Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us about the Origins of Good and Evil.

Beasts

This is the title of my new book that is just about to be published by Bloomsbury.  Some people are bothered by the title.  “How can humans learn about good and evil from animals?” they ask.  These are usually people who believe that humans are unique, the very crown of creation.  To them I quote Nietzsche:  We do not consider animals moral beings.  But do you suppose animals regard us as moral beings?

I have been struck at how often humans call other humans beasts when they want to convey that they are without any moral values:  The Russian writer Eugenia Ginzburg, in her classic book Into the Whirlwind about the horrendous prisons in the Gulag, writes:  “I have often thought about the tragedy of those by whose agency the purge of 1937 was carried out… Step by step as they followed their routine directives, they traveled all the way from the human condition to that of beasts.”

 How is it, then, I ask, that in the 20th century alone, humans have killed 200 million of our own kind, while as far as anyone has been able to determine, no orca has ever killed another orca in the wild?  If this fact does not cause you to shiver, I don’t know what will. But it’s not only other humans we kill. We kill huge numbers of the animals we think of as “beasts”—the apex predators— such as the big cats, wolves, orcas, bears, sharks, and crocodiles.  Humans kill one hundred million sharks every year, mostly for their fins, throwing the sharks back into the water to drown in agony.  Yet despite what we may think, these “beasts” hardly ever kill humans.

How have we become so divorced from the natural world?  What allows humans to torture, go to war, hunt for pleasure, abuse small children, attempt genocide, and perpetrate so many other acts that seem unique to our species, absent from the animal world, the same world we attempt to paint as uniquely violent (“nature red in tooth and claw”)?

Could any topic be more important?  In the past, I have tried to show that animals have the same complex emotions we have.  But now I am taking this further:  why do we have these murderous impulses that other animals lack?  We have enemies.  Animals don’t have enemies.  We hate.  Animals don’t.  Of course other apex predators hunt for food– they have no choice.   No animal in the wild gets to choose its diet.  But they don’t hunt for the sheer pleasure of killing.  They don’t create scenes where they must exact vengeance.  Why do we then?  Usually when we compare ourselves to animals, in our own minds we come out better.  I think that this has been a fundamental mistake, one that prevents us from learning something important, in fact something that could possibly save our species.  For it does seem that we are headed—as Elizabeth Kolbert says in her new book—for the sixth great extinction, one that we have brought upon ourselves.  No other animal has ever even come close to this.  Can we learn something from animals in time to help us stop?

You can buy my book by clicking on the picture of the book.  

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Cold Blooded Murder of a Young Giraffe

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I don’t like any zoo, but I am especially outraged by the action of the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark on Sunday (February 9).  I am hardly alone:  More than 27,000 people signed a “save Marius petition,” when the zoo announced that zoo officials intended to kill the adorable and much-loved 18-month old Marius. Many thousands of other people around the world have taken to the Internet to express their sadness, their bewilderment, and their horror at this completely unnecessary, even ghoulish act.   It caused revulsion in most people who read about it.  It was an execution many noted.  The reason the zoo gave for killing Marius struck just about every ordinary person as bizarre:  He was killed because his genes were too similar to those of other zoo giraffes in a European breeding program.  “He cannot add anything further to the breeding programme that does not already exist,” a European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) spokesman told BBC News.  The zoo called him a “surplus” giraffe.  If giraffes had human zoos, how many of us would be considered surplus?  Or genetically unnecessary?

Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the UK offered to take him in its “state-of-the-art giraffe house” alongside four other males, including one from Copenhagen Zoo, but their offer was refused.  A Dutch wildlife park also offered to re-home him, as did a Swedish zoo; a wealthy individual offered 500,000 euros to save his life.  Nope, said the officials, he had to be “sacrificed” and skinned, dissected, and fed to lions live on the Internet and in front of spectators at the zoo, including young children, so they could “learn about giraffes.”  Moreover Copenhagen Zoo couldn’t send Marius to an institution with “lesser standards of welfare.”  Right, that zoo might decide to let him live his full life of 26 years or more. 

