Sunday, November 15, 2015

Being highly sensitive in an evil world

Everyone reacts differently to tragedies. I have been trying to understand and to explain to myself my reactions. The way I experience the world is a result of my innate inclinations and my accumulated life experience. What I want to share here is about me, and where I differ from other people and their reactions, I am not intending to criticise or condemn their responses.

In my journey to understand why I am the way I am, I have realized that I am both an extreme introvert and what is labeled a "highly sensitive" person. The combination of these attributes means that I am easily emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by external events. I have a deep need for a feeling of stability and safety. When I hear about something negative, I feel physically weak and often start crying.

I have lived through many wars, waves of terrorist attacks, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and some personal bereavements, though so far I've had fewer bereavements than many people have experienced by my age. Each of these has left its mark on my psyche. You might think that repeated exposure ought to give me "thick skin", but I think it might be the opposite. The cumulative effect of all this might have made me feel that tragedy is normal and I can never expect to have a life without anxiety and sorrow.

On a rational level, I want to know about what happens in the world and think it is important to be informed. However, on an emotional level this leaves me drained and vulnerable. One reason why we don't have a television is to avoid watching hours of "breaking news" whenever something happens. I do read the newspaper and look at the news online, probably more than is healthy for me, but I don't click on photos or videos with a "graphic content" warning or seek out eye witness accounts.

I also want to point out that my empathy tends to be universal, and I consciously try not to ask whether an event is close to me or far away, whether any of "my" group might be among the victims, or what impact this will have on my future. Any suffering triggers my tears. While it is understandable that people care most about people and events close to them, since we have evolved that way, I think it is time to overcome this "us and them" thinking and extend our circle of empathy.

The terrorist attacks in Paris led about 90% of my Facebook friends to change their profile photos to the French flag. I have not done so. I don't feel the need to declare my sympathy for the victims or my opposition to violence. Anyone who knows me should know my character and opinions. I don't change my profile photo for positive events, either, such as marriage equality. I am who I am all the time and don't feel the need to show an external symbol related to one event. If you have made such a change, I am sure you did this for good reasons of your own. However, if this particular event has touched and moved so many, I have to wonder why other similar attacks in other parts of the world have not. Or perhaps now we will see people constantly changing their profile photos to show which of the latest world events has earned their sympathy!

Whenever there is a major event that leads me to tears, I try to be strong and continue with my life as usual. I have to concentrate on my work, and I want to find solace in the positive aspects of life that continues around me. This is why I spend time watching kittens online. Some may say this is escapism, but for me it is a defence mechanism. I need a large dose of positivity to counteract the evil around us. So when I go online and see constant reminders of tragedy, however well-intentioned, this can be painful for me.

I'm not an avoider and don't think everything negative should come with a "trigger warning". I engage fully with the world, with all the good and the evil. It can just be very painful sometimes, and when my reactions differ so much from other people's I feel even more isolated and vulnerable.

I would like to hope that things will get better and there will be fewer global or local tragedies, but I'm really not optimistic. Evil seems to be prevailing and war is upon us whether we call it that or not. I just hope that people become more aware of the different ways exposure to such evil can affect different people.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Israel's Minister of Agriculture proposes deporting feral cats as an alternative to spaying and neutering

Sometimes a news story seems too ridiculous to be true. Today's newspaper reported that Israel's Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, has stated that spaying and neutering feral cats is "opposed to the Halakhah [Jewish religious law]", and therefore he has proposed either a mass deportation of feral cats, either all the males or all the females, to another country that would accept them, or else finding an alternative to spaying and neutering or killing them, such as "preventing the males' ability to smell the females' heat through sprays, powders, creams, etc.".

This incredible story has so far appeared only in the printed newspaper and not online, so I have scanned it. I hope clicking on the photo will enlarge it enough to make it readable.

[Edit: The story now appears online].

The newspaper, somewhat predictably, chose a punny headline: "Meow, Transpurrr". Transfer is a loaded term here used to describe the proposed relocation of populations as part of a peace settlement, and often used to suggest that the entire non-Jewish population of Israel be "transferred" to Arab countries.

In Israel in recent years over 100,000 feral cats have been spayed and neutered and returned to their colonies by the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities. It was recently reported that Agriculture Minister Ariel had decided to stop funding this project, and an online petition called upon him not to stop funding it. The petition is currently close to its target of 10,000 signatures. Today's report reveals the motivation for this decision and his proposed alternatives.

To address the ridiculous claim first: the Halakhah might oppose neutering on principle, considering it cruel. However, ancient religious laws are not based on scientific studies or observation. It is likely that Mr. Ariel, as a religious Jew, probably considers reproduction to be the foremost duty of humans and animals. It seems to me that religions in general tend to over-sexualize their worldview, considering the male sex drive to be so strong that you can't blame them for their actions, and considering it every female's duty to reproduce.

Extending this idea to cats, perhaps Mr. Ariel believes that male cats denied the opportunity to mate would suffer, and that female cats would be sad never to have kittens. The reality is that sex is just an instinct for animals and not an essential part of their lives. Male cats have to fight to be able to mate with a female, and are often injured by rival males or by the female herself. Female cats certainly don't enjoy the sex act and raising kittens is a severe drain on their resources and health.

In fact, long-term studies from around the world show that feral cats who are spayed and neutered are much healthier and happier. TNR (trap-neuter-return) is considered the most humane and effective way to reduce the population of feral cats. The vast majority of kitten born in the wild die young, through disease, injury, and being eaten by predators. I consider it much more humane to increase the quality of life of those feral cats who are already alive than to blindly support the "right to life", allowing free breeding and ignoring the suffering of the majority of the kittens born as a result. Quality over quantity.

Regarding the suggested alternatives: Moving feral cats elsewhere does not reduce the population, as cats move in from other areas. It would be virtually impossible to gather up all the males or all the females in the country. Some would inevitably evade capture and continue reproducing. Also, sending the problems of feral cat over-population to another country just to avoid having to spay and neuter is inconsiderate of the other country's needs. This reminds me of the way the developed world dumps its toxic waste in developing countries.

The other method, trying to prevent the male cats from realizing that the females are in heat, is just as impossible, and I've never heard of such a method being used in a feral population. If you agree that cats should be prevented from breeding freely, you have to accept the proven method of doing this instead of trying to invent another method. It also seems to me that the religious principle behind forbidding neutering would also apply to other methods that prevent mating, so this proposal contradicts the religious premise itself.

It has been reported that Minister Ariel has so far been considered sympathetic to animal welfare, and we can only hope that the professionals in his ministry and in animal welfare organizations can educate him about TNR and the realities of feral cat reproduction and health, so that he can overcome his religious objections and listen to the voice of science and compassion. Let TNR continue in Israel, and please don't let this country become a laughing stock!