ALBUM REVIEW | CARACH ANGREN – Franckensteina Strataemontanus

The Dutch act Carach Angren, often categorized as symphonic black metal, prefers to describe itself as horror metal. The latter description more fittingly describes their latest release, Franckensteina Strataemontanus. The concept album tackles Mary Shelley’s classic story in refreshing ways, mixing black metal sensibilities with emotional strings and choruses, as well as with punching moments of industrial flair. Vocalist Dennis “Seregor” Droomers varies his approach between death metal growls, black metal screeches, and smatterings of clean vocals. His pronunciations are nevertheless clear and articulate and worthy of the strong lyrical content, and they help to create a cinematic sense of story. Keyboardist Clemens “Ardek” Wijers effectively orchestrates a marriage of the harsh and the beautiful, appropriate for an album that tackles the Gothic Romanticism of Shelley’s original tale. (Unfortunately, the drummer Ivo “Namtar” Wijers left the group before the release of the album.)

Carach Angran. Photo by HEILEMANIA

Sonically dense, the album operates as a horror opera that drags the listener down different facets of the Frankenstein mythos as it has been told over the centuries: the desire to conquer death and to vanquish grief, the corrupting influence of power, the failure of the creator to take responsibility for his creation, and the questions regarding what a monster is and what makes them monstrous.

From the womb to the tomb and back again

Once a son of light now a creature in the night

Grunting, moaning, groaning and gnawing off her face

Eaten alive in her dear son’s embrace

From “Scourged Ghoul Undead”

They also incorporate historical elements from the life of Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734), a German physician, alchemist and occultist. Believed by some to be an inspiration for Shelley’s story, Dippel was born at Castle Frankenstein and the album’s title comes from his name’s addendum. Dippel experimented widely and his reputation for grim experiments on human cadavers spread over the time, though perhaps unjustifiably. He did manage to invent “Dippel’s oil,” an ichor made by distilling animal bones that was claimed to be the ever-elusive “elixir of life.” Used for a while as an insect repellent, its use eventually fell out of favor. However, in the Second World War it was employed during the desert campaign to make wells impotable — because it was not lethal, it was thought to be an acceptable form of chemical warfare. References to Dippel’s oil and to the desert campaign are found within the tracks.

Johann Conrad Dippel

The album is not a straight narrative, though the last track does seem to serve as a prologue to the first, hence creating a cyclical listening experience. The album is more like a series of vignettes related to the common theme of Frankenstein, to macabre attempts to prolong life (such as in the song “Der Vampir Von Nürnberg” about the necrophiliac and murderer, Kuno Hofmann), and to ideas of monstrosity. Nevertheless, nods to both Shelley’s novel and to some cinematic versions of the Frankenstein story are present. An example of the latter can be heard in the title track, in which Seregor declaratively sings, “Oh, in the name of God, now I know how it feels to be God!” These are in fact the infamous lines uttered by Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in James Whale’s 1931 classic that were once censored for being considered too blasphemous.

The perfume of death is my sweetest cologne.

From “Franckensteina Strataemontanus”

Carach Angren succeeds in crafting a horror experience that is multilayered both musically and thematically. Franckensteina Strataemontanus serves as a grim love letter to Mary Shelley’s creation that refuses to walk the well-worn path of so many adaptations. Horror metal, indeed.

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If you would like to deeper into the Frankenstein story and its author, see my article, A More Horrid Contrast: Mary Shelley and Her Monster, on The Revenant Review.

BOOK REVIEW | Common Sense

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, published in January of 1776, is undoubtedly one the most influential works in the history of mankind. Its first run sold out within two weeks and went on to sell around 500,000 copies in a country with only about 2 million free people. Its message was simple, its language easily understood: Britain had no right or ability to properly govern America, the monarchical system was profoundly flawed and unnatural, and the colonies were in a perfect historical position to both win independence and maintain it. While most of the ideas found in the monograph were not begun with Paine, and had been repeatedly debated upon the floor of the Continental Congress, they had not yet been presented directly to the people in so clear and accommodating a manner. The result was a steady tide of public support for independence, and perhaps most significantly, for the Continental Army and General Washington’s rapidly depleting resources.

John Adams once wrote of it: “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,” acknowledging the general approval that had been raised before declaring independence that July of 1776. However, Adams, like many others at the time, was no fan. The more years that went by the more he grew to hate both Common Sense and its author, the former for the radically democratic ideals it espoused, the latter more than likely for the attacks on Christianity Paine would publish as The Age of Reason while imprisoned in France during the French Revolution.

