The distance between the conference room at the Animals in Society conference at Wesleyan and the steamy, concrete backstage parking lot to the circus in Meriden last week seemed like a chasm. It wasn’t just that the circus had real dyed pink poodles and hotdogs and the Animals in Society Conference had vegan sandwiches…or that the circus had stereotyping elephants tied outside the Big Top, tigers in cages barely wider or longer than their bodies in the full sun, and tough-looking men in spandex with no shirts hosing down the asphalt… and the conference had a high wire act of papers that fell mainly in the safety net of the academic and esoteric. There was no reason the two events a short drive away should have been connected, except that I was equally interested in the academic topics around the human and non-human animal bond and in witnessing the flagrant on-the-ground exploitation of exotic animals down the road. I wanted to bridge the two worlds and see how they both made me feel.
Both made me feel unsettled, although the circus experience made me sad, angry and nauseous. Part of the challenge with being a sensitive person (Highly Sensitive People HSPs are 20% of the population) is to consciously keep from becoming numb to people and situations which could call us to take action. It’s also a life-long process of self-knowledge to understand one’s own boundaries, emotional needs and the type of moral universe one wants to be part of creating. My choice to visit the circus was a way for me to get out of a left-brained space and into a heart space, knowing that it could be painful and being willing to risk that pain.
Kathie Jenni, a Professor of Philosophy and expert in animal ethics, environmental ethics and moral psychology at University of Redlands, has written a profound paper on the power of the visual and our ethical responsibility to witness and watch things that might call us to action. You can read her paper here.
Her paper is an eloquent argument for why as a musician I am now also making films. (Film editing also uses a musical sensibility.) The power of music in combination with the visual is extremely potent and has tremendous capabilities for building a more empathetic world.
This is a quote which I have on my desk in my office.
Not to transmit an experience is to betray it. – Holocaust survivor
Animals and Society Institute produces a wide range of research and Continue reading