A Day in the Life

7:00 a.m. With my morning cup of coffee pick up The New York Times to see on the front page of the style section a festival in Umbria in which the big event is whole roasted pigs (“The Pinnacle of Pork” headline) complete with photo of the carcass of a charred pig.  Spend unbudgeted time writing to the editor to protest this as representing “the pinnacle” of nothing except barbaric insensitivity.

9:00 a.m. Go to the grocery store; avert my eyes from the slabs, chunks, and ground up parts of farm animals. Faced with buying “real” milk for a family member, and wonder if I must compromise by supporting a product resulting from forced pregnancy and premature mother-calf separation.

11:00 a.m. Walk with my dog, Mia. In the parking lot by the ball field where she likes to sniff sits a monster truck with the license plate “BOWHUNTR” and a rear windshield and bumper on which are plastered an assortment of white decals of deer heads and modern bow machines.  Hanging from the rearview mirror is an upside down stag. Reflect with awe at his need to define himself by this activity and with disgust at what must be his notion of himself: mighty predator in nature, he of the mega truck and high tech bow.

12:00 p.m. Get email regarding upcoming visit of in-laws and recollect previous gathering notable for offers to bring “pigs in a blanket” to my house “for us carnivores” ha ha.

1:00 p.m. Meet friend for lunch at beach club that offers not one vegan dish expect for a salad. Suggestions / complaints have not been appreciated apparently even though I pay a small fortune for the very exclusive right to show up and face the menu (would like to unjoin, but not my call). Friend cannot equate the food on her plate with what went on to produce it. Suggest that she give it a try.

3:00  p.m. Breaking news about latest gun violence: turn on the television to get update. Five minutes of commercials touting meals formed with every species of soit disant edible animal. Please stuff your already oversized gut with surf and turf, sizzling steak, bacon on a burger, chicken and more chicken—truly endless.

4:30 p.m.  Errand time: Get into car and turn on radio show, Fresh Air, in time to hear Terry Gross ask Jonathan Balcombe  about the most humane way to kill an animal for food, given that “not everyone can be a vegan.”  Hallelujah moment of the day: Balcombe corrects her, very diplomatically, by pointing out that there are so many wonderful plant based foods, no one has to eat meat, and he goes on to clarify that there is no humane slaughter only some ways that might be less cruel than others.

5:00 p.m. Write Johnathan Balcombe an email thanking him. Can’t avoid remembering that dear Frans De Waal, another scientist who studied animals and wrote a book to prove how intelligent and social they are and how much amazingly “like us” they are and to expound on how terribly attached he has become to animals only to remain a staunch eater of them, reconciling those two antipodal attitudes on the basis that there are some animals in nature who are predators; great logic, there Frans. What good does having an intellect do a person if he can satisfy himself with such conclusions? Fight urge to drink heavily.

10:00 p.m. Seek refuge in bed. Reading to get sleepy, pick up the latest New Yorker: restaurant review with picture of veal chops. A reminder of what I know all too well: this magazine, which has liberal tendencies when it comes to the LBGT community, civil rights, gun violence, health care and many other human-impacting issues has shown itself in article after article to lack even the tiniest shred of compassion for animals. It adores articles about restaurants that serve whole baby pigs and where you can find the best barbequed animals. Yeah, that article “The True Cue” was really an important piece of journalism. Pick up a book in which hopefully no one will be eating.

11:00 p.m. Nighttime television, episode recorded from previous night: unfunny joke about almond milk being “unnatural.”

11:15 p.m. Try to sleep, wondering in the dark at the inexplicable capacity for selfish blind cruelty and tossing around the recurring thought that there should be a study on why some people have no qualms about animal suffering and others do. Why, why is that? Realize the point is academic and a nonstarter, with the familiar sense of hopelessness; try my old TM mantra to distract my mind and get away from reality until sleep closes in.

