Read the following essays from CEL Ch. 8, Making Arguments, in preparation for this discussion:
- “The Dog Delusion” (Pedersen), CEL Ch. 8, p. 225-229.
- “Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters” (Paulin), p. 230-239
- “Hive Talkin’: The Buzz around Town about Bees” (Scollon), p. 240-244.
After you have read all three essays, read the following questions and think about how you want to respond:
- Of the three essays, which essay interested you the most? Why? For instance, was the topic closer to your own interests than the other essays? Did the writer manage to draw you in despite your lack of initial interest?
- In Ch. 6, the CEL suggests that all writers write with “broad” and “specific” purposes in mind (170). For the essay that you found the most interesting, how do you imagine the writer developed a connection to the “broad purpose” of their topic (also list what that broad purpose is)? Is it clear that the writer already had a passion for the topic through personal experiences or relationships?
- What do you think the writer’s “specific purpose” is in writing? What do they hope to achieve, and is this hope stated directly? How does the writer’s intensity and passion for the topic show in their writing?
Chapter 8 Making Arguments230
Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters Ann Marie Paulin
As with most engaging essays, Paulin’s originates in personal circumstance. (See her invention writing on page 248.) Also, as with most engaging essays, the writer extends her thinking into the public sphere. As you read “Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters,” notice how Paulin puts forth an argument while keeping herself in the background, only briefly referring to herself in the essay’s introduction and conclusion. As you will see, Paulin goes beyond the increasingly common argument against the media’s portrayal of women; she reveals something about the subtle effects of that portrayal. Paulin, who teaches English and gender studies at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, shows that a writer’s voice matters—that savvy use of voice actually creates layers to an argument. That is, her voice rehumanizes the issue and the people involved. If the media have dehumanized “fat people,” Paulin does more than argue against the media; she strikes back with an intense, multifaceted presence.
I swear, if I have to sit through one more ad proclaiming that life is not worth living if you aren’t thin, I’ll slug somebody. So much for the theory that fat people are jolly. But, contrary to what magazines, talk shows, movies, and advertisements proclaim, we aren’t all a bunch of sorrowful, empty losers with no friends and no self-esteem, either. As with most complex issues—religion, politics, human relationships—most of what we see in mass media is hugely oversimplified and, therefore, wrong. So, if many of us recognize the media are notorious for getting things less than accurate, you might wonder why I let these images bother me so much. Well, if you were one of the millions of fat Americans living in a culture where you are constantly depicted as some sort of weepy loser, ill-dressed buffoon, or neutered sidekick, your good nature might wear a bit thin as well. But far more important than my ill temper is a creepy sense that these inaccurate images have shifted our vision of what is
A strong, emphatic (but informal) voice.
“You” makes the voice more informal.
“Our” is a direct strategy to create public resonance.
Complete the auto-graded quiz for this reading.
“Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters,” by Ann Marie Paulin. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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231Ann Marie Paulin Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters
important in life way out of whack, so far out that people are being hurt. What I’m proposing here is that we need to get some perspec- tive on this issue.
First of all, let me make it clear that I’m not advocating that every- one in America go out and get fat. According to the news media, we are doing that very handily on our own, in spite of all the messages to the contrary and the shelves of diet food in every supermarket. (One of my colleagues came by today with a newspaper article on the Krispy Kreme Donut chain; evidently, Americans eat three million Krispy Kreme donuts each day. We may talk tofu, but we gobble glazed.) Americans all need to work on eating healthier and getting some exer- cise. Of course, the thin fanatics claim to advocate a healthy lifestyle as well, but I question how healthy people are when they are living on low-calorie chocolate milk drinks, or taking herbal supplements containing goodness knows what, or loading up on the latest wonder diet pill. Remember Fen-phen?
And most diets don’t work. An essay by Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., and Chelsea Heuer, MPH, in the American Journal of Public Health, cites studies which found:
Most weight losses are not maintained and individuals regain weight after completing treatment. Patients who have lost weight through lifestyle modification typically regain 30% to 35% of their lost weight during the year following treatment, and regain most (if not all) of their lost weight within five years. (“Obesity Stigma” 1021)
The authors go on to quote from a study by Mann, et al. “Dieters who gain back more weight than they lost may very well be the norm, rather than an unlucky minority” (qtd. in Puhl and Heuer 1021). My point here is not to argue that overweight people should not try to lose weight for health reasons. Indeed, even a modest weight loss of ten percent of a person’s body weight is beneficial to one’s health (Puhl and Heuer, “Obesity Stigma” 1021). But such modest weight loss, while healthy, is rarely enough to earn a person fashionably thin status. And despite what the cultural messages suggest, most of us fat folks are trying to eat more sensibly, but the environment does play a role. In a culture where most of us are rushed from work to classes to other activities, the temptation to grab fast food is huge. Sugary or fatty foods are often available in grab and go packages that are so much easier to take to work or eat in the car than making a healthy
The writer qualifies her point (My point here is not . . .), makes a concession (Indeed, even a modest weight loss . . .), and then counterargues (But such modest weight loss, while healthy, is rarely enough . . . .)
An important qualifier: “I’m not advocating that . . . .”
Integrates (introduces) informa- tion from an authority for support.
Long quotes—more than four lines—are indented. This is called a “block quote.”
