Elizabeth Costello

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2003/10/12/the_novelist_and_the_animals/

An article about this year’s Nobel prize winner. Blah blah blah, biography, whatever - more interesting is reading the actual book.

http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/Coetzee99.pdf

It’s really neat. Starts off slow though.

But isn’t poetry just another kind of clever talk: admiring the
muscles of the big cats in verse? Wasn’t your point about talk that it
changes nothing? It seems to me the level of behavior you want
to change is too elementary, too elemental, to be reached by talk.
Carnivorousness expresses something truly deep about human beings,
just as it does about jaguars. You wouldn’t want to put a
jaguar on a soybean diet.”

“Because he would die. Human beings don’t die on a vegetarian
diet.”

“No, they don’t. But they don’t want a vegetarian diet. They
like eating meat. There is something atavistically satisfying about
it. That’s the brutal truth. Just as it’s a brutal truth that, in a sense,
animals deserve what they get. Why waste your time trying to help
them when they won’t help themselves? Let them stew in their
own juice. If I were asked what the general attitude is toward the
animals we eat, I would say: contempt. We treat them badly because
we despise them; we despise them because they don’t fight
back.”

“I don’t disagree,” says his mother. “People complain that we
treat animals like objects, but in fact we treat them like prisoners
of war. Do you know that when zoos were first opened to the
public, the keepers had to protect the animals against attacks by
spectators? The spectators felt the animals were there to be insulted
and abused, like prisoners in a triumph. We had a war once
against the animals, which we called hunting, though in fact war
and hunting are the same thing (Aristotle saw it clearly). That
war went on for millions of years. We won it definitively only a
few hundred years ago, when we invented guns. It is only since
victory became absolute that we have been able to afford to cultivate
compassion. But our compassion is very thinly spread. Beneathit is a more primitive attitude. The prisoner of war does not belong
to our tribe. We can do what we want with him. We can sacrifice
him to our gods. We can cut his throat, tear out his heart, throw
him on the fire. There are no laws when it comes to prisoners
of war.”

“And that is what you want to cure humankind of ?”

“John, I don’t know what I want to do. I just don’t want to sit
silent.”

“Very well. But generally one doesn’t kill prisoners of war.
One turns them into slaves.”

“Well, that’s what our captive herds are: slave populations.
Their work is to breed for us. Even their sex becomes a form of
labor. We don’t hate them because they are not worth hating anymore.
We regard them as you say, with contempt.

“However, there are still animals we hate. Rats, for instance.
Rats haven’t surrendered. They fight back. They form themselves
into underground units in our sewers. They aren’t winning, but
they aren’t losing either. To say nothing of the insects and the
microbia. They may beat us yet. They will certainly outlast us.’’

LOL. She caresses your bleeding heart in all the right places.

“No, they don’t. But they don’t want a vegetarian diet. They
like eating meat. There is something atavistically satisfying about
it. That’s the brutal truth. Just as it’s a brutal truth that, in a sense,
animals deserve what they get.

Truth no… and brutal only to a liberal. Why do liberals hate plants so much? They want us to eat plants! Oh… the Horror!

Why waste your time trying to help them when they won’t help themselves? Let them stew in their own juice. If I were asked what the general attitude is toward the animals we eat, I would say: contempt. We treat them badly because we despise them; we despise them because they don’t fight back.”

I don’t hold any attitude toward the animals I eat, other than they make good eating in many cases. I wonder if this extends to non-human animals eating animals… an anteater holding an ant in contempt seems to be quite a stretch. Its just food.

If eating something is a matter of “treating it badly” then I wonder how she feels about the entire history of the earth ;).

Shame, lions… shame, tigers… throw off your carnivorous ways and become liberated!

No stewing, no juices, no helping… just food.

If I have any attitude toward food its a matter of honoring it. Food maintains my health… I owe it my life. But usually… its just food.

“I don’t disagree,” says his mother. “People complain that we
treat animals like objects, but in fact we treat them like prisoners
of war. Do you know that when zoos were first opened to the
public, the keepers had to protect the animals against attacks by
spectators? The spectators felt the animals were there to be insulted
and abused, like prisoners in a triumph. We had a war once
against the animals, which we called hunting, though in fact war
and hunting are the same thing (Aristotle saw it clearly).

All this “treating”. War and hunting are not the same thing. War is about conquest. Hunting is about attaining food. War can’t even be called organized hunting or meta-hunting.

That war went on for millions of years. We won it definitively only a
few hundred years ago, when we invented guns. It is only since
victory became absolute that we have been able to afford to cultivate
compassion.

Compassion? Oh… you mean that “look at the cuwte wittle bunny wabbit!” that other humans do.

Accumulative successful hunting resulted in the dominance of humanity… I suppose that is what she is trying to say. She’s misusing the term ‘war’ there unfortunately.

But our compassion is very thinly spread. Beneathit is a more primitive attitude. The prisoner of war does not belong
to our tribe. We can do what we want with him. We can sacrifice
him to our gods. We can cut his throat, tear out his heart, throw
him on the fire. There are no laws when it comes to prisoners
of war.”

That’s wrong. I suppose I could begin by saying she entirely misunderstands sacrifice, but that would be too easy.

