Friday, November 30, 2012


I sometimes observe people embrace their consumption of meat by asserting, “I am a carnivore.” Sometimes it is even “Sorry, I’m a carnivore.”

What strikes me is that this is a defensive posture that seems to deflect agency or choice from the meat eater. Usually we use the terms carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore to refer to animal behavior. When we say that an animal is a carnivore, we are not talking about choices the creature makes, but rather what its nature requires (usually this is biological, but it is also environmental). So when the meat eater says “I am a carnivore,” there is a suggestion that this state is not the meat eater’s choice, but is rather required by the person’s nature.

By suggesting meat eating is in one’s nature, the conversation is also controlled, and questions of moral choices and ethical lifestyles are deflected. The meat eater suggests that eating animals is fundamental and definitional in one’s nature, not a matter of decision making. If the discussion is on those terms, how do you argue? You cannot tell a carnivorous lion it is wrong to eat other animals—the lion is neither right nor wrong, but behaving instinctively according to its nature.

To say “I am a carnivore” is to suggest one’s moral sense is no more than an animal's, that what we eat is a matter of nature and not choice. It is a dehumanizing form of self defense.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Thoughts on the Violence in "No Country for Old Men"

1. In Blood Meridian, violence is something eternal, mythic, and something that saturates America’s history. In metaphysical and historical terms, violence is always. It is strange to me that the author of Blood Meridian would engage in so much “everything is so much worse and more violent now than it used to be and why doesn’t everybody see that?” sort of thing in No Country for Old Men. Sheriff Bell, the moral compass and regular voice of the novel, is defined by his sadness for what he sees as increasing violence and decreasing morals. Of course it is possible McCarthy wants readers to recognize something off in Bell’s thinking: the title points to it, perhaps, some of Bells thinking is muddled and contradictory, and later in the novel even he seems to realize this. But I find the tone of decline (even nostalgia) pretty overwhelming.

 2. In No Country for Old Men, I do not see any clear lines between evil killing and a moral, justified killing. Violence is human-destroying, in crime and murder, in war, in the death penalty. And it is interesting that in this novel so much about killing and so full of its burden, violence against animals comes up again and again as part of this continuum. Moss starts the novel hunting: it is while trying to kill antelope with a gun that he discovers the scene of a terrible gunfight and enters into a conflict where he will shoot at people and be shot. Chigurh uses a cattle stun gun to break locks and occasionally to murder. Bell’s explanation of how cattle are killed at a slaughterhouse horrifies his deputy. And while driving, Chigurh rolls down his window to shoot at a bird for no clear reason.  A novel saturated with violence and the ways violence can creep into the everyday does not turn away from a violence that is ingrained in society.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pink Slime and Rationality

As I've been reading about the response and counter-response to pink slime (Erik Marcus has been linking to a lot of the good stuff), it strikes me that the meat industry and its defenders don't get people's objections to the stuff. It doesn't matter how emphatically they tell people it is safe. It doesn't matter how many times they say it is just beef. Those are rational arguments, but the negative reaction to pink slime isn't based primarily on reason. It's not all about what people think but about what they feel. People are grossed out. People are disturbed by the imagery. People are being reminded of messy processes that bring them their meat (processes that are mostly hidden, ignored, or deflected in people's daily consumption of it--in other words, people aren't generally required to rationally face the specific, concrete reality of how meat comes to their tables).

And now defenders of meat want to use reason to assuage people about how they eat meat? How people eat meat has virtually nothing to do with reason: it has to do with tradition, culture, sentimentality, emotion, and desire, but not reason (I'm not even talking about arguments defending eating: I'm talking about how people eat which meat they do: turkey at Thanksgiving, pigs but not dogs, ground beef at all). Now the meat industry wants to turn in outraged perplexity to reasoned arguments? Now they are angered that people are responding to meat in ways that aren't entirely responsive to rational thought?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Friday, December 16, 2011

Suffering We Can Recognize

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis posts this image and writes:

"This image from Life Magazine disturbs me. I guess because it looks like the shot is set up like giving a dying solider a last drink of water."

My first thought was perplexity: does Loomis really need to "guess" why this image "disturbs" him (might it be because an animal is quite obviously suffering)? This led me to the sincere speculation that Loomis was being ironic: he can't really have to guess why the image is disturbing, right? But on further thought, I realize that Loomis is onto something: this image is disturbing precisely because it creates a connection between the turtle and a human.

Most people are not remotely disturbed by the idea of a living animal being killed to be eaten. It is commonplace. Most people are not, I suspect, disturbed at seeing images of the animals that will ultimately be killed to be eaten. Do you get disturbed merely by looking at images of farm animals? But in this image, the turtle is in a pose that can be recognized as human: a prone, dying creature opening a mouth wide to receive some desperate succor for its sufferings. That this turtle can remind one of a human means that this turtle can make one empathize.

That may be the source of the disturbing feeling this image evokes. A creature is suffering, but we are made to actually see its suffering, because the pose has made its suffering relatable to a human viewer.

Animals are capable of suffering, even if we choose not to see it. And when we do choose to see it, or are forced to, we may be less inclined to have them end up in our soup.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What war does.

Glenn Greenwald's "The fruits of liberation" at Salon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nonviolence at work

There is something moving about watching these people slink away as the crowds shout "Shame on you!" Violence can make your opponents feel just in thwarting you (including thwarting with violence): nonviolence can shame them.