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Posts tagged ‘intellectualism’

I Ain’t Dumb III: Intelligence Can’t be a Quantitative Measure!

At some point I found myself having to seriously consider the idea of “intelligent” or “smart.” I don’t know if it was because of my veganism, my primitivism, or my utter repulsion to the very idea of mandatory schooling, but it inevitably had a lot to do with the school I went to.

It was an alternative public school that’d been around for about thirty years running an individualistic curriculum—basically, you could just go to classes and write your evaluations and be done with it, but there was one extra piece to it: the Passages. There were six Passages in all—Career Exploration, Logical Inquiry, Creative somethingorother, Global Awareness, Practical Skills and Adventure. Social debate and peer review was built right into the grid: you had to have meetings with your “triad,” which could consist of at least three people, and your advisor (a teacher/counselor) before you could either “propose” (start) or “wrap up” a Passage.

The interesting thing about this, and the difference between this and most traditional schooling, was that there were no templates for the Passages. You couldn’t just pull it out of thin air: you had to work. If you wanted to learn, you had to reach for it.

The past few years I’ve come to realize that much of the school’s benefit to students was that it was a sort of anti-school. It was a detoxification center for students who had been taught to hate learning in traditional schools. And the emphasis was always on learning—as an active, not a passive, ability. You don’t go there to “get educated”; it wasn’t a choice someone else could make for you. You weren’t encouraged, as you are in 99% of other classrooms—including ones that “have good teachers!!!1″—to just lie back and think of England, so to speak. Learning was something you did for you, indigenous to your soul, and as such no one could give it to you or force you to endure it. You had the right to learn; therefore, it was your responsibility whatever you chose to learn. Choice. Freedom. Not compulsory. Not mandatory. No excuses, no shortcuts.

And honestly, I just kind of sat around for three years and then got incredibly fucking bored and decided to do something about. From what I hear, that’s not unusual, though it doesn’t make up the majority of the students. That was basically the point where I realized that learning is inevitable because, hell, it’s fun, isn’t it?

In my fourth year I met a German temporary student, Fabienne, with whom I’d be staying in Germany (for the most part; I had family there, too). She had… this attitude. My peers were used to people from other schools looking down on ours because it was so “easy,” I mean, they didn’t force you or threaten you into going to classes and learning. We were irritated about it, but it’s sort of like most fruitarians I know: Bob Torres will bitch at them and they’ll just roll their eyes and be like, “whatever dude, like you’d know anything,” and then they leave it.

While I was in Germany, Fabienne told me that our school was “easy.” (I’d retort and point out that no, actually, most traditional school systems are just fucking prisons—but eh.) She thought that the students there were stupid because they weren’t being challenged—that is, forced into “learning” things they didn’t want to learn and had no use for.

“Fabienne,” I said, “do you like learning?”

“No. Who likes learning?” she replied.

I’m aware she disagrees, but honestly, I won that debate right then and there.

What my “alma mater”—typically reserved for universities, but I think “soul mother” fits this situation perfectly—taught me was something slow and growing, like a seed gestating in warm, damp soil, as veganism and primitivism were for me. Learning had much more to do with joy—with the will to learn—than it did with how much you learned. And as such, learning couldn’t be measured by how many things you knew; it had to be measured by how gleefully you went after them.

And that’s where I broke from the idea of intelligence as quantitative.

Quantitative intelligence is a factor that underlies almost every fucking prejudice in the world. Using adult humans as property has been justified with, “they’re not as intelligent as us.” Same for non-human animals, and children; they’re stupid and unintelligent because adults are too self-obsessed to realize that the knowledge they have isn’t basic or even valuable for the real world. The natural one. No; they’re stupid, obviously. And you could tell that, see, because they didn’t know as many things as us! At least, they didn’t know as many things that “we” considered “important.”

A line between meaningful and non-meaningful knowledge was drawn and, in general, the more abstract the knowledge, the more valuable it was. It was harder to get—like eggs and dairy used to be—and therefore prestigious. And, as with eggs and dairy, this society is still built from the top down off of no longer pertinent concepts of prestige. Baked goods “need” eggs, despite the fact that they were included only because it was a “rich” thing to do. If you want to be smart, you “need” to read Judith Butler and Plato and some other godawful-dry, self-absorbed authors.

I am just so fucking tired of the idea that intelligence and smartness is quantitative. Let’s talk about what intelligence really is.

Intelligence is basic, and expressed in behaviors that allow an animal to navigate the world. The presence of greater intelligence in someone does not make them more valuable; having less intelligence than that person does not make you less valuable. Okay? Good. Now we’ve gotten the excuses for carnism out of the way.

