. We see ourselves apart from nature–not a part of nature–our species’ strand of the web forged largely from links of entitlement, hubris, and greed.

What is man without the beasts?Red wolves and mountain gorillas. Alpine butterflies. Rhinos, elephants, sharks, and tigers. These and more–our Animal Kingdom cohorts in life on Earth–are in grave peril. Scientists are calling it The Sixth Mass Extinction and estimate that 30,000 species go extinct each year. Unlike other mass extinctions, humans are the primary cause this go-round. Seabirds and frogs. Polar bears and pikas.

PikaWorks – click image

These issues are so huge that for sanity’s sake we tend to look on as disinterested observers. Still, they are also hugely personal. If you’ve wandered the high elevation Rocky Mountains as I have, you’ve smiled in appreciative recognition at the shrill warning bark of the pika. Sit down in a boulder field adjacent to a meadow and you’ll soon see the small lagomorphs–rabbit relatives–busily collecting forbs and grasses (video) to build “haystacks” for winter survival. Pikas’ body temperature, at 104 degrees, is near the lethal limit for mammals and they can easily overheat. A warming world is a real threat to these little beings, who serve as a prey species for many predators in the intricate web of life.

And then there’s this reality: At this very moment, billions of sentient animals are suffering both mentally and physically in factory farms, fur farms, zoos, research labs, Asian bear bile farms, in cattle carriers, on fishing trawlers, in traps and snares, in circuses, rodeos, puppy mills, and slaughterhouses; killed for food, fashion, fun, convenience; poached for horns and tusks; starved, beaten, and worked to death simply for not being human…lives squandered in the myriad ways that we’ve claimed dominion for ourselves without compassion and justice for them.

The fictitious but hauntingly real words of a manufactured prophet in a speech never delivered seem more likely to be proven true today than they did 40 years ago. We will devour the Earth and leave behind only a desert.

Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.

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Pony rides: Service…or servitude? | Other Nations


Photo: LA Progressive; click image

ex-ploi-ta-tion (noun):the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.

Animal exploitation comes in many shapes and sizes and often involves soul-crushing cruelty–think factory farming, circus slavery, vivisection. But is exploitation always cruel? What constitutes cruelty, anyhow? And who defines it? If you’re the animal, these questions are meaningless: When you’re suffering–whether physically, emotionally, or both–you simply want it to stop. If you’re the animal rights activist, your definition of what’s exploitive and cruel is holistic and vastly broader than that of the person who “owns” animals–ponies, for example–and benefits financially from their work in the pony ride ring. Though they might be well cared-for, is their forced labor unfair? Is it cruel? Is it OK because they’re valued and loved? Just like the tethered ponies, this argument goes ’round and ’round.

That’s the scenario playing out in Santa Monica, CA, where Tawni’s Ponies & Petting Farm, Inc. & Animal World Petting Zoo (Facebook) has sold pony rides at the farmers market since 2003. Enter local special education teacher Marcy Winograd, who believes that her city’s farmers market is no place for animal exploitation:

Winograd and other activists have been protesting the pony rides since April of this year, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press (SMDP), which further reports that, “In September…City Council voted 4 to 0 to seek a non-animal related vendor for the Farmers’ Market plot currently occupied by Tawni’s Ponies. … The decision will likely spell the end of pony rides and petting zoos at the Main Street Market.”

Now the pony ride owners “are suing protesters, claiming libel, infliction of emotional distress, and interference with possible economic advantage…” and projecting that, when their contract with the market expires next May, they’ll lose some $75,000 worth of business. The suit also alleges that “they’ll lose new pony ride and petting zoo business given the ‘false accusations of animal abuse’ that were published” (SMDP).

It should be noted that Tawni’s Ponies received “numerous assurances from city and police officials that no abuse was occurring,” according to the Daily Press. This includes a letter of assurance from a local police sergeant and horse owner who asserts that the ponies are “well-cared for, and in good condition.” On the other hand, none less than ethologist/evolutionary biologist Marc Bekoff has weighed in, calling such animal exhibits “thoroughly inhumane” and adding that “(t)ethering animals so they cannot have freedom of movement and the freedom to get away from harassment and noise is as inhumane as keeping the animals in tiny cages in petting zoos, where they suffer physically and emotionally ” (source).

