BOOKS: Above All, Be Kind

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  December 2003:

Above All,  Be Kind:
Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times
by Zoe Weil
New Society Publishers (P.O. Box 189,  Gabriola Island,
B.C. V0R 1X0,  Canada),  2003.  272 pages,  paperback.  $17.95.

On page 127 of Above All,  Be Kind,
veteran humane educator Zoe Weil advises parents
to teach their children the CRITIC approach to
analytical thinking developed by Professor Wayne
Bartz.  “CRITIC,”  Weil explains,  “stands for
Claim?  Role of the claimant?  Information
backing the claim? Test?  Independent testing?
Cause proposed?”
Weil shows how CRITIC might be applied in
evaluating ads for a diet product.

Unfortunately,  Weil appears to have used
CRITIC very little herself as regards much else
that she recommends.  What comes from her own
experience in teaching and counseling children,
parents,  and other humane educators is generally
sensible and practicable,  as well as
compassionate.  What comes from others is rarely
as well considered.
Conscientious use of CRITIC,  for
example,  could quickly shatter Weil’s naïve
faith that “Boycotts work!”,  that recycling is
always ecologically beneficial,  that organic
agriculture harms animals less than the use of
chemical sprays,  that it is usually
environmentally friendlier and more socially
responsible to buy used merchandise than to buy
new,  that it is either possible or always
helpful to avoid the use of products that have
been tested on animals,  and that there is some
virtue in washing diapers rather than using
disposables– among other “green” shibboleths
strewn throughout her book,  even as she treads
very lightly in advocating vegetarianism,  which
brings with it more ecological benefit than
everything else she recommends combined.
Point by point:
*  Boycotts work only if narrowly focused
and intensely promoted,  in causes with a
specific short-term goal and demonstrable appeal
to many of the actual consumers of the product or
service being boycotted.  Only a handful of
boycotts have ever won anything on behalf of
animals,  and most of those successes occurred
more than 15 years ago,  before computerized
inventory tracking enabled manufacturers and
retailers to precisely and immediately measure
each sales fluctuation to see if a declaration of
boycott is actually having any effect.  There has
been no successful boycott of note on behalf of
animals thus far into the 21st century,  while
many boycott declarations have merely ended any
hope of communication between activists and the
* Recycling is ecologically harmful any
time the use of energy and clean water necessary
to reprocess the substance involved exceeds the
savings effected by not using new material.  The
value of recycling varies greatly from place to
place,  depending mostly on the amount of
transportation that it requires.  Having actively
promoted recycling for more than 20 years,
including helping to found several regional
recycling programs,  I was eventually
self-persuaded that the net effect of about half
the recycling I saw was either nil or negative.
Washing diapers rather than using disposables is
among the classic examples of a feel-good
exercise with a harmful outcome,  since each
washing typically uses more energy than would go
into making a new diaper,  and requires polluting
several gallons of water.
*  Organic crop yields are so much lower
than the yields from agriculture making use of
chemical sprays and fertilizers that organic
farmers are often the most aggressive in
resisting losses to wildlife through the use of
traps and guns.  Further,  while some farm
chemicals undeniably have severe harmful effects
on nontarget species,  others do not.  Pesticide
development since Rachel Carson published Silent
Spring in 1962 has heavily emphasized reducing
ecotoxicity and harm toward nontarget species,
by making chemicals ever more target-specific.
This is why we may now have more bald eagles,
who were nearly extinct in Carson’s time,  than
economically competitive organic farmers.
* The relatively minor net ecological
benefit associated with buying a used book is not
to be confused with the major net losses involved
in driving older cars,  which are less safe and
much less energy-efficient,  or in using old home
appliances,  which not only use more energy but
also are more likely to spill PCBs from their
motors and ozone-destructive freon gas from their
cooling coils,  if they die at home instead of
being safely dismantled at a manufacturer’s
scrapyard,  as required by law,  after being
traded in for new.
*  The pernicious myth that there are
consumer chemical products that have not been
tested on animals is easily demolished by simply
looking up any product in the EPA/ NIOSH Registry
of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances.  There
one will find each product listed,  by common
name,  brand name,  and molecular formula,  with
the dates and types of animal testing done to
place the product on the market.
For instance,  Weil recommends the use of
vinegar and baking soda to avoid using
animal-tested cleaning products.  Few chemicals
have been tested more often on animals than
vinegar,  also known as acetic acid,  in its
hundreds of different formulations.  Baking soda
has also been extensively and repetitively
While it is intelligent consumer strategy
to patronize manufacturers who have active
programs to develop and use non-animal testing
methods in connection with producing new
products,   like Procter & Gamble,  it is
pointless to try to punish those whose products
were tested on animals in the relatively distant
past,  and would be far more beneficial to
animals to focus on using the products which are
least likely to harm animals in the future
through routine use and disposal.
Weil has not even applied the CRITIC
method to some of her second-hand recommendations
about humane education.  Through application of
her own intuition and intelligence,  she once
made effective use of Walt Disney videos,
including Beauty & The Beast and The Lion King.
Her own son Forest loved them.  Then someone who
apparently had not watched either film with
eyeballs open and brain working convinced Weil
that they promote “patriarchy,”  and that Beauty
& The Beast in some manner tells young women that
they should tolerate abuse from young men in
hopes that they will some day reform.
Merely watching the videos and paying
attention should have dispelled those notions.
Nala,  the courageous young lioness,  is one of
the stronger characters in The Lion King,  and
Belle,  the heroine of Beauty & The Beast,
stands up for herself in even the most hopeless
and oppressive of circumstances.  Never does she
tolerate abuse from anyone.
I have never met Weil.  My impression
from her book is that she is a warm,
understanding,  and thoroughly well-meaning
person,  who may be very good at bringing the
best out of people.  Her recommended methods are
sound.  They will not,  however,  lead a thinking
person toward many of the specific actions and
attitudes that she recommends– especially if
CRITIC is applied.
Vegetarianism may be the major exception,
yet the pro-vegetarian message is so understated
that it could be overlooked.
Weil offers surprisingly little advice
about how vegetarian children (and their parents)
can cope with the ostracism that they may face as
result of their choice to avoid meat.  Fear of
ostracism is perhaps the largest single
impediment to Americans adopting a meatless diet,
and dealing with it may be the greatest challenge
in raising humane children.

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