Blame

» October 12th, 2013

 

I listened to a fascinating podcast yesterday about blame. This is a topic that we all know something about and likely deal with daily. We blame ourselves for our weaknesses and we seek to blame others when they act in a way that we deem blameworthy. Some are quick to blame; others slow. There are probably few emotions quite as powerful as feeling that you have been unfairly blamed. It is, of course, very hard to admit to blame when we feel we should do exactly that.

So what does blame have to do with animals? A lot, actually. A philosopher interviewed for the podcast explored the implications of historical blame. Do we blame slaveowners for slavery if they lived at a time when very few were questioning the morality of owning slaves? This dilemma applies nicely to animal exploitation, manifestations of which are codified by custom and law to be perfectly normative, that is, beyond blame. So do those of us on the periphery of this custom blame those who eat animals today?

Perhaps not at this point in time. But the purpose of activism, whether it seems to be momentarily effective or not, is to push the idea of animal liberation like a lazy elephant into the room so we can, alas, start pointing to it. So we can begin to resort to blame as a kind of shaming technique. Obviously (well, come to think of it, it’s not so obvious to many of the smartest people I know), morality is to a large extent historically contingent. We are yet at a point where blame will “work” as a shaming or enforcing strategy. But that doesn’t mean we won’t arrive at that point soon—after all, think of how many people you know who say “don’t tell me about how animals are treated!; I don’t want to know!”  Denial can only last so long before it runs aground. Then the game really changes. The elephant shows up.

A question that did not come up in the podcast but seems really interesting to me is that of reparation. When we do turn the corner and make blame a legitimate social and legal response to the cruelty of animal eating, and when we reach a point in time in which we look back and decare “can you believe we did that?,” what will we owe animals? Of course, they won’t ask for reparations. But do we owe them them nonetheless? And in what form? After all, all of us will have ancestors who benefitted in one way or another from producing and consuming animals. Or will we simply say, “they know not what they did?”

Could it be, I wonder, that in the deep collective unconscious of humanity, there is this monstrous apprehension of being blamed that keeps us from progressing to a point at which blame for harming animals has real power to evoke real fear in what we really have done wrong?

 

 

21 Responses to Blame

  1. OK, I’ll take a whack at some of the questions you just posed.

    “So do those of us on the periphery of this custom blame
    those who eat animals today?”

    I can’t speak for others but I do, although I would not use the word blame but rather “take full responsibility for.” There is basically no doubt in the scientific world that many/most nonhuman animal species feel and experience many of the same emotions and suffering as humans. The amount of data and factual information is sitting right there for anyone to see. The degree of mental energy involved in denial just to satisfy an appetite must be very difficult. I wish people on the other side of this issue would just let go and accept the reality. There are many tasty vegan foods, and they might just feel better physically and emotionally.

    “When we do turn the corner and make blame
    a legitimate social and legal response to the cruelty
    of animal eating, and when we reach a point in
    time in which we look back and declare “can you
    believe we did that?,” what will we owe animals?
    Of course, they won’t ask for reparations.
    But do we owe them them nonetheless?
    And in what form?”

    I honestly don’t know what we can offer NH animals, but at the very least we owe them our heartfelt and grief-stricken sorrow, guilt, and overwhelming regret. I personally feel that the karmic weight of what humans have done to nonhuman animals will take a very, very long time to alleviate, and of course, there is no way we can offer true reparations to those individual beings who have suffered grievously and hideously at the hands of humans. The best I think we can do is treat all beings we meet in the future with kindness and respect and pray (for those who pray) or ask for forgiveness and offer our apologies to the survivors.

    “Could it be, I wonder, that in the deep collective
    unconscious of humanity, there is this monstrous
    apprehension of being blamed that keeps us from
    progressing to a point at which blame for harming
    animals has real power to evoke real fear in what
    we really have done wrong?”

    For those who are already struggling with their food and lifestyle choices, that is a real possibility – that the depth of regret and emotional pain one might experience upon knowing the truth about how they participated in such atrocities might incline one to stay in denial and maintain the status quo. But since very few of us are vegan from birth, we have all had to process the gravity of our previous choices. Longtime vegans might be able to help those who are afraid of the emotional onslaught this realization could bring. As for those who wish to continue killing, exploiting, consuming, that is probably not a concern, since they either do not believe the science or believe it and don’t care.

    ~Linda

  2. Mountain says:

    “push the idea of animal liberation like a lazy elephant into the room.”

    I’m tired of hearing people advocate for pushing elephants into rooms. An elephant belongs in the wild, not in a room, and the fact that he has to be pushed clearly shows that he does not wish to be in said room. And why must you attempt to shame the elephant, calling him “lazy” because he does not wish to be pushed?

  3. My advocacy position for the last few years is to skip the blame (but not the why, which many a guilty conscience likely automatically deduces self- blame or inferred blame- even if blame was not part of the strategy of message) and move straight to vegan shift empowerment. While it is hard to have compassion and patience for those stubborn denialiats, I believe to develop love and caring in others we must be love and caring ourselves when dealing with this subject. The contempt, the blame, the vitriol, the snark, the misanthropy, the rage, is what makes people tune out, shut down and reject the message, and the messenger.

  4. Elaine Brown says:

    I wish for the day when the meat eaters do feel guilt and take blame. Unfortunately, there are so many who do not care. My own husband eats meat even though he knows so many of the problems it causes not only to the animals, the environment, but to his own health.

    And I have several rescued companion animals. The dogs and cats cannot survive without meat. I am looking forward to the manufactured meat that we have just recently been introduced to so no animal has to die in order for my animals to survive.

    • Ruth says:

      Dogs and cats can survive without meat. There are proprietary vegan foods for them. However, cats are difficult on the whole if they have been brought up on meat. veggiepets.com (UK).
      At one time I had six cats, some would eat the vegan prop. food, some would not. I (unwillingly) give my two dogs a very small amount of proprietary meat dog food mixed in with a vegan prop. dog food (and a bit of veg.). I know they prefer the meat, and I justify it to myself (rightly or wrongly), by the fact I cant explain to them what meat actually is. (if I could explain it to them, the fact that they are such lovely boys, I’m sure they would say they don’t want it anymore–unlike humans who continue to consume animal products after they know the issues!!! If they understood, but still wanted to eat it, I wouldn’t give it to them!! I too look forward to the day when there is far more vegan companion animal food being produced, so more likelihood of finding the ones that individual dogs and cats enjoy.

  5. I think I know which podcast you are writing about. When I listened to it, it had a profound effect on me. I felt remorse in my gut as I tried to identify who I ate or exploited. And I remembered the times (clear opportunities) over the years where I could have woken up but didn’t. There is remorse there but not guilt.

    There are many people, good, ethical people in so many ways, who will not listen to the animal right arguments. They tend to take the information about animal suffering as someone telling them what to do. On different podcast, Joe Cross (of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead) asked a packed audience, rhetorically, “How many people like to be told what to do?” and very few people raised their hands. He then asked, “How many people like to tell other people what to do?” and of course, nearly everyone raised their hands. I think that is why the health argument (bypassing the animal ethics issues) is more effective at times. Guilt does not seem to work if the person to be experiencing it associates the feeling primarily with the messenger.

    Transforming that remorse into action is the most effective thing one can do to help the animals and our world as a whole.

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