The Root Cause of All Discrimination, Oppression and Even Terrorism
The Beet-Eating Heeb has been thinking it, studying it, questioning it and ultimately confirming it. Now he’s just going to blurt it out:
The mistreatment of animals is the root of all oppression.
Yes, whether its racism, sexism, homophobia, or even terrorism, it all starts with justifying the torturing and killing of farmed animals.
BEH was prompted to finally write about this by two seemingly unrelated phenomena that entered his field of bespectacled vision.
One is the sickening spate of terrorist attacks in Paris, in Beirut and in the skies over the Sinai Peninsula.
The other is BEH’s recent reading of “The Question of the Animal and Religion,” by Aaron Gross, a professor of religion and animal studies at the University of San Diego.
He did mention that these seemed unrelated, right?
Here’s the connection:
It is the binary division of the world into two parts – namely, us and them – that leads to discrimination, oppression, violence, and even wholesale slaughter.
ISIS views the world this way, dividing the world into two camps: those who subscribe to their twisted version of Islam, and those who don’t. Never mind that people in both camps eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, bleed, dream and die. If you fall into the latter camp, ISIS would like to chop – or blow — your head off.
Meat-eaters, whether they acknowledge it to themselves or not, also have a binary world view: there are humans, and there are farmed animals. Never mind that humans and farmed animals are alike in that they eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, dream, bleed and die. If you have the misfortune of being a farmed animal, (most) humans would like to chop you into bite-size pieces and eat you.
Gross, whose book came out earlier this year, doesn’t put it quite so bluntly, but he does write:
“If we find there are profound limits to our ability to change the deeper structures of sexism and racism, … it is because we sometimes focus on the tip of an iceberg. If we actively defend something like the present human/animal binary, we constrain our ability to rethink the other binaries to which it is linked.
“Trimming back the relatively small part of a weed that is above ground will not eliminate it if one is simultaneously fertilizing its roots.”
By this point, you might have already posted a nasty comment on this post. How dare you, BEH, equate meat-eaters with ISIS terrorists?
Relax, this is not about the moral equivalency of meat eating and terrorist attacks. We can affirm that human life has more value than animal life, at least from a Jewish perspective.
What BEH is saying is that once we start basing our attitudes and actions on such binary, us-and-them thinking, it is a slippery slope.
In practical terms, we cannot totally free ourselves from dividing the world in binary fashion. After all, there are some differences between whites and blacks, men and women, Jews and Moslems, and humans and animals.
The trouble starts when we begin emphasizing the differences and ignoring the similarities, focusing on what separates us rather than on what unifies us.
The Torah reminds us, again and again, that humans and animals are fellow travelers on this journey through life.
For instance, in Genesis 6, humans and animals are both referred to as basar, or flesh. In Genesis 9, God tell us five times that the Divine Covenant encompasses both humans and animals. We’re even told that animals must be given a day of rest on Shabbat, just like humans (Exodus 20:10).
BEH could go on and on, but you get the point. The emphasis is on our commonalities.
When we ignore these teachings, things start going very badly – for animals, then for us.
Almost inevitably, the oppression of animals influences the oppression of people. The sordid history of slavery in America provides a perfect illustration. The whole motif of slavery – the buying and selling of lives at auctions, branding, whipping, forced labor – emanated from animal agriculture.
Author Charles Patterson, in his seminal book “Eternal Treblinka,” identified similar connections in the Holocaust. It’s not just that Jews were transported to concentration camps in cattle cars, or that Nazi propagandists likened Jews to rats and other animals. The very philosophical underpinning of Nazism – namely, eugenics – originated in animal agriculture.
The good news is, we can genuinely hope to end all forms of discrimination and oppression – including the most violent manifestations – if we can get our relationship to animals right.
BEH freely admits that this is a subject matter better suited to book form than blog post. But BEH doesn’t have time to write a book, and even if he did, you probably wouldn’t have the time – or the inclination – to read it.
So BEH will instead distill this issue to its simplest terms: If we’re not going to oppress animals, we’re sure as heck not going to oppress people. If we tip over the first domino, the others — racism, sexism, violent religious extremism — will begin falling in short order.
Put another way: Call BEH immediately if you find out that even one ISIS terrorist is an ethical vegan.
Posted on December 2, 2015, in Factory Farming / Animal Cruelty, Torah/Bible and Veganism and tagged Beet-Eating Heeb, Bible, Book of Genesis, Genesis, Gross, ISIS, Judaism, Torah, vegan, Veganism. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.
Very interesting comment in your article, “Never mind that humans and farmed animals are alike in that they eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, dream, bleed and die.” This reminded me of something I had read in a book from a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, regarding the Buddha’s teachings. In the book he discussed killing of animals for food and the current practice of farming animals for food. I believe the monk said it well in this way; “when a person condones the farming of animals (by purchasing and consuming meat), by karmic balance, he or she will be nothing more than a farmed animal themselves.”