While dueling petitions make the rounds (animal activists, here; pony ride owner, here), Winograd’s intention is to file an anti-SLAPP(strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to protect her First Amendment right to free speech (see her treatise in the LA Progressive; it includes a video she made).

Service…or servitude?

The attorney representing the owner of Tawni’s Ponies claims that the animals “…enjoy their work at the Farmers’ Market. It is a weekly outing for them, much in the way that the family dog tries to get into the car when the family is heading somewhere.” He continues:

This suggests that a pony can beg off if he or she doesn’t feel up to schlepping rambunctious kids around the ring on a particular weekend while, at the same time, it suggests that the ponies must “earn their keep.” Journalist Jon Katz has vehemently defended Tawni’s Ponies, framing the issue as nothing less than “the right of animals to remain in our world”:

Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages - click

Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages – click

Mr. Katz, by the way, is author of an e-book titled, “Who speaks for the carriage horses? The future of animals in our world” and maintains in a blog post that, “(l)iving and working in cities is precisely what (carriage horses) are bred to do and meant to do. It is their safest place.” (Not according to NYClass, who has documented 2014’s accidents.)

Domestic nonhuman animals occupy a shadow world. As shadows of their ancient, wild selves, they no longer fill an ecological niche and–now dependent on humans–are considered property and are bred to be exploited for their utility. A few favored species find their way into our homes and lives to live as family members while others–representing billions of individuals–know only suffering.

Though I’m hazarding a guess here–and please, speak up if you see it another way–those of us who advocate for animal rights are likely to see the spectrum of legal animal exploitation as a whole–an ever-present symptom of the speciesism that pervades and drives society. Pony rides are down there somewhere on the less harmful end while elsewhere along the scale we find absurdities like pig wrestling, horse and dog racing, circus slavery and rodeo, breeding mills…topping out somewhere around vivisection and factory farming. We know that small injustices enable larger ones, and all are symptoms of a speciesist world that nonhuman animals didn’t create–but one that they must endure.

UPDATE: This update, detailing USDA violations, was provided on 4/18/15 by Marcy Winograd.

Learn more:

  • Free the website
  • Berkeley Parents Network: Parties with horses & ponies (see 2nd question)
  • Games, rides, contests, exhibits – from PETA

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg!

Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting: Have your say

“I strongly oppose the delisting of Grizzly Bears … Do not give in to those who would see these important bears as nothing more than a threat to their livestock, or a trophy to be gunned down. Allow science, not political pandering, to be the measuring stick of true recovery.”

“It is time to let the hunters do there part in conservation. Full support.”

But be forewarned–wading into this fray might set your head to spinning. Both sides claim that science is on their side. Many commenters–those clamoring for trophy hunting–consistently call for management to be turned over to the states in what is certainly an orchestrated campaign by hunting groups. Bears have lost their fear of humans, and hunting will fix that is another theme. A cattle association president bellyaches about “calf loss rates” due to grizzlies on national forest grazing allotments–the very same citizen-owned public lands that native grizzlies should have uncontested access to.

Remember Bear 399? You got acquainted with this special griz in “Bear 399: Delisting the grizzly you know.” The arguments against the premature delisting proposal are all laid out there: critical changes in food supply; habitat expansion and connectivity obstacles; immediate trophy hunting; too many conflict-related mortalities; and one that I failed to mention in that post (super-mom 399 notwithstanding)–“grizzly bears have one of the slowest reproductive rates among terrestrial mammals, due to their late age of first reproduction, small average litter size, and the long interval between litters: it may take a single female 10 years to replace herself in a population” (source). A list of good resources is also attached to that post. Everything needed to make a decent, succinct comment is there.

Will our comments against delisting change anything? Probably not. But let the final tally show that more people were selflessly concerned with species survival than with bragging rights to taxidermy mounts and bearskin rugs. I hold in my imagination the beautiful image of a human mom pointing out to her awe-struck kids the sight of a grizzly mom tending her own kids as she attempts to make her way through a human-dominated world that holds both wonder and respect for her life…and bullets for her death.

Links to documents & commenting:

  • Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Population of Grizzly Bears From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, here. Includes link to docket folder, summary, and extensive supplementary and background information.
  • Docket folder summary: Includes a few comments, a link to “view all” comments, and a “comment now” button for your own two cents.

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg where it is cross-posted.