Archive for January, 2015

Martin Luther King Day

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Every Martin Luther King Day I read something he wrote.  This morning I spent a long time looking through a pictorial biography and then looking at his last Sunday morning sermon delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington,  March 31, 1968.  His remarks remain strikingly relevant for us today, although I imagine he would recognize in these times the need to use inclusive language since he had a way of understanding the interrelationship of all oppression.

“Through our technological and scientific genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet . . . .  we have not had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood [beloved community].  But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters].  Or we will perish as fools.  We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in the inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

Public Aquariums and Slave Trade: Notes from a Visit to the Shedd Aquarium

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Last Monday I visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago after hearing a program on ecological issues in the Great Lakes presented by two staff from the Aquarium.  Little did I realize that my visit would bring me to an awareness of a different form of slavery, captivity of wild marine life for profit.  Yes, the Aquarium has a wide variety of fish species that I would not have otherwise seen, two varieties of penguins, Beluga Whales and dolphins.  Yes, there are many varied habitats from oceans, lakes and rivers, all artificially constructed to resemble natural habitats where the fish reside.  Yes, there is an educational purpose.  I admit,  I learned much as I strolled through the Aquarium and took many pictures just as I learned much from the presentation on the Great Lakes.

As I wandered from one tank to another I noticed several common threads.  Often the fish would look at me.  I make many images in the wild of birds and wildlife and try to get them looking at me.  This gives a sense of connection since I am related to everything, not just by having eye contact but in the larger sense of an inherent natural relationship of everything on earth, indeed in the universe.  As I connected visually with a number of the creatures at Shedd I felt they were trying to tell me something: Let me out of here! I’d rather be at home where I belong, swimming freely.  The feeling became particularly poignant as I watched the Beluga Whales,  for the most part swimming rapidly in circles around their enclosure.  One whale kept coming to the surface, poking his head out and looking at me.  Again I felt he was trying to convey a message: This is not my home.   I have been forcibly removed and am captive.

What is the definition of slavery?    Forcibly removed against one’s will, taken to a different location with escape difficult if not impossible, and used to make money for someone else doing something you don’t enjoy.    Each of the creatures at Shedd is unique.  Indeed we know that even members of the same species from the same habitat that may look the same to us have their own lives and characteristics which often include a strong sense of belonging to a community.  Beluga whales, like most whales and dolphins, are strongly communal and familial.  They are intelligent beings.   When in an aquarium they are usually placed with others not from their family and live lives shortened by their confinement.

We do not like to face the issue of slavery as one of the primary originating foundations of our economic system with lasting and devastating effects on  both the individuals held in captivity, their descendants and those enjoying the benefits of their captivity.   We seldom look at our industrialized society today as one of slavery, though the captivity of most in jobs they don’t enjoy that bring benefits of their life and labor to others, while they feel trapped has the basic features of slavery.  It is likely more difficult for us to apply this term to creatures other than humans since we have been taught we are somehow different, better, more intelligent and have a higher value than creatures who are not human.   We forget that our life is impossible without the trillions of living organisms within our bodies, roughly ten times as many as we have cells.

Today we are destroying many creatures and living habitats through the impact of the society we have created.   Some species of fish have been caught for human food in numbers that have brought them to the threatened or extinct stage.  Indeed some programs of the Shedd address this issue in the Great Lakes, but is that enough of a justification to hold thousands of creatures in slavery for the benefit of those who visit the Aquarium?

I did not know how I would use any of the images from my visit to Shedd since I do not normally use or even take pictures at aquariums, zoos or game farms.    Those I present below are only for you to see what feeling they evoke as you look into their eyes.  Do you have the same sense that I do?

Captive Tiger Ray in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Group of Fish in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Moray Eel in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Magellanic Penguin in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Rockhopper Penguins in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium