Giving Thanks for Cruelty: An American Tradition

This Sunday, combining the sanctimony of an itinerant evangelical preacher with the grating prose of a sixth-grader, the editors of the Leesburg Daily Commercial repeated last year’s exercise in historical revisionism by attempting to convert Thanksgiving into an overtly religious holiday. Not wishing to be repetitive ourselves, this year we shall take exception to their homily on entirely different grounds, giving long-overdue consideration to a seasonal issue that exposes the newspaper’s already tenuous claim to moral authority as utterly fraudulent and repugnant. Regrettably, therefore, we must begin by exposing our own readers to the Daily Commercial‘s soaring peroration. It is an indirect route to our ultimate destination, and one that readers outside our immediate geographical area may wish to vault over, but the strange sights along the way help explain why this trip is even necessary. For this is a horror story about man’s war on the rest of God’s creation. And, just as in our last discussion of this topic, the way that man thinks about his place in nature explains the way he acts.

For What We Are About to Receive, Let Us Be Truly Dismissive

Point by agonizing, plodding point, the Leesburg Daily Commercial refuted the commonly held assumptions that Thanksgiving is about colonial history, family gatherings, days off work, turkey, and “the great American lifestyle.” Instead of these familiar concepts, they sought, as last year, to make us appreciate our status as God’s children:

We must look beyond ourselves – to the eternal Provider who has established and prospered [sic.1] our lives. We must reflect inward, count the blessings and express true gratitude.

We are fortunate creatures, and we are bound by moral responsibility to respond to the goodness in our lives.

We become greater humans, we truly advance our civilization, when we acknowledge that something far greater than ourselves has by pure grace blessed us marvelously.

This is why we give thanks. This is why we have Thanksgiving.

To a limited extent, the editors of the Daily Commercial deserve credit for attempting to elevate Thanksgiving above the sordid, grasping materialism of Black Friday (a term derived from corporate balance sheets that has unintentionally appropriate moral connotations). By “something greater than ourselves,” they are not (perhaps to the chagrin of Russ Sloan) referring to Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market. Indeed, they expressly state that the sense of gratitude they wish to instill “is not about living the good life, of fortune and opportunity” – a stance that might lead Christian conservatives, if they thought it through, to realize that their peculiar blend of laissez-faire economics and Biblical values has always juxtaposed stranger bedfellows than many a gay marriage. Even more remarkably, though they cannot resist a perfunctory appeal to patriotism (“We are indeed blessed to live in this… land”) they seek to escape the magnetic pull of American exceptionalism, aiming for a higher state of divinity.

So ethereal is this prescription of spiritual contemplation that it even excludes gratitude for the food that will be placed on the table. In this respect, there is an unfortunate element of schizophrenia on the editorial page, as the work of the “radical left-wing cartoonist,”2 Gene Packwood, clearly uses a Thanksgiving turkey as a symbol of bounty. But the editorial itself brooks no such temporal associations:

Thanksgiving is not about turkey. It’s about acknowledging our sense of gratitude for what we’ve received and for the bounty we possess.

Turkey Farm

Production units or God’s creatures?

Taken in conjunction with the peroration, which attempted to define that bounty in purely religious terms, that is an extraordinary statement, worth re-reading several times. Our “sense of gratitude for what we’ve received” has been explicitly decoupled from the food on our plates. The fifteen-pound turkey, along with “the fixings” and “the trappings,” is not to be taken, Packwood’s cartoon notwithstanding, as an example of “the bounty we possess.” It is not among the “blessings” we must count. It is not part of the “goodness in our lives” to which we are morally bound to respond. (Nor is it part of any evil to which one might have thought that we are morally bound to respond, but which passes strangely unmentioned.) And it is not something with which we have been graced by “the eternal Provider who has established and prospered our lives.” Rather, it is something to be mentioned only in passing, a trivial consideration to be deprecated and denied in our quest for ultimate enlightenment.

For most readers of the Leesburg Daily Commercial, Sunday’s editorial, to the extent it was considered at all, may have provoked mild confusion about the peculiar refusal to allow us to give thanks for the food on our tables. Like parishioners walking out of church, still reeling from the pastor’s latest exhibition of creative reading, some may have briefly asked what that was all about3 before resuming their normal habits of mindless consumption. We would go further. We would take these moralizing blowhards to a slaughterhouse.