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snack. And, there is evidence to suggest we may even be wired to pre- fer junk food. Brownell and colleagues, in an essay in Health Affairs, cite studies which show: “Animals given access to food high in sugar and fat—even when healthy food is freely available—consume calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food in abundance, gain a great deal of weight, and exhibit deteriorating health” (379). I know, I know. We aren’t rats. We are thinking beings, but this article goes on to point out that it is not so different for people: “Research has shown con- sistently that people moving from less to more obese countries gain weight, and those moving to less obese countries lose weight” (379).
So we are surrounded by a culture, even an infrastructure, that encourages obesity, yet the culture also breeds a prejudice against fat people. Various articles and news magazine programs have reported that Americans of all sizes make far more than simple aesthetic judg- ments when they look at a fat person. Fat people are assumed to be lazy, stupid, ugly, lacking in self-esteem and pride, devoid of self- control, and stuffed full of a host of other unpleasant qualities that have nothing to do with the size of a person’s belly or thighs. But, as
Integrates information from an authority for support.
Engages the reader by antici- pating a reader’s response.
Takes the reader from one claim (culture encourages obesity) to another claim (culture breeds a prejudice against fat people).
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233Ann Marie Paulin Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters
anyone who has ever been the victim of such prejudice can tell you, the impact such foolish notions have is real and harmful. For exam- ple, Marilyn Wann, in her book Fat! So?, cites an experiment in which “[r]esearchers placed two fake personal ads, one for a woman described as ‘50 pounds overweight’ and the other for a woman described as a drug addict. The drug addict received 79 percent of the responses” (59). So, in spite of the agony addiction can cause to the addict and those who love her, people would rather get romantically involved with an addict than a fat person. And not much has changed. In a 2008 article, “The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update,” Puhl and Heuer report:
One study asked college students (N5449) to rank order six pictures of hypothetical sexual partners, including an obese partner, a healthy partner, and partners with various disabilities (including a partner in a wheelchair, missing an arm, with a mental illness, or described as having a history of sexually trans- mitted diseases. Both men and women ranked the obese person as the least desirable sexual partner compared to the others. (10)
While it is certainly good news to see that people can look beyond disabilities, such as a wheelchair or a missing arm, and see the value of the whole human being, it is distressing that Americans refuse to do the same for a person’s weight. Why would anyone want to date someone who will land them in the STD clinic? How dangerous is that? And yet, such a person is clearly seen as a better romantic choice than a heavy person. Here is a case where weight prejudice is certainly more dangerous to the person with the prejudice than it is to the fat person. Another area of discrimination based on weight is in employ- ment, both in getting hired in the first place and in receiving equal pay for equal work. In 1998, Wann pointed out that the average fat woman earns about $7000 less per year than her thinner sisters (80). Today, things are still not improving. As of 2004, a study from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that obese men and women suffered a “wage penalty” for their excess weight. For men, wages ranged from 0.7–3.4% less than their slimmer cowork- ers, while for women the wage losses ranged from 2.3 to 6.1% (qtd. in Puhl and Heuer, “The Stigma of Obesity” 10). Here, as in other areas, we find that obese women are penalized more by society than obese men. Either way, in many jobs, a person’s weight has noth- ing to do with the quality of their performance. In my case, I teach
Introduces an example by integrating information from a source.
Comments on the idea from the source.
Invites the reader to think about disabilities, weight.
The first sentence is a claim. The rest of the paragraph is support.
Information from sources supports the claim.
The essay writer comments on the support information above.
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English at a community college. Jobs in academia require an advanced degree, so I happen to have a Ph.D., which has nothing to do with my body size, unless you want to count the weight I gained from thousands of hours sitting reading, sitting at a keyboard, sitting grading papers.
At the least, given the reports and studies, we can conclude that weight prejudice is not merely aesthetic judgment. It’s an alarming trend, just like obesity itself, that hurts real people. When people are denied a place to live or a means of support not because of any bad behavior or lack of character or talent on their part but because of someone else’s wrongheaded notions, then we need to get our minds straightened out.
The messages are particularly insidious when they suggest that being thin is more important than a man’s or, more often, a woman’s relationships with her loved ones or even than her health. The media churn the images out, but the public too often internalizes them. For example, in one commercial for Slim Fast, the woman on the ad is prattling on about how she had gained weight when she was preg- nant (seems to me, if you make a person, you ought to be entitled to an extra ten pounds) and how awful she felt. Then there is a shot of this woman months later as a thin person with her toddler in her yard. She joyously proclaims that Slim Fast is “the best thing that ever happened to me!” The best thing that ever happened to her?! I thought I heard wrong. What about that little child romping by her heels? Presumably, there is a daddy somewhere for that little cherub. What about his role in her life? The thought that losing that weight is the most important thing that ever occurred in her life is sad and terrifying. It’s even worse for the folks who share that life with her. I kept hoping that was not what she meant. I’m sure her family is really most important. But she didn’t say, “Next to my baby, Slim Fast is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Advertisers don’t spend millions of dollars creating ads that don’t say what they intend them to; this message was deliberate. Granted, this is only one ad, but the message is clear: The consumer is the center of the universe, and being thin is the only way to ensure that universe remains a fun place to live. The constant repetition of this message in various forms does the damage to the humans who watch and learn.
While we can shrug off advertisements as silly, when we see these attitudes reflected among real people, the hurt is far less easy to brush away. For instance, in her essay, “Bubbie, Mommy, Weight
Allusion to a popular item, Slim Fast, as support for the claim above it.
Thinness ads damage minds lives.
Addresses an opposing point: that ads are harmless.