 A veterinarian shot Marius with a rifle as leaned down to munch on rye bread, a favorite snack, being offered by his “trusted” keeper.  (I wonder how he will sleep tonight?)  It was the first time that the zoo dissected a giraffe:  “People are fascinated by it, both adults and children, and they would like to hear stories they normally don’t have access to. I think that’s good. It helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death,” said the scientific director of the zoo, Beng Holst.  What stories is he talking about?  The one where a human executes an innocent animal?  What knowledge did it increase?  That humans believe they have the right to kill any animal they wish?  What was the lesson?  The life of a giraffe is cheap?  “He was just a giraffe,” after all.  Not so.  He was a completely unique individual, different than any other giraffe who ever existed, exactly as is a human individual.  He had a life history, brief as it was, that was completely his own, as Tom Regan has often reminded us.  He was the subject of a truncated biography.  The scientific director also announced “If we’re serious about science, we can’t be led by emotion.”  Really?  Do we actually believe scientists have no emotions and make no decisions based on them?  If that is really so, isn’t it sad?  And what would it lead to?  Well, the decision to kill a perfectly healthy baby giraffe.  That’s the outcome when emotions are not involved.  Is that something we want to teach our children?

 Peter Sandoe, professor of bioethics [sic] at the University of Copenhagen, said he sympathized with the decision to put down the giraffe:  “When small children can go and see this giraffe and see it being turned into lion food, it’s a very good picture of what nature is like,” he said.  By this logic, small children should also see humans murder one another in war, as it’s a very good picture of what human nature is like. 

Look at the bigger picture, said the zoo authorities.  (Did Kant not say something important to the effect that the end does not justify the means?). 

Many zoo officials in other countries defended the killing by asking how many animals are “euthanized” every day for human food.  True, but that is nothing to be proud of, and more and more people are turning vegetarian, even vegan, every day.  I just hope this cruel act encourages even more.  I also hope it keeps people from visiting zoos.  They are nothing but glorified prisons.    

If I were a Dane I would never visit the Copenhagen Zoo again.  A boycott of the zoo might well be a good lesson for the zoo in human nature:  most of us do not like to see an animal murdered by the people who raised him, no matter what excuse they can come up with.  Nietzsche once asked if we could regard animals as moral beings.  He answered himself:  “Do you suppose that animals regard us as moral beings?”  Not the ones in the Copenhagen Zoo.

 

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Human Intelligence?

Many of us realize how foolish it is to ask how intelligent an animal is, or to decide what we do to an animal based on how intelligent we believe that animal to be. Few would defend the notion that we can take the life of an animal because we think the animal is stupid. The truth is that none of us knows what it means to say of any particular animal that it is more intelligent than any other. Nor can any of us say what difference it would make even if we did know.

I want to make an even broader point: We don’t really know what it means to be intelligent in our own species. Lately I have been struck by how people who are definitely intelligent when it comes to sheer IQ power or the ability to create something, invent something, make a scientific discovery, or simply set the tone for the culture.

I collect strange lapses. Few would disagree that Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein. Yet in his book about his own life, My Brief History, explaining how much he likes doing scientific work, he writes: “Someone once said that scientists and prostitutes get paid for doing what they enjoy.” It obviously does not occur to him that the vast majority of prostitutes do not enjoy what they are coerced (either literally or by circumstances) to do. He thought the remark was funny. It is profoundly offensive. Yet, with all his mighty brainpower, he cannot see this.

James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the structure of DNA, (without crediting the work by Rosalind Franklin that made it possible) famously said that stupidity is a disease. Yet he famously said how nice it would be if women could be genetically engineered to be pretty, and equally stupid, he claimed, in 2007, that he was gloomy about the prospects of Africa, because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really,” displaying in equal measure, arrogance, ignorance, racism, and profound stupidity. (London’s Science Museum rightly cancelled the talk he was supposed to give there).

When Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in 1965, he said that some of his earlier mistakes in theory were “like falling in love with a woman, it is only possible if you do not know much about her.” Lest you feel he was just joking, he ends the acceptance speech by comparing his earlier ideas this way: “But, we can say the best we can for any old woman, that she has been a very good mother and she has given birth to some very good children.” (There is much worse in his wildly popular book “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman.”)

Arthur Miller, the playwright, whose work delves into moral and ethical issues, committed his son, born with Down’s syndrome, to a mental institution when he was a week old, and cut him out of his life completely, not even mentioning him in his autobiography Timebends. When he died, the New York Times spoke of his “fierce belief in man’s responsibility to his fellow man.” A remarkably similar thing happened to Erik Erikson, the psychoanalyst, who was also responsible for creating a moral crusade around the need to understand our deepest motivations. He too refused to acknowledge the existence of his son with the same condition. Both boys, by the way, went on to become remarkable achievers in their own way, something to make any father deeply proud.

