This is a harder post to write than I anticipated. I do a lot of work fighting various forms of abuse (mostly through animal rights and environmental activism), I read a lot, and I face up to a lot of difficult realities. To choose a focus when talking about abuse is difficult. They all bleed together for me.

So that is what I’m going to talk about. It is easy to look at the obvious abuses and point our fingers, and work to stop individual events from happening. Well, easy is relative. What I mean is it is easy to recognize these, and the path is relatively clear in stopping it. The neighbor’s child is being abused? There are authority figures to contact, there are things you can do to try to protect that child.

But what about the overall issue of child abuse? Why does it happen? Not just child abuse, but animal abuse as well. And while we’re at it, why is this world so violent? And why do we consciously turn a blind eye to it (yes, it is difficult and it is unpleasant to think about, but is that really a good excuse?), and why do we resist making changes in our own lives that would begin to limit, for example, the environmental abuse we are complicit in and perpetuate?

I believe there is a connection, a thread that runs through all of these forms of abuse. (And yes, I do think exploitation is a form of abuse.)

There is a garbage patch in our oceans, and there are manure lagoons on our land. The most toxic industries and waste sites are located in the poorest areas of the country, and of the world. The U.S.A. is a giant consumer of the earth’s resources, and that means that we are also a giant producer of refuse. We ship much of it down to the global south, which allows us to ignore the consequences of the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.

This prevents the world’s largest consumer of resources and producer of refuse from looking seriously at solutions to the problem. Imagine, for those of you who live in the land of consumerism, if you had to deal with your own trash in your own way, and it had to be dealt with on your property. I think we’d all take a hard look at our behavior, our consumption. And maybe, just to start, we’d grow food not lawns.

In Bolivia, the nation’s poor had to fight what is now known as a resource war for access to their own water after their government (due to pressure by the IMF) sold the water rights out from under them to an international company. The actions of this company, and those who supported it, caused the deaths of many people. Many poor people. Why don’t we call it murder? It is not ethical, it is not moral, so why aren’t we protesting? This, naturally, is one snapshot of the fight for basic survival that people are in all over the earth. Please don’t buy bottled water. It is killing people in Bolivia and India and may other places, and it is also killing the albatross, whose starve to death with stomachs full to bursting from plastic bottle caps.

The earth itself is taking a beating. The human population continues to grow, and the earth’s resources are used with little to no thought for sustainability. The earth can not sustain the current rate of resource usage. It is obvious and simple math to figure this out. So why aren’t we protesting? Why aren’t we changing?

One of the reasons I think all of these abuses and exploitations are tied together, and need to be fought as if they are one, is that if you follow the issues back far enough, you’ll see something interesting. We abuse and exploit those who we have determined are different, and in saying they are different, we usually mean they are lesser than we are. We also only exploit and abuse those who have less actual power than we do.

This may seem simplistic, and it doesn’t fully get at the psychosis in the people in our society, as individuals. However, it gets at the root cause.

When we are born, we are not sexist, we are not racist, and we are not even likely to abuse or exploit other species. We have all witnessed the child’s wonder and awe at nature’s everyday miracles. A child committing animal abuse is seen as a future psychopath and/or sociopath. So what happens? How do we go from the innocent child to being sexist and racist and turning a blind eye to a variety of abuses in society and in our community?

It starts when we’re taught that some are okay to hurt, and others aren’t. The distinctions are arbitrary. Explain to a small child exactly why dogs are pets and pigs are food. They are both affectionate, and pigs have been judged to be smarter than dogs. Explain to a small child why it is okay that some people are not allowed to sit on a public bench in a public park, while others are. Explain to a small child why it is okay for a wealthy corporation to tell people that they deserve to die for lack of potable water for the heinous crime of having been born into an economically repressed family.

These lines we draw, they don’t make sense. But children learn them, and they use them. They make fun of their classmates who are “different.” We are taught that different is wrong, even though there is no such thing as normal. Abused children are more likely to abuse animals, and more likely to grow up to abuse both animals and children. And anyone else they have power over.

Governments and corporations abuse and exploit those who have less power. Highways cut through poor rather than powerful neighborhoods, increasing poverty. Health care is distinctly lesser in quality in poor neighborhoods, and the school systems suffer as well. Grocery stores are scarce in poor communities, which impacts the health and the scholastic achievements in these same neighborhoods that are already at a disadvantage.

I could go on. I could look at the specifics, or I could look at the bigger picture, and I could continue to find more and more connections. The problems are many, as are the solutions. We only have so much time to act before some things will pass us by and become more devastating than we seem willing to imagine.

Despite everything, I manage to retain some hope, in part because of grassroots community oriented action, such as BlogCatalog’s action that spurred this post for me. Thanks to Ruby for alerting me to this. It is important. We can make changes, in our own lives, and in the lives of those around us. Start small. Think big.

chico cerra bariloche