Sunday, August 21, 2005

Food Chain.

My mind has made an inquiry recently about of the kind of body that it sometimes governs; like any insight, it has called into question some of the practices that this body has learned to employ—to seriously investigate their ethical justifications and necessity.

My body is that of an upright-walking primate, a mammalian, male ape that is the product of between two and six million years of hominid evolution. In previous incarnation, it looked, probably, much like the thick, swarthy, furry, dark-skinned things, the few remaining holdovers from a prehistoric, nearly-bygone epoch, that have been transplanted from Africa into modern zoos and that we call, in our highly-refined, rarefied, mammalian language, gorillas.

A long, long time ago, this ape’s ancestors began walking more on their hind legs than the other apes, using their forepaws more. They, very slowly, became versed in simple tool use, and for a few million years this was possibly all that separated them from their slightly-less-intelligent gorilla relatives.

But, slowly and surely, a strange thing began to happen: the higher intelligence of the tool-using apes succeeded as a formula, their bigger brains giving them an applicable advantage over their contentedly stupid cousins. But those brains, those things that consumed so much electrochemical energy, demanded fuel, a kind of fuel that leaves and shoots could not provide: they demanded an intense caloric source that could not be found in the vegetable kingdom--they demanded protein.

And so a certain kind of ape, or rather, as nature works in diversified fits and starts, certain kinds of apes, began to transform from predated to predating creatures, suddenly making other creatures, insects at first, but then others slow enough for them to catch and eat, and sometimes, if we believe what we have found, each other, deeply uneasy about their motivations. We started killing things for their caloric value, having no idea what caloric value meant, because these apes felt much more satisfied by a bit of flesh-eating than they did by hours of snacking on leaves.

This strategy was an effective one, leading to more sophisticated primates that used their hands to walk even less, and eventually not at all, with even bigger brains, making even more kinds of animal fear their needs, ultimately even the very big ones. The apes sent gigantic, hairy, tusked creatures into extinction via their unslakeable thirst for flesh and its embedded protein, and their intelligent ability to collaborate against things more powerful than any of them individually. They became collectively formidable animals, dispatching animals with lesser intellectual abilities, living by their need for calorie-intensive food so that they might continue their upward quest toward having even bigger brains and more dexterous forepaws.

My existence is the offshoot of all of this evolutionary social climbing: my body is that of a mammal, a highly intelligent, upright-walking, anthropoid ape of the genus Homo. It does ape things, has ape desires, and yet through the power of its magnificent capacity for communication through an elaborate system of complex utterances, has learned to name things and remember the names of things that other primates have taught it. It speaks; it hears.

As that of a protein-lusting, hominid ape, my body wants things from me. It has a brain and a nervous system that experience instinctive impulses and, through the power of its advanced capacity for language, and hence symbolic thought, learns names for the impulses. Instinctive aversion to something, in the dialect of an ape in North America, Britain, Australia, or South Africa, is called fear. We have other words like love and grief, to describe chemical bonding, attachment and bereavement. But mostly, my animal wants the flesh of other animals, so that it can be satisfied, a thing we call hunger, so that, consequently, future apes can have even bigger brains and still-more-dexterous forepaws.

Life lives by killing. This truth is inescapable. But now, at this juncture, I must choose what I kill, or merely to have killed by others, in order that I might obtain my protein.

A pig, as we have named a certain animal in English, is an intelligent mammal that experiences the same sensory impulses that my animal does, has instinctive understandings such as fear and joy, like my animal, communicates to other pigs by primitive language, and can learn things by memory and hence transform its existence into something that it was not at birth. It can learn names and commands, develop aversions to situations not naturally unpleasant, become depressed, suffer loss, attach itself to mates. It is smarter than the dog that we have come, in this culture, to adopt and love as family. It does not experience any of the qualities that my animal does in the refined sense that my animal experiences them, but that does not mean, contrary to conveniently constructed fictions, that it does not experience them at all.

