Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What a Day

It's my big lil' bro's birthday, and my dad had successful surgery. I've been gnawing my nails all day, trying to be big strong etc. Bravado doesn't do much for the appetite though. Or self recriminations. Finals on thursday. The big big 30% of our grade paper was due last week- I have no idea how I did and I don't know if I'll even get more than the final class grade, sans the particulars. I don't feel great about this paper but I still want to know what grade I got. Escapeism ftw. PainterLady told me about this video you can watch on youtube "da vinci machine origami" that illustrates the accuracy and amazing proficiency of this particular surgical device... But if you watch it (there is NO gore btw) I can honestly say that I have crafted, twice in my life, smaller cranes than that. With my bare hands and no glasses, magnifying or otherwise. I was twelve, so my hands were smaller, for sure, but still. I always called em my "smaller than a booger" cranes. N E way.

Here's my paper if you're interested. It's really long and meandering which is why I'm worried about my grade. Uggghhhh I can't even read it again. It's way too personal and and at the same time too general. Why couldn't I just make a good strong point and argue it? though, I must say, worrying about it is much better than worrying about loved ones. My lil bro isn't even having a nice birthday dinner and my dad is spending the night in a hospital. Crapola. Well, here is my bad paper.

Freedom for Funktionslust

Could you kick a one year old in the side, knocking her down, break a couple ribs? Not morally, I’m sure… and definitely not legally- wouldn’t that earn you a jail sentence and hopefully an unfriendly welcome by your new inmates? Sorry, but it’s completely legal. For non-human victims, that is. The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 is the strongest law in existence to prevent cruelty to animals, yet it only applies to pet cats, dogs, and guinea pigs (why that last? I have been unable to determine that seemingly random addition). Pets, remember. Not test subjects, and certainly not food (farm) animals. So let me rephrase: could you kick a 1-year-old calf, break a few ribs? Would its cries be just the automatic reaction of a biomachine devoid of feeling?
I love a tender skirt steak marinated in teriyaki and roasted over open coals. I’m also a sucker for chicken chalupas at Taco Bell. My palate is a far cry from my previous six years as a vegetarian. Yet I will still spend seven dollars on a six oz. can of tuna, fish that was caught with lines instead of nets to incur no collateral damage. I still donate to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I know I do these things out of guilt. But where does this guilt originate, and why? Because I believe that animals have feelings and emotions, as do we. Empathy is one of our greatest and most painful of those.
So why aren’t I still vegetarian? It wasn’t hard, but then, I wasn’t the real deal: I had that line caught tuna as my one “they live free” excuse for the protein I needed. I also added more cheese and milk to my diet. When I really started to examine my decision I realized that it was based on the idea that animals should be allowed the freedom to realize their place in the natural scheme of things, a.k.a. “cage free”. Calves should frolic in meadows, chickens should enjoy a good roll in the dirt (mine are particularly fond of “dustbowls”), and their lives should end without horrible pain, suffering, fear or cruelty. But something like 95% of cheese must be made with rennet. Rennet (also called “enzymes” on the ingredients label): the stomach lining of a baby cow, because what could render cow milk better than the very creature the milk was designed for? And inevitably the stomach lining, or rennet, has come from veal calves; the epitome of the animal cruelty I was trying to protest with my dietary decisions.
Seems I had the dreaded disease of Anthropomorphism- insufficient diet? No- before you run off to your doctor because you’ve had too much brie with your wine lately, let me put it in laymen’s terms: bleeding heart syndrome (BHS). How was I to live, healthy AND guilt free?
I turned to nature for answers. Agriculture has been around for maybe 10,000 years. But nature, organisms, life on this planet has not only existed but thrived for exponentially longer. It is a perfect balance of cycles, a turning, unbroken ring, not a chain with humans as the end link. In fact, let’s look at the part of the cycle with humans first instead of ending with them. A human dies. She is eaten by worms, which cast off rich droppings. Flies lay eggs in her so that their larvae can hatch into an abundance of food. Grass grows in the enriched earth, drawing rabbits, and the maggots feed chickens, which humans hunt and eat. The humans die of old age or accident (or misadventure, earning a “Darwin Award”), history repeats. Obviously simplistic, but it is a cycle. Humans claim to be at the top of the food chain. Ever seen one of those bumper stickers, “I didn’t fight my way to the top to eat veggie burgers”? Anthropocentrism (interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience) is a disease far more harmful than BHS in my opinion.
