i don’t know
I don’t know what a chicken thinks. I just don’t know.
I don’t know what goes through a her mind when the beak she used to eat with is clipped off, what she’s feeling when she sees her beak tumbling down into a pile of eighty-six more. I don’t know.
The only thing I think I know is that I will never understand all, let alone any, of it. 9 billion animals go through this every year and I can’t even grasp what it is like for a chicken as her beak is seared off . It seems like it would hurt, but I’m a human, not a chicken. Even so, I don’t know if that CAN’T hurt. And even if I did, so what? I can’t imagine how that chicken went through her whole day. I can’t imagine one day! Not even a typical one out of the 365 days a year when all she does is force herself to keep on going, to keep standing on an uneven surface in an extremely cramped cage? Hell, I can’t even imagine imagining what she must think and feel for three hundred of those twenty-four hour cycles, nor what hundreds of millions of chickens in this country are likewise experiencing in this country at the same time. I don’t know what ONE goddam chicken feels for ONE fucking instant of her entire fucking life when she receives something as simple as her fucking chicken feed.
I really can’t imagine. If you can, tell me. I’d really like to know, because I don’t even know where my meat comes from, let alone what animal I am eating. I don’t know what kind of conditions they were in, if the cow that I am eating now had a broken leg, suffered arthritis in her neck, was given steroids that could kill me, was strapped up to a milking machine for nine hours straight, or had her cut throat and accidentally went on living for several minutes while she swung upside down. I don’t know if the people there took good care of the animals, or bad care, or beat them with shovels, or used a red hot iron to brand them on their face, and then just laugh—-or worst yet, walk away without even a care, or even worse—-without a thought.
But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t want to know, because what I know I don’t know is just so horrific and completely evil. I don’t know if after eating these animals and knowing what they have been through, having some understanding of what they feel their entire lives when their tails hacked off, beaks, heads, throats… I… I… I don’t know if I could live with myself.
If I was hanging upside down as my blood splattered across the floor, and then fell loose from the strength I exerted so that I could live, and end up swimming and slippin’ my own goddamn fucking blood, you know what? I don’t think I’d be too happy. I wouldn’t like that. I’d feel… I’d feel… I… feel. I do feel! I do fucking feel! I can feel it!
I may not know what that pig is thinking or feeling that moment, but I can guess, and I guess it would fuckin’ hurt like hell, like the fuckingest hell I can ever possibly image. I can guess! Guess! It’s not too hard is it? I don’t know: maybe people just don’t want to care, or don’t want to want to care, or don’t even think about caring, or are too frightened to care-—too cowardly, too lazy, too undignified to care, or even to think.
This is an edited draft of an original monologue I wrote on January 28, 2004 after viewing a 12 minute montage of the treatment of farmed animals on factory farms. I had asked to borrow this VHS tape from a vegan club member who I had just met upon her return from studying abroad. This was the first time I witnessed more than a photograph of a slaughtered animal. It is without question, the most significant event in my life thus far. I was transformed.
It’s very enlightening to go back and read these frenzied articulations of my feelings immediately after watching that video. First, that I was driven to sublimate and express the affect flooding through my entire being. Second, that I was later tempted to move away from describing my experience of ethics to prescribing moral principles through logical argumentation. What I write here resonates so much with Elizabeth Costello’s lectures in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, what Cora Diamond calls “the difficulty of reality,” what Jacques Derrida describes as thinking “the war on pity,” and what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call “becoming-animal” through writing. My movement towards these philosophers over the last several years is not so much a departure away from how I used to think or feel about the issue, but an intensely conscious return with a new vocabulary to articulate what I experienced.