for Sale? Doublethink Meets Doublefeel as Happy Meat Comes
By James LaVeck
In a time of universal deceit, telling the
truth is a revolutionary act.—George
Last fall, an intelligent, socially conscious, and compassionate
person told me that after seeing a Tribe of Heart documentary at
a local film
festival, she had made a commitment not to participate in animal
cruelty anymore. From now on she would only purchase “happy meat” at
Whole Foods Market.
Something about these words, offered with sincere appreciation for
the work I do as an activist filmmaker, was deeply troubling. I knew
were part of a
trend I’d been seeing build amongst audiences over the last few months.
The same films that had once inspired large numbers of people to completely reconsider
their participation in the exploitation of animals were now triggering something
new, an enthusiasm for the moral advantages of “humane” meat.
I began to think about how this had come to be, and why the implications
Eerily, the first thing that floated into my mind was George Orwell’s book
1984, with its depiction of a gloomy world in which nameless bureaucrats would
daily redefine the meanings of words in the dictionary as a means of controlling
the thoughts of the masses. “Doublethink,” said Orwell, “means
the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously,
and accepting both of them.”
Let’s open the door to increased pollution and call it the “Clear
skies initiative.” Let’s eviscerate funding for schools and call
it “No child left behind.” And let’s drop bombs on innocent
civilians and pitch it as a noble effort to bring those same people “freedom
and democracy.” Yes, Orwell saw it coming, a kind of moral retrovirus
that was poised to take over our world. The only thing he got wrong was the
of marketing brilliance that would go into disguising the discombobulation
of our ability to think critically, and the consequent enthusiasm with which
could be induced to take part in our own undoing.
Environmentalism’s Third Wave: A Cautionary Tale
In the midst of this disquieting interlude, I was lucky enough to share a
meal with John Stauber, co-author of Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies,
and the Public Relations Industry. “This has all happened before,” said
John, after patiently listening to my tale of woe. “Read Losing
Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the 20th Century by Mark Dowie.”
So I did, and the plot thickened. What was bothering me, I realized, was
the devastating consequences of allowing the core language of a social movement
to be distorted as a means of accruing short-term gain. Consider, for example,
such as “environmental” and “organic.” In the beginning,
these concepts meant little to most people. Then, countless scientists, educators
and activists worked for decades to imbue them with meaning and moral value.
Wrapped up in these words were hard-won principles of ecological reality,
concern for the common good, respect for our planet, and the timeless wisdom
Enter Mark Dowie and the sad story he tells in Losing Ground. Some of the
very people who had labored to give the concept of environmentalism so much
unwittingly played a part in its dilution during what has been called the
environmental movement’s “third wave.” Massive corporate donations, prestigious
seats on corporate boards, lunch with powerful legislators, highly publicized “win-win” collaborations
with industry—watch as the budgets and membership rolls of environmental
organizations skyrocket. It all feels so good and so right.
But over time, says Dowie, something subtle starts to shift. Non-profit environmental
groups begin to compete more vigorously against each other for press coverage,
money and members. Cynicism creeps in. Program priorities inexplicably drift
toward those activities which will bring in the greatest financial return. Large
organizations start taking credit for the work of smaller ones. At the same time,
interest in education and grassroots empowerment falls by the wayside, displaced
by a fascination with congressional lobbying and partnerships with industry.
Reliable access to national publicity and the corridors of power becomes an end
in itself. A grassroots movement morphs into something more businesslike and
professionalized, and what were once vibrant gatherings characterized by diversity
and passionate dialogue come to resemble the meetings of a trade association
or cartel. Every organization must learn how to make more money, how to recruit
and retain more members, how to build its advocacy brand, and how to dominate
the marketplace of meaning. The idealism of millions of caring citizens is shoveled
like coal into the furnaces of never ending corporate growth.
