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Op-Ed: Frank Bloksberg | Why Aikido'Ka Won't Be at this Year's Fair or Why Elephant Rides and Respect Don't Mix


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By: Frank Bloksberg

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. July 23, 2013 - An Open Letter to the Community,

My name is Frank Bloksberg. I have lived in Nevada City for about 18 years. I am a lawyer and run a martial arts school, in Grass Valley, called Aikido'Ka. At Aikido'Ka, we train in aikido – known as the "Art of Peace." Aikido'Ka is different than other martial arts schools, because we are dedicated to peacefully resolving disputes and performing community service. For instance, we have raised over $13,000 and 6,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank.

Aikido'Ka has been open for 6 years. We've had a booth at every County Fair since we've been open. The County Fair is a huge outreach opportunity for us. We meet a lot of our future students there. Deciding not having a booth is a really big deal for us.

Aikido is based upon respect – respect for our fellow students, teachers, our training space. The respect inherent in aikido is a deep, profound respect. Without the support, trust and willingness of our fellow practitioners, we cannot practice the art and improve ourselves in the ways that aikido provides.

By design, the respect that we learn spreads to the rest of our lives. And for that reason, I have to seriously consider the respect/ethical implications of supporting a Fair that offers elephant rides to entertain children.

Elephants are intelligent, wild and very dangerous animals. The only way to help ensure that they are reasonably safe in unpredictable public situations is to use training techniques that are extremely powerful. We know that the training techniques involve some pain and fear.

Whether the training techniques are brutal or abusive doesn't matter. One may be able to argue in good faith that abusing a creature is ethical for an incredibly important purpose. Or one may be able to argue in good faith that causing pain and fear in a creature is ethical for a really good reason. I might disagree with these arguments, but one may be able to make the arguments in good faith.

In my personal view, the value of entertaining children with an elephant ride is trivial, at best. In other words, what a child receives from riding an elephant is not worth putting the elephant through anything at all. It certainly cannot justify taking elephant babies from their mothers or putting elephants in fear or pain. It certainly cannot justify the risks involved in moving elephants around the country and placing them in unpredictable public situations where they can hurt people.

To me, the only ways to conclude that elephant rides are appropriate is to consider the rides of far greater value than I do or to completely disregard the elephants' interests. Please do not think that I am placing the elephants' interests over human interests. I am saying that we must consider the elephants' interests to ethically decide what to do. And, here, where the value received from elephant rides is so small in comparison to the harms inherent in offering elephant rides, I cannot ethically support the rides.

Now that I have concluded that offering elephant rides at the Fair is unethical, should Aikido'Ka have a booth or perform aikido demonstrations at the Fair? If respect means anything, acting respectfully must include acting ethically.

If Aikido'Ka supports the Fair by participating and paying our fees, then we directly and indirectly support the presence of the elephant rides. We would support the rides directly because HTWT will not be paying the Fair anything at all. So we would, in part, be paying for HTWT's presence. We would support the rides indirectly by letting the Board know that we will support their decisions even if those decisions are unethical.

We could have a booth and place a banner saying that we don't support the elephant rides. We cannot do that, because that seems hypocritical to me. We'd be supporting HTWT's presence, while trying to convince everyone that we didn't.

For these reasons, and others, we won't have a booth at this year's Fair.

Each year at the Fair, we offer a "Fair Special." The Special is always really good. Since we won't be at the Fair this year, we'll be offering a really good "Un-Fair Special." Please watch for it. We'll announce it soon.

 

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