I cannot kill and eat this animal anymore; it is to close to my own.

Sure, in the modern world, I am two or three steps removed from the actual slaughter of any pig, but by purchasing its flesh, I am participating in the slaughter as surely as if I had done it myself. The trauma and the terror it experiences, knowing that it is about to be culled, as higher animals always do, is something I can no longer abide. It is, for me and only me, a sin in which I may no longer take part.

I apply the same standard, now, to cows: not nearly as smart as pigs, but still too intuitive for me to kill and eat in good conscience. This is painful; I love to eat beef steak. But, unfortunately, from my saddened perspective, my consumption of it has to go.

We move to chickens: chickens are flightless birds, derived from ancient reptiles, with a program so based in the nervous system that if one severs a chicken’s tiny brain from its body by amputating its head, its body continues to run about until it dies of blood loss. They are scavengers, so stupid that they, in captivity, peck the eyes out of other chickens, believing the eyes to be insects. Chickens, I conclude, are still on the menu. Naturally and logically, so are their eggs.

Fish, I think: fish are primordial ancestors to amphibians, that can be taught nothing, that exist in their inherent capacities to swim, fertilize eggs, and die. Tuna steak, I concede, goes on the menu as well, right after the chicken-wing appetizer. There will be, it appears, no problem fulfilling my body’s call for protein, after all.

Shellfish are enormous insects, some closely, genetically related to cockroaches. They act on a prepaid chemical agenda not terribly different than that of a tomato. I can still go to Joe’s Crab Shack, I comfort myself.

Nuts, while having nerve endings and experiencing pain when eaten, have nothing resembling brain matter, and hence as much awareness of what is happening as if I had chosen to eat rocks. Even PETA lets me eat cashews without guilt. Okay, there we have it.

I have seen things differently, and must act accordingly. I may no longer eat things that have the intuition to be frightened of me. It seems an act of cruelty, an understandable and perfectly natural one, but not in any sense a necessary one.

5 Comments:

Blogger Natalie said...

Very interesting how you've decided to change yourself based on what you've concluded. Bravo to being the change you want to see in the world.

Mon Aug 22, 12:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jason said...

Hey LL fans, today (22 AUG) is Evil Jeremy's birthday, feel free to remind him about how old he is!

Mon Aug 22, 01:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nightcrawler said...

Happy Birthday Jeremy! I'd love to take you out for a steak but it would appear that option has been nuked. Guess I could make you a tuna noodle casserole though!

I think it's possible to think too much. At least your decisions are based on your own personal values and not the judgements of others.

Mon Aug 22, 02:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nigela said...

Happy Birthday! I hope there are plenty of organic, cage free eggs in your birthday cake.

And here's something to win money on next time you're in a bar or somewhere with 30 people. It's pretty much a statistical certainty that if 30 strangers are in a room, two will share the same birthday. I've won a total of $200 with this over the years, though I did fork over a percentage to my math teacher who told me the stats.

Mon Aug 22, 02:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

My thanks to you all. I realized recently that birthdays are a bit of a silly thing to celebrate, as what on earth control did I have over my dad getting a bit tipsy at a Christmas party in 1972 and the resulting chain of events, but hey, it's a very old tradition and so who am I to question it? Did that last sentence run on badly enough?

And lest anyone think there is any militancy in my observations, I ask that you simply understand that the meditative breathing excercise I've been doing for the past few weeks has been leading to interesting changes in my thought process. That's all. I'm not preaching, exactly, and I'm certainly not telling anyone else what to do. (Nobody has suggested otherwise, but I want to make that point very clear.)

Eat what you feel appropriate. Eat what you like. I'll never for a moment look down on anyone for not seeing the isssue as I see it, because our perspectives on the matter are simply different. Thanks for the birthday wishes, and happy August 22 to you all in return.

Mon Aug 22, 03:27:00 PM EDT  

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