There are a couple of philosophical caveats, I find, when discussing the meat farming industry – and if you don’t establish them you start talking at cross-purposes.
1. Are you a solipsist or a globalist?
I’ll have to define this as I intend it to be meant, and the easiest way to do that is propose a hypothetical situation.
Here’s the scenario: you are absolutely guaranteed to get 100% humanely reared meat for your plate (even to the highest definition), and let’s say for everyone else you know. The cost of this – however – is that everyone else – the rest of the meat eating world – only eat factory-farmed produce. The moment you stop having your 100% humanely reared meat, they also stop having their factory farmed produce.
So, do you carry on, knowing that you’re the “good guy”? Or do you realise that what you do may has an impact – even if you’re doing “nothing wrong”?
My own take on this is that if we can’t do it for everyone (and we can’t), then we have to change the culture and our habits. Otherwise because I’m well-off and can therefore afford this luxurious meat with a clean conscience, I still am propping up an over-reliance on meat as central to the cultural diet, and therefore perpetuating meat-eating and the inevitable industrial suffering required to supply the demand.
2. Is an animal a product or a being?
The idea of an animal being a product is so ingrained in our psyche that you may not have noticed me talking about “farm produce” above, and you may not have questioned what this use of language implies. It helps us to debeingise (if I may coin the term) a being into something more objectified. When Morrissey compares the meat industry to slavery, it’s not an altogether ridiculous comparison. The trick with slavery was (and is) to categorise slaves as a product. Once you can buy and sell one, it ceases to be a human and becomes a product. Then anything goes. Everyone cares about a human, but who cares about a product?
Well it’s the same thing with other animals. I believe the ability for normal, empathetic people to tolerate the insane meat industry is due to a combination of the distancing of themselves through woolly language and an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” semi-willful ignorance (“I just don’t like to think about it”), combined with the re-branding of “beings” to “products” (which is founded on something much bigger which I can’t go into here).
Thanks to language you can turn:
“Massacring millions of beings”
“Processing an industrial quantity of produce”
However, the thing about the truth is that the truth is the truth, no matter how annoying that may be – and in the spectrum of product to being any animal is most definitely a being. The more you realise this, the closer you get towards the truth. I can show this myriad ways in a completely scientific, objective context. I can show that a being is definitely a being, which has then been “productised”, and not the other way round. The more we learn about the reality of the situation, how we beings are interrelated and interevolved, the more the walls of separation which appear through language and concepts dissolve through the cold light of reality.
Those campaigning to the end of animal suffering are known as “fringe” in contemporary society, which strikes me as extremely odd, when the reality of animal suffering is so objectively verifiable (especially now in the age of information!) as to surely rule out any doubt.
But old habits die hard, and although with hindsight we look back now at those who fought and campaigned to end slavery as rational, sensible, compassionate humans, they were seen as extremists in their time – just like the humans today who are simply brave enough to look reality in the face.
Dear political leaders, I’ve noticed you all playing this little game. No one agrees to explicitly (as far as I know), but everyone agrees to it implicitly. It’s the game of politics, the game of illusion, deception, role-play, pretending to be this, pretending to be that, coming across like this, appearing like that, appealing to this and that demographic. But none of them is you.
There is a man, a woman, a real human behind all politicians, but the political system doesn’t allow for real humans to make it as party leader – only images, ghosts, characters in a play. I’ve no idea who David Cameron is… he won’t let me see, and we won’t let him show. Those who have been trained as politicians – trained in elite schools, trained in the ways of thinking, second guessing, maintaining an image, fooling the people, conning the voters, perfecting it so that the real person behind becomes lost in a cloud of lies. When the tiniest traces of humanity come through we shut it down…. We consent to this game, but only because it’s what we expect. But this isn’t a game – this is real life.
So here’s a reality check. One day – Dave, Ed, Nick, Nat, Nige, et al… – one day (and this day may come sooner than we think) “Great Britain” will be gone. It will cease to exist and be exposed for the ghost, the concept, the idea, that it is. The royal family will be gone; the Houses of Parliament will be dust along with St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle. There will be no England, no London, no stock exchange, no Birmingham, no Liverpool, no Shakespeare, no Beatles, no Oxford or Cambridge, no motorways, no bridges, no airports, no museums, galleries. There will be no more political parties, unions, bank holidays, Christmas celebrations, TV programmes, no BBC, no ITV, no radio and no elections. If there are any humans left we will have one thing, and one thing only. When all else is stripped away, the truth and the only real thing that matters will be exposed – our humanity.
Yet the only thing which is truly real and truly matters is the one thing politicians abandon in the cause of playing the game, trying to keep the images projecting and the ghosts alive. And we all go along with it – the press goes along with it, the media goes along with it, and so we go along with it – the unspoken bullshit, like the proverbial fish in the tank, forgetting he’s swimming in (bullshitty) water.
The politicians and the media talk repeatedly about “being tough” as a leader. Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want a tough leader. We’ve had enough of tough leaders blowing up each others’ citizens, categorising human beings in endless boxes and using that to create endless false dichotomies, to separate and dehumanise. Instead, how about a leader who can act from their compassion, with some charisma, empathy (even as I write it seems like a crazy idea), some real ability and desire to make connections and see the reality of humanity behind the divisive mirage of politics and ideas? A leader with wisdom – real wisdom about people… because our society, our culture, our civilisation and the whole world is made up of people. By the old gods – and the new – thatwould be a leader worth having, worth believing in, worth voting for… but that leader would never get through the endless piles of mirages, lies and pretense to make it into Downing Street….
The absurdity of this ruling is matched only by the counter-claim that the duo are: “unwavering in their absolute conviction that they wrote this song independently.”
This creates yet another tedious false dichotomy in our society whereby either an artist works completely independently or “rips off” other people’s work. The problem is that – in reality – the lines are far more blurred. It’s not so black and white (2 puns for the price of one, you lucky thing!).
All of this contributes to one of the most insidious myths in our culture – individualism. No (wo)man is an island – it’s not how we humans (or any animal for that matter) work, and it’s not how art works. It’s not how music works.
Here’s the headline: No one ever wrote any music – ever ever ever – independently. Ever. Didn’t happen. Not once.
No one in the history of music has ever been a genius on their own. That’s the trouble with this “genius” myth. Beethoven would have been nothing without Haydn and Bach, and his father forcing him to practice through the night, looming over him with a cane to punish his mistakes at the piano. Beethoven is replete with stuff lifted from the giants before him – lifted and added to. Same with anyone else you care to mention: Debussy, the Beatles, Bowie (especially Bowie!) and Stravinsky, who did (probably didn’t) say:
“A good composer does not imitate, he steals.”
What makes a good genius is knowing how to take what is already there, combine it, and add one’s own stamp. That’s all there is to it. Name one “genius” who didn’t. You can’t.
In a song cycle I wrote a few years ago setting Philip Larkin poetry, I openly steal from diverse sources, from liturgical plain chant, to Bach, the Beatles, Bowie, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bob Dylan, Debussy (the theme of the whole thing is stolen from him) and even 80s flash-in-the-pan pop sensation Lipps inc.
But I put it all in a new context – that’s where my creativity comes in. And what about my open ode to Blurred Lines? Will I get sued for this? (I know, I know, you have to make money first…)
So should Williams and Thicke have been sued? Not for me to say, and I’m not all that interested. But I am interested in what’s behind it – the myth of individualism which is creating a huge civilization of disconnected individuals operating counter to their evolution and best chance of a life of well-being. We live in a perverse world where you can have 1000 “friends” but no friend. Don’t believe the lie that we are individuals – we aren’t – not socially, not mentally, not physically and not in our essence. Context is everything – and I mean, everything. The nonsensical ideology that allows this particular false-dichotomy to arise is the same that threatens to continue to isolate humans from each other when we are more abundant than ever.
Like many people in our society, I self-medicate with alcohol as a quick and fairly inexpensive (and – as the luck of history would have it – legal) way to escape the entrapment of my mind, and quieten the relentless chatter of the neocortex, overstimulated as it is by the incessant barrage of media at every turn in our hyperactive culture. That warm, cosy, hugging feeling as the wine, whisky or beer slips down and does its business, shutting off the over-thinking, relaxing the muscles and warming the blood-flow. You can’t beat it.
