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All Forms of Life Are Sacred

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The battle for the rights of animals is not only about animals. It is about us. Once we desanctify animals we desanctify all life. And once life is desanctified the industrial machines of death, and the drone-like bureaucrats, sadists and profiteers who operate them, carry out human carnage as easily as animal carnage. There is a direct link between our industrial slaughterhouses for animals and our industrial weapons used on the battlefields in the Middle East.

During wars in rural societies, where the butchering of animals is intimately familiar, butchering techniques are often used on enemies. The mutilation of bodies was routine in the wars I covered in Central America, the Middle East and the Balkans. Throats were slit. Heads were cut off. Eyes gouged out. Hands severed. Genitals stuffed into victims' mouths. Body parts such as ears and fingers were collected as souvenirs. Balkan villages, which hung slaughtered pigs by their feet from tree branches to drain the carcasses of blood and so the hair could be shaved off, on some days dangled human corpses along the roadsides. Cattle prods were a favored torture implement in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Killing in our mechanized slaughterhouses is overseen by a tiny group of technicians. Industrial farms are factories. Machines kill the animals. And in modern warfare machines kill our enemies. Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis are condemned, like livestock, from a distance. Hired killers push buttons. Slaughter, at home and at war, is automated. The individual is largely obsolete. The mechanization of murder is terrifying. It creates the illusion that killing is antiseptic. This illusion is sustained by state-imposed censorship that prevents us from seeing the reality of war and the reality of animal slaughterhouses. Killing has gone underground. And this has made vast enterprises of killing palatable.

I witnessed the dismembering and evisceration of human bodies during the siege of Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. It was impossible not to make the link with animals. For several years after the war I would walk out of a restaurant if I saw blood pooling around a piece of rare meat on a plate. All blood is red. Hunks of meat from cattle look like hunks of human flesh. The high-pitched wail of a pig being butchered sounds like the wail of a wounded person on a battlefield.

I recently met Gary Francione, perhaps the most controversial figure in the modern animal rights movement, for lunch at the vegetarian deli of the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, N.J. With me was my wife, Eunice Wong, who was the driving force in our family's decision last year to become vegans.

Francione is l'enfant terrible of the animal rights movement. He is a law professor and philosopher who founded, along with his partner Anna E. Charlton, the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic at Rutgers School of Law. He and Charlton have five rescue dogs, all of them vegans. In his 1996 iconoclastic book "Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement" he criticized animal rights activists for refusing to challenge the idea of animals as property.

Many animal rights activists call for more humane treatment of animals -- leading to the conscience-soothing labels "ethically raised," "free-range" and "cage free" -- before they are slaughtered, but Francione calls this form of animal activism "tidying up the concentration camps." He maintains that promotion of what he calls "happy exploitation" deludes consumers into believing they can exploit animals in a "compassionate" way. We have no moral right, he says, to use animals as human resources.

His position puts him at odds with nearly every animal rights group, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as most of the major writers about animal rights. Theorists on animal rights such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Peter Singer believe animal rights revolve primarily around how we use animals, not whether we should use them. Francione attacks this position in his 2008 book "Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation." His iron condemnation of all forms of violence, including by animal rights activists, has enraged militants. Like most other important moral voices, Francione stands almost completely alone.

"These are fundamental issues of justice," he said of animal rights during our lunch. "These are fundamental issues that require that we take nonviolence seriously. You cannot speak about nonviolence and stick violence into your mouth three times a day. How many of us have grown up with a dog, a cat, a parakeet or a rabbit? Did we love those beings? Did we love them in a different way from the way we 'loved' our car or our stereo? Why is that love different? It is different because that is the love of an other, whether that is a human person or a nonhuman person. It is love for an other who matters morally. Did we cry when that being died? It is moral schizophrenia to treat some animals as members of our family and then roast and stick forks into other animals, which have been abused and tortured and that are no different from our nonhuman family members."

"This is not, however, an issue about whether animals are tortured," he went on. "The big issue now is factory farming. Do I think factory farming is bad? Well, yes, but so what? Family farms are bad as well. There is a lot of violence that happens on family farms. Consider two slaveholders -- one who beats his slaves 25 times a week and the other who beats his slaves once a week. Is Slaveholder Two better? The answer is yes, but it does not address the morality of slavery."

"It is impossible to participate multiple times a day in victimizing the vulnerable and supporting the suffering and death of sentient others for trivial reasons and not have it make a profound impact," he said. "It means we accept the injustice of violence. It means injustice is not taken seriously. Injustice fails to motivate us. Violence works when we 'otherize' groups of beings and put them on the 'thing' side of the line between persons and 'things.' The paradigmatic example of this is what we do to nonhuman animals. If we stop otherizing nonhumans it becomes impossible to otherize humans."

Francione rejects the idea that ovo-lacto vegetarianism and family farms are incremental improvements. The egg and dairy industries, he points out, are vast systems of reproductive enslavement of female animals. Laying chickens and dairy cows are abused as grievously as animals raised for meat, and usually for many more years. Once these animals are "spent" and unable to produce eggs or milk at a profitable rate, they too are slaughtered. And because it is only the females that produce milk and eggs, the dairy and egg industries every year kill approximately 250 million newborn male chicks -- often ground up alive for "raw protein" used in pet food and fertilizer -- and approximately 2 million male calves, used for veal.

We are told from childhood that cows "give" milk, as though needing to be milked is a cow's natural state. "Like other female mammals, including human women, female cattle produce milk as a complex hormonal response to pregnancy and birth," Sherry F. Colb, a former colleague of Francione's at Rutgers, writes in "Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?" "Dairy farmers," Colb continues, "regularly and forcibly place each dairy cow into what is sometimes called a 'rape rack,' a device on which animals are restrained while they are inseminated. ... If left to her own devices, the mother cow would nurse her baby for nine to 12 months. And as dairy farmers accordingly acknowledge, cows suffer tremendously when farmers take their calves away from them shortly after birth. Cows bellow, sometimes for days on end, and behave in ways that plainly exhibit desperation and misery, including a lack of interest in eating and a tendency to pace around the area where they last saw their calves. " A dairy farmer cannot make a living from this work unless he subjects a cow to pregnancy, removes her calf from her side, and then slaughters the mother cow once her milk production diminishes. These are each unavoidable aspects of dairy farming."

"All animal agriculture involves violence, suffering and death, including the most humanely produced dairy and eggs," Francione told us. "The male chicks are ground up alive or pounded or gassed to death. If you are a feminist and you consume dairy you are confused. One of the worst things in the world is the sound of cows when their babies are taken from them. In a conventional dairy the calves are taken away the same day or the next day. In an organic dairy, which is a supposedly higher-level animal welfare 'happy place,' they are taken away two or three days later. The mothers cry for days. The fact that we will take a cow with a natural life span of 30 years, impregnate her six times and take away her baby six times and kill her after she has had mastitis for five years is dreadful. This is the commodification of the reproductive processes of a female other, the commodification of a mother and her baby. The reproductive process and the relationship of a mother and her child become a product. I don't understand how someone can say, 'I am a feminist, but I drink milk.' "

Francione excoriates organic family farms that raise free-range chickens and grass-fed cattle. "The idea that loving something is consistent with killing it is not dissimilar from the man who says 'I love my wife but I beat her a lot,'" he said. "I am not interested in discussions about the cruelty of factory farming. It does not matter. It is not a question of whether you go into the woods, buy a small farm and the animals come into the house at night so you can all play cards. The entire institution of animal exploitation is wrong. Our moral thinking about animals is terribly confused."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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