Paine was a recent English immigrant who failed at just about everything in life until he befriended Doctor Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia and was encouraged by him to write his tract for independence, published at first anonymously. This began his long career as a revolutionary. Undoubtedly the poorest of America’s Founding Fathers, he took up the rifle and joined Washington’s army, writing the inspiring The American Crisis along the way (“These are the times that try men’s souls…”). After the Revolution he would join anti-monarchical radicals in England, penning the immortal Rights of Man, before escaping arrest and fleeing to France, where he became immersed in the tumult of the French Revolution.

However, after he published the controversial The Age of Reason, he found many of his former friends had abandoned him, with Thomas Jefferson being the sole exception. He died in the Greenwich Village area of New York a destitute, his funeral attended by a paltry few.

Thomas Paine

Read today, it is not difficult to see why Common Sense persuaded so many in its time. Paine writes inspiring prose. His observations, too, can be profoundly philosophical and transcend their intended subject. For instance, he opens the text with this historical truth: “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” Every civil rights movement can testify to the generational shifts to which these simple words refer.

Paine does not weigh his writing with provincial grievances against the crown, but rather places his arguments on more meta-historical grounds. He sees the Revolution as not simply a fight for the American independence for which he was advocating, but as a new chapter in mankind’s history, where men may remake their political structures anew, based not upon heredity and tradition but upon liberty and reason. Much like Lincoln would come to give Union soldiers a greater cause than punishing rebellion in the mission of slavery’s destruction, thereby reinvigorating the war effort by boosting morale, Paine also reaches for higher causes to inspire. It is not only the colonies’ freedoms that are at stake, but liberty itself. In these moments the text truly shines, such as when Paine passionately pleads: “O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her – Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

Of course, like every best-seller before and since, the work is not without its flaws. Paine is seemingly contradictory at times, and his biblical arguments against monarchy are weak but can certainly be marked up to a need to pander to his intended audience.

It should be remembered, however, that the pamphlet was intended to be a timely piece, the intention of which was not to create an all-encompassing political philosophy, but to convince people of the day that independence was the only logical and moral path for America to take, and that the opportunity was slipping by. Common Sense, despite its shortcomings, still holds the power to inspire, and so much of what Paine wrote rings true today as it helped to ultimately define Americans’ views of government, freedom, and their own history, much as John Adams would have hated to admit.

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For another look at Paine, see my post: Thomas Paine, Reappraised.

BOOK REVIEW | The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands

Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros was a fourteen-year-old girl from El Salvador who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Arizona in January 2008. While traveling with her young brother and other compañeros, led by a shifty coyote, she became ill and was left behind to fend for herself in the harsh desert climate. She did not survive. Her tragic death, and the retrieval of her body, serve as the springboard for Margaret Regan’s analysis of the decade of chaos which reigned on the Arizona border, beginning in 2000, which claimed the lives of thousands of migrants who perished in the unforgiving expanse of dirt and brush, some whose remains have been recovered, many others whose bleached bones remain where they fell. In The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands, Regan draws upon her years of on-the-ground reporting from both sides of the international divide, and presents a journalist’s perspective on what went wrong in Arizona, focusing upon the lives of the migrants, citizens, and Border Patrol agents whose lives are directly shaped by the crisis.

As to the cause of this situation, Regan points to the increased border security of urban crossings in Texas and California under the Clinton administration. The unforgiving landscape of the Southwest, the administration believed, would have served as a natural deterrent. Once migrants realized what the environment was like, Immigration and Naturalization commissioner Doris Meissner had predicted, “the number of people crossing the border in Arizona would go down to a trickle.” Unfortunately, this proved a deadly miscalculation, for “the abrupt sealing of urban crossings did not stop impoverished migrants from trying to get into the United States. It only pushed them into the wild.” Even when the number of border crossings decreased at the end of that first decade, the number of deaths in the desert continued to rise, for new increased enforcement along the Arizona border merely pushed desperate migrants into ever wilder areas.

Yet Regan’s motivation for writing the book stems from more humanitarian concerns. Her argument rests on the premise that strict border enforcement has caused more harm than good, and that the means, aggression, and penalties which the government wields against migrants is disproportionate to their crime. As a resident of Tucson, Regan states that she couldn’t sit passively as injustices occurred just a few hours drive from her home: “Human beings were dying in fields and in a desert… while ordinary American life continued all around them. Agents of my own government were chasing down farmworkers and busboys and cleaning ladies with helicopters and infrared cameras, and hauling the poorest of the poor off to jail in handcuffs.” In addition to the personal plights of migrants, Regan argues that her book is “about the impact of immigration on communities on both sides of the border, about the devastation border enforcement wreaks on the environment, and about the ways a military occupation on American soil erodes the civil liberties and human rights of Americans and immigrants alike.”

