Search This Blog


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Secret Shame of Butterflies

Bow and I are terrestrial beings. As such, we breathe air, drink water, and take in nutrients from dead plants and dead animals. We breathe, we eat, we sleep, we exercise and express ourselves, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly, and we get rid of waste. We are not angels. We don't walk on air or take our nourishment without harming another living soul. But we are also not hypocrites.

Bow is not fooled by the Butterfly

Our dogs are the same. They play together. They eat. They defecate, And they are so innocent and alive and natural that they feel no shame concerning any of these functions.

And yes, I do have dogs. I own them. And they own me. And that's nothing to be ashamed of, either.

We eat. We breathe. We exploit nature for nutrients. And we give back a waste product, which in turn can be someone else's food. Everybody does that, right? It's nothing to boast about, but also nothing to be ashamed of.

And then there are the butterflies. They flit in and out of our lives, beautiful, resplendent beings, and we tend to put them on a pedestal, as if they alone did nothing awkward in order to gain their livelihood.  The black swallowtail flew right past me to land on a yellow bidens flower, but when I drew closer it flitted away.

This is how we like to think of butterflies -- as beautiful and independent, incorruptible and feeding on nectar and drew drops and moonbeams. But butterflies have feet of clay, too, not unlike spiders.

 The spider has an ugly reputation, because it captures and feeds on other insects.

But did you know that butterflies are not the innocent vegans we sometimes take them to be? One day, I saw a Common Buckeye sitting on something on my private road. From a distance, I could not tell what it was.

But as I drew closer, I could clearly see that the Buckeye had been perched on a dead frog. It rains every day, sometimes almost flooding the road, but as soon as the rain retreats, then we get sunshine, and things dry up very fast. Earthworms are not the only victims in this rapid change of environment, and sometimes frogs wash out of local ponds and end up drying to death on our road. Then the butterflies come out and feast on dead flesh.

You can't really blame the Common Buckeye for what it does for a living. As it gets older, later on in the butterfly season, it loses its ability to fly long distances, and sometimes you can just see it walking along down the road, looking for carrion.

There is no shame in eating what is available when it is available, unless, of course, you have been pretending to be something you are not. The coquettish orange-spotted purple in our backyard gives itself airs, as if it were far above us, and as if we were far beneath it. But we are on to it. Yesterday, we caught it on film eating dung!

The Orange-spotted Purple Caught in the Act
There it was in all its glory, and I, not wanting to disturb it, let the dogs into the house, so that the orange-spotted purple and I would have the backyard all to ourselves. Bow, in the outer pen, was the only other witness. So absorbed was the butterfly in what it was doing that it let me creep up on it and film its every move. But Bow was not fooled! You can hear him displaying at the butterfly in the background.

The butterfly had been boastful and imperious before, suggesting that it was low and base of me to take time out of my research to try to earn a living by getting paid for my time. The butterfly had acted as if it never stooped so low as to be motivated by money or nutrients. It was above all that. It only did things for art and beauty and science and the good of all mankind.  Don't you believe it!

People who utilize nonprofits to make a living hide their profit motive, But the motive is still there. And in odd, unguarded moments, they slip up and let you see what they are really like.

At a meeting of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), the nonprofit's executive director, Kellie Heckman,  stated:
Most of us came into the animal welfare business, you know,  for one reason: It's because we love money. 
Then she realized she had slipped up, and she put her hand to her mouth and made an inarticulate shameful noise. Believe me, that is the one moment of truth in the entire video. Later, that part was edited out for public consumption, in the same way that dung could be edited out of my beautiful portraits of the orange-spotted purple butterfly. I was almost complicit in doing that, because I felt maybe my readers do not really want to know the truth about butterflies. But I decided to be brave.

