“I pray to God to have mercy upon us | And I pray that I might forget | Those matters that with myself I too much discuss | too much explain” – TS Eliot
“The birth of a saviour is equivalent to a great catastrophe, because a new and powerful life springs up just where there had seemed to be no life and no power and no possibility of further development.”
– Carl Jung
Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way.
This world of ours,
To what shall I compare it?
To the white wake of a boat
That rows away in the early dawn.
SHAMI MANSEI (8th century)
“The zoo cannot but disappoint. The public purpose of zoos is to offer visitors the opportunity of looking at animals. Yet nowhere in a zoo can a stranger encounter the look of an animal. At the most, the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on. They look sideways. They look blindly beyond.”
Mankind’s record with animals is generally a dismal one. We beat them, eat them, turn them into beasts of burden or war. We make them into pets or fur coats and shoes. We make dignified creatures do stupid tricks in circus rings in the company of clowns, men in leotards with bullwhips, and flying midgets.
I was at the Johannesburg zoo long ago (I hate zoos almost as much as circuses, which may also explain my aversion to politics) but they provide a great opportunity for observing people at their worst. “Hey koeks, check how funny that one looks … check the size of his — check: he’s an ugly — ” Its really worth watching and listening to zoo-goers in order to better understand the human species). Once I observed two boys, unseen by their parents or the absentee zookeeper, throw their used coke cans at an old, flea-bitten bear who paced away his life of captivity like a man in an asylum: sane when he’d arrived, the asylum had driven him mad.
More to be respected in a captive, tormented bear than in two stupid boys to be sure.
It was a deep enclosure, damp, with a dark grotto at the back and an empty moat at the front. Mercifully, the cans fell short of their mark and clattered to the bottom of the moat. The bear hardly looked away from his course, like a solitary prisoner in a stone world, or a king without a kingdom.
I rebuked the boys who ran away to tell their father about the angry man who’d spoiled their fun. How dare I even speak to his children etc.
The bear kept swaying along, agitated, indifferent to the gawking and now squabbling humans beyond his world. Like a man grown mad from despair, who feels he should be somewhere but can’t think where that elsewhere is, lost in another world, the ultimate alienation. “You project too much,” says one voice in defence of zoos.
Not for me to fathom a bear’s thoughts: the mean enclosure of the human brain is zoo enough to keep us locked in ignorance.
Sometimes I hope we will stand (or perhaps kneel in shame) before God, and discover his visage to be the image of the things we have despised, ignored and ill-treated: the racist will find the face of God to be that of a dignified black man or aboriginal; the mysogynist will find the face of a woman. The man with contempt for the poor will find himself faced with a big, not very pleased homeless man. Those who have abused and mocked animals will find a veritable pantheon of animal gods who will sit in judgement of mens’ cruelties. It would be a surreal affair, with pound-dog gods and war-horse gods and rat-gods and vivisectionist-monkey gods and battery-chicken gods…
In Cyprus long ago I saw a man pulling a chained bear along the hot streets of Limassol. I watched until the man and the cowering animal disappeared into the distance. I still find myself looking, though they are long gone.
Is there a connection between our treatment of and attitude towards animals? Can we trust the man who kicks his dog, then smiles at us? Is the worker in an abbatoir dehumanized by the mechanized carnage, the screams of slaughtered pigs?
From zoo to animal shelters: I have been reading “Pets” by Erica Fudge, and it has been valuable to examine again my own attitude to my fellow travellers. She quotes Montaigne who wrote, “when I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?” The author shows how pets help construct who we are. “They tell us much about what it currently means to be human.”*
“ANIMAL OPPRESSION & HUMAN VIOLENCE: domesecation (sic), capitalism and global conflict” by David Nibert’s critique of the “animal Industrial complex” makes for disquieting reading: his book “charts the intertwined exploitations of nonhuman animals and humans” showing how the process fundamentally reinforces relations of power and violence. One reviwer of the book writes, “… reading professor Nibert’s work (was) so profound, exciting, and liberating to me that I still, to this day, consider this to be the most influencial, enlightening, and underrated book I have read in my 37 years. Fascinating revelations and a light shining in so many places never illuminated for most … make this book a joy to read even for all of the horrific tragedy it chronicles. This book is a must read for any serious intellectual or seeker of truth.”
Or, as people are inclined to do, we can look away…
* Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and3.4 million are cats. Each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats).
25 years after the collapse of USSR and the rapid disintegration of the Soviet empire, Steve Rosenberg of the BbBBC went to Moscow to interview Mikhail Gorbachev. The full interviw can be read at bbc.co.uk.
“Between the past and the future is the blink of an eye,” he sings, “and that instant is what we call life.”
“The Soviet Union passed in the blink of an eye. What are 70 years compared to the Roman or Ottoman empires?”
I wish other world leaders – Trump of the US and Zuma of South Africa to start with – would realize that for all the hubris, ill-gotten gain and rampant falsehood that characterizes politics and their will to power, they are actually mere pitiful men.
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” is true as ever, but men seem so filled with self importance they’d sooner destroy everything for a few moments of glory.
Gorbachev lost an empire, and yet has the humility to see that what he held and lost occurred within the blink of an eye.
The new year is about the break upon us again, and with all its hullabaloo, we’d do well to heed the words of Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky is “… an incisive, thorough analysis of the current international situation … Noam Chomsky argues that the United States, through its military-first policies and its unstinting devotion to maintaining a world-spanning empire, is both risking catastrophe and wrecking the global commons. Drawing on a wide range of examples, from the expanding drone assassination program to the threat of nuclear warfare, as well as the flashpoints of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine, he offers unexpected and nuanced insights into the workings of imperial power on our increasingly chaotic planet.
“The world’s leading intellectual offers a probing examination of the waning American Century, the nature of U.S. policies post-9/11, and the perils of valuing power above democracy and human rights.”
– Amazon review
mall maul | sh