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To make her argument, Regan relies most heavily on interviews. She speaks not only to migrants, but also to Border Patrol agents, No More Deaths activists, border residents, scientists, and others involved in the bureaucracy and quagmire of the border situation. She also frequently turns to government reports for figures and statistics. Unfortunately, Regan does not always present the sources of her numbers, particularly when they involve money, and the book contains no citations, making it difficult for the reader to verify her assertions. For her recounting of Josseline’s death, Regan states that, in addition to interviews, she consulted the county medical examiner’s autopsy report as well as relied on her own experiences hiking the location.

Despite the reader’s frequent dependence upon taking the author’s word at face value, Regan succeeds in compiling an array of accounts which convincingly illustrate her aforementioned grievances. The abuses of coyotes, particularly against women, has been well documented, and Regan addresses it with due regard. However, less mentioned in the news is the effect of militarization on American soil. Regan speaks with Arizona citizens who have had to endure the continuous presence of armed agents upon their property (no warrant needed) and intrusively loud helicopters hovering over their homes, shining blinding lights through their windows, as well as dealing with the presence of newly-erected towers, which cost millions yet prove ineffective. As one resident is quoted, “Around here it’s 1984.” Regan also speaks to people about the environmental costs of permanent walls, which include destroying fragile animal habitats, creating devastating erosion and debris collection, and bulldozing sacred Native American sites. All the while, migrants are dying by the hundreds each year.

Regan also explores alternatives to fighting illegal immigration which are more humane and less destructive, yet which have proven effective. She profiles a Mexican co-op of coffee growers just over the border which has empowered its members and granted them financial stability, making crossing the border no longer necessary or desirable. Begun with a small loan from a church, the lesson presents itself: if the government spent some of its money on people instead of on enforcement, to help stabilize and build economies in Mexico and Central America, the flow of migrants would steadily lessen. In other words, treat the cause, not simply the symptom.

The Death of Josseline places the stale statistics of migrants’ deaths into the context of the impoverished, desperate individuals who would chance death to achieve a better life. Glaringly obvious is the futility and madness of building a wall along the border, a xenophobic symbol of our failure of imagination and compassion, a dividing line between two countries who are at peace and who have strong economic and cultural ties. The ease of bypassing such a structure, the negative effects it has on the population and environment, the erosion of civil liberties it creates even for citizens, and its insurmountable costs far outweigh its meager benefits. Porous borders are certainly not in the interest of national security – it’s only reasonable that a nation would want to know who is entering their territory – yet using paramilitary force against the poor and helpless, people whose realistic goal is to get a job scrubbing toilets, is a byproduct of American prejudice and a nation’s misplaced fear and anger. The United States is not a victim of these migrant “criminals,” but all are victims of a broken immigration system that values “zero tolerance” and rule of law over reason, understanding, and basic humanitarianism.

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ALBUM REVIEW | NIN – Ghosts I-IV

Since its release in 2008, this album has been my go-to soundtrack for when I am writing. Ghosts I-IV is a four-volume, 36 track, two hour sensory experience of varying instrumentals, aptly described by Trent Reznor as “a soundtrack for daydreams.” Some tracks are beautifully melodic with soft piano or lightly plucking bass or banjo, while others are hard-driven and filled with the industrial static noise that Nine Inch Nails fans love. Those familiar with The Fragile and Still, two of the album’s predecessors, will find similar textures here. Actually, many tracks will be reminiscent of past NIN songs that the astute fan will recognize, and the entire journey seems something of a recap of NIN over its nearly twenty-year life up to that point. However, it offers fresh and unexpected turns as well, and the devout listener will easily remain engaged. In some ways the album thematically works as a continuation of Year Zero, the band’s previous release, particularly if one considers the sounds to be the consequences of that album’s last track, “Zero Sum.” That song suggests a catastrophic end, perhaps even human annihilation, and the title of Ghosts could suggest the aftermath, and may account for there being no lyrics (for there are no people). Regardless, the album stands strongly on its own.

