I recently finished Tamara Piety's splendid book on corporate commercial advertising and corporate political speech (Brandishing the First Amendment: Commercial Expression in America). It expertly describes the shift from a doctrine designed to assist consumers to make rational decisions in the market to a right of corporations to exploit consumers through the use of the best psychological techniques money can buy. It draws on sociological, psychological, and economic literature in making the case. She shows that this brandishing of the First Amendment by corporations threatens health, safety, the stability of financial markets, the envoronment, and our democracy. It is ironic that an amendment that should function to protect democracy is called in the service of undermining democratic values.
I regret to say that the book is priced at $70.00, a price too steep for many. At least, however, you should encourage your library to purchase the book and check it out if they already have. It is a book for everyone: accessibly written with spunk, passion, imagination, and tough-minded analysis.
“When we return to the search for a more humane and rational response to crime, we must keep in mind that the prison is tied to other social and political arrangements that limit what changes are possible. The criminal justice system in general is at least partially involved, directly and indirectly, advertently and inadvertently, in repressing groups and classes of people and in maintaining unfair social, political, and economic relationships. Fundamental changes in its operation are impossible unless some higher degree of social justice has been achieved and the criminal justice system is relieved of these tasks. [….]
One of the important obstacles that must be removed is the public conception of the prisoner. Presently, this conception is formed from the rare, but celebrated and horrendous crimes, such as mass murders by the Manson cult, Juan Carona, or the ‘Hillside Strangler.’ Whereas prisoners like George Jackson, viewed as a heroic revolutionary fighting back from years of excessive punishment for a minor crime (an eighty-dollar robbery), shaped the conception of the prisoner in the early 1970s, persons like ‘Son of Sam’ do so today. These extraordinary cases distort the reality. Most prisoners are still in prison for relatively petty crimes, and even those convicted of the more serious crimes must be understood in the context of society in the United States. What we need is a new theory of crime and penology, one that is quite simple. It is based on the assumption that prisoners are human beings and not a different species from free citizens. Prisoners are special only because they have been convicted of a serious crime. But they did so in a society that produces a lot of crime, a society, in fact, in which a high percentage of the population commits serious crime. Those convicted of serious crimes must be punished and imprisoned, because it is the only option that satisfies the retributive need and is sufficiently humane. Knowing that imprisonment itself if very punitive, we need not punish above and beyond imprisonment. This means that we need not and must not degrade, provoke, nor excessively deprive the human beings we have placed in prison. It also means that we must not operate discriminatory systems that select which individuals should be sent to prison and, once incarcerated, who should be given different levels of punishment.
Since we assume that convicts are humans like us and are capable of myriad courses of action, honorable and dishonorable, we also assume that they will act honorably, given a real choice. This means that we provide them with the resources to achieve self-determination, dignity, and self-respect. This theory continues to be rejected not because it is invalid, but because it challenges beliefs and values to which large segments of the population comfortably cling. [….] In pushing this theory, I admit that many prisoners, like many free citizens, act like monsters. But they are not monsters and often choose to act like monsters when their only other real option is to be totally disrespected or completely ignored, while being deprived, degraded, abused, or harassed.” [emphasis added]
—John Irwin, Prisons in Turmoil (1980)
The following proposal strikes me as worthy of wide attention and careful consideration: Sharon Dolovich, “Teaching Prison Law,” 62 Journal of Legal Education 218 (2012), UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 12-26. Available: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2171884
“To judge from the curriculum at most American law schools, the criminal justice process starts with the investigation of a crime and ends with a determination of guilt. But for many if not most defendants, the period from arrest to verdict (or plea) is only a preamble to an extended period under state control. It is during the administration of punishment that the state’s criminal justice power is at its zenith, and at this point that the laws constraining the exercise of that power become most crucial. Yet it is precisely at this point that the curriculum in most law schools falls silent. This essay argues that that silence is a problem, and that American law schools should expand their curricular offerings to include some class or classes covering the post-conviction period. There are innumerable arguments supporting this reform. These include the sheer number of people in custody, the extreme vulnerability of this population and its enormous unmet legal need, and the fact that any law student who is planning a career in criminal justice — and thus involved in the process by which people are sent to prison — should be exposed to the realities of the American penal system and its governing legal framework. This essay canvasses these and other reasons for the proposed reform, suggests what a course in Prison Law might cover, sketches the possible contents of a broader post-conviction curriculum, and argues that the current gap in the course offerings of most law schools only reinforces the invisibility of vast carceral system currently operating in the United States and the millions of Americans caught up in it.”
