Blackfish

Watched the CNN documentary Blackfish via Netflix which slams Seaworld for their unethical practices towards both their whales and employees.

It made me think: some ways we treat animals reminds me how the colonies, non-whites, women etc…have been treated. We fear the different so we control, break, and make small – attack, weaken, objectify or make cute, a source of entertainment – so the seemingly intimidating and threatening become manageable. That is, until they naturally rebel and go “crazy”. Then we slap the word “psychotic”, “criminal”, “savages” and inflict other labels onto them. But that is another story…

A neuroscientist from the documentary said whales and dolphins have more complex brains than us with a very developed sense of self, intelligence and family bond. The part of the brain that controls sensitivity and emotions in them is actually more developed than it is in us!

So when you think of the implications of that – that they are psychologically in some ways more sensitive than we are – us throwing them into tiny tubs for our amusement, making these very strong predatory but also very social creatures our little cute toys and clowns, completely isolated….well, it makes sense the creatures held captive have attacked and killed trainers.

I highly recommend this film to all and encourage my friends to never go to Seaworld again. I am re-thinking zoos too and want to learn more about these kind of issues.

Gandhi and Idealization

I just read an article  discussing how Gandhi likely sexually abused young girls. It eninforced for me my belief that is is extremely dangerous to idealize. We end up ignoring anything that might tarnish our fantasy, reject critical thinking, and unintentionally create the space for abuse of power to occur. This is as true for political and religious figures as it is for celebrities. 

I still find Gandhi’s non-violent fight for India’s independence admirable – people, like life, are not black and white, good or bad – but his questionable past exploiting young girls must be acknowledged. Many Indians consider Gandhi to be the nation’s father, so it sets a dangerous precedent to ignore these wrongdoings. If India wishes to make progress in ending violence against women, it must start holding all of its powerful male politicians, gurus, and other leaders accountable. (Fyi, I am a Gujarati Indian – like Gandhi – from a Hindu background, although I now identify as an agnostic theist.)

And I’d add, this applies to every revered historical figure and country. We can’t just ignore unpleasant facts when it deviates from the popular narrative; we’re no longer re-counting history but reciting a fairy tale when we do. We must investigate these figures and countries critically, taking in their positive but also negative contributions. Jefferson, the great aristocratic American Founding Father, owned slaves – in fact, all of the Founding Fathers did. Mother Theresa was homophobic. Abraham Lincoln was a racist; closer inspection reveals the civil war was fought to preserve the Union, not for ideological reasons – just like most wars. (The Southern economy was strong due to slavery; Lincoln sought to weaken it to insure the rebellious South, angry over Northern taxes, would not leave the Union.)

The purpose of mentioning these people isn’t to prove they’re bad; it’s simply to show people, whether they are Mother Teresa or Gandhi, are human. It’s possible to be and do good and bad at the same time. When you label a figure as one or the other, however, you begin to look at history from a narrow lens that blinds you to the whole truth. And too often that comes at a price for the powerless few.