I haven’t posted my own thoughts here recently, primarily because I fell down a hole–a Statistical Rabbit Hole, to be precise. While I was down there, I followed a warren labyrinth of passages into human psychology, Human Behavioral Ecology, and other theoretical and field-related disciplines. It took me some time to find my way back to the surface of life.
Progress of the Initiative
There was a period of about 8 days when nothing happened, no matter how I tried to promote the book. No copies were sold. Today, thanks to the help of Michael Dellert, someone purchased a copy, specifically because of the donation drive. This brings the total collected to $17.73. It’s not a great amount, but it represents everyone who has helped–in any way.
I would like to offer my thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my posts, my tweets, my Facebook updates. That, in and of itself, is somewhat shocking in this age of electronic indifference. Thank you for clicking to expand details, reading long blog posts, and even commenting upon my thoughts. This initiative to raise funds for Ahimsa House, and raise consciousness about something over which many avert their eyes and pretend not to have heard.
Domestic violence is ugly. It’s uncomfortable to talk about or even think about. I know it’s uncomfortable, but I won’t dwell on what follows. There’s more to the story, and it involves people who make it their mission to help others. I’ll talk about them, and about some issues I faced last week where my background in Anthropology came to my emotional rescue.
So, Let’s Talk About It
We live in a culture that is simultaneously drowning in the heavy syrup of Sarah McLachlan pleading with you to save animals and also suffocating, because we’re sharing air with so many invisible elephants in the room that cultural oxygen debt becomes normalized. Let’s open some windows, shall we? The purpose of this initiative is to draw attention to the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. I’m doing it because over seven years (2007-2014) 973 women were killed by a spouse or partner. Killed. Not wounded. Not in therapy and hopeless debt for the rest of their natural lives. Ended. Having collated statistical data, I know that the fact that this statistic is already a year old is simply how these things work. How many were added to that toll in the past 13 months? Please add to that these daunting numbers:
- 61,415 women called the certified domestic violence agency crisis hotlines in Georgia during 2014
- 68,313 domestic violence incidents necessitating law enforcement response during 2013.
- 23,010 stalking and restraining orders issued in 2013.
- 7,741 adult victims and their children were offered refuge in domestic violence shelters in 2014.
- 5,879 victims made a request for refuge,but were denied due to lack of space and resources.
And that’s one state of 50. Granted, Georgia has been ranked 17th in the nation for the number of women killed by men. Here’s an extensive resource if you want to research your own area or state. Now, as dark as that picture is, the need to acknowledge those who work on a daily basis to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence becomes crucial.
Ahimsa House and Twelve Years of Helping
This organization was founded by Emily Christie in 2004, after she lost a pet to domestic violence. Since then, they’ve worked tirelessly to expand their operations from the Atlanta Metro Area, in order to help victims of domestic violence throughout Georgia. What’s more is that they’ve succeeded, and offer help to anyone within the state who contacts them with an urgent need. In 2015, they aided 200 pets of more than 120 new clients, and fielded a staggering 2,000 calls to their 24-hour crisis hotline.
The hotline is one of the main ways they assist human victims of DV, connecting them with refuge resources in their area, as well as obtaining details on how they can help pets caught in the cycle of violence. The numbers may seem small in comparison to the above statistics, but this brings me to my next point.
Blinded by the Numbers Game
Many people seem to be numbed by the many staggering statistics with which we’re presented on a daily basis. The human population of the earth, the American National Debt, the number of stars in the observable universe, the age of that Universe. We’re used to hearing about numbers in terms of billions or trillions. So, to say that a scant thousand women lost their lives over the course of seven years often hits that numbed cultural attention, and elicits a so what? response. Here’s what we miss:
Those aren’t numbers. They’re human lives, cut short for rather stupid reasons. It’s like reading that 1000 women died of a paper cut. That’s 1000 holes left in various professional and private spheres, and the rippling effects of those holes have tangible consequences in the lives that were bound to those women. So, when I read that more than 100 women and their pets found safety because of Ahimsa House, I rejoice.
Please consider purchasing a book, available on Amazon. Fifty percent of the proceeds will be donated to Ahimsa House at the end of the fundraiser, April 2nd. I know that many may feel less inclined to participate, simply because they don’t live in Georgia. To that, I feel the need to mention that big things often have small beginnings. Through our collective help, they grow. The past twelve years are testament to how swiftly Ahimsa House has grown, and all the lives they’ve touched. If you’d like to learn more about the organization, visit them at http://ahimsahouse.org/what-we-do/.
Altruism and Human Behavioral Ecology
I’ve often said that experience is the root of empathy, but it needn’t be. I have never personally been trapped in an abusive relationship. Similarly, experience can lead directly to altruistic behavior, but there are deeper reasons for such facets of the human psyche. While struggling with my feelings about personal praise in this regard and anger at a perceived lack of interest in my cause, I had a conversation with an old friend. She’s one of those sorts that always gets Dalai Lama when she takes personality tests, and that’s remarkably apt. One of the most selfless and deeply intelligent human beings in my life, we’ve been friends for 15 years.
She pointed out that A) I’ve always hated personal praise, and B) my stance concerning altruism itself has changed since we first met. In my early 20s, I was jaded about human beings. Much of my cynical attitude has been validated, but the idea that pure altruism doesn’t exist has not. This is largely due to advanced study of Anthropology, with a disciplinary focus on Human Behavioral Ecology, which examines human behavior as a means to reproductive and social fitness within a specific environment.
Altruism goes against the grain for the strictly biological success of an individual. It tends to lessen or even completely curtail the chances of survival for an individual. And yet, we see countless examples of this behavior throughout our history. Moreover, it’s a virtue that is cross-culturally lauded, if not individually or immediately rewarded within cultural bounds. So, what’s the deal? Well, altruism is a biologically beneficial behavior when it comes to consideration of a social group.
The Needs of the Many, Jim…
To shamelessly steal from Mr. Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” When we consider the social group as a complex organism, shifting and adapting to changes within the environment, altruistic behavior assumes a critical import. It is an action or group of actions that serves to restore balance to the social organism, many times at the expense of a single member “cell.” What’s of greater interest to me as an unabashed nerd, is that it is present within the human animal as often or more than the impulse to be selfish or act in a way that serves only the individual enrichment.
In essence, what many biologists and social scientists might have seen as a paradoxical behavior–altruism–is an essential counterbalance to the acknowledged and personally beneficial selfish impulse. It ensures the health of the social group, and when viewed in a continuum, becomes entirely rational. At one point, you have Enlightened Self Interest, which features aspects of altruism, but is inherently self-centered. At the other end, you have pure Altruism, which places the needs of the one at the bottom of the list. Most humans possess a liberal mix of selfishness and selflessness, which we call upon at need, depending on the situation.
On that note, I’m going to close this rather long entry with a little of my own cultural myth–a scene that brings tears to my eyes every time, and a perfect example of pure altruism,