Back in the 1990’s Ellen DeGeneres released a comedy CD called, “Taste This.” In one bit called, Licking a Frog, she describes the bizarre human discovery that licking (certain) frogs can actually give humans a bit of a high. In it she asks: “How desperate are we to get high that that was a fad going around, that if you licked a frog, you could get high? And how many animals did we go through to find that out: ‘Here! Lick the anus of a mongoose, see what happens! Yes, I was wrong about the raccoon but this…’” Classic comedy.
There are countless human discoveries and inventions that are worthy of admiration, from the discovery of penicillin to the invention of electricity. Just being able to sit here and type on a computer that has a better brain than me is the result of someone’s remarkable achievement. It is a testament to both humanity’s strength and weakness that we are always looking for ways to move forward, even though advancement isn’t always the same as improvement.
The introduction of factory farming in the 1960’s is a perfect example of this. What may have started out as a great business idea for some has now become an almost impenetrable machine of unimaginable horror, closely guarded by locked gates and slick ad campaigns.
Animals, of course, suffer tremendously at the hands of human “progress”. Because of their perceived weaker status, they are often looked upon as something to be conquered or mastered, rather than as someone to learn from and co-exist with. Even the animals that are much larger and more powerful than us – bears, elephants, sharks – are viewed as things we should fear, tame or control. The smaller animals, including the ones we care for and love, are completely at our mercy for survival once they have been domesticated, making us lords over them even if we don’t view the relationship as such. As for insects, people kill fruit flies and spiders without a second thought, their bodies squished flat for no other reason than they annoy or gross us out.
But it is also humans who are working to liberate animals from their current enslavement. This is why I have such conflicting attitudes towards humans: I see the good we are capable of doing on behalf of animals yet I’m constantly reminded of what is actually happening to them by our hands. I oscillate between admiration and repugnance for my own species while simultaneously grieving another’s.
I mean, only humans could come up with licking a frog to get high.
Only humans would look at a bee and think, “You know, I’d really like to slather their vomit on my toast in the morning.”
Only a human would look at a nursing mother and her calf and think to themselves, “That looks like a good idea. I think I’ll take away the calf from his mother and hook her up to a mechanical milking machine instead.”
Only a human would look at a sheep and think, “They look really warm and comfortable. I think I’ll shear their wool off and make myself a coat.”
Only a human would look at a deer in the woods and think, “Better get my gun!”
What is with us?!? What is this compulsion to take from animals everything that we possibly can for our own purposes and exploit them to their absolute limit? Rather than viewing their behaviours in awe and wonderment and just letting them be, why must we always try to find ways for them to benefit us? Perhaps the cruelest kick of all is when we come up with new and “progressive” ways to market our reckless thieving of their bodies and their lives: Free Range! Free Run! Grass Fed! Humane Slaughter! Fuck Off!
Animals would never do that. They fight when they are threatened. They kill when they need to eat and they stop when they are full. They mate when the time is right and can give birth on their own. They do what they need to do to survive but nothing beyond what they need. Indeed, what may have once started out as survival for us has now shifted into industrialized cruelty, a way for us to mass produce “food” we no longer require and products we could easily live without or use other materials for. As the famous quote by writer and activist Alice Walker goes:
The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.
Humans have shown their abilities by studying and documenting the natural behaviours of animals. Why must we always take it that extra step to see how we can profit or benefit from those behaviours? Why is an animal’s worth calculated only by what they can do for us? Why do we never seem able to enjoy and appreciate animals just for who they are? Why can’t we just leave them alone?
A brief note: I’ll be away next week and won’t be blogging – I’ll be back the week of July 13. Thanks to each of you for your continued readership.