Unlike the instrumentals in The Fragile or in Still, Trent Reznor and company do not dwell on any one melody or rift for very long, and seem at times quick to move onto the next segue for a new texture. Reznor is well-known for placing creative restrictions on himself to produce music in a new way, and I would not be surprised if this were related to another restriction. The exception to this is Ghosts IV, my personal favorite, in which the music is allowed to meander and explore more varying avenues on a continuous theme. Overall, the entire album is a mature and calculated work that still retains a sense of creative spontaneity.

And like any good ghost, the album has experienced an interesting afterlife. It was the first NIN release after their departure from Interscope Records. After receiving critical praise it garnered two Grammy nominations, a first for music released under a Creative Commons license. More oddly, “34 Ghosts IV” was sampled for a beat and then used in the 2018 Lil Nas X earworm “Old Town Road.” For legal reasons, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were given writing credits. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and even earned both men a Country Music Association Awards nomination for Musical Event of the Year. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, NIN released two follow-up installments, Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts, free to download on their website.

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BOOK REVIEW | 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know

Ben Dupré’s 50 Philosophy Ideas You Need to Know offers a well-organized primer for those curious about philosophy. Each of the ideas is given four pages, which is mostly adequate to at least introduce the topics although some of the earlier entries, whose concepts are relatively simple, seem further confused and complicated through the effort to fill the required pages. However, by the second third of the book Dupré hits his stride and the descriptions become both informative, easily digestible and, at times, intentionally humorous.

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Thomas Paine, Reappraised

Some years back I was walking through Greenwich Village and came upon an old building plaque which read:

Thomas Paine

Born – 1737

Died – 1809

On this site.

The world is my country

All mankind are my brethren

To do good is my religion

I believe in one God and no more

Every American school kid grows up learning about Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense,” which justified for many Americans the revolutionary cause and argued for the superiority of representational government. (For a closer look, see my review.) John Adams had reportedly stated, “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Born in England, Paine immigrated to America after meeting Benjamin Franklin in 1774. During the war he served under George Washington, and it was at the Continental Army’s seemingly lowest point, in the winter of 1776, that he penned “The American Crisis,” which began with the immortal lines, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Despite his revolutionary accolades, he found little financial support in the newly established United States. When revolution broke out in France, he showed his endorsement by responding to Edmund Burke’s conservative attacks on the revolutionaries by publishing his Declaration of the Rights of Man. He traveled to France to oversee the French translation but soon ran afoul of Jacobin extremists due to his opposition to the death penalty. Imprisoned, he began writing his last great — and most controversial — work, The Age of Reason, a three part condemnation of Christianity and religion and a call for deism and scientific inquiry. Convinced that Washington had played a role in his imprisonment, Paine wrote a public letter condemning his former ally.

These attacks on the revered first president and on Christian theology destroyed Paine’s reputation in the United States. Nevertheless, he returned to the new republic, finding few prominent friends save for Thomas Jefferson (who was sympathetic to Paine’s views), who invited him to the White House during his presidency. Nearly everyone else abandoned him, and his name was bile on the lips of those who spoke it.

On his deathbed, he was asked by a doctor if he wished to accept Jesus Christ. Paine replied, “I have no wish to believe on that subject,” and took his final breath. His few remaining friends attended his quiet burial. In 1819, the English radical William Cobbett stole his bones and brought them to England, hoping to give him a more proper burial. Over time, however, most of the bones have been lost.

Paine is a personal hero of mine. He was a citizen of the world, a man of moral convictions, and an advocate for the liberty of both body and mind. As I stood reading the plaque, which had been placed there by the Greenwich Village Historical Society in 1923, I kept imagining that small party of mourners paying their respects to a man who deserved more recognition and appreciation. As I rode the train back home a poem began rattling in my mind. A simply rhymed verse, it was my own eulogistic offering of sorts. I jotted it down and I now share it here.

Lingering Paine

There is a bustling village
Where well-known Paine had died,
Within the crooked nooks
Of Gotham’s old design.

It was on a street called Grove
At number fifty-nine,
When whispers could be heard
On corners at the time.

Long before the beatnik pens
Let out their desperate sighs,
Stonewall's mortar buckled
Beneath the weight of cries.

The words that stirred a people
And helped a nation rise,
They echo with us still,
And keep this Paine alive.

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about Paine, I recommend the late Christopher Hitchens’s Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography as a worthy primer. It is a slim volume, written with Hitchens’s signature wit, that succeeds in giving the reader a summary of Paine’s life and the reasons for why it mattered, and matters still.

