An Informal Discussion of the Ethics of Eating Meat

I wrote this piece in two stages. In the first stage, I felt fairly grounded in my position and in the second, I grappled with it more heavily. Throughout this piece I struggle with my own thoughts and perspective on this issue.

The other day, Firefox suggested an article called Are we wrong to assume fish can’t feel pain? Curious, I clicked on it. It was a fantastic article explaining and presenting evidence that fish are smarter, more socially adept, and overall more complicated creatures than we usually assume. Seriously, go read it if you haven’t. It’s long but it’s easy to read and digest while also packed with fascinating information.

It also brought up a question of ethics. Is it ethical to eat fish, given that they obviously feel pain? Do we need to rethink fishing methods?

This leads to other areas of similar thought, namely, is it ethical to eat meat at all?

I want to ask, is this even an ethical issue?

To some extent, yes, it is something to grapple with, a question of whether we should or should not eat animals. There are people on both sides for various reasons.

I can understand bringing ethics and humane treatment into how we obtain meat. The animal shouldn’t needlessly suffer. That, in fact, is often a reason people stop eating meat.

But I don’t think eating meat is itself wrong.

I’m finding that as I work through my reasoning for this that I’m questioning my motives for this belief. Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because I always have? Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because it tastes good? If that is why I think it’s okay, should I change my mind? Is taste and habit a real defense?

I have biases on this issue, and I’m well aware of them. I’ve gone hunting. My family has raised rabbits and ducks for food. In the case of the ducks, we ate the eggs and later the ducks. I helped my dad slaughter the ducks and I’ve helped him skin a deer. He processed rabbits, deer, and fish in our kitchen.

There are ways to avoid eating all animal products, but it is expensive and time consuming. If this became less of a barrier, it might change more people’s minds. Vegans have to put in a lot of extra effort to keep their food entirely plant-based.

Vegetarians, on the other hand, simply don’t eat meat, but may enjoy eggs, dairy, and other animal products which vegans don’t. Not all of them will, but it is possible.

There are ways to be vegan or vegetarian and get enough vitamins and minerals. That sometimes includes taking supplements to keep from having deficiency. Those supplements also increase the cost of the diet. In most cases, though, all the vitamins and minerals necessary can be obtained entirely from plants. That could change for people with allergies or other dietary restrictions.

I freely admit that eating meat or animal products isn’t required to live, at least in the developed world. If it was, this would not be a question of ethics, it would be of survival.

It is not a moral issue among other animals when one animal eats another, from our human perspective. Presumably the animals don’t discuss the ethics of what they eat and how they obtain their food. If they were capable of such discussions, they are still in a state of struggling to survive such that they wouldn’t have the conversation. Additionally, many animals are carnivores by necessity.

Humans are omnivores. Other animals, like some turtles, are omnivores. Gorillas eat insects and plants. Even dogs will enjoy apples, carrots, and other plants, though they are primarily carnivores.

This ethical discussion of eating meat only applies to areas of the world where the standard of living is high enough to suffer little consequence by cutting out meat.

If an animal is being put through massive suffering and poor living conditions to bring it to the table, I would feel that unethical. If, however, it was a free range chicken with plenty of space and good food and was killed quickly, I would have fewer reservations about consuming meat.

Ethics and morality are highly contextual. If you have ever explored the multitude of variations of the trolley problem, for example, you will know this. In the problem, either one person or five will die because of an oncoming train or trolley. In some iterations, you can push someone into the path of the train, in others you pull a lever to change the path. Depending on what is required to sacrifice one to save five can change a person’s answer.

It is the same with the ethics of eating meat. I’m thinking through everything and it’s complicated. It might be a simple thing for some people, but I went into this piece to defend eating meat. Now, I am open to changing my mind and my diet. In fact, that may be how this concludes.

To do more research for this piece, I watched this video from a vegan speaker. He brings up a lot of points and questions that I am grappling with. He used to eat meat and he grappled with it as well. This is very much a discussion with myself to explore what I think and why.

I don’t think I was wrong about what I said already, that if it were a question of survival, it would be different. If it were about maintaining an ecosystem, it would be different. If the animals were not bred specifically to be food and then slaughtered, it would be different. If there wasn’t needless suffering in the meat and dairy industry, it would be different.

There is a difference between the meat industry and hunting. In the latter, the animal was wild and you know how and when it was killed.

In Illinois, there is a problem with overpopulation of deer because humans killed off a lot of wolves in the area. There aren’t any predators for the deer anymore. Deer die because of cars, hunting, and hunger.

