There are a lot of disclaimers for this blog before I get started. In fact, there are so many disclaimers that the disclaimers could almost be an entire blog unto themselves. Ironically, even these first couple of sentences are disclaimers about disclaimers or at least a warning about the disclaimers. Disclaimer; you’re about to read some disclaimers. Alright then… everybody ready? Off we go!
Disclaimer #1. This is not therapy. This is not about therapy. I’m going to try hard to relate this back to therapy at some point during this ramble/rant, however, this blog is a digression from my usual thoughts about human nature as it relates to counseling.
Disclaimer #2: I’m hesitant to make this public information for a number of reasons. It possibly being the worst PR ever are among those reasons. It won’t be accepted. At the very least, it won’t be heard. At worst, it will be condemned and I’ll be forced into bankruptcy. The enterprise of therapy is much, much more than a business but it is ALSO a business. It’s the manner by which I live indoors and eat cooked food. It’s pretty important. In light of this unfortunate fact, I say this all with a somewhat financially based hesitation.
More importantly though and admittedly, more selfishly, I’d just rather avoid thousands of annoying questions. My views on this particular subject has been criticized, by nearly every friend, family member, client and even casual acquaintance I have and to be honest, it gets pretty damn annoying. I talk to my client’s a great deal about the idea of “living authentically”. My definition of that phrase is “living in a manner that is congruent with how you think and feel”. The problem with this, I tell my client’s, is twofold. Firstly, once you begin living in this manner, you can never go back to another way. Living how you’re meant to live and then NOT living the way you’re meant to live is nearly impossible to bear. It’s like learning the truth of the universe and then attempting to deny that truth and continue on with the lie. The dissonance would be almost too much to bear. Neo REALLY never had the choice of blue/vs red pill. He already knew too much to take the pill that would drop him back into the Matrix.
Secondly, I also tell my client’s YOU WILL ENCOUTER RESISTANCE. For reasons I cannot explain, it seems a near constant that when one lives life the way he or she sees fit, that individual will ALWAYS have external figures who will criticize and attempt to thwart that authentic persons efforts to continue to be authentic. There’s a therapist-y part of me that wants to believe this comes from a source of discomfort in others. Every human has the potential to live in their own manner but most choose not to do so. This part of me wants to believe that living authentically points out those facts in a way that’s difficult to ignore. Simply put “if she/he can do it, so can I but I’m not and that’s uncomfortable, MAKE IT GO AWAY!”
Another part of me, though, thinks this explanation is far too close to what mamma used to say; “they make fun of you cause they’re jealous of you”. This old homespun wisdom seems to be far too simple to actually be true. Too close, also, does it seem to resemble the advice of a million face book memes suggesting that “Haters” will in fact make a grand effort to “hate.” Whatever the reason, however, I’ve certainly faced criticism and will, unfortunately, put myself directly in the line of fire for more with the publication of this blog (at least from the 7 people who read it that is)
Here is a written attempt at being authentic.
There’s that old joke “How do you know there’s a vegan in the room….Don ’t worry, he’ll tell you”. I cannot begin to explain to you how much I do not want to be “that guy”. I hate that guy too. I find him just as annoying as you do. I’m going to try very hard with this blog NOT to be “THAT GUY” while at the same time realizing that simply speaking up pushes me ever closer to being “that guy”. Before I do, however, here’s another disclaimer; I am not a vegan. I eat some meat. I use some of animal products. I wear leather shoes and a leather belt. I can’t escape the fact that Whataburger is fantastic and that it’s hard to find non leather shoes that aren’t made of cheap plastic that falls apart in less than a week. I limit all of these things in a major way but I’m not always the best at it. I also feel that I have to acknowledge that I’ve somehow managed to be about 98% vegan and still be heavier than my doctor would like. But I’m sure somewhere on the PETA website it says that if you consume animal products but feel guilty about it then you’re a still good right?
