31 May 2016

Animals, Accidents, In Search Of Empathy. The Hypocrite’s Crime

Animals, Accidents

Animals, Accidents

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another human being (or animal) is experiencing, to step in the shoes of another, to place oneself in the position of another.

Empathy is the most important emotion in my life, it is the key to true love, to compassion and friendship, and to creativity. Empathy is the teaching and hope of every great spiritual thinker, from Jesus to Abraham, to Mohammed to the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Pope Francis.

Empathy lays bare the hypocrisy of people who claim to be of faith, but rush to condemn.

"It was not a second of inattention," wrote Dominique on my Facebook page,  it was much worse. She knew, she had read about it on Facebook, "others tried to catch the kid while she was oblivious, and apparently dad was there too, so what were they doing? Texting, on smart phone, taking selfies?"
Dominique was one of many thousands of people in America who were gorging on righteousness, who seemed to know precisely who was responsible in that Cincinnati zoo enclosure.Even if they didn't really understand what had happened, they knew who was to blame.
All day, we could see the digital rivers of hate and rage, the trickle of sympathy, the whispers of empathy. Like some dread sea monster, the mob had surfaced once more, gulping down all of the oxygen in the world.
 Dominique, like so many others, didn't need to be there, talk to the mother or the zookeepers, stand in their shoes,  or know much beyond what she had seen on cable news. She was happy to be judge and jury, all in seconds, all with the clack of a few fingers on a keyboard.
it is so easy to judge, so difficult to feel. Just think of the political campaigns.
 It sometimes seems to me that are millions of judges and prosecutors on Facebook now, detectives and investigators, pathologists and snoops, voyeurs and gossips. I sometimes think we are becoming a nation of victims and Inquisitors, outrage addicts and raging furies, we all are drawn to judge, but dread being judged.
 I felt a stab through the heart when I read of the plight of the mother whose son slipped into a gorilla cage and shouted out to him that she was there, she was with him as it seemed he might be torn to pieces in that cage. I remember standing on a subway platform in New York City  years ago – it came to mind yesterday – with my four-year-old daughter on her first trip to the Museum of Natural History. It was her first ride on a subway train.
Could I even imagine her horror?

Behind me, a homeless woman began to shriek suddenly that she was dying and I turned my head to see who was making that piercing sound. It  seemed to me that it was seconds, but it might have been longer.
I heard a shout and when I turned back I saw my daughter walking straight for the edge of the train track, about to topple over. I raced over and grabbed her, asking myself what I possibly was thinking, tearing my heart out with the thought of what nearly happened and how guilty and responsible I would be and feel, how my life could have ended right there on that platform in so many ways. I was surely going to jump in after her if need be, and a train came roaring into the station seconds later.
I stood in that Cincinnati mother's shoes, I wished I could have taken her in my arms and given her a big hug and thanked God her son got out of that cage and that she did not have to bear that burden for the rest of her life. It was clear that she was a good person, she worked with children, she brought her children to the zoo and in the blink of an eye, her life had nearly changed forever. Perhaps it has. No one asked me to judge her, I have no qualifications or right to judge her. I am not the police or a judge or jury. It is not my business to judge others, many people get paid to do it.
A computer is a tool, not a gavel. Apple and Microsoft don't sell black robes. No one elected people on social media to sit in judgment of others.

Dominique and many others invoked God in their fury at the zoo and at the mother. I thought about the power of hypocrisy, a trait I have always hated more than any other, and that shines and burns on Facebook. I was nearly drowning in a sea of hypocrisy yesterday.
I was nose to nose with my old and great nemesis, hypocrisy, when people  who believe one thing say another.
The great moral philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote this of hypocrites: 
"As witnesses not of our intentions but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and the hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil, but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core."

