Branding the Movement
A woman in England has recently planned to publicly brand a man she met over the internet in order to raise awareness about branding in the dairy industry. Evidently this is not an uncommon act of solidarity with the poor animals who endure this unnecessary form of mutilation hundreds of thousands of times a day. A group in Tel Aviv has been honing this strategy of consciousness raising for years, even making a film to circulate their stunt. Thusly inspired, the London resident, who has been vegan for two years, will dress as a slaughterhouse worker and take a hot iron to the chest of man in order to, well, encourage by-passers to go vegan. Good luck with that.
Regrettably, what I think will happen is that non-vegans who witness this intense and gratuitous act of violence will recoil in horror not at the fact that cows are branded but that these attention-seeking vegans are patently offensive. It seems reasonable to ask if this is a form of protest that’s for the animals we want to help or the egos of the activists who will get major media attention and live with a brand on their bodies to highlight their dedication for all to see and, maybe, admire. Hard for me not to see this in more generous terms, especially given that humans tend to congregate around violence and—as a crowd—indirectly celebrate the violence as a perverse form of entertainment. Sort of like passing a bloody car wreck on the highway.
The woman doing the branding isn’t unaware of the potential for her stunt to backfire. She explains, “We’re taking a huge risk because so many people will see what we’re doing as extreme, but in the past you had suffragettes, which was hugely controversial. Females only have a vote now because women chained themselves to railings and ran in front of horses. We have to move with the times.” The problem is that her historical analogy is twisted and self-serving. And wrong. If women never ran in front of horses women would still be voting. If anything, given that one reason for disallowing the female vote was the sexist assumption that they were hysterical, running in front of horses was counterproductive.
But there’s another problem I see with the branding. It’s trivializing to the dairy cow. It reminds me of something that happened when I was in college, during the days when extreme forms of political correctness were infecting campuses and Allan Bloom was a name on everyone’s lips. There was a “physically-challenged awareness day” or something like that, and a bunch of perfectly able-bodied people hopped in wheelchairs and went to class, evidently to empathize with those who were bound to a wheelchair for life. I had a friend who was permanently confined to a wheelchair and had this to say about these acts of ersatz suffering: “that’s bullshit.”
He was correct. And this is why I think human branding is a major mistake. It suggests that a human can comprehend the full suffering that a diary cow endures when, if fact, that’s not possible. Branded for life, the human gets up and walks away, forever free and, in the circles he runs in, imbued with greater activist street cred and a media profile. The cow we’re supposed to empathize with goes back to the rape rack, the mechanized milker, and—when she dries up—the slaughterhouse. No human act of protest could capture the complete scope of that horror.
All that gets branded in this stunt is the animal rights movement. And the message is that we’re a bunch of headline-grabbing lunatics.