Monday, February 26, 2007

The Finned Ones, Four-Legged Ones and Winged Ones

"What do they know - all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world - about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

Isaac Bashevis Singer

About five years ago I went to a calf auction in the heart of New York State somewhere between Albany and Syracuse. It was early spring so the air still chilled to the bone and the sky hung dark and low. Everything was damp and muddy and a cold drizzle fell continuously from the thick dark clouds above. The auction was a compound of several wood-frame barns with muddy floors, whose red and white paint was peeling to reveal the rotten wood underneath. Trailers with rows of thin slits in the sides were parked in a muddy lot outside the barns. The calf auction was held inside the main barn through a small door in the back, past a narrow hallway in a small brightly lit room with a very low ceiling, a dirt floor and three rows of short wooden benches. On one side of the small floor space, to the left, were several very small doorways through a divider. There was a scale in front of one of the doors. The auctioneer stood on the side of the floor opposite the scale while a man in overalls took up a position near the scale. I sat in the last row of benches behind men in sports jackets who sat in the front row. From this vantage point I could see over the divider on the left. All of the doorways led into empty stalls with doors at the far ends that led out into the lot where the trailers were parked.

Inside the trailers were thousands of calves, born only the day before, waiting to be auctioned off to the dealers – the men in the sports jackets. Even before coming to the auction I knew the facts – that calves were a by-product of the dairy industry and that New York State, as one of the leading dairy-producing states in the U.S., was also one of the leading producers of calves. Dairy farmers had to fertilize their cows in order for them to produce milk and to inject them with hormones to keep them producing milk for as long as possible. But the calves had to be sold as soon as they were born so that they would not consume any of the milk. The very day following their birth, they are torn from their mothers' teats, loaded into trucks and brought to market.

The auctioneer rang a bell and the first calf was brought onto the scale and then pushed into the ring. It was a very small frail creature with bulging eyes and protruding rib cage. The hair on its body was still matted from the fluid in its mother's womb. It cringed and scurried to and fro across the ring and cried out. As I gazed into its eyes which were already yellow from malnutrition in the glaring light it occurred to me that something terrible was taking place in that room. The look in the animal's eyes was a fear so uncanny it made my guts tighten. It was the fear of an infant born only the day before whose sole experience is cold and hunger – the terror of a brand new life being ground into nothing. And while I began to panic inside as the animal cried out, the dealers in the front row began to kick and prod the creature with their mud-encrusted boots. The little beast tried in vain to avoid the blows in the tiny space but each way it turned it met another boot which pounded its hollow rib cage and sometimes knocked it off its unsure hooves. While this was happening, a string of unintelligible words streamed quickly from the auctioneer's lips until finally the man in overalls grabbed the calf by the neck, painted a number on its back and pushed it through one of the doors. This ordeal was repeated for several hours until the trailers were empty, when all the calves had been selected either for the veal farm or for slaughter. At the slaughterhouse the calves are ground into dog-food or frozen veal patties and there is no need to describe here what happens at the veal farm as enough has been written about these sordid facilities.

This is the role Civilized man has reserved for the finned, four-legged and winged ones – the animals. Animals are fair game. Man raises them for slaughter and even hunts them to extinction. And, since men are – after all – animals (we must eat, fuck and shit), one need not wonder at how men butcher entire villages, murder women and children and implement Final Solutions.

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