The Veils of Babel

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Flowing shards of fake silk damask trapping insulating, alternating layers of ignorance and fear, enveloping the human world almost entirely. The Veils of Babel, as told of in The Book of Sand, a fluid, shape shifting book without end. A façade of prosperity and righteousness that can be lifted with only the most dedicated effort at intense thought and paradigm shifting (temporary, ever temporary) conclusions.

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Lush Cosmetics, the company I work for, has an admirable practice of financially supporting community groups and of sending us employees off on paid days out to witness what these groups get up to. Being a vegetarian (and mostly vegan) organisation when it comes to the raw materials we use and the products we make with them they also try to do the best they can on our own premises.

This includes hosting some bee hives in an attempt to try to help the urban bee populations flourish, and allowing us to observe and talk to the beekeepers when they come to check the hives are in good working order. This is what I want to talk about first.

I posted a couple of photos online of these bee hives and the response from my vegan online friends was mixed.

‘No. No. No.’ wrote one highly intelligent and accomplished lady. When asked to respond further, she said something like, ‘I’ve investigated the harvesting of honey, it’s inhumane, vegans don’t eat honey! I’ve made my decision!’

Her words put me in mind of the famous Bruce Lee quote. “Empty your mind! Be formless, shapeless, like water.” He was talking of facing an opponent here, of learning how to be victorious but in a way, all vegans at this time in history are also warriors. We should be fluid in the face of new information if we are to be of the best service we can be, no?

Perhaps instead of a soundbite I might quote Bruce Lee at greater length, so as to express my own thoughts more; “Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

You can never be a useful human being if you are stuck, I thought as I read that ‘No. No. No!’ comment. That was why, as a vegan, I had attended the bee keeping session. To discover more and perhaps adjust my thinking as a result of new information that might flow over, around and through me. So many vegans are stuck in their thinking, they consider themselves superior because their journey has taken them from an easily seen ignorance into an equally easily seen light, and they view others who still languor in the darkness as inferior, ‘down there’ and themselves as beings who have reached an enlightenment that is final.

But information is ever changing, you never reach the end of study, you never reach the centrepoint of the light, you can only keep moving in the direction that seems instinctively and intellectually right and understand that there will always be a part of you that will endeavour to trip you up, to convince you to take it easy, to rest on what you have learnt instead of putting all that effort into continually updating yourself.

Trust nobody, of course, least of all yourself. Yet, have faith, still.

I found the young bee keepers to be far from the commercial farmers I’d expected. We used no gloves, hat or other protective clothing as they took the hives apart. They worked at a pace that the bees found easy to cope with, and because I’d studied bee keeping online before the session I knew a little about what constituted abuse and could see that they were far from acting in an exploitative manner. We have to find new ways forward, I’d thought at the time, we live in a world where most people are self-centred and will take honey any way they can, we have to understand that, so if we have these decent young people trying to harvest it in a way that allows the bees to co-exist with us, then good on them. Vegans should support their initiative, should encourage and work towards not the best future but the best future possible.

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Bee’s don’t deserve any special treatment over us, we live in a small, cruel world, we have to co-exist and that works both ways. If we provide a safe home and food source for animals such as bees, then perhaps we vegans have to accept that as long as we never take more honey than is safe (the honey is the bee’s food for the winter, but they always overproduce so it’s safe to take approx 15 or 20% of what they produce without harming them) then working with the bees – rather than just letting them try to exist in and probably fade from a world that is growing increasingly hostile to anything non-human – is maybe the better of the available options.

Yes, I know Jerry Garcia said that choosing the lesser of two evils is still evil. But that’s just a cozy soundbite from what sounds like an over-privileged, idealistic westerner. We’ve got to be better than placing our future in lazy sentences that don’t actually translate into real life action if we actually want to make a difference, rather than just have our fellow vegans pat us on the head and tell us what good souls we are.

I don’t eat honey, I don’t need to as I use maple syrup to sweeten but if by chance I got ill – unlikely as I’m a healthy eating vegan and I haven’t been sick for years as a result – I’d probably mix some ethically sourced Lush honey into my hot drinks to help me recover.

Now I’ll move onto today, when Lush invited employees to attend the Toronto Pig Save vigil outside a slaughterhouse, and then share a vegan lunch with some prominent vegan athletes near another slaughterhouse. Not an idea of a good time for some, but certainly an opportunity to learn more and stir up thoughts for the 35 employees that made the trip, a trip that started in west Toronto just after sun-up.

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I’m going to leave the rest of this blog post in the note form I originally wrote it in, during the times between the trucks full of pigs arriving at the slaughterhouse. When they arrived several of us would jump in front of the cabs to stop them whilst the others would rush to the sides of the containers and poke water bottles through to give the pigs a last drink before they were killed.

