I read in the “nature” section of this weekend’s Statesman an article that almost ruined my weekend: “Some captive sea mammals outlive wild cousins” by Mike Schneider, via the AP Press. The article is about insidious as they come: pitting the two sides of the zoo/water park debate as having equal weight, despite hinting via the headline that (wink wink) one side (surprise, the status-quo corporate one) is really the only one being realistic. I’m frankly surprised that Schneider even uses the word “captive,” which at least gets across quite clearly the idea that these animals are there against their will.
But then again, one must ask why he would even make the argument that maybe stealing animals from the ocean or forcing them to breed in a prison (er, a wonderful and spacious tank) isn’t all that bad, when he himself notes, six paragraphs in, and as if it doesn’t call into question the entire thesis: “However, the survival rate of all SeaWorld’s orcas, including those captured in the oceans, is lower than estimates of those living in the wild.”
But don’t worry! The great people at SeaWorld are simply monitoring the animals in order to study and help them:
“We’re looking for evidence of infection or inflammation. We’re looking at electrolytes, liver values, kidney values, blood sugar,” Dirroco said. “We want to make sure we’re always one step ahead of any health problems.”
One step ahead? Hey, would you like to be two steps ahead? Don’t steal animals from the ocean. Just leave them the fuck alone. I’m sure an orca would rather take her chances in the wild than to benefit from all your tests (“Days later, pilot whale Freddie was bribed to the side of a pool with fish, and trainer Liz Thomas gently grabbed her tail. Veterinarian Stacy Dirocco, dressed in scrubs, swabbed the tail with alcohol and drew some blood into a handful of lab tubes.”)—tests which are really designed to keep the animals in shape long enough to be profitable as forced labor. Why else, you might ask, would these scientists care about an orca’s electrolytes?
The last paragraph, though, is the real kicker:
Even as conditions improve in captivity [read that back to yourself], the marine mammals’ native oceans are deteriorating because of human-generated pollution, said Dr. Mike Walsh, co-director of aquatic animal health at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “People think it’s a Cinderella existence out there… but that’s not the way it works,” Walsh said. “It’s survival out there. It’s not a nice place to be unless you’re at the top of the food chain.”
I could spend years writing about this paragraph. But for now I’ll simply ask: Never mind that orcas and most other dolphins are at the top of their food chains; does Dr. Walsh really mean to argue that since humans have trashed the living ocean, we should—instead of trying to, you know, un-trash the ocean—steal animals from that trashed ocean, since conditions might be nicer (and, simply fortuitously I’m sure, more profitable) in an artificial environment?
And never mind that animals at water parks die from completely preventable, i.e. completely captivity-induced causes (“Over the decades, captive marine mammals at U.S. parks have died from seemingly preventable causes: electrical shock, allergic reaction, swallowing foreign objects, stress while being moved, drowning [drowning], reactions to vaccines, anorexia and heat stroke.”); does Dr. Walsh really think he knows what’s best for a sentient, sovereign, independent being, which neither he (nor I, nor you) could ever possibly fully understand?
I need to walk away from this for a bit, lest this article almost ruin my Monday, too.
“We tend to think of William as more or less permanently in the saddle. He grew up in a world, after all, where authority was usually delivered on the blade of a sword. So it’s all the more impressive that he seems to have understood instinctively that information could also be power. William the conqueror was the first database king.” – Simon Schama
Here’s a great piece (“The Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home”) about the dangers of increased interconnectivity, which is really just a guise for increased corporate technological control, couched in the desire—which we’re told we all secretly share—to have our entire lives monitored, analyzed, and archived:
The IoT [Internet of Things] promises users an unending capability to parse personal information, making each of us a statistician of the self, taking pleasure and finding reassurance in constant data triage. As with the quantified self movement, the technical ability for devices to collect and transmit data — what makes them “smart” — is its own achievement, the accumulation of data is represented as its own reward. “In a decade, every piece of apparel you buy will have some sort of biofeedback sensors built in it,” the co-founder of OMsignal told Nick Bilton, a New York Times technology columnist. Bilton notes that “many challenges must be overcome first, not the least of which is price.” But convincing people they need a shirt that can record their heart rate is apparently not one of these challenges.
And of course, all advertising is really PR for the status quo, i.e. continual consolidation and solidification of oligarchies:
Whoever prevails in this competition to connect, well, everything, it’s worth remembering that while the smartphone or computer screen serves as an access point, the real work — the constant processing, assessment, and feedback mechanisms allowing insurance rates to be adjusted in real-time — is done in the corporate cloud. That is also where the control lies. To wrest it back, we will need to learn to appreciate the virtues of products that are dumb and disconnected once again.