I would hope that most people at least know, if not agree with or understand, the quote, “With great power comes great responsibility”. If humans are the monarchs of the animal kingdom, what sort of rulers should we be? I think we would want to sustain our position, and thus need a sustainable base. I would no sooner ask a cheetah to desist dining on it’s favorite meal, the tiny Thompson gazelle, than I would ask King Henry the 8th to please push aside his turducken for the Brussels sprouts and asparagus. However, cheetahs do not confine their prey to immobility in tiny cages, and Kings relied on hunting parties for their meat.
I see hunting to feed your family no different from a hunter shooting a deer than to a falcon feeding its nestlings. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hunting by humans is for sport and not food. This is a major issue where we have not accepted our responsibility as so called “top of the food chain”. It isn’t just the waste of a food source, it is the culling of the biggest, strongest, and most viable specimens a species has to offer. If the leader of a herd of elk is killed to decorate a human lodge, it will not be able to pass on its superior genes. A weaker bull will take its place, not only as procreator but also as the next trophy. Thus the gene pool of the herd is eroded, relying on weaker and smaller animals to pass on their traits. If humans were to consider hunting the smaller and weaker animals of a herd, we would actually be raising the value of our food source instead of decimating it.
This is the natural role of a predator. Yet once again, we must step in, and step up. In the 1800’s especially, natural predator population declined severely. Bears, wolves, pumas, as well as scavengers and smaller animals- vultures, wolverines, foxes: they were all put on the human enemy list. I can argue that it was another one of many bad decisions by humans to all but eliminate them, but that won’t change the fact that it’s already happened. I’d rather look to remedy than the mystics of bending time.
Valley forge, Pa. You can see easily between 50 and 150 deer in one day. I stopped to take a picture of a newborn fawn not 4 feet from the roadside. Barely bigger than my 14-pound cat who rules some 16ish acres where I live, the fawn shared a short moment with its mother in study of our car, and then they slowly ambled into the woods. They are so overpopulated due to lack of predators that they are almost tame. So, the kill allowance was increased for the hunting season. Humans took responsibility for the predators whose roles needed filling, and still, our source of meat was free to eat tender shoots of fresh spring grass in the sunlight. Most chickens you eat will have lived their entire lives in darkness.
That is my omnivore excuse. We can’t just hop off the Ferris wheel whenever we choose, anymore than we can get rid of wolves and bears without upping our hunting limits. I would like to point out that herbivores, like horses, have all flat teeth. Carnivores, like lions, have all sharp teeth: even their molars have jagged crowns. Then there are humans. Omnivores. We have some teeth for chewing, and some for tearing. And I feel that it is not our design to change, at least not entirely. But neither were animals meant to change to the mere products they have become.
The whole food cycle is more than just a natural relationship. It also has the more subtle inclinations towards vetoing the ability for animals to feel, let alone have souls. Animals are our property, to eat, experiment on, kill for pleasure, or fetch us our morning paper. I say if your dog loves to grab the paper or your kitten likes to sleep under your covers, great. But even better is the freedom of choice they have. Does a veal calf even have the choice to turn around? Does a monkey have a choice in whether or not to receive anesthesia while being tied down and cut open, fully conscious and alive? Vivisection: another legally sanctioned form of torture. And torture can flow with the cycle and hurt us, too.
The most deadly form of E. coli bacteria exists purely because animals do not have freedom and are subject to unnecessary cruelty. Did you know that the standard strain of E. coli can be defeated by a human’s stomach acid, with no medical assistance? Normally the bacteria live in an extremely neutral ph, for example, a cow’s stomach. Moving from there to my stomach would be like putting a cartoon character into Dip, or, if you haven’t seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit, stick your hand in a boiling deep fryer for comparison. A normal cow, a ruminant, lives on grass, not grains. But factory farmed cows are not fed grass, they are fed corn, mixed with antibiotics, protein supplements, and liquefied fat. Cow fat. Feeding unused, rendered cow parts back to cows seemed like another cash shortcut until all the mad cow disease bad press. “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants makes an exception for blood products and fat” (Pollan 76). So cows are still eating cow blood and fat. Their stomachs bloat and grow acidic; it is a diet that cannot be sustained for longer than 150 days due to liver disease, ulcers, feedlot polio, and more. Even if the threat of mad cow disease is lowered, the cow’s stomachs are now as acid as ours, and the bacteria E. coli has adapted to strain Escherichia coli 0157:H7, a strain that swims happily in the oceans of human stomachs. And all we have to do is put the cows back in the pastures. They live happy and healthy, as do we, and 0157:H7 is off the menu.
