Beyond the Human – Plus Everyday Peace Actions
by Rachel MacNair
Among the insights of the consistent life ethic are:
- When we perceive human beings as potential targets and therefore dehumanize them, this is an outrage. It’s also inaccurate. All human beings should be respected and free from violence.
- When people perpetrate violence, it’s mentally unhealthy for them.
- Committing violence in one area leads to committing violence in other areas. The dynamics of violence have been set in motion.
But what if we subtract that first point? In some situations, it’s not inaccurate to say beings aren’t human, because they aren’t. If we consider non-human animals, do the other two points still apply?
The Consistent Life Network as a group opposes the killing human beings specifically, so we’re now discussing my own opinion. I offer some examples to illustrate why those remaining two insights still apply.
Violence and Mental Health
Experiments that Harm Animals
Researcher Harold Herzog reports his own experience: “My stomach turned queasy, I began to sweat, and my hands shook when I dropped it into the near-boiling water . . . More shaky hands, a sweaty brow, a queasy stomach . . . my response was purely visceral, a physical nausea akin to the body’s involuntary shudder in response to the odor of putrification.”
The euthanizing of animals in shelters has been reported as a trauma for staff in Psychology Today: “Shelter workers who have to euthanize animals as a regular part of their jobs suffer a wide range of distressing reactions, including grief, anger, nightmares and depression, according to a study I conducted with a fellow social worker . . . .[comments include] ‘ I have a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of crying’ . . . ‘I’ve had breakdowns in the euthanasia room because I feel so helpless’”
In a report of the American television newsmagazine, 60 Minutes (air date January 11, 1998) a Spanish bullfighter is reported as saying that he dreams of bullfighting every night – a possible post-trauma symptom. Another symptom is intrusive imagery: “You know every – each bull that I – that I fight and kill him, he’s a — he’s a part of you for the rest of your life. You understand that?”
Jennifer Dillard wrote A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees. From the abstract: “to the slaughterhouse workers, the cost of a hamburger includes the financial and physical hardships of the slaughterhouse work itself . . . Not only do the employees face serious physical health hazards, but they also view, on a daily basis, large-scale violence and death that most of the American population will never have to encounter.”
Violence Leading to More Violence
Studies show a strong connection between children being cruel to pets as a pattern that builds up to a pattern of violence against other human beings. See for example the book Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is quoted in that book: “investigation and prosecution of crimes against animals is an important tool for identifying people who are, or may become, perpetrators of violent crimes against people” (p. 211).
Reasons for this may include:
- the priming effect of violence – that is, when it happens, you think of it more
- the lack of empathy necessary to be cruel
- habit and conditioning (in academic talk, systematic desensitization)
Systematic desensitization is used well by behavioral therapists in clients with phobias. Clients gradually get used to small things and then things closer to what they are afraid of. They relax themselves as a practice, and eventually the phobia is gone. In this case, however, if children are cruel to pets and this is not regarded as a serious problem, then they can become quite used to what would be repulsive to most people. The step to cruelty against people is not so large a step.
That’s likely to apply beyond children and pets. Desensitization spreads.
Solutions: Everyday Peace Actions
The good news is that, unlike so many other issues, we can all take actions that help promote nonviolence in our daily lives. We don’t depend entirely on persuading others to act.
The bad news is, changing life-long habits is not an easy thing to do.
But again, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be done all at once. In fact, I propose it shouldn’t be. In the case of a vegetarian or vegan diet, for example, I did a survey several years ago at vegetarian events to discover the experience of successful vegetarians. I found their transition period was mainly from 6 months to 3 years. I took about a year on the transition to vegetarianism myself, finishing back in 1975.
Try a vegan dish or a vegan restaurant. If you like it, add it into your diet more frequently. If you don’t, drop it and go to the next one. There are all kinds of veggie burgers, and vegan pizzas, yogurt, ice cream, sausages, hot dogs, and possibilities within all kinds of different ethnic foods. Nowadays, the abundance of options in many places is quite large. That’s sometimes even the case in regular grocery stores, not necessarily specialty shops. Your nearest vegetarian and vegan restaurants can be found world-wide at happycow.net.
That’s the psychology, but biology also says a transition over time is best. While a high-fiber diet is usually ideal, going from low-fiber to high-fiber suddenly can make the body rebel with flatulence and digestive problems. A sudden upsurge in fruit or cruciferous vegetables can bring on diarrhea in some people.
Overall, however, the American Dietetic Association’s position is that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Currently, it’s impossible to be 100% vegan. But in many places it’s easy to be 99% vegan; I’ve done it for decades. Yet people who have no intention of ever becoming vegetarian are still making a contribution to nonviolence by experimenting with dishes and restaurants and using the ones they like.
Expanding Personal Nonviolence
Of course the nonviolent diet goes beyond what happens to the animals. Are the workers who produced the food well treated? Was the production environmentally sound? Are the corporations who produce it doing nasty things, or did it come straight from the farmer?
Buying fair trade in bananas, coffee, and chocolate – tropical products – is especially important. Those that aren’t fair trade generally have some horrific treatment of workers involved. For chocolate, that includes child slavery.
Then again, nonviolence in purchases goes well beyond food. See for example the Better World Shopper, which grades companies on these criteria:
Expanding What “Voting” Means
The way I see it is that spending a dollar is like casting a vote. Every dollar you spend is casting a vote for something.
I remember one election day, when after casting my ballot I went to eat lunch in a vegan restaurant. Candidate voting for us consistent lifers is pretty bleak. So later, I cast votes that vegan restaurants should be readily available. Those dollars spent there were a way of voting for that. I had a strong sense that visit had more impact than what marks I put on that piece of paper.
None of us can be pure on how we buy, of course – large corporations run by those of callous heart are too widespread. Boycott everything with a taint, and you have very little left to live on.
But I take the approach of a “tight wallet” and a “loose wallet.” My expenditures will be limited with large corporations. I’m much looser in spending when it’s such things as a mom-and-pop shop, local, employee-owned, small business, and especially if it’s oriented to charity or nonviolent advocacy.
I go to all kinds of demonstrations to protest war, the death penalty, abortion, police brutality, etc. I’ll keep at it, but when I do, I’m trying to influence the behavior of other people. I do find it gratifying to also have things I can do myself that will have a positive impact for nonviolence.
For more of our posts on nonviolence in personal practice, see:
Suffering and Injustice Concern Us All / Vasu Murti
Parallels of Veganism and Prolife-ism / Kristin Monahan
My Personal Journey on Veganism, War, and Abortion / Frank Lane