Soon enough, a schism opens up between those who enthusiastically collaborate
with industry and those who think this way of operating represents an inherent
conflict of interest. By and by, a kind of auto-immune disorder sets in,
turning people of good will against each other. One camp, filled with righteous
holds faithfully to the “old ways,” and battles daily with disempowerment
and isolation. Another camp resolutely does what it must to gain a place
at the table where the big decisions of society get made, and does their
the creeping temptations of complicity.
Before too long, the word “environmental” comes to be applied
to the policies of some of the worst polluters, and to a president who has
more to damage the earth than any other in history. In this topsy-turvy scenario,
even Monsanto claims to be a green company, presumably run by environmentalists.
Meanwhile, as some of the people at the center of the environmental movement
become indistinguishable from their former adversaries, others walk away utterly
demoralized. Many more just have a feeling of confusion and loss. And the challenges
multiply as industry comes up with more and more clever ways to blur the distinction
between those who serve the common good and those who serve their own self-interests.
Introducing Happy Meat: 1984 Meets Animal Farm
As I finished reading Dowie’s book, I realized that there is nothing new
about all of this. It is a story as old as the hills. Any time we want, we humans
can sell what is sacred to us, we can convert things of transcendent moral value
into money and the things money buys. Lead our sacred cow to the auction ring,
and with one whack of the gavel, they’ll turn her right into a cash cow.
But the coins weigh heavily in our pockets, and long after they are spent, we’re
haunted by the last look in our cow’s eyes as she was led away by uncaring
strangers into the darkness.
So how does this ancient parable apply to the present day? It’s all about
how the farmed animal issue is being reframed: the only real problem with eating
animals, we will tell the public, is the abuse inherent in factory farming. Therefore,
the argument runs, the solution is production, distribution and consumption of “happy
meat.” In this brave new world, a mechanized system designed to move animals
quickly and efficiently, to take their lives, to drain their blood, and to cut
them into pieces on a scale never before imagined, is proudly described as a “stairway
to heaven” by a slaughterhouse designer well on the way to attaining
celebrity status. And no one blinks, not even those who hold in their hearts
a dream of
a world without violence. Such is the hypnotic effect of distorted language
and PR razzle dazzle.
It is happening now, before our eyes. The moral value of the word “compassion,” infused
for decades with the altruism and integrity of countless grassroots activists
and educators, is in the process of being converted into cash. Compassion
will now mean killing more softly, an exciting new brand associated with
delivered with the promise of a precisely regulated and approved amount of
suffering. In a time not so long from now, practicing compassion will for
many come to mean
buying and eating happy meat, a purported win-win-win for the animals, the
industry and its customers.
And given their track record of deception and an increasingly skeptical public,
how will the animal exploiting industries assure their customers that happy
meat is indeed truly happy, and that nothing could be more compassionate
it? They will create committees, foundations, and blue ribbon commissions
charged with developing detailed standards as to how the deed will be done.
adorn these cross-disciplinary teams with the credibility of people and organizations
that have given decades to the cause of freeing animals from exploitation.
And finally, on the fleshy products that result from this pageantry, they
new labels emblazoned with terms such as “Certified Humane,” “Animal
Compassionate,” “Freedom Food,” “Animal Friendly,” or “Cruelty-Free.”
By extracting from the public a modest conscience tax in the form of higher
prices for goods bearing the requisite label, those who make millions trading
parts will watch the price of their corporation’s stock rise. And participating
animal advocacy organizations will be sorely tempted to publicly declare
victory after victory as each new standard is put in place, reaping copious
for seeming to reconcile the inherent contradiction between the enjoyment
and the pain we do-gooders feel over exploitation of the animals.
Is this really a breakthrough, or could it be a neo-Orwellian sleight of hand,
Doublethink meets Doublefeel?
