“He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
She gave me leather gloves and said, “They’ll scratch the shit out of you.” A size too small, I pulled her tight gloves onto my hands. By the tuft of the rabbit’s neck, I pulled him through the opening of the wire hutch. As I walked toward the post, I tried holding him by his back legs, upside down, so that the blood would rush to his head an he would drowse. The rabbit screamed.
“They don’t like to be upside down,” she said.
I righted him. “It works with chickens,” I offered. Then I raised the rabbit, almost like an offering to the gray morning sky, so I could gently lower him into the steel breaking bar. He kicked a bit, then calmed. “It’s your death. Meet it how you choose. I’d probably kick and scream too.” Through the trees the pond was visible down the slope before us. My wife stood with my daughter on the dock, looking at the turtles and the fish as they moved in the cold black water.
“It’s OK. It’s OK.” I was gently stroking the rabbit’s plush fur. “Look at the trees. See the sky. It’s a beautiful day.” My voice was hush. My intention was to keep the rabbit calm. But still I wondered if my human touch was repugnant to the rabbit. Is the sound of my voice wretched to his mind? Is there such a thing as a tender executioner? When I said, “travel well,” might it have been better to say nothing it all?
With a firm hold of the rabbit’s rear legs and then a thrust, I pulled down and back towards my knees. The process repeated, five in all, each neck broken as decisively as I could offer, each rabbit given a moment of calm, each life acknowledged before each death delivered.
“Thank you for being nice to them,” she said.
“Of course.” My God, of course.
Five rabbits for twenty dollars and a handful of butternut squash. Her freezer full of meat, she didn’t want to kill anything else this year. Killing isn’t easy. It leaves a stain, and I hope it always does. My family is still without a deer. Five rabbits do not add up to a lot of meat, but they will carry for now. With two hands I carefully lifted each dead rabbit and placed them in a cardboard box. My wife and daughter climbed the hill. We made pleasantries. The box was warm when I loaded it into the trunk.
December is not usually this warm. This fall has been the warmest in the lower fourty-eight United States since record keeping began. Deluges of rainfall have flooded Chennai in India, as well as Ireland and the UK. Seven-hundred-thousand people are evacuating in advance of a typhoon in the Philippines. Meanwhile, winter rains are failing to materialize in Africa, portending drought conditions next year. Representatives of the global elite have once again walked away from an international climate summit with nothing to show but a palisade of words constructed to deflect real conversation about turning off the killing machine of industrial capitalism. They boarded jet planes to return home, and I stood outside in a sleeveless shirt two weeks before the winter solstice as my daughter and I pulled green onions from our garden that we could lay over the rabbit as we cooked it over a pit fire.
In the circles of power, I am sure there are back pats and hand shakes to accompany the praise of a job well done in Paris. To be sure, I imagine there are plenty of western liberals who believe some form of progress was made at the COP 21. Conversely, those of us on the fringes probably expected just such a result. No hard lines, no painful cuts, no discussion of deindustrialization or plans to decrease the consumption rates of the first world or the financial largesse of the wealthy. The fact that an international conference on climate change has official corporate sponsors from automobile companies to airlines and banks should be a blood red flag to anyone with even the most beta of bullshit detectors. Growth was still the order of the day. This is a system that cannot see itself, let alone confront itself. This is a system that completely lacks the ability to stop itself from destroying the habitat of the Earth. Is there any word more applicable to such a system than psychopathic? Maybe omnicidal? Watching at the neoliberal attempt to address climate change is like watching a serial killer at the end of their career; they are getting sloppy because they want to be caught, they want to be stopped, they know they have zero control of their death urge. They won’t turn themselves in, but they will leave abundant clues as to their identity.
Advertisements for AirFrance plastered on a Parisian bus stop are the killer’s semen stain left on the victim’s bedsheets. Please catch me. I cannot help myself. Stop me before I kill again.
An inability to confront ourselves seems to be a defining characteristic of our age. Examples abound on the macro and micro level. The social media obsession highlights the trend nicely, as millions upon millions of people spend hours a day meticulously crafting an image of themselves that they want to convince the world is genuine. From Facebook to Instagram, the obsession du jour is taking photos of oneself and then sitting back and waiting for other humans, also likely obsessed with taking photos of themselves, to tell you how fantastic you look or how interesting to appear to be. After harvesting “likes,” the high of such fickle and ephemeral attention fades, and it’s back to the bathroom mirror.
On a grander stage, we in the United States are now forced to endure the asinine behavior of a man-child braggart whose particular appeal as a potential presidential candidate appears to be the fact that he is perfectly comfortable being cruel to others, and that he has made a personal commitment to being as inconsiderate in his speech and action as possible. Of course, his defenders describe this behavior as a positive salvo against those who force us to all be “politically correct.” It requires very little effort to dismantle such an argument. What is really happening is that in recent years, challenges to society’s entrenched and predominantly unspoken white and male supremacy have been vocalized more frequently and with more support. These challenges make the beneficiaries of systemic racism and misogyny uncomfortable primarily because they were never cognizant of the leg up they have always received by being the “default” person, and they thusly feel that they are personally under attack for crimes they never committed.
