Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deer Hunting: At What Cost?

As winter approaches in the Midwest, it’s time to shine light on a practice that’s controversial, even offensive to many. It is the tradition of hunting. Specifically, deer hunting. Each year, men, women and older children enthusiastically take their guns and bows into the wild hoping to bag a deer. Now I don’t hunt, but here’s the thing: I have a hard time harboring negative feelings about it and here’s why.
From providing food (meat) and clothing (fur), to even creating tools (bone), hunting has been an ancient way of being for humans. Many believe there’s no longer a need to hunt animals in America. After all, there are other food sources, artificial and plant-based materials for clothing, and plastics and metals to forge tools. They say hunting is cruel and civilization has evolved beyond the need for such primitive practices. Not so fast.
Hunting taps into the core of who we are as a species. According to Natural Selection, we’re the product of two million years of evolution, with about 400,000 years as homo sapiens species, better known as modern man. We evolved as hunters (and gathers), and like it or not have become the most effective, most adaptable predators on Earth.
I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘sport’ being applied to hunting, but if it is for food, I’m all for it. A hunter’s connection to the earth is often stronger than the average city dweller. You cannot simply stroll into the woods and shoot a deer. The landscape must be read, understood, and listened to. Then again, there’s the increasingly popular business of “canned hunts,” in which so-called hunters stalk and kill animals in enclosed areas. The practice is disturbing, especially to hunters who have respect for the animals they take down.
Hunting is a ritual for some. Whether by stalking or ambush, it’s not so much the killing that drives this brand of hunter. Instead it’s the ‘woodsman’ spirit associated with the tracking, identifying and taking aim on the prey. The kill is the end result of a long process that begins before game is even spotted.
Now to the meat of things: I get antsy when folks claim hunting is inhumane. That’s because many of those naysayers conveniently look the other way when it comes to the way food corporations breed, raise and slaughter livestock. These days, most people who eat beef and poultry purchase it in a form that looks less like food than it does shrink-wrapped Play Doh. In fact, most of us go to the meat counter with no thought to how the animals they consume lived – which typically is in warehouses with no natural light or ground, nor adequate space to roam. In some cases, they’re caged with no way to even move.
Of course, all this fuss about the merits of hunting presupposes that I’m referring to the kind of hunters who take themselves seriously. The ones who study and prepare for the hunt. The ones who take down game for reasons that extend beyond their desire to show off 10-point antlers. It’s understandable the complaints brought against ego driven trophy hunters and the I’m-a-real-man-because-I-hunt types. I’m ardently opposed to killing lions and tigers and bears, etc., for the sake of a congratulatory wall mount. But to never kill an animal for food or clothing?
Nothing is liability free. The environmental and energy price we pay to manufacture synthetic materials for garments (think polyester, nylon and pleather), and to house livestock by the thousands can be significant; in some cases toxic. There are costs associated with every ethical and social position, and it’s helpful to keep this in mind when we think about them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shooter Video Games Dishonor Combat Veterans

Last week as I was thinking about Veterans Day, my reflection was interrupted by a television commercial promoting a popular video game. The product was one of those ‘shooter’ types. You know, the kind where the object of the game is to blast as many bad guys as you can. The longer I watched the commercial, the angrier I got. But it wasn’t because of the way the ad was glorifying violence.
Like most other men, I was conditioned to accept war-related violence long ago. I vividly recall as a pre-teen hiding in a backyard bush with my Thompson submachine gun blasting enemy soldiers in my mind. Except for the toy in my hands, everything was imagined, though occasionally reinforced by war movies I learned to love watching on TV with dad. These days however, the realism depicted in video games provides opportunities for deeper immersion of the combat experience, but without penalty. And that’s what ticks me off.
I was mad watching that TV commercial because shoot ‘em up video games disrespect the actions and sacrifices made by real combat veterans. In the comfort of your living room when you get ‘killed’, it’s all in the name of fun; all you have to do is start over. There’s no reset button though for real life service men and women (yes, women) who are exposed to real inhumane atrocities like watching your buddy’s face get half blown off or witnessing a dying soldier bleed out through holes in his chest following a nightmarish firefight. Nobody thinks about reality when playing a video game with cool music running in the background and warm pizza waiting on the table.
Some of us know Veterans Day, unlike Memorial Day which honors the men and women who died while serving, is intended to honor and thank all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Near our nation’s capitol in Arlington, Virginia, Veterans Day starts at precisely 11 a.m. and includes a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans organizations and speeches from important people. It’s all nice and helps us feel good about the sacrifices airmen, marines, sailors and soldiers make for us. And some of us actually reflect on those sacrifices.
But I wonder just what do armed forces veterans feel about the video games we play? Especially combat veterans – the ones who were ordered to kill or try to kill other human beings. In particular, the ones who could actually see the people they were trying to zap. And the ones who were subjected to the trauma of knowing someone was trying to kill them in return. I wonder what they think about our gee-this-sure-is-fun shoot ‘em up culture, as we sit on cushy sofas in cozy living rooms, pointing imaginary weapons at benign TV screens, ‘pause’ button at the ready in case the phone rings?
It’s embarrassing enough that, as a nation, we pay copious amounts of feel-good lip service to how much we appreciate our combat veterans. Then we summarily short them whole-sale when it comes to providing the support resources they need on their return to civilian life. But must we add insult to injury by marginalizing the very people who put their lives on the line for our freedom by pretending we know what it’s like just because we kill or get killed by undead zombies?
And this isn’t just about our kids. I’m angry at parents who sit by mindlessly as their children purchase these videos of mayhem and believe it’s harmless fun because no one gets hurt. It’s not.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keep Education Open and Inclusive

