The animals are always with us

Deepwater Horizon deaths and a review of books.


One noticeable thing about the tabloids is how interested their readers must be in animals. Animals as figures of fun – like the chav finch and the ass hole – in among the adverts for cheaper and cheaper supermarket animal products.

I failed animals this election time by missing the opportunity to lobby. It’s good for the animals that Caroline Lucas won for The Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. She’s president of the European Parliament’s cross-party Animal Welfare Intergroup.

11 workers died and 17 were injured in the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Google Earth is tracking the spill with layers. If It Was My Home (ht B21) layers the oil slick over BP headquarters in London Town. It reaches from Gloucester to Great Yarmouth. The (mostly academic?) vets at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network have been saving animals from oil spills for over a decade. A few weeks ago they were preoccupied by the effects of hard booms (floating barriers to prevent oil slick from reaching coast) on turtles attempting to nest. They had found few oiled animals at that time and the fatalities were few. They had fleeting hope, but that has gone. Not forgetting humans, here is Mike, one of the vets, on the multifactorial effects of oil spills. That was when he had time to write.

The Boston Globe has heart-breaking pictures of oiled birds off New Orleans. What is the life of one oiled bird worth? 300 gallons of water, four people washing for 45 minutes, and more: the ministrations of the US government’s Fish and Wildlife Service for one northern gannet. Many sea animals are dead of oil.

Other news. Did you know your car is running on dead animals, and they’re – they must be Buddhist – calling the fuel ‘renewable’?.

Reading. Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. Here are the reviews Wikipedia had:

Do Fish Feel Pain by Victoria Braithwaite is reviewed by an angler at Fishing Magic. He thinks it’s alright to put himself in the same boat as somebody who relies on fish as part of a meagre diet. But he (long may this last) resides in a post-famine part of the world. There can be no excuse for him harming animals – not for food and never for recreation. Head in the sand, he ends by stating his intention to continue eating, hunting and wearing animal.

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals by Jonathan Balcombe is reviewed by Josh Lacey in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, James Randerson interviews him:

“For much of the 20th century, it was taboo to ask questions about what animals think and what they feel. That’s changed; now we have a spate of studies of phenomena that show that animals are, in all the important ways, sentient in the manner that we are. They may not lead the same sorts of lives that we have, but they feel pleasure and pain just as intensely. They have just as acute emotional experiences as we do – there are studies showing that there are real inner lives to these animals.

What does this say about our relationship to animals? The paradox is that as our knowledge of animals increases, our treatment of them falls further behind because we still live according to a might-makes-right strategy, which is the kind of thinking that justified colonialism and slavery. Unfortunately, our treatment of animals remains pretty much medieval.”

Yes, it instinctively feels right to appeal to the left, the progressives. If a vegan appeals for animal liberation by making arguments about human justice, there’s no cause for outrage about dehumanisation as there would be if an animal eater made the comparison, or as there would have been before the research findings revealed the complexity of animals’ inner lives. But I’m not very good at writing about animals or talking about animals. Friends, family and respected colleagues pay for them to be killed and taken from and they pay for their lives as enforced companions. I’m frequently stunned out of my wits about this – it’s my life’s most consuming and ominous perpexity. Their plates, the action of their knife.

Look at Antonia Senior writing in The Times last March. She seems to think it over, but in the end sinks her teeth into a pig who lived a life of intermittent fear and loss – and we know it was keenly felt – and died in terrified agony at the hands of a human who wasn’t going hungry.

Balcombe finds a way not to be angry, but I don’t know what other hooks this might let us off:

“The most violent creature on the planet is, of course, us. We are “moral toddlers”, he says, and, like any ordinary two-year-old, we blithely wander around our environment, chomping and stomping and shoving and breaking things without much thought for anyone else.

To grow – to achieve our human potential:

“…we have to reform our relationships with animals; we will “live in better, more caring societies when we treat all feeling individuals with compassion and respect”.

This feels right, but it seems strange to me that Caroline Lucas, who presides over the institutionally antisemitic Green Party and is not herself vegan (what happens to the male calfs, the elderly chickens?) and The Guardian, comfortable home for antisemitic writers, should be loudest on behalf of animals. What is the other agenda? An ecological anti-consumption movement disguised as a compassion movement, perhaps? I don’t know. Anyway, definitely too much looking of gift horses…

There isn’t always another agenda. This respect for life became central for the Holocaust survivors whose efforts on behalf of animals are described in the closing chapter of Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka.

1 thought on “The animals are always with us

  1. As the oil spill in the Gulf grows larger and more deadly, decimating all that it touches, BP continues to turn down assistance from Americans who just want to help clean up the mess. (…I hear they even turned down Director James Cameron and actor Kevin Costner…)

    First let’s get one thing perfectly straight: If you want to go and help clean up the oil spill, don’t let some corporate Big-Whigs “handle” you into believing that you’d be more of a liability, than an asset. I applaud you for recognizing that we all depend on our oceans for our very survival. It is this water that sustains every living thing on our planet, and it is also this water that we must protect in order to save ourselves from extinction.

    BP has downplayed the problem in the Gulf from the beginning as a means of corporate damage control. I don’t think they’ve yet recognized the severity of the problem. As I’ve written in past blog posts; the pipe needs to be capped and the relief well needs to be drilled. It’s not an exact science by any means, and if BP doesn’t get it right the first time, they’ll have to do it over, and over, and over again, until they do. How many months (or years) will that take? How much damage will have been done to our environment by then? We’ve already seen what 51 days of oil can do to the Gulf of Mexico… What would happen if the oil was left, unabated, for several months, or years? It’s a frightening example of corporate greed gone awry and it’s criminal, pure and simple.

    Corporations should never be allowed the opportunity to risk the lives of everyone on the planet just to make a profit for a few shareholders. (What good is money, after all, if you don’t have air to breathe, water to drink, or food to eat without fear of contamination?)

    BREAKING NEWS: I’ve just heard that those enormous plumes floating just under the surface of the water have been certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) as crude oil.

    (Are we just casual witnesses to our own demise? I wonder…)

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