Oct 2, 2014

Observing Oblivion in the Real World

I can't think of an activist who isn't familiar with overload, burnout, compassion fatigue and despair. And as pattrice jones writes in Aftershock these are matters not to be ignored. We're supposed to do what heals us so we can fight another day. And so that's what I've been doing for a whole summer's worth of days. I took an unplanned sabbatical that began with the routine opening of my email to click through the roll-call of victims. As had happened everyday for years, the sorrow for them was the first thing I put on in the morning.  But this particular morning something inside me pleaded for a reprieve from the stories of abused cows, tortured pigs, slaughtered whales, imprisoned bears, and horribly treated birds. These stories piled on top of another so much that it began to smother me... I had forgotten what made me happy. What made me have hope... I could be of no use to myself or any cause in such a state... And so that's how my long disappearance from the web began.

I have much catching up to do not only on my own blog but others as well. I appreciate the efforts some have made in contacting me to ask "is everything ok?".  In the near future I intend to answer those queries either personally or here - If anyone is reading still. (?)

For just this day as an ice-breaker, I want to recap an observation I made while embarking on this self-prescribed hiatus from the virtual world. Because so much of my activism was on-line I had to remember (if possible), how to communicate with this "real world".  No - Better still, I had to discover what was "real" in the world and what was real in me.

Through blog posts, stories, campaigns, petitions, memes and so on, the virtual world is the headquarters for animal related information. And so this cyber-world set the tone of my mood everyday for years... For me the question became what is the "real world"? Could I still "fit in"? Could I "pass" as someone unaware and/or uncaring? What is it they do that gets them by? These are the people I'm supposed to influence and persuade... But I had forgotten who they are in the "real world".  Forgive me for the use of the generic pronouns "they" and "them" as I have no choice because of the divide from what I've come to know as "us" or "we", or "me" who are cognizant and concerned. 

And so I refrained from the news of the massacre. I thought for sure this was a good way to re-experience the "real world".  Their "RW".

I initially set out for a two week experiment that turned into a months long examination. I changed my routines so I'd have a chance to interact more with the neighbors I knew and those I'd yet to meet. I deliberately began my day "untainted" by animal troubles and the tolls in the "virtual world".

Conversations of weather and flowers became the norm.  It was just small talk that I didn't and wouldn't search for opportunities to interject one of the three pillars of veganism into. There were no stories of health improvements due to a vegetable diet... No remarks about how the environment could improve by eating animal-free, and certainly no stories of the millions of lives taken during our short conversations... Just pleasantries. Just their "real world".

This is what I saw in my 100+ days of the "RW": They walk about isolated and blissful.  All forms of nonhuman exploitation is totally devoid from their sphere of knowing. I never brought up the subject of the unseen blood-baths and neither did they. Not once. Ever. Even those who knew me... Those who I had prior conversations with - Neither "friends", family or strangers ever brought up the topic of the animal slaves and murders. Never once.  
Yet the leather shoes are real. The toiletries and chemicals tested on animals are real. The cellophane-wrapped blood-products are real. So where was the evidence of all these real victims in the "real" world? Invisible. That's the "magic" of the RW. The fast food jingles reinforce the ruse. The bombardments of ads and commercialization let them hide from who was bound, stabbed, blinded, used-and-done for these consumables.

I didn't really need four months to figure this out... But I'll admit the allure of their inside-out, up-side-down "RW" is intoxicating. The fantasy of forgetting. Or not knowing -at all, is hypnotic. It's a privilege of pretense we are all born into. It's where silence is an armor and blindness a gift.  As schemed, I never shattered their illusions. I thought for certain something, some incident, some truth would slip out on it's own. But it never did. Not once.

And so everything in their RW was exactly as I remembered from years ago: Sheltered and in dumb denial, this works great for them.  The unspoken pact to remain quiet keeps everyone content.  It's the perfect tonic of not knowing.  If you want to escape the facts that millions of our fellow beings are trapped, seized, raped, caged, shot, and eviscerated everyday, every second - Then the "real world" offers that script! :/

This different RW perspective taught me many things, at least how to bite my lip and still smile... But more importantly it's convinced me that if not "me", "we" and "us" to tell "them" of what's missing - Of what's been corrupted --- Then who? And when?

I did a lot of thinking in the last few months... I untangled lots of knots and took mental notes of the process.   I'm eager to escape back to the "virtual-world" to tell of them. 



veganelder said...

Ah Bea you articulate beautifully a perspective we share on this species (at least the version of us that are "Americuns"). The fog of obliviousness or as you so precisely write the: "privilege of pretense we are all born into. It's where silence is an armor and blindness a gift."

