Human Life

27 March 2001

What has caused humanity to be so successful? Why, it is not the exploitation of resources, the treatment of our surroundings as a room full of tools? Whereas we have reserved certain elements of our environment for reverence, for the most part, we have treated our environment, and fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, as a means towards an end. Our religious philosophies have created a reverence for certain aspects of existence, however, in this time and place, such reverence is more of a tradition, or even, a delusion, since it is rarely respected in “the everyday world”.

It is my ever-growing belief, (if I may borrow from Judeo-Christian theology) that far from being a species favored and created by God, it would almost seem that humans were created by the Devil, to thwart God’s majesty. For, wherever humans go, destruction and death follow. The ancient creatures of the Ice Age, are extinct, and it makes sense to assume that it was by over hunting. (That in itself is revealing, that we can assume over hunting as a cause of extinction). Of course, science would like to find some other cause, to deflect the guilt that suggests human-causation. As well, of all the other hominid species, we are the only one left. There is the suggestion of wars in our ancient past, a possibility that the Neanderthals were killed off by Homo sapiens sapiens, (I even harbour the pet theory that our stories of ogres and trolls are nothing more than a diluted form of oral history of interactions with the Neanderthals and the other species of our common hominid past) and then the centuries, no, millennia, of empire building and life that was “nasty, brutish, and short”. It seems easy to see Humans as fundamentally evil creatures, due to a defect of consciousness, or perhaps due to our ability to rationalize any absurdity.

The Nazis were able to rationalize the murder of the Jews by thinking of them as vermin. There is the famous example the Auschitz commandant’s wife who had a lampshade made of the tattooed skin of one of the victims. How is this any different from a fur coat? Isn’t it harder today to see life, especially human life, in terms of Reverence and the Sacred? Is it not true that what we object to is not the killing of a human being, rather, we object to the killing of the human form. If a life form is a quadruped, its life is meaningless, and its death is given meaning by the use we, as bipeds, will put it too. We deny the emotions and intelligence of animals, while we assume that any animal of the human form has the potential for a meaningful life. Some of us oppose abortions and capital punishment, while treating our children to Macdonald’s hamburgers. Evidence for the intelligence of animals is treated with skepticism, while the intelligence of humans is always seen as a given. If you could measure the IQ of a an cow, and it was found to be the equivalent of that of a 12 year old human, would we still be so comfortable wearing it’s skin or eating it’s muscle, or would we suddenly allow for the consumption of children? Of course, we all know the answer. We continue to spoil our kids and deny that animals have consciousness. There would be some other group brought in, funded by the meat industry or the government, who would search through the procedure of measurement with a fine toothcomb in order to disprove the result. The animal must remain a tool for our use. We must continue to eat and experiment on the flesh of those who do not share our form.

How can we not witness the bulldozers and the pits, the carcasses of “livestock” in Europe, massacred for having sores on their mouths and feet, burned and buried en masse, and not think of those black and white films from the liberated concentration camps? Why is one seen with shame and horror and the other, these films of burning cattle, are seen only as unfortunate? What I am saying is that it is as wrong to murder cows for having blisters as it is to murder humans for being jewish. And the fact that no one cares, that the PETA folk aren’t in the news and in the streets raising hell and chastising us for our complacency, is revealing of the human character, to dismiss the value of life as irrelevant. They have said repeatedly, that the “foot and mouth disease” is not contagious to humans, and that the animals are murdered as a trade measure, since being sick, they cannot put on weight as easily, and their market value declines.

In little under a month, protesters will gather in Quebec City to protest the Free Trade of the Americas proposition. One of their fundamental claims is that market values ignore human values. Is this horror in Europe not an example? We kill them because their market value has become worthless. And when we think of one of the most famous example of the despicable genre of Holocaust film, Schindler’s List, how was it that the Jews were saved? By being a cheap form of human capital. By using Jews in his factory, Schindler was able to cut costs and – most importantly for the film and for his place in history – keep them alive. One of the early scenes in the film shows the Jews exchanging market information – where to find a shirt and what not. Here is an abominable message, tres au courant for our age. That the value of a human life is only concurrent with what they can create for a market. That whole monstrous concept of “human capital” is the only measure of a life’s value.

