We are each other’s teachers, for better or worse, and what we teach is who and what we are, and what we practice. Everything comes back, it seems, to our ongoing practice of living. Thoreau summed it well: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” This essay is my ongoing effort to illuminate the hidden roots of our escalating dilemmas.
A friend recently told me how much he loves the taste of butter, and that certain pastries cannot properly be made without it. Right after that, going to the local store, I couldn’t help noticing that virtually every human being I saw was wearing a mask, covering their faces and hiding their unique expressiveness. This, I thought, is the boomerang effect in action.
We are all born into a culture where from infancy we are conditioned to believe in our complete superiority to other animals, and gladly take out our wallets and pay for—and thus cause—hideous sexual and physical harm and enslavement to other beings with similar interests to our own. A young calf born on a dairy farm (whether organic or not), for example, is immediately taken from her mother and either killed or isolated to become a milk-slave, subjected to repeated rapings, and then killed and eaten at the young age of just five years old.
Our defining delusion in buying the butter produced by this fellow mammal is our privilege and our narrative giving us the right to force her into a thoroughly artificial and desperate life of oppression, pain, despair, confusion, humiliation, and powerlessness. Any time any of us purchases the flesh or secretions of animals, we are sowing seeds of this unnecessary abuse and enslavement of beings who, like us, yearn for freedom to fulfill their purposes. We humans, in sowing these seeds billions of times every day, are reaping the same in our human world.
Because we are impervious to their cries and apparently incapable of recognizing and honoring their inherent sovereignty and dignity, we find that, on a massive scale, we are relentlessly losing our inherent sovereignty and dignity. The more we oppress them, the more we are oppressed. We are wounded from birth by well-meaning people who have been similarly indoctrinated and wounded. Now we are, as the exploiters of livestock, becoming livestock.
In a curious way, most of us seem to actually relish becoming the exploited, fearful, tracked, force-medicated, humiliated, muzzled slaves of those who, like us, have been taught privilege, and who have been raised to use their power to exploit others. Eating butter, we eat our enslavement, and our feeble protests, if we manage them at all, are merely ironic and hypocritical.
We want for ourselves what we refuse to give to others, and our deeper wisdom understands that this is never to be. The ritual humiliations surrounding us, eroding our inherent rights, freedoms, health, and happiness, mirror the ones we routinely inflict on animals. We can do our best to avoid being muzzled, chipped, exploited, and force-medicated, but it’s even better to avoid inflicting this on others, either directly or by proxy. Ultimately, this is the only way out of the unyielding dilemma we face.
We are called, now more than ever, to waken from our culture’s toxic humiliation of animals and of ourselves, and to respect them and thus be worthy of respect. Whatever we sow, we will reap. This boomerang effect is ultimately a gift from the universe to help us learn to honor the repressed empathy that shines always in our hearts. When we care for and protect the vulnerable, the innocent, and the abused, we create a world of kindness, freedom, and peace for all of us.
May we awaken and heal these long-festering wounds of humiliation and delusion before we find our human world reduced to a mirror-image of the toxic factory-farm oppression and violence into which we routinely force billions of animals. These cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other sensitive, sovereign individuals are inherently worthy of our respect. It’s critical that we tear off not just the imposed toxic muzzles and masks, but also the unrecognized blinders that keep us unaware of the consequences of our narratives and actions.
Dr. Will Tuttle, visionary, educator and musician, is author of the international best-seller, The World Peace Diet. A former Zen monk and recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and Empty Cages Prize, he has created eight CD albums of uplifting original piano music and is a vegan since 1980.