Aug 17, 2012

Lesli Bisgould - Kangaroos, Seals and Humans - We Are All Meat

Australia's iconic kangaroos are hunted in the largest commercial slaughter of land-based wildlife on the planet -- almost 90 million have been lawfully killed in the last 20 years.
Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?
Canada's harp seals are hunted in the world's largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals -- almost 4 million have been lawfully killed in the last 20 years. 
With two countries holding such similar records, it is worthwhile exploring the legal parameters of the hunts. In order to do this, Voiceless was proud to present Canadian lawyer Lesli Bisgould as a keynote speaker for 2012. In a fascinating presentation, Lesli reflected on her experiences with the seal hunt and offered insights into Australia's own native hunt.

We are all meat
Since Darwin, species discrimination is morally extinct


I look a lot like corned beef on the inside. This, among many impressions made on me by Body Worlds 2 – the Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies now on at the Ontario Science Centre, was the most overwhelming. It includes whole human bodies, posed, sliced and displayed so as to reveal bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, internal organs, skin, eyes, even hair. They are preserved using a method called "plastination." 
Moving among the carcasses, or "plastinates," as the audio recording  calls them, the viewer comes face to face with her own inner workings. Some find it fascinating, others discomfiting -- mortality sure seems real when you get so close and personal – but what struck me most was the similarity of our flesh to what most people think of as food. 

We are used to thinking about animals as dead meat. In fact, the most intimate experience most of us have with animals begins when they are  dead and we eat them. So we do not flinch when they are referred to  as "carcasses," "specimens" and "displays." But we are not accustomed to seeing ourselves so exposed and dead, nor to confronting our inner similarities.

Of course, in reality, we are all animals. There is no magical line dividing "us" from "them" so categorically, even if it's convenient for us to pretend otherwise come dinnertime. In the many decades since Darwin first said "evolution," he and the scientists who followed have made quite a clear case about the similarities between  animals, and about the differences, which Darwin knew to be in degree, not in kind. 

We have learned that the real world is made up of individuals who are more or less closely related to one another by virtue of our descent from a common ancestor. When we say "species" we are really just  trying to give some order to the otherwise chaotic and splendid variety that is nature. It also turns out to be a handy tool of discrimination. 

Once we claimed an entitlement to eat and otherwise use animals for our own purposes because we thought they were somehow deficient and  less worthy – they can't think or reason, they don't feel or  communicate – but we have since learned that we were wrong. Today we  know that animals are complex creatures, with their own intelligence,  developed over evolutionary time, to enable each one to succeed in her particular environment. An emperor penguin can't do calculus and I can't protect an egg on my feet through an Antarctic winter. What was really deficient was our own ability to understand them. 

There are surely differences between mice and men, as there are between carp and gorillas and kittens and giraffes. There are differences between people, too. When we speak of equality in the human world, it is never to imply that we are all actually equal. We have different builds and appearances and different abilities. Some are better at math than others, some are better singers, some are better hockey players. But we have decided that these differences, while they may be relevant in determining who is entitled to an Olympic medal, for example, are not morally relevant when it comes to  deciding who is entitled to basic, fundamental rights. Like the right to live and not have one's interests sacrificed in the name of the interests of somebody else. 

When advocating for animal rights, nobody means the right to vote or to a full year of maternity benefits. It is not human rights for animals. It is, rather, the logical extension of an argument we have already accepted among our own kind, at least ostensibly: We ought not to discriminate against one another based on irrelevant grounds.  Animal-rights advocates ask what morally relevant differences there are between humans and the many thousands of other animals with whom we comprise the animal kingdom that make it all right for us to harm them in ways that we would never tolerate against one of our own kind, no matter how diseased or vicious. 

We annually hurt hundreds of millions of animals in this country in lawful, institutionalized and profitable ways. We prohibit causing them "unnecessary" pain and suffering, meaning we have written right into our laws permission to hurt them, any of them, when we think it is necessary for our own purposes. And so it is "necessary" to  mutilate, electrocute, burn, confine, isolate, starve and terrify individuals and we do so regularly in the name of agriculture,  science, fashion, entertainment and other industries. But unless we  are willing to accept "because we can" as a valid moral theory, we  must face the fact that, at least since Darwin, the justification for our behaviour has lost its factual premise.

We are all meat, and all meat is carrion, cooked or otherwise. Why is it all right to elevate one animal to master and reduce all the others to their edible parts? Body Parts 2 makes us confront that question and perhaps it makes us uncomfortable enough to try to come up with an honest answer. 

From The Aquarian Online, March 23, 2006


Anonymous said...

I met one of my now-close friends at a seal hunt protest in front of the Canadian consulate in my city a decade or more ago. Lately I haven't kept up with this barbaric (yes, "cruel," despite Lesli shying away from using that word) and useless practice. So I am grateful, if terribly saddened, to be apprised of what is happening on the rapidly disappearing ice flows of Newfoundland in recent years.

At the risk of sounding like a nitpicker (which I don't mean to be, because I thought her speech was excellent), I will say that I wish she had said "crabs" instead of "crab" at the 47.10-min mark and "nonviolent" instead of "less violent" at the 49.10-min mark. Yes, little points, but, as she herself pointed out, word choice sends a strong message.

Thank you, Bea, for bringing us the video and the essay she wrote six years ago.

It would be illuminating to have a lawyer from Australia speak, in reciprocal fashion, to Canadian lawyers on the kangaroo massacres. If you find such a YouTube, I know you'll post it, Bea.

Anonymous said...

That is a truly great read for me.

veganelder said...

Oh jeez. "We are all meat".

In the end, little more need to be said.

I must admit I loved the wonderful Canadian accent from Ms. Bisgould. With her and you, Bea, as advocates for our fellow animals...there is no doubt about our prevailing...the doubt is about the amount of suffering and misery and death that will occur before.

Excellent post...thank you.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Great essay! Will have to listen to video when I can. And, Canadians have accents? Guess when you're surrounded by them, you don't hear it anymore. ;)

Bea Elliott said...

You're welcome Olivia! I know what you mean about the use of language in identifying the plural of individuals. I go out of my way to say "fishes" and "chickens"... But in the whole scheme of Ms. Bisgould's speech I'm glad everything else was made absolutely clear.

For sure, if I run into such a video from an Australian speaker, I'll definitely share. ;)

Thanks for your comments.

Bea Elliott said...

Glad you found this post useful veganelder! And I like your positive thought that this barbaric (and stupid) holocaust will someday find an end. And it will one-which-way or the other. Either we'll learn how to stop it or it will kill us. Eventually "the meek" will win - And that can't happen soon enough!

We all just have to stay at it - Thanks for vigilantly doing so! ;)

Bea Elliott said...

Hi HGV! Accent? Yes, I guess she does have one! Wouldn't it be cool if having compassion gave us a certain accent? Then we'd know straight off who the kind ones were or weren't... Ha,Ha - Just a wild fantasy joke!

Thanks for dropping by and for all you do!