That acerbic and (to me at least) way under-appreciated observer of us named Gore Vidal once named this country "The United States of Amnesia". While he focused on our political and historical obliterating...it doesn't stop there. We float in a fog of our own creating and like small human children...we close our eyes, plug up our ears and go "la la la, I'm not going to see you or listen to you" regarding our fellow Earthlings and then...we gift ourselves with false innocence and virtue. And...when someone as rude as you says look at what you're doing...we treat you as if you're mean and cruel for telling us what's happening. As for the horrors we perpetrate...ah well...that just has to be. Ignore them and do not...ever...have the bad taste to say something about them.

If you do speak out...well...you're just an extremist...you're weird...there's something wrong with you. Shut up and stay deaf, blind and most of all dumb (in both meanings of the word).

Someone once observed that Americans are uncomfortable about lying to others...our strength is in our seriously skilled ability to lie to ourselves. And woe be unto you if you break the spell. We'll stick you in the whack job category and justify our ignoring of you. I think that's why the youngsters are the ones most often willing to listen...they aren't real practiced at self deception yet. They can still hear and see...sometimes.

Nope, you have to keep on speaking out for our relatives because if you wait on the great awakening...all you're going to hear or see or smell is a snore (and maybe a somnolent fart), not a shout of regret or tears of sympathy.

When human slavery was part of our horrid fake innocence...the victims were all around us and were much more difficult to ignore...they even spoke our language. Yet we still had to kill hundreds of thousands of ourselves to at least pay lip service to equality.

But the furred, finned, skinned and feathered victims...ah...we can hide them mostly....and they don't look like us and they smell bad and they aren't so rude as to be quite as hard to make disappear. Except for the baddies like you...and me (and many others) who try to speak for them and against their misery and massacring.

I sometimes think it is our job to feel some of the misery and sick regret and pain that the obliviators hide from themselves...we're their proxy and we have to struggle to find ways to convince them to re-own that knowledge and the feelings that belong to that knowledge of their atrocities toward the other children of mother Earth. And they resist this...with their blindness and their stupor...and that resistance is heartsick making.

However, "lip biting and still smiling" is too costly. And...I missed you. :-)

Bea Elliott said...

Hello VE! Yes! The obliviators! They do manage in their dissonance to take many more casualties than just the nonhuman victims... They really do make the world a tough place to function in. What goes unsaid and unseen weighs heavily on those of us who know. And to witness the perpetrators blissfully continuing the harm is like rubbing salt in the wound. What a crazy set up... To advocate for kindness and be punished/ridiculed/ostracized for it instead. Even an attempt at lip-biting becomes a masochistic agreement with the obliviators.

Some reach an ideal by way of a struggle to a mountain top. For me it was a fall into the pits of "reality". It was one last-look at what will never be again. But it never really was what I thought it was to begin with. I'm done grieving over losing something that never existed in the first place.

Thanks for offering a hand up and out of that dark space. But you've always been there with more healing in the virtual world than any fake "comforts" in the "RW". And I missed you too. <3

David Ashton said...

So true, Bea. I feel like a stranger walking around in a strange land. It's bloggers like you and VE that give me hope when despair is nipping at my heels. Thank you so much! <3

Unknown said...

Thank you for eloquently articulating these many issues.

Time out is important but, as you suggest, we then get exposed to the very things that made us become activists in the first place.
Once aware always aware.

Best wishes,

Maria said...


I also feel this connection that I cannot bear the suffering or killing of any innocent animals. It's with me almost every day.

Bea Elliott said...

Thank you David! It is inside-out/upside-down isn't it? Knowing there are others also negotiating their way 'round this backward non-thinking world is helpful. So the gratitude of support is absolutely mutual! <3

Bea Elliott said...

Hi Emy - Yes you're right, you'd can't unknow something... No blue pill or memory zapper. It's quite the challenge to find a place to "escape" to. The reasons to be vegan are all in the head and heart. And I sure don't want to vacate those spaces any time soon!

Thanks for your thoughts and peace on your journey as well.

Powered By Produce said...

I completely understand. I had a breakdown from activist overload a few years ago myself. It's so hard to see all of these horrible things happening and watch everyone just stand idly by. I did the same thing - took a break from it all. Now I'm just trying to navigate the best way forward for both the animals and myself. I'm trying to strike a balance in my activism that helps the animals, but isn't toxic to me. I hope that you can find your balance as well. Your blog is one of the first I started following when I first went vegetarian. It helped me make the transition and I continue to appreciate your passion for the cause.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Bea! Wonderful post and observations. Hope your sabbatical was sustaining and healing (even with your side trip into un/reality), and I'm glad for you that some of the knots got untangled. :)