In his excellent essay "The Myth of Redemptive Violence", Walter Wink draws our attention to the fact that we are taught from a very early age to accept and embrace the use of violence as a means. This is done by the stories ("fairy tales", "myths", "sagas", tv/movie scripts) we repeat to ourselves and our children, in which conflicts and problems are constantly being fixed by the use of violence, as everything else is shown not to work, to the extent those options are explored at all (as they are mostly treated as pipe dreams). And while most people today blame our casual attitude toward violence on 'modern media', this is something that has been true since long before the age of television. Nevertheless, given that watching television and film is something people do a lot, and given that these media certainly "make violence come alive" by presenting it as fun or exciting, I think it's important to talk about this, as it seems to me that this isn't something we shouldn't be learning to accept, especially not from infancy.
I am a dutch white guy from a lower middle class family, among the first in my extended family to go to uni, who was strongly encouraged to embrace petit-bourgeois (Calvinist) cultural values and aspirations, in a Dutch society that does the same. As a youth, I encountered few positive role models or like-minded folks, while I got lots of confirmation that I was different, which I didn't know what to do with. Due to social awkwardness, some early bullying and the like, and because I equated social status, likability and attractiveness, I also long doubted both my general likability and physical attractiveness. This gave me the freedom to not care much about people's appearance beyond basic hygiene, as I saw these as facts of life for everyone.
One of the main reasons why I created this blog is in order to introduce people to, and explain the personal, cultural and institutional consequences of taking Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication (NVC) seriously. I was introduced to NVC a few years ago, shortly after I and my partner went vegan. I've since come to find it invaluable, because of how it's helped me to better understand not just why it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone's needs have equal value, but also how we can overcome this.
As I've explained elsewhere, pretty much everyone is taught how to systematically devalue the equal needs of (at least some) others. By the time we reach adulthood, this 'skill', and the meritocratic moral logic that undergirds it, are deeply rooted. And while people differ greatly in how broadly they apply this logic, basically none of us are able to ignore the many distractions (skin color, nationality, gender, ethnicity, intellectual ability, wealth, mannerisms, religious affiliation, and so on) that we are taught to take into account when it comes to recognizing and valuing other people's needs. As such, hardly any of us are able to embody the kind of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and solidarity that most of us do see as the ideal (that we mostly fail to live up to in practice).
The questions I want to explore here are, first, how we apply this 'skill' in the context of our thinking about the other animals, second, how this affects our treatment of them, and third, how the fact that we allow ourselves to behave and think this way towards the other animals affects how we treat and view other humans.
Up until 2008, I had mostly been ignoring economics as an area of study, as the subject bored me, and I found the mindset too unpleasant. The 2008 financial crisis made me realize that was a mistake, as it made me realize that economic policy couldn't be left to experts. But where to start?
Because I figured I should avoid economics textbooks, I did the next-most responsible thing: I started reading the serious and specialist media, paying particular attention to what the critics I found there had to say. Most of their explanations struck me as unconvincing, though, as they said little about the role played by elite fraud and grifting, even though it was perfectly obvious that the run-up as well as the "rescue" were wildly profitable to the already-rich. And I'd already noticed that the media carefully avoided talking about the blatant grifting that was going on in the context of the invasion and "rebuilding" of Iraq and Afghanistan. So I broadened my search, and encountered Naked Capitalism, and shortly after that David Harvey's work.
(Note: this post probably won't be interesting to people who haven't read (part of) ASOIAF and watched most of Game of Thrones. Before reading this, please first watch Ellis's video. :) )
Visitors to this blog might wonder as to why I'm posting about this show. Obviously, this whole universe is miles away from the kind of egalitarian solidarity I espouse. But what I find interesting about it was how enthusiastically and uncritically this show was embraced, given how reactionary this universe is, with the partial exception of Daenerys and those she converts to her cause, what with the mass of the population mostly counting for nothing, being trod underfoot by elites who go about their business. The fact that most (re)viewers don't comment on the politics of it all disturbs me, as even Ellis (who -- to her credit -- at least makes the politics a topic of discussion, and has done so in the past with other shows, even if her expressed opinions are very safely liberal) is either unwilling or afraid (for reasons of branding, monetization or sponsoring?) only calls it out the ending for being lame writing (which it was), without pointing out that this is par for the course when it comes to "entertainment".