About danblinn

As a Humanist, an attorney, and a consumer advocate, I have long been interested in matters of ethics, personal responsibility, and social welfare. Although I realized that I was an atheist at a young age, for a long time, I felt a strong desire to connect on a spiritual level to something greater than himself. I found that connection in Humanism, a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

It has now been about five weeks since I announced that I am now an ethical vegan (someone who does not eat anything derived from an animal for ethical reasons) and explained the reasons for that decision. Since then, many friends and family members have asked me a lot of questions. I’m going to address some of them here:

Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

Yes, I did. Multiple times. About ten years ago, I purchased a wooden box that can be used to roast a whole pig of up to 100 lbs. I have used it on several occasions for large parties. The last time that I used it was about six years ago.

This last pig roast was after I had begun to question the morality of meat eating. While many people find the concept of roasting a whole pig repulsive, my view was different. Personally, I did not see the difference between roasting a whole pig and buying BBQ takeout. Others see it as far worse. I think that is because they are uncomfortable to think about the source of their meat. I thought that it was important for meat-eaters to acknowledge that meat comes from animals, not from plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery.

I think that was an important step for me. By confronting that reality, I was better able to consider the suffering that was involved in my food choices. Incidentally, that last pig roast was a fund raiser hosted by Hartford Area Humanists. I also scheduled another event for that group just a few weeks later. The topic was “Should Humanists Be Vegetarian?”.

Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Lots of places. Mostly Stop & Shop.

It is actually quite easy to get all of the protein that you need from plants. I am careful to include whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds into my diet each day. The main thing that vegans must worry about is Vitaimin B-12, and I take a supplement for that everyday.

Didn’t You Do This Once Before?

I think that the hidden implicit meaning behind this question is that some are understandablly skeptical of whether this is a permanent change and not just a passing fad.

Yes, I did adopt a vegan diet once before – almost eight years ago. That lasted less than a month. However, even in that failure, I believed in the rightness of that lifestyle. In many ways, I have been transitioning to my current diet since that time by reducing meat and other animal products. Eventually becoming vegan remained a goal.

This time around, I learned from my previous attempt. Last time, I went “cold turkey”. This time, I took about two months to make the transition. I learned to prepare new dishes to find new foods and dishes to replace those that were being reduced and eliminated. I gave my body (and the bacteria in my gut) time to adjust to the change. (See discussion below regarding my “system”)

I’ve also put more thought into the reasons for being vegan. Last time around, I was more motivated by health considerations, and ethics were a secondary consideration. This time, the choice was entirely motivated by ethics and concern for the environment. Every day, I think every day about the reasons for this choice, and that fortifies me to remain vegan. Each week has been easier.

I frequently find myself in situations where there are few or no good food options. When that happens, I remind myself that a little hunger or inconvenience is inconsequential compared to the suffering that is reduced by my choices. And, with more experience, I am getting better at handling those situations all the time.

Do You Still Eat Gluten?

I get asked this a lot at restaurants. Yes, I eat gluten. Lots of it. My system handles it just fine. Seitan is a great high-protein meat substitute, and is made almost entirely from gluten..

Speaking of Your System . . . . ?

Yes, I am eating much more fiber. Lots of beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. I’ve noticed that we’ve been going through toilet paper more quickly, and I have had some bloating. But, as my system has adjusted to the new diet, that is now greatly reduced and things are very nearly back to normal.

Well, I am going to keep eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

No, this is not a question. It is an assertion that I hear quite frequently. Sometimes it is offered almost as an apology. Other times, it is expressed as a defiant declaration.

This is a touchy subject for ethical vegans and the people in their lives who do not follow their example. Ethical vegans believe that it is immoral to eat meat or animal products. GIven our stance, those who continue to eat meat, etc., accurately conclude that we believe that their choices are immoral. This is the source of the tension between vegans and carnists. They perceive us to be moralizng – and I can’t disagree with them. Our beliefs implicitly condemn their choices.

Except, for me, it is not that simple. I refuse to judge other people on account of their food choices. We live in a culture that has bombarded us with messages that eating meat is natural, normal, and necessary. And, as I have learned, breaking that habit is not easy. It took me many years to do it – long after I concluded that my prior way of eating was wrong. So, I understand the choices that others make, and I do not think that they are bad people for continuing to eat meat and other animal products.

So, I continue to buy and prepare meat and animal products for family and friends who come to our home. I also prepare vegan dishes that they can try and may enjoy. I do not bring up the reasons for my veganism unless directly asked to do so, and I have made a firm rule: I never discuss the reasons for my diet at the table.

