SPECULATION ABOUT AN UNCONSCIOUS CONNECTION
In this chapter I will pick up the thread I left behind at the end of Chapter 14, The Ethics of Diet.
Some of you will already think I have gone off the deep end. Now I am going to venture even further. If you rate low on the spirituality scale, skip this section. For some, having too much compassion is a flaw, even a form of mental illness, or at minimum a distraction from the getting of more money.
I speculate that there exists—or if it doesn’t exist that it could be created—some connection among all who have made a commitment to the good, referred to by some as “god.” I hope more people can become aware of this connection, meditate about it, listen to it, learn from it, talk to it, strengthen it, perhaps help create it, make it a central part of their personalities, and even follow it. This would be a connection not only with others but with ourselves, with the part of our personalities which calls us, so we can hear what it is saying.
I speculate that we can broaden the extent of this connection—even to include other species. Consider that porpoises, killer whales, and turtles have empathy for us: There are numerous instances of them saving humans.
Some animals that live in parks where hunting is prohibited actually like us. Those we hunt, on the other hand, always seem ready to run for their lives. They have long-term genetic memories.
The biggest part of most species’ brains is the smell brain. Humans find the smell of factory farms to be absolutely loathsome. Imagine how factory animals perceive it. I suspect that animals confined in factory farms are thinking something like, “Will I ever get away from this stench?” Factory farm animals cry out, not just at the times of their deaths, but throughout the period of their confinement.
I presume that as we humans inflict pain on them, they think the animal equivalent of “Why?” Their language skills are limited to simple cries, but I presume they have a cry that means “Why?” I presume that cows, pigs, and chickens have in their thoughts and vocabularies such concepts as “When will this pain end?” Or the capability to think “They are going to kill me.”
Koko is a domesticated gorilla who understands spoken English and has learned to speak using sign language. She recounts the story of her capture. She becomes highly emotional as she describes the day that poachers killed her family and kidnapped her away to civilization. It may be that many species are conscious and do remember their own history. It may just be that their thoughts are trapped inside because we have not learned how to decipher their language and they have not learned how to speak ours.
If we were castrated without anesthetics, as happens to bulls and boars; if our noses and lips were cut off, as happens to chickens’ when they are de-beaked; if our tailbone were skinned off without anesthetic, as happens with Australian sheep; if we were made to stand and lie in excrement or had it rain down on us, as happens to cattle, pigs, and chickens; if we were made to endure air that seared our lungs with ammonia, as happens to pigs and chicken; if we were driven to our deaths with electrical prods as are cows or with baseball bats as are pigs; if we were hoisted up by a leg and hung there waiting to have our throats slit, as are cattle; if we were made to consume our own feces, as are cows, pigs, and chickens; if we were made to drink our own urine, as are pigs; would we not ask “Why?”
Any person who has been beaten, raped, or abused in some way knows how degrading and humiliating assault is. They at least should understand that animals of lesser intelligence are capable of asking the fundamental question: “Why?”
Some people do not believe in hell, but 15 billion (some say 40 billion) animals in factory farms certainly do. They believe in it because they are in it right now, in the modern Inferno. I speculate that the ghoulish descriptions Dante and other writers and artists made of the horrors of the Christian hell were inspired by what they saw in the slaughterhouses of their day. We create their Hell as part of our worship of the false god Dollar, to maximize profits.
Insensitive people in the past would have said such things as: “Oh, come on, James, they are just slaves;” “Oh, come on, James, they are just Italians”. (The classical Greeks captured slaves from then-primitive Italy.) “Oh, come on, James, they are just Slavs” (root of the word ‘slave’). “Oh, come on, James, they are just Africans.” “Oh, come on, James, they are just Jews.” “Oh, come on, James, they are just Gypsies.” “Oh, come on, James, they are just women.”
We have elevated ourselves morally to the point where we no longer say such things. However, otherwise sensitive people today still say, “Oh, come on, James, they are just animals.” We have shed our bigotries towards slaves, blacks, Jews, Gypsies, and women. When will we learn to shed our bigotry toward animals?