Why would it be gross to eat a deer but not a cow? If you eat beef, why not venison? Why the animals we do eat and why is it reprehensible to eat others? Why does eating veal (the flesh of a calf) and eating beef feel different? Why do I feel more disgusted by the former?

As far as survival is concerned, I view meat as acceptable. I’m not against animal products as a whole, either. But should I change my mind about eating meat? Since it isn’t necessary for me, should I stop?

I feel very stuck on this issue. I’m struggling to find valid reasons to excuse it.

The animals are not euthanized, they are slaughtered. Would that make a difference? If they were able to live good, full lives and did not feel pain when they died, would that be better?

I don’t want to give up meat, if I’m being honest. But I also don’t know that I can comfortably continue eating it without considering the animal that had to die. It’s unfortunate that something has to die for us to live, since none of us are plants or photosynthesize. The least we can do is give it the best life possible. I don’t feel that that is happening in most cases based on the information I have.

Due to my research and this complicated and rambling discussion with myself, I’m going to reduce and mostly eliminate meat from my diet at least until there is change. There is potentially a solution in lab grown meat, and if it becomes affordable I would be open to trying it. I have problems with the treatment of animals in the meat industry, so I will not support that for the sake of my taste preferences.

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Aurora Leigh and “My Last Duchess”: Women’s Rights

Women and men alike in the nineteenth century wanted women to have the same economic and political freedoms as men. Women authors during the Victorian era started to gain positive recognition for their works. For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was seriously considered for the poet laureate (“Overview, R. Browning, and E. B. Browning”). Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856) and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning (1842) brilliantly showcase the Victorian attitudes toward women as well as the Brownings’ desire for those attitudes to change.

For clarity, when referred to without their first names Browning refers to Robert Browning and Barrett Browning refers to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Additionally, it is worth noting that the sources I had available for the majority of the drafting of this piece did not include the entirety of Aurora Leigh. I have only read what was included in The Norton anthology of English Literature, version 9. This article is adapted from an essay I wrote for a Liberty University English class.

 

During that same period, the Langham Place Circle became the first organized women’s suffrage movement in the UK during the 1850s. According to Esquire, “[In 1940 a]t the World Anti-slavery Convention in London, several male abolitionists stand with women against hypocrisy of segregationist rules barring female participation.” In the late 19th century women were able to secure increased independence and recognition by the state, especially pertaining to parental rights in the event of divorce.

Florence Nightingale is well remembered for her volunteer nursing efforts in the Crimean War. Her work lead to the rise of nurses in the medical field and legitimized the efforts of other women attempting to do medical work.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a “British novelist and social historian. Mrs Gaskell’s novels portray the lives of a cross-section of Victorian society” (Biography Online, Famous Victorians).

Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, and Annie Besant were activists during this time period. Pankhurst and Fawcett were suffragettes, though they took drastically different approaches to secure freedom: Pankhurt chose to be militant while Fawcett chose non-violence. Besant campaigned for the working poor and defied the Victorian expectations of a passive wife with her radicalism and separation from her husband (Biography Online, Annie Besant).

Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë were notable female poets of the Victorian era. Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights is a literary classic.

 

Robert Browning artfully wove word usage and poetic elements in “My Last Duchess” to emphasize the duke’s monstrous nature, practically forcing the reader’s sympathy to rest with the previous duchess. “My Last Duchess” is based on part of the life of Alfonso II, the Italian Duke of Ferrara, and the duke in the poem is living in the sixteenth century (note from the Anthology, p. 2124). It records an imagined one-sided conversation between the duke and an agent for the count, the father of the woman the duke wishes to marry now. The poem consists of iambic pentameter and rhymed couplets, creating structure despite the duke’s impression of attempting to speak casually. Most of the poem’s rhymed couplets are open, or lacking punctuation, pushing the stress to the middle of the next line where the sentences end. In this way, Browning used enjambment to emphasize the terrible things the duke is telling the agent who will be presenting the duke’s marriage request to the count by whom he is employed (Wright, 2015). As Watson (1973) notes, the man with the duke does not speak once, creating the impression that he is not shocked by what he is being told, that is, that the duke is both acting naturally and his behavior was normal for the time period. Browning created a believable sixteenth century duke and included elements that enhanced the duke’s believability.