Graced by Death: The Earthly Horrors of the Holidays

Approximately 300 million turkeys will have been slaughtered in America since you last sat down to eat your Thanksgiving dinner. That’s a large number – almost one for every person in the country. If 300 million Americans were slaughtered, the few who survived would be somewhat traumatized. But when it comes to the lives of animals, no-one even notices. Perhaps that is scarcely surprising, given our attitude toward the deaths of other human beings. Approximately 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of America’s brutal sanctions campaign against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (before George W. Bush’s more conspicuous war of aggression) and the country’s verdict, as expressed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was that their deaths were “worth it.” Presumably, against this bloody backdrop, the deaths of millions of animals are worth it if we derive pleasure from burping after gorging ourselves on their flesh.

Before you burp, you might want to think about how that turkey came to be on your plate, even though the Leesburg Daily Commercial doesn’t want you to think such thoughts because they will distract you from your quest to be one with God. But turkeys, like men, are also God’s creatures. And what would God think about this:

For some reason, your supermarket doesn’t show videos like this in the meat section. It doesn’t employ people to pass out pamphlets explaining how turkeys suffer for your pleasure:

Turkeys raised on factory farms are hatched in large incubators and never see their mothers or feel the warmth of a nest. When they are only a few weeks old, they are moved into filthy, windowless sheds with thousands of other turkeys, where they will spend the rest of their lives.

To keep the birds from killing one another in such stressful, crowded conditions, parts of the turkeys’ toes and beaks are cut off, as are the males’ snoods. (The snood is the flap of skin under the chin.) All this is done without any pain relievers. Imagine having the skin under your chin chopped off with a pair of scissors.

Turkeys are bred, drugged, and genetically manipulated to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible to increase profits. In 1970, the average live turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds. Today, he or she weighs 28 pounds. According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7-pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age. Turkeys are now so obese that they cannot reproduce naturally; instead, all the turkeys who are born in the United States today on factory farms are conceived through artificial insemination.

At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are hung upside-down by their weak and crippled legs before their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes them but does not kill them.

Many of the terrified birds dodge the tank and, therefore, are completely conscious when their throats are slit. If the knife fails to properly slit the birds’ throats, they are scalded alive in the tank of hot water used for feather removal.4

Some of these practices are documented here, along with the efforts of one organization to make partial amends to these gentle, trusting, native Americans:

And for those who tell themselves that turkeys are inferior creatures who do not suffer in the way we would, watch this (and listen carefully to the words of the well-chosen hymn):

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God’s Bullies

The Leesburg Daily Commercial is hardly alone in failing to bring the public’s attention to the atrocity of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) – corporate America’s euphemism for concentration camps. Our corporate media as a whole is institutionally predisposed to let that dark side of the American Dream Machine remain firmly in the shadows, confining their comments on, for example, Tyson Foods – the biggest and therefore most spectacularly evil industrial “farming” operation in the country – to the financial news. (Tyson’s last quarterly performance was pleasantly surprising to the market, causing its share price to rise. The market does not care how profit is made, and society does not care to organize itself around any higher principle than the market.)

But the Leesburg Daily Commercial does not merely hide evil behind the cowardly neutrality of the stock ticker. It does not simply fail to attract the public’s attention to a moral, economic, and environmental perversion. It actively promotes a conception of morality that explicitly denigrates the value of other living things. Theirs is an anthropocentric, profoundly selfish, and ultimately self-defeating morality, a morality that seeks closeness to God by disparaging all other parts of his creation that are not human. It is all about them and their very special relationship with a heavenly father they imagine to be equally obsessed with his favorite child. This is the morality of a child, alright – a child that has not yet matured in its thinking, a child that is nothing more than a bully. But this child is no ordinary bully. And he deserves no ordinary punishment.

Give thanks, therefore, that you are not an animal in an American corporate farm. And, if you have decided to recognize the inherent value in your fellow creatures by modifying your consumption patterns, give thanks that you are not as ignorant and contemptible as the editors of the Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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  1. Who knew that “prosper” could be a transitive verb? ‘Tis a holiday miracle!
  2. An in-house joke derived from Robert Short’s ludicrous right-wing diatribe. In this case the “radicalism” of Gene Packwood expresses itself as a refusal to join the rest of the editorial board in its complete disregard for the sacrifice of other living things. Since the merest hint of sentimentality could very well prove obstructive to profit-accumulation, one can readily see how he could be regarded as dangerous.
  3. Indeed, the more time we spend with their ghastly musings, the more we wonder just what the hell they¬†were talking about. They probably don’t even know themselves, and this post, therefore, wastes altogether too much time parsing their poorly chosen words.
  4. Selected extracts from PETA.org.

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