Today I heard this said, yet again and without a trace of irony, by a dairy industry representative, about the decisions of consumers to consume milk and milk products from nonhumans.
So what’s obscene about the phrase? It’s obscene in the way that any good, noble and worthy thing becomes obscene once it has been corrupted and used as a way of disguising and denying harm, horror and needless death.
‘Live and let live’ is a phrase commonly resorted to by the many who view veganism as the removal of their freedom of choice. And yet a more inappropriate phrase would be so hard to find that today I found myself wondering why. Do those who use it in this manner not understand the words that make it up, are they simply unaware of the basic processes that constitute the production of the substances that are derived from the lives and bodies of members of other species, or is there some other reason ?
The meaning of ‘live’
Perhaps the first potential misconception that needs to be addressed here is the word ‘live’. It seems to me very unlikely, but certainly, a misunderstanding about this word could possibly, I expect, make the phrase ‘live and let live’ in the context of animal use and exploitation, make some sort of sense. So let’s tackle that first.
Now clearly this definition would exclude – say – rocks, but I expect that everyone would agree that any complex organism such as those whom we victimise for ‘food’, clothing and experimentation actually do ‘live’. They are born, they breathe, they think, they feel, they experience the world. They live.
So having established that they fulfil the criteria to be considered to ‘live’, do we ‘let’ them ‘live’? Well, no.
All animal use industries kill
Given our unnecessary, violent and utterly merciless exploitation of every aspect of their existence from their conception until their terrifying death in a slaughterhouse, the phrase ‘live and let live’ can hardly be considered to have any relevance whatsoever. And let’s make no mistake here – every use of nonhumans and particularly the dairy and egg industries that are predicated upon the exploitation of reproductive processes and the severing of mother/child bonds – lead to premature death for our victims. The perception of dairy and egg use as being victimless is a severely mistaken one, that the links here can dispel unless the reader is utterly determined to remain oblivious.
But we all love animals…?
It increasingly seems to me that we are inhabiting the surreal world of Orwell’s dystopian vision, and this is never illustrated more starkly than in the area of animal use.
For those unfamiliar with the Orwell’s tale, it takes place in a setting where government departments of Peace deal with war and defence, Plenty – economic rationing and starvation; Love – torture and brainwashing; and Truth – propaganda.
In our dealings with animals the majority of us have been schooled to consider that our attitude toward those who do are unfortunate enough not to share our species, may legitimately be termed ‘love’, when in fact as consumers we are directly responsible for perpetuating the most sickening and disgusting horrors imaginable upon vulnerable and defenceless individuals without cause or justification. Yet how we like to broadcast this ‘love’, each of us coming from ‘a nation of animal lovers’. We tell others about it; they reassure us that they feel exactly the same. We declare our contempt for all who would harm animals and our audience pats us on the back, absolutely 100% in agreement. We are outraged at what ‘other people’ do to animals and we protest, brimming with righteous indignation because they are clearly not ‘animal lovers’ like ourselves.
Freeze the frame
And yet if we had the means by which to freeze the frame on any one of these conversations and zoom the camera out to a distance, what would we see? Would we see the leather shoes, belts and handbags, the woollen and silk garments? Could we pan to the fridge contents, to see the dismembered corpses of desperately frightened, gentle individuals whose dying screams went unheard? Would we see the milk, the cheese for which mothers were violated and their darling infants sent to slaughter, the eggs for which a tiny, fragile bird spent the only precious chance of life she had in a box of misery, straining to lay egg after egg in her vain attempt to gather a clutch while her brothers were killed at birth? Let’s look at the shelves of cleaning materials, toiletries and cosmetics. Will we see the small furry, terrified creatures, eyes destroyed, skin erupting, crusted, bleeding while their hammering hearts await the next atrocity of a nightmare that only death will end. No. The majority of us won’t. But the majority of these things are true of any one of us who is not vegan.
We complain about what others do, but ever hold ourselves above reproach. I did it too. That’s how I know that what I say is true, hard as it is for me to face the memory. But this is not what ‘live and let live’ means. It’s not even close.
Living and life – whose right is it?
So I am forced to conclude that the reason for the blindness that allows this preposterous use of the phrase ‘live and let live’, must be something else. As children growing up in nonvegan households (as most of us do), we learn the roots of the inconsistencies that shape adult positions which, on closer examination, make no sense whatsoever. It is here that we begin to learn how to live with the contradictions that many of us struggle with in later life; that love means harm, that kindness means incarceration, that being alive and wanting to live does not mean that one has that right, that our most trivial whims are more important than life is to our victims. Indeed we learn our lessons so well that the majority of us don’t even acknowledge that we have victims, may even seem unaware of this truth.
Seen in that context, the phrase ‘live and let live’ thus comes to mean ‘I am the only one whose life is of any importance whatsoever; I resent any suggestion that I am not free to cause whatever devastation I wish without considering the consequences of my behaviour to those who are harmed by my actions.’ Seen this way, it’s not the fine and noble sentiment we originally thought.
To acknowledge that we do indeed have victims and that this is a completely unnecessary way to live; to face the fact that these victims are sentient which means they are like us in every way but species; and to acknowledge that every aspect of not being vegan is the exact antithesis of ‘live and let live’ leads to only one logical conclusion. To be the people we already think we are, we have to be vegan.