Saturday, April 17, 2010

a slave in the fields of the lord

"This is interesting that you say farmed animals 'enjoy' a relationship with man... As if they are willing subjects to the enslavement and eventual permanent end/use of their bodies. And while the goal might be to 'protect them from predators' we forget that man is the most 'successful' predator of them all."

--comment posted here, April 11

Domesticated animals are not slaves--slavery is a purely human construct. They are animals of various species who have chosen the path of technophilia--otherwise, they would be impossible to domesticate.

Not all technophiles are domesticated--rats, mice, certain wasps, raccoons, bats, white-tailed deer, and that endless parade of carpenter ants in my back shed all feel the pull of the man-made environment, but they aren't domesticated. Instead, we classify them as pests. Are they to be classified as slaves as well? Seems like some very loaded and disapproving language to use for creatures who have a liking for human waste, human food, and human infrastructure.

As predators go, man is barely adequate--we don't stack up well against lions or sharks, that's for sure. But predation is morally neutral, and in many species an absolute requirement: Most predators have digestive systems that requite they eat meat and nothing else. What's difficult, and not neutral, is the real root of our species' success. We are omnivores, with scavenging and predation in the mix, and this has helped nurture our apparently endless flexibility. It is this flexibility that has gotten us into no end trouble--it's our chief adaptation and our default behavior, and lies at the heart of a lot of very hard problems.

"For me, the crux of it is that killing/eating animals is not necessary for human health. Indeed the more we learn the more it's understood we can thrive on a plant based diet. So the question becomes... If we don't 'need' to place 10 billion animals inside of warehouses and slaughterhouses... Why do it at all?"

--same comment, same date

Does it really matter whether people can get adequate nutrition without eating meat? I don't eat meat, and I don't think it matters. It's not a moral position for me, although others sometimes use vegetarianism as a propellent for their self-regard. And it's not a question of doing or not doing something--it's a question of understanding that having right relations with other creatures requires thought, humility, and an understanding of evolutionary constraints and evolutionary behavior.

What does matter is that almost everyone I have engaged with in the animal-rights movement seems to be amazingly short on hands-on, in-depth knowledge of how different species behave, react, and are profoundly different from each other. This includes an ignorance of how the human species really operates, since we, too, are animals.

To speak broadly of "animals" as a class that includes any being that isn't us is morally unacceptable. We're in this together--bears, dogs, bees, elephants, menhaden, rats, grasshoppers, penguins, and humans--and we need to be able to tell each other apart.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

more than one kind of difference

"What place should non-human animals have in an acceptable moral system? ... [P]ublic outrage is strong when knowledge of 'puppy mills' is made available; the thought here is that dogs deserve much more consideration than the operators of such places give them. However, when it is pointed out that the conditions in a factory farm are as bad as, if not much worse than, the conditions in a puppy mill, the usual response is that those affected are 'just animals' after all, and do not merit our concern."

--From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Boy. For a fairly snooty academic web site, it's hard to believe you can run across something as airheaded as this.

The status of puppy mills versus factory farming has nothing compelling to with the conditions as conditions, but has much more to do with the fact that dogs and people have signed a mutual aid contract that is durable, complex, and weirdly symbiotic. So yes, a puppy mill, by definition, is far more alarming to people than a factory farm. Farm animals enjoy a very different kind of arrangement--they are normally raised, and protected from predators and illness, just long enough to be milked, have their eggs stolen, and then be killed and eaten.

There's something implicitly wrong with the a phrase like "non-human animals," as if the only thing that's knowable or important about the many species sharing our planet is that they aren't like us, thus rendering all animals basically the same. It's an appealing construct because it lets us be lazy--now other creatures can be talked about generically, as if a raccoon and a blue jay were interchangeable.

But it doesn't take much real-world, hands-on experience to know how bogus this position is. Because not only are different species animals different from us, they are also wildly different from each other, and, what's more, the difference between a raccoon and a blue jay is a different kind of difference than the difference between that same blue jay and and a Great Dane.

The more I read what the ethics community writes about our right relations with other creatures, the more I think that having an advanced degree in philosophy is a serious impediment to coherent thought. I'm not anti-academia, not at all--I'm ABD in literature and treasure the many important things I now know about how language works. What I don't treasure, and feel a need to fight, is the complete absence of clarity in the animal-rights train of ideas.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The earworm of the Easter Rising

I woke up this morning vaguely aware that Easter is tomorrow, but the truth is that Easter has very little traction for me--I like biting the heads off peeps with Nick, but after that Easter's over. But that song, that terrible, beautiful song about the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin has haunted me all day.

One of the most damaging, thrilling, and upsetting renditions of "Foggy Dew" is by Sinead O'Connor--the tune is borrowed from "Foggy Foggy Dew" (yes, there is a difference of exactly one "foggy") and the lyrics were written by some fellow named Charles O'Neil, at least according to the stuff laying around in the music room.

I don't know from Charles O'Neill, but he wrote wonderfully well about what happened in Dublin during that Easter week, and in particular what the conflict sounded like. He says:

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o'er the Liffey's swell rang out through the foggy dew.

I like that--the muffled secrecy of the advance, the treachery and secrecy, followed by the tongue of the bell, the call to decency, faith, and prayer. Later on he says:

Oh the night fell black, and the rifles' crack made perfidious Albion reel
In the leaden rain, seven tongues of flame did shine o'er the lines of steel
By each shining blade a prayer was said, that to Ireland her sons be true
But when morning broke, still the war flag shook out its folds in the foggy dew

Sinead left this stanza out of her version, so I didn't know it even existed until today, but reading the lyrics confirmed that this lament is all about what was heard as much as what happened. Think I'm making this up? How about:

Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the spring time of the year.

There's that bell again, but not the Angelus this time.

So "Foggy Dew" is today's earworm, that song that will not leave you alone, and it's time to just accept that it's going to play in the background for the rest of the afternoon, perhaps into the evening.

Here's an odd, contradictory detail: I know that the Angelus is the thrice-daily prayer that faithful Catholics say to remember the incarnation, and I'll add quickly that, for a Quaker, I seem to know more than I should about Catholicism, but we'll leave that problem for some other day. And here's the contradiction--I have another idea that the Anglus isn't actually part of the prayer cycle during Holy Week. (Where do we learn these things? From novels? Probably The Nine Tailors, but sheesh.)

The song ends with a rewind, with the narrator going home once the carnage is over--

Back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

Happy Easter.