As I discuss in a January 4, 2010 blog posting ("Words After an Afterword"), there was a serious problem with the originally published text of the afterword to Animals. What follows is a revised version:
Author’s Afterword (2010)
Let me begin this afterword by imagining an extension to the text of the novel itself, a paragraph that would carry the story forward in a different direction:
Two or three years after Sam had gone out of their lives, both Zayne and Carrie stopped eating meat. But the first change in their habits came immediately; they stopped eating all the products of factory farming. And they were not the only ones. Even before the full measure of their grief had taken hold—if they had waited even a day or two it might have ended up undone forever—they phoned a friend who worked as a stringer for the Times. And suddenly the story was everywhere, I never really knew, people said, I had no idea it was that bad. And because most people are not evil, not most of the time, not if evil is shown to them in a way that they cannot look away from, there was all of a sudden broad agreement that things had to change. Within weeks the industry had adopted voluntary guidelines for improved treatment of livestock; within months governments at all levels had brought in comprehensive new regulations making such practices mandatory even for factory-farming operations, toughening cruelty-to-animal legislation and amending it to apply as fully to feedlots as it did to the treatment of pets. Some governments went even further, ensuring that the small operators who had traditionally been the most humane were given the means to compete with larger ones. Within a very few years the overwhelming majority of people had decided that they were more than willing to pay a bit more for peace of mind, for the knowledge that the creatures they were eating had been humanely treated before being killed. Truly free-range products became the norm rather than the exception, and meat-eating in general declined markedly. Five years after Sam’s death there were features in almost all the major media on the mongrel whose death had brought about a revolution.
To what extent would this constitute a happy ending for the novel? Quite aside from the question of the fate of Sam, Josh, and the others, most human animals today would argue that no ending in the dystopic world of Animals could be “happy” if it stopped short of a general renunciation by the entire populace of the practice of eating “yurn.”
But what of a happy ending outside the confines of this novel—in the real world of the early twenty-first century, not in an imagined world of the early twenty-second? Much of the point for me of creating Sam as the being that he is in the circumsrtances that he faces was to inquire into a particular reality for a sentient creature much like most of us—what would it be like to face something akin to today’s factory farming? No doubt a novel of this sort will provide fodder for philosophical debate on the wider arguments concerning whether or not human animals should kill and eat non-human animals; indeed, I hope it does. But the most urgent topic for debate and for action today is not that one; it is the issue of factory farming. Let us not forget the large philosophical questions. But let us focus above all on the 99% of cases about which almost all humans in possession of the facts are likely to agree—not the 1% over which there is likely to be lively argument for the foreseeable future. In today’s world more than 99% of farm animals (I refer here to dairy cattle and laying hens as well as to animals raised to become meat) lead the lives of utter misery that factory farming demands of them. On the desirability of bringing such misery to an end surely all readers can agree, once they are in full possession of the facts.
But what are the facts? The suffering that Sam is subjected to in the last part of this novel is so extreme that it may well seem implausible to some readers. Surely no innocent creature capable of feeling could legally be made to endure such suffering, or not at least in any society even remotely like our own. Yet every day both in North America (where this story is set) and around the world millions and millions of cows, pigs, and chickens endure far worse than this. When they are branded, when their ears or their beaks are mutilated, when they are castrated, no anaesthetic is used. When they are slaughtered they are often still conscious as they begin to be bled, skinned, and sliced open. The conditions in which they are forced to live—those of pigs and chickens and dairy cattle even more than those of beef cattle—are considerably worse than those that Sam and Josh and the others endure. Kept in pens in which they are often unable to turn around, such animals lead lives of unutterable misery. They are bred and raised using methods designed purely to facilitate the production of cheaper and cheaper flesh, eggs, and milk for humans to consume, and those methods typically make them unnaturally proportioned and make their bodies function in unnatural ways—almost always to their considerable pain and discomfort.
None of this is a secret; all of it has been going on for decades; the first edition of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, which drew so many people’s attention for the first time to the cruelties of factory farming, appeared in 1975. It is true that none of it is widely or frequently reported in the mainstream media. And it is true that the atrocities are generally carried out far from prying eyes, behind high fences or in closed sheds or pens. But the information as to what goes on remains widely available. Those who would like more evidence may easily find it in abundance in print and on video.