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It was 34 degrees and humid out today and the pigs were dying on their feet. Ok, I’ll leave you with my notes;

I peer inside and down, they lie immobile, one raises its head, it looks at me and I can see it’s given up, it smells the death, it knows, I understand. It can’t know details of how the next hour will pan out but details don’t matter. This is the end of a hellish existence but even hell is sad to say goodbye to.

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I offer my water bottle, several snouts sniff without energy, it’s the apathy of exhaustion and impending death. I squeeze and put the scent of water into the air. A snout pushes forward, suckles a little, white foam at the mouth.

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The head drops slightly yet remains looking at me. It’s hard to dismiss the thought that it’s asking for help whilst simultaneously knowing I can’t (won’t?) do anything to stop the violent, unfair and unnecessary impending slaughter. I am not Jesus, about to take the sins of my species onto my own shoulders, we’re so estranged from ourselves that no amount of crucifixion will even be noticed I fear, and I’m not a priest either. There are no prayers I can offer that I believe will be listened to, no hope. Yet, have faith, don’t give up.

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Another empty truck leaves the factory. I grasp the fence and see dust devils of the scant breeze blowing unimpeded through the recently crowded container. What we would give now for a view of staring frightened eyes, eyes of those fellow sparks of life, driven by fear, thirst and pain to bellow and snatch at each other, to fight over sticky thick air, how happy we would be to see our friends enslaved once again, for life is beautiful however it is lived.

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Four walls and nothing else, unadorned with any form of hope, is preferable to the everlasting void. I have seen both, I have tasted the overture of death and I have lived in isolation and I know.

The empty trucks are not the finish for us; our souls cannot survive this onslaught. We slip away before ourselves into that which we were not born to be. A hellish path is cut by our own choices, this road of ignorance is without corners, arrow straight, yet we lose ourselves on it.

The truckers learn quickly, they take a different route and build up speed at the lights so as to plough through us. They know no charges will be laid for running us over, and being held up for 5 minutes as we water the pigs cuts into their day too much. Money is money, families have to be fed. If you’ve got kids, you’ve got excuses.

It’s that road of fear and ignorance again. How far those truckers are from themselves.

Twice I make my way to the wrong side of the truck, blocking the road. Will I be deported, I worry? The police are cool and control the situation with light hands yet technically what I’m doing- offering water to the pigs on the road – is illegal and being a new immigrant I’m unsure what’ll happen if I’m arrested. The pigs are not excited or squealing on this quieter side, the silence pulls me closer, I press my face to the metal walls, peer through the holes, they are despondent as I wager they have been since they were crowded into the truck, perhaps since birth.

Maybe joy is a concept that has always remained a mystery grinning from beyond the factory farm gate.

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No matter your situation you instinctively know the value of life, that it’s a beautiful jewel entrusted to you personally and you’ve a deep duty to protect and preserve it no matter what. They cling to that jewel as best they can, sucking on heavy air, and we take it as if it were simply nothing more than food.

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You see good and bad in people, on both sides. A drivers held up by our action shouts;

‘I fuck pigs!’ and another driver, to the larger protesters,

‘I can see why you eat salad!’

A family in a car; dad bellows

‘We love bacon!’ The kids are laughing, their own father has just driven a stake through their beautiful hearts.

‘I like pork!’ another man shouts indignantly, unaware that life isn’t just about him. If I were ruder I’d have replied;

‘I like the look of the chick sat next to you mate, your wife is she? You won’t mind if I have ten minutes with her alone? No, wait, I’m vegan and as fit as god knows what, it’ll take longer than that. A couple of hours? Cool? Because it’s all about what I want, right?’

Of course it’s not about me, or him, or anybody really. We’re all one and it’s about nobody and everybody, and although I’m not a smart guy I can imagine that we’re well capable of finding a procedure that allows us to exist without inflicting holocausts here and there as casually as if they were garden fetes.

And then on our side there are people banging on the trucks, screaming at the drivers with more force than is needed, I have to ask myself, why are they here? Is it really for the pigs? And perhaps I’m being unfair all round. Because it’s brutally hot, and all of us have cried often this morning as the prisoners have been transported past us to the death factory gates, and emotions are strong. Be kind Dave.

We are saying goodbye, showing them that we see them, yet, giving water to pigs about to die seems like just a technicality really, something that can be done to highlight what’s happening. We walk away, what have we achieved? Perhaps if we invest some serious time in working out alternative ways to live, then talk about this to our family, friends, then we might have achieved something. Not that this helps the pigs I have seen today. What I have witnessed today is pure evil inflicted by angels and it is truly terrible.