But, I do think that it is important for vegans to make others aware of their choices and the reasons that they have made them. That’s the reason for writing this blog article. My exposure to those who had thought longer and more deeply about the ethics of their diet were very influential to my decision. Even before I became vegan, those influences caused me to greatly reduce my consumption of meat and animal products for about a decade. Less is better. If everyone simply reduced their consumption, there would be less suffering and less harm to the environment. If I encourage a few people to be more mindful of their food choices and to eat less meat and animal products, that is worth the effort.

But, nobody has to apologize or justify their food choices to me. Who am I to judge, anyway? I once roasted a whole pig!

Long Time Coming – I’m a Vegan

I recognized long ago that there are problems involved in eating meat. Over the years, I shifted more towards a plant-based diet and tried to pay attention to sourcing and avoiding factory-farmed products. But, I continued to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products even as I recognized that it was not consistent with my values. All the while I believed that I was moving towards a more ethical way of living. Still I ate meat.

And, then there is the environmental factor. During the People’s Climate March in New York, I saw someone with a sign that read “Meat Eaters are Phony Environmentalists”. That stung. I knew it was true. Although I drive a hybrid car, have solar panels on my roof, and contribute to environmental causes, I knew that the most significant change that I could make to reduce my personal carbon footprint was to adopt a vegan diet. Still I ate meat.

There are many conversations with vegans and vegetarians that have stuck in my mind. Despite the opinion of them held by some, I found them to be open and accessible. I explained my reservations and my struggles. I told them of my efforts to shift to a plant-based diet and how I tried to make more of my meals animal product free. They encouraged me. They told me that eating less was good. They did not shame me. But, I knew they were right. And, still I ate meat.

Sometimes, a person just needs the right influence at the right time to make a meaningful change. And, sometimes it is a confluence of multiple influences. For me, the impact was a book – Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy. This wasn’t the first time that I had read books of this type. But, Joy’s discussion of the justification for Carnism impacted me. Specifically, according to Joy, meat-eaters generally justify their diet with the belief that eating meat is “normal, natural, and necessary.” I had used these same justifications myself during the times that I bothered to think about the origins of my food. In the book she sets out to rebut those justifications.

The reason that this argument influenced me so much, though, was because of my observations from another book that I was reading at the same time – Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. This book, by the way, is phenomenal, and I highly recommend it. It is, however, very long, and I have been reading it very slowly. I happened to be reading about the build-up to the Civil War at the time that I was reading Joy’s book. And, I recognized that these justifications for my diet were exactly the same justifications advanced by those who sought to preserve the institution of slavery.

That shook me up. After making that connection, I knew that I could not continue as before. But, this wasn’t my first attempt at a Vegan diet. I took a stab at it about eight years ago, and that lasted for only about two months. That time, I went cold turkey. This time, I decided to make a gradual transition.

First food to be eliminated was beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat. I also started to cut back on all other animal products, including eggs and dairy, while I started introducing new foods to crowd out what was being reduced. After several weeks, poultry was eliminated. A month later, I stopped eating eggs. And, as of April 7, I have been fully vegan (although I may still eat honey -I’m not entirely convinced about the argument against that). The entire transition took about two months.

Writing this blog article is about all that I plan to do right now to advocate for a kinder and more sustainable diet. I generally avoiding discussing my reasons for this change. I have no wish to judge the decisions of others – it took me many years to make this decision, so I have no moral authority to fault others.

I’m grateful to the many vegans and vegetarians that I know who have accepted me despite my former dietary habits. Whether they realize it or not, they were a significant influence on me. I plan to reach out to some of them and let them know. Maybe some day someone will tell me that I was an influence on them. That will be a very good day for me.

Cheers!

Does It Count if I Only Read It?

I had never spoken the title and the name of the current occupant of the White House in the same sentence. Never.  It wasn’t anything deliberate at first. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. I had never written it, either.

It reminds me of a lunch with a conservative friend about five years ago. He was not a fan of President Obama (did you see what i just did? I wrote “President” and “Obama” right next to each other. I just said it aloud. “President Obama” It felt good.)

I noticed that this friend was avoiding Obama’s name. I called him on it. “You can’t even say his name!” I chided. He objected. “I can say his name . . .  [long pause] Obama.” It was visibly painful, but he said it.

That was more than I could do. I could say “President”. And, I could say “Trump”. But, I couldn’t do it in the same sentence. After a few months, I realized that I had never said it. After a while, it became a point of pride. I sometimes bragged about it.