See too Giovanna Shay’s post at PrawfsBlawg from last year: “Why Do Law Schools Overlook the Incarcerated?”
Some relevant websites and blogs:
“The Bard of Avon in Prison,” my latest guest post at The Faculty Lounge.
by Charles Reid, University of St. Thomas School of Law
"Parasites," we are told, "parasites" have consumed their hostess -- to be exact, Hostess Brands, the company that chose bankruptcy last Friday over dealing with its union. And who are these dangerous parasites? The workers who labored hard and long, in the face of steadily declining wages and benefits. See Robert Tracinski, "The Parasite That Kills Its Hostess," Real Clear Markets, November 19, 2012.
Tracinski is merely parroting the company line in his blame-the-victim column. He has allies, of course, in the right-wing commentariat. Take Rush Limbaugh. He may be a tired-out brand name that has long outlived its shelf life, but he was on the air Friday seeing a dark conspiracy in all of this: "The Democrats are taking the long view here, they're playing the long game. The long game is wiping out the Republican Party, not saving 18,000 measly jobs."
Haven't we had enough of the class hatred? Isn't it time to stop with the takers versus the makers? This right-wing fantasy tale of rapacious unions swamping an honest, struggling corporation is as tiresome as it is untrue.
Let's consider some history.
[The rest of this informative post is here.]
Colin Dayan, “How Not to Talk about Gaza”
Richard Falk, “The Latest Gaza Catastrophe: Will They Ever Learn?”
Mehdi Hasan, “Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza”
Meir Javendanfar, “A Gaza Ground Invasion Will End Badly”
Daoud Kuttab, “Israel’s Failed Strategy”
John Mearsheimer, “A Pillar Built on Sand”
Elizabeth Murray, “Likening Palestinians to Blades of Grass”
Adam Shatz, “Why Israel Didn’t Win”
Robert Wright, “When Will the Economic Blockade of Gaza End?”
The latest from The New York Times: “Israel Warns of ‘Expansion’ as Attack Widens to Media Sites”
Picture—Columns of smoke rise following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, Nov. 14, 2012. Image by Adel Hana/AP Photo. Courtesy of Jadaliyya.
Addendum: I’ve also posted the latest draft of my compilation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at The Faculty Lounge.
Lennon Cihak, a 17-year-old from Minnesota, has reportedly been denied confirmation and communion for opposing Minnesota Amendment 1 on his Facebook page. The unsuccessful amendment would have defined marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman in the state. According to the report below, Cihak's entire family has been denied communion.
The Wall Street Journal reported today about the debate among Republicans about the future path their party should take. According to the Journal , one group says that fundamental shifts in policy must be taken to appeal to divergent groups in a pluralistic society. The other “more dominant voice” essentially says that Romney was a train wreck of a candidate, that no dramatic change is necessary, and that a better get out the vote effort is needed. Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan (for my money one of the saner Republicans) saidthis last Saturday in the Wall Street Journal: “Some voted for Mr. Obama because he's a Democrat and they're Democrats, some because he is of the left and they are of the left. But some voters were saying: ‘See the guy we don't like that much, the one presiding over an economy we know is bad and spending policies we know are damaging? The one who pushed through the health-care law we don't like, and who can't handle Washington that well? Well, we like that guy better than you.’”
“That's why this election is a worse psychic blow for Republicans than 2008, when a confluence of forces—the crash, dragged-out wars, his uniqueness as a political figure—came together to make Barack Obama inevitable.
“But he was not inevitable after the past four years. This election was in part a rejection of Republicanism as it is perceived by a sizeable swath of the voting public.
