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Recent articles by Lierre Keith
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To Save The World
international | animal rights | opinion/analysis Thursday March 15, 2018 01:31 by Lierre Keith markdrifter.ph at gmail dot com
orginally posted on: chaosnet.tumblr.com
Start with a sixteen-year-old girl. She has a conscience, a brain, and two eyes. Her planet is being drawn and quartered, species by species. She knows it even while the adults around her play shell games with carbon trade schemes and ethanol. She’s also found information that leaves her sickened in her soul, the torment of animals that merges sadism with economic rationality to become the US food supply. Their suffering is both detailed and institutionally distant, and both of those descriptors hold their own horrors. A friend of mine talks about “the thing that breaks and is never repaired.” Anyone who has faced the truth about willful or socially sanctioned cruelty knows that experience: in slavery, historic and contemporary; in the endless sexual sadism of rape, battering, pornography; in the Holocaust and other genocides. You’re never the same after some knowledge gets through with you. But our sixteen-year-old has courage and commitment, and now she wants to do what’s right. The vegetarians have a complete plan for her. It’s simple. You can create justice for animals, for impoverished humans, and for the earth if you eat grains and beans. That simplicity is part of its appeal, partly because humans have a tendency to like easy rules. But it also speaks to our desire for beauty, that with one act so much that’s wrong can be set right: our health, our compassion, our planet.
The problem is they’re wrong, not in their attempts to save the world, but in their solution. The moral valuing of justice over power, care over cruelty and biophilia over anthropocentrism is a shift in values that must occur if we are to save this planet. I didn’t call this book The Vegetarian Lie. I called it The Vegetarian Myth for a reason. It’s not a lie that animals are sentient beings currently being tortured for our food. It’s not a lie that the rich nations are siphoning off the life of the planet for literally oceans full of endless, empty plastic junk. It’s not a lie that most people refuse to face the systems of domination— their brute scale—that are destroying us and the earth. But the vegetarians’ solution is a myth based on ignorance, an ignorance as encompassing as any of those dominating systems. Civilization, the life of cities, has broken our identification with the living land and broken the land itself. “The plow is the … the world’s most feared wrecking ball,” writes Steven Stoll. For ten thousand years, the six centers of civilization have waged war against our only home, waged it mostly with axes and plows. Those are weapons, not tools. Never mind reparations or repair: no peace is possible until we lay them down. Those six centers were each driven by a tight cohort of creatures, at the center of which stand an annual plant or two. And humans have been so useful to corn and rice and potatoes, clever enough to conquer perennial polycultures as vast as forests, as tough as prairies, but not smart enough to see we’ve been destroying the world. The cohort has often included infectious diseases, diseases like smallpox and measles that jumped the species barrier from domesticated animals to humans.
Humans who stood in the way of civilization’s hunger have been eradicated by the millions through civilization’s microbes, the first clear-cut preparing the way for the plow. This is the ignorance where the vegetarian myth dead ends. Life must kill and we are all made possible by the dead body of another. It’s not killing that’s domination: it’s agriculture. The foods the vegetarians say will save us are the foods that destroy the world. The vegetarian attempt to remove humans from a paradigmatical pinnacle is commendable. And it’s crucial. We will never take our true place, one sibling amongst millions, sharing a common journey from carbon to consciousness, sacred and hungry, then back to carbon, without firmly and forever rejecting human dominion. But in order to save the world we must know it, and the vegetarians don’t, not any more than the rest of the civilized, especially the industrially so. Hens driven insane in battery cages are visible to vegetarians; both morally and politically that insistent sight is needed. What are invisible are all the other animals that agriculture has driven extinct. Entire continents have been skinned alive, yet that act goes unnoticed to vegetarians, despite the scale. How do they not see it? The answer is they don’t know to look for it. We are all so used to a devastated landscape, covered in asphalt and the same small handful of suburban plants, a biotic coup of its own. The whole east coast should be one slow sigh of wetland, interspersed with marsh meadows and old growth forest. It’s all gone, replaced by a McMonocrop of houses, shackles of asphalt, the brutal weight of cities. Where the water goes shy, the trees should thin to savanna and prairie, although even there the wetlands should cradle the rivers. But there’s nothing left. The deltas and swamps, bison and black terns, have been turned into soy and wheat and corn. The capitalists say we should turn those into animal units; the vegetarians say we should dump them near the starving; I say we should stop growing them and let the world come back to life. Then we can take our place again, that place that the vegetarians claim to want, our place as participants. We can dominate or we can participate but there is no way out. That’s what no one is telling that sixteen-year-old. The earth is literally dying for wetlands and forests, rivers and prairies. And if humans would simply step aside, the world would do the work of repairing itself. But that repair involves death. It means letting the beavers eat the trees, letting the wolves eat the beavers, letting the soil eat us all. It means taking down every last dam and letting the salmon come home to lay their eggs and be eaten, and in the eating become the forest. This is the world as it should be, resiliently nourishing itself, the gift both given and received. No one is going to tell that sixteenyear-old girl the truth, because there’s no one left in her world who knows it.