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235Ann Marie Paulin Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters
Watchers and Me,” Barbara Noreen Dinnerstein recalls a time in her childhood when her mother took her to Weight Watchers to slim down and the advice the lecturer gave to the women present: “She told us to put a picture of ourselves on the ’fridgerator of us eating and looking really fat and ugly. She said remember what you look like. Remember how ugly you are” (347).
I have a problem with this advice. First, of course, it is too darn common. Fat people are constantly being told they should be ashamed of themselves, of their bodies. And here we see another of those misconceptions I mentioned earlier: the assumption that being fat is the same as being ugly. There are plenty of attractive fat people in the world, as well as a few butt-ugly thin ones, I might add. Honestly, though, the real tragedy is that while few people in this world are truly ugly, many agonize over the belief that they are. Dr. Pipher reported: “I see clients who say they would rather kill themselves than be overweight” (91). Pipher wrote of these attitudes in 1995, but there is not much evidence to suggest we have become any more reasonable or sensible. In fact, in the article “Stigma and Discrimination in Weight Management and Obesity,” Brownell and Puhl cite a 2001 study which showed that “28% of teachers in one study said that becoming obese is the worst thing that can happen to a person” (21). Statements like this make me despair for my pro- fession. We are supposed to encourage critical thinking, not mind- lessly parrot nonsense and pass it on to the younger generation. And if people think being fat is the worst thing that can happen, they have not watched the world news lately. How would people feel if the attitude was reversed: The worst thing you can be is thin. All those skinny students must be lazy and stupid. They haven’t got enough sense to eat enough or to look the way we want them to. Why bother with them? And don’t think that idea doesn’t apply to fat prejudice. Brownell and Puhl cite another study that shows “controlling for income and grades, parents provide less college support for their overweight children than for their thin children” (21). What is up with that? A person’s weight certainly has nothing to do with his or her intellect or curiosity about the world. Plus, based on the data I’ve reported so far, we plus size folks need all the education we can get just to struggle up to a living wage.
And don’t think teachers are the only educated people with crazy ideas about overweight folks. Based on my research, the medical profession is full of people who despise us. “Stigma and
Provides an example, from an essay, as support.
Analysis of the opposing logic.
Transition from the field of education to the medical profession.
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Discrimination in Weight Management and Obesity” reports that “24% of nurses say they are ‘repulsed’ by obese persons” (21). That’s a virulently negative attitude to get from someone upon whom your life may depend. And according to Puhl and Heuer, things are just as depressing with the doctors: “In a study of over 620 primary care physicians, 50% viewed obese patients as awkward, unattract- ive, ugly, and noncompliant” (“Stigma of Obesity” 4). But how many people are willing to be compliant with someone who makes them feel awkward, unattractive, and ugly? The article goes on to explain that “one-third of the sample [of doctors] further character- ized obese patients as weak-willed, sloppy, and lazy” (4). That’s a lot of judgments to make after a ten-minute office visit. Shoot, my doctor is a republican, and if I’m willing to overlook that, the least he can do is overlook a few extra pounds. But, all kidding aside, this prejudice may have real and dangerous effects. Overweight people often do not seek medical care, especially preventive care. Puhl and Heuer go on to report:
Several studies show that obese persons are less likely to under- go age-appropriate screenings for breast, cervical, and colorec- tal cancer. Furthermore, research shows that lower rates of preventive care exist independently of factors that are typically associated with reduced health care use, such as less education, lower income, lack of health insurance, and greater illness bur- den. (“Stigma of Obesity” 7)
This bullying of the overweight is not only coming from professional and public life. Sadly many people face the cruelest ridicule from family, those we count on most for love and support. Another example of this bullying comes from Pipher’s book Hunger Pains: The Modern Woman’s Tragic Quest for Thinness. Pipher recounts a conversation she overheard one day in a dress shop:
I overheard a mother talking to her daughter, who was trying on party dresses. She put on each dress and then asked her mother how she looked. Time after time, her mother respond- ed by saying, “You look just awful in that, Kathy. You’re so fat nothing fits you right.” The mother’s voice dripped with dis- gust and soon Kathy was crying. (89)
Pipher goes on to suggest that Kathy’s mother is a victim of the culture, too, because she realizes how hard the world will be on her
Support from various sources is introduced and cited.
Family, too, may ridicule the overweight.
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237Ann Marie Paulin Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters
fat daughter. Unfortunately, what she doesn’t realize is how much better her daughter’s quality of life would be if she felt loved by her mother. Puhl and Heuer cite the results of a 2006 study of 2,449 overweight and obese women. “Participants were provided with a list of 22 different individuals and asked how often each individual had stigmatized them because of their weight. Family members were the most frequent source of weight stigma, reported by 72% of partici- pants” (qtd. in “Stigma of Obesity” 10).
And the familial insensitivity doesn’t stop at adulthood. In Camryn Manheim’s book Wake Up! I’m Fat, the actress discusses her battle with her weight. She expected many of the difficulties she encountered from people in the entertainment industry, which is notorious for its inhuman standards of thinness for women. But when she gained some weight after giving up smoking, she was stunned when her father told her she should start smoking again until she lost the weight (78). In The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America, W. Charisse Goodman cites a 1987 study that concluded: “When good health practices and appearance norms coincide, women benefit; but if current fashion dictated poor health practices, women might then engage in those practices for the sake of attractiveness” (30). Like taking up smoking to stay slim.
