Rock is Dead?

So says Jerry Coyne, but I think he's listening to the wrong stuff.  Using the word "rock" loosely (he seems to be using it loosely too), I think there's plenty of awesome music out there.  Our house playlist (by which I mean, what all four of us enjoy) includes:  Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Kanye West, Bjork, Sigur Ros, Wilco, PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom, Grizzly Bear, Alabama Shakes, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Daft Punk, The Antlers.  And that's not including the vast amount of music my kids play and that I can't keep track of because I'm soooo old and too obsessive (I tend to listen to the same stuff over and over again).  I don't think I enjoy this music less than I enjoyed Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, etc., etc., way back when.  In honor of rock, let's have a song. I do truly love this (as well as the entire album):

Is it Speciesist to Support Animal Welfare Regulations? (part 2)

As he promised to do a while back, Gary Francione has put an essay on his website about why (he thinks) it's speciesist to support animal welfare regulations.  In a nutshell, he says those who support animal welfare regulations must, to be consistent, also support campaigns for humane rape, humane child molestation, and humane chattel slavery.  If you support animal welfare regulations but not the latter three, there's no other plausible explanation but speciesism.


Philosophy and Social Norm Violation

Philosophers enjoy being weird.  My logic professor in graduate school taught in his bare feet.  I know faculty members who swear in class, ask students what they're listening to on their iPods, throw candy to students who make good points, indulge in frequent political diatribes, and wear converse sneakers despite being over the age of 50.  I personally don't act too too weird, though I'm probably weirder (in my students' eyes) than I think.

Now, this all seems pretty so-what-ish, but Rebecca Kukla, guest blogging for Brian Leiter, says it's a problem.  Social norm violation has some connection to sexual norm violation, she says.  But even apart from that, she seems to think there's a problem:
The problem with all of this (or one of the many problems) is, again, that it comes at the cost of the most vulnerable members of the profession - those likely to be the targets of the boundary-violations and judgmental expectations rather than their instigators. Likewise it leaves us with no recourse when we feel violated. If we complain, we are just not understanding how to be a cool philosopher, or we are not intellectual enough to get the joke. It also generally puts women, people of color, and other disciplinary minorities in a different kind of impossible position: we can’t get away with the hobo look without repercussions, but we also get dismissed if we look like we care about social conventions...
I'm puzzled how it is that anyone is the "target" of non-sexual "boundary-violations" -- the ones that come to my mind, anyway -- and how it is that anyone is "violated."  But yes, I agree that "we can't get away with the hobo look" or whatever it might be -- candy-throwing, bare feet.    Eccentricity seems to be associated with brilliance in men, but not in women.  So women have fewer tools in their "how to impress" toolbox. 

Yeah, it's true and it's irritating, but I can't imagine expecting men to cut back on the eccentricity, just because it's not as much of an option for women.  And as for there being any connection to sexual norm violation, I'm just not seeing it. All the barefoot candy-throwing faculty members I know are not sexual norm violators in the slightest.  It's an intriguing possibility, but to believe there's any correlation between one type of norm violation and another, I'd need to see some evidence.



Last week's unveiling of the world's first cultured beef burger got everyone talking about "Frankenburgers".  The "Franken--" prefix is often used when scientists start concocting things that were once more or less natural.  Articles about genetically modified foods are always about "frankenfood".  People even talk about "frankenbabies", in connection with IVF.

This summer I decided it was about time I read the eponymous novel, the original Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.  Surely I've seen a Frankenstein movie or two, but honestly, I remembered very little from them.  In fact, I didn't even remember that Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster (blush!).  So Frankenburgers are Frankenburgers because of their Frankenstein-like designers.  The monster actually has no name.

Speaking of the monster, his travails are the book's biggest surprise.  I always assumed he was innately monstrous, and the scientist was supposed to be fully to blame for the terrible outcome--the monster's murderous rampage.  When we tinker with nature, there's hell to pay--that was (I assumed) the message.  But no, no, no!  The monster is actually born innocent!  He seems dangerous when he first opens his eyes.  Frankenstein recounts--
It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs ... Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance.  A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch.  I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.
OK, so the monster is hideous.  But we later find out that he's completely innocent, and in fact kind, sensitive, and a lover of virtue.  Frankenstein cleverly runs out of his apartment in horror, not bothering to lock the door. The monster leaves and makes his way to the country, hiding in a hovel from which he observes a family who live in a small hut. He becomes their secret angel, bringing them firewood and food. He loves the good he sees in them, and longs for their society. Knowing he's a horror to look at, he first introduces himself to the blind old father of the family, but sadly, others come home before he's secured the old man's friendship, and they all turn on him.  The same thing happens when he makes a second attempt to bond with human beings--his kindness is repaid with cruelty because he's so hideous.  This is what makes him seek revenge against Frankenstein, not any innate monstrosity. And we even learn, at the end of the book, that he never enjoyed killing off Frankenstein's loved ones.

The moral of the story is not just that Frankenstein got carried away in his laboratory. Yes, he did, but the message is not "scientific over-reaching makes monstrosity"; the message is "scientific over-reaching PLUS human prejudice makes monstrosity."  Without the prejudice, there wouldn't have been any monstrosity.  The world would have just had one more citizen, a humanoid fashioned out of dead parts, and not nice to look at, but sociable, and good, and virtuous. 