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We drove to a challenging lunch spot. Tables laden with vegan food are set up aside a shallow circular pool where children, and soon we, are paddling. Pet dogs are petted under leafy trees. A puppy plays with ants that are exploring the great deserts that are paving slabs whilst a stiff breeze brings the commotion of the chicken slaughterhouse that sprawls beyond the park fence. The beeping of forklifts and reversing trucks interrupts the tinkling fountain, children’s splashing and squeals and the audible joy of Lush workmates morphing into friends. It’s an occasion that de Goya or Hieronymus Bosch would make much of, it’d be immediately seen as most obviously obscene. I can imagine The Chapman Brothers creating an installation, all Barbie dolls and Action Men playing in a crimson pond with scary, disjointed grins, titled ‘There will be blood!’

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Later we’re greeted by vegan bodybuilders; later tonight they’ll give a more thorough talk. It’s good to have these guys here. Many meat eaters and vegetarians just don’t understand about healthy food. They still think you have to think madly about protein or iron if you’re vegan, and since the mainstream media isn’t doing much to change that falicy then ground level discussions like this are the way to go.

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The innumerable Veils of Babel. Flowing shards of fake silk damask trapping insulating, alternating layers of ignorance and fear, enveloping the human world almost entirely. A façade of prosperity and righteousness that can be lifted with only the most dedicated effort at intense thought and paradigm shifting (temporary, ever temporary) conclusions.

Wait, is this where my food comes from?

Is this what it does to my health?

And to the environment?

You mean, I don’t need it to live well, or happily?

You mean that whilst our ancestors might have had differing needs, as do varying regions of our world, nowadays, in the affluent and information-flooded west where a plant based diet is cheap, healthy and of benefit to all, this exploitation can only be for the benefit of the shareholders of a few corporations?

I don’t need to accept the rules of the past, I can invent a better future.

If I put time aside to think, there is little about the human lifestyle that can’t be changed. Think, get together, share, care.

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The veils will always be there, the view will always be hazy. Accept this, and know that it is the normal condition for the modern human.

I have no other answers for myself so I have no answers for you. But I do know this, that you need to put a whole chunk of time aside in order to change anything in a direction that is not entirely mainstream.

Maybe you want to go vegan, but don’t know how? Well, heads up, nobody is going to give you a magic ticket. You need to get down the library or bookshop, or go online, and seek out 4 or 5 recipes that appeal to you. Then you need to make them, 2 or 3 times each. This will teach you about using new ingredients, and how to think differently about your food. This will be your springboard. And then you spend more time investigating further.

Many people I know will say, but I just don’t have that time. I have kids to think of. To that I say, don’t be so low as to use your kids to excuse your own laziness. Do yourself a favour, take 2 hours and watch a movie like Cowspiracy. It’s not perfect and you can poke holes in it if you want but overall it gives you a view of what animal agriculture is doing to our world. You want that barren, broken world for your kids? Yeah? Wow, you must really hate them. Probably why you’re using them as an excuse, no?

No, of course not. I’m being facetious and we both know it, but you get the point I think?

No excuses. Find a way. Think out new questions. Many people today were talking about stopping shopping at big supermarkets and instead going local. Hard to disagree with that, except, just think. Can you afford to shop local? Can you be sure that the food you buy local isn’t riddled with as many pesticides, and bad karma, as that you buy in the supermarket? You think that kind looking farmer selling you stuff at the market has sound ethics just because his cheeks are red and healthy?

Hard, isn’t it, to find out anything resembling the truth as much of life is so embedded in the big lie but then, the human race is in a tight spot right now and answers won’t come easy. Perhaps local isn’t the way to go? Perhaps that isn’t a battle you can ever win, perhaps you should look in a different direction to expend you energy and buying power? It’s just a thought, and perhaps not a very good one. Yet it’s worth having, worth challenging yourself with new ideas even if they sound idiotic at first. Think sideways, think backwards, think in ways you don’t even comprehend, think more.

We have a duty to our own beautiful souls to work out the alternatives to how we are living and treating our world and every other living being in it. Our definition of brother and sisterhood is far too narrow. We need to devote time to problem solving, and if we eventually manage to let the light in we must remember that there will probably always be those among us and indeed inside us who are weak enough to want to wrap us once more in ever thicker, suffocating veils – this is part of what Malraux identified as la condition humane and it was well observed, in my opinion – and that it is the task of the brave to go on resisting them at every turn. We mustn’t let ourselves fool ourselves, we’re worth far more than that. Our destiny is far greater than just to lay down on our own swords.

If I come to any great ways forward, I’ll let you know what I reckon. This all only happened today, I’m going to take some time at it. In the meantime, think! And do check out the Toronto Pig Save organisation, they’re lovely people carrying out a heartfelt and important task.

http://www.torontopigsave.org/

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