I know the score when it comes to our relations with animals, so I know how to disconnect from the violence inflicted upon them by our culture. I’ve lived through years and years of the subtle, constant barrage of violence that surrounds us, that is built upon their lives, that is hidden from our awareness. And although it seems one would only become more adept and more accustomed to living through this awareness of violence as they age, I find myself becoming only more affected, more empathic, and more troubled by this reality of ceaseless suffering and outright denial of their value as individuals. It is one thing to confine, inflict pain upon and end the life of a creature one acknowledges of physical and emotional capability, but it is, oddly, something else entirely to do the same without recognition of these same capabilities and without the slightest semblance of thought as to one’s actions. For those of us who have allowed ourselves to become aware of an animal’s value as individuals and communities and nations, our aging, accumulated experience, and necessity to maneuver through the violence of an unthinking culture is no protection from the emotional difficulty of doing so.
On our drive out East I felt bombarded by the consistency of this suffering, as if the long protracted, but often hidden, violence of our civilization seeped through the cracks of the facade and the violence came spilling out. We passed a semi truck loaded with cages of chickens crammed into temporary caskets on their way to slaughter, many of them dead after a life of confined misery. One chicken has pushed his head through a gap in the cage wire, as if to seek a little extra space, but the head lay limp, it’s eyes closed, dead from either exhaustion, dehydration, or suffocation. The fate of which may have been better than where they were headed. Seeing these countless individuals, a visual mass of feathers and beaks and feces, I couldn’t help but think of the individual chickens being cared for on a farm by friends, all with distinct personalities, survival needs, and emotional capabilities, but when these lives are confined by the system of animal agriculture, they are reduced to commodities, brainless and emotionless resources, facts and figures on spreadsheets. The connection between animals as resources leads to the disconnect that is a mass of bodies piled on top of each other in a truck speeding down the highway, in full view for all to see.
We passed the truck, after I warned Laura to turn her head and not look out her window. But just a few miles up the road I caught another animal standing on the side of the road, a raccoon I believe, but then stumbling and falling. It’s movements relayed a crisis as it tried to stand immediately again, onto to stumble sideways, disoriented, and fall on it’s side yet again, this time unlikely to get up for a third attempt at escape. It was likely hit by a car, but not immediately fatal, and would die a prolonged death. There was something powerful about seeing the process of dying more immediately that struck me, and stayed with me.
It was both the chicken, with it’s head hanging limp, eyes closed in either avoidance of it’s fate or already lost to the grip, along with the raccoon, in the last moments of it’s life, that cut through the years of protective callous and rational awareness that helps us all through the days. I couldn’t seem to shake the moments of suffering or the tragic, uncomfortable business as usual normalcy that allows follows these events. And I still can’t.
But not because I’ve lost touch with reality. Not because I’ve become an over-emotional bleeding heart stereotype of an animal rights activist. Not because I seek some deeper tragedy with which to connect and gain sympathy from others for my own connection to the suffering. Not any of that, but just the continuous reality that it’s all too much. That it’s always too much, that it’s all so out of control.
Add to these moments the latest publicized shootings of black men around the country and the expected retaliation against the police that are shooting them, coupled with the surge in violence influenced by religious ideology and theistic absurdity on such a spectacular scale, multiplied by a trajectory of environmental crisis with no seemingly stable endpoint…and as someone recently said to me, “civilization is just a continuous and protracted act of violence.”
Mind you, I have been aware of this reality for quite some time, but I continuously find myself affected by the tragedy of our desire to continue down this path, unable to see the big picture through the barrage of details and distractions. I find myself unable to shrug away the violence and yet, at the same time, crippled to do anything about it. I find myself asking less, “Is it too big? Is it too much?” and instead making declarative statements. “It’s all too big. It’s all too much.”
And that is my greatest fear, of succumbing to the reality of this protracted violence that inflicts unimaginable pain upon the animal nations without even recognizing their ability to experience pain, let alone their existence as individuals, along with the culture of unthinking stupidity that leads people to monotheism, to human centric ideology, to know nothing of physical history, to know nothing of nature’s diversity, to know nothing of alternative ways of living, to know nothing of the environments and relationships that foster a happiness dictated by the slow machinations of evolution’s continued attempts toward survival. I don’t know how to balance the desire for the best life to possibly live in a state of isolation, of relationships mediated by digital connections, of not interacting with the world in a way to affect positive change when our trajectory seems nothing but negative.
And believe me, this isn’t doomsaying and the product of not looking for the light in all the dark. I make the most of my life, and continue to consider how best to live, making adjustments accordingly, experimenting with alternatives to see what solutions arise, but it’s hard to let go, to disconnect, to to navigate a world of mindless, purposeless violence when you know the alternatives exist. It’s so hard to create a personal sanctuary when the walls are burning on the outside. Sometimes, in the midst of so much immediate violence, it seems I’m just trying to wipe clean my window on the train as it speeds uncontrollably towards the cliff.
And yet, what else can we do? It is the impulse of our civilization that says we must always seek a place higher on the pyramid. We must always look for the next level, to find our way to more money, to seek greater power, to affect as many people as possible, to become the leaders of leaders, to gain the most followers, to alway develop more and more, to become bigger and bigger, to maximize everything. But when was this ever the dictate of the natural world? In the relatively beginning-less nature of existence, when did anything ever seek perpetual domination, perpetual growth without checks and balances?
There is, however, another way, but which takes a certain degree of perspective and confidence to live outside the insane logic of civilization. It is the logic of civilization to consolidate power and decision making and resources and to always hoard and become bigger and seek power and domination, of which we all seem to be sucked into the vortex of this logic, born into the insanity and with few alternatives. But the answer might be quite simple.
T0 minimize our lives to the physical world around us, to prioritize immediate experiences and direct social relationships instead of mediated communications (he says on a blog). To know what it is to be a part of land, even if that is just our yard or an area to which we feel connected close by. To become attuned to our bodies and their fluctuating states of comfort. To learn at least one skill with our hands, to experience what it is to create and imagine from seemingly nothing. To know what it is to value our objects and seek a sense of permanence within them rather than live with the idea of constant renewal and waste.
To, again, disconnect from the logic of civilization that surrounds us, that we know deeply and intuitively is tragic and violent and disconnects us from the lives we would rather live. To use the masters tools to dismantle the masters house, we can disconnect from their disconnection. That is where we must start, individually, and together.
I’ll resist the urge to offer suggestions of disconnection more than I have already alluded, as they will be many and personal and it is only confining to offer “acceptable” forms of disconnection, but suffice to say they are all around us.
I will not, however, romanticize this disconnection either, because we’ll still drive past trucks loaded with the misery of animals confined by the logic of civilization, we’ll still watch the life of our fellow animals fade in the tragedy of our pace of life, we’ll still witness the unthinking production and consumption of animals as resources, and we’ll have to endure through it all. We can’t escape this logic until this logic buckles under the weight of it’s own absurdities and fails to uphold it’s moral boasting with foundations predicated on theological wishes and illusions.
We can, however, individually disconnect from this absurdity, from this pace of life, from this trajectory of violence…and find comfort in the value of our own physical realities, in our connections to the natural world, in our connection to the physical world, and in our connection to the ceaseless wonder of time, existence, and consciousness. It can be painful at times to remain connected to our world, emotionally and intellectually, but the converse joy is just as powerful and important.