April 18, 2010
Just the other day I was having a discussion with someone in a recording studio – they know who they are – about why I was a vegetarian. And during this Q & A session, which felt more like a grilling about why I didn’t eat meat anymore, I seemed to detect a general lack of any consideration towards animals in general, and whether they really had any of their own feelings – just as we do – and whether they were conscious, as sentient beings tend to be. After much debate, my “adversary” – for want of a better word – proclaimed that animals just “didn’t have feelings like we, as human beings, did.” The blatant proclamation of this apparent ‘fact‘ somewhat took me aback and left me pondering about what the great Taoist, Chaung Tzu, once wrote concerning the happiness of fish…
On The Happiness Of Fish
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”
Huizi said, “You’re not a fish — how do you know what fish enjoy?”
Zhuangzi said, “You’re not me, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”
Huizi said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish — so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy — so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”
After I asked the individual in question what exactly made them say this with such certainty – a certainty that was almost as though it had been experienced first hand on some direct level – they replied that it was obvious from the way in which animals reacted in general to everyday situations. It was at that point that I relayed my own experience with just how the bizarre and egocentric view that human beings have on the world can allow them to make errors beyond recourse, and how this usually arises from their general lack of ability to accurately place themselves in another sentient beings “hooves,” let alone another human’s shoes. In fact, I went so far as to give them a link to a website called “Choose Veg!” so that they could see some of the types of treatment/slaughter/culling that deprive the animals of their lives and gave mankind their much treasured meat for their plates.
While it’s certainly not a pleasant site/sight… And there is no doubt that a scare mongering of sorts is going on here… I still know that the images are not too far from the truth of the matter. Having seen this “rant” about animal cruelty, I felt obliged to write a comment upon the website that had directed me to this shrine for our malicious, greedy murder for flesh…
Thankfully the types of farms that treat animals this way are rarely found in the UK now, if at all. Big up the British Farming Standards! But still, there “might” be a few around… Especially when it comes to battery chickens. So you never really know.
Thus… If you’re concerned – and can’t give up meat – you can always choose to buy your meat from private farms that look after their animals a lot better i.e. they keep smaller numbers of animals and so can leave them “free-range”, as well as provide them with better, more humane care because they look after them on a more intimate “one on one” basis… Many of the animals on private also have names, like you might give to your pet cats, dogs, horses, gerbils, etc… Still the images within “Choose Veg!” speak volumes about mankind’s detached and cruel treatment of animals for the meat industry! Having worked in an abattoir myself for just under two weeks – back in 1994, in between leaving school and going off to uni – I got a taste for what murder was like. And boy did it freak me… I simply couldn’t dig the thought of working in the meat trade after seeing the way animals were slaughtered (not killed, but slaughtered) for our food. So i quit 10 days after starting, which meant I wouldn’t get paid a penny for the hours I’d worked, as you had to be there for a month at least in order to get your first pay cheque. But after what I saw, that didn’t bothered me in the slightest…
While I didn’t become a vegetarian immediately, it planted certain seeds of awareness into my mind about where the meat on my plate came from… Not to mention, it made me rethink completely about what I was putting into my body i.e. meat laced with adrenaline and other stress steroids… But it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I became a fully fledged vegetarian. Then, meat went right off my agenda. After all, you are what you eat! And I certainly wasn’t cruel…
Having said all that, if you can work in an abattoir and still eat meat – and there are many who can – then fair play to you. But please do be aware, death is still death. In old hunter gatherer times, people used to have a very different relationship with their food i.e. they used to hunt them and, thus, respected their prey’s cunning and stealth during the hunt. One was almost intimately entwined with their food, either growing it directly or hunting it in the forests and on the planes of mother Earth. Our ancestors treated their kill with respect and decency… In some ways, it was a fair game to play back then i.e. either catch/kill your food or it got away and you starved. But as we’ve lost contact with our ancestor’s ways, so we’ve forgotten what and who our food really is… And so we no longer see their alive, awakened bodies writhe with the taught sinews of their lives as we equal their own desire to live and exist while hunting them… And so what these animals means to us presently, as well as where they came from, beleaguers our own narrow “windows view” of the world through man’s own egocentricity. Many of us who understand our deep connection to these fenced in “creatures,” who are passive and so easily subdued in their fenced in fields, see them as nothing more than animals to fill our gut. But there are many, many more who don’t even connect the languidly grazing cows in a summer British pasture with the meat that goes on their plates, let alone the processes that kill them…
To be honest, I certainly can’t see that the methods being employed to kill animals in abattoirs getting any better in the near future, that’s one thing for sure i.e. a shot of morphine to knock them out before hand? Erm, not a chance!!! So if you’re going to carry on eating meat, then why not do so conscientiously, and at least ensure that the animals you’re eating have had as happy and healthy a Life as they can here on Earth i.e. they’re free to roam fields, they get some loving from the farmers to whom they belong (even the ability for a sentient being to belong to someone reminds me of the slave-trade that we abolished), they’re well looked after (they have easy access to animal health care i.e. a vet), they’re fed well and naturally i.e. not force fed like Foie gras OR Veal… RATHER than living in cramped, over crowded barns, with under nourished diets and a strong dose of drugs to get them up to weight… Again, this all too readily reminds me of the appalling conditions from the “concentration camps” that the persecuted had to endure before being killed during the second world war. Nobody dug those, i can tell you!!!
But if you’re the type of person who cannot speculate about the death of the animals you munch on for nourishment without feeling sick to your stomach… Or cannot talk about such cruelty without feeling repulsed and disgusted about the way your meat might have been treated… OR if you couldn’t kill, let alone catch, prey… Well… In my humble opinion then you probably shouldn’t really be eating their flesh now, should you… Food for thought, eh?