“Yes, Mitt Romney was a limited candidate from a limited field. Yes, his campaign was poor. It's also true that the president was the first in modern history to win a second term while not improving on his first outing. He won in 2008 by 9.5 million votes. He won Tuesday night, at last count, by less than three million.”
Noonan said that Romney’s economic policies reflected that favored by his donors, not that favored by the middle class. She argues that you cannot win elections when large segments of the public think you do not care about them. And they will not think you care if you don’t. She believes a fundamental rethinking of policies is called for within the framework of Republican principles. See here.
It seems clear to me that if the Republicans could not win the Presidential election or regain the Senate with the economy in so bad a shape, they will fare even worse in national elections if they do not engage in a fundamental rethinking resulting in a broader appeal.
Progressives, of course, watch this debate with some relish. Some hope that the Republican Party sticks to its status quo and self destructs, ultimately losing the gerrymandered House. But there is a strong Progressive case for hoping the Republicans get their act together. If the Republicans get their act together, there will be less obstruction on Capital Hill and that will advance the public interest; if the Republicans get their act together, there will be a more serious national debate about public policy; and if the Republicans get their act together, the center will move to the left and so will the Democrats.
Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, met with a delegation from the SOA Watch movement in Washington DC on November 13, 2012.
SOA Watch worked hard to meet with McDonough because he is a critical aide to the President and he has a deep Catholic justice background. A grad of College of St. Benedict and Georgetown, Denis comes from a big Catholic family which includes two priests.
Participating for SOA Watch were Congress Representative James McGovern, Father Roy Bourgeois, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow, Sister Marie Lucey, Father Charles Currie and Bill Quigley.
McDonough admitted he has in the past been a supporter of SOA-WHINSEC but wanted to hear more from the movement. Family members and even former teachers have talked to him about closing the school.
Representative McGovern told him the US underestimates how much of a bad symbol the school is in Latin America. On a recent visit to rural Colombia, grassroots people challenged the US commitment to human rights because of the continued operation of the school. The school is a symbol of all that is wrong with US policy in Latin America.
McDonough did not know and was concerned when McGovern told him the Department of Defense was stonewalling and not releasing the names of the students attending SOA-WHINSEC for the last several years.
Adrianna Portillo-Barrow told McDonough how troops in Guatemala, directed by SOA graduates, executed six members of her family including her 9 and 10 year old daughters. Hundreds of thousands disappeared at the direction of SOA grads. In Latin America, she said, the SOA-WHINSEC is a symbol of horror, pain and suffering and there is deep resentment that it remains open and unaccountable.
Father Roy, Sister Lucey, Father Currie and Bill Quigley highlighted for McDonough:
A powerful letter from the UAW calling for the school to be closed;
A multi-page list of religious, labor and human rights organizations supporting the movement;
That 6 countries have pulled their soldiers out of the school;
That 140 catholic bishops in Latin America and even more in the US call for its closure;
69 members of Congress have asked the President to close SOA-WHINSEC; and
Four of the generals responsible for the 2009 coup in Honduras were SOA grads.
"SOA-WHINSEC admits they have a few bad apples," noted Quigley. "But this is not just a few bad apples, this is a bad orchard that needs to be dug up by its roots."
Father Roy told how the movement to close the SOA-WHINSEC started 22 years ago after the massacre of 14-year old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. "Closing it would send such a wonderful message to our sisters and brothers in Latin America and to the hundreds of thousands seeking its closure in the US."
President Obama was quite moved when he visited the cathedral in San Salvador where Bishop Romero was assassinated, said McDonough. The justice legacy of Bishop Romero has great personal significance for the President.
McDonough said he has looked hard at this issue but does not support closing the school. He cannot refute the fact that the school historically has been a symbol of human rights violations but he still supports keeping it open. He will read the materials submitted by the delegation and brief President Obama. He said he thought the militaries in Latin America are institutions like the church, flawed but important for those societies. The US has to find ways to work with and influence them to keep them under civilian control and WHINSEC helps that.
