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Animal Person Minute(s): On Culture


This is Mary Martin with the Animal Person Way-Longer-Than-a-Minute. Our photo today is of Violet Rays, my 7 1/2 year old greyhound who won someone tons of money, probably due to the fact that she was injected with steroids which eventually shut her pancreas down. As soon as she became diabetic, she was "discarded," as they say, and would be dead today if a couple of compassionate people hadn’t intervened on her behalf. She has the trifecta of eye problems, cataracts, which we removed and replaced with synthetic lenses, retinal detachment after the successful cataract surgery, and she’s back to being blind in one eye because of that, and glaucoma in both eyes. She was the offspring of a hall of famer. Only one dog each year is chosen for the hall of fame, and if there isn’t one good enough, no one gets chosen. She herself was a champion. Yet she was easily discarded by the people in North Carolina who bred and trained her because after over two years of servitude and winning, she stopped making them money. Charles, on the other hand, was the fastest dog his trainers had ever seen, yet when brought to the track, he refused to race for the man, and that’s one of the reasons we love him so much.

Believe it or not, today’s post has nothing to do with greyhounds. If you’ve read Animal Person with any kind of frequency, you might have notice that I’m obsessed with the C-Word and I talk about it often. Culture. Culture is what we give as the reason to do things that are otherwise absurd to do. I return to Sam Harris, whom I’ve written about before, and his THE END OF FAITH, which should be required reading by all religious people, particularly those who pride themselves on being religious moderates.  Near the end of page 24 he writes, "The point is that most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than it was thought sacred yesterday." I love that man.

I had a heated debate with a friend who not only has a Ph.D. in sociology, but who is also an attorney, and she was supporting, legally and otherwise, the right of some followers of some ancient religion, I can’t be too specific, but, to continue their rituals involving basically the dismemberment of animals. Like, while they’re alive. They lost their legal battle, but she was trying to get them to use already-slaughtered animals for their rituals. She wanted to preserve their culture. Naturally, I was nearly speechless, because I’m never actually speechless, and I asked her what makes the ritual sacrifice –in any form– worth protecting. Why is the right to torture so precious and worthy of safeguarding? Because it will cause good fortune to spread among the community? Because it will boost fertility? Why do we insist on preserving beliefs that are irrational and lack evidence of their validity? Why do we insist on continuing to do things just because we used to do them in the past?


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike Grieco #

    'Violet'-she is "BELLA",and refused to wear her shades i see.
    'Charles'-he would not settle for anything less than "LOVE",Bravo!

    These Greyhounds "RUN on LOVE"…:)

    June 26, 2007
  2. Mary, such a thought provoking entry. Such a beautiful dog, I'm so glad you could help her.

    You might be interested to know that I come from a family that practiced animal sacrifice and the ritual killing of some animals. Because these were people who also farmed there is this fine line between slaughtering an animal and ritually slaughtering an animal.

    My parents distanced themselves somewhat from these traditions, but I remember my father killing and hanging a wild snake during a drought and other strange things. His grandmother, my great grandmother had always sworn by this ritual sacrifice of snakes, and the practice continued long after she died.

    What many people don't understand though is how tradition is irrevocably altered by time, by progress, by contact with other people. It is already slipping away from us, so we need to adapt. I never want to deny where I come from and who I am, but I'm also able to make more compassionate choices.

    Luckily I had a wonderful example for making more compassionate choices. My great grandfather never completed 8th grade and so he wasn't always as well-read or up to date on current events. But he was a shaman in every sense of the word and lived close to the Earth. When the mountain lions were officially declared gone from our area–they'll never live in these mountains again–that hit him really hard. He kept longing for their return for a more natural order. With this longing he allowed his natural empathy toward all living things to blossom. He taught me to love and respect snakes and he would never kill another snake again. He learned about how they are beneficial to the ecosytem, as well as their spiritual benefits. He communed with the snakes by visiting their homes and sitting there until they got curious and came out to see him, which brought snake energy to him without having to kill them any more.

    When I went to college I wanted to learn more about religions and how the hybrid religion I always took for granted came to be. I studied African religions and all sorts of native religions. What I learned was that many of our traditions came about not necessarily from our own culture but from the crazy crashing together of many cultures. My ancestors hunted, but this insane surplus of energy and animals that allowed us to be wasteful and wanton in our killing, that was a much more modern product.

    You could take a tradition like when people gathered together and an animal was killed right there in front of everyone by an elder, then the dead animal was blessed, then cooked and everyone ate some of him. That was one thing. Then you threaten that culture with extinction and the people hold these rituals more often hoping to preserve themselves. The violence and fear they suffer comes out more and the ritual becomes crueler and more violent. So you go from the equivilant of the US thanksgiving to something worse. Still I cannot say that the animals killed in these rituals suffer any more than factory farmed animals. There is open cruelty, then there is cruelty hidden from sight.

    I take the example of my great grandfather. When we know our world is in crisis we must adapt. Then we can recognize the wonder of living creatures and all the blessings they bring without having to harm them.

    June 28, 2007

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