Our Animal Hell

Robert Pogue Harrison in the NYRB blog:

Francisco_de_Zurbaran_006_jpg_600x579_q85The Pope spoke not of dogs but of all of God’s creatures. Where does that leave humankind? To call us a species among others is both correct and misleading, for whether by divine design or nature’s random ways, Homo sapiens has extended its dominion over everything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies. This makes us a singular, unearthly kind of creature. From the extinctions we cause, to the alteration and destruction of animal habitats, to the daily mass slaughters that feed our collective Cerberus-like appetite for meat, poultry, and fish, our species terrorizes the animal world in ways that could only offend, if not outrage, a God who loves his creatures enough to open the prospect of heaven to them…

From a quantitative point of view our species guilt is more aggravated today than it ever was in the past, when Plutarch or Pythagoras cried out against animal murder and the consumption of animal flesh. As the French philosopher and biologist Jean Rostand put it, “Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being men.” While the scale of animal death has increased exponentially, the main issue today is no longer death but the coercive reproduction and perpetuation of animal lifeunder infernal conditions of organic exploitation. Industrialized farming today, in its manipulation of the biological processes of genesis, growth, and multiplication, forces animals like cows, calves, turkeys, pigs, ducks, and geese into artificial, barely endurable forms of existence. Far more demonic than the slaughters and animal sacrifices of the past, our relegation of these creatures to a standing reserve of consumable stock reduces their “lives” to a worldless, merely mechanical process of flesh production. In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote of the malaise of the earth: “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” That creaturely groaning has gotten a lot louder of late, and if God indeed loves his creatures enough to open heaven to them, it is highly likely that, when our pets get there, they will find themselves on their own.

Read the rest here.