from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

'the animal shall not be measured by man'

I'm increasingly thinking that what makes a society more than a collective of people, what makes it into a 'culture', or a 'civilisation', is two things.

The first is marked by our ability to see beyond the material/utilitarian to subtle but essential needs of the human spirit, and the supporting of people who will carry that understanding: artists, composers and musicians, poets, writers and scriptwriters, actors, philosophers, dreamers, creative thinkers, visionaries, and those who challenge the established order (given that any 'order' will become 'established' and calcified if its rule is too long or too dominant). 

The second is how we treat the vulnerable: the elderly, the weak, the frail, children, women. However, we cannot see ourselves as a 'culture' unless our motivation is that of being truly humane, exhibiting compassion; and this has to extend to the other beings who share this planet.

Animals. They're my thing; a passion of mine from as soon as I could move.

As top predator we have adopted for many hundreds or thousands of years now the view of animals as being here to serve us and service our needs. Worse, we have treated them as slaves, and continue to do so.

One of the worst things, for me, about the 'horsemeat scandal' was that all the attention was on our right to know what was in our meals, and the outside possibility of humans ingesting Bute, a heavy-duty commonplace anti-inflammatory drug. (Well, a spokeswoman for Food and Rural Affairs pointed out that to ingest Bute in any quantity you'd have to be eating 100s of burgers a day.)

What is of much more concern to me is the welfare of the animals concerned, and I was horrified and ashamed of all the fuss and indignation surrounding human needs in relation to this. I find I can no longer keep my mouth shut. WHAT ABOUT THE HORSES AND WHAT THEY SUFFER FOR US? I can no longer be polite and non-committal about all this. I feel despair and rage at the way we humans simply fuck everything up in our greed, our ignorance, our insistence on our comforts and conveniences, our desire to look away from what's difficult.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote another blog in which I spoke of why I became vegan, and my struggle with it ('animals', 4th February 2012). I still don't find it easy – I miss cheese – but it's congruent for me; it's a logical outcome of my values.

Humans in the UK eat 905 MILLION animals per year (many of those are chickens). That is one hell of a lot of animals' suffering to gratify our appetites. In relation to the horsemeat thing, as a 99% vegan (I confess to eating free range eggs), I feel perfectly justified in saying: 'Well, if you eat one animal you should be prepared to eat any animal – horse or otherwise.' I find it hard to square our sentimentality about, for instance, newborn lambs with our ability as a species to lift a leg of mutton, cleaned-up and hermetically sealed, from a supermarket shelf with no apparent qualms.

And yet, and yet… Horses, more than perhaps any other animal besides the dog, have accompanied and served us for thousands of years. And I personally have a very close bond with Horse that goes back to my early childhood.

And we treat them as slaves. Look at the racing 'industry' (how I hate that word in relation to animals): horses' bones don't stop growing till they're five, and in some breeds even older. But we expect them as two-year-olds to carry our weight, at speed, whipped, dragged around by metal bars in their mouths, until we break their spirit, sometimes their legs, often their health. A racehorse is 'old' at four or five; many are put down in what ought to be their prime; many too have injuries that are suppressed by Bute. And many find their way into the meat trade because racing, like so many other things, has been affected by the economic downturn.

Look at war horses, too, and how we treated those who worked so hard for us in WW1.

The horsemeat people are worried about eating because of Bute is likely to be sourced from many places: 'wild' ponies on our moors, imported heavy horses no longer any 'use' to humans, the hundreds of horses simply abandoned, in this country, in fields or football pitches or wasteland as people can no longer afford 'leisure' horses, and racehorses. And we're supposed to be a 'nation of animal-lovers'. God help animals in the rest of the world.

And I know, I know, how much suffering, of many shades, there is in our world, so much of it inflicted by humans – on other humans, on animals. Each week I must sign something in the range of 30 or 40 petitions for some cause or other, somewhere. Sometimes, even though I know it's the tiniest tip of the iceberg, it seems all I can do.

And sometimes a story distresses me to the point of almost not wishing to be here, in this world that we have so ****ed up. Yesterday was one of those moments, when another campaign arrived in my inbox. In China, they keep moon bears in tiny metal cages, their whole lives, extracting on a regular basis from them bile by a syringe straight into the gall bladder. It's exceedingly painful. The wound is kept open, and is often infected. When the bear is too old for this, it's killed.

