This is Why
I know that people often don't quite understand why I care so much and get so upset about the shit that we do and the way we treat animals in our society, and, despite all the thinking I do on the topic, I don't yet understand it 100% myself. But upon rereading Franny & Zooey, strangely enough, I'm starting to pinpoint it with a bit more clarity, so I feel the desire to tackle an explanation a bit more. For those of you sick of hearing me "rant and rave" and proselytize about animal rights issues, I urge you to read on because there will be none of that in here, believe me.
Adopting my cats (who are also aptly named Franny and Zooey) has also helped me clarify why animals are such a big issue to me as well. Those of you who have or have had pets and have had the pleasure of feeling hopelessly in love with them, who've felt a helpless and untainted adoration and love pour out of you towards your pets, can probably understand a bit more why this is. When you love an animal, it is a completely different kind of love than you will probably ever feel towards anyone else, not in a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of way, but in a pure and uncomplicated way that is impossible to feel towards another human being (except in rare and tiny bursts). I say this not to slight the kind of love humans share with one another, of course. But those of you who've had pets and loved them know that it is a completely different type of love.
Why is that? Simply put, it is because animals are not humans. They do not judge, they do not criticize, they do not make you feel like shit about yourself, they do not deceive, they do not hurt, they do not kill for the fun of it, they do not fail us in the way that other humans can and do. They just live and love, as long as you treat them well.
Animals exist in a pure sort of way that we (perhaps unlucky) humans will never know. They possess a purity of soul and spirit that stems from the fact that they function only as they know how to function—they love if you provide for them, they hurt if you beat them, and they do what it is they're meant to do, without a thought, without a second guess. As I am writing this, strangely enough, some marine biologist on television who is talking about sharks has put into words exactly what I mean—"They're exactly what they're meant to be." Perhaps it is just "instinct," but whatever it is, unlike humans, it is untainted; animals exist with a purity of action, of intent, of living, uncomplicated and unfettered by all the ugliness that possesses us as human beings.
I don't believe in a God, but I do believe in a goodness in the world, a kind of underground stream that feeds everything, even if the nourishment it provides may not always be apparent. And be it a God or a "goodness" that you believe in, animals come closest to that in spirit. If you were to strip all the ugly, hateful things that you despise out of your world—greed, jealousy, the deliberate infliction of pain, hatred, deceit, torture—you'd have before you goodness, correct? Well, animals are not bound by any of these evils (except when we, who possess these things bountifully, inflict it upon them). And in that, they are pure in spirit in a way that we will never know. In them, I see "goodness" in its most pure and simple form.
But us fucked up human beings have horded all these other evils, stuffing ourselves full with them, all in a bizarre and alleged plight towards "goodness." Yes, we could never live "purely" in the way that animals do, perhaps because we use our reasoning abilities and intellect in a different sort of way than they do. But instead of recognizing and cherishing their purity of spirit, the "goodness" so inherent within them, we destroy it in the most ugly ways possible in our quest to attain just that, as though we are desperately jealous that they possess that which we cannot ourselves possess and so we must destroy it.
When people talk about the despair they feel when they start believing that ugliness is taking over all the goodness in the world, there is no clearer example or symbol of this despair to me than the relationship between humans and animals. If you've ever seen a cat or dog sleep, if you've ever seen any animal sleep (that is not in fear for its life), you've most likely looked upon them with envy, picturing how unfettered their dreams must be and maybe even remarking upon how peaceful they seem. I can honestly say that I have never felt more at peace or more purely happy than when I've watched my cats sleep—it is like tapping into their purity of spirit. This peacefulness comes from the fact that they are untainted by all the ugly things that make us human. And it is we who inflict all ugliness upon them. It is we who taint the world around us. It is we who torture, who inflict pain and suffering, who kill with nothing like "instinct" to shuffle the blame upon.
This is why I get so upset, so vehement, so extremely sickened when I see the way we treat animals with absolutely no regard, with no thought to their pain. Animals are a symbol to me of all that has risen above the ugliness in this world. They are a symbol of the good, of a purity of spirit, of "love," and when I see the way we treat them, it makes me feel a loss of hope. I don't excuse the ugliness between humans, nor do I find pleasure in it. But I can at least understand it because we bring it on ourselves. But what do animals do that is deserving of such ugliness? Seeing it inflicted upon them makes me feel that the ugliness is winning and squashing out and destroying the final faint glimmers of pure and untainted goodness around us, both metaphorically and literally. Our treatment of animals is, to me, hopelessness manifest. It is a symbol to me of how this country snuffs out everything pure and hopeful and destroys it, in the ugliest and most horrific ways possible.
So when I screech and holler and grow "disgusted" with people over their meat-eating habits and their lack of concern for the animals involved, it is not because I feel superior to them. It is not because I look down upon them. It is, of course, because animals don't deserve the gratuitous infliction of pain we thrust upon them; but it is also because I am afraid that the disregard for animals that so many of the people I love possess is also the snuffing out of their final glimpses of hopefulness, of goodness, of purity and understanding. I see in meat-eating a loss of hope, a bowing down to futility, a complacency, a despair, an indifference, a defeat. And it scares the shit out of me to see this in the people I love. I fear it is the manifestation of these people succumbing to the hopelessness and ugliness in the world around us. I want to shout and shake the people I love and scream, Don't fucking give in! Don't give in to the petty ugliness of the world without a fight, goddammit! Because it is when we stop caring and hoping and wanting better that the ugliness is able to swallow us whole.
So when I sound crazed, when I sound "preachy," when I sound like I'm up on my high horse, it's simply because I'm trying desperately not to lose hope that there are good things in the world and that they can stay that way. I want to avoid contributing to this ugliness--how can I resent it, how can I complain about it, when I'm only helping it reign over this country? My passion with this topic is just me holding on, desperately, to hope. And it is me trying to shake a glimmer of hope, of realization, into the people around me.
There is beauty and goodness in this world, goddammit, and I don't want it to give in without a fight.