In the book Animals in Translation the author claims to believe she has a special connection or at least a special understanding of animals because she is autistic. I do admire her accomplishment with her book—I know it’s a lot of work. I enjoyed the anecdotes and found some of the current theories about animals and humans interesting. In her book the author states she can identify the problems in the slaughter houses easier than a non-autistic person. She thinks the autistic person’s brain malfunctions in a way that creates some similarities in the way autistic persons and animals, perceive their environment. This is based on the theory that the frontal lobes of the autistic person’s brain are not functioning properly and the effect is similar to the inferior frontal lobe development of the animal brain. She also explains the human thought process functions in a very general manner, tending to miss details. And the animal brain, as well as the brain of the autistic person, functions in a very specific manner, to the point of getting overwhelmed by the details. In her analogy, as the number of trees increase a non-autistic person will eventually perceive a forest. But in the case of an autistic person or an animal, more trees will just be more trees. It is this kind of difference that allows her to perceive an environmental snafu which is bothering an animal when an experienced farmer cannot see the problem—even when standing in front of it.
My first thought was her book was going to explain how she is saving the animals. But that may not be the case. She seems to perform two roles. One role is to make the slaughtering process easier, which benefits the factory. The second role is to eliminate some stress for the animals. So the bottom line seems to be, this woman who claims to be able to think more like the animals, earns her living by using her ability to make the slaughter of the animals more efficient for the business man and less terrifying and painful for the animal. There’s no way I can know from her book what motivates her, so I cannot judge her motivation—but I can judge her work. And at this point I think I disapprove of what she does at the animal factories.
I have been vegetarian all my adult life, over forty years, and vegan for the last ten of those. Some people don’t understand why I listen to people whose ethics and morals are so different from mine. My reasoning is it tests my belief system. If I argue a point it is generally a learning experience, either for me or the other person, and sometimes both. Although more often I seem to be the one learning, even though it is usually about the unexplainable beliefs and behaviors of the human being. The way humans continue to cling to and pass on all sorts of destructive habits is perplexing and confounding to people who view life and our place in it as I do. The normal way of life in our society includes way too much; exploitation, poor diet, pollution, dangerous drugs and medications, abuse, corruption, greed, war, custom, superstition and myth. This all seems to be impossible for me to understand. I think most people don’t understand their own beliefs, they take them for granted. They absorb whatever is passed on to them by their parents and teachers. Sure, a lot of people spruce up or complicate their beliefs and even try to justify them with ‘so called’ facts, but they are still just the basic morality they were taught as children.
My comments on this book are just my opinions, and I am not trying to put down the author, I am just being critical of what she does because I think it’s wrong. And I admit I am not sure there isn’t some virtue in what she does, but it isn’t necessarily a justification for doing it. One may conclude that if the animals have to go through what they go through it may as well be with a little less suffering. But I remember reading one author stating that the people who took good care and showed kindness to their slaves were wrong. They were wrong because they were only obscuring the true depth of the hideous institution of slavery of people.
In my reality animals shouldn’t go through what they go through; they shouldn’t be raised for exploitation at all. And the hideous institution of cultivating animals for human use and consumption needs to be seen for what it is. Does making it easier to get the slaughtering process done help or hinder? The author suggests that in some functions of the slaughter process 100% success is just not practical and it is better to be satisfied with 95% success–sounds like she is working for the farmers. Does reaching a 95% success rate in these slaughter houses allow the public to think the process is something less than horrific? Does it allow people to think it is really humane and okay? If you were in a group of people to be executed and they let you know you were in the 5% that was going to slip through the crack, not be rendered unconscious first, because 100% is just too hard to accomplish, what would you think?
One of the problems humans have is we can be just as good at doing the wrong things as we can the right things. I know that because I also was indoctrinated by my culture. I learned all the basics that make a good, law abiding, consumer that goes to work regularly, eats animals and exploits the earth’s resources, votes and attends church at least once a year (on Easter) and doesn’t ask questions that come under the heading ‘taboo.’ This helps keep the masses content and the economy chugging along adequately.
