When confronted with information about what is done to members of other species at the hands of our own species, have you ever caught yourself saying, ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’? I know that in the past I certainly have. With several years behind me of trying to keep an open mind with Google at my fingertips, I can clearly see now that the sentence was uttered from a place of hope and habit, rather than knowledge of any facts whatsoever.
On reflection, I think it’s possibly a shared cultural reflex; we all recite things without real insight; repeat ‘information’ that we believe to be true without ever taking the time to confirm it. When these ‘facts’ relate to members of species other than our own, it is comfortable for us to cling to them. I know this from past experience as well as more conversations that I can count with others whose experiences are similar to my own.
The habit of our unconfirmed ‘knowledge’ allows us to maintain a state of complacency. It serves to reinforce our personal and internal narrative that casts each of us as an ethical and concerned individual who would protect the defenceless and champion the innocent; it normalises the unspeakable frenzy of violence that underpins our everyday life to the extent that it rocks our world to its very foundations on the day we finally open our minds to the truth.
Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.
~ George Bernard Shaw
Taking refuge in the myth that ‘it doesn’t happen here’ frequently occurs when we hear about a practice or action and decide that we consider it to be cruel. We go on to rationalise that ‘there are laws against cruelty‘ here so that practice or action won’t happen here. This train of thought – one that I remember all too well – leads to a reassurance that we can go on doing what we do, without need for concern because clearly it’s ‘other people’ and ‘other countries’ that are causing the problem. This is true wherever our particular ‘here’ is; whoever fits our particular definition of ‘other’ people; whichever countries we consider to be ‘other’.
The thoughts in this blog stemmed from seeing yet another comment on a post about animal use that demanded to know where this particular incident took place, who could be complained to, insisted that a petition was necessary etc. In this particular case, the post was a purely factual one about what is referred to as ‘the dairy industry’. The comment was a typical manifestation of the idea that in the normal run of things, everything is absolutely fine except for a few exceptional instances or circumstances. The writer was clinging to the ‘knowledge’ – that we have all no doubt shared at one time – that once these isolated instances are dealt with and those responsible are reprimanded, no underlying problem exists.
Myths and why they remain
The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The first thing any of us must realise is that animal use is big business. It’s impossible to express how deeply rooted it is in every part of our culture. From foodstuffs to clothing, furnishings to toiletries, drugs to entertainment, the innocent victims of our callous and brutal use are all but invisible to the majority of us as we go about our lives; anaesthetised to the completely inevitable consequences of our choices as consumers by a potent mix of habit, imaginary entitlement and false necessity.
From the moment we open our eyes each day, we are wearing and walking in flayed skins and shaved fibres; we wash our clothes and bodies in substances tested on and containing ingredients from defenceless creatures who never knew a moment of peace; we place bets on and are entertained by the helpless capitulation of innocent creatures to our brute force and incarceration; and we shop for body parts, for breast milk and for eggs without even a nod to the reality that each of our purchases created a victim, each of our purchases is evidence of a life used for our interests at the expense of the true owner, an unacknowledged epitaph of individual tragedy for someone who valued their life and their person and most definitely did not give us permission for our actions.
The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.
~ Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights
With our ruthless exploitation of other individuals so entrenched, the industries that rely on it for their vast wealth, hugely politicised and subsidised, are deeply invested in ensuring that consumers either do not learn of practices they would rightly find abhorrent, or if they do learn, are provided with a spin that normalises the horror and quiets any stirring of concern.
The truth behind the myth
However, to return to the particular comment that sparked these thoughts, ‘dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction. It is a business of forced pregnancy; of separating mothers and their babies to facilitate the using of their breast-milk (commercially known as ‘milk’) as a commercial resource. This resource is sold for profit either as a liquid or as any one of the many substances we have become accustomed to consuming without the slightest consideration for mother or infant: yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.
Contrary to the myth, and the alleged exceptions to the rule, there’s no way round this. All the labels that we have been taught to look out for, all the myths about ‘welfare’, do not prevent the fundamental procedure from happening because reproductive exploitation is the key process that underpins the industry. It IS dairy. Protesting about separating dairy mothers from their infants is akin to protesting about slaughtering an individual while simultaneously demanding their dead flesh for our dinner table; it creates a paradox.
This is not exclusively a dairy issue or even a farming issue; it’s a ‘using the lives and bodies of other individuals’ issue. Every use that we make of others is exactly the same. The circumstances of our use inevitably violate and disregard every right and interest of our victims in favour of our own convenience and unnecessary preferences.
Furthermore, although it is a misconception encouraged by the industry, it is incorrect to consider that regulations referred to under the general heading of ‘welfare’ are in any way designed to protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of those whom the fact of our use of them designates as resources and commodities. Indeed, any lessening of the level of torment to which our victims are subjected as a result of adherence to ‘welfare regulations’ is purely coincidental because the purpose of regulation is to safeguard the commercial value of those who are deemed to be commercial assets through consistent practices and maintaining consumer confidence. It’s not about the victims in any way. Regulations are designed by and for those who have a financial interest in exploitation.
So does it ‘happen here’?
So here’s the truth. When we find ourselves shocked or outraged by some action or circumstance affecting members of other animal species, we are invariably witnessing a symptom of the pervasive system of prejudice known as speciesism; a learned behaviour whereby we, as humans, accord or withhold the rights that belong to others by virtue of their birth, simply because they are not human. When we are horrified and sickened, it is because we are seeing – however briefly – through the veil that screens the seething, writhing, whimpering terror of our use of other individuals, from our gaze. Whatever we are witnessing is not an exception. It is reality. It is everywhere, in every country, on every TV screen and billboard and magazine and it is being driven by our choices as consumers and by our unchallenged speciesism.
So to return to the initial assertion that ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’; yes they do. Perhaps they happen to a different species, perhaps they happen in a laboratory, perhaps they happen fully sanctioned and legitimised by ‘welfare regulations’ on a farm or in a breeding facility or in a slaughterhouse, in a backyard, on a racecourse, in a circus or a zoo, but actions that are the equivalent of whatever most offends our senses do most assuredly happen here.
And what is essential for us to recognise, is that if we are not vegan, then at this very moment, someone, somewhere, is screaming and whimpering, begging in vain for their life and for an end to our ruthless exploitation in order to supply our personal demands. It’s happening in our name.
That’s the completely inevitable consequence of making choices that require others to pay with their lives for our convenience. That’s what not being vegan actually means.