Your plant-based fabric softener still kills.

I should say “our” plant-based fabric softener. We’re trying one. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against it whatsoever. As an animist though, I have to question some of its logic. The big thing is that it uses plant-based softeners, i.e. vegetable oils, instead of tallow, which is rendered animal fat, in case you didn’t know that.

We’re told by the bottle that many fabric softeners leave your clothes coated with a tallow-based residue, which comes from animals! Now you can use a fabric softener without worrying about where it comes from! So right away, since I’m a cynical bastard, I’m led to think of a couple things.

1. I know where it comes from, you just told me, it’s rendered animal fat.
2. Notice they neglected to mention this means your clothes will be coated with a vegetable fat residue. If coating was the problem, you’d think they would’ve mentioned that their stuff doesn’t coat your clothing with residue.

Those are minor issues though. I want to tackle something bigger. Tallow is basically an animal waste byproduct. In other words, when they kill cows for meat, or if a cow dies, or ends up at a processing plant for some reason, its fat is used to make tallow. So my point is, using plant fat probably isn’t going to reduce animal deaths, and it’s actually kind of anti-recycling. The whole point of tallow is, OK, damn, we’ve gotten rid of all the edible stuff and bone and whatever, now what do we do with the stuff that’s left?

But there’s an even larger issue. As an animist, I realize something most people aren’t going to get. Your vegetable-based fabric softener still kills stuff. Whether you believe, as I do for obvious reasons, that plants have spirits or not, we still classify plants as alive. They just don’t breathe and walk around. I think Joseph Campbell put it best in “The Power of Myth”:

Now, one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don’t kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing-in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life is fundamental to all creation stories. They’re very like each other in this respect.

I’m not sure I agree with him on creation stories and rituals, but leave that aside, because it’s not the main point. The point is, as he says, life feeds on life, and vegetables don’t let you escape this very basic fact. Western culture seems to give primacy to consciousness, which is why we feel squeamish about animal killing, they breathe and walk around like us, but not so squeamish about insect killing, they’re creepy alien pests. Plants lack consciousness, as far as we’re concerned, so we admit their life in a technical sense, for the most part.

But plants are alive. I think people should confront that fact. If your logic is, well sure, but animals are closer to us, that’s fine, but admit it. Quit trying to dodge the fact that you kill. If you eat, you kill. Period, full stop, end of story. In fact, if you live, you kill. That’s not a call for unlicensed killing of animals, spoilage of the environment, and so on. While I’m at it, I may as well discuss why I think it’s perfectly ethical to eat animals.

Some vegetarians will have it that, to put it in slogan form, meat is murder. OK, sure. Meat is killing anyway. In fact that’s my point above, plants are killing too, you can’t escape killing. So am I saying we should be in an agony about eating? No, quite the opposite. If you’re uncomfortable about killing, figure out what you can deal with, and what you can’t. Well if everything’s killing, that’s why we can eat animals, right?

No, not really. My reasoning goes like this. The Buddhists say, this may only apply to monks, that you can eat meat, provided the animal wasn’t specifically killed for that purpose, i.e. so you personally could have a steak. Some people will say, ah, this is just dodging responsibility. I don’t think it is, and here’s why, and it finally brings us to the reason I think eating meat is entirely ethical.

Suppose you decide that you’re not going to eat meat, because that’s killing animals. So you go out to a restaurant and decide to get a big old salad, instead of a steak. Do you think the animal magically becomes unkilled? No, certainly not. That animal is already dead. So doesn’t it make it imperative that we do all we can so that the animal wasn’t sacrificed in vain?

This is precisely what happens in animist cultures, and we come right back to our plant-based fabric softener! In animist cultures in particular, though I think this occurs in all cultures that are closely tied to their animals, no part of the animal is wasted. As much of that animal is used as possible, and the animal is respected for providing food, clothing, shelter, and so on. That is precisely why I believe it is entirely ethical to eat meat. If I become a vegetarian, that won’t really reduce the killing of animals. I realize the counter to this is, well yes but if enough of us do it …

Sure, but that’s not happening. When it is, then I’ll seriously reconsider my stance on eating meat. But until it does, to my mind, we should be making sure that we respect the animals we kill, and waste as little of them as possible. So for instance, if tallow-based fabric softeners are really a problem, then stop using them, but make sure that tallow gets used in some other application, e.g. the emerging bio fuel projects.

The whole point to this post is to say that animals are bad and plants are awesome, because animals means killing, is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at the situation. If we’re really going to be concerned about ecosystems and the environment and such, let’s get concerned, realize there are always trade offs, and buckle down and tackle things. And the first realization should be, it’s all killing. You’ll never not kill. So how do we minimize killing, and maximize the use of the killing we, of necessity, must do?


[khomus] Re: I’m not “religious”, I’m “spiritual”!

I’d just like to add, I don’t care so much that you call yourself spiritual. I’ll just think you’re a little dopey and kind of misguided. Where this does bother me is in descriptions of actions and such, e.g. “meditation isn’t religious, it’s spiritual”. Nope, sorry, it’s religious.