Killing is the Answer

Under “The National Briefing” in the New York Times this week, appeared the news that Yellowstone National Park officials want to kill one thousand buffalo. The reason is that they might carry disease to livestock. This is a cycle of killing: kill the bison so that ranchers can raise cattle and kill them. Killing is so commonplace when it comes to nonhumans: we kill them to eat, to wear, to experiment on, even for trivial inquiries, and for entertainment.  With killing such an unquestioned part of the acceptable approach in our lives, small wonder we are violent in general. How many of the mass shooters at schools and in movie theaters were hunters; how many would have hesitated to kill an animal? It seems axiomatic that if we did not kill nonhuman animals, we would not so easily kill humans.

The argument that we should stop killing animals because it primes us to kill humans is well known in the animal rights debate and is disfavored by some activists for two reasons. It is easily impeached, and it is not the real reason we should not exploit and kill animals. Regarding the former, the counter argument is easily made that there are a lot of people who kill nonhuman animals who do not kill humans, so there is not a cause and effect relationship. To address that counter argument, I would point out that many people who eat animals or take advantage of them do not do it themselves and manage to keep it up only through complete ignorance or by turning the blind eye of convenience and expediency; that there is indeed a correlation and that animal killing is a gateway to human killing because, as pointed out in the opening paragraph, our mass shooters would not hesitate to kill a nonhuman; they generally did so and enjoyed inflicting suffering on them. On the second objection, I agree that it is more intellectually comprehensive and honest to stop killing animals for the reason that a difference in species does not abolish a moral obligation to have compassion for others. The realization of the evils of speciesism, as developed perfectly by Peter Singer, should change anyone’s outlook on our cruelty toward nonhumans on every level, at least for anyone who has a brain and a conscience strong enough to question culture. Culture—there’s the rub. A mental groundwork  must be laid before any idea like compassion can take root; the understanding, maybe even epiphany, that culture is not sacrosanct, that it is up for critique and needs to be questioned; that just because great grandpa did such and such does not make it right; that just because “everyone” is doing it, does not make it right.  Reaching that point centers the problem because people cling to culture to define themselves and gain a sense of identity.  They are lost having to think for themselves. If you can’t think for yourself, than how could you reach the conclusion that you are somehow better than the nonhumans you mistreat and eat.

A well regulated militia

We hear a lot about the rights under the Second Amendment, so dear to the hearts of so many people, so I thought I should read it again. I must not have been remembering it correctly, since I thought it addressed maintaining a militia. Here it is in all its glory:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

If that sentence were on the SAT writing section, there would be choices for rewriting it, with the correct one eliminating the weak gerund of the verb “to be” and the passive voice, bringing clarity and directness to the message, to read as follows:

“The people have the right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia, which is necessary to the security of a free State.”

Even in 18th Century syntax, there is no question what the import of this sentence is. Any lawyers out there who have ever drafted a document?  I have drafted many, and when a lawyer writes a modifying phrase like, “A well-regulated militia being necessary,” he or she intends to convey that what follows is modified by that phrase. Actually any grammarian-writer would recognize that.  The Second Amendment does not say, “Hunting being necessary,”  “Shooting ranges being necessary,” “Handling deadly weapons to boost a diminished ego being necessary,” it says a well-regulated militia being necessary.  The right to bear arms is conditioned upon the necessity of a militia.  Is there any question about what the word “militia” means, here is the definition:

A military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.

A military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities, typically in opposition to a regular army.

All able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service.

The Supreme Court, in its 5 to 4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (and its evil progeny McDonald v. Chicago), disregarded logic, grammar, drafting intent, and the context in which the Amendment was written in order pursue a political agenda. The Court had its work cut out for it, trying to find words in a sentence that were not there.  Somehow, the Second Amendment did not mean that the right to bear arms was for the purpose of maintaining a militia, but was a general right. Four so-called “justices” made one whopping big mistake, but it is of course not the first time, as history has shown, that a political agenda, bias, and willful ignorance have held the day in a Supreme Court decision. In so ruling, the Court missed a chance not only to deliver a legally defensible and rational opinion, but the opportunity to save lives.

There are the nut cases out there who would take the Second Amendment at its real meaning and argue that we still might need to rise up in arms to defend ourselves against the government of the United States.  That was a precaution that someone back in the 18th Century at the debates over the Amendments wanted and that might have had some relevance at the time, given that the colonies had just fought a revolution and the new ruling government was an experiment. Whether or not it made sense then, times have changed; having a regulated militia is no more necessary than slavery (that other necessity of 18th Century America). However, most defenders of gun ownership wave the Second Amendment flag as the basis for their right to have firearms for their pleasure, supported by that dastardly Supreme Court decision.