Empathy is essential to loving animals.To understanding that my mother and father did the best they could for as long as they could.
To understanding that Fate may not be a working dog, but is a wonderful dog.
Empathy is at the core of my love for Maria, and hers for me, we stand in one another's shoes every day and put ourselves in the position of another. If the animal rights activists in New York possessed the ability to empathize, they could have seen that so many of the carriage drivers loved their horses, and were hurt unnecessarily by the cruel taunts and insults suggesting they were subhuman animals and thieves beyond the moral community.
The hypocrite will stop at nothing to feel better about himself, no matter who he hurts, the empath knows what it feels like to hurt and does not inflict pain on others. The hypocrite can show no mercy, there is none inside of him.
And so, good people, this is the hypocrite's crime. They claim they are being righteous, even loving, but in fact, they are mostly being vicious and hurtful. They are false unto themselves.
If the Vermont prosecutor who indicted Craig Mosher  (Hearing 3 p.m. June 6, Rutland Criminal Court. Hearing is open to the public) for the crime of involuntary manslaughter after a motorist was killed in a collision with his escaped bull possessed empathy, she would have understood that this man had done his best, for the animals, for his community. No one can do better than that. No one, I am told, felt the pain and helplessness of the accident more acutely than he did, or was more helpless to prevent it.
Is it not the ultimate hypocrisy to send him to jail for an act he could not possibly have avoided?
We can be true and false, or we can bear false witness against ourselves. If the police who raided Joshua's farm two years ago possessed the gift of empathy, they would have seen how much they loved his horses, and how there was no justice in taking them away for no reason. They would have seen that he was nearly overwhelmed by a brutal winter and perhaps even offered to help.
But it was in the cruel and relentless assaults on the mother and keepers of the Cincinnati zoo that empathy seemed to be so hopelessly lost and I had to ask myself what kind of people are we becoming to threaten a mother with jail for suffering so dreadful an accident, rather than wrapping her in blankets, encouraging her not to tear herself apart, and thanking the people who may have saved her son from a horrible and painful death.
And what kind of freak am I, for feeling love and affection for her, and hope for her healing. She was the victim once, when her son was nearly killed by a powerful animal, and then again, when her own community of fellow humans turned on her like a nest of shrieking moneys swarming for food.
I got a message this morning from a Cincinnati zoo keeper thanking me for my writing.
"That helps mitigate the hate-filled opinions of the Internet mob," she wrote.
"I know how horrible that whole situation was for the keepers," she wrote.
"I blame no one, it was a terrible accident, but no one's fault. Parents lose track of their kids all the time at the zoo, especially on a busy weekend like this was. Is it possible to breach the security at the front of an exhibit and gain access? Without determination and disregard for the signs, yes. If exhibits were 100 per cent inaccessible to visitors, they'd either be un-viewable or behind glass. Not the zoo's fault. And as the true experts have pointed out, darting was not a viable option to shooting. Nobody's fault."
I say it was life's fault. Life happens, as they say. Shit happens, as they say. It does, every day. My water went out this morning. Was someone to blame? Or did life happen to me as I slept?
For me, this message was needed, it was  a simple, clear statement from someone who works at the zoo and who knows what it is like to be there. Nobody's fault. She would not last long in the media or politics.
Those with empathy understand that there were no heroes and no villains, as there were none when Craig Mosher's bull was hit by a car out on the road.
Life had once again revealed its power over us, we are  none of us Gods, we cannot control fate or destiny, ours or others. Accepting this is a precious lesson in understanding life.
Empathy was hard-fought and hard-won for me, it did not come easily to me, I was too busy worrying about myself.  I am beginning to understand its radical power to change the world.
The hypocrite, rotten to the core,  running for office, posting on Facebook and Twitter, invokes faith but does  practice it or understand it: Luke 6:37: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will forgiven."
We think of ourselves proudly as a Christian nation, whose values are under siege. Empathy was the core value of Jesus Christ, he worried every day about the poor and the sick, he walked in their shoes and felt their pain. Can any person of faith imagine him sitting in front of his computer screen blaming human beings for their suffering?
Empathy is the pathway to peace, the gateway to a spiritual life, the secret of compassion, the smotherer of hate and judgment. On days like this, I am inspired to elevate empathy to the level of faith. It is a practice, and when I start to judge another human being, I stop to think of that hot and muggy day long ago in New York City, when my daughter came within seconds and inches of plunging off of a platform and into the path of a train.
Judge not, that I will not be judged. Condemn not, that I will not be condemned. Forgive, and I shall be forgiven.
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Portrait: Hosannah, Sister To My Muse

Round House

Round House

Hosannah is a lovely human with a lovely name. She works part-time at the Round House Cafe and is unfailingly gracious and polite. It was Maria who pointed out that there was an almost eerie resemblance between Hosannah and my muse. She has a similiar concentrated and peaceful look.  Hosannha was shy at first, but I got her to loosen up a bit. She said if I didn't behave, she'd toss me out. A turning point, I said.




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Chipmunk Patrol


Chipmunk Patrol

Chipmunk Patrol

In the woods, Fate is always on Chipmunk Patrol, taking the high ground to look out for chipmunks to chase. She pounces, hops into the air, flies through the woods. But Fate is a chaser, not a hunter. When she gets close, she pretends to get distracted and looks away.

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World Of Blame, Bulls And Gorillas: Can Animals Survive Their Rights?

World Of Blame

World Of Blame

"Accident: An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury." – The Oxford Dictionary.

In one sense, it is difficult to believe the stories of the howling mobs of animal  trolls who descended on the Cincinnati Zoo in outrage over the killing of their 17-year-old gorilla, Harambe in order to save a three year-old boy.  The zookeepers were heroes in every sense of the word.

