Tag Archives: Ashwin Murthy

The Turkey & Thanksgiving Myth

The history of Thanksgiving has become a hotly contested topic. Many believe the heartwarming story of European settlers and natives celebrating their successful harvest, immortalized in American myths for generations, never happened. Some Native American tribes like the United American Indians of New England  see Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for the genocide of natives.

Hundreds of years later, by continuing to celebrate Thanksgiving by slaughtering turkeys when we don’t even know for sure if those birds were on the menu in the first Thanksgiving dinner, we are perpetuating a culture of violence and validating the bloodshed that has marred the history of Native Americans.

Thanksgiving turkeys — the 46 million of them that aren’t lucky enough to be pardoned by the President–  are forced to live in cramped cages that are too small to even flap their wings, their toes and beaks are cut off without painkillers, and they are killed in the most inhumane manner imaginable as a PETA investigation reveals. This is unfortunate, but not surprising  because there are not even minimum federal standards governing how turkeys live or die, as turkeys are exempt from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

While we turn a blind eye to the abuse of animals in slaughterhouses, as a society we have been very vocal in condemning those accused of animal abuse outside the slaughterhouse.

Football player Michael Vick continues to be hated to this day for engaging in illegal dog fighting.

The reaction to these animal abuses is understandable and laudable, but how are those of us who condoned the abuse of our Thanksgiving turkeys any different?

There is no morally coherent difference between the dog who was kicked and the chicken, pig, cow or turkey that most people will eat today. How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner?

Norm Phelps, in his book Changing the Game: Why The Battle For Animal Liberation Is So Hard And How It Can Be Won notes that our paradoxical values about killing animals for food can be explained through the principle of bounded ethicality.When a belief conflicts with a behavior that people are motivated to maintain due to self interest, cultural norms and so forth, most individuals will find a way to convince themselves that their ethical principles do not apply to their own behavior.

Perhaps this is why stories about dog meat market in China and slaughtering dolphins in Japan lead to overwhelming outrage in the social media, mostly in the form of comments calling “those people” barbaric by those who have don’t bat an eyelid towards the inhumane treatment of animals culturally deemed worthy of consumption.

It is time for us to examine our fundamental views about animal ethics, to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “are we really less barbaric than ‘those people’ who kill dolphins or eat dogs?”

Many omnivores vehemently defend their choice to eat meat by rhetorically asking why we should worry about animals when so many people are starving . Ironically, human starvation is just another reason to reconsider raising animals for food. Every year about 760 million tons of food is fed to farm animals. Of this enormous quantity, only a fraction of calories is consumed as meat, while about 40 million tons of food grains can end the most extreme cases of human starvation.

Vegetarianism is on the rise. A study profiled in a recent New York Times piece finds that 12% of Millennials have now embraced a vegetarian lifestyle, as compared to 4% Gen X’ers,  and 1% of  Baby Boomers.

We should embrace the anti-animal cruelty movement. Continuing to perpetuate the violence, abuse and bloodshed  that marred our history 400 year ago seems unimaginative, medieval and frankly not in line with a progressive society we aspire to become. Let’s not force turkeys to live a short, cruel and thankless life and instead endeavor to create new traditions based on thoughtful reflection, reasoning and compassion.

Spending a minute to ask ourselves what the turkeys have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving is  not too much to do for the sake of the bird you’ll be carving up for dinner.


Ashwin Murthy is a freelance writer and a Silicon Valley based software engineer. 

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Should Social Media Censor Hate Speech In A Free Society?

Twitter’s censuring, if not censoring, President Trump’s controversial tweet threatening to use force to quell riots protesting the death of George Floyd, and  Facebook, refusing to follow the lead of its rival social network,  has reignited the controversy  leading many Facebook employees to stage a walk out and some to even quit their coveted jobs in protest.

But can social media companies censor hate speech while also providing an unbiased platform for free speech that they claim to provide?

Some conservatives argue social networking companies support free speech only when the speech aligns with the political views of the company.

Richard Hania, found that of the 22 notable accounts suspended by Twitter, 21 accounts had supported President Trump and only one of those accounts had supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections.

Candace Owens, a journalist, retweeted the racist tweets of Sarah Jeong, an editor at theNew York Times,  but substituted the word “white” for “black” and “Jews”. Owens had her account suspended, while Jeong wasn’t even reprimanded, suggesting that different social groups have different standards for hate speech.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, at a meeting with lawmakers admitted that his company’s censoring a video of Live Action, a pro life advocacy group, was biased, but argued that there was no widespread bias in moderating content.  Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO also argued that although the company’s employees are very left leaning, it has no influence on content moderation.

A couple of studies, including an internal audit conducted by Facebook, concur with the CEOs and have found no signs of systemic bias against conservatives.

 Whether or not hate speech censorship is biased,  it would be imprudent to be oblivious that the subjectivity of what constitutes hate speech leaves open the possibility of viewpoint discrimination and arbitrary censorship.

If a group claiming itself to be  a religious cult engages in organized,  indisputably repugnant behavior like child abuse, should the group be more  protected from criticism — as criticism of religion is typically considered hate speech —  than any other group which engages in a similar behavior but has no religious affiliation?

Did  Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale University who was forced to resign for speaking out against censoring Halloween costumes cross the line cross the line between free speech and hate speech?

I don’t condone the harms of hate speech.   Hate speech has no place in a civilized society, and social media companies are certainly noble in their intentions to provide every netizen a dignified cyberlife.

It is imperative that we reflect as a society on the causes of hate speech and how to address its root cause.

But attempting to censor hate speech is a slippery slope that could eventually make social media forums that have come to be hotspots of free speech and debate, into echo chambers fueled by the hegemony of popular views.

Ashwin Murthy is a software engineer at LinkedIn and a and a software engineer at a social networking company.


Image Credit: John Tyson, Unsplash

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash