This is a post I put out on social media yesterday and it caught more positive attention than anything I had previously posted, which I take such heart from.
I said, let’s take a moment on 11/11 to really digest this: “We kill and eat over 57 billion animals a year, not counting fish and other aquatic animals, which involves probably another trillion animals at the least. A billion is one thousand million. So every year we are responsible for a staggering number of deaths”. (From Eat Like You Care – Gary L Francione).
How many people have lost their lives to a war? It came to about 40 million in WWI. The number is dwarved by this. Yes, wars are terrible things, of course they should cease. In fact all killing should cease. No killing has a place in our future, regardless of species. We should be mindful of all the killing…and work to end all of it from this moment onwards. We do this just as soon as we commit to cease our part in it, in all the daily choices we make. Let’s not just lament the past, let’s make a real difference to our future, together. Let’s consign ALL those numbers to the history books.
This morning, the phrase “fate worse than death” popped into my head wanting to be used. It’s a phrase we bandy around a lot…but how often do we think about it? So I found myself starting to use it and then stopped myself as I’ve made my peace with death since coming to see it not so much as an ending but as a beginning or a reboot into different form so what is the emotional “charge” held within this phrase, why does it still hold sway? Why do we react so at the thought, say, of very high numbers of people dying in a war; why does that wrench at the gut long after the event compared to, say, the same number of people dying of old age if death is the “worse” thing that can happen? Because it’s the process of getting there, the heinous methods devised then inflicted, that claw at our guts and bring our shared sense of humanity to its knees. We gather together in collective grief and outrage when we contemplate such things, as we should.
Likewise, for me, it’s not the death aspect itself that holds the electric current of fear but the lead up or the means to it, all the pain and suffering that so often gets us there, that is my least favourite contemplation. It’s the long and prolonged process to death’s door that fills me with abhorrence, having witnessed a dear one go through the long and distressing cancer process and having had several brushes, as we all have, with other such experiences across the course of my life. It happens, all too often, in old age, as dignity flies out the window along with everything else, and this becomes a dread for many of us. So I’ve seen, first hand, how its the life, not the death, that is the terrible thing; or at least it is when it is a torturous thing that seems to dissect a life, piece by piece. As a species, we are brought together by a universal distaste for prolonged, unpleasant, torturous circumstances and thus a desire to alleviate such situations.
So when people say, and they do, that all’s well with the meat industry, for instance, I stall in my tracks due to all the pain my empathic soul has experienced around this topic. When they make out that the “food” on their plate is the end product of this pristine process (they even deem to use the word “humane”) by which the sentient animal in the field enjoying sunshine on its back and well-tended, one day, is now dead and doesn’t even know it or, perhaps, willingly sacrificed itself to us in the rightful order of things (yes, some people still believe this convenient fabrication, consciously or otherwise) then I fall to my knees in bewildered non-compute. Because the process by which the creature, whatever it is, gets to its “end” is seldom pristine, brief or painless. It is brutal, clumsy and malevolent, fuelled along by the petty vengeance and gross mishandling of bored or disheartened employees who take out their bad days through their misappropriated sense of power over others. It is terrifying and blooded and over-wrought in every way, over heinously prolonged time frames, for creatures who use instincts and second-senses far more we do to determine that unpleasant things are about to unfold. Gentle creatures who batted their trustful eyelashes and nuzzled eager curiosity towards friendly hands reached out over farmyard fences days before are subjected to distress, pain, indignity and gruesomeness that would traumatise the average human being to behold (thus most choose to deny and avoid). They are crammed and dehydrated, pushed and beaten towards their helpless demise and often far less than stunned and often not yet dead when they go through process that don’t even bear thinking about.
It is my deep empathic “knowing” that this goes on behind high walls somewhere near where I live, every day of my life, that disturbs me so much I can hardly make peace with this world. It is the knowing that it lies ahead on their experience path, as sure as the sun will rise in the morning, for all those creatures I engage with on my walks or photograph and paint for my work and, again, this makes me want to fall to my knees and just weep and weep for our collective lack of heart. Yet we still hold up “death” as the universal horror of the peace, as though it is the worse possible outcome that can befall us, as conscious beings, which gives weight to those who argue that death for animals destined to be meat is quick and painless, even of no consequence to creatures that have no foreknowledge that it will happen and no ability to ruminate in advance. No, it is LIFE that, for these helpless creatures just as it is for us, is the very devil due to our sentience…which is our universal ability to FEEL and to KNOW things through all of the senses, a collective ability that can be referred to as our emotional mind or even heart mind…which is far superior to the mind we equate with our rational thoughts. Deep down, to varying degrees, we all know this, whether we choose to accept it or not. It’s why we live in so much fear of the death process, whether we own to these fears or not…since we feel our way all the way to its door…and yet our entire culture is built upon a practice that inflicts our very worse fears on others.
If you tend towards a karmic view of this world then you might relate to the phrase “what goes around comes around”…what we do we get back. Others whose words we revere have said that we should only do to others what we are prepared to have happen to ourselves. Yet we wail, like wronged children, at the unfairness of how long, drawn-out and painful so many of our demises are; why cancer is the every second-or-third-person horror show waiting in the sidelines or why life can seem to get harder and more torturous with each passing year. For ourselves, we wish for something so much better, hoping something will flip better fortune, ripe old age and a peaceful death to us and our loved ones, and yet for over 50 billion creatures per year, not including aquatic, we bring upon them this “fate worse than death” at a rate of 10 billion horror-show death processes a week. How bizarre to me is this disconnect between what we wish for ourselves yet continue put out there as “reasonable” behaviour towards others. Try as I might, I cannot understand why more people don’t get to the point where it’s just so obvious how far we stray from putting out what we wish to receive back…or its simple solution. I feel hurt by the lack of sensiivity displayed by my fellow humans and it goes deeply to my heart to know this about them, however circumspect I try to be. Yes, more people than ever are waking up to this but I would have expected a tidal wave and am still not seeing it. I can only surmise that there is such ingrained programming blinkering people’s ability to join those very easy dots that it will only be once they wake or shake up from all their other conditioned states that they start to see this and be horrified at how we have all been conducting ourselves.
If you are not already vegan and are ready to at least open into balanced discussion of all the many “yeah, but..”s that inevitably come up in relation to this topic, I recommend three excellent books:
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows is written by Melanie Joy, PhD whose work to bring this dialogue out into the mainstream has been tireless. Her latest book is Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters and does what it says on the can.
Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals by Gary L Francione & Anna Charlton goes through all the moral issues clearly, unimotively and, yes, by applying straightforward, almost court-room style logic to what can be quite loaded topics for many people. It demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that ‘there is nothing “extreme” about a vegan diet; what is extreme is the inconsistency between what we say we believe and how we act where animals are concerned.’
In the most heartfelt way I can, I urge all of my readers to at least pick up the first on this list and read it with an open mind. It won’t traumatise you but it might expand your heart in ways you will be so glad you allowed to happen (I’ve not met a single person who has regretted this happening to them).