However, a combination of a very drink-fuelled September, not having had a drink free day in a good few months, and not a drink free week since I was around 16 years old (i.e. 14-odd years), I thought I would jump on the Sober October bandwagon, and encourage myself to find other ways to calm my relentless noggin. I’m not unfamiliar with meditation and tai-chi, and I hope it’ll encourage me to find less damaging ways to peace. People like me need some way to quieten our minds, and so I am your guinea pig. Oink.
What has especially encouraged me is that I find the thought of doing it so unbearable – always a sign of something worth doing. I think those who have said it’s easy perhaps don’t have the same relationship with alcohol that I do, and probably don’t drink alone very often.
There’s been a great deal of debate recently as to whether alcohol and drug addicts are suffering from an illness, or just criminals who have made bad choices and only have themselves to blame. Well I don’t know, but I do know that our crazy, overstimulated society makes finding peace very difficult, and drugs in general are a quick way to change our level of consciousness. And this coming from somebody with a fairly easy upbringing. I can’t imagine how someone from a particularly (or even relatively) difficult upbringing could not seek solace in some drug or other.
Four years ago my brother died of his alcoholism – such was the escape he found from alcohol that in the end it cost him his life. I miss Tom, and there’s nothing I can do to bring him back, but if I can help others with the same plight, well… it still feels like nothing, but I guess it’s something.
Sitting here, I’ve just realized another of my musical unconscious influences. This time it’s Sonic the Hedgehog on the Master System’s influence on my first album, particularly the first song: Intro. This comes hot on the heels (well, a year) since I realized the theme of the album is unconsciously stolen from David Bowie.
Here’s the intro from Life A.E. – skip to 3:27 when the drums kick in and listen for a minute
Then listen to this from Sonic the Hedgehog, Sky Base (you have to ignore the sound of Sonic jumping and collecting his bling)
Beyond its inconvenience (inconveniencing a friend or eating another mushroom risotto at an unimaginative restaurant), it’s the implication that being vegetarian is an inherently bad – or at least unhinged – position which has encouraged me to put down my reasoning in a blog post.
Before I go any further, I want to put in some disclaimers. The purpose of this is not to preach or moralise in any way – just present my point of view with as much balanced coherence as I can. I am not particularly moral (depending on your definition, of course), I’m not a saint (indeed with the sexual abstinence and piety, I don’t want to be one), I’m very frequently a hypocrite and this post may well be full of it. For example, I drink organic milk, and though the companies assure me it’s from cows who are free to roam and well treated, I don’t know. But I haven’t investigated this fully, so I am currently guilty of the same willful ignorance I’m about to point out in others. I will also occasionally eat fish as long as I have good reason to suppose it’s line-caught from sustainable sources. This makes me not even a vegetarian, and therefore an utter hypocrite. I haven’t looked into it properly, and I know that if everyone on earth wanted to be a pescetarian, the fish would disappear. But fish live in the sea (don’t they?). Another confession is that I don’t look too closely into the products I buy – shampoo, toothpaste, bread, HP sauce… who knows what suffering has occurred to make it to my table? Not me, and I can’t say “I’m doing my best” because it would be a lie. I could do so much more. This laptop I’m writing on – do I know what human suffering has gone into it? No. Has any? Probably. Did I check? No. So the message here is not “I’m better than you”, but “here are some things I’ve learned which I can’t both ignore and be honest.”
None of which has anything to do with my reasons
Reasons for being veggie
I understand that there are very good reasons of sustainability to be a vegetarian. I’m reliably informed that the resources needed to keep animals, even in the most barbaric and horrific torturous conditions, out-weigh the nutritional benefits the animal provides to humanity. But this isn’t my reason for not eating animals, although it may be a good one. I might use this reason in a discussion to rationalise the decision I’ve made (which is partly although not entirely emotional and partly but not entirely subjective), but it just so happens not to be a reason that forms the basis of my opinion. I won’t go into that here, because there just isn’t time before you get bored!
