When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up, even though I did, but I was a kid so I did what kids did — dinosaurs video games bike rides and squids. A buddy and I, but often just I, would play and talk and walk all day, sit on couches, mess around in the woods. Build forts. And I had a dog. And cat. Sometimes rabbits and cows and goats and pigs and a horse.
We named them. Trixie the dog. Smokey the cat. Taurus the cow, of course. Petunia the pig. And lots of others over the years. Of all the “farm animals”, I probably remember “Pansy the pet pink pig”, as my mom called her, the best.
Pansy thought she was a cow. At least, that was my guess based on extensive observations of her behaviour. Pansy had been raised with cows, hung out with cows for about the first 2 years of her life before ever seeing another pig. And when we did get 3 other pigs, Pansy stuck with the cows. That was her posse. It was only then that I realized she didn’t even sound like a pig, cuz you know, these other pigs, they sounded like pigs. She sounded like….sumpthin weird!…..not a pig, not a cow….she was her own unique thing . But she was happy, no doubt about it. And very social. When you scratched her back she’d stand very still, her eyes would slowly close, and she would eventually fall asleep, only waking up when you stopped and then grunting for more. She had a few broods of little piglets. It was adorable, watching them scramble around, falling over each other to get close to her. She’d lay in the straw, or outside in the dirt, with seemingly infinite patience, while these little pink replicas of herself snorted and ran and fell and jumped and kicked their heels out of sheer excitement and exuberance.
Most animals do something like this when they live like they should; they play, form relationships, and express joy. Just go watch a calf, or pony, or human child, experiencing their first snow. It’s….amazing. Their delight is so palpable it hits you like a hug mixed with the giggles.
We ate Pansy….eventually. I don’t know if she tasted any different from her friends, but I always liked to think maybe she did.
I shot my first large animal, one of our cows, when I was 15. ….I hesitate to put it into words, but I feel it’s important to do so. It was a powerful experience, taking not only a life, but a being who I knew. In a sense, I was taking the life of a friend. It wasn’t at all like squishing a mosquito or filleting a fish for the frying pan. This was Ending the breathing, feeling life of a Named Being. Someone I knew.
I remember the adults showing me exactly where to shoot him. I checked the rifle, walked over to him, concentrating very hard on remembering exactly what I’d been told. This had to be right; we didn’t want him to suffer any more than was necessary; a shot in the right place though, and we believed anyway that his life would end in an instant, as humanely as possible. I aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger.
I thought he would die instantly, but he didn’t. At least, the body didn’t, although I am pretty sure that “he” was no longer there inside that body; it was running on its own without his conscious involvement. At least, god, I hope so.
That day affected me. Not right away, to be honest. But over time, as the years went by and I ‘deepened’ from life’s experiences, I went back to that day again and again and considered the ethics of what I had done. Pulling that trigger; ending his life. I knew him. He had a name. This is the part that gets most people angry, horrified, upset. How could you eat a ….pet?
To which, I respond, “How could you eat a stranger?”
How is it that we eat beings we don’t know, with impunity? By the billions? After first subjecting them to the most horrendously, despicably Evil conditions in the world? We eat the outflow of animal concentration camp meat factories, but we never look. If we did, we know it would be “too upsetting.” So we don’t smell the blood, hear the screams and squeals, see the whites of eyes widened in terror, the shit-strewn corridors that are these Beings’ entire worlds, watch the bodies twitch as they die.
When I lived on the small farm, the animals were truly happy. They played, ran around a forest and fields, ate the plants of the earth fresh out of the ground, felt wind and sun and rain, had shelter they could choose to use (they almost never did), but which protected them from the worst of the elements when necessary. We talked to them, played with them; they had friends in each other — cows, pigs, goats, chickens, a dog. A regular ol’ Charlotte’s Web — I imagined sometimes they even had friends in the barn spiders and enjoyed a whole world that we humans aren’t ready to be allowed into yet.
They listened to birds, human voices, laughter, song, the radio at times. They gave birth in soft, sweet hay, or they just wandered into the long grasses in the back field and gave birth there. I remember finding a calf and mom one misty morning, the wee, slimy one less than an hour old. Mom licking him, the afterbirth spilling out of her into the grass so she could eat it and replenish some of her energy. Then nosing the little calf, repeatedly, gently, onto his quivering skinny legs. Him standing there in the field, the sun not yet risen over the tree tops, the only sounds their breathing and our hushed exclamations of awe.
Years later, when these animals were to be eaten, they were cared for until their last moment of life, and bid farewell.
So here’s the thing.
