Slaughtering Animals and Slaughtering People
During the Iraq War a number of articles appeared in the German news magazine, Der Spiegel and Stern, about "killology". This is the application of psychological techniques by the American military to overcoming soldiers inhibitions on killing. One of these articles, in the magazine Stern, related how new recruits are given a white rabbit to pet, to carry and to get to know, and then, at the end of the week, they ahve to kill it and eat it.
This is part of a wider training programme on killing.
The article that follows was written earlier than the Iraq war but explores the theme of the psychological connection between killing animals and killing people.
The second part of the article then looks at the energy issues of eating meat. As the Iraq war was also about oil - in a world of depleting oil supplies, this is part is also relevant to issues of war and peace. If we don't want to have any more oil wars humanity will have to find ways of saving energy. A vegetarian, better still a vegan diet, is one answer to how to reduce energy expenditure in a hurry. One can argue that this was a war for the big Mac diet.
The Use of Animals as Therapists
The use of "animals as therapists" is a welcome addition to the repertoire of ways of working with people who have mental health problems that is increasing. The place of animals in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is now well established in all sorts of ways for example:
Stroking animals can bring down blood pressure and calms people.
Dogs can provide a companion for homeless people, force them to structure their day around their animals needs, provide a sense of affection and security for people who otherwise commonly feel rejected and who are often in constant fear of attack. (I did some research on this in Nottingham, with the help of the Big Issue organisation in Nottingham, a couple of years ago)
Animals may help in the therapy of children and people with a learning difficulty - as well as developing the confidence of adults. (I have talked to colleagues at Stonebridge City Farm in Nottingham about this - they have a number of farm animals, including pigs, though no horses).
All this is fine - however there are for me real problems when organisations are set up that want to slaughter and eat some of the very same animals which will also have a "therapeutic" role.
In the recent visual display about a therapetic animal farm, I read how a particular species of pig were "friendly and easy to manage" - and also tasted nice. This remark takes me to the kernel of my therapeutic objection: you don't eat your friends and it isn't therapeutic to do so.
I jest not - this is for me an issue which is fundamental to a lot of psychological problems. I believe that an important stage in the psychological evolution of a child, that then provides the foundation for our adult personalities, is when we get to understand what meat is. This is often connected in out minds to our earliest childhood understandings of death. Learning about meat is often an important phase too in the evolution of our relationships with our parents. Let me give some anecdotes to illustrate this idea.
My own father had grown up as a farmers son and as I grew up chickens, cats and dogs were my first companions and friends. We lived on the edge of Boston in Lincolshire in a road that went out into the countryside near our house and there were no other children of my own age to play with. My sister was much older and bullied me. My earliest friends were therefore, quite literally, animals. My father was an environmental health official with responsibility for meat inspection and when I was a toddler he once took me to a slaughterhouse where I saw a pig being slaughtered. In subsequent life when I had emotional traumas I used to regress and fantasise about hollowed out logs which I later came to recognise as censored memory of degutted carcasses. I also recognise a voice telling me "Mr Pig doesn't mind being eaten..."
My mother recounted later how, for reasons she did not really understand, at a particular age, I suddenly lost weight, refused to eat, and was very miserable and unhappy. Previous to this point I had wolfed down the bacon she fed me. The point about this story comes clearer if we try to get into the mind of a tiny infant. First of all a reminder that in the earliest phase of life your motivations are intrinsically simple - you want to get orally satisfied by drinking your mother and eating these extensions of her put in your mouth, breasts, bottles and then spoons of food etc. Your earliest, primitive pre-verbal concepts of yourself are as her food extension. For some reason you are being reared/fed/changed and brought into existence and when this universe doesn't fit this pattern it is absolutely terrifiying. As a pre-verbal child your communications are non verbal, gestures, tears, direct emotional and bodily expression. Your world is one of sights, smells and sounds. Animals at this stage make perfect sense as a toddlers companion as friends. I used to enomously enjoy mock fights with a trusted dog on the floor. I knew it would not really bite me and was pretending to be fierce......