Near the end of the meeting, McDonough admitted that he has just recently met with the Chair of the Board of Advisors of SOA-WHINSEC and was impressed by reports of human rights trainings. At present he supports WHINSEC in concept, its reforms and its oversight.
McDonough promised to look into disclosing the names of the students at SOA-WHINSEC and possibly make changes to that policy. He thanked the group for the visit and respected the passion and intentions of the opponents but said he wanted to be candid about his lack of agreement.
As McDonough started to leave, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow made a powerful last plea. Her voice cracking and choking back tears, she asked him why so many hundreds of thousands have had to die and why so many more will have to die. Closing the school is an act of justice, she stated. It is time, she said, now nearly crying, for the US to stand with the people of Latin America, the oppressed, the poor and the persecuted. Moved and respectful, McDonough excused himself.
Our meeting with the White House Deputy National Security Advisor surfaces at least three lessons for our movement.
First, Denis McDonough has not yet joined our movement. This was our first face to face advocacy with him. He was respectful because this is a movement of hundreds of thousands. His refusal to announce the closing of WHINSEC is instructive to all who hoped the re-election of President Obama would automatically open previously closed doors for justice and human rights. Those doors are going to be opened only because WE are pushing them open. So we will.
Second, the fact that he did listen to the movement is important. He is a very busy and important person. He now knows we can educate him with facts about the school that he did not know previously. He is a smart man. I wonder what he thinks about the WHINSEC people not disclosing to him and the White House that they are not even disclosing the names of their students?
Third, it is up to us to continue to educate and agitate the powerful about the reality of US foreign policy. Adrianna's pure voice of the victims of US policy teaches us again the power of the individual witness and the power of listening to the organized voices of the people most impacted. In a few days we will gather at Ft. Benning to commemorate the martyrs and celebrate the resistance. We will write, lobby, educate, organize and protest. If the Obama administration keeps the school open, we will be back and converge on DC in April. The school will close. Accountability will come. Human rights will prevail.
By Bill Quigley. Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans, serves as Associate Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and is a longtime member of the SOAW legal collective. You can reach Bill at email@example.com
Before the presidential election, I posted links to University of St. Thomas law professor Charles Reid's statement of reasons for supporting President Obama in the election, despite Professor Reid's pro-life position on abortion. Some RLL readers may be interested in Reid's post-election reflection (here), which is focused on philosopher John Dewey. A brief excerpt:
"Properly qualified, we might do well to reflect on Dewey this November. He is the philosopher of the common good. One hopes that the racist dog-whistles and the naked appeals to class hatred (the 'takers' vs. the 'makers') that marked our ugly campaign season can be replaced with the understanding that we are 'in some metaphorical sense all brothers, [that] we are ... all in the same boat, traversing the same ocean.' (John Dewey, 'A Common Faith,' reprinted in John Dewey, 'The Later Works,' vol. IX, p. 56).
It was John Dewey's optimism that drove the 'can-do period of America's greatest public works, the 1950s and 1960s. It was his faith in democratic government and an engaged citizenry that breathed life into the great programs for social improvement represented by the New Deal and the Great Society. Following an election that feels much like a bitterly fought, hard-won vindication of those earlier transformative contests of 1932 and 1964, we might do well to reacquaint ourselves with this great American mind."
The "just war theory" has influenced the ethical positions on violent conflict of both church and state for centuries. But consensus on that theory has begun to erode.
Why the traditional version of the just war theory must be rejected.
Two statistics from the exit polls struck me as surprising. 55% of white women voted for Romney (see here) and 52% of college-educated white women voted for Romney. See (here). My first reaction was that race had a lot to do with this, but the story is not that simple.
After all, Obama carried 52% of college-educated white women in 2008, and that percentage was along with that of Gore the highest percentage gained by a Democrat in five years of Presidential elections. See here.