We’re animals too. You and me. Animals. We have bodies geared up for all kinds of things, like pleasure, excitement, cuddling. We also feel pain and can suffer unimaginably. We also have inner wiring for aggression, dominance, being super-bad-ass. Because all these systems are hooked up to each other, we can get pleasure and excitement out of committing violence, or we can get them out of cuddling, or winning a chess game. The fact that something makes us FEEL good or bad means pretty much diddly-squat about whether the thing is “good” or “bad”. If you want to talk about the ethics of something, if you want to be a good person, you can’t rely on whatever your own emotional reaction is to something. Empathy just doesn’t cut it. (Although a lack of empathy is a serious sign that something important is missing….the Lack of Empathy is a red flag that you’re on the wrong track…)
For example, you might have empathy for your pet because it lives with you and wags its tail when you’re around and you pet it and cuddle and watch TV together. You don’t do that stuff to T-963, the barely-conscious, pain-filled cow who has been imprisoned and tortured for the absurdly hellish months of its life. So, when it ends up as a nice juicy burger on your plate, you don’t FEEL any pain, any empathy. You just sink your teeth into that sucker and enjoy the juices dribbling down your chin.
Nom nom nom….
I think a small-scale farmer eating his cow-pet after years of a happy life, is way more ethical, and any empathy feelings that say otherwise are just plain wrong. Feelings are not the standards on which we should rely when figuring out what to do in the world.
Doing violent stuff, like shooting things or blowing them up with home-made explosives, is fun. It is; that’s just a fact, and you know that, if you’ve ever hung out in a gravel pit somewhere and thrown Molotov cocktails at rocks, or shot milk jugs with a deer rifle, or played baseball with rotting vegetables out of the garden, or taken a sledge hammer to an old building, or thrown rocks at windows, or gone to a Demolition Derby or a monster truck rally, or done any number of other basically meaningless destructive shit that is undeniably awesome. You know that when the thing goes “Boom!”, you feel the excitement rush through your body, and everyone cheers and hoots and laughs and jumps up and down grinning like fools. I’ve done all of these things, at different points in my life (mostly when I was pretty young, but still…)
If you have ever fired a gun for recreational purposes, you have felt the rush. If you have ever held power over another being, you have felt the rush. If you’ve ever teased someone, embarrassed them, played a practical joke, you have felt the rush. If you’ve ever spanked or scratched or bitten your partner during love making, or been on the receiving end of those things, and felt the rush inside your body that responds, then you know what I’m talking about. This is true. Might as well admit it.
It’s the same as admitting that we all are going to die. We all masturbate. (Or at least, we should!) We all pick our noses, check out other people’s bodies, have weird things happen with our butts that we don’t tell other people about. We are animals, man….call it “evolutionary biology” or whatever, but the deeper truth is to breathe, feel, sweat, love, laugh, run, cum, and eat. That’s what life is. Soften into your true animal body and feel your rawness, your wildness, your strength and your vulnerability, your life. And your death.
If you have not done this, then you should. I would call it as close to a moral imperative as anything Kant ever came up with. Even more important than masturbating, if you can believe that. 😉
Why? Because, THIS is the ground of ethics. Not “ethics” as a philosophy or field of study or whatever. But Ethics for This Age. Ethics for the ending of the world. Ethics for humanity’s evolution to a higher state of collective Being, or if we don’t make it, then Ethics for humanity’s last stand, before we tear each other apart.
We need to challenge ourselves. To be Real. It is time for Humanity to get its shit together. If you don’t realize that, you have your head in a hole of ignorance.
And that’s ok. I’m not judging you. Trillions of dollars have been spent by the cleverest of people to make that hole fit your head so perfectly that it’s extremely difficult to resist just stickin’ the whole thing in there. We’ve all done this. Drank the Kool-Aid. Subscribed to the Dominant Social Paradigm. The powers-that-be have spent decades propagandizing and mind-fucking us into believing that Everything Is Getting Better. But it ain’t, and Mother Earth is telling us that as clearly as she can. As ecosystems fall apart, it is becoming abundantly clear that our Momma is practicing tough love — change or die, you little bastards, is basically the message.
Humanity already has all the solutions it needs, to fix all the problems we face. Except for the problems of hate and fear, the problem of believing that we live in a world of scarcity, where we have to protect what we have against the Barbarians at the gate. We haven’t fixed those problems yet — the problems of our inner worlds.
We have never, ever in the history of the human race, had to overcome, all of us together, our fear and hatred of the Other. We have never faced this challenge at this scale. We have never had this global of a perspective, nor faced this global of an extinction threat.
We need to learn how to Love. Broad-scale. Inclusively. Sincerely.
This is what we need to figure out. How to get from Here — a world of fear, war and terror, rooted in scarcity, to There — a world of love, peace, and generosity, rooted in abundance.
We can only make this journey together.
I think it starts by remembering what it’s like to be a kid. How cool frogs are, how beautiful and full of possibility the world can seem. How fascinating “other people” are. How much fun it is to sing, to dance together, to hang out with family, with community. To laugh and celebrate life. This is all we need, to live good lives. Let’s remember that.