Then, last week, Linda and I were at sitting at the table, and I was reading the newspaper. I saw something interesting and, as I frequently do, I read to her aloud from the article. Just a few sentences. Then I paused. Apparently, the newspaper reporter and editor did not share my aversion.

“Oh, shit. Do you know what i just did?”

“It doesn’t count” Linda said. “You only read it.”

But, I had said it. I had spoken the words “President Trump”. Damn. Now I’ve written it.

Maybe it is time for me to take a deep breath and explicitly acknowledge this reality. I remember an interview of Senator Elizabeth Warren explaining her decision to attend the inauguration. She wanted the image “burned in [her] eyes” so that it would help to motivate her for the work that she knew had to be done.

Last week, I was privileged to be chosen to be president of Hartford Area Humanists, a role I had served before, when the group was first created. In addressing the group at our annual meeting, I appealed to the members to get involved in fighting for Humanist values in the face of an administration that actively opposed those values. I told them that our political times demand that all people of conscience take an active role in opposing this president’s agenda.

I didn’t say the words then, but I’ll write them now. This time on purpose. People of conscience must oppose the agenda of President Trump.

I just read that last sentence aloud. That’s not so bad. It’s that agenda that really hurts.

 

 

Responding to Racism

Earlier this week, I was meeting with a client. She is an elderly black woman. During the meeting, she made an outrageously racist comment about HIspanics (in reference to a dealership employee). Specifically, the employee threatened violence against the client’s brother, and the woman “observed” that Hispanics are prone to violent behavior. I gently pointed out that she was stereotyping, and she immediately backed-off.

Only several days later, when thinking about the current occupant of the White House’s racist comments regarding immigration, something occurred to me. If my client had been white, I think that I would have reacted much more strongly to that comment. I went easy on her. I wasn’t even terribly upset about it at the time.

 I reacted much more strongly when an Alt-Right type made a comment that was far less offensive during a client interview.  He wasn’t the potential client, but he was a close family friend. When I was explaining to the potential client about the problems of forced arbitration on consumers, he responded “Do you mean to tell me that, even though we’re white, they’re treating us like we’re not?”

Yes. It is really ugly for someone to explicitly claim white privilege. That statement presumes that it is one thing for businesses to take advantage of minority consumers but, because he is white, he should receive better treatment.  That is really ugly. But, I don’t think that it is as bad as characterizing an entire ethnic group as violent. At least I don’t think it is any worse.

 But, I responded much more aggressively to this racist statement. I stared him down with harsh, prolonged eye contact, which caused him to state in a diminished voice, “I’m not a racist.” I raised my eyebrows and held the stare for about 5 more seconds. He broke the impasse by excusing himself to smoke a cigarette, and when he returned, he didn’t speak for the rest of the meeting.

Maybe I reacted less harshly to this elderly black woman because of her age or her gender. But I think my more measured response was, at least partially, because of her race. Did I give her a “pass” on her racism because she’s black?

 I’m not certain what it all means, but it certainly raises some provocative questions about race and racism, including questions regarding my own tendencies. Bottom line is that I called her out on her comment. I’m glad that I did. And, I don’t regret that I did so gently.

In retrospect, I now realize that I should have been more gentle with the white man who made the racist comment. In that case, I let my anger control my response. It would have been more productive if I had calmly explained to him why his comments were so offensive to me and tell him that all consumers should be treated fairly, regardless of race. No, it probably would not have caused him to be a better person.

 But, it would have made me a better person.

 

Dilly Dilly

dilly dilly

One of my favorite lines from any movie comes from Smoky and the Bandit. The characters portrayed by Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields are discussing their differences, and the Bandit observes: “When you tell somebody somethin’, it depends on what part of the country you’re standin’ in… as to just how dumb you are.” I was recently reminded of this.

For the past two weeks, Linda and I have been in Key West. Last week, I was hanging at the Hog’s Breath Saloon, one of our favorite places to chill, have a beer, and listen to live music. It’s the kind of place where you can easily start a conversation with a complete stranger.

That’s where I met Jay, who was visiting from Quincy MA with his wife and grown kids. We were about the same age, we’re both from New England, and we both love Key West. That’s enough for a drinking-buddy relationship to form, and Jay offered to buy me a round.

At one point, one of the more colorful Key West locals walked through the bar. We see him every year at Christmas time, wearing a winged Santa costume with a thong-bottom. Jay had not seen him before, and he whispered something in my ear. I couldn’t quite make it out due to the music. Rather than get dragged into a potentially homophobic conversation, I tried to divert, saying, “Yes, we see him every year, usually riding a bicycle”.