Then suddenly a bombshell struck this happy world. My mother was traumatised because her mother had something called a stroke. The idea that stroking could have terrifying consequences was bewildering beyond measure because was not stroking something that you did as friendship while petting the dog. When you stroked a dog you stroked its head. And this thing had happened in Granny's head. So what was this thing: "a stroke"? And what was death? Worse was to follow - when my father took me to a slaughterhouse a workers there put something to the head of a squealing and distressed pig and he collapsed on the floor. All around the slaugherhouse were degutted and decapitated carcasses of pigs.
Now, at home, it also became clear what bacon was. And not only bacon. Chicken was revealed to be eating my friends out of the back garden. And it was no use crying and getting upset about this because "If you don't stop whining I'll wring your bloody neck...." "Mr Pig doesn't mind being eaten" was not only a lie - why had he squealed then? It was a sinister lie. If you show affection to animals - why do you then kill them? Why were the kittens drowned? What did this say about the affection my mother and father showed to me. Behind the bars of my cot, my cage, I do not remember for sure - but did my sister, jealous of the attention she had lost when I was borne, find a way of praying on my fears?.....
Isn't it strange then that whenever you have horror movies e.g. The Silence of the Lambs or the French movie, Le Boucher, the idea of meat is connected there - When people are horrifically mistreated they always say: "we were treated like animals". A phrase people use when they are in a state of murderous rage is: "You're dead meat!" The point here is than in our "gut responses" - the way we feel about things as opposed to the way we might think and intellectualise, we respond by the emotional associations that we establish in early life and then evolve subsequently.
The reasons why this might be so for a lot of people might be suggested by our emotional assocations with meat - emotional associations that will often enough go back to childhood. For when animals, like pigs who are as intelligent and as affectionate as dogs, are killed for meat it has emotional consequences. My mother tells me how a pig farmer she knows hates to see the pigs go to the market. A worker at a local city farm staysed away on the day his pigs were sent to market (a practice that has now been stopped...). Emotional and affectionate relationships are built up with creatures which are not at all conceptual or based on intellectual meaning or language based constructs but, rather, on body language, physical contact, voice tone, and literal tactile feeling - and then they are sent off to be killed and eaten.
What this did for me as a child was to establish a underlying profound sense of distrust behind apparently affectionate relationships. There is now a growing evidence that relationships with animals plays a particularly large part on the emotional maturation of children. Indeed pets are sometimes used in the therapy of autisitic children. Yet what happens when we find these creatures, with whom we have developed relationships are killed? I believe that paranoia would then becomes very understandable. When our colleague in the meeting said - "But the people would not know what happens to the pigs"- i.e. The slaughter policy would be covert, then I believe that this is exactly the response that would be likely to touch on that paranoia which comes from the fact that parents so often lie to children about meat.
Just how often this occurs was suggested to me when I discussed this issue with two other people. A friend recounted an incident in her childhood when she found herself eating a strange meat with lots of bones in it and asked her mother what it was. Her mother, was obviously caught out, and flustered that it was chicken. My friend subsequently learned that it was rabbit. Her mother had lied to her because she knew her daughter associated rabbits as those loverly cuddly creatures that she petted at school and would be frightfully upset at the idea of eating them. I also discussed this in an e mail exchange with the therapist and author Dr. Dorothy Rowe. She told me
" I think that writing about mental health and meat would be extremely interesting and important. When I was a child my mother went every Saturday to visit my grandparents who lived in the bush. Grandad had been a miner but he and his son, who was still living at home kept chickens, a horse and a cow. When I was about eight my uncle got two piglets and put them in a pen to fatten. I became very fond of them and would say that I would never eat them. However, my mother deliberately tricked me into eating some slices of pork. She did not tell me that it came from one of the pigs until after I had eaten it. This just confirmed what I already believed, that where I was concerned she was utterly untrustworthy. That was the part of that event that was important to me. I didn't develop a distaste for meat, whereas you, at three, saw both that you had been lied to and that eating meat was cruel to the animals."