Even if we kept this antiquated provision, every single right we seek to enjoy is severely limited. There is no rational basis for not constraining this purported right to the utmost extent. However, the proposals for limitations are weak becasue they do not reallydo enough to solve the problem, and  being weak are subject to attack—so let’s just face it. Limitations will not do.  The Second Amendment has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any. It has fostered horrible violence, death and fear; it is a child killer.  Get rid of it. And fine if hunting goes out with it. The world would be a better place anyway if  non-human killers (fondly called “hunters”) found a less violent and cruel way of feeling good about themselves.


It’s that most horrible time of the year

At this time of year I am forced to bear witness to cruelty and death.  I cannot turn a blind eye or I will run off the highway. Dear hunting season is coming, and I must see the slaughter when I drive on the Taconic Parkway, as I do three times a week. I will pull up behind a vehicle, most likely a pick-up truck.  There will usually be a decal on the back windshield of a buck’s head drawn in white, a stylized hint of the driver’s penchant for deer blood. Duck hunters of course will have a duck instead.  There might be more than one decorative element on the truck, so great is the love of the animal’s noble profile. I don’t truck with truck people enough to know, but I bet they have tattoos of antlered heads, so that when they sit at ease, short-sleeved arms crossed at rest over their expansive bellies, their beloved trophy symbol rises and falls with their meat-filled gut. The fact that hunters relish representations of what they like to kill seems a strange love/hate relationship. I guess hate is involved or are we to conclude that are living proof of Oscars Wilde’s words: “All men kill the thing they love.” I cannot count on being safe, however, in approaching a less imposing vehicle than the pickup truck, as mighty hunters also drive SUVs (mostly of the American persuasion) or even a four door sedan or minivan.  The dead animal will be tied to a roof, like a Christmas tree will be tied two months hence, or tied on a little tray on two wheels attached to the back. I will pass as quickly as possible not wanting to stare at the picture of death any more than I would want to pull over to the side of the road and contemplate the road kill. I wonder if there could possibly be anything I could do on a public highway that would get anywhere close to being as obnoxious and repulsive as slinging a large dead animal over my car. Along with having to contemplate, whether I want to or not, the end of that animal’s life and the consequences not only for that one but for others (a doe, a mate, a grazing partner), I am also handed willy-nilly yet another opportunity to confront the mysteries of the human mind, those same mysteries that underlie every horrible event that men (mostly men, and I mean that with the lower case) have and continue to perpetuate. What is hunting? I might hurl various epithets, such as cruel and stupid.  Instead, I can establish what it is not: it is not compassionate to animals, it is not careful about inflicting suffering on a living creature, it is not saddened by death, it is not repulsed by pain, it is not the gathering of food to stave off hunger.

How can one not conclude that some people simply enjoy pain, fear, suffering and death (as long as it isn’t their own or even that of their pets)? Do they get in the killing mood through a process of rationalizing their actions? Does this happen subconsciously or is there no need to think about and justify their acts to themselves.  If the latter and they have dispensed with thought, would they say that they are functioning from instinct?  Instinct is what compels actions of animals (which we are) in the absence of thought. Maybe that’s it; hunters aspire to or actually do enter a nonhuman frame of mind, akin to the beasts who actually do have to hunt to eat (or at least some of them). They revel in shedding or pretending to shed the pesky traits of Homo sapiens (thinking, compassion and the like), but keep the sighting scope, the high-tech rifle, and the duly adorned pickup truck.

Letter to the Editor

I write letters to the edtiors of “The New York Times” and “The New Yorker” from time to time as an exercise of self-espression, remembering that Stoic truth that when it comes to having an audiance or readership, “Few are enough, one is enough, none is enough.” What one writes might matter a little, but who is writing counts the most, and I like most people, as Emily Dickenson said, “am noboday, are you nobody too?”