The duke in “My Last Duchess” is realistic in the ways he refers to and speaks of the late duchess as well as how he treated his wife. The opening lines of “My Last Duchess” read, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now.” To today’s reader, it will seem that the duke is speaking of the painting, but that is actually not the case. As Crowder (2012) explained in his short article, the duke is referring to the subject of the portrait as the portrait itself, a common practice in the sixteenth century that later came to be seen as rude. Reading the poem in this light, it is clear that the duke likes his late duchess better now that she is dead. The duke viewed his wife as something he owned; he desired to control her, and chose to kill her when he found he could not (lines 45-47). Now that she is dead, the duke has power over who sees the “earnest glance” and smiles that the duchess was too flippant with (lines 5-15, 20-34). It is possible that Browning chose a time period when women were treated worse than they were in his own to make the reader think of how the duke should have treated the duchess and responded to her actions.

 

Barrett Browning’s epic poem Aurora Leigh communicates Barrett Browning’s attitudes concerning women’s rights through the narrator Aurora. In book two of Aurora Leigh, Aurora rejects Romney’s marriage proposal because he does not respect her poetic aspirations, even though he thinks she would be a wonderful wife (lines 90-96, 110-115, 345-349). Aurora accusingly claims that Romney has long been married to his “social theory” when Romney questions her rejection (book 2, lines 408-410). Barrett Browning is telling the reader that women are not just on earth to be men’s wives, but to live their lives also, and women can choose not to marry a man who will not support them in their aspirations. Barrett Browning, a woman herself, made arguments for women’s rights in Aurora Leigh and helped change the misconception that women cannot write poetry as well as or even better than their male contemporaries.

Barrett Browning employed symbolism regarding her characters, in particular Aurora and Romney, to convey their character qualities to the reader and make a statement about women’s rights. As Stone (2011) mentions, Aurora is frequently associated with air or wind throughout the epic, however, Romney is compared with earth until “purified by fire.” This may be symbolic of the freedom inherent in the high view of women Aurora holds versus the more traditional, binding view of women Romney adheres to for the majority of Aurora Leigh. Later in the epic, though not in the specific selections included in the Anthology, Romney proposes again, and this second time, Aurora accepts. After Romney’s view of Aurora’s poetry changes, and his view of her, somewhat as well, Aurora is willing to marry him. Aurora is unwilling to marry Romney until he adopts a higher view of women and their equal ability to be authors or poets. In the same way, Barrett Browning wanted women to be viewed as men’s equals in society and in the field of literature.

 

Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Browning’s “My Last Duchess” fit into the Victorian period ideologically. The Victorian period, delineated by Queen Victoria’s reign, is defined by change and technological advancement. Bristow (2004) mentions in his essay that “[s]eldom, however, has ‘Victorian’ delivered theoretical concepts either for or about the eclecticism of the poetry it is supposed to characterize.” Bristow (2004) also mentions that the Victorian period, and Victorian poetry, was far more Modern than previously recognized. The poets of the age were concerned with women’s rights, equality despite race, universal suffrage, and other similar goals that carried into the Modern period as well. The age was also one of increasing technology and a growing fascination with and dependence on that technology. Barrett Browning and Browning were both concerned with those things, in particular women’s rights, of which Aurora Leigh and “My Last Duchess” are examples. According to Gbogi (2014), Barrett Browning, despite being commonly compared to her male contemporaries and being viewed as the first subversive woman poet, was no such thing, but rather was part of a feminist literary tradition. Also, as Stone (2011) mentions regarding Barrett Browning’s rejection of Medievalism, “she resembled numerous other women writers.” Browning and Barrett Browning, whether consciously or not, wrote Victorian poems, that, while unique, had elements and messages similar to other Victorian writers’ poems.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning embedded their views on women’s rights into “My Last Duchess” and Aurora Leigh. Though Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh is far longer and contains much more material than Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” both make important points concerning women and how they are viewed. “My Last Duchess” shows a power-hungry sixteenth century duke sorely mistreating his wife to the point of murdering her for showing some individuality and independence. Aurora Leigh chronicles the life of a women poet who emigrated from Italy to Great Britain who first rejects and later accepts a marriage proposal, the answer dependent upon the man’s attitude toward her and her poetry. Regardless of one’s perspective of Victorian era feminism and gender politics, the Brownings were part of the movement and its ideology affected their works.

 

References

Aronson, A., & Watson, E. “Great Moments in the History of Gender Equality.” Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/news/a9675/gender-equality-history-moments/

Biography Online. “Annie Besant.” https://www.biographyonline.net/women/annie-besant.html

Biography Online. “Famous Victorians.” https://www.biographyonline.net/people/famous/victorians.html

Bristow, Joseph. 2004. “Whether ‘Victorian’ poetry: A genre and its period.” Victorian Poetry, 42(1); 81-109.