Then along comes a powerful white man who tells his supporters he won’t cow to social justice warriors. Naturally, a lot of white men line up to carry his banner. The grand irony, is that this man is very wealthy. The declining standard of living amongst the middle class is a direct result of neoliberal economic policies enacted by the rich. Rich white men want poor white men to think it is foreigners who have undermined their economic viability, when in all reality, it was Wal-Mart. It was NAFTA. It was cheap labor abroad and cheap oil to ship goods around the globe. How the rich are able to convince the middle class that the poor are their greatest threat is a feat so counter intuitive that you almost want to applaud their ability to craft an illusion. How a billionaire has been able to convince millions of Americans that he can protect them from the machinations of politicians who have been bought by wealthy donors is downright stupifying.
Bravo, America. You have the political savvy of a goldfish.
But this is what happens. Vonnegut might just say, “and so it goes.” Nothing should surprise us now. We are in an age of consequences. An inability to look at ourselves and take stock of who we truly are and what our context actually is will lead to a world of a myriad of conflicting narratives. We cannot build a cogent society if even agreeing upon the nature of the basic building blocks of that society has become impossible. We stand along the road to greater social fracture. Indeed, we have been walking this path for a long time. Without the ability to synthesize healthy communities autonomously, we have been cordoned in by artificial borders. The rich have become startlingly rich, and as they have done so they have created various high pressure systems that are directly adjacent to low pressure systems, and the joinery of this impending disaster has consistently been state force, police violence, and a non-stop torrent of propaganda and myth to convince the masses that it is all for their benefit, for their protection, and further, that this state of affairs is exceptional, so exceptional in fact that the heathen hordes about the globe are frothing mad in their desire to take it from them.
It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I would suggest that such fury is outmatched by the violent potential of a man entirely convinced of his righteousness. Keeping apace with the decline of civilization often has us looking at economic indicators, energy returns, political turmoil, and the quickening rate at which the climate is destabilized and species are driven into extinction. All fair sign posts, to be sure. But on the day to day, one of my greater concerns is the absence of humility, grace, and self reflection which as a trend seems to inversely correlate with a spike in the abundance of self righteous vitriol. The outsizing and emphasizing of ego is a decline in spiritual quality, for lack of a better term, and it is the hand maiden of our global crises; affected by and then re-effecting.
John Michael Greer on his blog, The Well of Galabes, defined magic as “the traditional craft of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Whether or not you believe in magic of any kind, it is clear that the human consciousness and will are the fore-horses of human action, and when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans are at a time collectively convinced to perpetuate the premises and trends of civilization, be it the infallible nature of capitalism, the primacy of the western “way of life,” white supremacy or that Allah would want you to throw a person off of a building because that person is homosexual, the power we possess is manipulated into feeding the furnaces of a death cult.
Of course, it is easy to highlight this trend when it manifests amongst the most visibly powerful or violent groups. Truly, it is prevalent too amongst people who claim to fight for the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable. Even those who claim no desire to conquer or to control become so convinced of their position, so damn sure that they are right, that furious anger and venom is let fly horizontally even at the bottom of the barrel. Warriors for the working class so entrenched in their analysis about race, or sexuality, or gender, that it seems impossible to think they have ever spent time with the people they wish to help liberate. Fall in line with my thinking, or line up against a wall.
It is a long wall indeed, with room for all of us, and so many willing executioners.
Our power as humans is vast, possibly boundless. On the whole, our wisdom is not commensurate with this power. Knowing when not to apply power is central to using it intelligently. Can you hold a gun and not point it someone? Can you be given a chainsaw and not clear cut a forest for profit? Can you unlock the petroleum from its deeps but choose to leave it there? Can you have a voice, but not speak until you are sure that doing so is appropriate; is necessary? Every day we apply our intention to the world, and the vast majority of this application is as thoughtless as flicking a cigarette butt out the car window. Then we wonder why the world burns.
The unforgiving pace of capitalism exponentially exacerbates this problem. Nothing can be slow. Not movement, not communication. How can an instantaneous world be a thoughtful world? How can a twenty four hour civilization with light speed demands for your attention and response court the deliberate hand, the calm voice, or the well crafted response? Eight billion humans all living in a lightning round, shouting, responding, and firing their intentions into a storm of chaos and collision. Then consequence, response, repeat, and the storm grows.
Here we are on the precipice of global ecological calamity, frail worlds dancing on a razor blown back and forth by the whims of mad men, and I fear that the wisdom the situation requires is not only not present, it is not welcome.