Jay then said something else. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like “Something. Something. Dilly Dilly”. I looked at him quizzically. “What?”

“You, know, ‘Dilly Dilly'”

“What’s Dilly Dilly?”

“You don’t know Dilly Dilly?!!??”  I had obviously displayed unforgivable ignorance.

“No”.

“Sure you do. You know! The Bud Light commercials they show during the football games.”

I could have just told Jay that I’ve been boycotting football for five years. but that would only make me more of a pariah, so, I just told him “I don’t know watch much TV”. Jay was a good sport about it, though, and he even offered to buy another round. But, I could tell that he saw me as someone who didn’t quite fit in. Standing in the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West, FL, I was so dumb that I didn’t know about “Dilly Dilly”.

Linda points out that I’m dumb about a  lot of things when I’m standing in a lot of places. But, at least I’ve been getting out of the house!

Dilly Dilly!

Counting (And Savoring) My Days

Marthas Vineyard Wedding 2016

As I write this in the early morning hours of August 19, 2016, I am anticipating my 20,000th sunrise. No, I have not actually watched 20,000 sunrises, but that’s how many times the Earth has spun around since I’ve been around. .

I was born on November 16, 1961. A few months ago, I had stumbled upon the concept of marking the 20,000th day. So, I found a handy calculator and determined that my 20,000th day would be on 8/19/16, fate willing.  So, I marked today on my calendar. Happily, it is a Friday, and Linda was glad to join me in taking a vacation day.

I’ll save you the math – 20,000 days is a little more than 54 years and 9 months. But, this isn’t midlife crisis time for me. I did that 4 years ago. Over the course of a single year, I turned 50, celebrated 25 years of marriage, and marked 25 years of practicing law. And, we saw Eric, our youngest, graduate from high school and head to college. So, I thought that it was a good time to take measure of my life and think about what was next.

I enrolled  in The Humanist Institute. I had become increasingly active with a local group and wanted to study Humanism in depth. So, I went to Washington, DC for the first session in December 2012. I shared a room with another student, and we discussed our reasons for attending. I told him about turning 50, empty nest, etc., and he said, “Oh, you’re having a midlife crisis!”

Oddly, I hadn’t recognized my behavior as symptomatic of a midlife crisis. I thought middle-aged men in crisis did things like buy fancy sport cars and divorce their wives. I realize now that I was only partially right. That’s how some men (and some women)  react. And, it is really sad. They’re pursuing hedonic pleasures that will not make them truly happy. Fortunately, I had already figured out enough by then to know there are more important things.

Although I didn’t know the phrase at the time, I was more interested in eudaemonic happiness. Realizing that I was much closer to my death than to my birth, I was seeking to live a more fulfilling life by making myself a better person and by increasing the positive impact I might have on the world. Our lives are works in progress, and mine is no exception. I have learned a few things on this journey; I hope to learn much more. I have made some positive changes; I hope to make many more.

For my 20,000th day, I hope to do ordinary things. I intend to do them more mindfully than I have in the past. Today is a day to savor. A trip to the gym. A bike ride. A walk around town. Reading in the park (maybe drink sangria?). And, I will spend some time thinking about how I got to this 20,000th day and the people with whom I have shared this journey. But, mostly, I’ll do ordinary things. Today is a day for reflection, not celebration.

I began this morning with a cup of coffee and a book.   Then, I sat down to write this blogpost. The 20,000th sun will soon rise. I am about to go outside with a second cup of coffee and watch the colors change and the day begin.

Then, I will go upstairs and say good morning to Linda.  Today we will do ordinary things together. And, there is nothing that I would rather do on my 20,000th day (or any other day) than ordinary things – with her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Not Dance on the Grave

  • Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitIt is hard for any liberal
    • (particularly a lawyer) to not contemplate the possibilities upon learning that Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has died in the middle of a court term. I have publicly criticized Justice Scalia in writing and in talks that I have presented. I particularly abhor certain statements that he has made regarding the death penalty.

    Yet, I bristle at seeing so many rejoice in his death. Justice Scalia was a human being. And, notwithstanding my disagreement with most of his stances, he was a public servant. He dedicated his life to jurisprudence, and he effectively and enthusiastically advocated (and as a Supreme Court Justice, implemented) his honestly held views.

    That does not make him an evil person. Does anyone seriously believe that he acted with evil intent? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg certainly does not. She and Scalia were extremely close personal friends. Surely, she is in a better position to judge his intentions than anyone outside of the Court.

    Let us be gracious in our view of those with whom we disagree, even as we are zealous in our diagreement.

     

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