Crowder, Ashby Bland. 2012. The piece in “My last duchess.” Notes and Queries, 59(3), 390-391.

Gbogi, Michael Tosin. 2014. Refiguring the subversive in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.” Neohelicon, 42(2), 503-516.

Greenblatt, S., Christ, C. T., David, A., Lewalski, B. K., Lipking, L.,Logan, G. M.,…Stillinger, J. (2013). The Norton anthology of English literature, 9.

“Overview, R. Browning, and E. B Browning.” Liberty University, English 216 presentation.

Stone, Marjorie. 2011. Elizabeth Barret Browning. Victorian, 49(3), 357-376, 434-435.

Watson, J. R. 1973. Robert Browning: “My last duchess.” Critical Survey, 6(1/2), 69-75.

Wright, Alyssa. 2015. The duke’s true character in “My last duchess.” Liberty University, ENGL 102.

 

Depression and Anxiety: My Story

I don’t often talk about my depression or anxiety. In a lot of cases where I think to talk about struggling with them, my anxiety kicks in to dissuade me. Today we’re going to talk about it anyway. It’s better that way. It’s just hard to convince myself that that’s true sometimes.

Several months ago, I wrote two paragraphs about how my depression paired with procrastination:

I struggle with depression. As much as I wish it didn’t, it affects my ability to finish articles for the blog. A disclaimer: I don’t deal with depression all the time, some days are better than others, and overall things seem to be improving.

Justine and I have talked about feeling swamped with the obligations we have offline and online. She has so many responsibilities, that sometimes my reason for not working on the blog when I have time feels like a cop-out, an excuse, and not a valid one. I could have been writing, but instead I was on Facebook, or Quora, or chatting with my friends on Discord, or anything else. I even open the Google doc I write my articles in. The tab sits, idle. I want to write, I need to write, but I don’t feel like doing anything. Sometimes I can force myself to write anyway. Other times I while away the hours on the internet, thinking how I’m not even enjoying myself but not liking any of my other pastimes any better in the present.

Some of that is still accurate. Sometimes. I still have days where I want to do nothing, I don’t feel like I can do anything, and I only get out of bed because I have to turn off my alarm. Generally, things have improved from when I wrote those two paragraphs. I started my personal blog in July and that’s forced me to focus. I worry every day about if I have content prepared, if I’ll keep up my daily posting, if I’ll miss a day, etc. Every. Day.

As far as depression goes, I had a lot of dark nights of feeling hopeless and worthless. I pushed through it, and while I felt really horrid for a long time after, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. If I hadn’t had strict deadlines for the last two years of high school, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to graduate than it did. As it was, no matter how unmotivated I was, no matter how much I didn’t feel like I could do anything that day, I had to force myself to get out of bed and do it anyway. Most of that force was fear of bad grades and of not finishing things on time and “what if I don’t graduate because I didn’t do this?” But I also spent a lot of time not doing homework when I should have been.

More recently, as I gained more control over my own life and my direction, I’ve dealt with depression less frequently. Things seemed especially bright around the time I started dating my boyfriend, last December. I had just gotten accepted into Praxis, so I knew what a year of my life was going to look like and I was so excited. Things were looking up. I noticed one month that I could feel the effects of depression but I was in an okay mood, none of the usual bad thoughts were there, which was unusual. This happened just about every month, and I think it may be partially connected to my period. This was quite the revelation.

I had one day that was so bad, depression and anxiety mixed together so well that I had to call off work. I was a mess, crying and irritable, and unmotivated and stressed out for no reason I didn’t think I could handle it. There were other days that were that bad where I still had to go in because to call off would get me fired. Those days were the hardest. Being on the verge of a mental breakdown while putting on a brave face and helping customers is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. I don’t get a lot done when that happens, because I keep going to the bathroom about to cry, on top of all the other directions they pull me.

A lot of various interpersonal interactions make me uncomfortable and anxious. It’s normal to be nervous about public speaking and interviews, after all, they tend to be important. For me, those nerves can extend to other situations that aren’t strictly either. I can recall being asked to read a few Bible verses at youth group one night. To everyone. Unexpectedly. Over the speakers. I was shaking and hoped no one could tell how terrified I was. When I speak up and participate in group conversations, if I’m not familiar with everyone and comfortable with them, I get wild butterflies in my stomach. There’s been very few exceptions to this. Sometimes I have something I want to say but can’t. I have to convince myself to do it. If I finally do get to the point of forcing myself to speak, I feel shaky and nervous. It’s horrible, and it’s hard to convince myself that everything will be okay. So I tend to watch other people interact at group events rather than participate.