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Eating Meat in America

Today, the typical American diet consists of eating meat at least three times a day. It is because of this seemingly insignificant dietary choice that the environment suffers, the rest of the world suffers, and our health suffers. Clearly, it seems, something has to be done, but what should the solution be? Should Americans stop eating meat altogether? As I wade through the fat of this debate I do so as a conscientious omnivore. This writing represents my honest efforts to look into the situation with ethical considerations, but it is merely a first step towards an ongoing process. At this point, I find the act of eating meat less objectionable than the methods by which we obtain it and the quantities we consume. This essay is not a call for vegetarianism nor a volley against it. It is a small movement toward being a more responsible consumer and a more ethical human being on this planet.

Part 1: To Meat, or Not To Meat?

Is it ethically wrong to eat meat? I tend not to think so. If the act of eating meat, of chewing and swallowing the flesh of a dead animal, were wrong, it seems that it would follow from the argument that life has inherent value. However, as I see it, life does not have inherent value, either human or nonhuman. Or at least, it is not treated as if it did. Humans often find life’s value compromised and even rightfully ended for various occasions, such as in the act of self-defense or war, or even “pulling the plug” on an irreparably comatose loved one. The value of life is relative, dependent on one’s capacity to enjoy it.

Also, other animals eat meat. They kill and consume flesh as part of the natural order. Many species cannot survive without it. Of course, this does not in turn give humans the free rein to do likewise. Our physical composition is obviously designed for the consumption of meat, but also for vegetation. Nevertheless, our incisors evolved for tearing flesh from the bone. We have evolved and survived with the eating of meat, especially in cold regions where vegetation is low. Even so, people from warmer climates obviously share the same basic make-up for meat consumption. Killing and eating meat are both part of the human character, it appears. We are omnivores by nature.

So, is nature ethical? Can nature be wrong? We owe our very lives to this system. Everything that makes us human, as fallible as it may be, is a direct result of the evolutionary process. We are but stardust, subject to nature’s whim. Then again, maybe not. We have, in many instances, believed it better, or at least beneficial, to suppress and control many of our natural urges. For the betterment of society and ourselves (or for plain old etiquette), we have deliberately changed. The strength of a person’s character is often judged, after all, by how well he or she is able to control his or her natural urges. Such control can even be a reason for veneration in some instances. However, these suppressions of our natural impulses have throughout our history nearly always been reserved for relations between humans. Nonhumans did not, until relatively recently, warrant much consideration.

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Nature is not subject to ethical restrictions. We do not judge the eagle for eating the mouse. Nature is simply the way things are, regardless if we agree with it or not. Omnivorism, humanity’s natural state, can be accepted within this viewpoint. That does not mean that we act unthinkingly and without feeling. Humans are capable of eating an animal, and yet still sympathize with it. Nevertheless, we need not suffer ethical qualms over the eating of meat as an act in itself. We can be realists and recognize that death is a part of life. Just as we can create and nurture life, so can we destroy and sacrifice it, as is our natural right as animals on this planet. We participate in the system, bringing life and shedding blood.

Even if it can be argued that some animals somehow have a right not to be killed (and this is justly so for various reasons), we still do not have to refrain from eating them unless those animals have a right not to be eaten. We can respect the animal, and yet still fulfill our right to use its body as sustenance. Indeed, nature has clearly made a distinction between prey and predator. Meat eating can even be seen as a spiritual act, if one wishes to take it that far. Though some would find spiritual fulfillment through harmony and ensuring the lives of animals, which is noble and reasonable, it may be no less noble to be the animals we are, and kill a nonhuman for a human’s sake. Native American cultures (among others) seem to epitomize this. For them, the animal was a subject of worship, and their meat sacred. Eating meat can also be a confrontation with mortality. By killing an animal and digesting it, one cannot pretend that an end to life does not exist. It may help us accept our own fate in the natural order, as we will feed nature with our bodies (though admittedly many preferred American burial practices negate that). The act could bring us closer to the human animals we were, and not the packaged, benignly brutal imitation we have become. The butcher could thank the creature for its flesh, and honor it. It is not speciesist to kill and eat another animal, but an acceptance that we live on a horizontal scale with other creatures, and we are subject to each other’s hunger and needs. This is all well and good, however, hard lessons are learned when those scales begin to tip too greatly. It seems that something in American society and its relation to meat has gone terribly wrong.

Part 2: Meat in America

Though humans are animals, and influenced by natural impulses, we are also blessed (or burdened) with intelligence. This includes a conscience and the seemingly unending capacity for sympathy, pity, and compassion. This leaves us with ethical obligations, as our own emotions, bodies, and minds lead us to feel the suffering of animals, and even their fears. For most of man’s history, this has been compensated by the lives the animals lived before they were slaughtered for meat. We have been able to take part in our natural right of being omnivorous because we have obliged their natural right to a fulfilled life, devoid of unnecessary fears and suffering.