The response  is digital outrage, of course, not the same as the real thing, it is perpetrated by unbalanced outrage addicts who hide safely beyond their keyboards.

Blame the mother, blame the zoo. But by all means, blame someone. In this world there is no such thing as life or accidents.

Thousands of people are demanding that the mother of the boy be criminally prosecuted for neglect, that there was no reason to kill the gorilla,  that the zoo be boycotted or even prosecuted for killing the gorilla, whose name was Harambe.

That they know nothing about gorillas or were not present when life-and-death-decisions had to be made by highly trained and professional experts no longer seems to matter in the universe of outrage and second guessing.

We have lost perspective when it comes to understanding animals. Day by day, we are driving them into extinction and out of our lives by a warped and profoundly unknowing sense of what animals are like and what their true rights are.

In Vermont, on July 6 (3 p.m., Room 2, Rutland, Vt. Criminal Court), an excavator and animal lover and rescuer and a local hero after Hurricane Irene named Craig Mosher will be arraigned on criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter after his bull Big Red escaped and was hit by a car driven by a man who died in the collision.

Mosher faces one to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Even a few years ago, both of these responses would have seemed bizarre, even unthinkable, but in the animal world, the bizarre and unthinkable are becoming commonplace. In this Orwellian mindset, there are no accidents, there is no such thing as real life, every mishap involving every animal must result in blame and prosecution.

There is not a farmer or animal lover in the world whose animal has not escaped at one point or another and for one of a million reasons. Just think of your dogs or the other dogs (or cows) that you know. There are not enough jails to hold us if each escape is now to be considered a crime. The impact on farmers would be devastating, from their inability to rent land to insurance and fence costs. When you go to pick up your dog, put your lawyer's name in your wallet.

Some prosecutor or clueless mayor somewhere is ready to make a career out of you and your bad luck.

Accidents are an integral part of life, especially with animals, and if there are to be no accidents involving animals, only accusations and blame when our animals get into trouble, then there will soon enough be no animals and no people daring or rich enough to own one.

It is frightening to think of what it would take to create a world with animals where accidents are always preventable and never occur.

Strident animal rights groups and those cowardly mobs online are insuring that fewer and fewer people – dog and cat lovers, horse and pony lovers, zoos and  farmers – will keep animals, permit them to be in plain sight, expose themselves to the growing and insanely hysterical cultural and legal dangers of owning them.

The process of loving and living with an animal is being criminalized, mostly by the ignorant and the angry,  people who seem to know nothing about how animals or what they really need. Expertise and science are ignored or rejected, everyone with a computer becomes a soldier in the new army of second-guessing, righteousness and self-serving superiority.

In a world where people face accidents of all kinds every now, there is now a movement to make it a criminal offense for an animal to have one.

Do not believe for a minute as Craig Mosher fights to stay out of jail that this can only happen to them. If it happens to them, it can happen to you.

Have we really lost the idea that trained professionals, like the zoo keepers in Cincinnati, or the vets who inspected the carriage horses, or the police chief who has known Craig Mosher for years, might have more judgment and expertise than we do, sitting on our widening butts in front of distant commuter screens, spewing outrage and judgement?

How sad.

Are we embracing the disturbing idea that we and our animals can live in a world without risk, where we all barricade ourselves behind concrete and barbed wire fortresses and talk to our lawyers and rage on our Facebook pages and hide from the world so that we never risk a secret informer or an overreaching prosecutor?

The history of people and animals is full of adventure and risk and surprise, it is an almost sacred and often private contract. Humans and animals have been living and working together for all of human history, this ancient bond is in danger of being disrupted by lawyers and politicians and people who claim to be for the rights of animals but are not.

The people clamoring the mother of the Cincinnati boy to go to jail are no friends of animals, or of the human animal bond. That requires thoughtfulness and perspective, love and understanding. There is none of that in the raging rants online.

In New York City animals rights groups are spending millions of dollars to pull happy and healthy horses out of the city so they can be sent to slaughterhouses or exiled to rescue farms.

In Santa Monica, Calif, a much respected and loved operator of pony rides was driven from her long-held and popular place int the Farmer's Market because a local politician and animal rights activist decided – in the face of two different and thorough police investigations – that it is torture and abuse for ponies to give rides to children.

This activist also poured through the pony ride operator's Facebook page – and accused her of being an alcoholic gun-toting racist. The accusations were false and outrageous.

Instead of sticking up for Tawni Angel, who took excellent care of her ponies and was much-loved for her rides, the City Council panicked and ran. "The time for pony rides has passed," said one City Council member sadly Really? I wonder where it was that animal lovers got to vote on that, or whether we will ever have a say in it.