In really large group activities, I’ll latch on to a person or a few people I’m comfortable with and stick with them. If I lose them, it freaks me out and I feel lost and confused and strikingly out of place. I’ll frantically search for them or find a place to stand away from the crowd. Recently, my boyfriend and I went to a homeschool carnival my friends invited me to. I was a bit on-edge because of how many people were there, even though they were scattered over a large area. When I lost track of two of my friends, realizing they’d wandered off while I was absorbed in conversation with my boyfriend, I mentally freaked out. I scanned the crowd, trying desperately to find them. We found them and stood with them before going to wait for the carriage ride. Under the pavillion it was loud and my heart was beating fast and while I knew logically it was okay, I felt really unsafe. After the carriage ride, I felt really uncomfortable and out of place and very much not okay. So I said I was ready to leave. My boyfriend asked if I was sure, and I said yeah, so we said goodbye to my friends and left. I nearly burst into tears as we walked to my car and he asked if I was okay. And I said yes so I wouldn’t cry right then. I cried later, feeling horrible. I had wanted so badly to enjoy my time at the event with my friends and I couldn’t because I was so stressed out the whole time. I like to spend time with people, I really do, but I do much better with smaller groups of people that I know well.

Things can be really hard sometimes, but it’s not all bad. Since I started working at Walmart, I’ve gotten better at talking to strangers and feel more comfortable conversing with people I don’t know well. I also feel more in control of my life and that I’m moving toward my goals in a concrete way. That has helped me have more hope for the future, which erases a lot of the bad thoughts aspect that was so prominent in my depression. I know less about anxiety, because I realized more recently that I was even dealing with it and how it was affecting me. It seemed to be getting worse, but now that I know it’s there, I can take steps to better cope and combat it.

I may not have overcome my mental health problems yet, but I’ve made progress, especially in the last year. I may never be totally free of depression or anxiety, but I have hope for the future and know that it can and will get better. It will take time and effort, but I will get there.

“The Second Act Industry,” a Response

Recently I came across an article published by the New York Times titled “The Snake Oil of the Second Act Industry” by Alissa Quart. She details how middle-aged people, especially those who are stressed by their lack of retirement funds, attempt to pivot their career lives to make more money before they retire. She details some problems with the industry surrounding this phenomenon, termed the “second act” and the problems with the industry. Overall, she argues that the middle-aged are being taken advantage of by the second act industry and the government needs to provide more social support. In this piece, I have responded to specific portions that I felt deserved a response. The full article can be read here.

 

“I call the businesses propelling that promise of reinvention the “second-act industry,” and it includes for-profit universities, certificate programs and coaches getting in on the new trend — all of them helping, for a fee, people who are trying to get back into or ahead in the work force.”

Some of these programs may in fact take advantage of the middle-aged people they purport to help, as this article asserts. However, some of the blame may be on the people using these services and their blind trust in the programs or degrees being offered. Some investigation into the service, the promised results, and the actual results could help people weigh the pros and cons of such as products and services. That does not mean it would be easy, but if more people become aware of how careers are changing and how hiring practices are changing, it would become easier to adapt to the current job world and discern between scams and legitimate companies.

 

“The industry appeals to anxious and sometimes underqualified middle-aged students who are enticed by a constellation of websites, special programs, self-help books and gurus.”

People are drawn in by the promise of more earning power. The methods purported may be questionable and the price may be too high, but people are willing to pay for it. I agree with the later assertions that something needs to be done to help the middle aged people who fall into this trap, but I do not agree with the proposed solution. As more people test strategies for the current job market and given a larger body of proof, it will help the aging members of the work force adapt more effectively.

 

“To survive as workers, we have to deny, on some level, the realities of our bodies — bodies that age and give birth. While more people are working later in life because of happy things like longer life expectancy, they are also doing so because of very sad things, like a lack of Social Security benefits or retirement plans.”

It is unfortunate that so many people have planned their retirement with Social Security in mind. This places a burden on taxpayers and fuels emotionally charged arguments for why it must be kept, such as, “it cannot be repealed because people rely on it.” When people have the capacity to plan for retirement by saving money, they may partially have themselves to blame for their newfound poverty. However, a lot of people either do not have extra income, have relied on faulty retirement savings methods, or did not save enough to account for inflation and the increased living costs that come with being older. This is a problem, and it will take time and effort to “fix it” and to take care of the elderly people who are currently relying on Social Security benefits.

