Thoughts Provoked by the Killing of Harambe, the Gorilla

(Due to being typed at an ungodly hour, this entry will likely be edited at a later date)

A link to the BéBéCé’s coverage for context

So, there are a few things that can be said about the situation regarding how the hollering, video-recording cretins made it worse. One does not need to be a primatologist or David Attenborough to know that the affair becoming a spectacle contributed to the gorilla’s agitation considerably and, thus, the final outcome. Strike one for humans if you ask me. Zoos should also obviously have protocol for situations like this that involves clearing spectators out of the area so they do not make things worse by putting undue stress on personnel or anything else that the situation involves directly. If a spectator doesn’t comply, there should be legal repercussions: lives are more valuable than curiosity or footage to upload. Strike two for humans.

Because I am a misanthrope who experiences bouts of depression, I have access to a peculiarly objective way of appraising things. Concerning the killing of the gorilla, I thought to myself: “If only the fatalities were reversed…it isn’t like the gorilla is going to be raised by morons and leave a huge carbon footprint, like virtually all humans do.”

Immediately, I felt guilty because that’s a four year old child…surely a four year old child’s life is more valuable than that of a gorilla…right? Finding a logical snag, I continued working it out…well, the child could go on to save a few other peoples’ lives or do something that’s really great for humanity, as a whole. Here we go again though because what is so special about humans? This is a question that those who have never considered suicide might fairly easily dismiss for self-serving reasons(ex: “Nahhhh…my awesome life where I work, fuck and spend must matter more”). From my perspective, as someone who has spent excruciatingly lengthy periods in the throes of depression, something that psychologists call “depressive realism” is basically hardwired into my thought process. In this context, that means being able to step outside of myself with more ease than some non-depressed people may find. Moreover, something else that is interesting about how mood and thought intersect is that all people have a tendency to overestimate their abilities, but…as you might have predicted…this self-serving bias is not as strong with depressed people.

What should be stressed is that there are ongoing debates among social scientists about depressive realism, but it is still a useful concept to be aware of for demystifying the times when we make glum predictions that miraculously pan-out.

Anyway, the segue about depressive realism matter because the majority of us are hardwired to value our lives dearly for reasons that go back to humanity’s earliest days. Thus, most of us will reflexively balk at the question of our lives being less valuable than those of others– let alone those of non-humans. What comes easiest often is to not even go to the second stage of inquiry: thinking harder about why their life is objectively valuable.

Even as a depressed person, the implications how severely my being alive inherently impacts the environment relative to any other organism on the Earth was a very bitter pill to swallow…but it is true. Consider how much plastic I’ve put into the landfill, carbon emissions by flying/driving, my electric appliances/gadgets, not to mention the infinitely small, yet crucial role I play, as a consumer in perpetuating capitalism with my money, which in turn fuels horrendous human rights abuses(ex: conflict minerals used for electronics, sweatshops, murders of Latin American unionists, etc.), plus the environmental impacts arising from making products and getting them to market(ex: extraction/burning of fossil fuels to ship, deforestation to make room for plantations, etc.). Yes, human suffering made it onto the list because all suffering matters. In fact, if the late Harambe had ripped the child apart, he would still have less blood on his hands than most of us probably do without knowing it for how we contribute to the mining of conflict minerals and necessitate sweatshops with our insatiable hunger for electronics alone. At risk of overstatement, consider how the people in the global South(Latin America, South Asia, India and Africa) have been getting poisoned by the pesticides that they are forced to use in various types of plantations.

I can grasp it in the abstract, but the actual extent of costs imposed on other living things needlessly by humans exceeds my imaginative capabilities and let me tell you, I’m really fucking imaginative.

While I am of course a monster who thinks that worrying about happiness/fulfillment are evidence of vapidity, for anyone who has stuck this out, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. Being as I live in perpetual gloom, perhaps I am overestimating the levity of
my conclusions, so perhaps you should be the judge…

Anyone familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, anger management or self-help groups will understand that before problems can be addressed, their existence has to be acknowledged. With this in mind, it seems plausible that for humanity to get its collective shit together and change its nihilistic, irrational ways, we must accept that our lives are intrinsically less valuable than those of other animals who do not live stupidly, like we do. Then maybe we can finally get around to recreating ourselves as a species deserving of the cosmic lottery that granted us the privilege of ending up on this rock.