Certainly everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion of what is attractive, but no one has the right to damage another human being for fun or profit. The media and the diet industry often do just that. While no one can change an entire culture overnight, people, especially parents, need to think about what they really value in the humans they share their lives with and what values they want to pass on to their children. We need to realize that being thin will not fix all our problems, though advertisements for diets and weight loss aids suggest this. Losing weight may, indeed, give a man or woman more confidence, but it will not make a person smarter, more generous, more loving, or more nurturing. It won’t automatically attract the dream job or the ideal lover. On the contrary, people who allow the drive to be thin to control them may find that many other areas of their lives suffer: They may avoid some celebrations or get-togethers because of fear they may be tempted to eat too much or the “wrong” foods. They may cut back on intellectual activities like reading or enjoying concerts or art museums because those activities cut into their exercise time too much. The mania for thinness can cause a person to lose all perspective and balance in life. I know. It happened
The writer continues her claim/support approach, beginning the paragraph with a claim then using authorities (Manheim and later Good- man) as support.
The closing paragraph drives home the argument:
• everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion
• but no one has the right to damage another human being for fun or profit
• the media and diet industry do that
• no one can change an entire culture overnight
• but people, parents need to think about what they really value
• we need to realize . . . .
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to me. My moment of revelation came about twelve years ago. I was a size ten, dieting constantly and faithfully keeping lists of every bite I ate, trying to lose fifteen more pounds. While I was watching the evening news, a story came on about a young woman who was run over by a bus. I vividly recall that as the station played the footage of the paramedics wheeling the woman away on a stretcher, I said to myself, “Yeah, but at least she’s thin.” I’ve been lucky enough to have gained some wisdom (as well as weight) with age: I may be fat, but I’m no longer crazy. There are some things more important than being thin.
Works Cited Brownell, Kelly D., et al. “Personal Responsibility and Obesity: A
Constructive Approach to a Controversial Issue.” Health Affairs, vol. 29, no. 3, Mar.-Apr. 2010, pp. 378–86.
Brownell, Kelly D., and Rebecca Puhl. “Stigma and Discrimination in Weight Management and Obesity.” The Permanente Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, Summer 2003, pp. 21–23.
Dinnerstein, Barbara Noreen. “Bubbie, Mommy, Weight Watchers and Me.” Worlds in Our Words: Contemporary American Women Writers, edited by Marilyn Kallet and Patricia Clark, Prentice Hall, 1997, pp. 347–49.
Goodman, W. Charisse. The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America. Gurze Books, 1995.
Manheim, Camryn. Wake Up! I’m Fat. Broadway Books, 1999. Pipher, Mary. Hunger Pains: The Modern Woman’s Tragic Quest for
Thinness. Ballantine Books, 1995. Puhl, Rebecca, and Chelsea Heuer. “Obesity Stigma: Important
Considerations for Public Health.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 100, no. 6, June 2010, pp. 1019–28. PubMed Central, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491.
—. “The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update.” Obesity, vol. 17, no. 5, May 2009, pp. 1–23. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1038/ oby.2008.636.
Wann, Marilyn. Fat! So? Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size. Ten Speed Press, 1998.
1. Why do you think Paulin refers to “overweight” people as “fat”? What is the effect of this word on readers?
Back to the personal situation and relaxed voice.
Sanity is better than insane thinness. The conclusion ties back to the intro.
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239Ann Marie Paulin Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters
2. Paulin helps readers to understand her main ideas by stating them at the beginning of paragraphs. Find three paragraphs in this essay that begin with the main idea. Do those sentences also connect the paragraph to the previous paragraph? If so, describe how.
3. Paulin uses written sources to support her argument. In some places she directly quotes the sources; in others she paraphrases or summarizes (that is, she puts what the source says in her own words). Find an example of each (quote, paraphrase, summary). How do you know the information is from a source? Does Paulin make that clear? Notice how Paulin introduces the information and punctuates it.
4. Paulin’s conclusion does not merely summarize points she has already made. Reread the conclusion and describe how it goes beyond mere summary. What does it try to do?
5. Paulin seems to know that her audience needs to be nudged along to accept her point. In your view, what particular rhetorical strategy is most effective at nudging readers to see the real harm of the media’s portrayal of weight?
1. How is weight a public issue?
2. In her opening paragraph, Paulin says that inaccurate images about weight “have shifted our vision of what is important in life way out of whack, so far out that people are being hurt.” Then she calls for perspective. What support can you provide for her claim that our vision of what is important is out of whack? What support can you provide that people are being hurt?
3. Why should or shouldn’t comedians refrain from making fat jokes about specific individuals?
4. In her conclusion, Paulin says, “[P]eople who allow the drive to be thin to control them may find that many other areas of their lives suffer.” Apply her thinking to some other situation besides body weight, and explain how a particular drive has led to suffering.
IDEAS FOR WRITING
1. In what subtle ways are short people marginalized or dismissed in everyday life?
2. What are the quiet hardships of beauty? Focus on one particular struggle that traditionally attractive girls, boys, men, or women encounter.
If responding to one of these ideas, go to the Analysis section of this chapter to begin develop- ing ideas for your essay.
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Hive Talkin’: The Buzz around Town about Bees Teresa Scollon For years, scientists and journalists have been calling on the public to acknowledge the crisis of declining bee populations. The issue has been described and argued about in many books, television programs, and articles. In this essay, Teresa Scollon makes an important move: She localizes the issue and argues about the response from her hometown. Scollon is the author of To Embroider the Ground with Prayer, a poetry collection focusing on rural life in Michigan.