I think the behaviors of intelligence are intensity, curiosity, critical deduction and observation. These all have different parts that make a whole.

Intensity refers to passion, emotional/mental; having emotion enables someone to process and remember information gathered. I disagree that emotion automatically makes you less reliable and trustworthy—after all, the most “objective” people have also historically had the privilege to agree with the present power structure; they had the least to lose from its perpetuation and as such generally didn’t much care to exert the energy to change it.

From my observation and critical deduction, I have come to the conclusion that animals have the capacity for emotion because it is an excellent way to store information about the world in which they live, although significantly less so in cases of trauma. You’re not supposed to be God, here. Your best guess is all that’s required.

Also in my observation, I’ve noticed that the smartest people I know are also extremely emotionally intense. That’s not data and I don’t intend to present it as fact, but simply because you cannot base an entire argument off anecdote doesn’t mean that anecdote is worthless and contemptuous. Something that is not A is not necessarily B if C is present.

Curiosity is the drive to learn things—that’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t necessarily apply to books, either. A hunger for information will drive you to learn, and you will learn much more than those who aren’t very curious.

Lierre Keith, for example, isn’t very curious. She spent twenty years trapped in an eating disorder and even though she had misgivings from the first few months, never seriously questioned them. She was never curious about veganism, or she would have went looking and found out that eating only brown rice and soy wasn’t healthy, and she would have found out that eating eggs and dairy about once a week doesn’t count as “twenty years of veganism.” She was never curious about women’s rights and feminism, or she would have stumbled into the discussion of eating-disorder-as-patriarchal-ideology and realized that the symptoms she was attributing to “veganism” were the symptoms that describe the lives of anorectics.

By the same coin, parrots are hella smart. As is my cat.

Critical deduction allows you to question what you’ve observed and found, and to trace together the lines connecting supposedly disparate topics and phenomena. When a cat does a trick someone meant to teach to the dog, that cat is employing critical deduction. Similarly, when you realize that transphobia is yet another form of patriarchal sexism via gender-policing, you’re employing critical deduction.

At the same time, critical deduction is necessarily critical. Reading a condemnation and carnism or intellectualism and thinking, “But animals aren’t humans—they’re obviously inferior to us,” or “But there’s only one kind of intelligence and reasonable deduction,” is employing the very antithesis of critical deduction. Genuinely thinking about it and saying, “Might be right. Have to seriously think about that, and if I decide they’re right then I’ll have to change,” is critical deduction.

Observation allows you to actually receive information from your experience of life. It can be, and often is, distorted through a lens of ideology—for example, thinking of children as stupid or less intelligent because they express themselves in a limited way.

Observation can only be free when not fettered by the paradigms we are taught to believe. Fundamentally, these ideologies—racism, sexism, ageism, carnism, capitalism, intellectualism, etc.—are invalid because they are taught: you are predisposed to them from a very early age, the shrapnel lurking in the back of your mind. I am always unimpressed by microbiologists that start believing in “a” creator, because even Hinduism is fundamentally monotheistic in its creation story. Come back with something that isn’t floating around in preality and we’ll talk.

Intelligence can only be measured by behaviors, and you might rightly argue that they then can’t be measured at all. But hell, that’s just honest—psychology, at least, recognizes that you can only know what’s going on inside someone’s head via the conduit of their body language, behavior and/or speech.

Ought to come down from your high horse, ffs. Y’can’t smell nothin’ but horseshit from up there.

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In Defense of the Rights of Brutes

It still shocks me when a carnist tells me that “carnism” isn’t a real thing, but veganism is—like I’ve stepped into an alternate, topsy turvy universe. If someone told you that “sexist” wasn’t a real word or term, I bet you’d be pretty shocked too. Seriously, what rock has this person been living under?

As a vegan, I see and experience the reality of a society completely obsessed with carnism every damn day. It’s everywhere: nine out of ten food products are made from the forced labor of farmed animals. The forced labor itself is hidden, invisible: you can’t apply those words to non-human animals. You can’t say they’re oppressed. People even like to pretend that saying non-human animals are oppressed is actually oppressive to humans—like pointing out that it’s an ideology itself takes away from justice for oppressed humans. As if helping one set of people achieve liberation would ever harm another.

Carnism is the name of an ideology. That ideology states that non-human animals are less worthy of consideration than human animals, and that because they are less worthy, they are property.

Imprisoning, breeding, milking and killing non-human animals for something we can get, or believe we can get (in the case of strength and mental health) is carnism in action. It is the system that carnism, as an ideology, upholds—that even if animals matter, they don’t matter so much that we should actually, you know, stop using them as property.

Those of you who are hip to property status analysis will be able to see the catch in that—no amount of welfarism matters if you are property, because if you are property, there is no violation that cannot be justified; and if you are not, then no one would dare violate you.

