Since the very early navigations of DP, we have underscored the deep connection between the violence inflicted upon “food animals” and core human identity. Now comes Paul Tritschler with an analysis of killing floor psychology. The entire essay is worth a close read; excerpts below, with images added by DP, depicting various gradations of intensity in the transformation of sentient life into industrial meat.
Animals may well have some sort of psychic antennae, some mysterious means to transcend the known substance of this world, but it seems more likely that their hysteria on the approach to the slaughterhouse has its source in the stench of entrails and in the distress calls of fellow creatures being mutilated and dismembered a short distance away. The notion of a profound death instinct at once masks this reality and assuages guilt: it allows people to acknowledge a discrete form of animal suffering, and at the same time to dissociate from the animal’s dreadful ordeal – in short, it shifts the responsibility for suffering from humans to the animal itself. Viewed from this perspective, the problem is not our desire to consume animals, but their desire to live.
The idea of a death instinct on the part of inferior life forms, otherwise referred to as food animals, is reminiscent of the mindset prevalent among many psychiatrists in the mid-nineteenth century – men such as Doctor Samuel Cartwright, who observed the outbreak of a curious condition among black slaves: the impulse to be free. Having dreamed up a diagnosis (dubbed ‘drapetomania’), for this mental illness – an illness with clinical characteristics that included a persistent longing for freedom, mounting unhappiness, or even occasional sulkiness – Cartwright concocted a cure: pain. He recommended the afflicted slave be whipped until their back was raw, followed soon after by the application into the wounds of a chemical irritant to intensify the agony. It brought the desired result: this mental shackling didn’t cure the condition, but it helped control the outbreak, greatly reducing the compulsion on the part of slaves to break away from their masters.
As revealed by researchers such as Gail Eisnitz, a similar sort of logic prevails in slaughterhouses, where clubs or hammers are used to break the legs or spine of frantic animals in order to settle them down, and where cries of agony are addressed by cutting the animal’s vocal chords – especially when they get caught in the gate and are forced, fully conscious, to have their legs or head sawn off to speed up the line. And speed-up is very much the character of the slaughterhouse today, as increased efforts are made to meet the wholly unrealistic and unnecessary rise in global demand for meat – a rise that is monstrously resource intensive, environmentally damaging, and a major contributor to climate change.
If not for reasons based on personal health, ethics or simply disgust, evidence suggests that becoming vegan is one of the most immediate and effective ways for an individual to reduce harmful emissions that affect climate change. Research by Peter Scarborough at the University of Oxford found that switching to a vegan diet – depending on the choices made for meat substitution – was a more realistic option for most people as a way of reducing carbon emissions than attempts at reduction within the areas of travel, such as driving or flying. The vegan diet, according to the research, cut the food-related carbon footprints by 60 per cent, saving the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Animal slaughter has an adverse impact on the climate, the quality of life in society, and our identity. The extent to which we are willing to accept animal exploitation, and to tolerate animal cruelty – increasingly the key feature of the industrially-paced slaughterhouse today – bears some influence on how we see ourselves and others. At a number of points along the continuum, for example, there are clear indications that animal cruelty is a predictor of human violence and crime. The dangers in this regard were raised in Counterpunch Magazine by the investigative health journalist, Martha Rosenberg, who found that criminologists and law enforcement officials were at last beginning to acknowledge what the anthropologist, Margaret Mead, declared back in 1964: “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.”