Tuesday, 17 June 2014
I am so angry currently that its difficult to tease out the various strands of anger from the almost overwhelming dreads of rage in which I am entangled. I'm angry because people I teach with don't know what the word philanthropic means. You'd think the anthro in the middle of it would kind of give it away - suggest it had something to do with people...but apparently I'm some special extra-smart person who knows the roots of words and what they mean and other lesser mortals - who spend all day teaching children - don't. In fact one of these teacher people - who has been working all year on designing a philanthropic project - spent an hour patronising me today about just how clever I must be to know the meaning of a word that she didn't understand; despite being in charge of the project about it. But she didn't need to wait for me to send my numerous, initially witty, but increasingly irritated emails - to realise her error - she could have just googled it; or asked someone - but no, instead, several people, all of whom let us remember, are in charge of the education of the young, just brazenly went on organising a project they didn't understand and didn't know the meaning of. So my school has a philanthropic project which is to help out an animal shelter. Do you see the obvious problem here? Because the people who educate the children don't... I've been asked what I have against animals - the answer is nothing - I like my cat very much - but its a cat, not a person. I've been asked if I don't see what an important cause raising awareness about battery hens is - the answer is no, I don't think its that important - not while there are refugees being turned away from our shores; people locked up in detention centres; people starving and lacking health care and adequate shelter in our supposedly first world nation - need I go on? There are a number of problems here and they are related. The first is that somehow the meanings of things don't matter - that close enough is good enough - that sure it might say philanthropic but what it really means is some sort of charity. So aside from the fact that I think charity of all kinds is deeply problematic both because of its patronising and neo-colonial nature but also because it takes away from the state the responsibility it has to look after all members of society - I also think words matter. Call things by their right names is one of the most basic ideas of marxism - I want things called by their right names and if I am supposed to do a philanthropic project; then it damn well better be about people. The second is about the relationship between humans and animals. Anthropomorphism - and just in case any of my educator colleagues are reading this and having a little trouble with the definitions of big words that are hard to pronounce - that means seeing and treating animals as if they have human characteristics - is a deeply problematic way of viewing the world. By their very nature animals do not have rights - they can't possibly as they have no obligations in our society. Does that mean people should treat them cruelly? - No - the way we treat lesser, vulnerable creatures is a sign of the extent of our own humanity. But that's our perogitive as humans. Today's prosletysing 'launch' of the philanthropomorphic project included the deeply enlightening information that through selective breeding humans have transformed wild animals into the domesticated species we see on farms today. I was left wondering what the point of this lesson was - would the people who run the shelter our philanthropomorphic project is helping prefer it if we hadn't domesticated dogs, sheep, cattle, chickens, goats, or pigs? Should we perhaps let these animals return to their "natural" (and what is that anyway?) state; while we see a massive drop in food yields, protein becomes impossible to buy except for the most wealthy (its already out of the diet of a huge part of the world's population because of the in-built inequalities these animal activists haven't even begun to notice) and we all revert to some sort of hunter gather existence. And what about the poor, oppressed and modified by humans grains? Should we perhaps get rid of those too - after all 10,000 years of human "interference" has made the grain we eat unrecognisable compared to the wild grains that started it all. Because that's where the argument that somehow humans were morally wrong to domesticate and selectively breed animals ends - it ends with a rejection of 10,000 years of development. Domestication meant that people settled in one place; that towns and cities were possible; that writing developed; that humans ourselves changed to be what we are. There's no turning that clock back. The third problen is less concrete and less to do with the silly project. Its the idea that principle's don't matter as much as doing what everyone else is doing. I got what amounts to peer pressure today to support the stupid project. I was told I wasn't being collegial - that in effect I was a bad workmate because I happen to have a different opinion. In the end its the thing that makes me the most angry. People who are too stupid to know the meaning of words or bother to look them up when they realise they don't know - make me angry. People who think animals are more important or as important as humans make me angry. People who want to live in some kind of idealised natural past or who see humans as some sort of blight on the planet make me angry - its the ultimate in self-hate really and I think we should discourage self-hate in young people. But what makes me angriest is people assuming that they can talk me out of my principles. If I say I am not going to do something because I disagree - this means that I have thought about it, considered the options, weighed the consequences and made a decision. It means this because I am a responsible adult and if I make a public pronouncement - its because I am absolutely sure of what I am saying. When other adults then question me - all it makes me think is that they clearly don't go through this process of thinking before they make a public pronouncement - to assume I can be convinced otherwise is to assume I have not fully considered my action. That's insulting. But it also suggests that they don't interrogate their own decisions before announcing them - and that's worrying. This whole process also makes me realise that lots of the people that I teach with - people who look after young people and guide them in the world - don't understand what it means to have a principle. My understanding of the world - my principles - are central to who I am - in a socratic sense - I am my principles. To deny them is to deny myself. Hardly a week goes by when I don't think about Bolt's Thomas Moore in a Man for All Seasons - the extraordinary image of him opening his fingers so that like water, his soul - his principles - drip through. Like Moore, I'm not prepared to allow my principles to dribble away between my fingers. It doesn't just make me angry - it makes me frightened - that other people think that's alright.