But what about research on animals? Exempt. Cartesian scientists nailed dogs down to boards by their four paws and then cut them open to study the circulation of blood. They claimed that the cries of the dogs were but the noise of a spring that had been touched, like a spring in a clock. A Greek named Galen who experimented with monkeys had already undertaken vivisection in Rome. Yet “it was Leonardo da Vinci, founder of the modern science of anatomy, who discovered that Galen’s anatomical descriptions were incorrect”(Briggs 9). Centuries ago, people of high intelligence found animal research to be inadmissible for humans. The feelings of animals were not at the center of the debate, if they were in it at all. Still, the proof was in the pudding- and yet animals are used for research exponentially more than ever before.
The most basic study in animal research is called LD50 (lethal dose 50 percent). A product is introduced to rats, mice, rabbits, monkeys, any animal. The product, be it a new floor cleaner, blood thinner, or lipstick, will be injected, smeared into the eyeballs, or force-fed to the test subjects. Painkillers cannot be administered because they might interfere with the chemicals being tested and interfere with results. After 50 percent of the animals die, the project is considered complete and the toxicity level determined. Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me- but was their crime? Being non-human.
In terms of new furniture polish, that will regulate the warning labels. If the test material is medicinal in nature and it lengthens human lives, it is considered productive research. According to neurologist Aja Octar, only 8 percent of medicinal products tested on animals are viable for humans, and half of those are recalled (30 Days). Simple use of human skin cells, harvested and grown with no harm or pain to anybody, are far more accurate depicters of human and drug interaction. Consider this: Aspirin. One of, if not the most, widely used pharmaceuticals. Yet it is deadly to felines. What if our intrepid researchers had tortured hundreds of cats and determined aspirin to be unsafe? There are numerous alternatives to animal testing, and they are far more accurate. “In vitro research uses cell and tissue cultures in a test tube or Petri-dish, and one of its uses is drug development” (Willams, DeMello 203). I know I’d prefer a plastic dish to a screaming cat if I were a scientist in a lab.
That dreaded term, anthropomorphism, rears its head again. “The old German term funktionslust refers to pleasure taken in what one can do best- the pleasure a cat takes in climbing trees, or monkeys take in swinging from branch to branch. This pleasure, this happiness, may increase the animal’s tendency to do these things, and will also increase the likelihood of its survival” (Massson, McCarthy 13). Biologist Marcy Cottrell Houle observed a pair of peregrine falcons raising five nestlings. One day the female did not return, and the male doubled his efforts in search of food. On the third day of the female’s disappearance, “Arthur (the male) uttered an unfamiliar sound, a ‘cry like the screeching moan of a wounded animal, the cry of a creature in suffering’”(Masson, McCarthy 91). The fourth day Arthur never left his perch, and three of the five nestlings died. On the fifth day the male resumed his hunting. Was this a faulty creature? Just a failed spring in the machine, hindering its species survival? Or was it displaying an emotion?
Jane Goodall is one of the worlds leading researchers in the behavior of apes. She observed an 8-year-old male chimpanzee sitting at his dead mothers side, occasionally tugging her hand. As the days past and he failed to eat, he became increasingly lethargic, only once leaving her body to climb a tree and stare at the sleeping nest he had shared with his mother. Within the month, he died of gastroenteritis. [Goodall’s scientific conclusion was: “It seems likely that psychological and physiological disturbances associated with loss made him more vulnerable to disease”] (Masson, McCarthy 74). A fellow scientist said simply, “he died of grief”.
Do animals feel? Does it matter if they do? What if the Animal Welfare Act was literal and all encompassing, making cruelty illegal for all creatures, from food to fur, research to companions. Then we could eat all the meat we wanted, pop our aspirin, and cozy up in vests made of recycled water bottles. I’m not trying to convince anyone to go vegetarian or stop wearing leather. I AM trying to stop people from using animals as research. I am trying to stop cruelty. If humans are the kings, shouldn’t we be just and fair? Maybe wear a faux fur lined robe instead of one made of anally electrocuted and skinned alive chinchillas? I heard this quote somewhere: “It takes 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat but only one to wear it”. If we are so superior, shouldn’t we be benevolent as well?
I believe it is time for humans to actually accept the responsibility we’ve claimed. I’m going to try to kill a turkey this year, but I don’t know if I can do it. I’ll be drinking out of my Nalgene water bottle and eating potatoes from my garden, petting my cat on her head and maybe tossing her an entrail or bloody feather. But at least I know these turkeys led good lives; I raised them. They lived cruelty free; got to scratch at the dirt, fly out of the pen (the buggars), and show off their full plumage when they were feeling particularly full of prowess. At least until that final deathblow, which I hope will be quick. I’m part of the food circle, not the cruelty cycle.

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