Non-human animals become controlled. They are not a prisoner of war since they don’t need to be… non-human animals exist outside the social structure in which prisoners of war exist.

Non-human animals become controlled and separated. They are not allowed to hinder humans and are rendered symbiotic to humans. It is in no way “lawless”… what I describe is the law regarding human/non-human animal relations.

“And that is what you want to cure humankind of ?”

“John, I don’t know what I want to do. I just don’t want to sit
silent.”

Eh? You’ve got to be kidding me.

{Imagines a morally pretentious human with a massive conscience who just… just… can’t sit silent any longer!}

“Very well. But generally one doesn’t kill prisoners of war.
One turns them into slaves.”

“Well, that’s what our captive herds are: slave populations.
Their work is to breed for us. Even their sex becomes a form of
labor. We don’t hate them because they are not worth hating anymore.
We regard them as you say, with contempt.

As you say, maybe. I don’t hold a controlled species in contempt. I do what it takes to maintain the control and otherwise have no interest at all. I don’t hold a controlled species in any particular attitude.

“However, there are still animals we hate. Rats, for instance.
Rats haven’t surrendered. They fight back. They form themselves
into underground units in our sewers. They aren’t winning, but
they aren’t losing either. To say nothing of the insects and the
microbia. They may beat us yet. They will certainly outlast us.’’

This seems to be going from bad to worse. Rats ARE controlled just like all other non-human animals. This distinction of the rat as somehow greater than other animals because it hasn’t “surrendered” is idiocy.

The basic flaw in the entire argument is that its not a matter of “fighting”… its a matter of being controlled and subjected to a symbiotic relationship (or alternatively, no relationship).

Rats disgust humans to the extent where they prefer no relationship, and thus have not been rendered symbiotic like the dog and cat, for example.

Another problem with the words is that existence is not a form of “winning”… walking the earth is no reward. So the entire moral argument of “killing and eating mistreats the animal” is false.

Anyone who’s not crazy have any comments?

Interesting story. Seemingly a long drawn out argument with one’s self. Whichever side you want to win does. As for the issue it presents… shrug. I accept the benefits of being at the top of the food chain.

To my mind Coetzee is presenting the difference between acknowledging one’s part in the food chain and seeing beyond it as a degree of empathy. The protaganist feels that feeding (exploitation and all the processes therein) on animals is exactly the same as feeding on humans. Using philosophy as the main buttress for her arguments and presenting poetic examples of animal and human viewpoints. She herself has no explanation as to why her empathic approach doesn’t extend to insects, fungi, etc.

It’s that her worldview is altered from the rest. Where others see a bar of soap she sees it the same as rendered humans and can’t understand why other’s don’t. Whether her worldview came before her arguements or vice versa (I suspect the former) doesn’t matter. She’s caught in a land that believes the Earth is a sphere, while she believes it’s flat. Or contrariwise depending on your point of view.

There is no inherant rhyme or reason regarding our attitudes. Some have historical basis, cutural bias, and the yuk factor. Human beings aren’t wholly rational. Nor are we entirely irrational. Thus our intrinsic contradictory dispositions towards animals, life, the universe, and everything. It is the way it is because it is.

And that’s my book report for the week.

Errr… hopefully you don’t find the above too crazy.

The response seemed kind of appropriate. I’m not sure Brian is any less of a loon than Coetzee is. Maybe he’s got a Nobel Prize on the way?

The response seemed kind of appropriate. I’m not sure Brian is any less of a loon than Coetzee is. Maybe he’s got a Nobel Prize on the way?[/quote]

Yeah, i don’t think Brian’s argument is any more off-base. His seems more sane, actually. That rpisoner of war crap is just bizarre. It seems to me that the real contempt is held by the vegetarians, contempt for their own natural impulses. Personally, I embrase systems that seem most compatible with natural life processes. As an omnivorous species I don’t see any reason to try and eradicate the practice of eating meat. I think there is an appropriate level of empathy for other creatures, and we should try not to inflict undue suffering, but we can’t let our concern for animals paralyze us. Conflict with other life forms is the natural state of existence. Our success is at the expense of other creatures no matter what, it is folly to believe we can change that.

I think of Socialism in a similar way. It’s a nice idea, but capitalism is simply far more compatible life. I think that simple fact is the reason capitalism has been proven to be the most successful economic model for human civilization.

Does anyone who doesn’t hate vegetarians have an opinion?

Edit: oh yeah, I mostly agree with JAGuarinc.

I’ve heard vegetarians argue “animals are more like humans than plants, so we eat plants”. The idea is that animal-consumption is closer to cannibalism than plant-consumption. The problem is that there is no justification for favoring the position based on that idea. I prefer eating something similar to me than something greatly different. The extreme liberal position on this would be to eat only completely artificial foods, of which none currently exist to my knowledge.

To be fair, she is merely expressing a (fairly extreme) leftist position. Others share her “worldview”. Some, like McCullough, honor her worldview.

Since we are on the same wavelength, McCullough must think you are crazy too. Welcome to the Club ;).

I don’t hate them. They’re quite good, cooked briefly in a white wine sauce.

Hmph.

Perhaps it would be simpler if you were to just tell people what opinion you want them to have and be done with it.

But, then he won’t be sniping from afar…