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War and Peace

Posted by tinako on June 8, 2009

Peace for Pigs

Peace for Pigs

A year ago I stood in a cold tent for four hours in front of a display I made about Livestock’s contribution to global warming.  Here is something I wrote to put that research into written form.  While there, I spoke to a man who was not particularly interested in animals, but in peace.  He asked if I was aware of any connection between my interest, animal agriculture, and his, war, and on the spur of the moment I suggested that they are certainly both violent, and based on perceiving an “other,” by which I meant “not us, them.”  He asked me to contact him if I thought of anything else.  I did, and I thought I would share our  correspondence, since I put a lot of thought into it and copying and pasting is so easy.

I reiterated what I had said to him, and continued: It can be argued that these [violence and perception of the “other”] are not just similarities, but that the our attitudes carry directly from one to the other and allow us to become good at turning our compassion on and off.  This connection is explored in a book I have not read but learned about at an absolutely amazing podcast called Food For Thought, which can be found at compassionatecooks.com.  The particular episode is called “Eating for World Peace” and here is the direct link to it: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/VegetarianFoodForThought/~5/235116855/worldpeacediet2.mp3 Here is a  brief overview of the episode, as taken from her website:

-Today’s episode consists of a reading from The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, by Will Tuttle (the selection is from the chapter titled, “Our Culture’s Roots,” p. 17-24)

-Learn more about Will by visiting his website, http://www.willtuttle.com

-Will refers to Jim Mason’s book An Unnatural Order in the excerpt read on today’s podcast

-Both books are published by Lantern Books, a New York-based company that publishes books on vegetarianism, animal advocacy, environmentalism, spirituality, and social justice (the company was founded by Martin Rowe, who also co-founded Satya Magazine)

Here is a similarity between the two topics, though probably not an actual connection: industry giants are involved, and are uncomfortably close to a government agency which seemingly fails to operate in the public interest.  The USDA is a disgrace.  The Cattleman’s Association, the Dairy Board, and Haliburton probably have a lot in common.

He replied (edited, we talked about several unrelated subjects):

I thought the MP3 file was GREAT!  Will Tuttle brings together a lot of important ideas in a compelling way.

Still, there has to be more to it than what individual people eat.  Someone told me that Adolph Hitler was a vegan.  And I eat meat, but am not especially warlike.  The way I see it, a lot of the positive (and the destructive) things we do come from “cultural stories” which we learned as little children, which serve as filters to modify our whole perception of the world.  I can buy the herder-capitalist – war connection as at least reasonable.

I took forever and then replied:

my apologies for not answering you earlier.  I read your first email right away and appreciated the thought you had put into it.  I wanted to think it over and had decided this morning would be the day to reply, and then lo and behold, there was your second email (thanks).Re the MP3 podcast.  I’m glad you like it.  I must say I am not that knowledgeable about the meat/peace connection.  For me, there are so many good reasons to be vegan that its historical effect on our culture has not been at the forefront of my mind.  I listened to that podcast and it sounded reasonable and seemed like it might be what you were looking for – I’m just not informed enough to comment.
“Still, there has to be more to it than what individual people eat.  Someone told me that Adolph Hitler was a vegan.”

I have heard Hitler was vegetarian – I never heard of him described as vegan before, but I could be wrong.  I have also heard that it is a complete myth.  And I don’t know what his reason was, which is important – was he just a “health nut”?  Most of my comments in this email will only apply to vegans who abstain from animal products for ethical reasons.  If it’s just about health, then it might as well be the Atkin’s diet for all the effect it will have psychologically.  If it’s true about Hitler being vegetarian, the thing I like about it is that it can keep us vegs humble – it will keep the arrogant among us from crowing about how being vegan automatically makes us better people.  Here’s a site that discusses it: http://michaelbluejay.com/veg/hitler.html

And I eat meat, but am not especially warlike.