Of course, at its most extreme, this cleavage between intelligence (narrowly defined) and the ability to see deeper truths is nowhere more evident than in the person of a physician and a Ph.D. scientist, Dr. Dr. Josef Mengele.

No animal, by the way, has ever behaved in this manner. Are we really Homo sapiens sapiens?

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Seamus Heaney: Poet Celebrating Cruelty to Animals

I know it is not nice to speak badly of the dead. I realize that everyone, literally everyone, believes Seamus Heaney was not only the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, but also one of the kindest, most friendly, most unpretentious, gregarious, sweet men in all of Ireland.

Perhaps his most famous poem, one that every schoolchild in England and Ireland learns by heart, is called The Early Purges, from his collection “Death of a Naturalist.” Google it and read it. It is only a few lines. Its fame is assured, we are told.

What am I missing here? I find it appalling. Nasty. Ugly thoughts expressed in unforgettable images I wish I could get out of my head. The gist: when Heaney was six, living on his father’s farm, he watched an older boy drown kittens, calling them “scraggy wee shits.” The sight traumatized him. Of course. He was a small boy filled, like so many other children, with empathy for other small creatures like himself. He is frightened too. While he does not spell it out, why could not somebody call him a little shit, and want to kill him? It happens.

In time, he forgets the fear. But then he sees the same person kill with pleasure rats, rabbits, crows, and pull off the necks of old hens. The fear comes back. Again unspoken is: If them, why not me? So far so good. Many naturally sensitive children on farms are horrified by the violence visited on animals that they see daily. He learns a valuable lesson. But no.

The end of the pome is not what one might expect, namely that “I learned, then, to love all helpless creatures, human or otherwise.” Quite the opposite: I learned that my compassion was a “false sentiment.” So Heaney explains that later, when puppies were drowned in his presence, he shrugs, and mimics his elders by calling them nothing but “bloody pups.”

Wait, you say. Surely Heaney is commenting on how he had become deaf to suffering. He is not celebrating it, he is mourning the passing.

I wish.

The last lines abolish any such false hope. I paraphrase: Those of you who live in towns can speak of cruelty, because you think it is unnatural to die. (But these animals did not die a natural death, they were killed for no reason. But Heaney insists there was a good reason: “On well-run farms pests have to be kept down.”

Pests? Dogs, cats, rats, chickens? Kept down, that is, murdered. That is what a well-run farm is, after all.

Is this the poem we want our young people to learn by heart? Many will wish, like me, they could unlearn it.

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Save the African Elephants…Before It’s Too Late

This is a guest blog from Aviva Cantor who shares with me a passion and concern for elephants9029052-african-elephants-loxodonta-africana-drinking-water-at-a-waterhole-addo-elephant-park-south-africa

In recent months the war against the elephants in Africa – which has claimed tens of thousands of lives of these intelligent and sensitive animals in the past decade – has escalated to the point where the species’ extinction is threatened if immediate action is not carried out.

Dozens of elephants are killed every day by soldiers in some of the African armies that the US trains and supports, including the militaries in Uganda, Congo and South Sudan, and by terrorist groups such as the Lords’ Resistance Army, Shahab and janjaweed. The money they realize from the sales of the poached ivory tusks fund and fuel their human rights atrocities.

A Princeton ecologist reported that “the huge populations in the West of Africa have disappeared and those in the center and east are going rapidly.” The forest elephants are on the edge of extinction.

What is driving the illegal poaching and trade is demand for ivory from Asia, especially China, where a pound of ivory can net $1000 in Beijing.

An estimated 70% of the illegally poached ivory is shipped to China where government factories use it to manufacture trinkets such as bookmarks, figurines, rings, cups, combs and chopsticks.

“China is the epicenter of demand,” said Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official, in 2012. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”

China’s violation of the 1989 moratorium on the international commercial trade in ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is on par with its destructive domestic environmental policies and actions. These policies have already caused the extinction of the pink Yangtze River dolphin; disease-producing toxic water and air pollution (which is spreading across the globe); food contamination; the absence of effective environmental impact studies on the construction of dams, resulting in floods.

Protests in China by environmental activists and of people uprooted from their land or urban homes for developers’ luxury building construction have been growing and need international recognition and support. Animal protection activists — who are trying to end the torture and wounding of bears by the painful thrice-daily extraction of bile from 20,000 of these animals (most of them endangered Asiatic black bears) incarcerated in immobilizing cages — also need support.