Most of us know on at least an intellectual level of the pain and terror that exists for our food animals, but most of us choose not to think about it. I do choose to think about it. I meditate about it. In my contemplation I imagine as much as I can of the horrors animals experience. I feel I owe them at least that much. My heart quivers over the gross injustice done to them. I ponder their suffering, although it is unpleasant to do so, for if I were kept in a tiger cage in some remote place, I would hope someone would at least be pondering my suffering.
I spoke at a hospital in Seattle as part of an HMO program to encourage veganism and vegetarianism—a smart move because medical costs are lower for vegans and vegetarians. I spoke about the suffering of animals in factory farms, and there were a few who groaned. I said, “I’m sorry; I’m almost done.” And I asked, “Shall I go on?” Everyone who spoke said “Yes.” To continue the terror we have to suppress our sensitivity. To end the insensitivity, we must increase our awareness. So I must speak out.
Most people have experienced telepathy and believe it really happens. I once felt my mother’s pain from 2,000 miles away when she was having an operation. Right in the middle of a property exam in my first year of law school, I felt a piercing pain in my abdomen that would not go away, a pain I had not felt before and have not felt since. Later I learned the pain had started when she awoke from her hysterectomy. How is it that so few perceive the terror and pain of the animals we torture and kill? Why do we not perceive it the way wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, often perceive at a distance the death or pain of those they love, the way dogs sometimes howl when their masters far away are in danger?
Perhaps the enormous suffering of factory animals creates a continuing, droning, telepathic noise of terror and pain that is so persistent that we have learned to ignore it, the way we ignore the humming of our florescent lights. Perhaps human perceptions of loved ones in trouble are as rare as they are because they are overshadowed—jammed like some electromagnetic broadcast—by a white noise of psychic pain created by so many animals in so much pain.
In making ourselves insensitive to the terror and pain of animals, have we not made ourselves insensitive to other voices or some greater Voice that is trying to tell us of a way out of the moral and environmental mess our world is in?
Now, I will return to my previous point about a higher consciousness that could include other species: Animals lack our level of intelligence—as we define intelligence—, and they lack most of our abilities with language. But is it not possible that some species are capable of some level of higher consciousness and some level of telepathic connection with members of their own species, or with other species, or even with humans? Are we perhaps abusing or exterminating species that could evolve to take our place after we destroy ourselves? We are bigots to presume that there are no other species capable of higher consciousness.
One fall night in 1999, I observed a raccoon climbing my backyard fence. I stood very still on the back deck and let her become accustomed to me. I watched as she climbed the arbor. She had come for the sweet, seedless Himrod grapes. We stood a few feet apart, watching each other eat. There were plenty of grapes for us both. I wondered what she was thinking. Raccoons are very clever animals. They don’t particularly like humans, and you should keep your distance from them and not corner them. But why should they like us? We make coats and Davy Crockett caps out of them. They are much more skilled at survival than the great apes. It could very well be the raccoon and not some ape that will evolve to replace us after we have wiped out our own species.
I watched (November 16, 2000) a flock of birds fly together and turn in absolute synchronization, probably hunting for insects, and I wondered if they might be interconnected by some group consciousness. Why would telepathy be any less prevalent among animals that lack the ability to speak? If telepathy exists at all, it would seem to be more, not less, prevalent among wordless animals than among humans.
Might some animals even be “religious?” Is it impossible that some nonhuman species might even share the commitment to god that some humans have made? Animals are on a lower intellectual level than we are, however, Jewish philosopher Nachmanides believed that animals are on a higher spiritual level. (Rabbi Alfred Cohen, “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Fall, 1981), p. 45, cited in Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 2.)
Is it possible that there exist species right now which engage in moral thought similar to ours? We humans, self-important to the point of crudity, simply choose not to consider the possibility.
