Wandering through the Intertubes the other day, I ran across someone who said, approximately, that the thing that may strike future generations as most barbaric about early 21st century America is our wanton cruelty to farm animals.
I forgot who said that, but it came back to my mind when I was watching a documentary on HBO the other night about a corporate pig farm. An undercover activist took a job there so that he could secretly try to confirm a rumor he had heard: that the farm disposed of unmarketable hogs by hanging them with a chain.
He got the goods, all right: shots of pigs unable even to walk being dragged out of barns by their legs and strung up, kicking for four or five minutes before expiring.
That was the sensational shot, but the whole atmosphere had a sense of casual cruelty to it that made it hard to watch. Pigs were confined in pens so narrow they could not move about or even turn around. They could lie down only in their own filth.
Piglets were sorted and tossed into barrels like lumber, piled by the dozen on top of each other while still alive and squealing.
Why are we so mean?
I don't think I'm a polyanna about this sort of thing. I grew up in the country. We kept our own chickens and occasionally chopped off the head of one or two to make Sunday dinner. Farming isn't a PETA party.
But there was a certain rough justice in it. You couldn't call it a social contract because the animals didn't get to vote. But they did get certain compensations. If farm life is tough on animals, life in the wild is often even tougher. Farmers offered their livestock a steady, nourishing diet, relative safety from predators and reasonable accommodations. In return, the occasional animal became dinner. Farmers often felt protective, even affectionate, toward the animals they tended and sometimes slaughtered.
None of that was on display on this farm. The whole idea seemed to be to treat pigs as much like inanimate objects as possible, without the slightest hint of what used to be called humanity. It does seem likely that our descendants will look back on us someday and wonder what evil lurked in our hearts.
How's that bacon smelling?