On The Respectful Emperor
I've been having a difficult time blogging both here and at Animal Rights & AntiOppression lately because I feel like my thoughts are like "Groundhog Day." Not the day, the film, where Bill Murray experiences the same day over and over again.
There are few animal rights stories in the news. We are not people who are interested in discussing animal rights, as in, the right of sentient nonhumans to not be used by humans for potential profit, for sport or for lunch.
That leaves us with animal welfare, which I do think we are genuinely interested in, mostly because of the myriad videos, documentaries, books and websites that have made it tough to avoid over the past few years. People are talking. And acting. Of course, what they are talking about and how they are changing their behavior is very frustrating for someone who doesn't believe we should be using animals at all. Most of the talk and the action is about treating animals differently—better, allegedly–while not addressing what is of paramount importance to all living creatures: staying alive.
When I think about the language that has been used by people who kill animals or have someone else do it for them, a couple of years ago the "compassionate" trend began. Farmers were bragging about how much they "loved" the animals they would soon betray and slaughter, and many omnivores who had discovered how animals are treated wanted to assuage their consciences a bit by "at least" giving the animals a better life prior to their untimely slaughter. I wrote often about such farmer/authors and found their rationalizations quite creepy. (Here's "On THE COMPASSIONATE CARNIVORE" from September of 2008.)
In short order it was clear that The Compassionate Emperor had no clothes, however. You didn't have to think too deeply about that one before you reached its fatal flaws. It wasn't long before The Humane Emperor came on the scene, and is still around, telling folks that with a little mental acrobatics you can include forcible breeding, captivity, separation of family, killing of day-old chicks, and of course, untimely death in the definition of "humane." The Humane Myth debunks any definition of humane farming you can create though, and it would help animals enormously if we coached more people in the deconstructing of the notion of humane.
Maybe "humane" is already on its way out for the folks trying to convince themselves and others that humane killing isn't an oxymoron. Yesterday I saw what could be the next such attempt in The Atlantic's "Last Clucks: The Death of a Chicken," by Sara Lipka. Lipka introduced me to the idea of killing "respectfully." There's so much to deconstruct here, but after this lengthy intro I'm feeling the need to go in the opposite direction and just provide the highlights. And by highlights, I mean sentences that made me want to scream.
- "Our friend Miranda had her eye on Tina, the only bird distinctive enough to be named." That one left me speechless.
- "My boyfriend, Daniel, wanted to kill his hen, quietly and respectfully, and eat it." Wanted? His? Respectfully? It?
- "Our friend James caught our hen and put it in a hay-lined waxed-cardboard box. It calmed down and sat quietly in the box, on the floor of my car's backseat." Our. It.
- "the chicken waited with me, its head sticking through a gap in the top of the box. It was funny, maybe even cute." Its. It.
- "We took the chicken to Daniel's parents' house and left it in the box in the garage overnight." It. Okay, I can't keep doing this. There are more than 15 more "it"s.
- "Blood splattered on my pants and on Daniel's face, which made him, in a hooded sweatshirt, look like a murderer." He had indeed just murdered a chicken.
- "Feathers: animal. No feathers: food. I didn't feel sentimental anymore." That's an honest observation.
- "I'm still glad we did it. I confirmed my weird personal right to consume chicken." I find it sad that Lipka views the killing as some sort of right of passage that gives her permission to pay to have others kill other chickens and who knows what other animals when she in fact does not need to eat (or wear or otherwise use) them.
- "Our little chicken was very much on my mind as we ate her." What was on her mind, I wonder?
The stories we humans create for ourselves to justify–or even glorify–our behavior are fictions. If we really want to respect chickens, and if we really want to be "mindful" of them, we would remove them from the table and allow them to live their lives. That's respect.
–Photo from Flickr user gunp0wder