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Identity Politics

Garth Brown |

This blog's primary author (Garth) writes posts on a wide range of topics. One of the beauties of farm blogging is the plethora of examples and metaphors one can find in the daily work of farm chores, animal interactions, weather, and land. In his writing I've come to expect philosophical mental wanderings and insights into both the human condition and particulars about how we farm. I don't hold similar expectations for all the other websites I visit and read. Pig Progress is an industry magazine (published by Europeans) I occasionally peruse. The editors and authors know a lot about pigs and despite paradigm differences in how we raise and manage our hogs, there is value to be found in their articles for farmers like me. Suffice it to say that all the articles and editorials I've ever read in Pig Progress have been workman-like, nuts and bolts about such and such study from the Netherlands, or this and that barn design from Denmark, or news on PEDv (disease affecting many hog farms worldwide). When I clicked through and began this article I could feel my mental gears grinding as it could pass for something my brother would write, even if the language isn't deployed in quite the same style.

The thrust of the article is that each of us goes through life blissfully unaware of how our various experiences and inclinations shape our thought patterns, and how it can be jarring to run up against somebody with a very different perspective on a given topic because their mental bubble blew out of a different soap wand. Stepping into another's bubble can be extremely uncomfortable for both parties involved. The classic topics to avoid are politics and religion (the author walked right into a Trumped up argument). Religions the world over make value judgments about what is right and wrong. Followers therefore often pass judgement on unbeleivers from the caustic, "you'll go to hell if you do a,b,c..." to the mild, "you'll feel better about life if you believe x,y,z..." Both cases involve telling somebody else what to think and do. Politics is a third rail of polite conversation because it addresses the collective aspects of our society. Inevitably it involves one group dictating to another group how the whole community presents and conducts itself. But I'd actually make the case that any time we try to tell another person how to live we run the risk of bumping bubbles. A great way to start a fight is to lead with a statement along the lines of, "you should look at, do, or think THIS."

The second half of the article transitioned back from politics to focus on another zone of contention, the canyon that separates animal rights activists and farmers. Here too the fundamental issue seems to be agency and who is the ultimate arbiter of what is allowed. Farmers want to be able to raise animals and sell them for meat. PETA supporters think this should be illegal. Most farmers I know are rightly concerned with the welfare of their livestock. Most of the vegan dieters I know are similarly reasonable in their demands about how much other people change to accommodate their strict dietary and animal right attitudes. So in most cases I think the conflict between these two parties is one of talking past each other and not to each other. Of course there are zealots on both sides, but they don't represent the majority of either camp in my limited and anecdotal experience. It's all too easy to mentally place other people into a group or cohort of "otherness" and then allow that otherness to seep into a feeling of superiority or inferiority depending on which direction one looks.

The most glaring example of this grouping and otherness that I've dealt with in a direct and personal matter this summer concerns the Amish. Central New York has seen a large influx of Amish in the last decade because farmland prices around here were depressed relative to other parts of the northeast and midwest. An Amish family could sell a 30 or 40 acre small farm in Ohio and buy 150 acres in New York with extra money to spare. As a subculture that values farming very highly, many of them made that choice. This wave of immigrants from other states has caused some resentment among locally bred and born New Yorkers. I am a transplant to New York, but because I am less different than the locals on the cultural front I'm given more space to present myself as an individual. I've had a number of neighbors and aquaintences say fairly nasty things about the Amish because their group identity supercedes their individual identity. One recent exchange - my interlocuter hired an Amishman to fix his roof and the job was done poorly resulting in water damage in his kitchen mere days after the new roof was on. He used this as a pretext to badmouth the Amish generally. I pointed out that there are crappy roofers everywhere and I didn't see the connection between Amishness and shoddy work. After that the conversation proceeded on less globally damning terms.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is I intend to stand up for people who are different than me - I'm a white man living in a society that gives me many subtle and not-so-subtle advantages solely because of my gender, age, and race. I want to live in a culture where this is not the case. I intend to do the little bit that I can to help the world be more understanding and accepting of "otherness".

Edmund Brown

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