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

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

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Child Sexual Abuse


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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Feeling Compassion is Not Enough

All languages I know (Spanish, French, Italian, German, English, even Sanskrit) and some I don’t (Greek and Latin) have three positive pro-social words: empathy, sympathy, and compassion. But lovely as these words are, as well as the feelings they point to, nothing in the words themselves indicates that they imply direct action. In French, sympathy has been watered down to an adjective for somebody we like: “Il est sympathique.” A nice guy. Same in Spanish: “Es un hombre muy simpático, ” and in Italian also: “He’s a very pleasant man.” Sympathisch in German just means he is likeable. The German for compassion is a lovely word: Mitleid, literally, suffering with someone. But the word carries no connotation of action, any more than it does in English (consider, too, that the word existed in 1939). Hearing Bill Clinton say, “I feel your pain” is great, but it does not mean he is going to do a damned thing about that pain. You can empathize, that is, understand what the other person is feeling, and you can sympathize, meaning you feel bad about it, and you can even feel compassion, that is, you feel it almost as if it were happening to you. But none of this implies you ail actually take up action on his or her behalf. We don’t have a word in our language to suggest feeling coupled with action. Many of my friends have pointed to the Sanskrit word ahimsā, “doing no harm.” Yeah, it’s great, (and an improvement over our words, I agree) but you can do no harm without necessarily doing something good! To some extent we are all bystanders at other people’s tragedies. Even when we are far from indifferent. Why this should be I don’t really know or understand. Something to do with our species?

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