Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations
Do you ever suffer from weariness of words? I do. Words piled on words. Remember when Polonius–attempting to determine if Lord Hamlet had gone mad–asked him what he was reading? “Words, words, words,” was Hamlet’s crafty reply. So many words. Too many words. Animals suffer; we write words. Animals die; we read words. We log on, post to Facebook, read blogs, write blogs, comment on blogs, link to blogs, blog about blogs…meh. At the end of the day I ask myself, “What’s been accomplished?” Animals are still suffering, still dying, and all I’ve done is shuffle words, words, words. Have they changed anything?
But still, what nonviolent justice-seeker doesn’t believe that the pen is mightier than the sword? And if it’s mightier than the sword, isn’t it also mightier than the captive bolt gun? Aren’t words (and their allies, images) stronger than the jaws of the body-gripping trap that crushes and drowns the beaver? More powerful than the bullet that slays the record book African lion? More relentless than the grinder that shreds alive the “worthless” male chick? More potent than the chemical that kills the unwanted companion animal? Wrote Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
Does it ever seem to you that we–and our words–aren’t achieving our task?
When I weary of words, when they seem uninspired and ineffective, when I’ve written the words “speciesism” and “exploitation” for the umpteenth, stale time–when it seems that the pen actually isn’t mightier than the almighty dollar–I have to wonder: Are we just acting out the pop definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? What else can we do? Will changing our words change our world?
Supposing we change the messenger? Much has been made of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s choice of the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Already the new Pope has singled out a sight-impaired journalist and bestowed a blessing–unasked for–upon his guide dog. Already he has offered words about protecting creation, and in that context, “respecting each of God’s creatures.” Each one! The hog in the gestation crate. The mink in the fur farm. The warehoused, debeaked chicken. The factory farmed fish. Sentient beings all, and all worthy of respect.
Last October, in yet another post comprised of words, words, words, I wondered “Which animals would St. Francis bless today?” Would he play it safe and stick to those companion animals brought before him on his feast day? Or would he bless the invisible, suffering billions in factory farms, too? Will his namesake usher in a new era of compassion (if not justice) for animals in a world where massive exploitation is largely hidden and blissfully ignored? With an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, couldn’t this be a game changer? Or is that just a pipe dream?
Except for its use of words to convey a message, a papal homily doesn’t have much in common with a hip-hop song. If the medium is the message, vegan artist IFEEL is delivering the brutal, rappin’ lowdown on why he does what he does, telling us, “I do it with a pen not a knife or a gun”:
“I do it cuz it’s so damn easy to kill / breed it, feed it, cut it, ship it, serve a happy meal / I do it cuz they steal em, beat em, breed em and bleed em / treat em like trash, throw em away when they don’t need em. …I do it cuz it’s sad to see what we’ve become / I do it cuz there is much more to be done.” (Watch his music video; visit his website.)
Words, words, words. Your words, my words, holy words, hip-hop words. Words on protest signs and billboards; words in outreach brochures and letters to editors. Factual, revealing, compassionate, angry, gut-wrenching, persuasive, emotionally-honest words. Words that sadden, that shock, that inspire action. Words that can make a difference.
Being a long-time activist and purveyor of words, I want to–have to believe that this deluge of words will eventually reach critical mass and tip the balance. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Transcendentalist Theodore Parker, “but it bends toward justice.” Surely the substantial weight of our combined words advocating justice for animals will hasten the bend of that arc.
Understanding this, however, is of no use to the beaver struggling in the trap right now, nor to the cattle currently restrained in the stunning box, nor to the chick riding the conveyor to the grinder later tonight. It will mean nothing to the lion in the gunsight during tomorrow’s safari, nor to the dog who will look up and perhaps wag her tail as the needle descends to meet her vein.
This is the stuff that haunts. This is when words fail.
Video: Captive bolt gun in use here.