Consider the honeybee: Apis mellifera. Shipped from Europe to Jamestown in 1622, it spread and thrived and multiplied, often in feral colonies. It is as familiar to us as Pooh Bear, another import, who loved his honey, too. The honeybee is sometimes the symbol of the stinging insects we fear, lumped together with all the bugs that sport similar stripes. Or it appears as the whole- some symbol of nature, winged and cute, hovering on the labels of sweet drinks and waxy balms.
Its intricate social arrangements fascinate us. As Thomas Seeley writes in Honeybee Democ- racy, “It is a bee that is beautifully social. We can see this beauty in their nests of golden combs, those exquisite arrays of hexagonal cells sculpted of thinnest beeswax. We can see it further in their harmonious societies, wherein tens of thousands of worker bees, through enlightened self-interest, cooperate to serve a colony’s common good.”
In 1944, Karl von Frisch at the University of Munich discovered that honeybees com- municate directions to food sources by dancing, specifically in a move called the “waggle.” He won the Nobel Prize. Thomas Seeley, quoted above, spent decades studying the honey- bees’ collective decision-making processes, and goes so far as to wistfully surmise that if only humans would take a few cues from bees, we might be better off.
The honeybee, of course, makes honey from the nectar and pollen it collects from flow- ers. And by virtue of its appetites and its fuzz, the bee, like other pollinators, is the necessary accomplice to the reproductive lives of plants.
In other words, the bee completes the circuit, jumps the gap, closes the loop that figures importantly into the food chain. Without bees and other pollinators, one-third of the foods we eat would no longer be available to us. An unknown quantity of food necessary to other forms of life would no longer be available. We’d be in big trouble.
But wait—we are in big trouble. Because the bees are.
North America is home to some 4,000 species of native bees, 420 of them in Michigan, but we aren’t so good at tracking their number or even recognizing their presence, as most of them live as solitaries (bumblebees the social exception). Honeybees, whose pollination
“Hive Talkin’: The Buzz around Town about Bees,” by Teresa Scollon. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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241Teresa Scollon Hive Talkin’: The Buzz around Town about Bees
services have become much more economically significant than their honey products, are animals we raise, rent out and keep track of. We can say for sure that honeybee colonies have drastically declined, and because native bees are subject to the same perils, we deduce that native bees are likely suffering as well.
WHAT’S GOING ON? While bees have always been vulnerable to long winters, disease, pests, drought and storms, they’ve been able to bounce back. Normal annual loss of bee colonies ran at about 10 percent. But the winter/spring of 2006/2007 saw a dramatic change in the resilience of domestic bee populations. Bee colony losses in that year reached 30 percent, and have hovered around that figure ever since. Some beekeepers lost more than 80 percent in 2006. USDA statistics count wintertime die-offs, but now beekeepers were seeing die-offs all year round. The phrase “Colony Collapse Disorder” was coined in 2006 to describe a mysterious phenomenon in which adult bees simply and suddenly disappeared. Beekeepers would open a hive to find only the queen and brood (developing) bees.
A resulting period of intense research points to a complex set of pressures on both domes- tic and wild bees that includes “disease, a parasite known as the varroa mite, pesticides, extreme weather and poor nutrition tied to a loss of forage plants,” according to an article in the May 14 New York Times. USDA documents add “sublethal effects of pesticides,” gut microbes and lack of genetic variation to the list.
Harvard School of Public Health studies in 2012 and 2014 determined a link between post-winter colony collapse and the increased use of a family of systemic pesticides called neo- nicotinoids, or neonics for short. These chemicals are used as sprays for plants or marinades for seeds. The plants take the chemicals up into their vascular systems, and any creature that feeds on the leaves, pollen or nectar ingests the poison. While a neonic dose may not kill an individual bee, the aggregate effect on a hive can be deadly. The neonics impair the bees’ neu- rological functions, perhaps including the ability to navigate back to a hive.
Nutritional deficiencies are due to increasing conversion of bee-friendly fields to mono- cropping of soybeans or corn, which provide little bee sustenance. The hyper-manicuring of lawns in commercial developments and sprawling suburbs destroys wild habitat and forage. Gone are the strips of wildflowers and so-called “weeds” that supported native insects. Finally the drift and increasing use of herbicides kills off wild vegetation, starving bees and forcing them to feed on pesticide-treated crops.
DOWN-HOME RESPONSE Several concerned organizations, including Michigan State University, are collaborating in the Integrated Crop Pollination Project, trying to better understand the role of bees in cropping systems. Nikki Rothwell, PhD, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, notes that growers and beekeepers are working together with honeybee health in mind.
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Some municipalities have allowed urban beekeepers to set up shop, and several states have established grant and other supportive programs for beginning beekeepers. With more small backyard hives, says Rothwell, we are adding more bees to an area, which may contribute to increased genetic diversity of honeybees.
In December 2012, Traverse City joined in, amending zoning rules to allow beekeeping within certain constraints. The amendment was proposed and championed by a group of interested citizens, Slabtown resident Kima Kraimer chief among them. According to Kraimer, supporting the local cultivation of honeybees supports this area’s priorities and way of life.
For a region increasingly eating—and banking on—locally grown food, food products and the tourists they bring, a local supply of pollinators is crucial. The typical city lot has plenty of room for hives and bee-friendly plantings. And, says Kraimer, for a city and region so dependent on agriculture, it was simply incongruent to have an ordinance against bees. She felt it was important to get Traverse City up to speed with the rest of the world in regards to urban beekeeping.