With respect to white women generally, they have been more receptive to Democrats than white men, but as the National Journal explains “also more unsettled in their preferences. Only Clinton in 1996 carried a plurality of white women, although he ran about even with them in 1992, as did Gore in 2000. (Obama captured 46 percent of white women; only Clinton in 1996 and Gore in 2000 won more over this period.) The Republican share among white women has oscillated from Reagan’s 62 percent in 1984 to a low of 41 percent in the Perot-influenced 1992 race.” See here. So Obama’s performance is not out of line with those of white Presidential candidates although one could argue that his reception would have been even better given the circumstances of his election, but for his race.
The argument that Obama has been hurt by race also does not easily fit the data with respect to white men. As the National Journal in August of this year reported, “In the past eight elections, the Democratic nominee has averaged just 36.1 percent of the vote among white men; every Democratic nominee over that period has lost white men by double digits except for Clinton in 1992 (when the Perot effect was strongest). The modest 41 percent that Obama won among white men [in 2008] was actually the Democrats’ highest share since 1980.” See here. Again if Obama was hurt by race in 2008[because he might have done even better, but for his race], it is not obvious from the data. To be sure Obama was trounced in the white vote in this election, but it is hard to pin this on his race unless racism increased between 2008 and 2012.
Of course, part of the appeal of the Republican Party has been about race for many years from Willie Horton and welfare queens to the claim that Colin Powell supported Barack Obama out of racial pride and the race tinged opposition to affirmative action (without suggesting that all those who oppose affirmative action do so out of racist motivation, it is hard to believe that racism plays no role in many of those who oppose it), nor is it easy to ignore the racial animus displayed on immigration issues, or the chatter that real Americans (read white Americans) voted for Mitt Romney or the obvious implication that when Republicans realize that they need to cozy up to Latinos, they are talking about the other. There is a real sense in a powerful segment of the Republican Party that they are losing their white Christian country, a sense that makes them fearful and angry.
Whatever the racist appeal of the Republican Party and however much the shifting demographics make that appeal less attractive in national elections, the data seems to suggest that Barack Obama's loss of the white vote in the 2008 and 2012 elections was was not measurably hurt by his own race.
Dan Filler’s recent post on this country’s best independent bookstores at The Faculty Lounge inspired quite a few readers to chime in with their suggestions, most of which Dan added to the original list. Last year I shared two obituary notices for George Whitman (1913-2011), the eccentric proprietor of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. Whitman was an eccentric in the best and endearing sense, that is, he was a “most unphony person” in the words of his daughter Sylvia. I’ve yet to visit Shakespeare and Company, but in my mind’s eye (and with the aid of a few photographs of the interior and exterior of the shop) it is the consummate bookstore.
One of the suggestions from my hometown was Chaucer’s Bookstore, which is the subject of a piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times by Pico Iyer, as regular readers of our blog know, a dear friend (his mother, Nandini, a former teacher of mine, happens to be my best friend) who recently penned a wonderful book about Graham Greene…and his late father, Raghavan Iyer: The Man Within My Head (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Pico reminds us why we remain profoundly loyal to and quite fond of the independent bookstore:
“There was once a little bookstore, tucked into an unglamorous mall on the wrong side of town, where few visitors were likely to stumble upon it. Its owner had opened a small shop in 1974 with a modest bequest from her mother, and she and her husband had had to dip into their life insurance funds to keep it going. People from across the county drove for miles to buy books there — and to see friends, to pick up free copies of the New York Times Book Review, to special-order out-of-print works no one else could be bothered to find. But these days, so it was said, it was easier, cheaper — more fun — to shop online. A computer could read your taste better than you could. One click could bring you the whole world, radically discounted.
Just as Amazon.com was getting going, a large store called Borders came into the small town and set up a three-story emporium at its central intersection. This bright new palace sold CDs and boasted aisles full of magazines and cookies and coffee; musicians struck up concerts outside its entrance; thousands of books were sold at vastly marked-down prices; and it used the cozy chairs and community air of a neighborhood store to crafty corporate advantage.
But a few years later, to everyone’s surprise, the huge citadel of books, next to a free, multistory parking lot and a five-screen cinema in downtown Santa Barbara, closed. Just one week before, on the last day of 2010, the sprawling Barnes & Noble bookstore across the street from it, in the chicest mall downtown, had also shut its doors. Then the Borders near the town's large public university closed.