So, having said all that, let’s get to the real meat of the issue. (And of course, that’s soy based meat) I personally believe that eating animals is wrong. I also believe that consuming or using any animal product is wrong. We’ve all heard this argument before and TRUST ME, I’m just as sick of hearing it as you are so I’m not going to belabor the point on WHY it’s wrong. Although I agree with it and I also agree that The Smiths kick ass, you shan’t see Brandon with a “Meat is Murder” picket sign. Rather, I’m going to introduce you to a message that’s perhaps a level higher; owning an animal is wrong. Using animals in ANY way is objectification and is ultimately wrong.
When I began my mostly vegan journey I did it for health reasons. My grandfather had a heart attack at around age 50. My father underwent a triple bypass around the same age. I was determined to have this skip a generation. I’ve always believed that eating animals is wrong but I’ve always been to lazy/apathetic/uninformed/other to really do anything about it. But like many of us, after watching so many Netflix documentaries (and getting fat as hell) I decided about 7 years ago to take the plunge and have been doing it in some fashion ever since. Those initially health based reasons also had respect for life sprinkled in. As I continued however, those reasons flip flopped. I currently do it out of respect for life and reap the positive physical side effects.
Let’s connect this with therapy now as I said I’d try. As I’ve continued my journey as a therapist, I’ve felt my respect for humanity grow. Although I am extremely pessimistic and truly believe that humans rarely ever do the healthy or “right” thing, I also truly believe in the goodness and potential for goodness in all humanity. By nature, we all lean towards growth and development and health and wellness and wholeness. There’s a core of goodness that resides in us all. I don’t know where it comes from or why it’s there but I believe it’s there. It never goes away no matter what we do and no matter what’s done to us. It remains there unchanged until the day we die and when we die we don’t need it anymore because we’re dead. If this view of “human nature” is true, it implies that it applies to ALL humans. From the Mother Theresa’s of the world to the lowliest sex offender on death row. Yes, even those of who do bad things have the potential for good and deserve good treatment even though we may not get it. My next logical step was to apply this in a more generalized manner; If all humans have a potential for good and are deserving of respect, then might that apply to ALL LIFE? For me, the answer is yes. (Any other hippies want to join me in the drum circle?) If this idea is true then, it means that all life is to be valued. It would be unthinkable for me to “own” another human being (although that has been and still exists). Here’s where I’ll lose a lot of you; if all life has value and it is inherently wrong for me to own a human being, why then is it okay for me to own a dog or any other animal? I’d argue that it’s not.
I’ll very shortly go back to my hippie bliss but for a moment I’d like to digress into the bitter, grumpy old man that comprises a good part of Brandon Peters, LPC and thrust upon you a related but still slightly tangential rant. Part of the initial catalyst for this blog came from an incident at a local park. I was at a park near my house with my wife and 3 year old daughter when a few random people came into the area with unleashed dogs who were allowed to roam free. It is important to note that not only is this particular park NOT a dog park, it is ALSO a park who, although open to the public, is SPECIFICIALLY geared towards physically and otherwise handicapped persons. The animals in question were displaying the behaviors I’m about to describe on a baseball field specifically designed for the blind. Two large dogs came very near my daughter and began playing with each other. Within seconds, however, the play escalated into aggression, again all within inches of my daughter (who was obviously whisked away promptly by an enraged and possibly, overprotective father). The reaction of the owners of the dogs seemed to be nothing more than a light hearted, “Oh you little rascal…what are we gonna do with you? “YOUSE AN AGGRESSIVE DOGGY AREN’T YOOOO, AREN’T YOOO?”
