Friday, June 29, 2012

Some interesting thoughts from daughter Cobie

Like myself, Cobie thinks things through by writing.  Here is a recent document that I thought was worth sharing more widely.

The Question:

I've kept trying to decide: Do I want to focus almost all my volunteer time on reducing animal suffering? Or do I want to spend some of that time trying to help people learn about political issues in general?

The Tentative Conclusion:

I think I've decided to spend most of my time on animal issues. Yes, I'll want to do a little learning about other issues like any citizen should. And I'd like to keep going to an Unlike Minds meeting once a month – discussed further below. Possibly write a letter to the newspaper sometime about what I've learned from having political discussions with people who disagree on issues (and write a few letters about animal issues too). But I don't think I'll really get involved with teaching people about other issues.


What I had thought about doing to help teach people about political issues: First, learn more about the issues myself. And do some experimenting in our Unlike Minds group (a group of 9 people with differing political views who get together for friendly conversations – one of several such groups here in town). In Unlike Minds, we can try various ways to discuss issues. Later, encourage additional people to learn about issues. Possible ways we can help people learn: Spread Unlike Minds to more people, and/or start a website or social media site that talks about ways to learn about issues. Maybe each person who visited the website could post their own suggestions about how to study issues on a separate webpage.

Maybe many others are already doing the things I've thought about, that would help people learn about political issues? I'd like to know.

The reason I was thinking of helping spread political issues in general, is that I don't know whether there are many people doing things like Unlike Minds, or like websites with suggestions about ways to study issues. Whereas with animal issues, I know that some people have thought very carefully about how to spread animal issues, and they are doing some very effective things.

How important are animal issues compared with other issues? On the one hand, there are a lot more farm animals than there are humans on Earth, so animal issues affect more individuals than any other issue. On the other hand, there are crises to be prevented (wars, enviromental problems, recessions), and some of these crises could make it harder to spread information about animals (and could harm a lot of humans as well).

But my impression is that humans have a lot of incentive to prevent crises that could harm us, less incentive to help animals. A lot of people are working to try to prevent human crises, and most likely they will succeed. In the previous century the world survived wars, the Great Depression, etc., and we will probably make it this time, too.

Maybe environmental problems could sneak up on us and kill us all (I don't really know), but if a lot of people consume fewer animal products, that will help the environment a lot.

Another way to look at it: Wouldn't it be a shame if a lot of us got together to stop the crises that might affect humans, and then we watched as the world went on happily abusing animals?

Possibly by promoting the careful study of all issues, I could persuade some people to learn about animal issues. But I would guess that promoting animal issues is going to do the animals more good than a general promotion of studying issues carefully – this of course is all guesswork. So I'm thinking that I shouldn't spend a lot of time on other angles in the upcoming years. If, in some future decade, all the colleges (and high schools?) in the developed world are saturated with literature about factory farming, then I might start to try other ways to convince people to be more compassionate. (In my opinion, the best way to be compassionate is to move toward a plant-based diet – but that's another discussion.)

If it weren't for all the animal suffering, I would work to work to stop human suffering. But I think the best thing I can do under current circumstances is to work to stop animal suffering. There are so many animals who are suffering, and I think the animals are getting much less attention than the “crisis” issues are.

Asking for Feedback:

My overall goal is to reduce suffering, not to work on animal issues or work on other issues.

Do you agree that working on animal issues is the best way that I can reduce suffering? I'd appreciate feedback.

  • I'm asking several people for feedback on this, because I reached these conclusions after a conversation with just one person. I remember 20 years ago I decided to go to graduate school after a conversation with another student and didn't discuss it with anyone else. I later realized that going to graduate school had not been what I wanted at all (although other people are welcome to go to graduate school.) So for this decision, I'd like to get several people's feedback.
  • I haven't read The World Peace Diet yet. It's someone's opinion about the relation between animal issues and human issues.
  • Does anyone know of other movements that are similar to Unlike Minds, or of websites or social media sites that help people learn about good ways to study issues?
  • I also want to try praying/meditating in case that gives me any insight.
  • I think that for working on animal issues, I'd like to mostly spend my time handing out literature to college students like I've been doing.
  • My understanding of things is always evolving, but this is my current impression of what I should work on.
  • Sometimes I wish the world were different than it is. I wish it were better for both animals and humans.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our leaders are smarter than they act

Citizens United has become an all-purpose whipping boy for political outcomes disliked by liberals.  Critics  of the Supreme Court’s decision complain that democracy is undermined when corporations are free to spend huge amounts to influence leaders and elections,  benefiting the rich at the expense of the 99%.

Even before Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin,  critics were blaming the poll-predicted failure on “outside” corporate money flooding the state with TV commercials defending Republican Governor Scott Walker. 

The Court’s decision in Citizens United was not,  however,  unreasonable.  It took literally the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”   It ruled as proposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, not a hotbed of conservative,  corporate-friendly sentiments.  It  frees unions as well as corporations to spend money on political advocacy.  And on many issues,   big corporations can be found on both sides.   

Elections are decided by voters,  not by money.  We have never had a president named Rockefeller or Perot.   Citizens United does not change the fact that  “the 99%” are potentially  99% of the voters, and that they could vote in their own interests if they took the time to inform themselves and to think seriously about candidates and issues.

Critics of  Citizens United  complain that voters can be manipulated.  This is true for some voters some of the time.   But to the extent that voters can be manipulated,  overturning the Supreme Court’s decision would not improve matters.  It would just disadvantage some fat cats to the benefit of other fat cats (like the corporate  newspaper and TV chains, which were totally free to propagandize even before Citizens United was decided).   If voters can be manipulated it doesn’t matter much who does the manipulating.

The true remedy to any problems that may have been created by Citizens United is for Americans to take citizenship seriously,  to actively seek to inform themselves,  and to learn how to think about political candidates and issues so that they cannot be manipulated by anybody.

People often assume that our problems are caused by bad leaders.   Our present leaders do and say many stupid things, but this is not  because they are stupid.  Too often, it is because if they talked sense the voters wouldn’t stand for it and would throw them out at the next election. 

If a substantial number of voters would spend an hour a day boning up on issues and learning how to think productively about politics,  this would make it possible for leaders and potential leaders to talk sense and act wisely more of the time.

There was a famous sign on President Harry Truman’s desk:  “The buck stops here.”    This is true for presidential decisions during emergencies.  But for many important decisions,   Truman’s sign was misleading. The buck ultimately stops with our voters,  not with our leaders.  Our leaders are smarter than they currently can afford to act.