Early in the book the author commented on anthropomorphizing. At first I thought this indicated she had learned well the lessons of her professors. Yet throughout the book I heard references to animal emotions and actions as if she could have been talking about humans. She even points out that people who work with animals use the same words to describe animal behaviors as those used for human behavior. And she uses plenty of anecdotes which support the notion that animals are like humans. But, by my way of thinking this is bound to happen because no matter how hard science and social conscience tries to convince us otherwise, there is a legitimate reason for anthropomorphism. And that reason is– animals are like us–that’s it, just that simple. And we are like them. Is that possible? Sure, they came from the same place we did and evolution had the same effect on the other animals it had on us. They too have brains and they too have needs, just like us. Why is this so hard for people to accept? Just because they aren’t exactly the same or we can’t figure them out doesn’t give us any right to exploit them. But I can see where this can be a monumental problem in that people will slaughter others just because their skin is a different color. The truth is each person has to either try to justify exploiting animals or not support the animal industry.
Should men exploit women, or whites exploit blacks? Should the rich exploit the poor; the strong exploit the weak or the smart exploit the stupid? I say no! But ask the same question of a white person, a male of any race or a rich person. If you can get them to answer honestly many will probably give a different answer than mine. Then, should a human exploit an animal? I say no! But ask your friends and relatives. Look in the mirror and ask yourself. I would like to ask the author the same question; although she has already answered it in her book. She said she tried to avoid eating animals, but it didn’t work for her–so much for her being able to empathize better because of her autism.
If a puppy, a cow and a child are jumping around ‘apparently’ having a good time one may quite easily determine they are feeling some kind of joy—and leave it at that. Or, like the author, you can go to school, get your head filled with the same theories as everyone else in your class, and like a well trained automaton, proclaim ‘the child is having fun, but the two animals are developing the functions of their hypothalamus for self-preservation.’ For the average human the second route makes a lot more sense in the long run because it works better in conjunction with the ongoing facade of ‘righteous exploitation’ and ‘humane slaughter.’ You can believe what you are told to believe or you can believe what you see, this is one of the advantages of growing up and being able to make your own choices.
I think it is somewhat hypocritical for a person who earns a living by making it easier for farmers to exploit animals, to lament the hobbling of a horse for mating purposes. This reminds me of people asking you to sign a petition to stop the abuse of greyhound dogs while they’re eating a hotdog. The author expressed sadness over horses being treated this way and apparent revulsion when telling of killer whales singling out a baby whale, eventually killing it and eating its tongue. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that someone working for slaughter houses and eating animals a couple times a day would be the least bit bothered by such things. In the environment the author is in, humans do the same kinds of disgusting acts over and over—and then teach their children to do the same. And unless the author has never eaten a hamburger, what has she to say about what whales do? The whales singled out a helpless baby, hurt it, killed it and ate it. In fact, aren’t the author and others, indulging in the animal exploitation culture, singling out the helpless, hurting them, killing them and eating them? But that is different, right?
“I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
The author uses the term ‘humane slaughter,’ when explaining what she does. This phrase is known to some of us to be oxymoronic. If she could briefly step out of her reality and consider the implication of such a phrase she might have to agree that it is nonsensical.
Humane = compassionate, tender, sympathetic. Slaughter = violently or brutally kill. Conclusion, ‘humane slaughter’ = ‘tenderly and sympathetically-brutally kill.’ Some of us just don’t make sense of this. Unfortunately we are in the minority. Those who comprehend ‘humane slaughter’ are in the majority. Does being in the majority make a person right? Because if it does I am so far wrong it can’t be measured.
“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible. There is no impersonal reason for regarding the interests of human beings as more important than those of animals. We can destroy animals more easily than they can destroy us; that is the only solid basis of our claim to superiority.” ~Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Humanitarian, Author, Nobel Prize for Literature 1950.
We all know our immediate ancestors found ways to try to justify exploitation as well. But they went even further, they blatantly exploited humans. And people today still use the same excuses they used generations ago when exploiting humans; they aren’t human, they don’t feel, they are here for us to use as we please, and so on. They justified what they were doing to humans and people justify what they are doing to animals.
In the book the author stated she doesn’t approve of experimenting on animals unless something worthwhile may be learned. Who decides what is worthwhile–her– you? Is it worthwhile to put chemicals in the eyes of restrained animals to test products for makeup? Is vivisection worthwhile? Is it worthwhile to break the bones of animals for students to practice on or to shoot animals with high powered weapons for military research? People who think these are worthwhile probably think it was worthwhile to land a man on the moon and now to try to get a man on Mars. If you are one of these I will remind you that we are not shuttling valuable resources from the Moon and we don’t have scientists up there concocting valuable cures in low gravity. But there were billions spent, lives lost and resources wasted just proving it could be done. Great thinking!