If the animals we eat perceive terror and pain as we do, if they would never harm us and are more innocent than we are, if they exist on a higher spiritual level than we do, is it not all the more unjust that we make them suffer so much?
The Judeo-Christian-Islamic theory of god is ethical monotheism, which is this proposition: There is a single god or unifying moral force. That force is inseparable from ethics; in some sense god is ethics.
Lest I leave the skeptics behind, I would like to interject that the agnostic idealist—very common in the West—says something similar: If there is no unifying moral force, we should be about the business of creating one. If there is no god, then we humans should accept the godlike responsibility to civilize the world and build a comprehensive ethical system. That system would not be very different from what believers refer to as god. The theist works to discover more about the god he believes exists while the agnostic idealist works to create the god he doubts exists.
Unfortunately, there are some who proclaim most loudly their belief in god, but are the most determined to kill the spirit of moral discovery. They say: “Every word in our holy book is true; there are no more moral insights to be gained; god said we should dominate the earth, multiply our numbers endlessly, and terrorize, torture, and kill any animal we please. God will return soon and destroy the earth anyway, so environmentalism is pointless. Don’t trouble me with any new spiritual insights.”
Such people consider it necessary to believe some correct and complex theological doctrine in order to be pleasing to god. But they search for god in all the wrong places. The focus should not be on what doctrine we should believe but how we should behave. God and ethics are so inseparable that what we do about god is far more important than what we believe about god. The most important creed we could possibly recite is that we should live a morally responsible life, as Moses, Jesus, Hillel, and Mohammed taught. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 7:12, 25:31-46; Shabbat 31a; Koran 6:160.) Thus, god and the good are very close, and it is to emphasize their closeness that I never capitalize the word “god” except when I am quoting someone.
One of my friends suggested that I was being irreverent by not capitalizing the word “god.”
I am confident that god has much more important things to be offended at than how I spell HER name. I don’t think god cares about our conformance to any specific custom or ritual or doctrine. I don’t think she cares about our obsequious praise and repetitive prayers. I think she wants us to live right, and that includes showing mercy to animals. (Matthew 5:7, 9:13.) If our religions and our doctrines encourage right living, then she probably is pleased with them; otherwise she probably is not.
The commitment to the good that we should make involves being sensitive. Sensitivity—to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” to do unsolicited good deeds for those humans and those animals we can see need them—is a fundamental component of ethics.
Some thousands of years from now, we will venture out past our solar system and meet other species that are on our verbal and technological level. We will quickly write—if we have not already—a corollary to the Golden Rule, an Eleventh Commandment, and we will learn to say: “Do unto other species as you would have other species do unto your own.
My hope is that some little thing I can do now might lessen the length of the Dark Age we live in. It shouldn’t take thousands of years and thousands of light years of travel for us to learn this. We can begin by treating the other species right here on this planet as we would have them treat us. If we do so, then by the time we meet the first extraterrestrials, we will have developed the necessary patience, understanding, and compassion to enable us to deal with them wisely. Perhaps we have already been visited by extraterrestrials, but perhaps they have chosen not to communicate with us because they found us to be too primitive. Perhaps they found us to be morally twisted in our willingness not only to torture and terrorize and kill other animals but even to exterminate entire species.
My hope is that more of us will become aware of the connection between the good impulse in ourselves and in others, meditate about it, listen to it, learn from it, talk to it, strengthen it, make it a central part of our personalities, and be open to the possibility that other fellow-humans and perhaps other species might be able to be part of this connection.
I sit and cross my legs and meditate and ponder this. In so doing, I conjure the animals and listen to what they would pray to us: “We roamed free until the end of the last Ice Age over the entire surface of the earth, when there were very few of you humans. You were just another animal species, a balanced part of the web of life. You killed some of us for food, but we accepted that as necessary for your survival. But recently you have taken more and more of the land until we now exist entirely at your sufferance. Your flaw as a species is your unrelenting urge to increase your numbers and take over every last acre of this earth. We ask that you leave us some place to live in the wild, for we are part of the natural world that makes possible your very survival. Many of us actually like humans and have joined your strange society and become your work animals and pets. We have done nothing to you humans to deserve the injustices you inflict on us. But how can we express this to you? We try to speak to you, but you have not deciphered our languages, and we give up on learning your strange tongue. All we can do is pray to you humans and hope some of you will hear our prayer and stand up for us.”