In each three cases - my own, that of my friend and that of Dorothy Rowe, the child's gut emotional response is dealt with by a lie. I believe that this is just the kind of thing that might lead to paranoia. Its rather more than being insincere to be friends with a creature and then to send it off to be killed. All through my childhood there was a battle at the family dinner table about getting me to eat my meat - though I pretty soon forgot/repressed the memory of why. I wonder how many eating disorders at least in part have this issue at their root?
Later in my life, when severely regressed there was an occasion in which I developed a severe fear that I was going to be eaten by people who had invited me for a meal.
The fact that that idea is there in the collective unconcious is to be found by a variety of movies...Indeed, once we start to look we notice how much all these things are a part of collective psychology and therefore of mass culture. It is there in our languages. The German word for slaughter, schlachten, is the very same word as that for a battle. A battleship in German is a Schlachtschiff - literally a slaughtership and a battlefield is Schlachtfeld, literally, slaughter field. A slaughterhouse is a Schlachthof. The familar way of describing a genocidist is to refer to them as a butcher - and when women recruits in the US army are desensitised to killing it is by ripping a chickens head off in front of them. (I have seen this on TV).
Often enough in childhood one wants to feel powerful precisely when one is at one's most vulnerable and what more powerful feeling are there for the child than killing flies, grasshoppers or small animals. Again, in some of my own emotional turmoils, I recognise retrospectively, the content of those emotionally charged feelings coming out in madness , were actually a fantasy of what would have been like if I had been the newt that I had speared with a sharpened cane?
Later, if you grow up in a farming community, you get the chance to join the hunt or kill the farm animals. It even becomes aspired to perhaps, because its a stage towards joining the grown ups - who have all the power and status while you, perhaps, are only a child, and have none.
Of course the ability to hunt wild animals for meat is also a part of many societies - and the extension of hunting is hunting humans or warfare. This becomes a part of the socialisation process of power societies in which some people arrogate to themselves the ability to impose economic, domestic and environmental circumstances to their own wishes, not only on other species, but on other people. For the boy (or in some cultures women) the important steps to becoming a man(adult) are the steps to becoming a warrior. This is intrinsic to a certain kind of male identity. For this one must have a psychological ability and preparedness to kill humans. A stepping stone to this is being able to kill animals. The animals, and one's human enemies, are killable because they are perceived as less than oneself, as inferiors - essentially because they do not conceptualise and use language and custom in the same way. In battle the as often as not people will be reliving the mind states of blood lust associated with feeling powerful, and in charge - that they felt as children butchering the farm animals for the first time.
There is a sexual component to all of this too. One idea for sexual Verdrängung or inhibition ( a Freudian word usually mistranslated as "repression" which actually means "pushing away" impulses and thoughts in the mind) is that Verdrängung is rooted in being unable to accept oneself as an animal. The real emotional kick of sexuality it to experience ourselves physically and to let go of ourselves to our non-conceptual being, to our bodies, to what people think of as their "animal natures". "You are an animal" is the sort of phrase that a head person will use to put down a person getting into their sensual side. Some feminists refer not just to male chauvinists, but significantly to male chauvinist pigs. When we refer to people as animals it is an insult because we want to distance ourself psychologically from the assumed status of animals, beings that are "dirty", that are to be used and to be slaughtered for meat.
Inhibited sex is then when we want to stay as far away from our animal nature as possible because if we see ourselves as having the status of animals the emotional associations can be rather freaky. As we grow up our way of coping with these trauma and the reality of what meat is is to exaggerate our differences with animals. Animals do not think. They are not intelligent. They are not civilised. They are wild or dumb. This is connected to us giving more and more status to our conceptual sides - to be human is to be a thinking animal. I think therefore I am. But this carries this danger that might lose touch with aspects of your sensual side and your sexuality. When you put "psychological constructs" on your tactile and direct sensory experience you lose contact with the experience of your own body and that of other people - the feel of skin, its temperature, its texture and colour and scent, its curves and angles, breathing, heart beat rates, tension plus slippery stickiness, tingling muscles and you let your attention go into mental stuff, a construction of words in the head. There is more of a case for being a pig in sex than there is for being an intellectual.....