 

“The real problem is that middle-aged people are unlikely to have pensions or savings because of inadequate federal social support in this country. Unfortunately, individual ambition… doesn’t always do the trick.Yet we continue to believe. Perhaps it’s because the roots of our faith in second acts are long.”   

Federal social support comes from the money taxpayers make. The more the government forcibly takes from those working now, the less they have available to use for themselves and their families. Instead of solving the problem, this could just move more of it to younger people. In fact, based on this article and what I already know about this problem, it seems like federal social support enacted in the past helped cause this problem, not that further social support programs will fix it. I talk about this more in a later paragraph.

 

“So instead of putting the blame on people caught in this bind, what if we had better anti-ageist work policies? What if companies were incentivized to hire older workers? And what if middle-aged people who are casting about for a second act had real societal support while they did so, like free after-school programs for their children or a monthly basic income guarantee, like the one now being piloted in Ontario?”

This is not a solution I would back. In fact, if such a program were presented to people in my community, I would vote against it and encourage others to do the same. These “free after-school programs” will cost money, and who will pay for them? Taxpayers. Who pays for Social Security? Taxpayers. Instead of people voluntarily helping others who need it, either financially or in some other way, the government forcibly takes money from everyone in order to help them. This government welfare is often not the best way to help the person in need, or it is ineffective. Additionally, having more of these tax-funded programs will require higher taxes, thus decreasing the benefit for those who it is supposed to be helping. If instead private institutions or groups of people came together and either raised money to help people in this situation or volunteered their time to help them, that would be more effective and would not require the government to steal money from everyone.

 

“We should look to create fixes for middle-aged workers that are not solely reliant on private inspirations or pricey new degrees. We need public solutions for midlife career atrophy and joblessness so that people don’t get into even deeper debt and blame themselves for their failures.”

These public solutions will require increased taxes, which hurt everyone. The “pricey new degrees” are not effective, yes, that is true. In the changing job market, tangible skills are more valuable than a degree, because so many people have degrees. The value of the degree has decreased but the price has increased. While yes, the middle aged people facing this problem might be prone to blame themselves, it is not a social or societal problem for the most part. The government has lied about Social Security, presenting it as a form of “insurance,” and misleading people as to how it functions, contributing to the problem. Back when FDR enacted the New Deal and instituted Social Security, it was intended to be temporary. Instead, people protested attempts to repeal it after the economy had recovered from the Great Depression (not even because of the New Deal, as Tom Woods details well in 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask). Now, it has been around long enough that people plan for Social Security to help supplement their retirement savings. Will it be hard for people when or if it is repealed? Yes, because they are dependent on this money that is taken from all the working people and handed to them. But it is not and should not be the government’s job to take care of people in this way. We should be caring for each other, not relying on the government to help people.

Panem vs the US: Could Fiction Become Reality?

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is a well-known story about romance, revolution, and resilience. The books and movies follow Katniss Everdeen as she is thrown into a fight to the death against twenty-three other teenagers for the entertainment of the Capitol and her subsequent involvement in a revolution to overthrow the Capitol’s rule over the general population.

Recently, I decided to reread The Hunger Games to compare the book world to the real world.

The country Panem occupies a large part of former North America, the landform of which has been severely altered due to the rise of sea levels. Surrounding the Rocky Mountains are thirteen Districts which have been subjugated by the Capitol located within the mountains. The Capitol uses force via Peacekeepers (armoured soldiers similar to the Stormtroopers in Star Wars), to keep order and ensure that each District produces enough resources to meet the Capitol’s demand. Seventy-four years before the books begin, there was a revolution to overthrow the Capitol which ended in failure. Following the failed revolution, the thirteenth District was supposedly destroyed. At the same time, the governing body in the Capitol instituted the Hunger Games in order to pit the Districts against each other to ensure division and to instill enough fear to quell the thought of any further revolts. For a time, this method worked and peaceful submission was maintained.

In terms of technology, people, for the most part, have access to much of the same items we do. However, there are several instances where technology is more or sometimes less advanced than the world we know. In the Districts, people tend to live slightly more primitively due to their poverty. However, every household, no matter how rich or poor, has Capitol-issued televisions for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda. In the Capitol, the majority of people tend to have the standard of living close to middle class Americans although there are citizens that live on the two extremes of being either extraordinarily rich or devastatingly poor.