Many public school administrative staff and teachers do what they can to address issues of racial equity within their education institutions. In most cases, it's not enough. Others believe issues like diversity and inclusion should play minor roles in education. After all, the only necessary things students must be taught to be successful are reading, writing and arithmetic, right?
Assimilation through Education...
Not so fast. If history has taught us anything, it’s that trying to educate young people without taking into account their rich and distinct culture is not only counterproductive, it’s de-humanizing.
November is Native American Heritage Month. What does that have to do with educating children? More than a century ago, Native Americans weathered considerable attempts to have their traditional ways replaced with those authorized by government ‘experts.’ This included programs that ended up removing Native Americans from their lands and the de­struction of their livelihoods.
Culturally destructive programs centered on reconditioning an entire population of people were instituted in the late 1800s. The purpose: remove Native American children from their rightful heritage and traditions and impose a ‘proper’ ed­ucation. Included was a no doubt well-intentioned, yet ultimately ham-handed indoctrination designed to compel the children of a conquered people to accept a new way of being. It was called it Assimilation through Education.
In an effort to make Native American youth proper, patriotic and pro­ductive American citizens, the government introduced federally-run boarding schools, reservation boarding schools and other day schools. Among the curriculum, schools adhered strictly to speaking English only. Classes were conducted with military-like schedules and discipline, and emphasized farming and other manual skills. The daily schedule was split between vocational training and academics. By 1893, education in this way was mandatory for Native American kids.
Material change; spiritual genocide
When the students were brought to the school, they were systematically ‘de-cultured.’ Included in the process, they were re-clothed; anything resembling native attire was forbidden. Boys were issued stiff uniforms and girls ‘proper’ dresses. For people used to an entirely different form of attire, these were constricting, often uncomfortable clothing.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which incidentally was part of the nation’s War Department (the equivalent of today’s Department of Defense) stopped supporting this form of education in the 1920s. Complaints about cost, substandard living conditions, poor medical care, and poor teaching practices contributed to the demise of this ultimately debilitating program.
At the time, many in government held the position that Native Americans weren’t inferior because of their race or skin color. Rather, it was because of their culture, which was no longer relevant to contemporary (i.e., white) civilization, and should therefore be discarded. The takeaway from this is that historic attempts to strip a people of their traditions have time and again resulted in cultural scarring and psychological degradation of all peoples.
I realize we are not personally responsible for the often deliberate and insensitive acts perpetrated on Native Americans generations ago. But we must hold ourselves accountable for benefiting from their rich, fertile lands and the natural resources stripped from them. At the same time, we should continue to guard against our proclivity to wholly discount and even discard non-dominant cultures and ways of being, just because they are different from what we are used to.
So as we educate our children, remember the unyielding truth that there is more to learning than the three Rs. If we don’t, we condemn ourselves to repeat the shameful parts of our American history, and rob our children of opportunities to tap into all our inherited cultural richness and seek their full potential.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Being Human is All Natural

Warning: this column contains words and phrases that some adults may find offensive – especially those who no longer consider themselves human. Parental guidance is advised.
What is it about our culture that makes so many of us uptight about things related to the way our bodies function? Or is a better question, what is it about us that makes our culture so uptight? From the way we react, it often feels like anything associated with being human is taboo, nasty, degrading or otherwise disgusting.
Folks seem more comfortable talking about intentional acts of violence than reflexive actions involving bodily fluids. The conversation doesn’t even have to come close to some of the most common occurrences in nature, like sex and reproduction, before we start getting uneasy. Why is that?
It’s as if we have some sort of self-hatred thing going on regarding the way our bodies work. If I didn’t know better I’d think most people are ashamed of being human. In many ways it feels like we aspire toward a way of being that’s more akin to all things un-living. I don’t mean like zombies; they’re undead, or at least that’s my understanding. Rather, folks these days seem to prefer the representations of people we see on TV, video games and computers to real life beings who feel breathe, consume, excrete, secrete, cry, perspire, and do every other thing related to the human experience.
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this wrong thinking about certain aspects of being human. Toilet humor aside, I get uncomfortable mentally when my stomach rumbles so loud it fills the room, or I belch unexpectedly, or my bowels begin stirring and I’m not home. Feel uneasy reading this? You’re not the only one. Writing these descriptions causes me embarrassment – not because it might unconsciously set my body in motion, but because we don’t consider such things proper to discuss in polite company. Yet we’ll go on for hours discussing the distasteful act of laying off hundreds of breadwinners for the sake of increasing quarterly profits of stock holders. Go figure.
Then there’s one of the most natural acts known to man; or rather women: breastfeeding. Some find it offensive to observe in public. The way I see it is that I don’t see it. A mother is feeding her baby in the most natural way. Big deal. I don’t write a letter to the editor when some guy scarfing down a hoagie chews with his mouth so wide I can see his tonsils. I just don’t look. It’s none of my business. We all have to eat; case closed.
It’s funny; a lot of us passing a car wreck will rubberneck for a chance to observe some mayhem, but glimpse a mother feeding her child and it’s the end of the world. Even more to the point, I see people ignore what they don’t want to see all the time, with seeming ease. Like a homeless person in need of shelter. Or a poor kid alone on the street that looks hungry.
Steady are the efforts to dehumanize humans. Crying tears? You’re overly emotional. Passing gas? You’re just revolting. Sweating because you’re hot? You’re obviously unclean. Bottom line? Too human. I wonder if the awful ways we think of ourselves and our bodies is what drives the often terrible things we do to each other. The things our bodies do are beneficial and natural. What would happen if we celebrated ourselves and our bodies with the all respect and wonder befitting the amazing beings that we are?