The first Wonder Ponder box, Cruelty Bites, to be launched this autumn, aims to provide a visual map of cruelty from which readers can go shaping their own philosophical map of cruelty. What things belong in the cruelty category and what things belong elsewhere? How do we define cruelty? What elements do we need to bear in mind when evaluating the cruelty of an act? Is it an exclusively human phenomenon?
The few images from Cruelty Bites we've been showing on social media, without making a conscious selection, have ended up being scenes that prompt questions about animal cruelty in some shape or form. We have been very interested in some of the comments we have received, which have referred to the project as 'environmentalist', 'pro animal rights', 'vegetarianist' and even 'pro-vegan'.
The reason why we have found these comments interesting is that they all seem to assume that any material for children, even material that frames itself within the category of 'philosophy for children', would seem to have the intention of instilling a set of ideas or values in them. In a context where even those who are against the prevailing indoctrination, end up proposing what tends to become an alternative indoctrination, it seems almost impossible to conceive of a non-indoctrinating position. But Wonder Ponder aims to occupy that position precisely.
Of the fourteen scenes contained in the Cruelty Bites box (plus a further two blank scenes which readers can use to contribute to the project, coming up with and illustrating their own cruelty scenes), six represent images of animal cruelty of some kind.
We have the family sitting down for dinner, about to serve a delicious cat stew and the scene of a girl killing an ant and seemingly enjoying it. We have the scene of a caged boy next to several other animals, also in cages, while an alien finishes up an ice-cream before visiting the zoo. We also have an inverted reality scene where a big scientific rat studies a child strapped to a stretcher.
For a project that aims to provide a sort of map of cruelty, it could be said that six out of fourteen scenes devoted to animal issues is a lot, yes, but the fact is that within the phenomenon of cruelty, the cruelty variety aimed at animals is among the most prevalent and also among the most philosophically interesting of all. Animal cruelty raises questions about our definitions of 'person', 'responsibility' and also about the right of persons over the lives of non-persons, among many others.
But the box also contains many other scenes that don't feature animals. For example, a scene where a father forces his son into the bath while the boy kicks and screams. "The sooner you stop wriggling, the sooner you'll be out", says the father while the brother waits at the back of the bathroom looking scared. Is there such a thing as cruelty "for our own good"?
There are also some scenes that represent cruel acts carried out at someone else's order, out of obedience to authority. Do we evaluate an act of cruelty differently depending on whether it was mandated by an authority or the perpretator thought it up all by himself?
There are punishment scenes that prompt questions about the possible justification of cruelty. Can it ever be justified?
There is a scene of playground bullying, a zoom of which you can see below, that prompts questions about the responsibility of all the parties, including that of onlookers.
Many of the scenes also contain secondary actions, parallel to the main one, which prompt more issues or add complexity to the main issue. In total there are many philosophical questions on cruelty the box can lead to.
The Wonder Ponder boxes aim to prompt questions and dialogues regarding possible replies to these questions, without aiming to guide the dialogue towards any particular conclusion. The Cruelty Bites box is not environmentalist, vegetarianist or pro animal rights. It is true that, among many other questions, it does prompt some that may lead to reflections on our habit of eating animal meat, the existence of zoos, the importance (or not) of an ant's life. But what the boxes seek is to prompt genuine questions in the readers, who will try to answer them and argue their response as best as possible based on their reflection.
Another comment we have had is that it seems to be great material for values education. But... 'are there no answers?', they added, somewhat concerned. 'That's going to make parents and teachers very nervous'.
No, the box doesn't come with answers. (It does come with a visual philosophical map of cruelty that serves as a guide for children, families, teachers and mediators).
Nor do we start with any concepts, ideas, opinions or values we wish to instill in the children who read our Cruelty Bites box.
We do not have a pre-established arrival point for our readers.
We do offer a departure point of observation, inquiry and genuine questioning of our world, our life, our habits and our attitudes.
We do shake the inertia of the reasons we give for doing things.
But we don't have contents we wish to insert in the reader, nor specific "right" values to transmit to them.
We are very interested in the depth, complexity and authenticity of values and positions when they are the result of a free, uncensored process of reflection rather than of a process of indoctrination, imposition or even gentle prod or influence in the 'suitable' direction,
If there is a mediator involved (our boxes are designed for children to read, look at and think about alone or in company), we only ask one thing of them: to have the guts it takes not to indoctrinate. And how might one go about that? We think the only way is to take part in the inquiry genuinely yourself. Most adults don't really have good answers for the questions prompted by Cruelty Bites and those of us who think we do would very probably benefit from a reflection on our reasons and justifications.
Wonder Ponder presents philosophy as a game that purposefully makes indoctrination difficult. Mediators, work up the guts it takes not to indoctrinate and get ready to play!
Cruelty Bites will be available online from November 2014. Sale points in UK to be announced in early 2015.
In Spanish, Mundo cruel will be avilable online and distributed across Spain.
Text by Ellen Duthie, illustrations by Daniela Martagón.
(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).