The ordinance in question is Chapter 610: Animals. And while the description of prohib- ited animals that cause “annoyance or disturbance in a neighborhood, by making sounds com- mon to its species” might bring to mind a human neighbor or two, the ordinance’s intended focus is pesky bees, crowing roosters and the like. The original ban on bees and other livestock dates to 1966 in an effort to attract city tourists to the area and shed Traverse City’s self-image as a rural backwater. But as TC residents are discovering, there are some good things about rural backwaters, including better access to food production and healthy ecosystems. And now the pendulum is swinging back.
A 2009 amendment allows for keeping chickens, and the 2012 amendment allowing bees was written in a similar format, according to Missy Luick, planning and engineering assistant for the city. Compared to other municipalities, she says, the Traverse City ordinance is rela- tively simple but strict, allowing only two colonies per parcel. The amendment did not pass unanimously at either the planning or the commission level and discussion unearthed fears of litigation and bees on the move. The inclusion of city notification of a beekeeper’s neighbors appeared to pacify nervous commissioners.
By way of contrast, an Ypsilanti ordinance begins with language that acknowledges a larger purpose: “Whereas, honey bees are beneficial to mankind and to Michigan in particular … ” and quiets possible fears with “Whereas, gentle strains of honey bees can be maintained within populated areas in reasonable densities to fill an ecological niche … without causing a nui- sance if the honey bees are properly located, carefully managed and maintained.”
Whatever its language, with the Traverse City ordinance in place, six parties applied for the beekeeping permit in 2013, and four in 2014. Education about bees has picked up. Cherryland Garden Club and ISLAND offer workshops, and Oryana Natural Foods spent the month of June educating the public about bees and pollinators with information and novel displays. They pulled black cloth over produce that requires pollination to show that without bees and other friends, we simply wouldn’t have many of our favorite and most nutritious foods.
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243Teresa Scollon Hive Talkin’: The Buzz around Town about Bees
Says Sandi McArthur, Oryana’s education and outreach coordinator, “All these factors are coming down on this tiny bee, which is responsible for the amazing bounty that we enjoy every day. As humans we need to see the fragile relationships, the connections between our- selves and the natural world, so we can live more synchronistically and in balance. We need to look at what we are doing and change those practices that we know are harmful and support practices that are supportive of all life. We know what we need to do; now we just need to follow through and do it.”
That connection, ultimately, is not only a smart move, but a deeply fulfilling one, as Kraimer, who kept bees until their collapse this winter, attests. “Taking on beekeeping isn’t just a task or project,” she says. “It’s a deep, fulfilling connection to ecology. When you’re actually working with hives, that’s magic. You’re tapping into a deep, mysterious ecological process, and being reminded, as a human, of our role in that.”
Kraimer hopes that even residents who don’t keep bees will keep asking themselves about their role and responsibility relative to ecological systems. What we are doing in our own yards will have an impact, for better or worse, on the ecosystem. The more we are aware of that, the better we can redirect our impact to reduce pollution and the demise of species. “Bees are dying,” she says. “And thinking that we are somehow apart from that is not correct.” In fact, she says, most of us already have bees making honey in our yards—we just don’t know it’s happening.
If our yards are part of an ecosystem, the online boast of a Ticker respondent who keeps a “bug-free” yard just doesn’t make sense. Why have a yard at all? Why not sling up a hammock in a concrete box? And what does that guy/gal plan to eat for the rest of his/her over-scrubbed days? And what, exactly, should we do about our human propensities for alienation, hyper- vigilance, taking an impulse too far? The best strategy seems to lie in paying attention to con- nections and how human beings are part of a larger ecological system in which every creature, beautiful or not, plays a crucial part. Our crucial part is, at the very least, to pay attention and to change those activities and practices that we already know do harm.
Funny how talk of bees soon lights on traits we wish, perhaps, to cultivate in ourselves: harmony, cooperation, industry, beauty, service. And the perils bees face—the intersecting effects of chemicals, land use, climate change—are perils we face as well. Maybe we are getting the hang of investigating multi-faceted issues. Maybe the primal pull to see ourselves as part of something bigger will be irresistible and productive. Maybe bees, in one more service to humans, will teach us to step into our role of understanding and supporting the web of life.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke would agree. For him, the physical world was the entry into the invisible, or spiritual, world. “It is crucial,” he wrote in 1925, “not only that we not corrupt and degrade what constitutes the here and now, but … [that it] be comprehended by us in a most fervent understanding and transformed.
“Transformed? Yes, for our task is to imprint this provisional, perishable earth into our- selves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again ‘invisibly’ inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.”
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1. What is the essay’s main claim (or thesis)?
2. How would you describe Scollon’s writer’s voice? Do you think her voice changes, even slightly, throughout the essay? Use particular passages to support your response.
3. What passages most clearly convey the public resonance of Scollon’s essay?
4. Where does the essay effectively use one of the following support strategies: example, allusion, personal testimony, scenario, statistic, authority, facts, appeal to logic, emotion, character, need or value?
5. While Scollon’s argument focuses on bees, it suggests something more. Explain what the essay suggests (or argues indirectly) about people. Identify key passages in Scollon’s essay to support your point.
1. What makes Scollon’s essay an argument and not just a report on bees?
2. What does Scollon mean by “there are some good things about rural backwaters”? How might Traverse City residents have changed their thinking about this?