Salt falls to the Earth as I drag the dull knife across the hide. Bits of remaining meat and fat collect on the edge of the blade, and I pick off the pink wads that gather there and flick them to the ground. Fleshing a hide is time consuming and skill intensive. My back aches a bit as I lean over the plywood the hides are nailed down to. The world is made of blood and bone and I am so grateful to be a part of it.
Cold wind blows. I massage egg yolk into the skin. If these rabbit hides tan well, my wife wants to use them to create a cloak for our daughter. I just want to get better at the process.
Viscera has been given to the chickens. In the compost pile I buried the rabbit’s heads. Before pulling the decaying plant matter over them, I placed lettuce leaves and turnip greens in the hole. An offering. Gratitude. There are surely people who think it is superstitious or perhaps merely self serving to do so. I don’t give a good God damn. It feels right. I
Amazing post.. I like the serial killer metaphor. When I saw that they had lugged pieces of glacier to Paris so that people could watch them artfully melt.. it looked psychotic to me!
Was “Goodbye Horses” playing in the background?
Interesting about the glaciers … chunks taken to Paris.
I have seen them up close, then returned years later, and they have moved inland a lot, a shocking lot.
They have been melting longer than we realize, and they are more sensitive to global warming than we realize too.
Aptitude design said:
A brilliant piece of writing. I almost envy the level of wisdom in it. but know the price, so I am not keen to pay it yet.
mike k said:
Hubris leading to downfall. The old story reiterated one more time – perhaps the last time. Love, sensitivity, humility are forgotten and even despised. Power becomes the only value. Those who somehow remember can only clutch the remaining fibers of love and truth and beauty tightly to their breasts as the world dissolves in chaos around them.
And because the universe loves irony, they may have to take up the sword as well.
mike k said:
Koros to Hubris to Ate to Nemesis
So you obviously think you have some special enlightenment/understanding about what’s meaningful and important on this planet and enjoy sharing your great wisdom, including your thoughts about murdering psychopaths, but you begin your column by describing how you are brutally and painfully murdering five innocent beautiful little rabbits, and teaching your child that it’s okay and right to do so.
“Thank you for being nice to them,” she said.
“Of course.” My God, of course.
Being “nice” to them as you are breaking their necks? Are you FUCKING KIDDING? What kind of confused idiot are you?
Please explain to me why you think a rabbit’s life is any less important or meaningful than yours or any other humans, and why you think we have the right to kill them or any other fellow creature on this planet If you try to explain that we need their flesh for our health, then you know absolutely nothing about human nutrition, so don’t waste my time. You ARE the murdering and sociopathic psychopath that you describe above and are part of the disease on this planet, human insanity and stupidity, and understand nothing about how all life is connected and the same.
If you have any courage at all, watch the move Earthlings. http://www.earthlings.com
Maybe you’ll learn something, like what compassion means.
I have seen that film. What do you mean by “right” when you ask what right i have to kill something? What is a right? Who would grant it if such a thing existed?
Of course you respond with a nonsensical question because you have no rational explanation to my inquiry. Listen td0s, very simply put here, wouldn’t if just be a better world if we all preserved and supported life instead of the insane and unnecessary killing, killing and more killing all the time? A very simple and powerful thing we can each do every single day is to stop supporting and promoting pain, misery and death on this planet. Every life matters. What we do to others, we do to ourselves. Just think about that.
I won’t be back to this blog.
You dont have to come back to my blog, thats not something that would bother me, so telling me is kind of silly.
But it isnt a nonsense question unless your original point was equally nonsense. You condemn me, asking where I got a right to kill. That is a nonsense question. There is no such thing. If you line me up against the wall for eating, well I will have good company. I will be there with the wolves and coyotes and catfish and turkeys and all of the rest of the creatures that exist on this planet who must consume life in order to live.
This is the order of the world. I did not write it, and I am not so haughty as to believe I can erase it.
You are domesticated. You have forgotten. Underneath the glow of ultraviolet light, buying your factory boxed food, shipped globally with the blood of the earth, you then wail about the killing and the death.
There is an open space next to me, up against the wall.
Excellent post and responses. I remember watching my grandmother harvest chickens for dinner way back in the day out on the farm (long since sold off to corporate interests). Wring the necks until the heads popped off (amazingly quick and efficient), wait for the headless bodies to stop thrashing around the yard spraying bright red arterial blood (quite a sight for a child), a quick dunk in scalding water and a few swipes of the hand to get the feathers off (strong, unforgettable smell), slice the torso down the middle to scoop the viscera out, off with the feet, chicken into a pail to be cut up inside, and remains into a pile in the yard for the dogs, cats, and other chickens to help themselves to. Total time from prep time to tear down and clean up? Never was timed and there was never any particular hurry, but even old granny didn’t waste much of her busy day in doing it.
I actually find that poultry is pretty tim consuming due to the small body cavity and the feathers. A duck, holy cow, that down. Rabbits are easy peasey in comparison. I also never feed an animal to its own species as a rule.
mike k said:
Ken – Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.