The butterfly has been preaching to me that I should not ask for payment for my time and Bow's or for money to feed my dogs or to make repairs to my research facility or to put food on the table for my family, which includes Bow and my daughter, and the dogs and the birds who depend on us. The butterfly has accused me of selling out when I do things for a living, such as write for certain papers "which as everybody know, is worse the serving in a shop or scaring of the crows."

But I do good work when I write for the Libertarian Papers. I expose, for instance, how nonprofits are being used by the powerful and the wealthy.

I do good work for all of us, when I write about what the Federal government has been doing to break up the family.

I do good work in covering the FDA's attempts to corner the market on pain relievers.

I am not a sell out because I want to be paid for my time, and because I don't pretend that I don't like money. Money is not the root of all evil. People pretending not to want money while they line their pockets at other people's expense are the problem.

So the next time a butterfly or a nonprofit tells you that it is above earthly concerns, don't you fall for that. Even butterflies need to eat. And they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How We Live Now

Almost every day it rains. When it does rain, Bow sometimes acts as if it is the end of the world. It pours and pours and the sky is dark, and everyone has to take cover, even the butterflies.

But Bow manages to stay high and dry, even when the ground is wet outside.

Sometimes, he achieves this goal by perching high on his bench. At other times he uses the swing to keep his feet out of the puddles.

Higher and higher he swings. 

Sometimes a rainbow appears in the sky when I go shopping for groceries in Licking.

After the rains we are often visited by the coquettish orange-spotted purple butterfly. "Catch me if you can!" she cries and leads me on a merry chase. I finally decided to put her dance to the music of the Habanera.

The orange-spotted purple sticks so close to us that one time Leo was actually able to sniff at it.

Apparently, it did not smell all that interesting, as Leo let it go on with its business undeterred after a a single sniff. Other butterflies seem to want to get close to us. One day I found an eastern Tiger Swallowtail trapped in the garage.

It kept looking  longingly out at the green back yard, until I finally let it out. 

So what are these butterflies trying to tell Bow and me? I compiled a video of all my recent EasternTiger Swallowtail encounters into a video. Can you see Bow in the outerpen at the very end, when the butterfly flies out?

Are the butterflies trying to trap me?  Or do they think that I am trying to trap them?  Or are we all free spirits, striving to maintain our own independence, while engaging in fulfilling interactions?

Hard to say!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Being Free Requires More Than Intelligence

Bow is intelligent. Bow is literate. Bow also has problems with impulse control. Should Bow have legal personhood? My answer is no. Is it because he's a chimp? Not exactly. It's because of the way he behaves. (And the way he behaves may indirectly have something to do with the fact he's a chimp, but not necessarily.)  I am not prejudiced on the basis of species or race. I judge each individual by the things that he does.

When 100 pig tailed-macaques disrupt the voting process in Thailand, we can laugh that no matter how bad our own election cycle problems might be, at least we haven't had this happen here yet. But what if the monkeys in Thailand are not any less intelligent than some of the humans? What if they are in fact aware of the news and siding with the two eight year old girls now facing criminal charges in Thailand for tearing a voter registration list off the wall because they liked the pink paper it was printed on?

Do you think those little girls deserve to have the vote, given their current level of maturity and impulse control? I am not alone in thinking they do not. In most countries the vote is restricted to people over the age of eighteen, who are presumed to have the level of maturity required to make decisions that affect everyone. In many places, that is not a rebuttable presumption. But shouldn't it be?

In the past, in places where representative government was first practiced, it was always restricted to free males. And usually free males were males who owned property. Take the government of Carthage.

In Carthage, unlike Tyre from which it derived, there was no king. Carthage was run by two annually elected judges (שופטים) who made both judicial and executive decisions. One of the judges was responsible for domestic affairs and the other for matters abroad. There was also a senate of great ones who served for life and who decided on declarations of war, and a popular assembly that was responsible for deciding things that the judges and great ones did not agree upon. Participation in politics and the popular assembly was limited to those who had citizenship: free, native born males.