Looking at the vast majority of humanity today, I would say they are farmed animals.
Excellent essay. However, I found the following sentence most troubling disturbing: “We can affirm that human life has more value than animal life, at least from a Jewish perspective.” Really? Does not accepting this belief unquestioningly contradict the very heart of what BEH has written? Perhaps I misunderstood the meaning or am foolish enough to adopt an attitude free of smug arrogance regarding our place in the greater scheme of things.
The key qualifier is “from a Jewish perspective.” In Jewish thought, humans are at top of the heap, if by only the slimmest of margins.
Reinforcing the article’s discussion of “us and them,” Rabbi Yonassan Gershom told me that years ago, when he was studying with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in Philadelphia, they performed an exercise where people would stand in a circle and chant the words “us and them.” First the rabbi would have everyone place the emphasis on the “us” and the “them,” which focused the energy on separation and opposites – “US and THEM.” Then he would change the rhythm to put the emphasis on the “and” – “us AND them.” Without changing the words at all, the chant suddenly became one of inclusiveness and cooperation because the focus changed. This powerful experience that Rabbi Gershom outlined epitomizes what I think we need to do regarding life in general. Instead of living in adversarial mode, we need to somehow find a way
Thank you for your beautiful post on ending all oppressions. If you wrote a book, I would find the time to read it. Please continue with confidence your good work.
A thought-provoking post! I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Beet-Eating Heeb. 😉
I agree that dualistic thinking (or the binary division of the world into parts) is the root of all anger, hatred, and violence. If our mind considers something to be separate from us, we are more likely to do harm to it. This is what the Buddha taught, and he counseled the stilling of the dualistic mind through meditation as a way to promote the quelling of anger, hatred, and violence. Being a follower of the Buddha way, I agree with this assessment. However (or therefore), I don’t see the violent killing of animals as the *start* of anger, hatred, and violence, as written above — rather, I think killing or harming animals violently is a *symptom* of the anger, hatred, and violence that emerges from a dualistic mind — just as human murder is a symptom of a binary mind, and abuse of others, and stealing, and bullying, etc.
That said, I must absolutely state my unequivocal belief that the slaughtering of a farm animal quickly, by someone who harbors no hatred or anger in their heart as they do it, is not an act of violence. I know you and others will disagree with me, and there’s nothing I can do about that, but having been around professional slaughterers who act without malice, and having slaughtered animals myself without a trace of hatred or malevolence, there is no way I can equate the swift slaughter of a chicken with the torture of a cat or the physical neglect of a horse. Motivation and state of mind have to be taken into consideration when talking about taking an animal’s life. And so, in my first paragraph above, when I talk about “the violent killing of animals,” I do not include humane farm animal slaughter.
Lastly, a question for the BEH! Are you saying that veganism will automatically rid us of the kind dualistic (or binary) thinking that causes us to harm others? I wish it were so! But I have trouble believing this, given that vegans can harbor just as much hatred and animosity as meat eaters can. I am often on the receiving end of some deeply vitriolic statements from vegans. Every time one of them posts a nasty diatribe against me because I eat meat, he/she is expressing hatred, coming from a dualistic mind that sees me as separate from them. So I don’t think veganism will bring about the utopia that we all might wish for.
BEH would be the first to admit that some vegans occasionally direct anger at meat-eaters. This anger stems from the fact that we have lifted our heads out of the sand and we have seen what is actually happening in animal agriculture, which is a moral outrage. As a principle of vegan living and vegan advocacy, BEH encourages fellow vegans to meditate and to refrain from directing anger at meat-eaters.
Your killing of animals might not be the product of conscious malice, but it is the direct product of a chilling indifference to life and of dangerously dualistic thinking. Or would you also slit the throat of a young human being who had been treated humanely up the point you plunged the knife into his neck?
Kudos to BEH for such a thought-provoking article. There are other ways that our mistreatment of animals is a major factor behind many of todays problems. Animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and is very wasteful of land, grain, energy, and water, and contributes substantially to soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, rapid species losses, air and water polluion and other environmental problems. And of course, animal-based diets have very negative effects on human health, with rapidly rising health costs a major factor behind budgetary problems, which in turn means less money available for education, social services, rebuilding of infrastructure, and other important societal needs.
Hitler identified as a vegetarian …. Even if he hadn’t, this argument sounds specious. And I’m a longstanding vegan! Some people can be kind to animals and cruel to people.
BEH knew someone would raise this canard. And it didn’t take long. Hitler loved and feasted on sausages and fowl, as has been documented by his most authoritative biographers.
The comment is based on a minor element of Nazi propaganda. It’s a little sad to see Jews or anyone repeating Nazi propaganda as if it were fact.
To the second point, the esteemed commenter offers not a shred of evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.