“Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that the questions of whether and how different kinds of animals feel pain, and of whether and why it might be justifiable to inflict pain on them in order to eat them, turn out to be extremely complex and difficult. And comparative neuroanatomy is only part of the problem. Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can’t use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.
The more important point here, though, is that the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s also uncomfortable. It is, at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling. As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing.”
David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster, first published August, 2004
The essay from which this quote is taken is particularly fascinating to me because my Uncle Bob, my father’s sister’s husband, is a lobsterman living in the exact same harbor that this article references. I know many of the towns, I know many of the industrial terms, and I am familiar with my own set of ambivalent emotions regarding the consumption of lobster because I’ve spent lots of time on or around lobster boats. My uncle doesn’t even eat lobster, he doesn’t like the taste. I’ve never asked him about his opinions regarding the consumption of animals or the relativistic notion of pain.
I spent the day on the Jiankou section of the Great Wall with an informal group of hiking enthusiasts. Jiankou is a steep, hilly, unrestored stretch about an hour and a half outside Beijing. Visibility was nil, fifty feet or so, but if you hiked fast and got out beyond the conversation of the main group, stopped, and listened, it was like being in the woods during a snowstorm. Eerie quiet, excepting birds and wind.
“As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organization of the 147 member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth. I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.”
– The Golden Record, 1977 (yes, I know about Kurt Waldheim’s controversial service in the Wehrmacht)
Gawker has posted an interesting roundup of current speculation that Sally Ride was a lesbian, and it really, really seems like Ride may have broken several barriers (earlier, closeted gay astronauts are clearly a possibility, but the solution here seems obvious: Ride was the first known gay person to achieve orbit), and considering the rapidly growing number of public and private individuals who feel comfortable enough with themselves and American society to come out by choice, with pride, its kind of a retrospective shame she didn’t feel welcome enough in this country to identify as gay more publicly. There was probably good reason for that. Could she have been fired for coming out? Yes. Could she have suffered professionally? Of course. Would she have been stigmatized and marginalized and treated appallingly? Probably. So it is perfectly logical Ride would have opted to keep it a secret.
Two quick notes:
1) I am clearly assuming she was gay despite the fact that she never publicly acknowledged it. Maybe she was bisexual! Maybe Tam was her friend! She was married to a man after all, which as everyone knows is incontrovertible evidence of homosexuality. Both are unlikely scenarios though. A relatively heated battle is currently unfolding on the Sally Ride Wikipedia talk page about whether or not it is appropriate to label Ride as gay, whether or not it matters, and whether or not more evidence is needed. It shouldn’t really matter, and neither should her gender, or her nationality. It should be enough to celebrate her as a human being who did amazing things and advanced our species with grace, dedication, and courage, but unfortunately we live in a world that has a few terrible legacies to address (discrimination based on sexuality and gender being the most pertinent here).
2) I am implying that her sexuality should have been an open, public, and freely shared piece of information. I am kind of saying that she should have been an activist, if public self-identification can, or maybe always is, a form of activism. As was the case with Anderson Cooper, there is a strong argument to be made that any individual’s sexual preference should be irrelevant, whether an influential figure or a private citizen (I would argue that this form of reasoning breaks down more so when the person in question is widely known and influential. Why? It just makes sense. With a greater audience public figures can affect national and international discourse, policy decisions, and provide valuable support to other victims of discrimination).
So does it matter? In a utopia, no but we don’t live there, so yes, her sexuality does matter and it elevates her accomplishments by demonstrating how much she sacrificed and how hard she worked for both the United States and the world. Oh, also, if the Gawker roundup doesn’t do it for you, just cast a quick google spell and pick your major outlet of choice to read more.
The answer to that question depends upon which century of human history the asker is speaking from. Academicians, with their books and records and ‘archives’, claim that we are living in an era of the ‘post-colonial travelogue’, that is, people (Europeans (mainly British)) once penned stories of exploration and discovery that explicitly condoned and/or endorsed a colonial foreign policy, and now they don’t do that anymore. To summarize: travel writers are no longer copy writers for a system whose flow chart reads, claim land -> exploit natives -> extract resources. No, instead, travel writing has evolved from the instructional character of Medieval texts; to the romantic, colonial discourse extending from the enlightenment to the 19th century; to the modern, ‘subjective’ tales of contemporary travel literature. Exteriority has been eschewed for interiority, the inner journey, the quest for self-discovery, for reconciliation regarding the near innate guilt felt for centuries of colonialism.
That is a rough, and by no means adequate explanation of the history and historiography of travel writing for almost a thousand years. It’s just, I’ve been diving into the scholarly literature recently and it is a fascinating world, so I’m trying to fit it into a one-off blog post. What is a travel story? On its face, travel implies movement, and implicitly movement from the familiar to the exotic or completely unfamiliar. That certainly isn’t false, but it doesn’t have to be true. You can travel within your city, you can meet new people and experience wildly unfamiliar environments less than a mile from your own home.
For example: most New Yorkers have never set foot in an abandoned subway station, or a maintenance tunnel. If travel is about the unfamiliar, and by extension the act of discovery, then there are infinite dimensions for that activity to play out. Over time, over space, between people, comparative journeys, revisitations, introspection. I lived in the staid, sleepy city of Greensboro, NC for 3 years, and spent the majority of my life living near it, but I continuously discovered new things, new people, unconsidered views, underappreciated streets and neighborhoods while rambling around within its borders.
So this suggests yet another thing about travel: it is attitudinal. A traveler is always looking for new things, whether those things reside in a different hemisphere, or a 9 iron away. It must be pointed out that escapism features prominently within any discussion of travel. This is true, many people rove around as a form of escape from something (bill collectors, illegitimate children, criminal histories, existential malaise, chronic restlessness, whatever), but that doesn’t violate the proposition that travelers are seekers of novel situations.
As fun as dissecting and analyzing the complexities of the idea of travel, it also fun, as hell, on its own, intrinsically, and that fact shouldn’t be overlooked or buried under the arcane offspring of philosophical and socio-historical vocabulary.