On “Species Guilt”

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 11 2015 @ 3:31pm

Robert Pogue Harrison ponders humanity’s relationship with animalkind:

We like to think of ourselves as the stewards or even saviors of nature, yet the fact of the matter is, for the animal world at large, the human race represents nothing less than a natural disaster. This applies to all creatures, from those we allow to roam “wild” in designated nature preserves to those we cram together on our chicken farms; from the dancing bears of Anatolia to the bald eagles of Alaska, with their collar monitors; from the laboratory animals we test our cosmetic products’ chemicals on to the sharks whose fins leave the oceans to swim around in our nuptial soups. All creatures are under our yoke; and all, including our beloved horses, dogs, cats, and canaries, are subject to human persecution in one way or another.

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 life under 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.