I’m not “religious”, I’m “spiritual”!

Bullshit. And here’s why.

People like to use this, I’d love to know when it started BTW, to mean
something like this. “You religious people have churches and temples and
whatever, and get together in groups, and do things as an institution.” Often
this is coupled with the idea that these institutions are authoritarian, and
thus a problem. The flip side is “I’m spiritual, I don’t do any of your
“religious” stuff.” You’re an individualist, you’re not connected with an
institution, you’re not controlled by no damn hierarchy.

The problem with this is, if you look at actual religion, this doesn’t really
work. It applies mostly to Christianity, and there poorly, in fact I suspect
the model, the sort of archetypal “religious” thing if you will, in all the bad
senses of that word, is the Roman Catholic Church. So not only does it really
not apply to much religious life, e.g. most Christian denominations don’t have
a hierarchy, Etc., the individualistic part is wrong too. Because essentially
what’s happening is, you’re doing everything you do in a religion, you’re just
not getting together with other people to do it, maybe. I say maybe because
this may or may not be true, you might get together with say, a Unitarian group
every once in a while, go hang out with a coven, Etc.

What’s really bizarre to me is that this smacks of Evangelical claims, like
Christianity isn’t a “religion”, it’s a “relationship”. Because “religion” is
some stuff people made up, and Christianity is like, totally true man!
Similarly, if my supposition that the RCC is the archetypal “religious” thing
is born out, the whole thing seems to look a lot like fundamentalist
anti-Catholic propaganda.

In any case, even if you’re totally off on your own, you’ve managed to somehow
never go to a group anything, religiously speaking, you still do all the sorts
of things that characterize a religion. Plus, you got that stuff from
somewhere, unless you want to claim you made your “spirituality” all by
yourself, uninfluenced by anything else. In that case, I’d like to explore that
claim. So really, the only difference between “religious” and “spiritual” is,
you don’t go to no meetings, and even that may not apply. I hardly think that’s
a reason to invent a whole new term.

Oh, there’s eclecticism too. A lot of “spiritual” people are eclectic, meaning
they borrow things from lots of different religions, e.g. monotheism from
Christianity here, meditation from Buddhism there, yoga from Hinduism, and so
on. Big deal. That just proves my point, all of that stuff, yes even yoga, is
religious. That’s my point, all this stuff you’re into is right out of
religion. I don’t see why that’s such a bad thing, myself.

So that’s why I have a gripe about the whole religious/spiritual subject.
You’re religious, because you’re doing religion, whether you get together in a
group or not. Deal with it. You’re not special, you’re not some crazed
individualistic trailblazer, you’re religious, like everybody else that’s
religious. In a related note, “dogma” just means “teachings”. This is another
favorite of the “I’m spiritual” crowd, they’re also “not dogmatic”. That’s
basically saying they have nothing to teach anybody, and I’d be inclined to
agree with most of them on that point. It also, not coincidentally, adds to the
probable anti-Catholic origin of this supposed distinction.

If you’re sitting here going, “dude, you’re an idiot, I’m totally spiritual!”,
that’s fine. It’s not like you’re required to agree with me or anything. But I
challenge you to demonstrate the differences between “religion” and
“spirituality”. It’s not teachings, because you get those from institutions,
and religious people don’t necessarily agree completely with their religious
institutions anyway, e.g. American Catholic attitudes towards birth control.
It’s not lack of hierarchy, because not all religions have hierarchy. It’s not
lack of community, because some “spiritual” people meet in groups, and not all
religion is done communally. It’s not eclecticism, because most if not all
religion is eclectic, to one degree or another. So if you think the
distinction’s valid, give me something to work with. Otherwise, I’m considering
you religious, and you just need to call yourself “spiritual” to feel special.

Why don’t people like Ayn Rand?

I have no earthly idea, myself. Her analyses always seem so coherent. For instance, here she is discussing Zen Buddhism.

If all the manufacturers of railroad engines suddenly went irrational and
began to manufacture covered wagons instead, nobody would accept the
claim that this is a progressive innovation or that the iron horse has failed;
and many men would step into the industrial vacuum to start manufacturing
railroad engines. But when this happens in philosophy—when we are
offered Zen Buddhism and its equivalents as the latest word in human
thought—nobody, so far, has chosen to step into the intellectual vacuum to
carry on the work of man’s mind.
Thus our great industrial civilization is now expected to run railroads,
airlines, intercontinental missiles and H-bomb stock piles by the guidance of
philosophical doctrines created by and for barefoot savages who lived in
mudholes, scratched the soil for a handful of grain and gave thanks to the
statues of distorted animals whom they worshipped as superior to man.

That’s from “For The New Intellectual” BTW, in case you were wondering. Well, as an undoubtedly “old” intellectual, let’s see if I can examine this, just a little bit.

In the first place, I’d like to congratulate the Chinese and Japanese peoples, you’ve disguised your barefooted savagery pretty well, bravo! Let’s see, where do I go from here? Could it be that the whole “statues of distorted animals” thing is completely and utterly wrong? Neither Zen Buddhism, nor Shinto, the two major religious forces in Japan, have any sort of animal statuary, that I know of, though people can feel free to correct me, since iconography isn’t my strong suit, for obvious reasons.

