In the face of callous and brutal attitudes towards animals, it’s hard to stay positive, writes Gary Steel.
ALTHOUGH SOME OF my friends regard me as a misanthrope, and I suppose it’s true that I find it easier to love just about any species of animal more than I do humans, most of the time I cruise along with a little bit of a glow about our capacity to care.
One amazing thing about human beings is their ability to empathise, put themselves in others’ shoes, hence the popular Biblical paraphrase, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I see random acts of kindness on a daily basis, and I try to ferment this in my system; this idea that perhaps we will evolve into a universally kind species.
On the other hand, just when I’m basking in that compassionate glow, something usually seems to come along to put a huge dent in my appreciation of humanity. Last week, it was two stories in one day in my local newspaper, the NZ Herald.
Matt Heath writes an often chuckle-worthy, slice-of-life, light-hearted column on Mondays, but on the piece titled ‘Vet bills tug at your heart and purse strings’, he shows an callous and alarming lack of compassion towards other species that can’t entirely be disguised by the exaggeration required to get a laugh.
Talking about the exorbitant cost of veterinary care, he asks: ‘At what level… is it better to let your beloved cat, dog, turtle, snake or kunekune pig die? For farmers the decision is easy. Dog looks tired: Bang! Chicken didn’t lay an egg: Chop! Saw cat’s butt hole when it lifted its tail: Bang, bang, bang!’
That appealed to my admittedly stupid sense of humour, but then he got talking about his pet rabbit getting sick, and how his reaction was ‘whatever’. The bunny cost $750 in vet bills, so Heath ‘ran a cost-benefit analysis’ on the rabbit’s life. ‘I calculated that it would take me roughly an hour to get over his sad passing.’ He goes on to put forward the proposition that had he simply had the bunny put down and replaced with a similar-looking bunny, he could then have afforded a new Xbox. Funny ha-ha.
But then I realised he meant it. Heath talked about how rabbits are usually pests, and that it’s normal to eradicate them without a second thought. Then, he goes on to advise prospective pet owners to ‘buy plain, one colour, personality-free pets which can be seamlessly swapped out in the event of an expensive problem.’
Now okay, I know Heath wrote all this in the service of a cheap laugh, but it’s clear that he really doesn’t attribute any value to an animal’s life past its usefulness to humans – in this case, as a pet-companion to his family. This strikes me as a particularly head-in-sand stance for someone who is clearly intelligent. We know that animals are sentient beings, we know that animals have the brain power to process pleasure and pain, we know that they’re not so different from us, and we know that just like us, they have brains and flesh and blood and most of the other body parts what comprise our physical architecture.
Heath behaves in so many ways like a true denizen of the 21st century, but his attitude to animals is straight out of some New Zealand farm from the middle of the 20th century. I’m sure there are still farms and farmers like that, but really, how can he justify holding onto views that came about from ridiculous beliefs fostered by a religion that maintained there was some big bearded guy in the sky whose divine image we were the reflection of and everything else was just ours to exploit?
But what really depressed me was a story called ‘Minnie’s makin’ bacon’ by writer Paul Mitchell. Featuring a picture of a beaming young woman with a very dead pig around her shoulders, it told the heartwarming story of Minnie Montaparto and how she fell madly in love with her beau, Jaimee Ellis, while both were participating in ‘snagging feral boars’.
It was an old-fashioned “girls can do it too!” story, as the 20-year-old has proved her mettle in pig-hunting from a young age, but also a tale of young love. It just happens to involve the barbaric practice of hunting and butchering one of the most intelligent animals on earth, for fun.
‘For us, we do it as a team,’ Minnie is quoted. ‘When people watch us run in and flip a pig together they’re like ‘I’ve never seen a couple work like that without arguing’.’
Every time she goes hunting, she posts photographs online with the hashtag #SlaytogetherStaytogether. Yay for young love, eh?
On the reading of this story, I felt myself falling into a deep depression. I wanted to rage, but what’s the point? I read recently that young New Zealanders are taking up hunting in unprecedented numbers, so it seems that for every person conscious of animal pain and suffering and wanting to live a life that doesn’t inflict pain and suffering on animals, there’s at least another person who doesn’t give a flying fuck.
But then I checked Ms. Montaparto’s Facebook page, and it actually cheered me up. The newspaper story had portrayed her as just a normal, well-balanced woman who just happened to be into torturing and slaughtering boars. In fact, it’s clear that the poor girl has as much command of the English language as she does of logical thought processes. When I slogged my way through a few of her posts in an attempt to get a better understanding, I started feeling almost as sorry for her as I do for the poor animals she loves murdering… but not quite as sorry.
I won’t belabor the point, but instead link Doctor Feelgood readers to her (public) page just in case they want to get an insight. Those who can’t be bothered might like to get a brief glance behind the eyes of this sad young woman by reading a small excerpt:
“Right, check it. You can mock me.. mock ?#?Huntress, you can mock my ink.. put me in you lil key board worrying shit vidio.. ill tell you agin, sticks and stones love.. faaa grow ub, move on. My ink means the world to me, shit ud never comprehend, iam huntress, and i dont care what you thinka me coz its the only person ima be, is all i wana be. Im not gona change my positivity, you can try as hard as you like, So keep mockin keep playing with fire. Go hard. Take that shit and run with it. All your doing is giving me a place in your head and free publicity so churr!!! Sheet soonnnnnnn. Ima jam to yella do my mahi then go slayin. ?#?NotWortgMyTime ?#?hb ?#?MeanVidio ?#?IAmHuntress ?#?uaint ?#?Slayubs ?#?Fuckof ?#?Fuckthehatae ?#?Imhappy ?#?IgotItAll ?#?Bu$hLife ?#?SticksAndStones ?#?YouCantCangeMe”
Don’t know about you, but when the combined inference of the photograph and Facebook posts reminded me of nothing so less than the denizens of the forest by the river in that landmark film, Deliverance.
I do find it disturbing that people like this are legitimised by mass media, and that stories shown slaughtered pigs draped over a person’s shoulders are somehow deemed okay for anyone of any age to view, when something as natural as a nipple would be considered abhorrent. It shows just how warped our sensibilities still are, and how bent out of shape we are by views that took shape during the Dark Ages. GARY STEEL
* It pays not to dwell on this stuff too much. There’s nothing much to do about it, except to set a better example. Those of us who don’t hunt, and who follow a peaceful, plant-eating lifestyle can live without that weight around their shoulders – the weight of thousands of sentient lives extinguished for no reason other than vanity.