3. In what way does Scollon think our human propensities can affect bees?
4. What are the reasons why bees could be struggling to survive?
IDEAS FOR WRITING
1. In what other way is your yard part of an ecosystem, and how is that important?
2. In what less obvious way are humans connected to some other wild animal?
If responding to one of these ideas, go to the Analysis section of this chapter to begin develop- ing ideas for your essay.
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225April Pedersen The Dog Delusion
The Dog Delusion April Pedersen Sometimes writers examine the behaviors and reflexes that seem most harmless. When a trend seems uncritically accepted in everyday life, writers step forward. In this essay, April Pedersen, a writer and illus- trator living in Reno, Nevada, goes after a seemingly innocent behavior: dog idolization. As the argument develops, Pedersen deals with a range of opposing positions and assumptions.
There was a time when “Dog is my co-pilot” was merely a fun slap at the “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker, and it was funny precisely because nobody would ever think to elevate their dog to such a height. Within the past decade, however, pets—primarily dogs—have soared in importance. (“Dog is my co-pilot” is now the slogan of Bark, a magazine of dog culture, and the title of an anthology—published by Bark’s editors—billed as essays, short stories, and expert commentaries that explore “every aspect of our life with dogs.”) Canines, with their pack instincts and trainability, are by far the most likely pet to be anthropomorphized as a family member, a best friend, or a “fur baby,” treated accordingly with gourmet meals, designer apparel, orthopedic beds, expensive therapy, and catered birthday parties. Some people even feel (and in some cases, demonstrate) that their dogs are worth dying for. Others say the animal lovers are going too far.
In a Pew Research Center study, 85 percent of dog owners said they consider their pet to be a member of their family. However the latest trend is to take that a step further in see- ing the animal as a child. A company that sells pet health insurance policies has dubbed the last Sunday in April as “Pet Parents Day.” Glance through magazines like Bark, Cesar’s Way (courtesy of “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan), and other mainstream publications, and the term “pet parent” crops up regularly. The “my-dogs-are-my-kids” crowd isn’t being tongue- in-cheek, either. They act on their beliefs, buying Christmas presents, photos with Santa, cosmetic surgery, and whatever-it-takes medical care for their animal. In fact having a puppy, claimed one “mother,” is “exactly the same in all ways as having a baby.” And while pushing a dog around in a stroller would have gotten you directions to a mental health facility twenty years ago, today it’s de rigueur to see a canine in a stroller (or a papoose), and some passersby are downright disappointed to discover a human infant inside.
Who’s to say what a pet’s value is (aside from the purchase price)? Shouldn’t people be free to spend whatever they want on things for their dog? What real harm is there in believ- ing one’s schnauzer is a “child who never grows up?” The implications are more ridiculous
April Pedersen, “The Dog Delusion,” from The Humanist Magazine, November/December 2009. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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and far reaching than you might expect. Take the widely held notion that dogs give us unconditional love and nonjudgmental loyalty. Praising dogs for being incapable of act- ing like bad people is not only junk logic, it turns the animal into an idealized (godlike?) version of ourselves, to be rewarded with all manner of pampering. How can the compara- tively complex human being compete with creatures said to exude unwavering faithfulness, forgiveness, trust, love, and innocence? Pets are pegged as more loving, more pure, more giving, more devoted. They are implied to be our moral superiors for not stealing money, starting wars, or judging people by their physical appearance. They accept us for who we are, while we come across as scheming, judgmental malcontents who love on condition only. I have quite a collection of misanthropic utterances from dog lovers, most along the lines of “I’ll take dogs over humans any day,” and “dogs love without having an agenda!” It’s no surprise that many dog lovers would rather be stranded on an island with a dog than with their spouse (or with any other person for that matter). Then there’s the CEO who said he doesn’t trust clients who don’t have pets. How sadly similar to the religious who say they don’t trust nonbelievers.
Further undermining humans, dogs trained for various tasks are routinely referred to as soldiers, officers, actors, therapists, heroes, or athletes. But a police dog simply can’t know the moral difference between a stash of cocaine and an old sock. One of the most absurd examples of anthropomorphism I’ve seen was a funeral for a drug-sniffing dog. The sheriff ’s department went all out with a motorcade, flag-draped casket, bag pipers playing “Amazing Grace,” a eulogy from a pastor, and a rose-adorned easel on which the dog’s por- trait rested. Officers from all across the Western United States paid their respects, and the service received heavy local media coverage. All this for an animal that couldn’t even grasp what a “law” was.
“Dogs are for people who can’t have kids,” a gay newspaper columnist told me recently. It’s true that homosexual (and straight) couples who can’t or don’t want children of their own often migrate towards dogs as child substitutes and view the arrangement as a different kind of family, but a family nonetheless. Such dog-based “families” may at first blush seem benign
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227April Pedersen The Dog Delusion
or even beneficial. After all, people with a family mentality are more likely to form stable, safe neighborhoods and have a vested interest in the community. Those without children may benefit from nurturing a living creature and learning to be less self-centered. But doesn’t it make more evolutionary sense to want to care for the young of your own species over another species? Couples without kids for whatever reason could still opt to be foster parents, mentors, or Big Brothers/Sisters to make a positive difference in a child’s life instead of funneling all their concerns into dogs. And what about devoting one’s time to saving endangered species of animals (whose survival also affects that of humans)?
Yet each day dogs gain more and more importance, protection, and access to realms once reserved for humans. Michigan is considering a bill that would allow pet care as a tax write-off. What’s next? Dogs counted as residents in the U.S. Census?