Online retailers and e-readers had become ubiquitous. But the little bookstore called Chaucer’s just kept growing and growing, housing more books — 150,000 and counting — in its happily overcrowded aisles than the central megastore had carried in a space six times as big.
How could this happen? Well, 24 of Chaucer's 26 employees work there full-time, many of them for more than 10 years. They have an investment in the concern that the part-time workers in big-box bookstores usually do not.
People come there just to browse through a carnival-like children’s room of books and toys and games. They come there to meet dates, to receive personal commendations, often to buy nothing at all. They come there as to a community center, a sanctuary or a trusted friend’s living room (albeit a living room where Salman Rushdie is reading from his latest, and sometime-local Sue Grafton is sitting around for four hours to chat with her many fans). Chaucer’s sells no coffee or remainders, but it offers teachers 20% discounts and holds two book fairs a year to raise money for local schools.
So perhaps the story of the bookstore stands for something larger than mere books. Most of us can get anything we want online these days — except for the tactile reassurance of human contact, the chance to do nothing at all and a sense of connection that persists even after the electricity has gone off and the batteries run out. Convenience is not always an ideal substitute for companionship, and speed isn’t infallibly the fastest way to well-being. Even the $2 — or $10 — discounts that corporations can offer may exact a cost at some deeper level that sometimes we find ourselves paying and paying.” [….]
Pico’s essay is adapted from a forthcoming volume of writers “celebra[ting] their favorite places to browse, read, and shop,” My Bookstore, edited by Ronald Rice (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2012)
Addendum: In a popular online forum for local news and other regional stuff, several readers have taken offence at Pico’s reference to the “wrong side of town” in the opening sentence, a touchy subject in a city populated with not a few folks possessed of an overweening economic self-interest in real estate valuations and citizens sensitive to crime statistics generally and the effects of a considerable amount of geographically-based (e.g., ‘Westside,’ 'Eastside’) gang banging (in the sense of participation in gang-related activities from graffiti vandalism to violence of one kind or another) in particular; or in a city economically dependent on tourism or with demeaning and condescending class- and race-based sentiments regularly emanating from the literal and figurative heights of the socio-economically and politically advantaged (as well as from those who dream daily of joining their ranks). But I strongly believe Pico was not referring to the “wrong side of town” in that sense, but rather in the manner befitting one considering the ideal location for a bookstore of this sort, the most successful of which have been located historically in the downtown area (hence the last clause of the sentence in question: ‘where few visitors were likely to stumble upon it’). Indeed, across the street from the city library in the heart of downtown sits California’s oldest used bookstore, The Book Den.
Both candidates in next week’s US presidential elections say it is imperative to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon; Israel insists that the time for diplomacy is running out. But would either country be morally justified in launching a pre-emptive strike? Two theologians assess the evidence Free
In his Presidential address to the Organization of American Historians and a subsequent interview in the Christian Century (see here), David Hollinger argued that ecumenical Protestants (as opposed to evangelical Protestants) made significant cultural gains at the expense of losing membership: “The ecumenical leaders achieved much more than they and their successors give them credit for. They led millions of American Protestants in directions demanded by the changing circumstances of the times and by their own theological tradition. These ecumenical leaders took a series of risks, asking their constituency to follow them in antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural directions that were understandably resisted by large segments of the white public, especially in the Protestant-intensive southern states.”
Hollinger argues that ecumenical Protestants might not have suffered losses as substantial had they not tried to blur denominational lines, leaving people in the pews to think their theological views were not being taken seriously. According to Hollinger, the fear of then united Catholicism led Protestant leaders to try for a united Protestantism, and this backfired.
But he suggests that ecumenical Protestants should not be caught up in the media focus on numbers in assessing success: “The victors are slow to claim victory because they too often assume that numbers of church members are what counts most. If they had a more capacious understanding of the ways in which religion can function in society, they might be able to feel more pride in what happened. The great Anglican archbishop William Temple used to say that any church aware of its deepest missions would be willing to cease to exist if it advanced its ultimate goals.”