I hope it is not getting too controversial when I point out that some early feminist writing describe sexual pick up places as "cattle markets" - and there was quite a famous ironic picture of a nude, I think it was done by Playboy, where the woman's body had dotted lines along it as if she was a lump of meat.
In conclusion. Once we recognise that non human animals play an important part in the emotional life of the human animal we are driven to the conclusion that killing animals, and eating them, also has individual psychological and social psychological (cultural) consequences. These issues are not usually looked in meat eating societies, they are subjected to a prevalent "Verdraengung" - but it seems fair to say to suppose that the childhood roots of paranoia, the inability to develop trusting affectionate, eating disorders, as well as sexual inhibitions, will sometimes, perhaps often, be related to childhood emotional trauma relating to animals and their slaughter. Its not impossible that some of the more horiffic murders are too.
Meat and the Environment
Everyone who understands anything at all about the environment understands that the chief task facing humanity to prevent an environmental catastrophe is the radical reduction of energy consumption. The use of carbon based energy sources not only leads to a depletion of non renewable sources of oil and gas which are denied to future generations, but also leads to the Greenhouse effect. One of the largest uses of energy is in the food industry and the biggest energy guzzler of oil is the meat industry. For an equivalent amount of calorific intake a vegetarian meal takes only one tenth of the energy to produce as compared to meat based meal. Going vegetarian is therefore one of the most effective means of saving energy and the environment.
The reason for this extraordinary figure is simple - in order to rear animals you have to feed them foodstuffs that also goes to create their bones, their brains, their intestines etc. Also food animals make a lot of methane (they fart) and methane is considerably more powerful as a greenhouse gas than the carbon. In factory farming systems there is also considerable pollution from extrement - farm slurry. A good deal of grazing land has been created by clearing forests and whole water tables (e.g. In the USA) are being reduced to pump water for grasslands for unsustainable cattle production. Often enough herd economies (whether of cattle of sheep) lead to a considerable reduction of biodiversity as grazing destroys the habitats of other animals and species).
Most of the worlds poor population have a primarily vegetarian based diet. The energy costs of meat means that it is primarily a food for rich people. As McDonalds is busily promoting the cattle fast food culture of the USA it is posing a real threat to the Planet Earth's environment. Food scientists are even now working on perfecting vegetarian meat substitutes because of a concern that Planet Earth simply cannot sustain further expansions of the meat economy. The argument that grasslands could not sustain any other economy is not true. Many grasslands could harvest wind in windfarms as well as other biomass crops for bio-fuels (e.g. Reeds, coppice wood).
It has been argued that animals can harvest foodstuffs not directly eaten by humans - e.g. Pigs eating acorns - and in some permaculture systems animals are integrated in - to use their other species characteristics (e.g. The natural warmth of chicken heat greenhouses at night, the natural habitats of chickens to clear ground and their manure as a fertilser source). In most forms of organic agriculture animals are part of the fertlising system and the question can be raised as to what source of fertiliser there would be in an organic vegetarian agriculture. The answer is composted human extrement as well as that from working animals -e.g. horses. A radical reduction in the use of energy for tractors will require some replacement. The sustainability and practicability of horses in agriculture is shown by the American community the Amish. They have a sustainable agriculture for their community which uses tractors in the farmyard but not in the fields.
In the fields the Amish still use horses. If you want to you can, in fact, eat acorns - they require a little processing. Indeed, I'm told humans could even eat wood based food - we cannot eat wood at the moment because it contains lignite (?) But processes can be found to fix that.
To say, finally, that humans are "naturally" meat eaters is to abdicate a discussion of the issues. Humans, if they really are special, are animals with a high degree of freedom choose what they are, they have an ability to think and choose and not be a slave to what they were before. They can choose to think about their individual and collective problems and find solutions to them. They really are "no better" than animals when they choose to kill and eat animals.
September 2001 (introduction added May 2003)
© BRIAN DAVEY