Bless the beasts and children: Violence, animals, and honesty

Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations

Click for movie

National soul-searching over the root cause of violence consumes us in the wake of another horrendous mass shooting. The slaughter of children is anathema to our vision of who we are: we protect the innocent and powerless. We protect the young—those yet unable to wield their voices or our laws—with especial vehemence. Yet, in the swirling, anguished and angry debates about guns and violence, something is missing—something looming so large that we can’t step back far enough to see it. Violence against species other than our own is so pervasive, so normalized, that we don’t even perceive the endless, brutal, bloody slaughter as violence. It’s part and parcel of who we are. It’s how things are.

Recently, a former Montana state official writing in our local paper prefaced his criticism of the National Rifle Association with these credentials: “I own about 20 guns, and have taken elk, antelope, whitetail, mule deer and many game birds. If all the gophers gunned down by me were placed end-to-end they would probably extend from Whitefish to somewhere east of Billings.” Perhaps he was employing hyperbole—that’s a distance of some 500 miles—but his point was clear: he has “gunned down” more living beings than he can count. How many newspaper readers were shocked by that statement—so casually admitted in a discussion of societal violence? How many so much as blinked an eye (these were, after all, just animals)?

Gophers, deer, elk, antelope, and birds are—like humans—sentient; their individual lives matter to them. Sentience is no longer up for debate; research has shown that animals experience pleasure, pain, suffering, and other conscious mental states. Like us, they form familial and social bonds. To deny animal sentience today is a mark of ignorance—or fear. To admit animal sentience is to admit we owe them moral consideration–that gunning them down and slaughtering them one at a time or by the billions for food is wrong. We fear that we might have to give something—or give something up–a mindless, cruel tradition here, a scrap of entitlement there, some measure of supremacy. Homo sapiens today, refusing to believe that our species is one strand in the web of life and not its master, are not unlike the 17th Century Catholic Church, refusing to believe the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. It was heresy to claim otherwise despite the evidence.

Our burgers, wings, ribs, eggs, and milk come from animals who suffered physically and mentally from birth until their brutal, slaughterhouse death. When we eat the products of industrial factory farms, we eat the end product of violence as surely as if we had tortured—then gunned down—animals ourselves. How can we have an honest discussion about our propensity for violence as a country and a species without addressing the violence that permeates our lives—that which we literally consume? In agricultural states where factory farms are located, a move is afoot to criminalize (via “ag gag” laws) seeking a job with intent to film, undercover, the egregious suffering and shocking brutality that routinely occurs in these hellholes. What do you suppose they don’t want consumers to see?

Gopher? Ground squirrel? Click image

None of this suggests that there’s no difference between children and gophers, or that gunning down animals—not even by the hundreds—leads to gunning down kids. There’s no correlation between eating a thinking, feeling being who was killed for us by proxy and becoming trigger-pulling mass murderers ourselves. There is, however, a well-established link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence that must inform the broader discussion of how our entrenched violence against other animals affects human society.

This is a difficult, uncomfortable topic. Human hegemony—domination exercised without compassion and justice—and government and industry have set us up. We’ve been conned (only to become complicit) into accepting as normal violence against all species but our own, making it acceptable to freely and publicly admit to violently gunning down countless sentient beings even in a discussion about guns and violence.

Animals, like children, can’t wield voices or laws in their own defense. It falls to others of us to defend the powerless of our own and all species. This is no time for easy copouts like falling back on tradition or shooting the messenger; this is a time for honesty about institutionalized violence against animals and how it plays out in our shared life as Americans and humans. Such honesty is long missing from our collective moral radar.

Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice…
Light their way when the darkness surrounds them
And give them love, let it shine all around them
Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storm…
The Carpenters

11 Responses

  1. The variable that ultimately goes ignored is masculinity…gender expectations for men glorify violence, domination, and control and are the fundamental root problem in school shootings, rape, and speciesism. Bryan Luke wrote a really interesting book exploring this topic (“Brutal” 2006).

  2. People made the gun a god. That is why people do what they do with guns. That gun needs to be taken down from the pedestal in the mind. That thing has put many souls into the devils jail.