If you are, right now, saying to yourself, “I’m not a carnist!” and you’re not vegan, yes, you are a carnist. That is what the word means: that you are willing to use animals as property. If you are not vegan, you are using animals as property—thus, carnist by definition. And if you are not willing to be called a carnist—what? it’s only a few letters away from con carne—then go vegan.

All of the -ism words were made up out of whole cloth at one point in time. They were created to describe a concept, an ideology, that was dominant and thus invisible, because to get people to recognize an ideology you have to name it. Sexism was named because feminism would have been flailing in the dark without it: all social justice movements begin as ridiculous until they name the oppression they fight against. Without being named, those paradigms remain invisible and thus invulnerable, because it’s just normal, it just is. Oppressive power structures that are not named remain unscathed because they are unseen.

The ease with which carnists take for granted their carnism and the blind urgency with which they passive-aggressively attack vegans even for existing—cue umpeenth repetition of, “Oh, I could never do that,” or “I’d just die without [dairy product],” just because you awkwardly refused the damn cheese tray—is in itself indicative of privilege. It’s fine if you freaks want to name yourselves; you’re different. We’re normal. We don’t need a word.

And personally, I think carnism as a word describing power has an advantage over most other -isms: it describes actions as well as thoughts, as well as an embedded status quo. Vegans can be carnists: all they have to do is still believe that animals are property, and that veganism is a “personal choice”—that humans are the only ones that matter. But all non-vegans are carnists. A (vegans) may also be C (carnists), but all B (non-vegans) are C (carnists).

That recognition—that the obsessive consumption of animal products happens, that it exists, and that it only happens at the expense of all non-human animals—is a necessary process, because consuming animal products is otherwise normalized into invisibility. It is also something I wish the feminist and anti-racist movements had—the description of a behavior.

But the extent of the oppression of non-human animals, while monstrous, is also relatively simple on the surface because non-human animals largely do not participate in humans’ everyday lives. It’s very difficult to argue that using animals as products—making them into products—for consumption is not treating animals as property, because that is the definition of property status. It’s telling that the argument becomes significantly more complicated when you involve companion animals: we want to believe that our friends, our family, the people we love want to be with us to, and that they derive joy from us as much as we do from them. But that desire to see ourselves as good for them too is belied in the fact that companion animals are acceptable sacrifices for junk science, breeding, and profits—ultimately, the fact that humans’ interactions with them are still about humans’ comfort, convenience, entertainment and profit proves their property status, too.

Animals don’t participate. Women do. Nonwhite people do. And as much as participation in your own oppression doesn’t mean that you’re not oppressed, it does make it more convoluted. When you have been taught all your life to relish being treated as a valuable piece of property—as women are with cultural tropes of marriage and sexual attraction—you aren’t nearly as able to see that you’re still property. When you’ve been taught all your life to feel triumphant about being promoted in a system where you and everyone like you are still just fucking monetary values—as nonwhites are with capitalism—you’re not able to see just how much the whole system fucks you over. And the more you believe your oppressor when he says that you do have a chance at his approval and the power that entails, the less willing you are to fight the fact that you have to get down on your knees and remember to swallow at all.

The fact that you have to suck dick at all is normalized to the point where it isn’t really there anymore. By contrast, the fact that most animals never have to suck dick doesn’t seem bad at all, provided you’re ignorant of their lived reality enough to trivialize the constant soul-destroying torture simply because no one ever expected them to like it. No one ever expected Black slaves to like it, either, or women with marriage; that your consent is not valued is in itself sign of oppression.

Treating anyone who experiences their life that way is wrong. Not because they look enough like you or are “intelligent” enough, but because they experience what you’re doing to them. That is the baseline—I do not demand literacy tests and poll taxes before you get to claim you deserve rights. And the fact that you do for those you want to be able to use as property, but not the ones you have no interest in, is telling. And unacceptable. Very unacceptable.

Men fucking wrote satirical articles about how animals deserve rights too so they could mock women and nonwhites. It isn’t so fucking funny now, you fucking assholes—you fucking carnists.

Oppression is not acceptable, no matter who it is or what their genetic code looks like. Veganism is a way to emphasize that point, as is feminism, anti-racism, anti-capitalism and open support of unschooling—it’s baseline. Not being an oppressive douche is baseline. Not perpetuating someone’s property status is baseline. Changing your behavior so you do not perpetuate property status or oppression is baseline, not for being a good person, but just for not being a bad person.

And no matter what excuses you give for continuing it, you will still be a carnist, and it will still be fucked up that you think that’s okay.

Veganism isn’t extreme: it’s baseline.

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