Friday, September 08, 2006

Culture, Cruelty & Contradiction

A story on NPR today covered a controversial, proposed ban on the slaughter of horses for food.

As a creative, I embrace the idea that humans are emotional and irrational decision makers. Many people would like to believe that humans are rational and logical, but this simply isn't true. It's just another example of our constantly playing "pretend". This is true, of course, to varying degrees from individual to individual.

I've always believed that the most interesting part of being human is all the things we can't control, the things that control us, the dark recesses, the emotional underbelly. Hunger, pain, the things we desire, lust after, fear and humiliate us, put us on a trajectory in life that we ride atop, pretending all the while that we're steering. These are the truths I hold to be self-evident.

To hear our legislative leaders say things like horses "are cherished companions, they are sporting animals, they are not food", is wacky entertainment. Despite the support of veterinarians and The American Quarter Horse Association in the method and humaneness of slaughtering, one congressman referred to it as "a brutal, shadowy, shameful, predatory practice that borders on the perverse". (That old-fashioned brand of oratory bullshit is alive and well). Aren't there larger legislative issues that need to be tended to?

The drivers of valuation, when it comes to animal life - among them cuteness (fur) and size (insects) - are completely irrational. This lack of reason continues when it comes to the way we appraise human life. Celebrity life seems to be more valuable than not. A child's life seems to be more valuable than that of an adult. Proximity seems to diminish value. Hunger in Africa gets more attention than malnutrition and prenatal birthrates in Detroit, and we always hurt the ones we love. (Homicides are usually committed by someone who knew the victim.)

life and death may be the only irrefutable facts of human existence, the only issue with black and white resolve, yet our ability to assess its value is filled will confused, emotionally-driven thinking riddled with qualifiers and exceptions.

Recently, the city of Chicago outlawed foie gras. (You would think a city with such a violent past would have acquired the taste for blood and goose liver.) What this and the ban on the slaughter of horses for food (a delicacy in Europe and Asia) fail to recognize is that all culture is rooted in cruelty.

Culture is a luxury. In many instances it is the embellishment of all those icky issues we find at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid. The embellishment of food is cuisine, the embellishment of shelter is architecture and the embellishment of safety "defense". All of these things are possible only after the thorny matters of survival are solved and we can start to "get ahead". Getting ahead usually means extra at the expense of others. Roman and Greek culture were both possible because of slavery. So were the Great Pyramids. America's amazing standard of living and overzealous consumption of resources is not sustainable worldwide. For a long time everyone else has gotten less so that we can have more. The price of gas is a good case in point. Profit is, in a sense, fractional exploitation.

I'm not making condemnations, just trying on a few uncomfortable potential truth. Nobody wants to know how the sausage of culture is made and no one wants to have the blood on their hands. Framing the war in Iraq as being about oil as opposed to standard of living washes ones hands of any personal implication. Boiled down, It may really come to a question of "how bad do we really want all that stuff? Bad enough to kill? The answer, historically, has always been... yes.

Why don't we just get a table, sit down and try some horse meat? We can always pretend it's something else.


Anonymous said...

Your rant about "America's amazing standard of living" reminded me of something I heard last week. No where in the world except here (in America) can you find FAT homeless people.

Tom Sherman said...

Rant? This is probably the most important piece I've written.

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