I was very disturbed by the recent image of a scion of Irish horse trainers sitting on a dead horse, smiling and finger signalling V for victory. I truly grieved for the horse. I can’t say why this two year old picture ended up in the recent news but it had a huge effect on me. So much so that this is my third journal in a row driven by my reaction to that single photo and the relatively mild sanction imposed by governors within the equine industry.
Some commentators have already said that people like me are over reacting in this, the age of outrage. There is no age of outrage. Outrage is latent in our DNA. It’s only the manner of expression that changes. And the truth is that more people have seen this disrespectful image than is comfortable for horse lovers around the globe.
And people love their horses. They treat their horses with respect and indeed love. And of course, there will always the very few who make the news for their abuse and cruelty. The 99.9999999999% of everyone else get overlooked. And that’s how it should be; there should be nothing remarkable about horses that are generally happy, healthy and loved. Sure, there are other cultures that continue to raise horses for meat. The thought of horsemeat may make for a degree of discomfort among some readers but as long as the horses are treated well, there can be no more concern for them than for household pets, chickens, salmon, or pigs or indeed the mink … assuming you think that’s acceptable in the first place.
I’d also be upset if I saw a picture of a hospital administrator sitting on a recently deceased patient while waiting on the undertaker to take it away, ‘it’ being the corpse as much a seat as the horse. I think we’d all be outraged. I’m not sure what sanction would be applied to the system the produced an administrator that chose to sit on the dead patient but I’d guess there’d be call for a government enquiry. Certainly, the administrator would never be allowed work in the field again.
Philosopher Judith Butler talks of how an erosion of trust can lead to embitterment. She spoke at UCD a few years ago of how narcissism and the loss of humility can be destructive. I think these are appropriate things for me to think about after seeing that image. And if you are outraged by my imagining the same in a hospital setting, perhaps I could refer you to war crimes cases in the The Hague.
I’m not so deluded as to think many, if anyone, might share my ideas. I hope my musings will resonate or clang, make connections or seed ideas that will help you make sense of your own world.
This evening we attended our first event in the Dublin International Film Festival. We chose Gunda though in truth, we knew only a little about it. It’s a pig’s eye view of a sow, Gunda and her litter. Life in the free range piggery is just that; we follow daily activities of a sow and her growing piglets. John Berger wrote in his 1977 essay Why Look At Animals? that ‘In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy.’
The life we see down at pig level is simply adorable at times. My world slowed down so much that I joined Gunda in taking a nap. That might make the movie sound boring but I think it’s a mark of respect for the movie maker.
We stayed around for the post movie interview with Russian film maker Victor Kossakovsky by Irish film maker Tadgh O’Sullivan. It was among the more fascinating movie director interviews I’ve ever seen. Here’s one example from when TOS asked VK about the closing scene in his movie The Belovs (1992) and the parallels with Gunda.
That brought a story of ants to the TV set we were casting to from the iPad on the table beside where we sat in our living room because the pandemic is virtualising our lives. Kossakovsky, remotely interviewed, said that in making The Belovs he only had enough stock to film for a total of three hours so he couldn’t afford to waste any filming the ants. He ended up with an hour running time and of course, no ants. He was unhappy, even in 1992, that his film stock used an emulsion from the ‘bones of animals’ to hold the reactive silver halide crystals. Gelatin is still used in inks and film stock. But when the world went digital, he thought again of the ants.
The ants he saw were walking along the rail of a wooden fence. One had died. The marching ants stopped and circled the body of their comrade. One stepped forward, picked the body up and purposefully, went to the edge of the rail and dropped the corpse into ant-scale oblivion. Kossakovsky picked up the body and put it back on the rail. The marching ants again stopped and circled the body. Another stepped forward and took the body to the edge and dropped it off. Kossakovsky said he did it a third time and the same happened. That, he said, was where the idea of Gunda started.
Of course, the eponymous Gunda wouldn’t be cast for three decades. That happened on a visit to a Norwegian piggery. And that’s a story for others to tell.
My wife has reminded me that Judith Butler was not the only influence on my choosing a plant based food regime. I ordered calamari a few years ago and she called me out. How could you? she asked after I had told so many people about Houdini, the octopus that wrapped itself in shell fragments and stones to hide from a shark (BBC Blue Planet II).
Gunda made me wonder if Descartes has done animals a disservice. ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ might be one of the greatest abuses ever uttered by mankind. The implication is that animals don’t have consciousness. Has that become the excuse for hiding them away before meal times?
Kossakovsky makes us think about empathy, sentience and respect for animals. It was Butler that made them grievable.
Since this is not the age of outrage, perhaps we could call it the age of empathy or better yet, the age of the grievable.
Welcome to the age of the grievable!
This is how many animals we eat each year – 2019