Firstly, there is hunting: humanity’s oldest way of killing animals for their meat. This has survived even today as a prized and ritualized endeavor. Mankind goes out into the animal’s natural habitat, where it has been able to live free in the wild, and takes it from there. Usually only one or two carcasses come back with the hunters on such excursions. Up until the time when the arrow or bullet entered the nonhuman, its life was fulfilled according to its nature. The hunter also has an intimate relation by not only being its killer, but also the one with the task of butchering the animal and eating it. In this case we could also apply a sort of holistic omnivorism, where it would not be the animal that meat-eater revered, but nature. This is not meant to include trophy hunting or any other type of hunting where one does not intend to eat the animal (and especially not something like canned hunting, where exotic animals are put in small enclosures and hunters pay to shoot them). This is neglects the considerations of the animal and treats it only as a commodity. Man’s predatory rights to kill and eat other animals are based on the actions of other natural predators. As was said, predatory nonhumans kill only for sustenance (leaving out actions like that of the housecat playing with a dead mouse, for domesticity has affected its natural hunting instincts). Therefore, humans hunt ethically when the animal is to be consumed. Hunting for trophies goes against this principle, and therefore the argument of predatory right is refused.

Secondly, there is traditional farming, as it has been done for millenia. A family would raise the cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses, among other animals, on their land. They would feed the animals, let them run through the farm, assist in their births, and care for their shelters. A great deal of love and devotion was involved in the farms of yesteryear. Nevertheless, the animals were still slaughtered and eaten, but usually after they had lived a full life with their own kind, protected from danger by their own human predators, and most of all, respected (there are, of course, exceptions). Sometimes the animals eaten were even named, perhaps in recognition of their individuality. The animals were not just food, but a way of life, and a way to survive (not only with their meat) as they often provided a source of income with milk or manure or other animal-born resources. This last part shows also that the farmers depended on their animals in different ways. For example, the cows’ manure helped the crops grow (so it was in the farmer’s best interest to not eat them all or let them suffer and grow ill). Daily on the farms, cows would be seen grazing in the fields, chickens running around one’s feet, looking for feed, and pigs happily lounging in the mud, trying to stay cool on a hot, lazy day. This is an overtly picturesque portrayal, but it is not far from the mark.

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A century ago, Americans were generally much healthier with regard to their diets. The foods that people consumed were fitting enough to their biological needs. It was mostly a diet of grains and bread, and a lot of potatoes. Meat was a luxury for most people, sometimes eaten on Sundays, and sometimes even less often. It was an event to eat flesh, for it was expensive. Therefore, people appreciated each bite, savoring the taste and not being able to overlook the dead animal on their plates. Traditionally, meat was a food only the wealthy could afford to partake in each night. Meat was therefore a symbol of wealth and a luxury for the privileged class.

Success and social mobility have always been staples of the American spirit, and so as the economy improved and the middle-class grew richer, average Americans began seeking the foods that the wealthy ate to show their new status. Being the die-hard capitalist nation that we are, people began to find new methods of obtaining the huge amounts of meat that the public demanded. This is also a continuous trend in America: when people wanted more cars, Henry Ford built a factory assembly line to accommodate them, building cars more cheaply and quickly, and so on. The big fish began swallowing the little fish in the dog-eat-dog world of economics. The nation grew and moved faster, and the small businesses and farms gradually became memories of a bygone era, save a few. Nevertheless, the consumption of meat skyrocketed year after year, as did American belt sizes. Meat equaled success! With the small farms and homesteads fading, where was this sudden abundance the meat coming from? Meat that every American could afford and have on their dinner plate, or could bring home in their take-out bags from the drive-thru. Meat that danced in the form of a big, happy cheeseburger on their television screens, pleading for them to spend their well-earned dollars to eat him, because he tasted so good and they deserved it!