SPECULATIONS ABOUT WHERE CALLINGS COME FROM
It should be obvious to you by now that I feel a calling to stand up for the animals. I wonder where my calling comes from.
Ancient man presumed that callings come from god above. Prophets in legendary times heard voices while in ecstatic frenzies, while meditating or praying, while fasting, or while under the influence of drugs. Moses was said to have heard god’s voice in broad daylight, perhaps while sitting in a tent pondering and writing down his insights.
I have never had a vision of god or heard a deep voice from an unknown source. Whenever I have prayed and meditated and received answers, they have come in a voice that sounds like my own thought processes. I make no claim to inspiration.
I hope there is a god above us or within us, and I hope he or she calls us, but I can’t be sure. I will be patient; I will find out soon enough when I die. Faith is an easy thing for those who are absolutely convinced god exists. The greatest faith, however, is that of the person who is not certain god exists but still chooses to live as if god exists by making a commitment to right living.
Maybe the calling we perceive comes while we meditate and pray, not from god above but from those who are suffering—humans and animals. Maybe it is their voices we hear calling us telepathically.
Maybe there is some spiritual spark within us, inherent in the structure of our minds and bodies, like our instinct to love babies, which lies latent within us until it is awakened by our study, observation, and meditation. Maybe the calling I perceive is a natural, physiological reaction to what I have learned.
Maybe callings come entirely from within us. Maybe there is another consciousness within us: Maybe the mitochondria are conscious and struggle to communicate outward and upward to our body and mind. Jesus said the kingdom of god is within us.
Regardless of where callings come from, the existence of the calling is not enough. We have to choose to yield to it. This is why it can be said that we call ourselves. Many people have callings but ignore them, as did Jonah, who was miserable because he ignored his calling. We focus instead on the daily grind of making a living and running a household. Most ignore the calling and eventually forget about it. Ignoring a calling has a way of weakening us and even causing us to fail when we do labor that does not fit with our calling, while yielding to our calling has a way of strengthening and ennobling us.
How can you find your calling? Or revive a calling you have lost touch with? Visualize your aged self looking back and reflecting on the years that zipped by and the projects you never got around to. Then retrace your steps back to the present, and in the present make your commitment to work now on those projects that you will wish then that you were working on now.
Another way to find your calling is to meditate and pray and listen to the answers that come into your mind. You probably have a calling, but maybe you have not listened for it, or having heard it have ignored it. So meditate, pray, listen, and act.
I should say a word about prayer. Prayer is sending a message to god. Meditation is listening for a message god might be sending us. Meditation is to be preferred over prayer. Prayer is best used not for heaping up praise to god or asking god for help. God needs no praise. God knows already what help we need. Prayer is best used to ask god (or our deepest selves) for answers to questions, or for direction.
SPECULATIONS ABOUT WHAT ONE PERSON CAN DO
It’s a warm summer night and there is a full moon. There is a slight breeze. You are eating dinner with your family and friends outside on the back deck, under the grape arbor. Stars shimmer down through gently rustling leaves. A good time is being had by all. You are asked to make a toast: You raise your glass, “People always talk about the good old days. Well, I’m here to tell you that we are living the good old days right now. This, my friends, is as good as it gets.” There is laughter and applause.
There is an extra chair. You look over at it, and there she sits, the goddess—like the angel who protected Daniel in the lion’s den. She looks like the goddess on the cover of this book. You blink and rub your eyes. You wonder if you are dreaming. No one else seems to be aware of her. She is wordless, but her half-smile communicates more than words.
In her face there is disappointment: She is unhappy with what her sons and daughters have made of her world.