I think Hollinger makes an important point in pointing to an unappreciated factor in the numbers decline in mainline Protestant denominations, but there are, of course, many other factors including the fact that the birthrates of mainline Protestants are less than those of evangelicals. Moreover, I think he is correct to suggest that it is better for religious institutions to stand for truth than to curry favor. Important as the cultural achievements which he credits to ecumenical Protestants may be, even if the religious mission of ecumenical Protestants were confined to social justice, I am sure Hollinger would agree that there is a long way to go.
Finally, it is ironic that the membership issues are not confined to ecumenical Protestants. The decline in Anglo Catholics is indistinguishable from a percentage perspective from mainline Protestants. Ecumenical Protestants are now experiencing a decline. Our country, which was founded as an English Protestant country, is now a minority Protestant multicultural nation. The longing for spirituality is increasing, while the belief in religious organizations under siege. Thus it is time to read Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. Nonetheless, millions of Americans continue to fill the pews even ecumenical Protestant churches. They continue to be influential institutions in the religious lives of their members and the cultural and political life of our nation – and (to borrow a line from Stanley Fish), it’s a good thing too.
I can’t join Al Brophy at The Faculty Lounge (where I’m guest-blogging this month) in his celebration of barbeque, an enthusiasm for which I suspect is shared by not a few Faculty Lounge and Religious Left Law readers, barbeque being but the culmination of a barbaric ritual that commences with the industrialized slaughter and sacrifice of nonhuman animals. There are sundry religious, ethical, ecological, health, and economic arguments against the eating of animals and thus for adopting vegetarianism or veganism as an alternative diet (I’ll leave it to Professors Michael Dorf, Sherry Colb, and Neil Buchanan to argue for the merits of veganism over vegetarianism). A sample of some of the arguments are found below:
For Buddhist perspectives, see Shabkar.org, “a non-sectarian website dedicated to vegetarianism as a way of life for Buddhists of all schools. The site takes its name from Shabkar Tsodruk Rangdrol (1781-1851), the great Tibetan yogi who espoused the ideals of vegetarianism.”
For a Christian perspective, see the works of Andrew Linzey (above), the Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
For an Islamic perspective, see Islamic Concern.com.
One of my favorite blogs devoted to ethical and legal topics concerning nonhuman animals is Animal Blawg, “a blog [that] focuses on animal law, ethics and policy. It provides a forum for community and collegiality as well as debate and the exchange of ideas. Founded by Pace Law School professors, David N. Cassuto, Luis E. Chiesa and law student, Suzanne McMillan, the blog is now maintained by David Cassuto. Contributors include academics, practitioners, and law students, as well as other interested members of the animal advocacy community.”
An early version (2008) of my bibliography for “animal ethics, rights, and law” is found here.
Finally, I just read a compelling review in the Atlantic of Timothy Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale University Press, 2011), a sample from which follows:
“The comprehensiveness of his [i.e., Pachirat’s] experience makes Every Twelve Seconds especially valuable, considering the meat industry’s campaign to stamp out precisely this sort of research. Iowa and Utah have already passed laws making it a crime to gain employment at a slaughterhouse for the purpose of documenting abuses and code violations; similar ‘ag gag’ bills [link added] have been proposed in other states. It is easy to imagine the uproar that would ensue if the restaurant industry, which is a model of hygiene in comparison, were to demand comparable protection from whistle-blowers. When it comes to the meat supply, however, America appears none too troubled by the prospect of its blindfolding; the nation would rather take its chances with E. coli than risk channel-surfing into a slaughterhouse. Though ‘foodie’ writers occasionally show interest in the act of slaughter, they prefer to witness it outdoors, on some idyllic farm, the better to stylize it into a time-hallowed, mutually respectful communing of man and beast. Readers are left to infer that their local meat factory is merely maximizing the number of communings per minute; the media fuss over Temple Grandin, a purportedly cow-loving consultant to Big Beef, has an obvious role to play here. But all this wishful thinking fails at the slaughterhouse door. Barring recourse to the inducements the animals get, it would be hard to coax average Americans inside even for a minute. As George Bataille once wrote, in a remark that leads off Pachirat’s first chapter: ‘The slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a boat carrying cholera.’ [….]