The real message of Frankenstein, then, is "watch out for unbounded science" and  "watch out for prejudice."  If the new cultured beef burgers are "Frankenfood" that doesn't mean they're inherently problematic (if you appreciate the prefix in the context of the novel). They could be all to the good, and we could just be prejudiced against them.

Now, it would be nice to end this little foray into 19th century horror fiction with a "hip hip hooray!" for cultured beef burgers.  A nice, clear conclusion would be "We should drop our prejudices against lab meat and welcome the cultured beef burger.  After all, they certainly have many advantages--they can fulfill the human desire for meat while causing no animal suffering and using up far fewer resources.  Yay!"  Unfortunately, I'm about to take a hair-pin turn here.  Prejudice is bad, and maybe we do feel prejudiced against lab meat.  But is our negative reaction to lab meat mere prejudice?


Another book I've been reading this summer is Cooked, by Michael Pollan.  This is a wonderful book on many levels--especially for people who love to cook.  Pollan is a great writer on what you might call the "meaning" of food.  He writes about what we want from food, what we value about it.  Reading Pollan, you start to realize that we want certain sensations from food, certain tastes, but we want much more.  When we eat, we want to have various thoughts and associations.  Some desirable thoughts (not all consistent with each other) are--
  • This is homemade.
  • We made this together.
  • The ingredients grew from the soil, under the sun.
  • I am eating what my friends and family are eating.
  • I am eating what they eat, so finding out about their culture.
  • This reminds me of the sea.
  • People have been eating this way for thousands of years.
  • The way I eat is like the way wild animals eat.
  • This is artistic.
  • etc
Frankenburgers wouldn't allow us to have a food experience with the right penumbra of thoughts, feelings, and associations. If we care about all these other dimensions of food experience -- we want food that's from the garden, homemade, rooted in long-standing culture, artistic, shared by family and friends -- is that prejudiced in the nefarious, Frankenstein-the book sense?   I think not.  I'm not drawn to Frankenburgers,  like I am to the lentil salad I'm about to eat for lunch, and I think that's for respectable reasons.  So yes, prejudiced be damned ... and that's one of the messages of Frankenstein.  And yes, we shouldn't reject Frankenfood for reasons of mere prejudice.  But people's doubts about it are not entirely a matter of prejudice.


Puzzle:  how is it that food can have good Pollanesque associations if you know it comes from the bodies of formerly living animals, who were killed so you could eat?  Pollan's book is quite unapologetically meaty.  Joy of eating, for him, doesn't preclude killing.  That, in itself, is food for thought.


Some we love, some we eat, some we love and eat*

Update 8/13:  More buffalo pictures, sent by a reader.  This is what you get when you have a powerful camera and talent at photography!  These are calves in Custer State Park and/or Yellowstone.


I'm finally back from a long road trip through 8 states--Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Starting at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, we started to get pretty obsessed with buffalo.  You can find yourself in the middle of a large herd, as you drive along the main ridge.


Later on in Yellowstone National Park, my daughter and I took a wonderful hike along buffalo trails.  With a few in the distance (we'd figured out by that point it wasn't smart to get too close), we walked along their dust-bathing spots, through their mud/crap, and even beside their bones.

It was interesting learning about the history of the buffalo, at various visitor's centers.  Plus, we got to visit two buffalo jumps--well, "push" would be a better word.  Native Americans hunted buffalo by scaring them into stampeding off a cliff.  Here's a buffalo "jump" in Badlands, plus two shots of the Vore buffalo jump excavation in Wyoming. (For an account of what went on at these places, there's a great deal of eye-opening information in The Ecological Indian, by Shepard Krech. The book's message in a nutshell:  "not so ecological as you might have thought")

Buffalophilia is much in evidence, all over the plains states.  For example, the "buffs" are the football team at Western Texas A&M.  "Buffs" even worship Jesus Christ!

A fascinating and puzzling thing is that all this buffalo-love doesn't preclude killing  Here's a stuffed buffalo at the highly perplexing "Wall Drugs" tourist attraction in Wall, South Dakota.

And then there's all the buffalo burgers. At the very same national park, you can admire buffalo in the afternoon and then eat them for dinner.  Here's a menu at Yellowstone:

The three categories (loved, hated, eaten) are not separate, except at the extremes.  We've come to love dogs and cats as family members, so don't eat them.  But there's love for buffalo too--or perhaps awe, respect, reverence, admiration.  Those more distant, less cuddly, emotions seem to be combinable with killing and eating, for many people.  There are both religious and naturalistic ways for people to think about this:  God made buffalo for us to use and eat. Or: it's the way of nature for life to come from death -- we would be showing contempt for animals if we refused to participate. Something like that.

Now that we are home, I have my very own buffalo who's going to buffalo me into getting a lot done before the semester begins at the end of the month.  This is Flo (yes, a boy named "Flo").

Finally, a wonderful song--"Now that the buffalo's gone" by one of my favorite singers, Buffy St. Marie. (The version on this album is more powerful--the whole album is great.)

And let's not fail to savor the fact that "buffalo" can be used 8 times in a row in a meaningful, grammatical English sentence.

*Title inspired by the book Some we love, some we hate, some we eat, by Hal Herzog