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Joy Nicholson

Joy Nicholson photo courtesy of Joy NicholsonJoy Nicholson lives in New Mexico with her husband where they have a special-needs dog rescue. She has published two novels, The Tribes of Palos Verdes: A Novel and The Road to Esmeralda: A Novel, but is mainly interested in non-fiction animal-welfare issues now.

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Questioning the Sacred Cow of Cultural Sensitivity in the Name of Animals, Part 1
Thursday, 08 May 2014 00:00  |  Written by Joy Nicholson | Blog Entry

Muslim Woman photo by KamshotsIn visiting many, many other countries and cultures, over many, many years, I’ve been offended by only one thing.

I don’t care about the ‘wiping with the left hand and a squirty bottle of water thing’ instead of toilet paper, and I don’t care about sleeping on a straw-y-mattress thing, or the sleeping-on-a-slab-thing, or even the sleeping-on-buffalo-dung thing. (I don’t even care about the closets the Italians rent out in Rome as actual ‘hotel rooms.’)

If the culture I’m visiting eats bugs, fine. I’m not gonna—but then I don’t eat hamburgers or shrimp either, in my own country, the USA. If my host culture drinks tea instead of my beloved coffee, or doesn’t use deodorant, or uses too much deodorant, or tattoos their faces, or thinks God Hates All Tattoos—it’s all dandy with me. I’m just a visitor after all.

Thank you for having me. I might not get it. I might even clear my throat and change the subject at times. But… I’ve had a wonderful time all over the world.

If the country I’m visiting hates or ridicules their bordering countries—as most do, even my own—I’m sad about it, but don’t get too engaged. If the prevailing urge is to cover all woman head-to-toe in a black shroud, I won’t even pretend to understand, but I’ll go along politely—so long as the local women agree they aren’t in bondage. If the longstanding trend in the country I’m visiting is for all wealthy women to dye their hair blonde, insert blue contacts over their naturally dark-colored eyes, and become anorexic to make themselves attractive to men—or gay women—I can’t say much. The same goes in my own country. “Become who you are not—become your opposite—and be loved” is the USA culture-fashion mantra.

Fine, my countryfolk, you subscribe to Vogue—it’s on you. You only date women who look like the models in Vogue—it’s on you. It’s a cultural trait. It’s culture. You’re an adult. Go right ahead.

But the thing I can never stand—the thing that is never covered by the smooth, elegant, correct, peerless, enveloping mantle of culture—is animal cruelty.

Humans most often have choices; animals almost never do.

Humans revere and make sacred each other’s ‘culture,’ but leave every non-human out of the human definition of ‘culture.’  This leads to a lot of pain, torture and cruelty toward our non-homo-sapien fellows (whether they have a ‘culture’ or not).

If we can’t point out the cruelty and barbarism of, say, cock-fighting, dog-fighting or factory-farming, I say all of our cultures are wrong.

Animals don’t want to be in pain, any more than you or your children want to be in pain. A culture that reveres and makes money from animals in pain is not a culture we need to be sensitive to at all. Cruel is cruel—and wrapped in the cultural mantle, cruelty is still just as horrid, wretched and awful.

A culture is interesting—but so, so human. And culture is often simply humans excusing humans at their worst—especially if awful behavior can be explained by their own history or culture.

Be sensitive to human mores and habits only to the point that they don’t extract suffering and pain. There is nothing sacred about inflicting pain on others. No matter which flag and costume and culture one wraps oneself in. No matter whom/what is the victim.

Culture doesn’t excuse violence and cruelty. Don’t pretend it does.

Read Part 2
Read Part 3

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Comments (3)add
Written by J - Pachamama , September 07, 2009
Very astute commentary. Many of us who have lived and traveled abroad extensively agree with you.
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Written by kristaf , September 04, 2009
Hi Joy,
Your post reminds me of a conversation I had with someone over bull fighting. I don't know too much about it so I didn't want to presume I knew best, but I couldn't help thinking that tradition is no excuse to be cruel. After all, EVERY culture has a history, a tradition, of violence of one kind or other, but that doesn't stop them from evolving their values as a society and eventually leaving those acts behind.

Yeah, maybe it's sanitizing, but then, what if we still sacrificed other human beings in the name of ritual? Would that be right, just because it's been done since forever? And what is culture anyway... a fixed thing that is not allowed room to grow?

Anyway, great post - it sure got me thinking!
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Written by amy kaplan , September 04, 2009
Joy, VERY well said! I too refuse to understand cruelty in a cultural context.

Cruelty to animals is often a reflection of how any given culture treats each other, I've noticed. Kick a dog, kick a child.
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