Thursday, May 30, 2013

Good vs evil: Join the Activist Fan Club

As my children get older, I have the perfect excuse to enjoy epic children's adventures - again, for Narnia or The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars - for the first time, with Harry Potter.

In real life, I'm scornful of the idea that anyone is better simply by birth, but discovering that grungy Aragorn is the Heir of Isildur, or that weedy Harry is actually a wizard, fires my imagination. Why?

It's always the same: the fight between good and evil. Imagining there are people who dedicate their lives and risk their own safety to stop bad people doing bad's inspiring and compelling. And fans of these epics pour limitless energy into keeping the fantasy alive, all for the good feelings.

Making the magic real

What if some of that energy were used in the real world? In real life, a dark wizard rarely lives in a tower on a smoking volcano as a target for the good guys. But evil is out there. Or, if you don't like the word evil, there are people and groups in the world who are doing great harm for their own benefit. And there are people trying to stop them.

Millions eagerly watch Frodo toiling along with his hopeless task. Why aren't we equally excited for our real-life heroes who actually do dedicate their lives and risk their own safety to do the right thing?

Hen's Night is a short movie with no special effects. It shows real people working long and extremely hard to make one brief public statement simply because they hate how horribly animals suffer when they are farmed for food. They hope the truth will eventually make a difference.

Activists like Noam Chomsky and  Penny Bright spend their lives telling everybody about the corruption of the people in power over us. We know power corrupts; why aren't more of us cheering them on?

Maybe we need more special effects.

The power of the dark side

Real-life activists won't get encased in anything as cool as carbonite. Instead, they risk jailtime, fines, beatings, or even death, for saying out loud what those in charge want kept silent. (some victims: Judi Bari, Rachel Corrie, Mohamed al-Gendy, and more.)

This is exactly the sort of willing self-sacrifice worshipped in fiction. Yet most people roll their eyes, call them troublemakers or conspiracy theorists, or ignore them as time-wasters. If they get hurt, they asked for it.

Even nonviolent activists get called terrorists. The information they share is legally protected by "commercial sensitivity" to protect profits. The new Ag-Gag bills, making it illegal to record what actually happens in an animal farm, should alarm any animal-lover anywhere.

Activist Fan Club

When they rolled down the Ban Cages banner in Hen's Night, that was true magic in action.

I'm a big fan. Who's with me?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Normal Vegans? Are you for real?

Voracious readers and voracious vegans, we have a real problem. Most books aren't written by vegans.

So most stories will, without any warning, launch into lingering descriptions of animal-based meals.

Food in Fiction

Revisiting childhood favourites like the Narnia adventures or Little House on the Prairie can be especially jarring for me. Vegetarians or the health-conscious are usually relegated to being the weirdo minor character, a target for the main characters' mainstream contempt. Remember Eustace and family in Narnia?

It's a rare treat to find even one sympathic vegetarian character in a book (eg, the tough FBI agent Dillon Savich in Catherine Coulter's romantic thrillers).

(Hey. I bet I'm not the only one reading escapist fiction as counterbalance to heavy activism.)

What a thrill to read Sweetheart Deal and meet lead character Lilly, who is a vegetarian so health-aware that she travels with boxes of organic trail mix bars for emergencies. This is a semi-autobiographical character for the author, Claire Matturro, and I'm sure rings a bell for many of us too.

Stereotyping is alive and well

However, we soon discover that lawyer Lilly is not only a vegetarian health foodie but also certifiably neurotic. She's obsessive-compulsive about germs and dirt and fears flying. She is constantly finding similarities between herself and her dysfunctional mother.

So we've advanced from odd vegetarian bit players to a strong, sympathetic, but still very odd vegetarian heroine. "Disappointing and unfair!" I thought. Boo! Booooo!

Or... is it?

Truth Stranger than Fiction?

I'm not normal. I'll happily stand up for my many abnormal choices. And I'm struggling to think of any vegans I know whose only quirk is in their diet. Thinking...thinking...

Instead, the vegans I know would agree with this: 
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. (Krishnamurti)
Does a vegan consciousness go naturally hand-in-hand with other social misfittings? 

Stand up and be counted...

Anyone out there want to raise their hands as vegans who are basically normal in all other ways?

Also, please share any cool fiction about vegans. I've almost finished my book.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why your work is never done - it's just physics

Does it seem like no matter how hard you work to clean the house and feed everyone, it's always time to do it all over again? You're not imagining things.

You could blame the kids. Those little agents of chaos certainly mess up what you've tidied, devour what you've prepared, leave more mess than their entire body weight... But you're fighting a much bigger battle.

You cannot defy the laws of physics!

There's actually a physical law for mess. The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (disorder) of the universe must always increase.

So the dirt is trying to take over your house. The toys on the shelves are trying to scramble themselves. The marbles simply love to roll to every corner of the room. And everything, absolutely everything wants to fall to the floor.

But humans are a complex species - we need order to exist. The only real work is our constant fight for that spot of order against this messy universe. And naturally, that is never done. Even while you are cleaning, more dust is settling.

Why bother?

You decide. Here are some abandoned houses, where nobody does what you do.
Photographer: Nathan Ross
See how important you are? You stand each day between your beloved home and natural disasters like these.

Even feeding everybody is part of the battle against impending chaos - as our bodies need fuel to renew the cells that are constantly dying. Creepy, but true. And you even have to prepare the food while it's still fresh - if you don't pay attention, the food wanders to the back of the refrigerator and forms a chaos puddle.

Thankless tasks

  • Cleaning
  • Organising
  • Growing, gathering, and preparing food
  • Teaching
  • Healing
  • ...

The payoff for these is not in completion, but in progress.

Work that can be defined with a beginning, middle, and end, with precise goals to be accomplished and therefore visibly finished and celebrated, is generally a modern invention with very little impact on the real world.

Woman's work?

"A man may work from sun til sun, but a woman's work is never done." This is not because men don't do real work. (No, really, they do.) But in traditional roles, women live in their workplace, and we are constantly faced with the undone work. Men's undone work is usually offsite.

What to do?

We can reduce our own chaos by reducing our belongings. But peace comes with the acceptance that undone work is universal. Literally.

And if anyone hassles you about the state of your house, you can now tell them about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. They will never bother you again.