Thursday, 4 November 2010

An Adventure on the Web

I own a set of black plastic boxes that were sold to me, grandly, as a 'worm farm'. Coming from a long line of agricultural folk, the idea of getting back to my ancestral calling appealed to me and for a while I was running 10,000 (approx - it was easy to muster them, but very hard to make a precise count) head of stock, all thriving and breeding, creating a bond - at least in my mind - with my splendid pastoral past.

Sadly, the people who rented our house during our four-year absence seem to have regarded themselves purely as tenants and not as tenant farmers as well. As a result, when we got back, I found my worm farm empty, my herd either departed or dead. After the inevitable period of mourning, I decided the only thing to do was get on with it and re-establish my agrarian credentials by buying a new supply of worms. What I didn't realise was that this was easier said than done - in the time since I last looked for worms, they had disappeared from the market. All the outlets that stocked them when I went away have now removed all trace of the creatures from their shelves. Despite the greening of Australia, in the nation's capital worms have become extremely hard to find.

But, being a 21st century kind of person, I knew what to do. I turned to the internet for information. 'Where can I buy worms in the ACT?' I asked Mr Google and eventually he gave me the answer I needed. First though, I had to plough through several forums where heated worm arguments are still raging among vegans. The following excerpt is just a small glimpse of the crazed rubbish I had to read:

"I have a problem with this. I also have a problem with the fact that the worms are being taken from somewhere and, even though they may be doing their regular wormy thing they're still doing it in a place that you've put them for your benefit. ie. you're using them for your own gain. When chickens are producing eggs for human consumption they're being used - it doesn't matter if they are truly free range (as in allowed to be chickens and produce eggs at a normal and appropriate rate) their life is still about producing eggs for human consumption and not about being a chicken. Similarly, I think if these worms are being brought in to chomp up your compost then their lives are not about being worms.
As for the companion animal argument: I don't expect my cats do anything that I get gain from. They're there to be cats, and I do what I can to protect them and nourish them but they aren't there for an intrinsic reason.

Sorry. I think worms for this reason = unvegan"

I did eventually find what I wanted but not before inexplicably landing on a site called Dogging Etiquette (how? why? I don't know - I think it followed on from a discussion about whether worms could eat pet droppings)."Be polite and courteous" it advises, "Make sure you're clean and neatly dressed." "Clear up litter and take home any empty wrappers."

It is cheering to learn that, despite reports to the contrary, manners - at least in some circles - are not yet completely dead.


  1. Worms=unvegan?

    that's hilarious reasoning

  2. That's nothing - some of the others on some of the forums think that using manure is unvegan as well.

  3. So this person is arguing that keeping an an animal for a purpose is unvegan, but keeping an animal for no purpose is vegan as hell? * Do they imagine that the worms know they're being used to manufacture compost? Do they think the worms care? Do they think the worms would be happier if their owner regarded them as companion animals? This person's brand of veganism isn't about the animal at all. It's about their own feelings toward the animal. They care more about the form of the law ("Don't exploit animals") than the effect of the law. They've flown off into abstractions. This isn't veganism in the useful and kind sense, it's an excuse to develop neuroses.

    *Of course providing companionship is a purpose, one that the cat is being co-opted into, and that poster is acting in extremely bad faith.

  4. Umbagollah: As one of the peacemaking participants in one of the discussions said:
    "At the end of the day, there is no 'vegan law'. I guess you just have to do what you feel is right for you. There is a lot of power in intention."
    But, you know, looking at it from a penguin's point of view and feeling, quite frankly, pretty used by Rolf, I can hear where the other mob are coming from too(hem, hem, as Nigel Molesworth would so wisely say.)

  5. Oh, no, I didn't mean, literally, that there was a law, or a rule, only that the general -- what should I call it? guideline? -- helpful phrase? -- useful word, "exploit"? -- that this person seems to be judging themselves against -- the wording of it -- appears (and I am judging them from a very small sample, and possibly a very poor one) to have become more important to them than the outcome of their behaviour.

    I think this is the point at which an ideology -- even ideologies springing from benevolent or kind motives -- begin to detach themselves from that motive, and become ends in themselves.* So, just to repeat myself a bit, it becomes, not, "How is this animal being affected by my actions," but, "How do I judge my actions? How would the group judge my actions? How can I explain my actions in a way that puts them in the best light?"

    I was being rough on that person in my last post (I see, reading back over it) and I think their reaction is natural -- even just a normal function of language -- we move from a concrete to an abstraction every time we use a word; words themselves are abstractions, and once you've launched yourself on a path like this (by using the abstraction "exploit") it's so easy to go further -- and oh, of course our minds slip naturally towards I I I, what does the group think of me because humans are group-creatures -- but there are some things that make me uneasy when I see them, and this is one.

    * Take the example of Penguinosity, a noble movement, founded by a good-hearted creature with a single flipper and a squint -- how quickly it degenerated from a fish-sharing exercise into a hostile takeover of nesting burrows, all through misplaced ideology. But that is ancient history, as any fule kno.

  6. I don't think you were hard on that person at all, Umbagollah. I think that kind of thing has to be stamped on as soon as it appears. It is called "idiocy". But now you will think I am being too hard (unless, of course, you happen to recall that I spent much of my childhood being ignored by a father who was hunched over in a drainpipe somewhere, having forgotten me entirely. That sort of experience makes you hard, you know.)

  7. Hypocrisy was the word that came to mind, looking at their comments about companion pets. Anyone who follows don't exploit animals to a logical conclusion is going to work out pretty quickly that this person's cat is being exploited. Not only is the cat being exploited now, but the owner is colluding in centuries of cat-exploitation, and perpetuating (by example) that exploitation into the future. Turn me into a hardline vegan and I'd be outraged.

    I'm not a hardline vegan, though, and I only have one problem with domesticated cats -- they kill native species.

    This is why penguins hide in drainpipes. Little-known fact.

  8. As for cats who go about killing our native birds? They're all right? But worms who like to munch up stuff and improve our soil aren't?

    I heard recently that Palm Oil isn't vegan because chopping down palms reduces animal habitats ...

  9. Thank you for telling me that, Umbagollah, I thought my father was just hiding from me. I'm feeling happier already.
    Whispering - I don't like getting solemn but palm oil is actually a really seriously awful problem, very difficult to avoid (it's in most toothpaste, for instance) but genuinely destroying the scarce habitat of orang utangs - I met someone who worked with orang utangs and she completely convinced me and got me very concerned about the subject, (and I rarely get convinced about anything)

  10. Oh, you're right about palm oil. It was just the definition of veganism that got me. I mean, taken to extremes it would be hard to justify eating anything it seems except, perhaps, air but even then we might be on thin ground!