Because China is the prime cause of the elephant massacres in Africa, it follows that China should be the focus of the most effective serious efforts to end them. This would be an especially useful strategy now because China is spending huge amounts of money to raise its prestige and image worldwide, which it seems to feel is necessary. China needs to realize that adhering to international law prohibiting trade in ivory and enforcing its trade ban would be a big step toward improving its international image.

What can we do to persuade China to discontinue buying ivory tusks from poachers and end its production of ivory trinkets in its government factories? Here are some suggestions for action by local, national and international organizations:

Groups involved with conservation, animal protection, political advocacy and foreign policy as well as local and national institutions of faith communities, neighborhood associations and senior centers, schools, youth groups and social service agencies can:

• Pass and publicize resolutions calling on China to stop buying poached ivory.
• Call upon the leaders of their governments to urge this action by China; and to condemn
the slaughter of the elephants, both in private talks with Chinese leaders and officials and publicly.
• Press local and national governmental bodies to pass resolutions condemning the elephant
massacres and China’s support of the poaching of ivory tusks for their factories.
• Call upon their government leaders to bring up this issue at the UN, to encourage
discussion of it among the delegates, and to hold an international conference on this issue..
• Call upon their elected representatives to initiate and support the holding of hearings on
this issue in their national legislative bodies and to draft legislation with teeth to convince China to bring an immediate halt to its support of the poaching.
• Stop buying products made in/by China until it ends its involvement in the illegal ivory
trade and explain why to wholesale and retail vendors, as well as readers of their Facebook pages and other social media and the local print and electronic media.

Concerned individuals in all fields of endeavor can:
• Communicate to their governmental leaders (president, foreign secretary/minister, other
elected representatives), including local ones, and to boards and other bodies and members of local, national and international organizations in civil society, the necessity of taking effective steps to bring an end to the elephant massacres.
• Stop buying products made in China; and post their views and accounts of their actions on
this issue on their Facebook pages and other social media.
• Schoolchildren can carry out letter-writing campaigns to their elected leaders, and
pressure school officials to stop buying Chinese-made products.
• All who are reading this urgent message can forward it to their friends and post it on social
media.

Hopefully, some of these strategies will work — and that their cumulative effect will generate sufficient public involvement to enable the creation of an effective coalition/organization/ movement to work on bringing and end to the massacres of the elephants and of the threat of their extinction.

Posted by Aviva Cantor
mailto:zolakin385@gmail.com

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Child Sexual Abuse

More.

I know I am not supposed to blog on this any longer, especially as I just did a blog on child abuse yesterday, but I keep coming across ignorance on the topic, which distresses me. The latest is from Richard Dawkins in his much-lauded book The God Delusion. He writes in that book in a sentence of startling arrogance, “Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged at the outset, [of what? He is 354 pages into his book] to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way.” [By “into proportion” he obviously means the rest of us are making too big a deal out of it. What he means by “out of the way” is puzzling. Whose way does he mean?]

He then, like so many men who wish to deny the reality of child abuse, speaks of a “time of hysteria about pedophilia” [hey, lighten up feminists, they are just men who like little children] and adds the obligatory cliché of the Salem witch-hunts, as if he saw no difference between the belief in witches and the belief in child sexual abuse. [Hint: Witches don’t exist; child abuse does].

He goes on to speak of the “infamous Magdalene Asylums.” He blames lawyers for forcing the victims to “rake over the distant past” [After all, they closed in 1996, couldn’t they just shut up about it?]. He calls the abuse (which was horrific, as we know from any number of sources, including the excellent and reliable film by Peter Mullan The Magdalene Sisters), “fumbles in the vestry,” as if the predators meant no real harm. These happened so long ago, he laments, that “the alleged offender is likely to be dead and unable to present his side of the story.” There were 1,500 witnesses to abuse who testified in court. But the other side did not get to claim it was all a dreadful misunderstanding. [In all, some 30,000 women were incarcerated and abused in every possible way, but this too must be seen in perspective! – I know, enough sarcasm now].

Does it matter at all that Richard Dawkins, England’s most famous public intellectual, and the Oxford Professor for Public Understanding of Science, disseminates crass and false information about child sexual abuse? Of course it does. The book in which he makes his ludicrous statements was named “Best Book of the Year in 2008 by The Economist, Financial Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Capital Times, Kirkus Review, and others. They did not qualify their praise (nor did any of the hundreds of reviewers) with a caveat about the nonsense he spouted about child abuse.