In the United States we associate the idea of slavery with captive kidnapped Africans -- a violation of civil liberties  -- and we are taught to think that everyone should be free and everyone should vote. We are not told that representative government is not strictly a European idea. We are never told about what really happened in Carthage. But in Carthage's sophisticated African government, it was understood that in order to vote you had to be free -- and that not everyone was capable of being free, even if native born. It was not about race. It was about impulse control.

Today, in the United States, we have many voters of all walks of life, of any and all colors, who show very little impulse control. For instance, the rise of Donald Trump is often laid at the feet of poor, white voters. Self- reliance and liberty turns out to be a terrifying prospect for millions of struggling Americans. 

It's not a race thing. It's not a species thing. It is more like mass culture and which cognitive profile is allowed to prosper and dominate over others. When people are not permitted to individuate, when decisions are made collectively for all, when the lowest impulses predominate and property rights disappear, then destruction is what follows. When tenants vote on the rent landlords may charge and people who have no money get to vote who gets the money of those who have some, then we descend into chaos.

It's not necessarily that monkeys or apes are not intelligent. It's about how you arrange their government. One hundred macaques behave very differently as individuals than as a mob.This is why we have never allowed the lowest common denominator to rule in civilized countries like Carthage. And I think that Bow, too, would not do as well as he is doing now, if merged into a collective tribe of chimpanzees, without the chance to opt out of forced encounters.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reading About Black Bears

I am surrounded by teenagers with attitudes. My daughter just turned seventeen. Bow is fourteen and will be fifteen in February. They are too old for this and too mature for that, and this movie is just for little kids and that book is juvenile, and I am beginning to feel a little left out of all this maturity -- because the kid stuff still appeals to me. I never outgrew it.

Bow' friend who brings him bananas and pickle ice gave us a recent issue of the Missouri conservationist that featured black bears. Bow did not appear interested at first, but then I started reading it out loud to him, He came and sat down beside me and took the magazine away from me to look at it himself.

He leafed through the article. I noticed that when he got to the end of the article about the bears, he leafed back, so he did seem to want to remain on the topic of black bears.

However, when I wanted to talk about the bear cub picture,  and how the cub was just a baby, and how Bow used to be a baby, too,  Bow grew impatient with me. He retreated away from the magazine, and sat there distancing himself, his hand supporting his chin, no longer engaged.

Note to self: never remind a teenager that he used to be a baby. That's something we must never talk about. But it seems like only yesterday...


Monday, July 18, 2016

Would Serving on A Butterfly Board Silence Me?

It's no secret that what I have craved for some time, career-wise, is a tenured position at a reputable university. I don't want it just for the prestige, and I don't want it just for the money. I want it, because I believe that such a position would make it possible for me to speak out and be heard. In fact, it's for the right to exercise free speech effectively that I want to be granted such an affiliation with an existing institution.

People who work in industry often have to sign contracts that say they will not discuss their work with outsiders, because the work they do is proprietary and belongs to the corporation that employs them. People who work for the military and for military contractors are also silenced through national security regulations. People who work for public schools have to adhere to community standards about what may be said, and they are answerable to school boards who in turn answer to the voters.  Even when I was in private law practice, I felt pinched and sometimes frightened to speak my mind, because my clients' fate lay in the hands of elected judges. The political machine controlled the judges and the judges controlled the lawyers who needed their cooperation in order to represent their clients. I found myself helping judges campaign for their reelection while my cases were pending in their courts. That felt wrong.

There is a problem right now for anyone who wants to speak freely. They either have to be so independent that they answer to no one, in which case people question  their expertise. Or they have to be known experts who dominate the field -- in which case, their hands are tied and their mouthes are gagged, unless they do as they are told by their masters. On the one hand, if you are completely independent, people say things like "you're not really a primatologist or a linguist or a lawyer or a writer."This is because people think only institutional affiliation counts. But on the other hand, if you have affiliation with an institution that has the kind of prestige or clout to allow you to be recognized, then you are prevented from working with chimpanzees or owning them, kept from publishing anything that goes against the grain of the political correctness that rules in such places, and generally kept from saying anything surprising and original that would turn the state of current knowledge on its head.