The truth is appalling and sad, and makes good intentioned omnivores ashamed. Those contented animals that roamed the farms, which were even sometimes named by the family that owned them, have become anonymous victims of the most abhorrent representative of the capitalist spirit: the factory farms. These hells are not the subject for children’s books. Instead of chickens running at our feet, the are cramped in dark cages until they die or are pushed down disassembly lines; instead of cows grazing in fields, they are corralled into small enclosures where they never leave and eat poisons until they are butchered; and the lazy pigs who lounged in the mud are stuck in tight pens, where they can’t move, and then shoved off to the butchering room. Our farm animals are now victims of sorrow and insanity. No figures or stories are needed to prove that these are immoral, horrible institutions. No respect for the animal can be found here. No freedoms of any kind are allowed for these animals. Our killing them and eating them in this manner cannot, in truth, be justified. Although their life is so devalued due to the existence they are submitted to, we have a conscious and moral obligation, with our intelligence and ability to feel sympathy, to end these atrocities. Ford’s model has become a machine of killing, not of assembly. We have violated our natural right to be predators.

Part 3: Change

With three meals a day of meats, and a plethora of other food sources out there, we have greatly moved beyond the stipulations of what evolution and nature intended in our predatory rights. War may sometimes be justified, like in ending Nazi terror in WWII, but no excuse can be made for Hitler’s death camps. Likewise, our killing another animal for food, whether crucial to our survival or not, is justified, but not by creating death camps of our own. Even those who work in such facilities have shown psychological damage and a depletion of moral understanding. The danger of the work environment, the cries of animals, the smell of death, sloshing and slipping in blood — it is no wonder such conditions imbalance people. They must intentionally devalue the animal before putting it through (or out of) its tortured misery. It is a far cry from Old McDonald’s Farm to the golden arches of McDonald’s restaurant, and a direct contradiction to how it should be.

This system, aside from the inherent ethical violations it clearly has, has given America new problems to worry about. The ridiculous amounts of meat we consume each day has taken its toll on our health, environment, and moral responsibility to the rest of the world. Here is the obvious chain of effect and cause: heart disease is the number one cause of death in the country, and eating meating is one of the leading causes. Clearly, our luxurious diet is slowly killing us. It has also caused obesity to rise, making us the fattest nation in the world. Not to mention the hormones and genetic alterations now found in factory farm meat. We have pushed aside our grains, fruits and vegetables, and substituted them for a food that was meant to only be a small part of our diet, and we are paying the price. We owe it to ourselves to stop this self-destructive pattern.

The environment is paying the price as well. Precious forests all around the world are cut down each day to make more room for profitable cattle, sold to industrious nations like America and those in Europe. Irreplaceable water resources are drained to irrigate land for cattle feed, and the manure from factory farms pollute remaining fresh water supplies. Driving through the Midwest, one cannot help but find miles upon miles of crop fields, an ocean of golden wheat, soy, and corn as far as the eye can see. Surprisingly, only 27 percent of that grain ever reaches humans; 67 percent goes to feeding livestock. To be fair, most crops from livestock feed are inedible to humans. Nevertheless, it is costly in the extreme to our natural resources to feed cattle, especially. This has had devastating effects on the world. For instance, the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers, has seen rapid depletion, mostly due to water irrigation for farms. Farms that mostly grow crops for livestock feed. As countries such as China and India continue to grow and consume more meat and animal products, more strains will be placed upon the world’s resources. By reducing consumption of, and therefore demand for, meat, such strains would be alleviated. The methane in cow farts is even hurting our atmosphere. The last one should definitely be a sign that something has gone horribly wrong. We owe it to our fellow humans throughout the world to stop this pattern.

Photo by Jan Koetsier on Pexels.com

Clearly, as conscientious and philosophical omnivores, there is no way to ethically justify factory farms nor the insatiable appetite for meat that they support. The way in which we obtain the meat spoils it on all grounds with regard to its moral consumption. So how do we stop it? What horrid sacrifices must we make so that our health, environment, and worldly brethren may be happier? The answer appears simple enough: eat less meat. As has been considered, eating meat is not immoral under better circumstances, and so does not have to be completely done away with. America need not become vegetarian (although that would not exactly make the problem worse). If Americans cut their meat intake down to half, so much would improve. Consider it. Our diets would greatly improve as more grains, vegetables, and fruits were eaten, and therefore heart disease and obesity would decrease naturally. We would use half the fresh water supply that we do now, and we would not even need to cut down forests to make room for more livestock, as what we now have should be more than adequate.

Factory farms, hopefully, would no longer be needed. But if they did exist in some form, there would be half the cows grazing in feedlots, pigs could have areas twice as large to move around in, and there would be half the chickens in a cage, giving them more room to move and spread their wings. Although this is not the utopian solution we would all like, it is practical, beneficial to humans and to nonhumans, and most importantly, easily accomplished. I am not so naive as to discount other factors, but there nevertheless remains room for substantial improvement.

