Pete Seeger, R.I.P.

David Cassuto

There’s not much that can be said that hasn’t been said by many more eloquent than I.  But a few years ago, I wrote this:  And I’m glad I did.

2 Responses

  1. David, thanks for sharing/sharing again that memory. He touched so many lives, so many generations, so many causes. We sang Seeger’s songs when a busload of us left our small, historic peace college in the Midwest to march on Washington in April 1971 protesting the Viet Nam war. I can’t think of any other music that, to this day, produces such an emotional response.

  2. Did Mr Seeger transcend speciesism? Did he ever say one word about the misery of nonhuman animals? What of ‘the people’ he sentimentalized in his songs? Did they – do they – in the aggregate, take animals seriously? The people, the real people, not the luminous creatures who waft like clouds through the idylls of folk music, are narrow, savage and selfish. They routinely eat corpses and go to Seaworld. They buy puppies from pet stores or, if they’re unusually conscientious, from ‘good’ breeders. The notion that the plight of animals is a serious moral issue would almost certainly have drawn jeers from a typical Seeger audience, and maybe even from Mr Seeger himself. I say nothing of the morally degraded majority of workers, farmers and other common folk who were and are not only mindless speciesists but rabid consumerists, jingoists and racists. They tend to get airbrushed out of the picture when we sing about our brothers and sisters united in love. I prefer Metternich’s dictum; “If I had a brother, I would call him cousin.”

    Noam Chomsky is the perfect Seegerite, and certainly one of the most prominent. During an interview that can be seen on youtube he’s asked about vegetarianism and veganism. He dismisses the question with a barely concealed expression of irritation, and says, effectively: Why are you wasting my time with these trivialities. I’ve got more important things to worry about.

    Make no mistake. People, including Seeger’s people, are guided by brutal self-interest and brutal amour propre (vanity). They want steaks and they want a feeling of enormous self-worth. The latter has been founded since the dawn of time on the human/nonhuman contrast. Human ‘dignity’ has always been defined in opposition to animal lowliness. In his brilliant ‘2nd Discourse’, Rousseau rightly calls amour propre the defining human trait and imagines, with great psychological penetration, that it first emerged when humans decided that they were fundamentally superior to other animals.

    The contrast is constitutive of ‘humanness’. Look at all the humanistic texts. They’ll start with the obligatory preamble: Such-and-such a quality is what makes us human and not animal. Think of ordinary speech patterns. A person who feels particularly aggrieved will complain that he’s been treated like an animal. The worst criminals, we are told, are animals who have forfeited their wonderful humanity. The more liberal types will immediately chime in: Come, come! You musn’t say that. True, the fellow may have raped and killed half a dozen children. But it’s wrong to call him an animal. He’s still human… The list is endless and points to the perennial relevance of Rousseau’s observations. For most humans, the idea that animal suffering is akin to human suffering entails a vertiginous drop in status. It costs too much. Amour propre, whether on the left or right, will have none of it.

    Human and animal flourishing are inversely related. With every increase in living standards for ‘the people’ comes more animal suffering. With every addition to their numbers comes greater oppression. One cannot love the slave master if one loves the slave. For their own sake and for the sake of the other species they oppress, Seeger’s people deserve a peaceful extinction. Animal rights can be summed up in 2 words: Don’t breed!

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