|This is a dark post about human nature and our aversion to facing awful truths. It is not appropriate for children, and the squeamish may also want to give it a pass.
The title of this article is a quote from another great speech by Bill Moyers, at the Conference for America’s Future last Friday. In it, Moyers talks mainly about the subject of my post yesterday: What we do, and do not, pay attention to. He’s under fire from Ken Tomlinson, the neocons’ hatchetman for public broadcasting, for trying to draw attention to the chasm between rich and poor, the disappearance of the American middle class, and of class mobility, the disgrace of the American public education system, the passion of DeLay and Abramoff and the rest of the neocon crew for sweatshops, offshoring and a starvation-level minimum wage, the naked power of corporatist lobbyists, the timidity of the mainstream media, and “what little protection ordinary citizens retain against corporate leviathans that cheat, exploit, injure and poison them, trap them in hopeless jobs, renege on their healthcare and default on their pensions”.
“What has happened to working Americans”, he says, “is not the result of Adam Smith’s benign and invisible hand but the direct consequence of corporate money, ideological propaganda, a partisan political religion, and a string of political decisions favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political system right out from under us.” In other words, it is the Gilded Age, the Industrial Era’s greatest shame, all over again. So perhaps it should come as no surprise to learn today that Philip Cooney, long-time stooge for the American Petroleum Institute who was rewarded by Bush with the title of Chief of the Council on Environmental Quality, routinely falsified, doctored and censored scientific reports on global warming before releasing them to the media or to the president. The neocons don’t want us to know, and often if it’s bad news, we don’t really want to know the truth either.
The picture above, from the extraordinary blog Sprol, is a Google satellite image of the truth, in America and elsewhere in the industrial, corporatist-owned West, that we never get to see. This is ‘home’ for 120,000 California cows. If you are sensitive about suffering, please skip over the accompanying well-researched text from the Sprol post that follows — it will upset you and possibly make you ill. If you’re made of sterner stuff, click on the link above and zoom in to see the detail, and then read on.
If you’ve ever driven between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and you were in too much of a hurry to take the coastal route, you’ve probably smelled this place before you saw it. This is what 120,000 cattle look like from space. You don’t need any fancy chemistry lessons or to imagine deadly radiation or dioxins slowly building up in your system here. One glance tells you that this is pretty disgusting. It’s what goes into these animals that’s the really gross part. This is the gigantic cattle feedlot in Coalinga, California along Interstate 5. Aside from the state prison, it’s the largest employer in west Fresno County, employing 1,500 persons in the feedlot, slaughterhouse, and fancy steakhouse. Vertical integration.
A feedlot is a confined area for controlled feeding of animals. This one is the largest in California and has several characteristics that are typical of the modern cattle feedlot in the United States. The cattle here are bound for places like McDonald’s, California Safeway stores, and precooked pot roasts and TV dinners. Lock ’em in. Fatten ’em up.You’ll note that there is no shade, shelter, or grass on the ground. Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they would primarily graze on grass. Cattle in feedlots, however, are fed grain, and are often implanted with a series of steroid hormone implants inserted under the skin behind their ears. It makes them grow faster and can increase profit by $80 per steer. That this has the effect of poisioning the water, as well as every burger eater who snarfs one, is a fact that millions of dollars per year go to suppressing.
Cattle have four stomachs designed to process the cellulose fibers in grasses. Grain mixed with garbage like chicken feathers and bone meal really isn’t what these beasts are supposed to be eating. The food combined with regular doses of antibiotics cause the cattle to put on so much weight that their internal organs fall out and have to be stuffed back in by the ranch hands. No veterinary care is provided. “I spent countless hours stuffing 25lb of cow back inside the animal and then sewing the wound, the whole force of a 600lb heifer straining against me.“ All of those homones, antibiotics, and other garbage in the meat isn’t very good for people. It turns out that the hormones in the meat cause estrogen levels to rise in people who eat it. Even though the EU won’t allow it, the USDA insists that the rise in hormone levels is safe.
Many doctors maintain that things like elevated levels of oestradiol, a powerful sex hormone, in your beef can cause all sorts of problems, such as the increased levels of cancers in the prostate, breast, and ovaries. Incidence of these diseases have been rising since the 1950s as beef consumption, heart disease, and obesity have all skyrocketed.
There are about ten million dairy cattle (most of them force fed massive doses of chemicals and automatically killed after 3-4 years when their artificially jacked-up milk production declines or their udders rupture) and 40 million beef cattle (whose grotesque and miserable 18-month incarcerated lives are described in the paragraphs above). And don’t get me started on veal calves, the atrocities of the slaughterhouse industry, or the horrific air and water pollution that feedlots and factory farms produce.
This is what I meant when in yesterday’s post I wrote that people don’t pay attention to what they don’t want to think about or don’t want to know. The fact that we can subject this many animals to this much suffering, right under our noses, says as much about human nature as it does about the evils and amorality of corporatism. We crave and welcome uncritically any reassurance that it’s not that bad, that conditions and the extent of cruelty are overstated by ‘alarmists’ and ‘environmental extremists’, and that these animals are incapable of suffering or emotion anyway.
A nation wired for everything except the truth. If we were exposed to truths like this, and truths like what is happening today in Darfur, and what is happening in our own neighbourhoods where children and spouses are trapped and endlessly victimized by heartless abusers, and if we were unable to turn our heads away until we really paid attention, it would all end tomorrow. But the price of bringing an end to corporatism and extreme, chronic violence and the monstrous suffering of this world could be our own sanity. We may be strong enough to pay attention to the truths that Moyers talks about, the “corporate leviathans that cheat, exploit, injure and poison us, trap us in hopeless jobs, renege on our healthcare and default on our pensions”. But beyond that is another, even darker level of truth, one that we could never handle, one that we dare not pay attention to.
It has been reported that many of the people who first came upon the great horrors of human cruelty — the Soviet Gulags, the Chinese prisons, the German concentration camps, the killing fields of Cambodia and Rwanda — suffered trauma as profound and lasting as that suffered by the surviving victims.
So maybe the media are right not to pay too much attention to these terrible stories. Maybe it’s best that we not know. Things are the way they are for a reason.
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