Conclusion

Eating meat in today’s America is wrong with regard to the factory farms producing it or the industries supporting them. If one is to eat meat, as one ethically can, it should be seldom and in small quantities. One should look for meat that is acquired ethically and which comes from an industry that respects and supports the health, both physical and mental, of its animals.

As a final note, I do not claim to be perfect. This is not a treatise. It is not a manifesto. It is one person’s journey through the ethical pitfalls and landmines of meat eating, and the journey continues. I am still learning and, more importantly, I am guilty still. I do not go into a restaurant and inquire about where their meats come from. I do not refuse a burger from the grill. I am simply trying to raise awareness in myself and in others that we could and should be doing better.

I have cut my meat intake drastically. I am highly selective of the meat I buy in grocery stores (I refuse to buy pork, for instance). I buy free-range eggs, even though the cheaper options are tempting. Yet I still make mistakes and I forget, and sometimes my craving overrides my ethical sense, and I forgive myself. But I am trying and I continue to try, and each little change brings me closer to being the ethical person I strive to be.

MOVIE REVIEW | The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) — The Revenant Review

This review is part of the A Play of Light and Shadow: Horror in Silent Cinema Series Movie Review — The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) On April 15, 2019, I watched the television news with dismay and grief. The medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was engulfed in flames, a city’s history and architectural soul escaping […]

Movie Review – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) — The Revenant Review

BOOK REVIEW | Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers

When I was buying my house a little over a decade ago, Carolyn Warren’s Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers: An Industry Insider Explains How to Save Thousands on Your Mortgage or Re-finance was an indispensable ally. It reveals the mortgage industry as it was at the time, warts and all, in a clear format and easily understood language. The book can easily be read in a day or two, and it proved a painless way to better understand the acronyms and mathematical kung-fu I was going up against.

I am not a “numbers” individual, but after reading the book I was easily able to identify over $700 in junk fees and see that the broker illegally failed to reveal the YSP on my GFE. (If you do not understand what I just wrote, this book solves that.) I wish that Warren would release an updated version. Her work outlined what to look for and to beware of when choosing a loan and gave the reader a window of insight into the mortgage business, including both the villains and heroes, and how to distinguish between them. Because new lending laws have been passed since the book’s publication, it helps that Warren is easily available on the web (www.AskCarolynWarren.com) where she posts clarifying updates. Except for a number of spelling typos (which, if you’re like me, can be the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard), Warren’s book is a solid and informative work that deserves a new edition.

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BOOK REVIEWS | Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year/Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad!

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I read through streams of parenting literature, but two in particular were geared towards easing first-time fathers into their new roles. Both books took a relaxed and entertaining tact and were designed in style and substance to differentiate from the pastel pinks and purples of the ever-popular What to Expect When You’re Expecting books. What follows are brief reviews of each.

Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: A Modern Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the First Year of Fatherhood by David Port, John Ralston, Brian M. Ralston

Caveman’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: A Modern Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the First Year of Fatherhood will not be for everyone. If you happen to have little tolerance for abundant troglodyte jokes then the writing within this tome will likely become tedious to you, as the caveman metaphors are quite heavy-handed and frequent. Luckily I have no problem with gratuitous references to dragging knuckles and hairy palms and I found this book packed with tons of useful information, easily laid out for the reader.

It is in ways more informative and funnier than its predecessor, Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion. While many jokes may still fall flat (largely due to overuse), a few did have me laughing, and I appreciated the attempts to establish the authors’ suggestions upon psychological and anthropological bases. Overall, a refreshingly positive outlook is found throughout the illustrated the pages and, despite the Neanderthal jokes, it takes the mission of a devout and productive family man very seriously. The book doesn’t pull its punches on the pressures and problems with which new fathers are likely to be confronted, but it does give ample ammunition and understanding to approach them with a healthy balance of realism, confidence, and maybe even a little humor.

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Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad!: How to Get (Both of You) Through the Next 9 Months by John Pfeiffer

Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad! by John Pfeiffer is a very quick and easy read that works well as a pregnancy primer for the expectant, early twenty-something father – particularly one with a low attention span. It especially helps if you’re a frat boy who has just graduated with a business degree, as this appears to be the target audience. Meanwhile, mature readers unfazed by technical jargon and more comfortable with biological processes should look elsewhere. If you’re queasy about things like menstruation, this book is for you. Pfeiffer does give the reader a firm basis from which to do further investigation, familiarizing the future dad with what is decidedly an intimidating process; however, it should not be used as the final resource as the information is quite thin.

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