Who has the right to make these decisions? What gives humans this right? Answer, human might, and that is all! Has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s all about power; and it seems that everyone has some degree of craving for power—you can even see it in children.
“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their mental faculties. Like man, they manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery. Sympathy for the animals is one of the noblest virtues with which man is endowed.” ~Charles Darwin
In her book the author spends some time elaborating on farmers masturbating their animals to collect sperm and tells how the farmers must pay attention to how each animal likes to have its penis played with. To me the whole concept of masturbating an animal is disgusting. I am thankful my lifestyle doesn’t require this bizarre behavior, but to provide for the average person’s lifestyle it is apparently necessary. To do this well is important and even admired from what was stated in her book. But when the author explained that farmers will even play with the animal’s anus to help them climax, I realized even more so how warped some of the behaviors in the animal consumption culture really are. I wonder what a young person thinks when he or she walks into the barn and sees one of his or her parents playing with an animal’s penis. The fact that the author lies down in pastures and lets cows lick her sounds a little strange too. Farmers fondling animals is sick, but in this book it is made to sound normal. I thought there are laws prohibiting this stuff. Think of it, people who are considered great farmers, probably looked up to by young, aspiring farmers; excel at ‘masturbating animals.’ And it is referred to as if it is normal and respectable. The fact is our minds will filter input to appropriately fit our personal belief systems so that even this information will not cause any change in most people that consider it.
How can a person ever begin to understand and accept anything that doesn’t fit into his or her established paradigm? The sad truth is we are taught wrong from the beginning, and the lessons we learn are inscribed deeply and almost indelibly into each of us. It is no wonder most people can’t change, even when they know they are wrong. So how can we ever get anywhere near our potential.
All cultures, if allowed, evolve their own paradigm. It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, it only matters that it satisfies the needs of society and individual, whatever those may be. And from what I can make out from studying the human species, survival and pleasure are the key factors. And it appears that humans have proven over and over again, they will do whatever is necessary to satisfy these needs. Sure, we can pretend like we are compassionate and spread this rumor generation after generation, but it is not the case. Life is ugly and so is human nature—and humans always have and apparently always will do their best to keep it that way.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right.” ~Thomas Paine.
I wonder if people, like the author, feel any responsibility for the fact that many of the diseases we deal with; HIV, mad cow, swine flu, avian flu, etc. affect animals and humans. There are many dozens of diseases which afflict humans because of close contact with animals–so raising billions of them for consumption seems counterproductive to health.
How about all the contamination of the land, air and water? Are there any feelings about the people that die because of contamination of our food crops by animal runoff, such as the recent spinach problem in central California? What about all the animal-protein/fat diet-related disorders that inflict the human population such as; cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, etc? While the ‘developed’ world is struggling with all the pollution, disease, misery, waste and destruction inflicted on the planet by the production of animals, I wonder why so many people close their eyes, as if it isn’t so.
“To close your eyes will not ease another’s pain.” ~Ancient Chinese Proverb
I know I am just testing my own belief system here, but I still hope that on occasion it will cause someone to scrutinize their beliefs as well. The human species is an interesting bunch. Most think we have evolved, but in actuality, not much has really changed. Humans still kill each other, and are still greedy, selfish and barbaric. Humans exploit whatever they can for their pleasure whether it is the resources, the environment, other humans or animals.
We think we have made improvements in human lives, but if you compare the lifespan of the early Presidents to the later you will not find much difference. If you check you will find they were performing mastectomies in 1800 and in 2007. And you can find that they too thought they were living at the best of times. You may notice we are not plagued with the same diseases as our relatives were in 1800–we have new ones. And the major reason we aren’t inflicted with the diseases of early America is due to the addition of plumbing, not because of medical miracles as they try to teach us. Still, knowing that our predecessors brought a lot of misery and death upon themselves by mixing their waste with their water doesn’t seem to have impressed us sufficiently. Society seems to think nothing of dumping the bodily wastes of tens of billions of animals on the ground, in the air and into the water. We think we are so smart, but we aren’t much different than our distant relatives, we just have cell phones now. I could go on for awhile in this vein, but I think I have made my point.
“Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity; and fashion will drive them to acquire any custom.” ~George Bernard Shaw.
It is beyond my capacity to understand how someone can spend so much time explaining to us just how smart animals are and how she can relate to them better than most and still–continue to be part of the problem.