In another Speilberg film, Saving Private Ryan, there was a revealing line, to the effect that “this fella better find the cure for cancer or something…”. At the end of the movie, we learn that no, he didn’t find the cure for cancer, he apparently led an average life, had a wife and kids and grandkids, and he asks with tears, was their sacrifice worth it? Of course his wife answers yes, and his proud kids and grandkids hug him, and the American flag flies proudly, but sadly, bleached out into transparency to evoke that emotional semiotic. In God they trust. Life has value in and of itself. Of course, such lesson is learned only after watching male bodies blown to pieces for two hours. Human life, we are taught through these media messages, is only valuable in terms of “human capital”, and that killing is fine, as long as you are not killing animals that are shaped in the human form, but even that’s okay if they are wearing the wrong uniform and live in the wrong country.

Saying this, however, I imagine that many will ask about those humans who are not of the form, the deformed and disabled. What I mean by human form is what is self-evident. We never confuse a member of our species with any other. We know what the template is. The fact that we describe some people as deformed or disabled reveals our acknowledgment of a template. And this template is what I am referring to. This template we are taught, is sacred, or at least, is illegal to mess with. The fact that our genetic research threatens that taboo, is a cause for “ethical” concern. This ethical concern could quite easily be maneuvered around – one way is to rationalize the human in terms of the animal. It is amazing to me that such a thing as ethics still exists within the context of the discourse, that there is even such a field as bioethics, given the ease at which we justify the moral violations which are narrated for us everyday on television and in popular songs.

One of the easiest ways to get around these ethical concerns is to throw in the concept of art. This always raises the amoral shield that is the freedom of expression. Let us express ourselves through genetic manipulation, stem cell research, abortions and capital punishment. I will draw upon my education at an art school, point to the wall where the document which says I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine arts degree, and say, I am artist because this is so. Will any body challenge me? Will anybody say, “graduating from an art school doesn’t automatically make you an artist”? Will anybody say, “what makes you an artist is seeing the world is a different, enlightening way, than others”? No. I will go unchallenged, pointing to the paper, and use the authority that I supposedly have, to arrange for an execution as a means of expression. I could perhaps rely on the tradition of the readymade, and sign my name to the acts that Texas seems to love so much. Art critics will compare my work with the prints of Warhol, and judge me accordingly. But, under the freedom of expression, my murders will be constitutionally guaranteed.

Imagine. Such an act has already been imagined and described by David Bowie. In is 1995 album Outside, he published a short story describing a detective’s investigation of a millennial murder of an adolescent girl and the task of determining whether or not it was art. In his story, he brings up examples from post war art practices which incorporate violence, the most revealing, (and perhaps the most famous), being the Viennese Actionists. In 1966, Herman Nitch killed a sheep, crucified it, and rolled around in its organs. This was supposed to be an expression of some sort. But the questions that Bowie’s story raised, and which I have pondered ever since first reading that story in 1997, was, what is the difference between a sheep and a human? Why is it that the killing of this sheep goes unpunished by the law, whereas such an act, as described by Bowie, performed on human, would not only by prosecuted, but would most likely be the most famous murder case in the world? Growing up in a rural area, I remember witnessing my friend’s father “getting rid” of the family cat with his revolver, and years later, while I was hunting in the forest, finding the skeletal remains, poking through a plastic bag, of a dog which had been similarly disposed of. Here I was, with a shotgun in my hands, engaging in an activity of sanctioned murder, finding the body of a victim that had no rights to medicare or an old age home, but was simply “disposed” of.

And I have to admit that I am no saint. My shoes are made of a cow’s skin. I eat meat. And no one is going to persecute me for it. Of course, I am open to the accusation of being a hypocrite. Yes, that’s true. Here I am, rationalizing that it is wrong to live this way, to eat meat knowing full well it is a form of murder, to watch the bodies of cows and sheep burning in the English country side, and yet, feeling as guiltless as anyone else. And in that, I am a fully contemporary human being well brought up and indoctrinated into the values of my society. In acknowledging the wrongs, while being complacent, to view those who eliminate animal products from their lifestyles and diets as some kind of “fringe” group, I am as monstrous and despicable as everybody else, and yet, I can see no great change coming to humanity anytime soon. As piece of human capital, as employees, to rebel against this fundamental societal philosophy would destroy our market value, and then perhaps, we might end up burning in piles on the countryside.

Document History

This was the first purposeful essay I wrote independent of school, and as such it's been found on all my websites since 2001.

  1. 2001-2008: published on my websites
  2. 2008-2015: archived on my blog
  3. Aug 2015: this version produced