Despite what I’ve just written about… I’m a realist. I know there will be people who still will eat meat. So for the UK meat eaters reading this blog who might want to know more about how they can ensure that the flesh that they buy comes from “properly” – see above – treated animals, then please see below for some handy sites to visit. After all, if you choose to buy your meat ONLY from farms that look after their animals i.e. “farm assured produce”, then you’re effectively using your pound/dollar/euro to vote for better animal welfare. Now there’s a comforting thought, eh?
British Farming Standards info:
2) Red Tractor
However, if you’re already off meat and wondering what else you can do to stop animals from being exploited by their human “masters,” – chortle – then why not consider quitting all dairy products? There are plenty of milk alternatives, such as oat milk, rice milk, almond milk, or the common soya milk.
Either way… I don’t condone animal exploitation. For me, animals are sentient beings. They all have their own type of awareness and intelligence. Who are we to say whether they have feelings or not? We have already seen within the pages of these here blogs how “blinkered” our own points of view can sometimes be… AND just how prone we all are to optical, audible and other perceptive illusions. I mean, if we’re this prone to making errors about perceiving our own environment, then how certain can someone be about whether animals have feelings or not!? Surely if you find disturbing the idea of a highly advanced alien culture – who have levels of awareness that seem to stretch majestically beyond our own perceptive abilities – coming down from outer-space and milking humans for some nutrient in their blood, keeping them trapped in cages, riddled with wires and pacified like we do many animals… Justifying their cause on the simple fact that We – as humans – are apparently not sentient enough OR capable of the types of intelligence that our alien counterparts are… Well, then I would like to recommend that you should seriously reconsider the relationship you have with the meat that you eat.
I remember a rhyming verse I heard recently when someone was telling me about the Haitians and their current plight in Haiti after the earthquake:
“Human beings are part of a whole,
Of one essence and one soul
If one is afflicted with pain,
The others will be uneasy and feel the same,
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
Then the title ‘human’ you cannot claim.”
When I initially heard this I saw the deep truth behind its simple facade. And just recently, having read an article on mirror neurones that human beings have in their brains i.e. the areas for compassion and understanding one another’s emotions and actions, I wondered… Surely it would be equally as fit to replace the italicised word “human” for “animal?” This is lest we aim to truly become the autistic Life forms of evolution’s algorithm here on mother Earth…
But perhaps you see evolution as the driving force for life. Survival of the fittest, using the weak for their own needs and gain… Natural selection kills of the weak and leaves only the strong. And perhaps you feel that if advanced aliens did come down from outer-space to “milk” our human bodies of their nutrients… Well, this is again survival of the fittest and, so, is perfectly acceptable. But if this is all there is to Life i.e. use and enslave, then why do we as human beings hold the ideal of freedom above all others?
If you’re still somewhat having difficulty seeing how similar we are to other sentient beings… And thus are at a loss as to what I mean… And perhaps you feel that you want to know more on the subject… Then there is a gentleman who has thought long and hard about all of this. In fact he has written several deeply penetrating and insightful books on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend anyone and everyone reads at some point in their lives. His name is Dr Jonathan Balcombe.
Animal pain and stress, once controversial, are now acknowledged by legislation in many countries, but there is no formal recognition of animals’ ability to feel pleasure. Jonathan Balcombe — his books and his writings — debunk the popular perception that life for most is a continuous, grim struggle for survival and the avoidance of pain. Instead he suggests that creatures from birds to baboons feel good thanks to play, sex, touch, food, anticipation, comfort, aesthetics, and more.
Combining rigorous evidence, elegant argument and amusing anecdotes, leading animal behavior researcher Jonathan Balcombe proposes that the possibility of positive feelings in creatures other than humans has important ethical ramifications for both science and society.
Danger-junkie orangutans in Borneo climb dead trees and destabilize them until they begin to fall. They scream with excitement as they cling to the falling tree. Just before the tree hits the ground the orangs leap to another tree or vine, narrowly escaping death. Researchers call this peculiar behavior snag-riding and liken it to bungee jumping for monkeys. While no one can ask orangutans if they enjoy the same adrenaline rush as a person playing an extreme sport, one animal behaviorist sees this monkey fun as a bit of harmless thrill-seeking.
A growing number of scientists agree that animals are conscious and capable of experiencing basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness, boredom or depression. A few scientists even see the possibility for higher animal emotions like love, jealousy and spite.
Scientific literature, dating back to Charles Darwin, is dotted with examples of animals loving life, but rarely does the scientific community allow such musings. In fact, only one scientist is looking at the eat-or-be-eaten animal kingdom as a place where fun and mischief define the in-the-moment lifestyle of most animals.
To quote Dr Balcombe directly…
“I do feel very strongly that our current relationship with animals represents what the Hopi Indians would call koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance.”
And it is here that I would like to present an enlightened interview with Dr Jonathan Balcombe, which touches pertinently on animal rights, animal welfare and aspects of human consciousness and some of the various perceptive stances that We – as human beings – have about the world around us. I believe that once we can begin to see through our own deeply egocentric view of the Earth, We will be able to move forwards into new realms of behaviour that allow us to become “Shepherds” of the Earth, rather than plunderers and usurpers of this treasure that we call Life.
To find out more about Dr Jonathan Balcombe’s important work regarding animal rights, please visit his website by clicking here.
AND to find out where I sourced this interview from, please click here.
FOR more information about animal rights, please click here.
EVEN to read more about the ethics behind animal rights, please visit the BBC’s home page regarding animal welfare by clicking here.
PLUS… If you’d like to read about how science is trying to “grade” the facial expressions of mice while they are subjected to pain, in order to see if there is a common/universal language for mammalian expression, then please click here.