COMMENCE FULL RANT MODE: Not everyone thinks your dog is cute. Not everyone likes dogs. Some people even think you’re an arrogant, shameful fuck who’s truly foolish in the way you parade them around like a living fashion accessory. Your dog does not need to ride in the car with you everywhere you go. If it is going to be in the car with you, for fuck’s sake show some ACTUAL concern for it and put a seatbelt on it like you would do if it were ACTUALLY your child AS YOU CLAIM IT IS. Despite your thoughts that your dog “don’t bite” and that “he’s a good dog”, please understand; it is still essentially a wild animal that has a distinct potential to revert momentarily, quickly, violently and unpredictably back to this state and potentially put itself and others in great danger. Keep in mind, genius, that if your dog bites someone because you didn’t put a leash on it, not only does this hurt the person who gets bitten it also can result in the dog being put to death by the city. This is your fault dear owner. Not the dog. In this case, nature is, in fact, larger than nurture. It is simply acting as its genetic makeup dictates and you, being fully aware of this, bear the responsibility and should be ashamed of your terrible, terrible irresponsibility. I’ve heard it said that a full grown dog has approximately the intelligence level of a human toddler. Fair enough; I even find this impressive. Let us now though give my toddler jaws and teeth powerful enough to crush a billiard ball and combine it with a genetic predisposition towards hunting/killing and a brain not entirely predisposed to impulse control. Furthermore, my daughter and other humans, given the obvious conditions of being free from physical or other trauma’s will invariably continue to grow and develop their predisposition towards general social cooperation. My daughter might be labeled “a biter” as a toddler but there’s a very slim likelihood she will carry this same title when she’s 42. This is NOT the case for your pup, no matter how old or how trained it is. It will, by nature, always be a biter.
Back to non-rant mode. Okay semi non rant mode. Despite what the rant may have hinted at, I wished no harm on the animal in this situation. As well, I felt no wish to harm the owner (okay, that’s not entirely true. I did feel it, understandably, bubbling beneath the surface and had to really work to keep it in check). I don’t wish harm on any animal and try not to harm living things in general and I think we all should observe this rule (back to the drum circle boys!!). To stretch this thought further and alienate the remaining two people who are still reading, let me again suggest that in this case, if we were all being truly respectful to life in general, this situation would have never occurred because we wouldn’t own animals as pets. It’s safe to say that we couldn’t, “own” a human even if the individual agreed to it without being considered an insane monster. Most would call this slavery and/or objectification at the very least, even if the individual were treated well. When a person who is legally underage has consensual sex with a person outside a certain age range we don’t simply say “well, she said she wanted it so it’s cool”. We call it statutory rape. As a society, we’ve agreed that there are certain portions of the population who may not be able to make judgements of a fully sound mind and we make this call in order to attempt to protect them from harm. If this is true for the human version of life, then why is it not truer for other forms? I’d suggest that we could even take this farther, however, as an animal can’t even TRULY consent. Yes your doggy loves you and you love it. He wags his tail and licks your face and does all forms of repugnantly affectionate things to you and ACTS LIKE he loves you. I can’t disagree with the outer appearance of this. But I’d argue that when we’re talking about a being who can’t speak our language and one who has a vastly inferior level of intellect, to simply assume that “he likes it cause he looks like he likes it” is a very slippery slope. If we’re going to use that logic, let’s all just keep the mute and severely mentally disabled as pets as well! “Well, he never said he didn’t want to be my pet and he sure seems to like it when I give him food so I just figured he wants to be here”.
But let’s assume that your doggy does think you’re the bees knees. Doesn’t the fact that we PROBABLY NEVER BOTHERED TO ASK dogs way back then whether or not they wanted to be domesticated in the first place undermine this somewhat? If we took millions of mentally handicapped children who would never grow beyond a toddler’s level of intellect and bred them and raised them to be our kind, lovable friends and servants for thousands of generations, we might see a bit of affection and obedience from them as well but it would still be a disgustingly appalling display of abuse. No, I’m not suggesting that owning a dog will eventually lead us to keep the retarded as pets. But my point here is that it’s along the same lines of logic. When you own a BEING, especially one that cannot truly consent to its being owned, then its exploitation.