For clothing and fashion, there is both similarity and stark contrast to Western civilization. In District 12, the poorest people who live in the Seam wear plain clothes that often are infused with coal dust while the richer merchants, whose clothes are also relatively simple, tend to be cleaner and have more variety. This is not unlike today. In contrast, among citizens of the Capitol, wild fashion, including “aesthetic” over-the-top body modifications, is common. The people dye their hair unnatural colors or wear wigs in order to stand out. Both men and women wear heavy, extravagant makeup. This is more dissimilar to today, where while some people dye their hair bright colors and men sometimes use makeup, most do not go to the extremes seen in the book.

The books focus mainly on the relationship between the government and its citizens, especially the citizens in the Districts. Both the Capitol overall and President Snow specifically subjugate the Districts. The annual Hunger Games are meant to remind the Districts of their failed revolt and the Capitol’s power over them. The level of control that the government has in the books is greater than that seen in the United States today, however, our government is taking more and more power over citizens. In some countries of the world, there have been governments that control or have controlled their citizens with methods similar to the Capitol. The examples that most closely match Panem are Communist dictatorships of the past and present, or even religious groups that are better termed cults.

Although the state of Panem seems a little absurd at the moment, the US government is gradually becoming increasingly controlling and oppressive. One cannot help but see some parallels between Panem and our own society. Perhaps it is not so far fetched to believe that our own society could one day dissolve into post apocalyptic chaos.

What comparisons or contrasts have you noticed between the real world and Panem? Let us know in the comments!

Racial Inequality, William Blake, and a Biblical Perspective

This post is adapted from an essay I wrote for a Liberty University English class.

In 1789, eighteen years before slavery was abolished in Great Britain, William Blake published the poetry collection Songs of Innocence, among which is the poem “Little Black Boy.” Blake condemned slavery, which was evidence of the rampant racial inequality of his time (“Blake and Wordsworth”). Interestingly, the same year that Blake published Songs of Innocence, the French stormed the Bastille, and the ideology of freedom initially upheld by the French revolutionaries was reflected in the goals of abolitionists, both American and British. Other materials were published that year, such as a description of a slave trade ship, a report on the slave trade, a speech about slavery by William Wilberforce in the House of Commons, and a former slave by the name of Olaudah Equiano published one of the first books by a black author (Wikipedia). Attitudes about race were changing for the better, leading to increased equality. In the 1960s, as in the US, there was more progress made towards racial equality. The UK passed the Race Relations Act in 1965, which was the first legislation addressing racial discrimination; in 1976 they passed new legislation with the same name, making racial discrimination illegal (EqualityHumanRights.com). William Blake’s poem “The Little Black Boy” uses racial imagery to convey spiritual truth and oppose the slave trade.

The poem is as follows:

My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;

White as an angel is the English child:

But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

 

My mother taught me underneath a tree

And sitting down before the heat of day,

She took me on her lap and kissed me,

And pointing to the east began to say.

 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live

And gives his light, and gives his heat away.

And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive

Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

 

And we are put on earth a little space,

That we may learn to bear the beams of love,

And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face

Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

 

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear

The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.

Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,

And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

 

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,

And thus I say to little English boy.

When I from black and he from white cloud free,

And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

 

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear,

To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.

And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,

And be like him and he will then love me.

 

In this poem Blake writes from the perspective of a black slave boy in the southern U.S. to promote a biblical view of blacks as equal to whites. In line two, Blake states that the boy has a soul, despite the popular belief at the time that black people do not have souls (“Blake and Wordsworth”). For slave owners, claiming that black people did not have souls served as a justification of their owning slaves and treating them like animals, who are also believed to lack souls. American and British slave owners who believed the Bible is God’s word might have defended slavery by proof-texting a passage such as Ephesians 6:5, which tells slaves to obey their masters. Ephesians 6:5 defends slavery only if the literary and historical context is ignored; slaves in biblical times were often repaying a debt and were freed after their debt had been paid, unless they chose to remain the master’s slave. Blake insinuates throughout the poem that all people, regardless of skin color, are equal in their relationship to God (lines 3, 9-14, 17-20, 22-28). This is a biblical idea; as Galatians 3:28 (NIV) says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The black boy compares an English child to an angel because of his white skin, viewing himself as “bereav’d of light” (lines 3-4). It had been made clear to blacks that they were inferior to whites; it was ingrained in the culture and in their minds that they were lesser than whites, even when they were striving for equality. The culture, in this case, was wrong; all people are equal, because all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). All people are the same in a fundamental aspect, making them all equal.