Bow displaying at a butterfly
Trying to change the system from the outside is about as effective as displaying at a butterfly. But trying to change it from within is even harder. ISP/ASP won't allow me to publish my work with them, because I own a chimpanzee. But if I did not own a chimpanzee, there would be no work to publish. How do we change this situation?

Concerned that I would lose Bow, I went and campaigned for Austin Petersen. But did you know that if I had created a non-profit for Project Bow, which might have conferred more legitimacy on us and even have allowed me to pretend that I did not own a chimpanzee because he was owned by a corporation and not an individual, then I would not have been allowed to speak out on political issues and certainly not to endorse a candidate?

As part of my involvement in the Liberty movement, I have been freelancing as a journalist. One piece covered Trump's press conference in which he chose Pence as  his VP.

LibertyBuzz article about Trump choosing Pence

Bow sat there and watched the press conference on C-Span with me, only distracting me a little from what Trump was saying. And what Trump appeared to be saying, in his very inarticulate way, was that he wanted evangelicals to be able to have more power over politics, which they currently are afraid to exercise, due to their tax exempt status.

I'm not a big fan of evangelicals, so none of that impressed me, except that later on the same day, I had some new comments on an old video I had made about Yaron Brook and space exploration. And then it clicked. It's not just evangelicals. Yaron Brook -- a secularist Objectivist --  would not be allowed to endorse a candidate, either, because the Ayn Rand Institute, of which he is now the head, is a non-profit. This has nothing to do with religion in politics. It's about anyone who receives tax free donations losing the right to exercise his civil liberties under the first amendment-- the right of free speech and press.

He can't endorse anyone because he works at a non-profit! This was news to me. What is the use of being Yaron Brook, if you can't endorse anyone? How can all that prestige be leveraged into actually changing the world we live in, if he can't endorse anyone?

If Ayn Rand had been the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, instead of just Ayn Rand, then she could not have endorsed Barry Goldwater! Let that sink in!

The flitty butterfly has been back in touch. I can have a seat on the board. Should I tell her that I am afraid I can't serve on  the butterfly board if it means I have to give up my free speech to do so?

Dangling before me is the possibility of getting the type of affiliation that I need for my speech to be heard.

But if I accept, then I may not be able to be heard at all, because I will have lost the right to speak.

Taxation is not just theft, anymore. It's a gag order. It's slavery. And I don't see any way out.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Manipulation versus Direct Orders

The other day, Bow received a gift of two peaches from a friend. The peaches were not quite ripe, but they had been picked off the friend's tree to keep other animals from eating them first. After the friend left, Bow asked for a peach. I decided to try an experiment, and I put the peach on a support bar in the outer pen and told Bow that he would have to get it himself. The floor of the pen was still a little damp from rain. I wanted to see if I could induce Bow to step on the wet floor by doing this. Bow found another way around.

Bow did not have to walk on the wet floor. He had other options, and given his preferences, he used them. You can see how easily he did this in the video below.

I am not much of a manipulator. Instead, I favor respecting the other person's mind when it comes to things he has a choice about, and using direct force or threat of force about the things that he does not have a choice about. This was the way I was raised, and this is my idea of what it means to be an upright person. It's people who cloak a direct order in the words of a request that have always earned my disdain.

I remember once, when away from home as a child, I was asked whether I wanted to wash my hands before dinner. I said that I did not, and you should have seen the chaos that ensued! It took about three hours before they were able to get across to me that this had been their way of telling me to wash my hands, rather than asking about my wishes. At which point, I washed my hands, because I had no objection to following orders -- I just misunderstood. Back home, when I was required to do something, my parents just used the imperative to order me to do it. I always was very obedient. It's just reading between the lines that has been difficult. On the other hand, at home when I did have a choice, I was asked, and I felt free to express my true wishes, and not what I thought somebody else expected me to say. To me, making it clear when something is a choice and when it isn't is the respect we all owe to every person we interact with. But to other people, avoiding even the verbal mention of force is the height of  politeness.