Although I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of dogs, (related to personal and possibly irrational reasons that would exhaust another ranting blog) but let’s not stop with what I consider to be a four legged, furry annoyance. I’d suggest that these ideas also apply to any other animal that’s being used for entertainment or work or voyeurism or anything else. If an animal is being used, then it’s exploitation and it’s wrong. We consider it abominable that child labor in Vietnam may be used to make wallets for American markets but we don’t think twice before jumping in a horse drawn carriage in Central Park. We consider it not exploitation but honorable that a police K9 is sometimes used in situations too dangerous for a human officer. If in wars of the American past, we used our grandmothers to send messages across enemy lines rather than carrier pigeons, we’d be monsters. But we did, in fact, use animals, therefore, we’re somehow not monsters.
If you’re looking closely, this is the same rhetoric that was used during the period of American slavery. The theme is “less than human…less value…able to be used as an object”. At some point, we realized that this was a disgusting and deplorable way of thinking and acting. We didn’t realize it at the time because “it’s just the way things were back then” and therefore we didn’t even stop to consider that it may be wrong. But just because we didn’t realize slavery was wrong before the Americas abolished it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong the entire time. The same may be said about the way we treat animals today. It may simply be the way we approach things but that doesn’t mean it’s not currently and previously wrong.
Imagine a world where nature has rejoined nature. Where animals and mankind are once again separate BUT ONLY separate in the sense that one does not exploit the other. They are separate but in this separateness they are connected as they have both rejoined the animal kingdom in their proper place as equals. Man, after all is an animal. No greater or lesser than any other who roam upon the earth.
Now let’s briefly move on to another part that may be therapy related while I, at the same time absolutely alienate any possible readers who, by some random chance, have made it this far. Get ready. Wait for it…wait for it; although not based on any scientific study, It has been my observation and my theory, that for some people, a connection with animals is in direct proportion to their disconnect with people. I often warn my clients of the more sinister side of relationships. Although, at its heart, therapy is relationship based and therefore, pro-relationship, a romantic or other “external” relationship often distracts from the relationship with self (in my opinion, the most important relationship). I believe this is sometimes how it plays out in a relationship with an animal. It is easy for some to avoid relationships with others and therefore avoid the confrontation with self and simply “hide” in their relationship with their animal. Am I saying that a relationship with nature is a bad thing? No. I am simply saying that for some, it seems that having a relationship with an animal is a way to avoid dealing with people; a socially acceptable and encouraged way to avoid connection with people. Dogs are very well known for their nearly unconditional love of their owners. I can’t suggest that this is a bad thing. But if this is the only relationship you know, then it is a bad thing. Unfortunately, real relationships involve risk. You can be hurt and betrayed and abandoned and cheated on and lied to and abused and raped and murdered and be subjected to all countless forms of foul treatment. This is rarely the case with an animal. This, to me, feels like “cheating the system”. If one is not willing to take the inherent risks associated with a real relationship with a human being, then it’s not really a relationship. Furthermore, there’s a hint of exploitation to this as well. The animal in question can’t consent to being in the relationship. There’s no possibility for egalitarian relationship. The human will always be the superior and the animal the subordinate.
Admittedly, I don’t have an answer as to “what to do” with this information. Okay, well, I have an answer and I’m not sure it would work but allow me to put it out there, if for no other reason than a way to wrap up this rant. I always tell my clients that I believe in the innate healing mechanism that exists in all humans. “You already have inside of you all the things you need to be healthy, happy and successful. My job is not to tell you what to do. You already know that. Our job is to create the right conditions so that the natural healing mechanism express themselves.” In conclusion, however, I’ll break my own rules and give some suggestions on what to do. Or better yet, what not to do.
As much as you can, refrain from eating meat. Refrain from using animal products. Don’t own a pet. Don’t fish. Don’t hunt. Don’t be a patron to businesses or enterprises that use animals as a means to an end. Unless you suffer from some debilitating physical condition where it’s absolutely necessary for your daily functioning, don’t get a service animal. When in the presence of nature in the form of the animal kingdom, admire it with a quiet awe. Ponder its beauty. Enjoy it from a distance. Give it the reverence it deserves. But leave it the fuck alone.
Unrelated book recommendation: The Moneyless Manifesto by Mark Boyle. This book GENUINELY changed my life. You should read it and you can do that for free on this website: http://www.moneylessmanifesto.org/