There is an excess of bear bile on the market, it would appear; so instead of using it all for whatever dubious medicinal properties it is supposed to have, it is put into shampoos etc as a filler.

OK, this is just one cause. As with a good poem, sometimes the individual and his or her story opens a door into the universal. The story yesterday did this for me: a female moon bear, having been 'milked' herself for bile, couldn't bear the howls of her young cub in the pen next door, who was being 'milked' for the first time, any longer. She broke through into the next door pen, and squeezed her cub to death, then drive her own head repeatedly into the concrete wall until she killed herself. I couldn't stop weeping at that story.§*

I found this detail distressing beyond words. With it comes my despair at the human race: our arrogance, our ignorance, our sense of entitlement and superiority, our greed, our selfishness. I was embarrassed, yesterday, to be human.

Animals, like us, have a central nervous system. Animals suffer pain. Animals are also conscious beings, for goodness' sake. They can commit suicide if to stay alive is unbearable. The least we can do is minimise their suffering and recognise that they too have rights.

'We need another wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. they are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.'  (Henry Beston, The Outermost House)


§ Would have been useful if I'd added this link. PLEASE PLEASE sign and share...

* A friend has told me about this charity: She sponsors a rescue bear through them.

You might also be interested in my blogger friend David Ashton's blog on this:

Please feel free to spread my blog post here in any way you might feel is relevant. If only one person changes a small aspect of their views and their habits, it's one more drop in the ocean - that is made of small drops.


  1. Your post made me cry and I join with you in my shame at being part of the human race that treats animals as inferiors to be used and then disposed of. I hadn't heard about the bear bile but it is absolutely dreadful. I bet it's given a different name if it's listed on shampoos - maybe we should be labelling our products with names people can understand and stop blinding people to what goes on. The pictures in recent news bulletins of elephants and rhinos killed just for their horns to be used for Chinese people to take as 'medicine' is something else that makes me cry.

    I struggle with being vegetarian but this is through laziness (two of us in the household, one a meat eater and one not, makes for having to cook different meals). But I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver a book called the Kind Diet which I understand is helpful regarding trying veganism so you never know...

  2. Hi Roselle and thank you for your words today. My daughter and I sign a number of petitions online and share the despair at the stories to the point sometimes when we think we just can't read any more. As you say, it doesn't seem like much, but it may say to those who do these things that the world is watching and what they have done has not gone unnoticed. The 'Message' version of Psalm 56 says "Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book". However we understand 'you', whether God, Spirit, Goddess, Universe and so on, I do believe that our distress and compassion counts and has not gone unnoticed either. Hard to hold onto at times though. Very best wishes Sarah

  3. Angie, thank you. Yes, it's hard if one of you is a meat-eater and the other a veggie. Important not to beat yourself up for what you don't do, and remember what you DO do, isn't it? Book sounds interesting. And yes, too, to the elephants and rhinos; and the wolves in America and Canada being trapped in neck-snares, and all those who are demonised for being 'not-us'...

    Sarah, thanks to you too for your compassionate comment. And you're right - if I'm not careful I suffer 'compassion fatigue' to the point where I'm saturated with others' suffering, drop with emotional exhaustion, and then am useless to myself, let alone others. It's hard to know how to deal with this without simply turning away - except to remember compassion towards oneself is important too; 'ahimsa'. Thank you for the psalm fragment - perhaps nothing ever really goes unnoticed, as you say - if everything is interconnected then everything has an effect, subtle or otherwise; seems important to remember the positive aspects of that, too, doesn't it? - We are not alone, and what a community we could build by learning to do things otherwise, counter to the prevailing currents, with kindness!

  4. Roselle, I'm so on your wavelength here. The ways we abuse animals that can't defend or speak for themselves are countless and heartbreaking. On the one hand, it's encouraging that vegans are on the increase, but on the other, our glacially slow progress is maddening, especially considering how many wretched creatures are murdered every minute. It's blog posts like yours that give me some respite. May your sentiments go viral! A deep bow to you, Roselle.

  5. David, I know you are; and thank you. Your own blog on this is exemplary, and has stayed with me. Anyone else reading this, do check out David's wonderful blog (you'll probably need to copy and paste this link):

    1. Thanks, Roselle - I wasn't fishing for plugs :)

  6. I KNOW that David; and that blog post of yours was exceptional and deserves plugs! And you managed to write it without any ad hominem - even generic ad hominem - attacks. A tribute to the strength of your practice! :-)


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