There are people who studiously avoid giving orders, but use social consensus and manipulation in order to get others to do what they want. They are the sort of people who like to tell the anecdote about the tribe somewhere in the jungle where, if a person commits a crime, rather than punishing him, the whole tribe gets together, they stand in a circle, and they hug the wrongdoer, and they take turns talking about all the good things he may have done in his life, and then after a constant repetition of all this, the culprit just bows his head and becomes ashamed of having done wrong and vows to do better in the future, and then they all go back to living a merry collective life and the consensus about how everybody should behave is re-established, without any violence being done to anyone -- except. of course, the victim of the crime.

I bristle at this story for two reasons. The first is there does not seem to be any consideration of the rights of the victim. I believe that there are no victimless crimes. So how is this going to help the victim, if we rehabilitate the wrongdoer? Punitive measures are supposed to assuage the suffering of victims. Revenge is not wrong. It's part of the tit for tat that is built into nature. But secondly, let's imagine this was actually a victimless crime -- then I feel bad for the culprit! Because maybe he was following his heart. Maybe he was doing what he thought was right. And to have him brainwashed in an act of social manipulation to change his mind in order to please all the other members of his tribe is very close to mind-rape. And supposing it doesn't work? Supposing he still insists that what he did was right? What do they do then? Do they banish him? Do they try to break his spirit by giving him the cold shoulder until he capitulates and adopts the values of the collective?

There are people who believe that solitary confinement -- or a solitary life -- are the worst possible punishment. Those people think that separating an individual from peers is the height of cruelty, and they try to harness this particular brand of cruelty to enforce social order. "But everyone else is doing it," for them is a good argument for a parent to use against a child. "Everybody knows that..." is an argument that seeks to enforce a scientific consensus about something like global warming. If you don't agree with their views. they will socially shame you into submission, while pretending to deeply care about you.

There are other people who just as firmly believe that being confined in a cell with peers who are about to rape you is the worst possible punishment -- and solitary confinement is a safe haven. They enforce rules by direct threats of force. They realize that being able to walk away from a conflict is the surest way to maintain personal freedom. They are the kind of parents who, when the child says: "But everybody else is doing it," answer back "You are not everybody else." And when a child says "But everybody else says this is true" are not afraid to answer "Everybody else is wrong."

How do social people react when they are banished from the tribe? Is it harder for them than it is for people who have lived solitary lives since infancy? Have you ever read Island of the Blue Dolphins?

Yesterday, on my walk, I was hoping to film some more butterflies, but came across a robin's nest instead. When I got home,  I almost forgot that I had picked some blackberries on my walk, but Bow reminded me, and I hurried to give them to him, still in the plastic bag that I used to gather them.

Bow found retrieving the blackberries from the bag to be more challenging than eating them from a bowl with a spoon.

This reminded me of the "enrichment" that is recommended for animals in confinement. I saw an article about elephants yesterday that said that it was not the amount of space they were given in zoos that was important to their happiness, but rather the complexity of the social relationships that they had and the lack of ease with which food could be gathered. The upshot was that challenges in food gathering were good for elephants, as were complex social groups in which they had to find themselves a niche.

I am not sure that any of these studies on enrichment and sociability take into account the built-in tension between the right to be free of the group and the desire to belong to a group. I cannot tell you how many people have spoken to me about what Bow is missing in not living with other chimpanzees, but I seem to be the only one who is worried that he might not be able to escape from other chimpanzees and their collective will if he were confined in a concentration camp for chimps  that is self-governing and is run by the inmates.

In order to understand my concerns, you need to read Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way. 

Related Post

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What if the Butterfly is a Behaviorist?

