Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death Becomes Us

It is often said that human civilization can be summed up by how people treat animals under their care.

If this is the case, there are people who love animals as companions, and those who like them deep-fried and crispy.

It is for the latter reason that I have been feeling very pressed of late to turn vegetarian.

Today I want to focus on something not that closely related to gay rights - but yet, also not wholly unrelated. You see, how people treat animals tends to reflect on what kind of people they are. It tends to shine through in how they treat other people as well, and in particular refers to their attitude towards people and groups of people whom they don't like.

The case in which a man tied his dog onto the back of his vehicle and drove off with it, dragging it to death behind, sends a chill through me as does the case where, just a last week a nature conservation official brutally shot and executed a pack of trained hunting dogs for the actions of their master who was caught poaching. Then there is the story about the "pastor" who shot a neighbor's dog for "trespassing" in his yard, with a shotgun. Nice guy. And let us not forget the local animal shelters, where pets are left to their fate, where the lucky ones find homes and the unlucky are "put down" or "put to sleep" - or any number of other pretty metaphors for "killed".

A short while ago in my city, an angry person drove a car onto the sidewalk in order to try and run down a dog in its own yard. I have often heard of people deliberately aiming their cars at dogs or cats crossing the road alone, and some people even aim at flocks of jaywalking pigeons. The excuse is something on the lines of: "Well, what's the f***ing dog doing in the street anyway?" Yes, very justifiable, go right ahead. I have myself accidentally struck a wild hare in the dark one night and I cannot imagine what sort of person would do this deliberately, although I suppose some folks would like to play real life games of Carmageddon if they could, and it all just adds up to make me wonder how civilized we as a collective really are.

Many times we refer to people who express hate or behave in a barbaric, savage "inhuman" way as "animals", but on closer inspection we can clearly see that this is in fact, an insult to animals.

Do animals make war on each other, or squabble over what god they believe created them? Do they persecute each other for who they love? Do animals murder each other because of their sexual orientation? Animals don't kill for sport. Most of the time they will kill only to survive, to eat.

Animals aren't usually unnecessarily cruel. And for the most part, animals will leave other animals alone, and only attack in self-defense. Can we say this of the people we call "animals"?

In China today, animals such as rabbits and dogs are skinned alive for their fur. The reasoning? A warm live animal is easier to skin than a cold dead one. Pictures have been distributed on the web of animals standing skinless and bloodied after the fact, dying of shock and blood loss. Petitions have abounded worldwide with mounting outrage. I for one will never ever buy anything with real fur attached to it again. And yet despite all the outrage, the Chinese fur trade is booming. What kind of person can do something like that? Skinning an animal alive? Could anyone imagine the pain they inflict? Can any sane human being with all its senses intact imagine doing such a monstrous thing - and not care? How can anyone do such a thing and still lay claim to being "human"? How can we as a race consider ourselves "civilized" when some of us do such terrible things, others profit by it and and encourage it and others still, turn a blind eye to cruelty and suffering and consider it "normal" and even create a market for it by wearing these repulsive items?

Some may say "it is only animals" - but then, that is precisely what this is about and illustrates my point.

If we as a species think no ill of such acts, nor lift a finger or speak out to change matters, then we are not worthy to be called civilized. In fact, sometimes - especially at such times, I regret that the Cold War did not end human domination of Earth with a bright, purifying flash. Oppenheimer's famous words upon the first testing of the A-bomb "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" to me sums up what humans are in the scheme of things.

If people who do such things and profit by them, were to come to a nasty and abrupt end in the road - I would shed no tears at all for them - and that's putting it mildly.

Look at the photo above. I feel a swell of pity for that poor sheep. If only the people holding it were intent on protecting it - instead they are going to assist in the killing, holding it firm while the big brave man holding that knife is going to commit it to a ritual slaughter. Do you think the sheep does not know the smell of blood and what it means? Even a dog knows the smell of fear when you just take it to the vet for a check-up. I think this picture speaks volumes of the nature of human beings. Cruel, predatory and mean-spirited. We belong in the pit.

We call such things "inhuman" and yet it's not true. They may be wrong, but to be so is very human indeed. Unfortunately.

I often wonder if people who were to watch a real abattoir in action, would still be able to stomach a juicy steak afterwards? Honestly, if modern so-called civilized first-world people had to see these things first-hand, would they still buy nicely packaged meat products off the supermarket shelf without thinking twice about it? Do they think meat products grow on plants? Would they still be content to waste surplus food, knowing how some poor inoffensive creature suffered for it?

The relationship we have with such animals is a symbiotic one. They provide us with food, and mostly, we care for them as long as it suits us. We have taken up the sum of the whole world, and I am sure that if by now animals were of no use to us, they would be extinct. Thus, they serve our needs, and until the day we kill them to consume their flesh like the parasites we have become, we ensure their survival.

However, this being so, unhappy as it is - I see no need for humans to impose cruelty upon them as well.

I object to cruelty because it is wrong. No sane person considering themselves "good people" would harm another person, or begrudge them a painless death - why will they not grant the same luxury for a poor defenseless animal? Isn't it enough that they kill the animal? Why make it suffer too? Sign this petition to prevent this atrocity.

We pride ourselves on our intellect, our innovation, our strength and technological and philosophical prowess. We consider ourselves benevolent - and yet blood stains our hands. We bluff ourselves into thinking we are innocent simply because we buy clothing with fur or skin in them, or buy neatly packaged meat products at the supermarket, and yet we indirectly support these killing fields. We claim to be good people, and yet we act out of selfishness and malice towards creatures who cannot defend themselves against us and our "civilization" - and against each other, simply because we choose to do so.

People believe in gods and deities, in justice, irony, retribution, goodness and evil, right and wrong. They create all these intricate belief systems to govern their thoughts and actions by, and yet they also twist them to suit their mood as they see fit. It is fine to ride over a dog crossing the street, leaving it there with its guts spilled all over the tar - but it is not okay to do the same thing to an annoying pedestrian. It is fine to shoot a dog for "trespassing" - but it is not okay to shoot a burglar, even if you wake up to find him in your home. It is okay to breed a race of animals to keep as pets and then confine the unwanted in "animal welfare centers" and to kill the surplus - but to do the same with humans offends our sense of justice, morality and "humanity".

Some people refer to the "Great Commission" as a creator-God giving "dominion" to humankind over the Earth and all on it as a justification for people to do just as they please and as an excuse to absolve themselves of any guilt points they may mount up. Such people frequently manifest this destructive behavior in their attack on the equality and human rights of other people, and in our case as GLBTI people, we know this best from the receiving end.

Some cry for the reinstatement of the death penalty and demand the "right" to beat their children out of "love" and we often see cases of severe child abuse, rape and murder by one human being against another.

At the same time, there are cases where people sacrifice themselves to save others. I find this duality and paradox in our human nature disturbing. Yin and yang. Dark and light intertwined. Yet this is what people are, good and bad in one being. Good people and bad people in one race. No wonder we are at odds with the world around us, the natural world - because we are forever at odds with ourselves.

And yet, even with all of this, people are not all bad. Not all of us. And that is the one bright side to this nightmare of our existence. We are both light and dark in our souls and in what we choose to be, a force for destruction, or a force for good can make us either worthy or unworthy of moving forward. Choice is the ultimate expression of our free will, determination and spirit. If we believe we are enlightened and intelligent beings then it is time to start acting like it.

I have made my choice.

Have you?


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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