I ate meat for over 20 years, and I was not warlike at all.  I myself would not suggest that the actual eating of meat causes one to be violent, but animal agriculture is definitely violent.  Further, in order to eat it, I believe we have to practice some deceptions on ourselves that are easily applied to other parts of our lives as well.  Here goes my theory, which I have never put into an organized form before, so bear with me:

1. Most people like animals and do not like them to be abused.  Most people are horrified and angered by animal abuse.
2. Most people eat dead animals.

There is a lot of overlap between these two populations.  How do intelligent people manage this?

Mental Wall #1, “The Other” : Most people are familiar with dogs and cats.  Most people are unfamiliar with farm animals.  Even though farm animals share many social and mental characteristics with animals we call pets, they have characteristics that preclude our inviting them into our homes.  They grow too big, or they are not housetrainable, for instance.  So even though pigs are very similar to dogs, and actually smarter, because they grow too big to be house pets they are unfamiliar, “The Other.”  Even though chickens and turkeys are as loveable as cats if you take the time with them (I have had a turkey  purr in my lap), they poop all over, so they make poor housepets and are also unfamiliar.  So we aren’t in contact with these animals, we don’t see them as friends/family like our pets, we don’t come to know their personalities, and we don’t particularly like them.  I could talk about farm workers, and I recall your saying you raised chickens, but I will stick to consumers for this discussion, since that covers most people.  We come to have ignorant stereotypes about farm animals, such as that they are stupid, fat, lazy, and dirty, and without personal experience how are we to learn we are wrong?  I once heard someone say cows are so stupid they deserve to be eaten.  Does all this sound familiar?  I don’t think I need to point out to you that we humans often make these same mistakes about other humans.  Weren’t we just talking about Hitler?  Racism and species-ism are very closely related.  Perhaps it can be argued that we learn to dismiss the suffering of other people by dismissing the suffering of other animals.  We put up a wall between ourselves (and those who seem to be like us), and The Other.  Is this wall rational?

Sometimes there is a Mental Wall #2, “I Don’t Want To Know”:  “OK,” the person says, “chickens shouldn’t suffer, but I’m just going to turn away and then I won’t have to deal with the pain.  I don’t want to spoil the taste of Buffalo wings.”  This is more of a Mental Wet Blanket I guess, stifling all reflection.  I imagine you run across this sentiment as you work to educate people about war.

Even if we come to decide that animal cruelty is wrong whether it’s beating a dog or a pig, and that we care that it does happen, another wall remains.

Mental Wall #3, “I Didn’t Do It”:   This cognitive disconnect says, “If I didn’t wield the stick, I’m not responsible.”  I think my personal story of discovery illuminates this wall very well, since I had fooled myself for many years.  I would tsk tsk as I read my animal rights newsletters: Those bad men were mistreating animals again – how can anyone do such a thing?  Then one day, I read a story about a stockyard foreman who, angry at an investigator, killed a sick little calf with a hammer.  I was so angry at that man, but suddenly I realized that I was paying his salary every time I went to the supermarket.  That wall between my seemingly innocuous grocery store visits, and the abuse I was reading about, came tumbling down.  It was a painful thing to contemplate my complicity, but with this awareness I could make a decision.  Was I going to bring my actions into alignment with my values, or was it going to be the other way around?  I swore I’d never pay that *&^%$ foreman again.  Can you find this disconnect in war?

My point in all this is not just to show my model of how good people can eat meat, and that this choice inflicts mental damage on them in the form of walls which restrict the values they would like to live by and chokes off their compassion and humanity.  My point, because you asked for a connection, is to show that you can probably find all three of these same disconnects in people’s tolerance of human-human violence.  I would suggest further that they are not just similar, but related – that they feed off one another, that tolerating one allows us to tolerate the other.  You said you are not particularly violent, and neither was I in my meat-eating years, but I tolerated violence, and I am sorry to say that I supported it as well.