Equality in God’s sight is Blake’s focus in “Little Black Boy,” though equality and fair treatment from whites was also important considering blacks were slaves, both in Britain and America. In lines thirteen and fourteen, the black slave boy relates what his mother taught him: “And we are put on earth a little space, / That we may learn to bear the [sun] beams of love.” The sun seems to symbolize the trials men face on earth. This is reminiscent of James 1:2-4, which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). It seems from the black boy’s hope that the English boy will one day love him that Blake saw a future day when whites would realize they were not superior to other races and equality would be gained. At the very least, the final lines emphasize that all of God’s children are equal in His sight, or, as a popular phrase among Christians puts it, “the ground is level at the cross.”

William Blake masterfully used racial imagery to teach his contemporaries about equality in Christ. It was surely not a popular message for slave owning Brits or Americans at the time, but it is a biblical one. The poem decries the prejudice inherent to racism and the slave trade and points readers to Christ. It was vital to the abolitionist movement that blacks be viewed and treated as equal to whites, and Blake communicated this well in “Little Black Boy.” Of course, racial equality did not stop there, and freedom for slaves was only the first step. A lot of progress has been made. Today on the internet there is an upsurge of racism, not towards “people of color,” generally, but towards whites. While some say things about “reverse racism isn’t real” or similar things, racism is any prejudice against someone because of their skin color or race. All people should be viewed as equal insofar as they are human regardless of race.

 

References

Equality Human Rights. “A History of Human Rights in Britain.” https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/what-are-human-rights/history-human-rights-britain

Liberty University. “Blake and Wordsworth.” (Video presentation.)

Liberty University. “Historical Context and Wollstonecraft.” (Video presentation.)

Wikipedia. “1789 in Great Britain.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1789_in_Great_Britain

William Blake. Songs of Innocence, “Little Black Boy.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43671/the-little-black-boy

 

Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life: What do People Believe?

Several months ago, I started a discussion about abortion in the DeviantART forums. I wanted to examine people’s perspectives and positions on the issue in more depth and encourage the participants to think critically about where they stand. Throughout this article I will be using the positive monikers for both sides, pro-choice and pro-life in order to avoid biased language. I will not explain my position, only the perspectives I encountered in the informal survey. Also, there are more arguments that can be made in favor of either side of this issue, but I will only discuss the ones used in the discussion forum.

The majority of responders were primarily pro-choice, supporting the position that a woman can choose to have an abortion. Close to a third of the responders were primarily pro-life, against the option of abortion in most, if not all, circumstances. A small minority held positions that were mixed, ambiguous, or otherwise unclear based on the content of their messages.

The pro-choice positions tended to focus on bodily autonomy and when an embryo or fetus is or becomes a person. Bodily autonomy is the idea that each person should and is able to choose what they do with their body. In the context of the abortion debate, it is generally argued that when the unborn child is unwanted, it can or does infringe upon the bodily autonomy of the woman. That is, that the woman can remove the embryo or fetus because it is in or part of her body. The issue of personhood is more complex and varied in the pro-choice camp. The general consensus, however, is that the unborn is a potential life, because it is not a fully developed human. A pro-choice person may consider the unborn a person at any point ranging from conception to after birth and will likely have some reason for when they consider life to begin. Additionally, the time at which the pro-choice person considers the unborn to be a person will change whether they find late-term abortions acceptable or not.

There were far fewer pro-life responders in the forum, but they all had some common elements to their position. All of them were opposed to abortion, though some made exceptions for instances of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life was in danger because of the pregnancy. The core of the pro-life position was that abortion kills a human being and is therefore wrong in the same way that murder is wrong. It was also less important when life begins, because the fetus or embryo is viewed as a separate human being from conception.

The main contention between the pro-life and pro-choice positions is the importance of the unborn’s life versus the importance of bodily autonomy. The pro-choice side views the woman’s right to do as she pleases with her body to be more important than carrying the unborn baby to term. The pro-life side holds these in the opposite importance. There is the caveat, however, that in some circumstances a person will have to choose between the life of the mother and the life of the child. The first pro-life person to respond shared their tragic story of having to do just that, and they saved the mother at the expense of the child.

Overall, there is a lot of disagreement over the issue of abortion. Both sides have strongly held opinions and beliefs. If we can understand where people are coming from and why they are either pro-choice or pro-life, we can move forward in productive conversation.

To join the discussion or read previous responses, go to the forum thread here.