Eating animals is right
Now – shock horror – I don’t actually believe that eating animals is wrong. I couldn’t make a case for it or a claim for it beyond my feelings. It happens a lot, animals have more or less always eaten each other. Now as it happens I couldn’t bring myself to slaughter a pig or chicken or cow. I see the life in my fellow creatures and couldn’t take it from them. I’m sure that in the right circumstances I could, but I’m not in those circumstances. I’m in privileged, sheltered, fed, clothed, housed and generally spoiled and pampered circumstance. And in this environment I wouldn’t kill an animal. And to avoid the most basic hypocrisy, I won’t eat what I wouldn’t kill. That’s my baseline. But anyone who wanted to kill and eat an animal in necessary circumstances, I would not stand in your way. It also happens that I don’t enjoy the chewing of flesh (at least, mammal and bird flesh), because in my mind it feels too much like chewing human flesh, by which I mean chewing the flesh of a fellow being who is close enough on the tree of life to warrant such a comparison (more on that later). But this is beside the point, and it doesn’t constitute any argument for vegetarianism. My feelings are neither here nor there.
When someone asks “why are you veggie?”, I hear it as something akin to “why don’t you like to inflicting suffering?” In other words, in my mind it’s asking for justification of an absurd negative. So – assuming that you don’t like inflicting suffering, I’ll ask the opposite question: “why aren’t you vegetarian?” Here are the reasons I generally get from people
Might makes right
Those who say that because we have dominion over the animals, we may do as we wish – we are fitter and better adapted and therefore can do whatever we like (both in the sense of being able to and having the right to). I heard this one recently in France. This is colloquially known as “might makes right” and actually it’s the position I have the least argument with – at least we all know where we stand. It is true that we have the ability to cram animals in horrific conditions, abuse them and – eventually – run an ineffective electrical bolt through their half-animated corpses and then tuck into them around a family dinner. Although of course “might makes right” is the bugle-call of the psychopath, the genocidal dictator and he who is without empathy, or has had it suspended for him.
As an accompaniment to this view I have even heard the statement “but at the end of the day, they’re going to die” (this was in relation to battery hens, but it could relate to any animal in the industrial farming complex). Well, this is a true statement, but then at the end of the day, you’re going to die too. We are all going to die. Life is the important bit – and it’s the bit that matters to a being, even those who claim that they live in bliss after they die.
What an assumption we make. Every day – the assumption of life. Do you realise that you are alive? How often do you feel it? When you remember that you are alive, it becomes very important.
Humans are humans and animals are animals
This runs along the same lines as the above, but slightly watered down.
The same kind of tribalistic tendencies which place arbitrary divisions and say “our country is better than your country”, “our god is better than your god”, etc. results in this view “humans are better than animals” and draws another arbitrary line between humans and everything else. This binary illusion is the zenith of the “us and them” mentality. It claims that we are separate from and unrelated to all other life forms which we now know empirically is – thanks both to biology and particle physics – on every level, entirely untrue. The only position left is an utterly baseless assertion held for subjective purposes.
But this tribalism and drawing of arbitrary “us and them” lines, is precisely the same way of thinking and being that leads you to say: “we can enslave the Africans – they are subhuman”, “we can, indeed, enslave and systematically slaughter the Jews – Sie sind undermenschen – subhuman. Animals. Rats.” It’s the same principle. It’s blindness, willful ignorance that denies the reality that all living things are in fact related, share a common ancestor and – on some level – are all expressions of the same life-force itself which is an ongoing process starting around 4 billion years ago and continuing well beyond our lifetime and perhaps that of our planet, solar system, or even galaxy.
With this drawing of lines – this tendency to categorisation and eventually tribalism, anything goes. We may enslave, abuse, torture, mutilate, degrade and massacre anything that is “not one of us”. These lines are indeed arbitrary.
The foundation of our normal natural tendency to empathy – the basis of the golden rule “do unto others as you would have done unto you”, which I would call the positive and hopeful side of humanity, is the opposite of – and is poisoned by – tribalism. Us and them. Empathy breaks down at “us and them”, and the rise of this mentality destroys empathy.