India has some pretty funky statues, though they’re mostly “twisted humanoids”, if you want to characterize them that way, which I don’t. Living in mudholes? Really Ms. Rand? You do know the Chinese and Japanese like, totally lived in, and continue to live in, houses and stuff, don’t you? Scratching for a handful of grain? China at least was one of the larger empires of history, notwithstanding various breakups, often between Northern and Southern China. Do you really think they subsisted on handfuls of grain?

This quote is so incredibly wrong, not to mention staggeringly racist, that I’m really not sure where to go from here. From interviews I’ve seen, her main gripe with Zen Buddhism seems to be, A. it’s foreign, and B. it’s old. Of course we shouldn’t run large railroads, airlines, and H-bomb stockpiles by Zen Buddhism, because, here’s a shocking revelation, that’s not what Zen Buddhism is about, AT ALL! Actually I take that back, we should run the H-bomb stockpiles by Zen Buddhism, because then we wouldn’t have any H-Bomb stockpiles, and the world would be a better place.

Well, maybe I just caught Ms. Rand having a bad day though. She’s all about achievement and human greatness! So surely she’s got a better idea of humanity as a whole, you know, we’re a noble rational species that can achieve all sorts of awesome things, that kind of stuff? Please allow me to introduce you to a phrase of Ms. Rand’s, “human ballast”. First, let’s meat “attila” and “the witch doctor” though.

Attila, the man who rules by brute force, acts on the range of the moment, is
concerned with nothing but the physical reality immediately before him,
respects nothing but man’s muscles, and regards a fist, a club or a gun as the
only answer to any problem—and the Witch Doctor, the man who dreads
physical reality, dreads the necessity of practical action, and escapes into his
emotions, into visions of some mystic realm where his wishes enjoy a
supernatural power unlimited by the absolute of nature.

After a bunch of explanatory blather, we find that these two are in an alliance against a third group of people. Ah, you’re thinking, they’re in an alliance against the awesome men of ability, the intellectuals that produce stuff! Yep! OK, so we have attila, who beats people up to rule them, and the witch doctor, who tricks people to rule them, and the poor poor beleaguered men of ability. But are their other people? I’m so glad you asked!

Against whom is this alliance formed? Against those men whose
existence and character both Attila and the Witch Doctor refuse to admit into
their view of the universe: the men who produce. In any age or society, there
are men who think and work, who discover how to deal with existence, how
to produce the intellectual and the material values it requires. These are the
men whose effort is the only means of survival for the parasites of all
varieties: the Attilas, the Witch Doctors and the human ballast. The ballast
consists of those who go through life in a state of unfocused stupor, merely
repeating the words and the motions they learned from others. But the men
from whom they learn, the men who are first to discover any scrap of new
knowledge, are the men who deal with reality, with the task of conquering
nature, and who, to that extent, assume the responsibility of cognition: of
exercising their rational faculty.
A producer is any man who works and knows what he is doing. He may
function on a fully human, conceptual level of awareness only some part of
his time, but, to that extent, he is the Atlas who supports the existence of
mankind; he may spend the rest of his time in an unthinking daze, like the
others, and, to that extent, he is the exploited, drained, tortured, selfdestroying
victim of their schemes.

So there you go kids. You’re either a producer, in which case you’re probably being victimized. But you’re probably not because, let’s face it, when’s the last time you helped conquer nature, huh punk? When’s the last time you really knew what you were doing, completely, with no doubts? Come on now, be honest, for most of us that hardly ever happens. So you probably go into one of the other three buckets. Which is good because honestly, I gotta give Ms. Rand one thing, supporting all of mankind sounds pretty damn tiring!

OK, so let’s see, you’re not a producer. That means you’re a parasite. Ha! See how Ms. Rand tricked you there? You think there are four classes of humanity, but in reality there are only two! See, if you were a producer you would have instantly realized that the other three are subdivisions of the parasite class! That just proves you’re not a producer! You shouldn’t even be reading this, it’ll probably hurt your poor little mind! Get back to your mudhole and try to scratch out a handful of grain, you barefoot savage!

OK, where was I? Oh yes, parasites! So assuming you’re not a producer, and even though everybody wants to be not everybody can be, that’s the law of averages for you, that means you’re a parasite. So take a good long look in the mirror, and ask yourself: Do I try to trick people with my mind? Do I beat people up? Do I just flail around ineptly repeating what others say like a parrot? Because those are your options. You’re either “attila”, “the witch doctor”, or “human ballast”. Those are your Randian options. This prompts me to ask a question.

This is the flip side of “people are totally awesome and we should celebrate achievement!” That’s generally what those who admire Rand say they get out of her, this grand vision that yes we can achieve, we can do all sorts of things, we can be rational, Etc. Curiously though, nobody wants to talk about the flip side, which is, the rest of humanity are a bunch of parasites. Why should I take Ayn Rand’s gibberish seriously again?