This shift in the status of dogs hasn’t gone unnoticed by animal rights advocates. Already thirteen U.S. cities have ordinances that ditch “pet owner” for “pet guardian.” The change is intended to be merely symbolic, its fans claim. If so, why make the effort? I worry it’s a foot in the door to gradually desensitize society to the outlandish idea of pets being the equals of minor children. Allowing ourselves to glance down the slippery slope, we might foresee absurd lawsuits over injuries to pets, murder charges for those suspected of negligence in a pet’s death, and laws requiring guardians to strap their fur kids into car seats, or to walk them twice a day, or giving any number of rights to the animals. Recently dog owners have begun to demand off-leash beaches and trails, under the premise that dogs have a “right” to run free. What’s next, making spaying or neutering a crime, because pets should have the right to reproduce? Or allowing dogs to bite people or chase livestock in order to fulfill their right to behave as predators? Where would the “pet” line for special status be drawn? At gerbils? Ferrets? Canar- ies? Hermit crabs? The funny part is, not even the pet industry can decide if pets are children or property. In ads hawking pet supplies, dogs and cats are promoted as family members, loved ones, and babies. Yet the defense strategy, if sued over, say tainted pet food or a defective squeaky toy, is to focus only on the economic aspect of the pet.
Viewing dogs as our children extends to risking life and limb to save them as well. What would evolutionary psychologists make of healthy people of reproductive age leaping to their deaths into scalding hot springs, icy rivers, or smoke-filled infernos in an attempt to rescue a possibly neutered animal? Among surveyed pet owners, 93 percent, which includes the young and childless, would do just that. Of course, most dog owners fully expect their pet to save them, Lassie style, should the need arise. But if not trained for rescue work, most dogs would simply stare, hide, or eat the contents of their owner’s picnic basket as their master sinks under the lake’s surface. Cases abound where pets happen to save people from perilous situations, but they, the pets, were acting as animals, not as humans.
One can always argue that, from an environmental perspective, the pets-as-kids thing makes sense. With the human population reaching unsustainable numbers, pets can fill our desire to nurture without adding to the surplus of humans. Even so, dogs still eat a lot and produce a lot of waste (which has to be cleaned up unless the status lift requires potty
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training). And don’t forget that dogs have to come from somewhere, and parents will show preferences for certain breeds. Puppy mills would be happy to meet the increased demand for dogs, if it can be considered ethical in the best of circumstances to take puppies away from their mothers and litter mates and give them to another species to raise them. Interestingly, our popular pets such as the domestic dog play no balancing role in any ecosystem; they are human-developed and human-maintained. Even feral dogs prefer to hang around our villages, urban areas, and garbage dumps instead of returning to the woods to dance with wolves. And if too many people opted against having children in favor of pets, the result couldn’t be good for economies; children are the future workforce, consumers, voters, tax payers, innovators, you name it.
Let’s outsmart dogs a little by cutting back on the over-the-top stuff. The dogs won’t notice. Funds spent on a dog’s blueberry facial or in-room canine massage at a swanky hotel ($130 an hour) are about as close to setting a pile of cash on fire in front of a destitute person as I can imagine. Ditto on buying a sweater for an animal covered in fur, or a carob- coated eclair for a scat eater, or personalized cookies for the species that can’t read (that would be all species except us). Certainly dogs can’t visualize themselves as Homo sapiens of any age, and are becoming obese and even ill-mannered at the hands of their besotted owners. It makes no sense whatsoever to pour so much time, money, and emotion into an animal whose main “goal” in life is to leave its scent on a tree. Think about it—how would you like to be a dog? To be unable to talk, write, or question. To look upon a masterpiece of art without an ounce of admiration, to gaze at the starry night without an iota of wonder, to see a book and have not the slightest inclination to open it, or stare without comprehen- sion at a voting booth.
It’s fine to enjoy a pet. I’ve had several myself, including a cat that lived eighteen years. When his kidneys failed, a $12,000 kidney transplant was off the radar (a case can be made that such surgery on an animal is unethical anyway), and I didn’t consider him to be my son. This need not diminish pets. We can enjoy them for what they are, without the anthropo- morphic delusion.
WRITING STRATEGIES 1. Plenty of pet owners would disagree with Pedersen’s claims. Explain how Pedersen takes on opposing views.
Describe a particular passage and explain how she pushes back or refutes the opposition.
2. How does Pedersen concede to the opposition or qualify her points? Describe particular passages. (For information on concessions and qualifiers, see pages 259–260.)
3. Explain how Pedersen uses appeals to logic. (See pages 256–257 for an understanding of appeals.)
4. Read about logical fallacies on pages 260–262. How does Pedersen’s use of slippery slope impact her argument?
5. Pedersen appeals to values throughout her argument. What particular appeals to value do you detect?
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229April Pedersen The Dog Delusion
1. Pedersen explains that “our popular pets such as the domestic dog play no balancing role in any ecosystem; they are human-developed and human-maintained.” Why is this point important to her argument?
2. Explain why it would be wrong to characterize Pedersen as “anti-dog.”
3. Pedersen compares some pet owners to “the religious who say they don’t trust nonbelievers.” Consider this comparison. How might dog ownership resemble religious belief or practice?
4. Even if you disagree vehemently with Pedersen, why might she have a sound position?
IDEAS FOR WRITING
1. Consider some other widely accepted form of ownership. How might it be undermining human development?
2. What particular aspect of dog ownership makes people more humane?
If responding to one of these ideas, go to the Analysis section of this chapter to begin develop- ing ideas for your essay.
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