We create their lives, we own them, so we can do what we want
It may well be that plants suffer. The extremist fruitarians think so. But I have no reason to suppose that. However, I do have reason to suppose that animals in our meat industries suffer immensely, for their entire lives. Now, there are those also who claim that because we breed them, we also have a right to treat them however we see fit. It’s essentially a god claim. We made them, we own them, and we can do what we want with them. Firstly, of course, it’s not true. By breeding animals, we don’t create them; merely provide a situational aid to the natural process. After all, slave owners in America systematically bred their slaves to be strong by pairing the right couples together. So therefore we created these slaves, own them, and have a right to do with them as we wish. It’s precisely the same principle, and it goes nowhere – like many arguments – because the premise is faulty. By breeding animals, we don’t make them or create life, we just expediate the natural process. We don’t do any of the making – the animals, like all self-replicating life, do it for themselves, enabled by us. Now yes, it’s true – if we had not bred pig A, he would not exist. So can we now do with it as we please? Well, if you grant it for this pig, you have to grant it for your pet dog, any slaves you may own (and for whom you paid good money) and – let us not forget – any children you may have created. The last example on this list should hammer home my point – do you own your children and can you abuse them in any way? You created them after all… Did Joseph Fritzl have the right to treat his daughter in the way he did? I mean he created her, which is more than can be said for breeders of animals. Imprisoned. Abused. Tortured. Enclosed. Enslaved. Who am I talking about here?
We are more intelligent and therefore superior
It’s a rationalisation of the more honest position of “might makes right”.
If you do object to lifelong suffering, torture and abuse of – say – a dog, then it seems to me that you must also object to the lifelong suffering, torture and abuse of – say – a pig. Now I use the example of a pig because they are often cited as being intelligent creatures – more so than dogs – able to solve more complex problems and (ironically) display a much higher level of empathy. I find it irritating when animal rights activists use this argument, because personally speaking I couldn’t give a rats arse (ptp) about intelligence, in the same way that I don’t believe it’s correct to be cruel to someone with learning difficulties… although that does seem to be the thick end of the argument being made here. I can’t think why I would rather torture a chicken than a pig, because they are both fellow living breathing creatures related to me who feel suffering and pain and express it in their shrieks. I feel these shrieks with my empathy, and it would compel me to stop in either case.
But humans are only superior to other animals in the sense that we have vastly more evolved brains. It’s another arbitrary line to say we are “superior” to birds, for instance. Birds can fly and we cannot, so in that sense birds are superior to us (note that our ability to build and operate aeroplanes is a reflection on our intelligence, not our ability to fly). This is why it’s both useless (unless you’re justifying cruelty, of course) and incorrect to think of any organism as superior or inferior. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a human. For example, it may be that our unique intelligence ends up being the same aspect of being human which kills us. Or it may not. But physically, humans are fairly poorly evolved – we have all sorts of physical ailments to highlight (as Darwin puts it) “the indelible stamp of our lowly origin”. It’s important to recognise this difference between “superior” and “different” because the former leads to the most abject suffering with apparent justification, and the latter leads to diversity, pluralism and an all-round better existence (if – of course – you think that a better existence is characterised by a reduction of suffering … you may not).
What we do now know from the fossil record is that although our intelligence now seems so far above the “other” animals and primates, it was not always so. Going back some tens of thousands of years there were many other species of the homo genus – loads and loads of them – with different levels of intelligence. No one can know whether they were “like us” but they certainly had elements of ritual – in as much as they buried their dead. But, like 99.9% (at least) of every species that has ever lived, they are no more. Homo-sapiens are the last survivors of the homo hominid class. And we came so very close to utter extinction – only 70 000 years ago the DNA marker evidence suggests that us 7 billion – as we now are – was a piffling few thousand. And we could have disappeared at that point along with our other fellow hominids, who did indeed disappear. But as adaptation and luck would have it (or God, if you prefer to think, who favoured us over the others… ah, we’re returning to “us and them again”!) we survived, multiplied and made it. But it so could easily have been otherwise, and some other hominid could have gone on to write this blog post – or whatever their equivalent was. Before long, we won’t be here anymore. We often feel that we are somehow immortal, and the blindness to the bigger picture of the ultimate brief transience of human life is partly what leads to this idea that our lives are important, whereas all other life is not. Again: us and them, humans and animals.