Why, then, do we allow it to continue? If such things were being done to cats and dogs (or to wolves or giraffes or grizzly bears), they would be considered serious criminal offences and the human perpetrators would be given substantial prison sentences. But somewhere we draw a line, separating one sort of animal from another. On our side of that line are pets and wild animals; on the other side of that line are beings against which we allow virtually any cruelty to be inflicted. We give our children picture books that show such animals living out their lives in happy pastures—and that often personify them, give them human names, show them talking to one another. But in practice we do not treat the actual animals as living beings, as beings who may not be capable of speech but who can feel pain, and feel a good many other things too. We treat them purely as food, as things it doesn’t matter how we mistreat, as things to be eaten, as things to be tortured if that will make the milk and flesh and eggs cheaper or tastier.
In most American jurisdictions animal cruelty legislation as it pertains to farm animals is either toothless or nonexistent (though the passage of Proposition 2 in California in 2008, putting some limits on cruelty to animals in some factory-farming situations, is a hopeful sign). In Canada the Liberal government of 1993-2005 failed three times to enact even watered-down animal cruelty legislation, and the subsequent Conservative government shows no desire even to attempt to try again. In much of Europe and Africa things are considerably better than that, but in much of Asia and South America they are considerably worse.
What can be done? Pressing governments for change should not be given up as a lost cause. Writing letters to the editor can have an impact, as can emailing or phoning in one’s opinions to radio and television programs. Talking up such things among one’s friends and relatives can be helpful too. But probably the biggest single thing we can do to help bring change is simply change our own habits.
For those of us who may be considering such a change for the first time, it is important to recognise that it need not be an all-or-nothing thing. Many who have thought about these things and who are not comfortable supporting the cruelties of factory farming nevertheless continue to do so because they cannot readily see themselves changing their entire lives, and they imagine that to do anything they would have to do everything, would have to change their entire lifestyle. Some may argue that anything short of a totally vegan diet is an inadequate response, and certainly people who are inspired to make that sort of revolutionary change in their lives in one dramatic step are to be commended. But most recognise too that any improvement is a step in the right direction. Anything is far, far better than nothing, and things may be done in a series of small steps. That’s something I can attest to personally. I was persuaded many years ago (largely through reading Singer’s book) to give up factory-farmed meat, chicken, milk, and eggs, but I continued for many years to eat the “happy meat” of non-factory-farmed animals, and to consume their eggs and milk too. Five years ago I gave up all meat and chicken, and was pleasantly surprised to find that not at all difficult to do. I still eat some dairy products from non-factory-farmed cows and goats and chickens, and I still eat some shellfish, though increasingly I am persuaded that even these are more susceptible to pain than I would like to think, and that I should eliminate all seafood from my diet. By the time I am sixty I may well be a vegan, and a part of me would like to become one now. But I have to acknowledge that for me, slow stages seem to represent what is achievable. And I know that those slow stages are a good deal better than nothing.
Once we begin to act—at whatever pace we can—we will no longer be tempted to avert our eyes from the effects our actions have on thousands of other living, breathing, feeling beings. This is true, I should emphasise, regardless of our particular beliefs as to what it means to be human, as to what sort of line may separate human beings from other beings, or as to precisely where that line should be drawn. This novel has to some extent explored those issues, and may have often seemed to be blurring any line between human and non-human. It has not done so with the intent of arguing that the distinction between human and non-human is without meaning. It has done so, rather, with two purposes in mind. The first is to lead readers to question that other, much more deadly line that society draws between animals that deserve our respect and good will (wild animals and pets), and animals that we permit to be subjected to torturous lives before we eat them. The second is to make it possible more fully to imagine the lives of non-human animals, and more fully to sympathize with their plight. Those who posit a clear dividing line between human and non-human have often suggested that one uniquely human quality is the power to exercise a moral imagination: the power to imagine ourselves in the place of another being, and to modify or change our own actions in the light of that imaginative experience. Whether or not such a quality is indeed the unique preserve of humans I do not know. But if we fail to put such imaginative power to use—and if we fail to take action to right wrongs when we realise the effects our actions are having on others—then we are helping to sustain a system founded on almost limitless human cruelty.