  3. That’s it, Kathleen: “We’ve been conned (only to become complicit).” The deceived grow up and become the deceivers. The beguiled lose their guilelessness, and become the guilty.

    The way we perpetuate this brainwashing is so counter to the values — kindness, gentleness, moral courage, integrity, inclusiveness — that we try to instill in our children. The values we all come with as part of our intrinsic moral makeup.

    After reading this editorial on Newtown ( ), I lamented in an email to a friend:

    “Why do this newspaper’s editors (and presumably readers) refuse to connect the dots? I mean, look at how the close bond between innocent children and innocent animals is established here. Repeatedly! Yet there’s not one mention of how we indoctrinate our children into unquestioningly participating in the violent societal norm of killing the very animals they love — the animals we train them to love to eat.”

    Question to readers: How many words that relate to animals can you find in the editorial? I came up with six. I’m including the word “them” (from the Bible verse “a little child shall lead them”). Looking in Isaiah 11:6-9 King James Version, I counted 13 mentions of creatures who the prophet envisioned in the peaceable kingdom, alongside the little child.

    This is not to negate the editorial’s good points; I simply wish to extend them to include all our animals friends.

    It’s time for each of us to look in the mirror, and to be honest with ourselves about who we see.

    It’s also time for each of us to look into the eyes of every animal we meet (or see pictures of), and be honest with ourselves about who we see.

    Completely honest.

    And humble. Earnestly humble.

    That is, childlike.

    P.S. Corey, your point and your book suggestion are well-taken. I see that masculinity is mentioned in Kathleen’s “We’ve been conned” link, which opens to an article on the aptly named “animal industrial complex” and its relation to the military-industrial complex.

  4. Tears in my eyes, every single time I hear Carpenters” Bless the Beast and the children” song.
    Children, indoctrinated towards violence against non-human animals, equal to teaching them to steal- a form of child abuse.
    The indoctrination goes into adulthood, humans compartmentalize, fragment and go into “isms” speciesm, racism, anti-feminism. Many as the saying goes “love dogs, eats pigs” “Why”?

  5. Rushing to assign pathology, thoughtlessness, or even brainwashing to those who don’t agree with an ideology, says more about that ideology, than those it attempts to point toward with the finger of scorn.

    Yes, violence is deeply woven into the fabric of our society, and the often appalling mechanisms of industrialized “agriculture” plays into that.

    Personally, I find the American tendency toward militarism (often clad in the garb of “patriotism”) to be troubling.

    But then again, that could be because, unlike Europeans and many others — we’ve not had a major war fought at our doorsteps since our own Civil War. So, we tend to have a more romantic view of military service, and going off to war — than other societies — which had war come to them.

    The causes for this are complex, and beyond simple answers that might allow one ideal to hold itself up in supposed moral superiority over all others.

    And also, it’s worth noting, statistics indicate our society has steadily and increasingly less violent. Violent crime rates have continued to drop for many years now.

    Spectacular and horrific massacres seem to be an exception, but to simply say they’re bred by a violent society (when all indications are, our society is becoming less violent all the time) is also overly-simplistic.

    I would suggest, it might have more to do with a fundamental dis-connect (that being, a society that is increasingly more materialistic, and less spiritual), nihilism and isolation. A breakdown in the fundamental web of the family, extending to a greater breakdown of the community.

    Thusly, perhaps, producing some very intelligent, but isolated, disenfranchised, angry and hollow young men who commit these terrible deeds.

  6. Thank you for one of the few thoughtful and measured responses I have read regarding the school massacre. The other was from Merritt Clifton of Animal People news.

  7. Could you please provide a hyperlink for that piece, 19peace80? I’ve come up empty on Thanks.

  8. Tell me what you think of these videos on Youtube?

    Lt Paul Vance Sandy Hook Hoax ,


  9. For me too the indoctrination of children has always been a sore point… I take much pity for the 8 year old girl inside me who didn’t know a thing about the animal friends she was forced to betray. So sad for us all.’

    And this is a timely post too as I just read an article about an upcoming “opportunity” for youth to register for yet another 4H event. The article said that the kids will keep track of their “project” animal. 😦 If they only knew what their language sounds like to those of us who use words and ideology in their proper context.

    Thank you Kathleen for yet again summing up tragic current events to the nature of its source.

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