“The way I see it, a lot of the positive (and the destructive) things we do come from “cultural stories” which we learned as little children, which serve as filters to modify our whole perception of the world.  I can buy the herder-capitalist – war connection as at least reasonable.”
So I agree with this.  We teach children these three mental blocks when we teach them to eat meat (not just put it on their plate but supply them with the necessary rationalizations or ignorance).  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that children apply these mental blocks to other things.  I doubt there are studies showing that vegans are less violent on a day-to-day basis than non-vegans, in fistfights, gun violence, etc.  But I bet there is a correlation between veganism and a higher pacifism, because vegans tear down those walls.  So as you said, it (violence) is more than what people eat.

See, that’s why it took so long to reply.  I had all this to say, and I hope I expressed it clearly.

He replied:

I think your picture of mental walls is clear, and helpful.

My mother was a Quaker, and given to various public-minded causes.  She ate meat, but when she heard about cruelty in the way animals were slaughtered, she got activist about it.  I grew up on the idea of “kindly killed” meat–which sounds like silliness, if you haven’t heard of the truly terrible things that used to be done to animals in the meat packing business.

An argument one could make is: If we set up farms in which animals aren’t abused and have good lives (e.g. free range chickens), but their lives are cut short (so now they’re alive and suspect nothing–the next minute they’re dead)–maybe that’s not so bad, considering that if they weren’t being raised for food, they would never have lived at all.

I would like to comment on the argument towards eating meat if farm animals have good lives.  I can sympathize with this argument, and I would have agreed with it in my past.  It’s possible for us to reduce, through passing and enforcing laws, many pointless abuses such as workers taking out their frustrations on the animals, or poor slaughter procedures leading to unreliable stunning, etc.  It’s possible to stop dragging downers around.  These are things that affect a small number of animals (downers), or do not improve profits (beating animals).  Maybe more reliable slaughter procedures could be invented.

The problem is that from a practical business standpoint it is impossible to give billions of animals (in the US alone) anything a reasonable person would call a good life.  When animals are a big business commodity, there will be inherent cruelty.  For example, it is not possible to supply the enormous demand without intensive confinement, such as lifetime pens little larger than the animal or crowding so intense animals cannot move.  It is not economically feasible to provide anesthesia for any “necessary” procedures, such as ear notching, wattling, branding, dehorning, castration, tail removal, debeaking, and de-toeing.  It is impossible to provide veterinary care to the 300,000,000 chickens laying eggs in this country.  There isn’t enough straw grown to provide sufficient bedding for 100,000,000 pigs, leading to injury.  It is not economically feasible to provide comfort (temperature, food, water, clean bedding, space) in shipping 10,000,000,000 live animals a year hundreds or thousands of miles to slaughter.  It is simply not possible to provide the Old MacDonald life for the number of animals that consumers demand at a reasonable price.  It is simply not practical to provide a level of care any reasonable person would consider humane.

“But,” someone might say, “it is being done.  They sell humane animal products right now, for only a little more money.”  It is my understanding, from many sources such as this very good one, that the farms that currently claim to be more humane are not, and their claims are meant to make us feel better than the animals trapped there.  That link describes the issues much better than I can.  This is a confusing subject.  I read reports from mainstream news that caged hens are happy and healthy, but when I see video (the Wegman’s facility, this video is not violent) there are injured and dead hens all over.  I tend to trust my own eyes rather than news stories based on press releases.  Podcast on humane meat.

So while I myself am done with animal products, I do wish animals in food production could have humane treatment, but we just don’t see how it’s possible.

I was sort of surprised to see you write that truly terrible thing used to be done to animals in the meat packing business.  I am amazed to think of anything that could be worse than what I have read is currently happening.  It is nothing better than obscene – I couldn’t possibly repeat it.  If you think you can take it, here is a podcast excerpt of this 1997 book, an expose on how awful the new slaughterhouses are for workers, animals, and consumers.  If it used to be worse than this, don’t tell me, I don’t think I can handle it.

I’m enjoying our discussion, and like to hear what you have to say about peace and the animal connection.  It is good to think about new things.  Thanks for writing.

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One Response to “War and Peace”

  1. […] trotted out my old “How Green is Your Cuisine?” display, and that was very useful (again).  I can’t believe I considered dismantling this display […]

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