In Glenville, N.Y., a young farmer named Joshua Rockwood was arrested and nearly lost his farm when it was raided by the police, who charged him with animal cruelty  because his water tanks had frozen in -27 degree temperatures.

A farmer in Oregon was raided by the police because a secret informer in the animal rights movement – one of many – saw a horse lying down in a pasture and called the authorities, convinced the horse was being starved or abused. The farmer spent thousands of dollars and much lost labor getting his horses back, even though he was not convicted of any kind of wrongdoing.

The list of victims – animals and human – of the new idea of rights for animals – is growing longer all of the time. But the response to the Cincinnati tragedy is perhaps the most shocking, even at a time when outrageous ignorance and loss of perspective about animals is becoming routine.

How did this happen? A number of reasons. One is that lawsuits and an avalanche of animal rights sponsored bills and laws have made the ownership of animals increasingly fraught, potentially expensive, even dangerous. Everywhere, people are having to fight to keep animals and to adopt them, even to buy them. Everywhere, notions of abuse and humane treatment are changing so rapidly and in such an arbitrary way that owning an animal is becoming a very difficult and risky thing.

That is horrific news to the endangered animals in our world, fighting for survival.

Elephants that have entertained human beings for thousands of years, are now seen only as victims of human cruelty and greed, they are being driven out of their work in circuses and  with people and into extinction or oblivion. No one seems to know or care that there is no place for them to go when they are finally driven from the circuses. Or acknowledge that entertaining and uplifting human beings is a sacred tradition in many parts of the world, and a major opportunity for animals to stay among us.

For centuries, the experience of living with and working with animals was commonplace, a part of life in our world. As we have become increasingly disconnected from nature and the real lives of animals, animal lovers and farmers a wall of ignorance and hysteria has risen up. It is a jaw-dropping idea to me to read that countless number of people – they call themselves animal lovers but are essentially lovers of self and rage – believe the zoo keepers ought to have risk a horrible death for a 3-year-old boy rather than take the decisive and and utterly defensible steps to take his life.

No animal lover I know believes that an animal's life is worth more than the life of a small child.

Or that the child's mother ought to be charged with criminal offenses (like Craig Mosher, the bull owner) because of an accident that no one foresaw and no one could have prevented other than by stanying home, locking the doors and hiding in the basement all day). Or deciding that rescuing a bull in need of a home was worth the risk.

It was a profound tragedy for animals and for people when the animal rights movement, a liberation movement of the 1970's, decided that animals ought to be given the same rights of people and to be seen as equal to humans in every way. I suppose if  you believe this than Harambe ought to have been saved and the zoo keepers ought to have stood by and watched while a three-year-old was (possibly) mauled to death while his mother watched.

At the core of this is ignorance as well as arrogance. Many of the enraged posters on Facebook yesterday, our newest digital mob, do not seem to know that tranquilizer darts take a long time – 3 to 10 minutes in most cases – to take effect and if Harambe got angry or upset, the boy was unlikely to have survived the time it would take for the agitated gorilla to have felt the effects of the tranquilizer.

The people screaming for human blood on Facebook do not know a thing about gorillas.

The animal rights people in New York City do not seem to know that the horses in the carriage stables are the luckiest horses on the earth, among the best cared for, healthiest and longest-living. They don't know that working horses love and need to work with people. So do ponies, some elephants,  and many kinds of dogs.

The police who raided Joshua Rockwood's farm did not know that water tanks freeze in bitter weather,  that is not animal cruelty, that is life. They could have arrested half the farmers in the Northeast.

The prosecutor in Rutland, Vt., did not understand that accidents are a commonplace, expected and inevitable part of living with livestock. A thousand things can happen to fences, and no farmer can monitor them every minute of every day. No farmer with animals has escaped this experience, including me and everyone I know.

The people who make decisions about animals in our world need to know something about them, that is the least they are owed, one of their most basic rights.

Animals are a metaphor for our culture, a window of our society and its values.

At a time when half of the animal species in the world have vanished, according to the World Wildlife Fund, our lawyers, politicians and animal rights activists are moving steadily towards a world where it is unwise or impossible to live with animals. Remember, if it is a criminal offense, for the owner of an animal to have the escape and end up harming someone, it is a criminal offense if your dog or cat runs into the road.

I plan to do everything I can to bring a different kind of mob to the Rutland Court next week. Ordinary people, civil people, respectful people. The world of the real animal lover – the people who know people and animals best – are awakening. They are no seeking to disrupt proceedings or call people ugly names. They want to keep animals in our world by preserving the very idea of the accident, long a staple of the human experience, and of the human animal bond.

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Each day, the forest canopy looks more and more like a painting to me, the spidery limbs reching out to one another, the young leaves still translucent. You just have to look up.

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