Nice but duped people
Most people I know – and I believe – most people generally, are basically good. If we weren’t then we wouldn’t have functioning society, law and the like. We wouldn’t have got as far as society if this were not so. This comes from our innate ability to empathise. But nice people can be duped by nice pictures on packets and promises of good treatment. The fact is that people like eating meat, and the images of nice farms on packets can lead people to rationalise away the reality.
Now this was a more understandable position to take before the internet. But now we have quick and easy ways of gathering information, particularly information which makes us feel uncomfortable – “inconvenient truth” as they say.
This leads to unfortunate hypocrisies and double standards, as in the recent hysterical case of the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo. The same people who made comments such as “how can they kill, in cold blood, such a beautiful creature” are the same who – moments later – chomped down on a bacon sandwich which has not only been produced by a beautiful creature, but one that to a high probability lived its entire life in the most barbaric and abjectly torturous conditions.
So – you see – the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dream – animals living out their lives in their natural habitat with dignity – is utterly impossible. It could indeed (and perhaps was) a reality when there were tens of thousands and even a few hundred million mouths to feed in the world, but if you have 7 billion people wanting to eat meat, there is only one way to do it– brutal, industrial, cruel, capricious, callous, psychopathic insanity. When we’re talking these numbers, it’s the only way. In order to sustain our want of eating animals, we must abandon our humanity, as we already have.
But you’re not going to make any difference
Quite right. I can’t bring down the system. In the same way, a German officer could not make a difference in refusing to slaughter Jews. It’s him or them. And, as shown by the Stanley Milgram experiments (and many others since), otherwise good people will sacrifice their humanity with the permission of authority. The same authority that says: eat the meat, it’s ok, this is Britain, we won’t let anything bad happen. Don’t believe them. But money makes the world go round, so here’s what I can do: I can refuse to put my money into the system, I can not be a part of it.
I have this vision that one day we will look back at these times, as we look back today at slavery, misogyny, sexual discrimination or any other of our lower moments (although don’t think for a second I’m implying these problems are solved) and say
“How was everyone so evil and inhuman? How did it go on with seemingly good people letting it continue? They had the open internet, this was the birth of mass-information… they had all the information they could possibly have needed, and yet somehow good people went on funding industrial cruelty – how could they?”
But I have hopes, and all the hopes come under awareness and knowledge. Slavery, sexual, racial and orientation discrimination are all legislated against, but this was not always so – steadily we progress. We put pictures on cigarette packets of diseased lungs in order to say to people “this is what can happen if you smoke – now it’s your choice.” This is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the steady decline of smoking in the last half century but do you know what has caused this decline? Knowledge, awareness and truth. Smoking is, indeed, bad for you – categorically and objectively. It’s now up to you whether you do it.
One of the most ruthless industries out there is that of battery hens. This holocaust-type industry is the pinnacle of viewing animals as objects. For me, it’s very nearly a no-brainer to ban battery-farming along with pigs in gestation crates. But this is the tip of the iceberg, and it won’t produce change. It’s not possible to produce enough meat to satisfy everyone and not resort to horrific methods. We can only stop the demand. We must choose between meat and compassion – the human race, with its current and growing population, doesn’t have enough room for both.
Just as we moved away from suave-looking people being sexy and smoking on cigarette advertising (i.e. being fed lies), we could also move away from the lies of nice-looking farm sketches on the side of packets of meat. How about a photograph (not an artist’s rendition) of the actual living conditions of the animal?
It sounds crazy now, but as technology marches forwards, I imagine a future where video is streamed live from where that animal lived on the supermarket aisles. When you’re standing at that meat aisle, looking at the misery of the animals, then you are informed. Then buy the meat if you like… and a packet of cigarettes. Like all progress it will be slow… people don’t like change, they don’t like to feel uncomfortable, and they don’t like the truth.