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The Meaning Of Caring

If you’re expecting that I’m about to embark upon a philosophical and deeply meaningful diatribe at this point, don’t worry, I was just struck by something I saw today that I’ve been reflecting upon.

It was a true story about two cows that formed a firm friendship. One was blind and the other acted as its seeing-eye/guide cow, until cruel fate separated them. But then a rescue sanctuary took a hand and reunited them, providing a wonderfully happy ending for both.

It’s a great story, but it wasn’t the caring between the two cows that caused me to be reflective. Nor was it the care shown by the rescue sanctuary – wonderful as it is.

The video of their re-encounter, shared on the Internet, garnered countless views and a huge number of comments. One of the ones that attracted the most attention and responses, raising it to the top of the viewing list, was the following:

I loved this story until I read some of the ignorant comments about “animal torture”. Why does this have to be a vegetarian thing? I’m a farm girl, we raised animals for food the way God intended, but I never saw a man care more for animals than my daddy! Farmers are not the animal’s enemy. Sad to see so many ignorant comments. If u want to rescue animals, u should do it. It’s a nice thing to do. If u don’t wanna eat meat, then don’t, it’s your choice.  but don’t judge that what u do not know.

This is my fourth blog about farmers and their ‘caring’. I’m not certain if, in this case, it means providing care for the animals in the sense of feeding, watering, tending to health issues etc.; or if it means care for in the emotional sense of the word, as in care about the animals and want the best for them, because there's a huge difference.

If it’s the former, great. Clearly the author’s 'Daddy' looked after their animals well and I accept that. At least, up until he sent them for slaughter, prematurely ending their lives, depriving them of (on average across all commercially farmed animals) a staggering 91% of their potential natural lifespan. That, to me, certainly doesn’t qualify as caring in the emotional sense at all. I have difficulty reconciling truly caring in an emotional manner, with having a creature put to death for profit.

On the “Farmers are not the animal’s enemy” front, it called to mind another argument I saw recently,  that farmers who look after their animals and show them compassion (i.e. they care for them) are the equivalent of those who assisted the Jews during the holocaust. I pointed out that using this parallel, farmers were the equivalent of concentration camp guards, albeit ones who didn’t beat the prisoners in their charge, and perhaps spoke nicely to them on the way to the gas chambers. I have to admit that I can’t imagine that anyone who is not, in any objective analysis, an enemy, would willingly let a helpless creature they (emotionally) cared for, go to their death. Can you?

So, do farmers care for their animals? Can they care? Really, truly?

I’ve given it a great deal of thought and I conclude that perhaps farmers can care for their animals, if only in some kind of emotionally withheld way. If they cared full-on, in the way they might care about their kids, or their farm, or their livelihood, or the money, they couldn’t afford to expend the emotional output of being attached to those who will ultimately be their victims. It would be devastating, surely? In fact, I think there must be a different set of emotional norms that farmers are subject to, because the animals that some care so deeply about are only kept because of the profit that will eventually be derived from them. 

Even then, I’m sure it is likely that many would feel bad for the animals they consign to slaughter houses, even though they are coming from their (now almost legendary) ‘humane’ farms that make killing helpless creatures seem acceptable because they have provided a better life than that experienced by factory farmed animals...

I would have to say that if they really cared in an all-out, nothing held back, manner, they wouldn’t kill them at all and convert their farms to produce something without a face that was edible; or even start their own farm sanctuaries (even though that’s not quite as profitable); or get another life. And yes, I know it’s not that simple. I know farmers are often economically bound.

But let’s return to the comment that set me musing, because it provides a 'get out' clause that lets all farmers off the hook and means that caring doesn’t have to be emotionally giving. It explains why it’s OK to care, but not really care that much. And that’s because farmers are doing things “the way God intended”!

Can we assume we know this to be the case because it’s in the Bible? And can we safely assume that we know everything in the Bible is true? Can we safely set aside concerns that it was written by men who could basically write anything to justify their actions? And is it safe to ignore the fact that it wasn’t written at a time when eating meat was a lot easier way to feed people in a parched land with poor irrigation, than growing crops. But should we give pause to the fact that the same tome we are relying upon is also full of socially repugnant things (ritual sacrifice, slavery, abuse of women etc.) that are described as not only legitimate things to do, but prescribed as the way things should be? And can we in all  reasonableness ignore that fact that if we were to do any of them today, we’d be jailed?

Even if we can, in good conscience, ignore some of the factors above, is it reasonable that an all-loving God would create wonderful, gentle creatures and then not only countenance their killing, but tell men (and I do mean men), through a book he didn’t actually write (but presumably OK’d somehow), that these same beautiful beings that he so carefully crafted (and maybe cared for too?) were put on earth for men to torture, rape, abuse, terrify, murder and eat. Perhaps he added that it was alright if men cared for them first? Why would a benevolent loving God choose to apply different standards of care to different beings? Why would He not cherish them all, as representative aspects from and of himself? Can we seriously rely upon the old standard that God created man in His own image?

God DID NOT put animals here for us to mistreat. They are here because their lives have value. Because their experience of life, albeit different from ours, is every bit as valid and important as ours. Because we can learn from them, and they from us. Because it is important to learn to co-exist and respect their lives. Because it is vital that we all learn to care not just for them, but about them. And as we do so, we may become less than heinous ego driven aberrations that believe it’s all about us. We may truly come to appreciate the connection of all things, and in so doing, advance and grow beyond what we have become.

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