To the Editor:

Roxanne Gay’s editorial piece, “Of Lions and Men,” uses the killing of Cecil the lion and the resulting grief and outrage to propose that we extend those sentiments to the death of all human beings, particularly black lives lost at the hands of the police.  There could be no disagreement there; and even though the tragedy of police racial bias persists, I think no one but the most depraved would take issue with her plea.  There is another lesson, less obvious to most, to take from our sadness and outrage at the senseless slaughter of Cecil.

Every now and then we are surprised at how we can grieve the death of a non-human being, such as Cecil the lion.  That was also the case with Barbaro the race horse a few years ago. Such sadness leads to confused questioning; how can we mourn an animal’s death, or as Ms. Gay noted, even cry at that death while not giving way to such emotion for a fellow human being? On such occasions we overcome our pervasive and deeply rooted bias toward the human species. That emotional connection to an animal perplexes us, although many do know the feeling, having experienced it before; anyone who has had a companion animal, such as a family dog, die knows the grief a non-human death can bring, although many would labor at grieving less at that death than at a human death and wonder why the recovery from it is so long and painful. In such cases we humans slam into our cultural, ingrained bias toward our own species.  We are indoctrinated with the idea that the human species matters most, the other species differ so much from us that our sentiments cannot extend to them, and therefore we humans enjoy the privilege over all the other species to do as we will. Humans live according to the code with regard to non-humans that “might makes right.” We can kill them, we can hunt them, we can imprison them, we can use them for experiments, we can eat them without regard to their interests or their lives because it serves our interests and nothing is stopping us.  The contradiction, or cynically stated, hypocrisy, of mourning one dead animal within that cultural background is striking.  That contradiction should not lead us to suppress out sadness for Cecil or Barbaro or the family dog.  The reality of that sadness should open our eyes to the worth of the lives of other creatures who cling to life, have interests, and no more deserve what the human species inflicts on them than Cecil deserved to suffer and die for the human joy of having his head on a dentist’s trophy wall.

An Amazingly Ordinary Goose

I heard a “delightful” animal anecdote today about a Canadian goose who had been rescued as a young bird by a family of animal-sensitive humans. They had found him injured beside his crushed sibling, took him home, and raised him as a companion animal. The point of the anecdote was to relate, with due amazement, this bird’s remarkable behavior that includes the utmost attachment to his saviors: he follows them everywhere, acting more like a faithful and well-trained family dog than a wild bird. I am the odd man out, I suspect, in my reaction to the story. It just makes me sad, not charmed. I don’t think that this one bird is a genius goose. I don’t take him as the remarkable contrast to the typical “bird-brained” animal just because he shows interests, such as an attachment to other creatures, which bespeaks a true degree of intellect and emotion. People need to find this goose sui generis or rara avis (the better Latin phrase in this instance). How can your generic goose be like this clever goose when we stuff geese into cages and force feed them to swell their liver so we can feast on foie gras or make their carcass the centerpiece for a Christmas meal? We like to think they are not “smart” or capable of affection and that this one goose is simply remarkable. He is a goose and his behavior is not astounding any more than the behaviors of so many animals, such as cows, pigs, and turkeys, when they are not consigned to cruelty and cages. I have a cockatiel who knows my son and likes him more than anyone else.  When he hears his voice he flies to him even if he is several rooms away; I might offer that as an “amazing” animal exhibition, but I don’t think it is at all except to people who insist on denying the depth of an “animal’s” existence (forgetting we are animals too) which makes eating them so much easier. I wish I could be exempt from hearing such stories as it only disturbs me.  Oh well I am doomed to be disturbed — hunting season is coming to New York State… oh that pesky deer population, must bag a few as a service to what?  Our yards?  One last thought, now that I have segued to hunting:  humans have proven that one of the most firmly entrenched needs for many is to feel superior to someone else: whites had to feel superior to blacks or indigenous people or any one they could find; one tribe or religion had to feel superior to some other; men had to feel superior to women.  Even some mean girls have to feel superior to other girls and on it goes.  People might not like to admit that they have fallen so low as to need to be better than other species, but I think so.  Hunters need to feel superior to other animals. One lucky goose and millions of very unlucky other creatures.