Today’s post is by guest writer Shiri Raz, PhD candidate in the psychoanalysis and hermeneutics program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
When it comes to exploiting our planet’s natural resources and the systematic destruction of nature by humans in the past and current centuries, Karma is a bitch. And it comes in different forms. It is global warming, it is the natural disasters that are increasingly frequent, it is the pollution of water sources, it is the decline in biodiversity of the world’s animals, and it has many other terrible manifestations. In 2002, Karma came around in the form of the SARS virus, since then it has reappeared as the bird flu also called avian influenza, then swine flu, and this year it’s called the coronavirus.
All of these viruses as well as many other public health hazards have come to humans from the animals they eat: roosters, cows, pigs or bats. The transfer of the virus from animals to humans and their resulting resistance to existing vaccines is a predictable and tragic result of the war for survival and the evolutionary escalation in the battle between humankind and viruses. In this war, the viruses evolve while battling various types of drugs and antibiotics used by humans, and most particularly those drugs and medicines designed to cope with the terrible conditions of overcrowding, mortality and disease in the animal food industry. Thus, as an absurd result of man’s arrogant attempt to conquer nature, arises a two-way war of attrition. This war has taken and will continue to cost an infinity of lives of animals as well as human beings. It is a victor-less war; everyone loses.
Many already recognize this and appeal to their friends to realize that the cake cannot be eaten with meat, eggs and dairy while leaving the Earth intact. Animal rights and environmental organizations and activists urge the public to recognize the link between the consumption of meat and the development of global pandemics. One example of this is the Twitter movement #nomeat_nocoronavirus created in India two months ago.
In the field of economics, we can also see a glimmer of recognition of the hefty toll meat consumption takes on our health and environment. Share prices of meat- and dairy-substitute manufacturers continue to climb even now, during the current economic slump. Major Chinese food manufacturers have also declared a change of attitude and are interested in buying companies that offer plant-based substitutes for eggs and meat.
Despite all this, the majority of the Western world continues to consume meat, dairy and eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rainforests are cut or burned to clear fields to raise cattle food. The Earth is weeping and crying out for help, but no one is listening.
Humankind has always inflicted damage on the Earth’s land, water and air, but the destruction has accelerated and escalated sharply over the past few decades, and the Earth is dying right before our eyes. As it cries out in its distress – we take notice. Much to our regret and sorrow, we take the blow but do not draw the conclusions. We watch the Earth’s decline without stopping to think about the part we play in that torturous death. Humanity is on a constant search for temporary solutions that allow us to avoid changing our ways, putting a band-aid on a festering wound that has penetrated the bloodstream and is threatening the entire body with total collapse.
We are isolated in quarantine, eagerly awaiting a vaccine or a miracle – whatever comes first – without realizing that without a real change in the way we treat our Earth and consume its resources, even after we overcome this pandemic, the next and even deadlier coronavirus is just a matter of time.
In the terminology used by renowned psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, it can be said that in our relationship with Earth, we are stuck in an undeveloped state or attitude. This attitude condemns us to an experience of alienation from nature, existential anxiety and helplessness.
Much like Freud, Klein believed that man is born with urges of death and destruction, and from birth onwards, these urges create anxieties that threaten his very soul. During the initial developmental process, the baby moves from the primitive schizoid-paranoid attitude to a depressive attitude, which is more mature and evolved. During adult life, we move back and forth between attitudes.
Under the schizoid-paranoid attitude, the world is perceived as dichotomous and fragmented, as is the self. The frustrating and offensive instances of the Other are seen as absolute evil and any good instances as an absolute good. The self’s destructive and aggressive parts are projected onto the Other, so the self remains good and whole. Under the schizoid-paranoid attitude, we use manic and primitive defenses of projection and denial that prevent us from taking any real restoration. We live in terrible denial of the way animal food industries impact the environment and oblivious to the destructive and greedy parts of us that cause so much damage.
We preserve a good perception of the self by token acts like recycling bins and creating crafts from plastic bottles at kindergartens. We use recycled paper to wrap sandwiches containing sausage, which is much more ecologically harmful. Out of this stance, it is impossible to understand or predict the aggressive displays of the Other – the Earth – as they are considered entirely independent of our behavior. Mother Earth is good and nurturing; the coronavirus is bad and dangerous. The relationship between the two is coincidental, and of course, has nothing to do with us.
In the depressive attitude, the baby has to painfully accept the fact that both he and the mother are complete, containing “good” and “bad” parts, and that there is a price for his destructiveness. The depression that characterizes this stance is a result of the price and the resulting responsibility. Defense mechanisms of projection and denial are replaced with higher regulation abilities and a more realistic approach of the self and the Other.
We will only be able to reach this stance, where we recognize the destructive parts of humankind and their impact on grim reality, when we admit that we have the choice, from where we stand at the powerful top of the food chain, to act justly and take responsibility for those whose lives depend on us, instead of our “humane” human ways of bondage and torture. When taking this stance, we can finally experience the terrible anxiety of losing the Other due to our destructiveness. It is only then that we will be able to begin a fundamental process of healing.
Only when we agree to take responsibility for the grave damage we have caused and dramatically change our consumption and nutritional habits will we be able to begin to build a renewed trust between humankind and nature. Until then, we will bow to Karma’s messenger – the coronavirus, and hide from it, isolated in quarantine, helpless and hopeless.
Shiri Raz – PhD candidate; psychoanalysis and hermeneutics program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Shiri focuses her research on the psychoanalytic and linguistic aspects of people’s mental attitudes toward the consumption and use of animal-based products. Shiri serves as a therapist for couples and individuals, specializing in work with vegans and mixed couples (vegans and non-vegans) in Israel and worldwide (through video chats). She is an animal rights activist, academic lecturer, resident lecturer for the Vegan Friendly association’s educational program and for the Animals Now (non-profit) organization, and a public speaker.