What is it about child abuse that drives otherwise intelligent men into drivel? How could somebody with Dawkin’s intellect not see the glaring illogic of his views? How can he so easily pronounce on something about which he clearly knows next to nothing, and to do so with such brazen pseudo-authority, completely undeserved and buttressed by nothing except a heart-stopping intellectual arrogance? That is a topic well worth pondering. For the moment, I don’t have an ans

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Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear,” Scientology, Freud, and Child Abuse

I know that most of you faithful followers of my blog expect me to write about animals, and usually I do. But some of you may know that I began my working life as a Freudian analyst, and bowed out (other expressions come to mind) over the issue of child abuse. In one sentence: I believed Freud was right the first time, when he believed in the reality of child abuse, which he called the Seduction Theory, and wrong some years later when he renounced it. Freudians, when I was in training, believed the opposite. So trouble was bound to occur. It did. I was fired from my position as Projects Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives. That was many years ago. But the issues behind child abuse do not die so easily, as we have seen with the scandals in the Catholic Church. It is interesting that people do not deny the abuse happened. The controversy is over how much cover-up those high in the Catholic hierarchy were prepared to offer priests accused of sexually abusing both young boys and young girls.

So Freud’s position on child abuse comes up often enough. His views are not irrelevant. He was, after all, the first figure in history to raise the issue. But it was not his discovery of sexual abuse in childhood that was to prove influential, but rather his later renunciation; for nearly a hundred years, women were routinely disbelieved when they recalled (or recovered) memories of abuse. So it is important to know what Freud said. That is where the difficulty starts. Most people, even scholars, do not get it right.

The latest person to get it wrong, very wrong, is Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer-prize winning author (for The Looming Tower) of a new book that has been extravagantly praised: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief.

I found his account of the role psychoanalysis played in the history of scientology interesting. But to my surprise (given how much fact-checking was supposed to have been done on this book in its first incarnation as an article in the New Yorker), Wright gives a completely erroneous account of why Freud abandoned his earlier belief in the reality of sexual abuse. Wright is talking about memory, and he quotes a passage that Freud wrote in 1916 about how fallible memory can be. Freud gives three examples: memories of seduction, memories of observing parents having intercourse, and memories of being threatened with castration. Freud, writes Wright, was “troubled by the fact that many of these supposed memories were formed at a suspiciously early age.” He then quotes Freud: “The extreme achievement on these lines is a phantasy of observing parental intercourse while one is still an unborn baby in the womb.” Wright comments: “That absurdity was one of the reasons he [Freud] eventually cast aside the seduction theory.”

In fact, nobody knows for certain why Freud cast aside his belief in the reality of child sexual abuse. But whatever the reasons (I have suggested he could not take the anger direct against him by his male colleagues for holding such a view), they do not include fantasies about parental intercourse. That is a completely separate topic and Freud never suggested that anyone had fantasies from before birth of being seduced. Wright is simply wrong, and the fact checkers should have caught it. Any careful reader can see that this statement makes absolutely no sense. None of Freud’s patients, or anyone else, I am sure, has ever claimed a memory of abuse from the womb. Freud is not talking here about sexual abuse, but about observing parental intercourse. Wright is confused. Given that Wright has written a whole book about sexual abuse, Remembering Satan, this is rather alarming. Moreover, note that when Wright speaks of Freud “eventually” casting aside the seduction theory, the fact is that Freud did so at the latest in 1903, so thirteen years before the passage Wright quotes.

Moreover, to complicate matters, Freud does discuss in this paper (Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis), sexual abuse. He writes, famously of “a phantasy of being seduced when no seduction has occurred,” and gives as the reason for this fantasy, the desire of the child to screen off his own sexual desires and activity as a child. I don’t believe Freud is right, but it is an interesting observation. Even more interesting, Freud goes on to say, “You must not suppose, however, that sexual abuse of a child by its nearest male relatives belongs entirely to the realm of phantasy. Most analysts will have treated cases in which such events were real and could be unimpeachably established; but even so they related to the alter years of childhood and had been transposed into earlier times.”

This seems like a reasonable position. But Freud also states in this very passage, “if in the case of girls who produce such an event in the story of their childhood their father figures fairly regularly as the seducer, there can be no doubt either of the imaginary nature of the accusation or of the motive that has led it to it.” (He repeats this later, in his final comment on child abuse, in The New Introductory Lectures of 1933). No doubt this was one of the principal reasons Freud gave up his theory: he could not believe that fathers were capable of the sexual abuse of their own daughter. Oddly, he knew this to be true from some of his own earlier case histories, as I have detailed in my book The Assault on Truth.