In her face there is challenge. She calls you to do more.
In her face there is a quiet confidence—in you. There is much you can do to carry on her work, and she wants to fill you with her confidence.
In her face there is the hint of happiness and even a slight smile. Although foolishness and strife grow stronger every day, so also at the same time does wisdom and the love of peace. Things are going her way in the world. She will win in the end, although it may take a very long time.
She looks at you. Look at her face on the cover of this book. See that she is unwavering. You think of your unworthiness and look away.
You rub your eyes again. You look back, and she’s gone. You realize that no one else has perceived her. You awake and realize you have experienced a theological dream.
You feel changed. You have received a calling. From time to time thereafter you will recall her gaze as you go about your work in the world. You will focus on what’s really important. There will be no time to waste not working for law, ethics, justice, and peace. No time to waste not being a good example to your son or daughter of a gentle strength. And at the same time you will try to find happiness within yourself. The whole point of our efforts is to help bring happiness to others, and if we lose our own happiness, we lose our ability to help others find happiness.
So now when you look at the extra chair at the dinner table, you will think of it as an invitation to the wise one to join you. Jews invite the prophet Elijah to be present at their circumcisions.
You are just one person, but her challenge is that there is some small thing one such person can do.
What we eat is a small thing, but if millions of people make millions of small choices fit for the goddess, we can have an effect. There are ways of eating that are good for our bodies and for the environment, for the economy and for restraining population growth, for peacemaking and love making, for justice-making and reducing hunger, for our individual spirits and for the moral structure of the world. The closer we move to a green diet, the more we make this a more peaceful and environmentally sound world.
What would you serve the goddess if she joined you under the grape arbor on a summer night? Perhaps a succulent soup of pot herbs? A big skillet of rich stir fry? Sprouted and cooked grain? A salad of sprouts and greens? A spicy peanut and flax sauce to pour over it? You know she’s going to approve of this food. It is food that celebrates life and health, food that was gotten in a way we have no need to be ashamed of.
You look at the empty chair and imagine her half-smile. You understand her work in the world and accept it as your own. You think about the disappointment in her eyes, and you realize it is tempered by her confidence in people like you. You are just one person, but there is some small thing you can do to help to civilize the world—one meal at a time.
What you eat is a vote on how food is produced. Your vote has a small but real effect. The less animal-based food you eat, the less is produced. There is no person who is without effect on how the world will work out.
What you eat arouses curiosity and makes a much more powerful statement than words alone. People trying your food are saying, “Umm, Jimbo, this is really good. I see what you are talking about. Maybe this vegetarian thing is not so bad.”
Your carnivorous friends will be seduced by the good tastes, smells, and textures. They will feel light and healthy. They will get their diabetes and blood pressure under control. They will eat more food than ever before, but will lose their big bellies.
It is not important that you become a writer or speaker on this subject. It is more important that you become a cook and get people to try your green food and then teach them how to cook it for themselves and others.
A beautiful idea is powerful. It propagates itself—virus-like and exponentially. Its symmetrical sensibility is attractive to the mind. It is a beautiful and powerful idea—to think that we can change the world by eating a green diet.
I have an idealistic theory I would like to share with you: There are around 6.6 billion people in the world. Assume that each day each person learns something worthwhile. That means that each day the world as a whole gains 6.6 billion person-days of maturity and wisdom about how to live. I dream of waking up some morning to headlines that say:
World Reaches State of Enlightenment
War and Crime Disappear
Sales of Meat, Milk, Eggs Drop to Zero
NASA says a plant-based diet is the diet of space: Astronauts living in a long-term, self-sustaining space station or space colony will have to eat a green diet. In a small space, there will be no way to grow farm animals, deal with animal diseases, and dispose of the poop. Maybe NASA is taking notes from the green diet of the mythological Starship Enterprise where replicators make all the food—out of pure energy. I assume there eventually will come a time when more humans will live out in space than here on Terra. That means that someday a green diet will be the diet of a majority of humans.