JEFF MASSON AND THE VIRTUE OF GENTLE PERSUASION

moonIn his new book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson continues the critical life’s work he began with the groundbreaking When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. Masson understands the importance of repetition in achieving something as enormous as changing an entire culture’s belief system, and he is patient and dispassionate in doing so. Like his previous books, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is a dense and methodical mix of scientific citations and compelling anecdotes in defence of his continuing thesis: that animals are not only intelligent, but also live rich and complex emotional lives. Previous books have dealt with animals in the wild and with pets, and the subject this time is the most difficult of all: Farm animals, which Masson correctly points out should more properly be called ‘farmed animals’.

Masson understands how politically charged his subject is, and carefully avoids overstatement, provocative language or grim descriptions of factory farms that would raise defensive barriers. He is trying to move fence-sitters here — potential allies in the farming community, social and political leaders, borderline vegetarians and other writers who intuitively sense there is something terribly wrong with raising animals in cramped, painful, mind-numbing, artificial quarters just so we can slaughter them in astronomical quantities to feed the never-ending explosion of human numbers. He’ll cite a well-researched report or a respected scientist and follow up with a delightful, always positive, never confrontational story. He qualifies almost every statement he makes, and almost apologetically leads you to the obvious conclusion. He will not condemn our attitudes and actions, preferring instead to explain and understand them, and then gently suggest logical and compassionate alternatives. He explains the atrocities (my word, not his) that are committed against farmed animals by saying simply “it is in our own self-interest not to know them; it is easiest to disconnect from whom we are eating if we know nothing at all about them”. Even his conclusion advocating a vegan diet and the eschewing of leather, wool and down products starts with the word if.

And to the reader who doubts what difference one person acting on that suggestion would make, he lists the number of animals spared suffering by a single human vegetarian in one lifetime: 6 cows, 22 pigs, 30 sheep, 800 chickens, 50 turkeys, 15 ducks, 12 geese, 7 rabbits, and a half a ton of fish. Masson confesses that he has not yet converted completely to a vegan diet, but explains how quickly the vegan alternatives to animal food products are improving in quality, taste and variety. Like me, he’s getting there, urged forward, one step at a time, and he’s likewise urging others on, one person at a time. The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is a charming and engaging book with an important message for all of us.

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7 Responses to JEFF MASSON AND THE VIRTUE OF GENTLE PERSUASION

  1. Indigo Ocean says:

    Your entry is quite timely for me. Just the other day, as I was savoring my first glass of organic milk after two days without power (refrigeration) it hit me out of the blue, “What must life be like for the cow that gave me this milk?” I am a major dairy consumer. Cheese, milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter: I eat these things throughout the day every day. I was in a bind because I realized that the answer to my question was, “awful,” yet I could not imagine forgoing milk and milk products.As I thought about it, the idea became quite real to me. I recall how my ancestors were once considered sub-human and therefore fit to be whipped with bullwhips, families sold off here and there at the whim of owners, and otherwise exploited and abused for the benefit of the owners. Back then the idea that blacks might have feelings, might suffer and have an awareness of their suffering that made such brutal treatment the true mark of a lack of humanity, such an idea would have been thought absurd by just as many people as today find the idea of animal suffering irrelevant. It is one thing to kill an animal and eat it. That is easy for me to forgoe. But to refuse to restrict the freedom of animals by farming them so that they provide a steady supply of milk, in that area is harder for me to balance personal sacrifice with compassion. I can only hope and imagine that organic farming methods offer lives sufficient for the awareness level of cows to know only peace, without a concept of confinement. I mean really, where would the cows go if they were not farmed? It’s not like there is all this undeveloped, free land they could roam on. There would simply be fewer cows born for the purpose of farming them. Is a cow’s life on an organic farm so bad that it would be better not to be born at all? Is there not some karmic benefit the cow gains by offering its milk to humans who in return treat it’s illnesses and make sure it always has grass upon which to graize? Note that I am not talking about beef production or factory milk farms, but only about organic milk farms, the main animal product I consume. Is it really so bad to consume organic milk and milk products?

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Indigo: Masson’s very reasoned answer to your question is (a) not really and (b) it depends. The ‘not really’ part is the answer to the question of whether life in a factory farm is better than not being born at all. He talks about the need of all creatures for freedom and the opportunity to live and experience life and all its emotions, rather than dwelling on the horrible reality of factory farm life. His argument takes chapters, so I won’t try to capture it in a sentence or two. The ‘it depends’ part is because there are no proper standards for ‘organic’ and nothing to stop a factory farm that feeds its animals organic feed from describing their ‘product’ as organic. I think the key is to check out the supplier to see how they treat their animals, or, even better, if you can afford it, buy products from local family-owned farms where you can see for yourself. As for me, I’ve cut back on milk, never ate eggs, and am trying to moderate my passion for cheese. And I’m buying some vegan cookbooks to educate myself on alternatives. One step at a time…

  3. mrG says:

    Is this the same Masson who wrote “Against Therapy” and other books from his research into the hidden archives as curator of the Freud papers? An interesting change in direction for him if it is.But on this vegan issue, I always wonder: Do we then condemn the Innuit? Do we condemn the desert herdsmen of the sub-sahara? Do we condemn the micronesians and others in those supermarket-challenged areas where fresh vegetables gathered by exploited third-world migrant workers is not always plentiful enough to compensate for, for example, the shortage of sunlight here in the northlands?Or is there something else. Joseph Campbell thought so. In observing cultures where these questions do not exist, he noted the seriousness, the sanctity of the bond between animal and man, the universality of the myth, for example, of the Buffalo Daughter who returns to her people to explain the rules by which the life-giving (and life-taking) hunt may proceed, rules which include, implicitly, a gratitude and a responsibility for our actions.It’s easy to abdicate responsibility in a supermarket. We didn’t exploit the young mexican who we allow to cross into California so we can underpay them and then systematically deport them back before the wages are due. No, not us, that was some bad man in California. But gee, these peaches sure are good! Responsibility. I didn’t feed those cows their mother’s brains, wasn’t me, nope, but look at the grain in that roast! Thank you Mr. President’s Choice and who cares about the cow anyway.When I worked in the meat-packing plant (30 years ago) I was seriously affected by one man there more than any other: The executioner. Maybe two, him and the veterinary. We’d talk on coffee or lunch breaks, and I was amazed: I had friends who would speed up to run over racoons on the highway, yet these two men who’s job it was to kill thousands of animals, these two really cared. If something wentwrong (and at factory scales of production, things do go wrong) they felt sick to their stomachs, like they had failed the animals. Maybe they were unique people, I don’t know, never met any other meat factory butchers or vets, but I’ve met farm vets and they too, far more care for animal welfare than the average tourist who leaves deadly plastics in their campsites.Do we pause to thank that cabbage or the smaller (less than 20cm) mammal and invertebrate animal life slaughtered and tilled to bring it to our table? No, no more than we thank the pig and cow, not any more, and this, thought Campbell, was where we went wrong: We cannot live without killing, but there are ways of killing and ways of killing, and the difference is being mindful of our place in that cosmos. The Japanese call this “Being lived”, the animals being lived by us, we being lived by those who use what we make, all of us together, thankful for each other, tied up in a great spiderweb of life, we are all being lived by each other.Just a thought … for those who might want to tip with good conscience back to the omnivorous side of the fence ;)

  4. Stentor says:

    Only 6 cows? There must be more meat on one of them than I thought.

  5. Sean says:

    Though I’ve been a vegan for several years now, I’m always troubled when people use fear and intimidation to try to convince people to stop eating meat. In my own experience, I’ve found people are much more receptive to learning about my lifestyle when I take a cautioned and thoughtful approach, as you suggest Masson does.While I don’t agree with the ethical conclusions of mrG (it’s my belief that vegan diets cause less suffering than omniverous ones), he does raise importants points, points often overlooked by animal rights activists, about the ease for westerners to promote vegetarianism because of how we treat our human neighbors. Sometimes, it seems so wrong for me to not eat something because it contains traces of something that might have been derived from an animal source, while I buy, say, conventional tomatoes that were almost assuredly produced and distributed under harsh and cruel conditions. I wish more vegans, who ostensibly value ALL life, would explore, discuss, and grapple with those types of issues more (though, perhaps, I’m not doing enough of it myself).

  6. padawan says:

    > the number of animals spared suffering by a single human vegetarian in one lifetime: 6 cows, 22 pigs, 30 sheep, 800 chickens, 50 turkeys, 15 ducks, 12 geese, 7 rabbitsIt’s anecdotic, but this is relevant only to a single *American* vegetarian. I’ve already had way more ducks and rabbits than that in my 30’s and probably will never come close to a couple of turkeys ;-). Anyway, different species for different cultures, but same reasoning.

  7. mrG says:

    Suffering is a slippery term. A deadbolt to the brain is hard to quantify, but the starving fox I find at the roadside, unable to sustain his den due to widespread agricultural devestation of its habitat doesn’t require a neuroscientist. Similarly, which is more cruel, a well-placed shot in the head, or starvation for the nusance bear that is (ahem) ‘relocated’ to a 70% chance of slow and quite unnatural death? If I were a bear, I’d rather be a fast stew than free and thrust into another’s territory.Of course, we could leave the bear in the habitat it has enjoyed since mammoths roamed … oh, wait, I forgot, it’s all farmland now. Ditto for the white-tailed deer, but we all know forest creatures can feel no suffering because they lack vets and deadbolts to the brain.Tit for tat, sure, but the point is, there is killing, and there is killing, and every time you blink your eyelid, you kill thousands of unseen creatures, crushed in the fluids of your eyes. Of course, they don’t have bambi eyes. Every step you take in the forest kills, and every yard-square of sidewalk kills even more, and when they bring in the bulldozers to create yet another “model neighbourhood in a natural setting” stripping the landscape three to six feed down to lay the sewer and optic fibre, with vast uncleaned-up and now toxic land areas throughout the already environmentally raped urban core (where now only rats can thrive) I really wonder about the sources of bio-suffering.While there are thousands of reasons to prefer specific diets, suffering per se is not one of them. Irresponsibility knows know industrial boundaries; if veganism a priori induces sainthood because Gandhi was vegan, then what does that say about Socrates and sexual orientation? ;)Thus “spared suffering” stats is the worst form if logical fallacy, it is non-sequiteur and accepting it as somehow meaningful tells me something about other logics. I’ve joined farmers on fox hunts, I’ve seen thegophers strung up on poles, I’ve seen the bloody muck of ‘collateral damage’ in the tiller blades, I’ve seen the hinged nail-boards used to treat those ‘pesky’ racoons; it’s very hard for me to imagine that a momentary “hey, what th- This ain’t the feed trough —” or a rich fat cornseed diet in the barnyard followed by the whack of a clean sharp blade is defacto suffering while spending one’s live with the primal memory of a severed limb or the babies I see by their mothers bodies on the highway (forced there by, you guessed it, agricultural encroachment on their habitat) this is not suffering? It does not compute.

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