Doesn’t the struggle of trying to live a less harmful life seem a lot more meaningful than accumulation and consumption too?



Ideas as Tools: Pragmatism for the Unintroduced

Whether you notice it while watching tv or reading news, sometimes words get used and their meanings seem slippery. There is often a lack of clarity with important concepts, like: freedom, democracy, socialism, rights and politics. One reason likely to be cited by a social scientist or historian might be that each is an abstract concepts whose meanings depend on socio-historic context. For example, what a 21st century North American considers freedom likely varies considerably from what an ancient Athenian considered freedom; for example, those who did not participate in elections were not free, as they were not exerting control over their fate through a political institution. The same goes for democracy: in ancient Athens, free citizens were allowed and expected to vote and by their estimation, a representative democracy would have probably been quite unacceptable. The thing is that ideally representative democracy tries to reconcile the shortcomings of the Athenian system(imagine the chaos of some of their political assemblies), while maintaining its strengths.

What a pragmatist might say about the asymmetries between Athenian and American notions of democracy is that of course they are different, as both are in the abstract collections of ideas that try to deal with certain problems. While a politicians are sometimes called pragmatic, this implies a fairly shallow definition: one who uses X to achieve Y. Often, this accompany consequentialist calculations too; or ends-justify-the-means logic. In truth though, while the idea of pragmatism that I offer is simple, it goes deeper than instrumental logic.

What anyone unfamiliar with pragmatism stands to gain from it is the perspective that problems are opportunities to perform experiments in problem-solving. From what scientists can tell so far, what sets humans apart from other animals is that we wonder about unobservable phenomena and apply knowledge therefrom to problem-solving. This is a fairly incredible thing that at some point, a human recognized patterns associated with things like approaching storms or which implement was best for which task…eventually applying this to other problems that may have been seemingly unrelated too; creating an expanding body of knowledge. It is quite remarkable, really.

Fundamentally, pragmatism holds ideas to be things that can be modified and/or experimented with to meet the challenges posed by life. With this in mind, consider what pro-social politics are at their most basic level: a project of fulfilling human needs; a mechanism for flourishing. Democracy, republicanism, socialism, conservatism and so on are not concrete, but change and adapt over time, based on outcomes. The antithesis of the project of developing ideas to better suit our needs is becoming too attached to shallow, pernicious, or otherwise bad ideas.

Being a Canadian, I must take an opportunity to write about [neo-]Conservative and neo-Liberal political camps: both have routinely proven themselves to be handmaidens to corporate interests and generally disregard the best interests of citizens. It has become abundantly clear that serious changes to taxes, market regulation, political representation(ex: rep by pop, in Canada), foreign policy and other areas need to be made. Ample time has been given to the socioeconomic elite to pay their blessings forward in the form of good governance, higher average household incomes(not just fucking GDP calculations) and sustainable types of development…to name a few minimal targets.

Forty-six years ago, a very influential political philosopher reasoned that great inequalities can only be justified if they are to the maximum benefit of the worst off. Subtly, this argument provided the justification throughout the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney eras, which constructed much of the institutional architecture of the economic-oligarchies/corporatocracies that, us Westerners live in today.

The time is nigh for citizens to recognize that the purpose of politics are to meet human needs; not preserving systems that prove time and again to do the exact opposite.

Work in progress

In the next while, I will start publishing written content here that will hopefully make seemingly important ideas intelligible to smart people with limited knowledge of philosophy or social sciences.

While the internet gives us access to so much information that there that some ideas may never circulate as they ought to or, worse yet, their potential to circulate limited due to only scholars or academics being privy to them. Making things more complicated is the fact that entertainment and news media tend to nudge people toward issues, while ignoring others that are either too subversive, ‘complicated’ or ‘boring’.

(Click to view film about how news is made)

For example, in Canada right now, there is an election brewing and rival politicians are all making great appeals to economics; employment and trade. While there are many factors that can explain such a dumbing-down of politics, the one relevant here is that talking points being limited to economics is a concession to people’s interests and ignorance.

In truth, there’s a lot of ideas out there that have the potential to radically alter peoples’ perspective on society, politics and what it is to live well. Whether I’ll contribute much to such an enterprise remains to be seen.

There is a good chance that I will also write about music, film, art and video games too on occasion if something seems noteworthy enough to spend a few hours thinking about.