“We need factories of death; we need factory animals.“
The Lives of Animals, J. M. Coetzee
Two years ago, Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote in Scientific American that:
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the struggle for survival is how easily organisms can be harmed by that which they desire. The trout is caught by the fisherman's lure, the mouse by cheese. But at least those creatures have the excuse that bait and cheese look like sustenance. Humans seldom have that consolation. The temptations that can disrupt their lives are often pure indulgences.
Americans face an almost constant temptation that, like bait and cheese, looks like sustenance but which is in the end pure indulgence – a cultural addiction that secretly and systematically robs them not only of their health, but of their freedom and independence as well.
Americans are addicted to blood.
It begins in the cradle, when their parents, themselves addicted and acculturated to defensive denial, begin feeding their children the milk of cows and paste manufactured from the butchered corpses of murdered animals. Power in the form of 1) the government and its schools and 2) the corporations and their media tells them this is “food,” that it’s “nourishment,” and that it’s necessary for the child’s growth. Once they reach the age of five and begin serving their thirteen-year sentence in “public school,” they are taught by every authority figure they see that milk and “meat” are mere agricultural products, two of the major “food groups” that we all need for good nutrition. And when they’re home, that other great cultural management tool, television, constantly reiterates this concept, showing them tight loving close-ups of the ground-up corpse of a cow dripping with what Plutarch aptly called thousands of years ago “the juices of death-wounds” – as well as the happy smiling faces of humans devouring what they euphemistically call “hamburgers” (many of which parents purchase as part of their child’s “Happy Meal.” As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”).
Most Americans, then, spend their entire lives thinking of animal remains, of corpses, as “food” – as in many ways the main and most important one. Consuming it at nearly every meal, they become acclimated, acculturated, addicted, to its taste and its texture, always expecting it and even centering their eating habits around it. When the family wants to know “what’s for dinner,” the answer never refers to fruits or vegetables, never bread or rice. It always refers to the once-living flesh of beings tortured cruelly during their short miserable lives and then cold-bloodedly murdered: the answer is always “beef” or “ham,” “hot dogs” or “steak.”
But this addiction of people to killing and consuming the dead benefits Power in several ways, none of which, of course, benefit the individual. First, of course, eating the dead damages human health. Anyone who takes the time to look fairly and honestly at the situation will find this fact well-documented. Heart disease, obesity, various cancers, and even Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis (among others) have all been linked to eating the dead. While this obviously harms individuals, it benefits Power by making people dependent upon money, technology, and even politics for their health (national health insurance, anyone?). Bill Clinton could easily have avoided his recent, and no doubt very expensive, heart by-pass operation simply by not eating the dead.
Eating the dead viscerally binds people to Power, to technology, to the State. Think, after all, of how we obtain this flesh in the first place. Most of us never think about this at all, just as we never think about where our corn is grown or where Pop Tarts come from. It appears there like all the other food – through the miracle, the magic, of modern technology.
Interestingly, humans can only access the flesh of other animals through their use of technology. We are not like the true carnivores. As Plutarch wrote two thousand years ago:
But if you will contend that yourself was born to an inclination to such food as you have now a mind to eat, do you then yourself kill what you would eat. But do it yourself, without the help of a chopping-knife, mallet, or axe – as wolves, bears, and lions do, who kill and eat at once. Rend an ox with thy teeth, worry a hog with thy mouth, tear a lamb or a hare in pieces, and fall on and eat it alive as they do.
Without even the simplest technology, we have no way of eating other animals. We might manage to kill them, but we have no claws or sharp teeth with which to tear the bodies apart. We need knives, mallets, axes – or worse because, again according to Plutarch, “a human body no ways resembles those that were born for ravenousness; it hath no hawk's bill, no sharp talon, no roughness of teeth.”
From the very beginning, eating the dead required man to use technology – it required him to come together, to organize in the first steps towards a state (perhaps all man’s cravings for technology stem from his craving for power over the world and over other beings – from his desire to kill. And perhaps we derive the State itself from killing. Perhaps its “lifeblood” is literally blood itself). Then, of course, people had to cook the flesh of the freshly dead for, again, unlike true natural carnivores, we are not fit physically for consuming raw bloody flesh. And this required yet another technology – that of controlling fire.
The planet has many more humans now that it did in Plutarch’s day – humans who demand more and more death to feast upon. And those humans are totally dependent upon their improved, incredibly lethal, technology to satisfy their vast bloodlust. Billions of beings must now be murdered every year. It must be done quickly, coldly, and cruelly to create so much death so quickly. The obscene “factory farms” in which these innocent and defenseless beings are tortured every second of their short horrible lives; the huge amount of antibiotics necessary to keep them alive in the squalid, sadistic conditions in which they’re imprisoned until they’re fattened up enough to profit their murderers; the disassembly lines on which their bodies are butchered; the refrigerated trucks and trains that transport their corpses all over the country before they turn to carrion; the supermarket networks that distribute them in clean, bloodless packages wrapped in cellophane: all of these require modern hydro-carbon powered technology.
Our dependence on this constant, daily mass murder of beings different from us so that we can taste their flesh has several consequences, none of them good. First, it accustoms us to killing. We accept the constant flow of blood as good, necessary, as just the way things are.
Second, America’s addiction to blood also helps keep the masses addicted to Power: the power of the state, of the corporation – the power of technology. Without that Power, there’s no possible way of them getting that amount of fresh blood every day. Each time it gives a person another piece of flesh, Power draws that person a little closer, makes him love Power a little more fully. It makes him feel that power himself as he chews and swallows the corpses that Power has given him. He knows unconsciously that such massive wholesale butchery could never be done on such a scale without Power. He knows that he’s dependant on the system that creates it for him, that gives him his daily fix of blood and death. And that in turn helps him accept the lies Power tells him. They may keep him in a mental cage, but it’s a comfortable one as long as he has a corpse to eat. After all, as Wayne Swanson and George Schultz wrote in Prime Rip, “Many Americans would sooner give up their freedom than give up their meat.”
Americans crave Power. They always have. That’s why it’s become the world’s ruling empire. The first settlers had Power over the natives, killing them without mercy and driving them from the land they had occupied for thousands of years. The North had the same vicious Power over the South during the War Between the States, a viciousness celebrated as “saving the Union.” Today, the American government exercises Power over the entire world, “preemptively” invading sovereign nations, while back home its people revel in all kinds of power – immense SUVs, huge television sets, the internet, heat and electricity at the push of a button. But perhaps the most fearsome display of power is their constant feasting on the flesh of the billions of innocent creatures it cruelly and totally without conscience tortures, murders, butchers, and eats. As Plutarch said, “You are indeed wont to call serpents, leopards, and lions savage creatures; but yet yourselves are defiled with blood, and come nothing behind them in cruelty.”
But you can do something about this. Each of us can. We can decide not to participate in this culture of death. Doing so robs Power of its power. It tries every day to claim us, tempting us with the promise of ease, comfort, entertainment, and pleasure. Power tells us life will never be hard or difficult if we only embrace it. And its greatest, most powerful temptation – the one that has made the greatest inroads into our minds because it so infuses our bodies, because it literally becomes a part of us – is the temptation of flesh.
You want to improve the world? You want to stop the war? You want personal freedom? You won’t get it by voting. You won’t get it by complaining about the government. You won’t get it by worrying and fretting over the news. You can start heading that way, though, if you stop willingly and eagerly subsidizing the mass murder that underlies American culture.
Stop eating animals.
Craig Russell lives on a small farm in upstate New York.