The most interesting aspect of Pachirat’s book is its discovery that our slaughterhouse workers are themselves deeply uneasy about the cruelty they are forced to inflict. This runs counter to the PR line according to which everything runs wonderfully humanely except when some psychopath slips into the system. Evidently there is no uncruel way to kill a large and terrified animal every 12 seconds, the pace now set by industry greed. Just moving the cattle along the chutes leaves employees feeling shaken and ashamed.
The cow struggles to right itself, but with the narrow passageway and downward slope slick with feces and vomit, it cannot get up … Fernando inserts the rings through the cow’s nostrils, clamps them shut, and attaches them to a yellow rope, which he jerks heavily … Finally, the men pull so hard that they rip the cow’s nostrils and the nose rings fly out, hitting Juan in the hand. ‘Fuck!’ he screams … With electric prods Gilberto and Fernando push the remaining cattle over the downed cow, and they stomp on its neck and underbelly trying to escape the electric shock. Leaning against the wall, I look at Richard, who says shakily, ‘Man, this isn’t right, running them other cattle over this cow like that. I’m not going to take part in this. I’m not going to stand and watch this.’
Small wonder that some estimates put American slaughterhouses’ annual employee turnover rate at more than 100 percent, or that a high degree of euphemism characterizes even their internal communication. Live cattle are referred to as ‘beef,’ the animals as having ‘come in to die,’ while the employee who must fire the bolt into each quaking cow’s skull is a ‘knocker.’
Pachirat writes about how even abusive workers shrink from doing the ‘knocking.’ When Pachirat says he wants to try, a colleague replies, ‘Nobody wants to do that. You’ll have bad dreams.’ A woman in quality control feels the same: ‘I already feel guilty enough as it is … Especially when I go out there and see their cute little faces.’ Pachirat samples the work anyway, much to another colleague’s dismay:
When I tell Tyler I shot three animals with the knocking gun the day before, he urges me to stop.
‘Man, that will mess you up. Knockers have to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist or whatever they’re called every three months.’
‘Because, man, that’s killing,’ he says; ‘that shit will fuck you up for real.’” [….]
Addendum (November 4): I’m curious what readers think of the proposal in this essay by Jeffrey Leslie and Cass Sunstein: “Animal Rights without Controversy.”
I admit to wondering if some arguments warrant any attention whatsoever, and not only because they emanate from the lofty perches of economics professors at the University of Chicago: “Casey Mulligan…claims that the continued weakness of employment in the US is due to policies introduced in 2008 and 2009, which ‘greatly enhanced the help given to the poor and unemployed — from expansion of food-stamp eligibility to enlargement of food-stamp benefits to payment of unemployment bonuses — sharply eroding (and, in some cases, fully eliminating) the incentives for workers to seek and retain jobs, and for employers to create jobs or avoid layoffs.’” This is actually a variation on an old and tired argument which rests on eminently arguable assumptions and silly but stubbornly persistent beliefs about human nature and moral psychology in the context of alleged “economic efficiency” (I happen to believe these are historically associated with the Christian doctrine of ‘original sin’), well-illustrated by an infamous proposition from Charles Murray’s influential book, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (1984): “People are not inherently hard working or moral. In the absence of countervailing influences, people will avoid work and be amoral”(146).* Please see John Quiggin’s post at Crooked Timber.
* For a characteristically lucid discussion, see Robert E. Goodin’s chapter on “Efficiency” in his Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State (1988): 229-256. See too the section by Goodin, “The Morality of Incentives and Deterrence,” in David Schmidtz and Robert E. Goodin, Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility: For and Against (1998): 172-189. As to the pernicious influence of at least one strain of Christian moral psychology—that is, one of Puritan provenance—see “The new medicine for poverty,” in R.H. Tawney’s classic but somewhat neglected study Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926): 253-273.