This questioning of, well, unquestioned technology reminds me of the definitive work on the subject (in my humble opinion): In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander. One of Mander’s best arguments is that technological “advancements” (see, even the language of critiquing technology starts with a pro-technology bias as the default) almost always benefit those at the top of hierarchies, despite the pervasive assertion that they increase standards of living, or freedom, or the ability to challenge power structures. The Internet will make every institution—from governments to workplaces to global international coalitions—more democratic, right?
Do you have more power, more freedom—more happiness—because you have access to the Internet? Or do you have less of everything: less privacy, less real friends, less self-esteem, less time? Does the Internet help you confront power structures, or does it hinder you through distraction, compartmentalization, and surveillance? Who does that trend serve?
Or, as I presume Mander would ask: could you take apart the Internet if you wanted to? At what point does it stop being a choice?
“When one group rules another, the relationship between the two is political. When such an arrangement is carried out over a long period of time it develops an ideology (feudalism, racism, etc.). All historical civilizations are patriarchies: their ideology is male supremacy.” – Kate Millett
Following up on last week’s post on children and GDP, here’s a good post from The View from Hell about children and production: “Children, Education, and Status.” It supports the claim (that I hold) that people are having less children because of education, despite the government practically begging people to procreate via financial and social benefits, in order to continue the pyramid scheme of capitalist production: infinite growth, no matter the limits of reality.
From the post:
In summary, children used to be:
- hard working and helpful, especially at the work of raising a large family;
- self-sufficient at an early age;
- submissive to adults;
- the only path to adult status
Education, specifically Western education promoting democratic values, interferes with children’s work and their parents’ expectations for their work. It makes them more dependent on their parents, and makes them less likely to be servile and submissive to parents. And education itself provides an alternate means of achieving adult status other than having children. In the presence of these conditions, the demand for children is apparently low.
In other words, children used to be the producers of labor, and now, because of education systems, they become the consumers of labor: the next generation of recently graduated young professionals, who want—no, need—the latest gadget made by the subsequent generation of kids, toiling away in overseas factories.
So wait, actually, rethinking this: education turns one generation of kids in one part of the world from labor to consumer, while simultaneously producing the need for more child labor from a different generation elsewhere, completing the circle of the original intent of schools: to turn independent, playful people into both the manufacturers of and the occupants of cubicles.
But if education is contributing to a decreasing birthrate, it can’t be all that bad?
Here’s a cool article about a guy who has lived in the woods his whole life: The Last American Man.
“I want to tell the world,” Eustace [the protagonist in the article] said, “that you are not handcuffed to your culture. You can return to the woods. You can make your own food. You can make your own clothing. You can live without a clock. It’s easy!”
Well, it’s not just that easy, actually. I don’t think most people, myself included, could do what Eustace has done. Or at least, they can’t do it fully. I think we can all divest from the dominant culture, and start, little by little, to unravel its foundation by both subverting expectations (i.e. conventional career aspirations) and—for lack of a better term—gaming the system, like finding a way to not pay taxes or student loans, or like finding a way to walk to work, or to work part-time.
We don’t have the skills (or the space) for everyone to return to the woods just yet. We will return to the woods against our will at some point, but it’s too soon to just skip out and ride away into the sunset on our horses (which Eustace and his brother literally do, riding them from coast to coast in 103 days, a world record).
Ran Prieur agrees:
It’s about Eustace Conway, who has lived in the woods for most of his life, and is generally awesome. He says everyone can live like him, but he’s wrong. He can live that way and you can’t, because from the moment he could walk, his parents let him wander the woods unsupervised, and your parents didn’t. But if that ever becomes fashionable, even in one region, it could spread globally as we see how well it works. And early wilderness immersion doesn’t even force you to live primitively—it just gives you the option.
There is a growing movement—Ran would be happy to know—called the Children in Nature movement (based on and inspired by Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods), and unstructured time in nature is one of the key components people are re-thinking and advocating for. Of course, we’re running out of “nature” to have unstructured time in, so that’s a big drawback to teaching only those skills that incorporate infinite wilderness. Will it really make sense to know how to make a shirt out of a deer when there aren’t many deer left, and those that remain are owned by corporations?
Might it make more sense to teach “gaming the system” skills, like how to work cash-only jobs or how to fix a bike or how to make alcohol?