In the backyard this morning, all was calm and green and beautiful.

Bow was chewing his cud in his favorite pose, lying on the very edge of the top of the bench. The dogs were pursuing canine interests. For Brownie, this meant digging up and re-burying stones. Then along came the red-spotted purple butterfly. I dropped everything I was doing -- mowing the lawn -- in order to follow it.

I wanted to get a really good picture, but this was the  best I could manage.

Brownie kept coming too close, and the butterfly flew off.

If this had been an isolated incident, why then I would have thought nothing about it. But the butterfly and its mate have been toying with me for days. They keep flying in and out of the yard, as if the eight foot tall fence meant nothing at all to them as a marker of boundaries!

It lies in wait for me, resting on the wall of the house, but when I approach it flies away, leading me on a merry chase.

It rests for a moment on the grass, but as I approach, off it flies.

And there isn't just one -- there are two of them cavorting and plotting together. One acts as a decoy and flies to the roof, while the other remains on the day flowers, just long enough for me to spot it.

It makes itself known not only to me, but also to the dogs and to Bow.

One red-spotted purple stays perched up on the roof as a lookout, while the other leads me on a merry chase.

And the result? The result is that I keep assiduously mowing the lawn every single day, while leaving the day flowers to grow unharmed. My muscles ache with all that mowing. Not because I want to mow the grass so much, but because I long to catch a glimpse of the butterfly.

This is one way to motivate someone to exercise. The other is Pokemon Go. Or maybe it is all exactly the same thing. Does it matter whether there is a real butterfly outside or it's all in the mind of the beholder in a rigged game set up to motivate people to exercise, or go where you lead them, or become targets of ad-men and assassins? The theorizing about this has gone wild on the web the last couple of days.

What if the butterfly is a behaviorist, and my yard is his Skinner box?

When my own recent guest was here, she admired my two cockatiels.

 "Are you studying the birds?" she asked me.

"No," I said. "The birds are studying me." It's true. They love to watch me eat. They have free access to the food all day, but they take the time to eat with me, when I am eating, as if I provide them with a very amusing show. And so my guest was eating, and the birds congregated as close to her as possible, and ate when she ate, and spoke when she spoke.

Just then, one of the birds threw a spent seed, and it landed right in front of my guest.

"What's this?" she asked.

"A gift."

The birds were mimicking our speech, but not well enough to be understood. I do nothing whatever to encourage it. It's just their natural behavior.

 I do know of someone who seriously studies birds. That is Irene Pepperberg. And just recently she published a very short review of the field of animal language research. Here is a link

I requested and got the full paper. And reading it, I realized something that somehow never occurred to me before. My guest was a behaviorist. And I'm not. And this could account for a mountain of misunderstandings between us.

Skinner, I was taught, didn't believe that any of us had minds. Now I don't know if that's actually true, but that's what we had to say in order to pass the qualifying exam at the Rice Linguistics Department. One person could not quite bring herself to say that, and she did not pass the exam. She hedged. She tried to be nice about it. "He wasn't that interested in the mind," she said. And the people in charge thought this was too vague.

Now, from the perspective of those dealing with autism, it is really funny to have a whole school of psychology that does not believe we should act as if anybody had a mind. Autism is characterized by not having a theory of mind! You are said to be autistic to the extent that you do not realize that anybody other than yourself has a mind. And yet ABA therapists, who are behaviorists, do exactly this to their patients  -- they treat them as if they had no minds! ABA therapy is operant conditioning a la Skinner!

I never treat anybody like that. I always give everybody the benefit of the doubt. I don't know if anybody has a mind or not, but I start out by acting as if they do, even if they are just a butterfly. The way I raised Bow was by honoring his mind and not by trying to condition him to do anything.

What if deep down inside, it's the behaviorists who are autistic and not the autistics under their care?

This is all very confusing, and I will have to think about it some more. Meanwhile, I have butterflies to chase!