These are not minor historical matters. Abuse, alas, is very much alive, and it is important to get it right. What Freud said and what Freud meant is not trivial. It is doubtful that L. Ron Hubbard ever actually read these passages of Freud. But I find it interesting that in his wholesale rejection of modern psychiatry, (the only thing in scientology that I agree with), he does not seem to include Freudian psychoanalysis. Somebody should attempt to understand why.

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Crazy Like a Fox

It is not that I am a great believe in the concept of “mental illness.” To be honest, I don’t actually believe there is such an animal (whoops!). Schizophrenia, psychosis, borderline, manic-depressive, these are basically labels. Demeaning ones too. Not that people do not experience all kinds of misery. Of the deepest kind. But whatever we call it, humans seem susceptible to many forms of deep unhappiness. Yet when we look at the lives of animals in the wild, we don’t find these states. OK, I know that this is very hard to prove. Who has followed wild animals in their natural habitat for years and on intimate terms to be able to say they develop nothing that resembles in any way human misery? Nobody. Yet scientists who observe wolves, and lions, and elephants, and the big cats, etc., do not report cases of what sounds similar to human “mental illness.” But when it comes to domesticated animals, dogs, cats, birds, we see what appears to be states very similar to human ones. Same is true for other domesticated animals. And of course animals in zoos, in circuses, and on farms, can go “crazy” as it were, experiencing the same kind of dysphoria that humans experience. Why? Because they have been traumatized in one way or another. Doesn’t this suggest that humans, too, may suffer from what people call “mental illness” because of trauma? Because they have been hurt in some deep way? I find the topic fascinating. One more reason to look to animals to understand ourselves.

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Gluten Free: Does it have anything to do with being vegan?

When I tell people I am gluten free, if they are at all knowledgeable they ask: Do you have Celiac Disease? I answer no. Do you then have gluten sensitivity? No, again. Then why would you be gluten free?

Because I feel better when I don’t eat gluten. Admitted, this is purely subjective. But I have experimented with myself a number of times, and I think I can fairly say that when I don’t eat gluten I feel less tired. Eating gluten, especially bread, makes me immediately want to take a nap.

My wife Leila is a pediatrician who works with children on the autism spectrum (Asperger, ADHD, etc.), and in her practice she invariably takes the children off gluten and dairy, and has good results. She has good scientific reasons for doing this. But I don’t have any of these conditions. Yet I prefer to be gluten free AND vegan (not just no dairy, but no animal products of any kind).

Is there a connection? Well, it is primarily anecdotal: more and more vegans I meet are ALSO gluten free. There is no ethical component here (which is the main reason I am a vegan – because I don’t want animals to suffer), and there may or may not be a health aspect. But there is definitely something, the name for which is lacking: If one thinks about the way food is processed, those that contain gluten, primarily pasta and bread, are no longer made in a natural manner. It is almost as if our taste buds are being tricked into liking something that is not good for us, and not good for society in general (I know it sounds a little daft to claim that gluten is bad for the world, but I believe the same about alcohol and that too sounds a bit nutty – oh well, being vegan, I am used to being considered eccentric). I think everyone would be happier if gluten were removed from his or her diet.

I am not alone. I notice how much gluten free products are becoming more and more visible everywhere: I saw it in the USA, and in Europe, and even here in New Zealand and Australia. Nor is it unusual to find a restaurant that says vegan AND gluten free. Are we on to something that will become mainstream in ten years time?

For those who read my blog, I realize this is not very complete about gluten. If you could give me some more good reasons why gluten seems to be so bad for us, I would appreciate it. I think it has gotten worse over the years, probably simply because bread contains more and more gluten.

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Mysterious Properties of a Dog’s Bark

We have a golden lab called Benjy. We live on a beach in Auckland. Benjy gets to spend most of the day outside, but if he wants to come inside, he gives a sharp bark, which we hear from everywhere, and we let him in to the house.

Benjy lives in a vegan household, so he adores fruit, bananas, mangoes, and papaya. But his favorite of all is avocadoes. He can’t get enough.

Turns out there is an avocado tree that hast just fruited on our next-door neighbor’s property.

Yesterday the sharp bark was coming from next door. Was Benjy accidentally locked in somewhere? No, he was sitting under the avocado tree, and he was issuing an order: “drop, fruit!” I thought it was funny until I saw an avocado drop at his feet, one he promptly scarfed down.

Is it possible that Benjy’s bark has some property that causes the branch of the avocado tree to vibrate? Can he really make an avocado drop just by using his voice?

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