Friday, 11 March 2011

Animals, Anthropomorhism, Naming, Vegetarians #animalrights #holocausts


I remember hearing Lyn White say once that people tend to be vegetarians because there has been a seminal experience in their lives which has convinced them. In my case, this is certainly true  and there have been two incidents.  This article resonated very much with me in relation to the second of the two incidents. In short, I do not trust the industrialisation of animals.  I am not a vegan.  I find that I am dependent on eggs and dairy products. I have tried from time to time to move away from them but find I am unable to.

There is cruelty of some sort or another, from low to high on a scale of injury, in the industrialisation of animals. One of the things that helps us to turn our mind from the cruelty is the increasing size of animal herds and flocks.  When it is the house cow or the house sheep, or the horse we ride, we give them names. We care for their daily food intake and for their well-being.  We get to know these animals as if they are an extension of our selves. As they age, get ill, die, we care about how they are treated.  Move on to large groups of animals and the care factor rapidly diminishes.  Such large groups are impersonal.  We are detached from them. They don't have names. We don't see their individual characteristics.

It was much the same back in Germany and the countries occupied by Hitler.  Many people hid or helped Jewish people because Jews were part of the community.  They were known personally, they had names. People knew what they shared with them.  When these people were herded together and killed as a herd in the concentration camps, the impersonality of it all was clear.  For a start, they no longer bore names but numbers. No one in a position of power over them cared - except in rare exceptions - for the individual and the individual's well-being.  

This is what happens to groups of industrial animals.  To be sure it is efficient to manage agriculture like this. It provides food at less cost.  It provides food en masse to large numbers.  

When the industrial animals become our food, what happens?  It is processed.  Some of us don't even know how to prepare it well at home, let alone discern quality at the retail level.  The processing enhances our detachment from animals that once had lives and, by and large, we show little respect at the consumption level.

I well remember a scene from the movie Miss Potter.  Beatrix Potter was walking around her newly acquired Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.  She comes across the Farm Manager and the farm workers attending to farm animals and she goes to give one of them a name.  The Farm Manager stops her.  "It's too hard", he said. He didn't go on to explain but the meaning was quite clear.  These animals would go to be killed for food.  If they had a name, if we became too close, we would feel the fatal parting far too much.  No names would make it easier to maintain some detachment.

Beatrix Potter was known as an 'anthromorphic' writer, giving names, clothes and personalities to a wide range of animals.  The term can often be used as a pejorative description by librarians and literary critics.  While I know what they mean and find some anthropomorphism unimaginative, unhelpful and immature, we should stop to think before going down the road of anthropomorphic labelling.  You see, human beings are naming creatures.  We read in Genesis 2:19-20 that:
God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.
As for other anthropomorphic tendencies, we - as human beings - have only one way to reach out to understand other creatures in our universe: by understanding ourselves and treating other creatures in the way we treat ourselves.  We must always remember that we need to give other creatures the same living and breathing space to be themselves as we want to receive to be our own true selves.

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