“All Animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” This famous quote from George Orwell’s The Animal Farm shouldn’t of course be taken literally, but let’s be beautifully ignorant for a moment and take the line at face value.
First people were gatherers and hunters. When animals or food/vegetables were scarce, our ancestors moved along to a new, uninhabited place and lived there until all the resources ran out. Once those were gone, they moved again. Nowadays such an existence is hard to fathom for various reasons, but I want to stress one: there’s just no uncivilized places left to discover. Our life is organized. Instead of hunting we shop (although sometimes it’s hard to spot the difference), while those who travel are frowned upon, as they invade spaces inhabited by someone else. As promising as a long discussion of migration is, especially in regards to what’s happening in Europe, the topic of this article is the modern version of hunting and the morality behind it.
Shopping is the organizing element of capitalist society. To eat you must buy. Even when wanting to grow your own food, you need to pay for the land, the seeds, the water, etc. Obviously, that’s the hard way. The easy way is to just buy food in eye-pleasing packages and containers. The food in our shopping basket is emotion- and labor-free. The Marxian division of the worker and the product of his work is nowhere truer than in the food industry. This also applies to meat, as the suffering is hidden from our eye, so it’s easy to assume that no sacrifice was involved in the production of a delicious chicken wing or a strip of bacon.
The de-personalization of meat is in great opposition to the very individual character of pets. Specialists urge us to think twice about making the right decision regarding our future dog or cat. The decision should obviously be character- and not looks-based, yet people are often unable to handle the dominant Yorkshire Terrier who pees in their bed, or the American Staffordshire Terrier who eventually bites someone because they did not raise him to be a loving and cuddly dog that it naturally is. In result, pounds are overcrowded with dogs and cats, whose owners failed them.
Still, these dogs and cats are at least given a chance. This chance is completely people-dependent, often based on pure luck, and yet, it’s more than other animals usually get. Cows prefer to live in herds, and they form strong social relations with other cows. A cow is only able to constantly produce milk by staying in the cycle of pregnancy-birth-pregnancy. That’s why usually after just four years the cow is “useless” and sent to a slaughterhouse, despite being able to live up to twenty. After being born, the calf is almost immediately taken away from his mother and dependent on its sex, sent to slaughter (boy) or grouped with other calves (girl) to repeat the same cycle as its mother. When their child is taken away, mothers cry. Very loud. The same is true for sheep and goats. Chickens also live in flocks, but it’s hard to decipher their emotions. And don’t even get started on fish, who clearly don’t suffer, because if they would, they would find a way to inform us about it, right?
Unless you’re able to hurt kittens or puppies – in which case, fuck you – try taking them away from their mothers just as they were born. Their mothers would fight for them tooth and nail. Since cows aren’t able to do that, it’s safe to assume that they don’t care that much for them. As for their children, in what way is eating veal that much different from eating a kitten or a puppy? Because they are bigger? Or maybe dumber, because they don’t react when being called by their name? If that is the case, my dogs must be among the dumbest pets in history.
Historian Eric Baratay in Le point de vue animal. Une autre version de l’historie tries to present history from the point of view of animals. He focuses on the artificial classification and control exhibited by humans. For example, before domestication, pigs were very mobile, while today’s pigs can barely walk. The same is true about today’s cows or horses, which are the result of crossbreeding, genetically modified to fit man’s purposes. According to Baratay one of the most visible examples of the change of attitude toward pets/animals is the way they are buried, as once an animal is seen as an “actor” it’s impossible to simply dismember its corpse and throw it away.
It’s estimated that people eat around 146 billion animals a year. In the United States 99 percent of annually slaughtered animals come from factory farming. They’re confined since birth, often not seeing the light of day throughout their short, suffering-filled lives. It’s safe to assume that not for one moment do their experience happiness. Words like “factory” or “industry” farming hide the fact that they feel and live. If someone would treat cats or dogs the way we allow pigs or chickens to be treated, he or she would be sentenced to prison just like Michael Vick. The football player was universally ostracized, because he treated pets like other people treat animals, and it was only because he was raised in a culture that allowed for that type of classification. I’m not a member of his offensive line to defend him, but his case proves that there’s something very wrong in the way we classify beings.
The division between “animal” and “pet” is very artificial and culture-based. In some parts of Asia dogs are animals, because they’re food. In Polish language a different word applies to the death of a human (zmarł – died) and an animal/pet (zdechł – dropped dead). Language allows us to feel safe in the world – if we’re able to name something, we know it, hence have no reason to be afraid of it. When something is unknown – hence has no name or classification – it’s something to be afraid of or, in the case of animals, ignore. We’ll never be able to fully understand them, as they never allow to be fully understood. They don’t want to get to know us, spend time with us or simply like us, and quite frankly, it’s hard to blame them.
William S. Burroughs was right in claiming that “language is a virus from outer space.” The language that we speak also influences our morality. Julie Sedivy’s article in Scientific American shows how people’s perception of events changes when the events are presented in a foreign language – generally, people tend to be less moral. Since no one speaks “animal”, it’s safe to assume that morality must be actually foreign to animals. If that is the case, why should we even care?
In her book, Status Moralny Zwierząt (Moral Status of Animals), Urszula Zarosa introduces the idea of “potential sensing” referring to not only animals or pets, but people who’re in a comatose state, little kids and the elderly – so those who lack a fully-formed conscience. There’s just no way to differentiate between all of those living beings, so why should they be treated differently? Animals have no obligations towards humans and vice versa. The best thing we could do for them is to simply let them be and accept them for who – not what – they are. What we call them shouldn’t be important, as opposed to what they feel.