Doubletrouble: Hogwashed Cruelty and Cutthroat Compassion
Case in point: John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, and founder of
the Whole Foods-sponsored Animal Compassion Foundation, developer
and purveyor of new “compassionate
standards” for the exploitation of animals. In a 2005 conference speech,
Mr. Mackey declared that “our mission and responsibility is to help the
whole planet—including people, animals and the environment—to flourish
and reach their optimum state of physical and ecological health.” Moments
later, he said, “We also now recognize that farm animals are environmental
stakeholders… just like the environment as a whole cannot speak for itself,
neither can the farm animals speak for themselves. So it’s important
that we have the empathy to act in their best interests.” (Emphasis added.)
It all sounds so good and so right. But the Orwellian underbelly of Mr.
world was revealed when an audience member asked him why his company still sells
veal, presumably wondering how taking a calf from his mother and butchering him
to be packaged and sold in a Whole Foods market could, under any system of rational
thought, be fairly characterized as helping that animal achieve an “optimum
state of physical and ecological health” or as acting in that individual’s “best
“ If it’s a crime to kill an adult cow,” Mr. Mackey offered
up as a response, “it’s a crime to kill a baby calf. I mean, the
same argument could be made for lamb or anything else. I mean, Whole Foods is
a grocery store, and our customers want to—they want to buy dead
So let us call things by their true names. If Mr. Mackey and his Animal
Compassion Foundation are going to march under the banner of compassion,
let us be clear
that it is, as someone wryly noted, a “cutthroat compassion.”
Given Mr. Mackey’s professed education in the field of philosophy, it is
hard to believe that the logical absurdities he asks us to accept are the naive
errors of an untrained mind. Rather, as a relentlessly successful businessman,
he seems to have found a new and creative way to sharpen his competitive edge. “Cause-based
marketing” is the method in play, and in this case, success is achieved
not by actually practicing compassion toward animals, not by acting in
their best interests, but by methodically generating the appearance of
as that is what keeps the customers coming, the protesters at bay, and
price climbing ever higher.
As another quick-witted observer pointed out, just as the third wave of
environmentalism was characterized by “greenwashing,” it seems that animal advocacy’s
third wave is destined to bring us “hogwashing”—the practice
of generating the public appearance of having compassion for animals while
continuing to kill millions of them for profit. As always, buyer beware.
Gandhi and King: Having a Dream Means Holding the Line
All this said, the humbling truth of the matter is that no one can know for sure
which path will lead most quickly to the changes in our society we animal advocates
hope for. But by standing by and remaining silent as those who have a financial
interest in the exploitation of animals first appropriate and then redefine the
very language that expresses the deepest principles that inspire and guide our
work, we are surely giving away our power and identity in a way that is going
to be very hard to regain.
And, as our language loses its integrity, our ability to think critically and
to engage in meaningful dialogue is going to decline as well, as will our cohesiveness
as a community, our love of the work, and the joy we take from the process of
supporting peaceful change.
But we don’t have to travel any further down this crooked road. There
are other choices more direct. Delving into the lives and work of those
such as Gandhi
and King, we can see that being practical is not incompatible with being
idealistic. Both were constantly faced with pressure to compromise their
in return for short-term gains that were desperately needed by those they
served. Yet, neither of these brilliant leaders chose to give in to such
nor did remaining true to their principles mean accepting second-class
Instead, they got outside the box, synthesizing old school values with radical
social creativity. They transformed their societies by openly sharing the deepest
truth they knew, in the most direct language possible, without compromise, without
dilution. And, notably, they avoided conflicts of interest at all costs. Indeed,
their staunch refusal to cooperate with or participate in the mechanisms of exploitation
provided the very clarity and strength that propelled them to victory.
In doing so, Gandhi and King inspired millions to keep their eyes on the prize,
not just in their own times, but for all time. Not just for those who shared
their causes, but for those who care about any cause. And they did it all with
a level of spirited boldness that still takes our breath away.
To make good for the long haul, each of us must consider the possibility that
our choices, however well motivated, may have unintended consequences none of
us desire. Success in the monumental work we have taken on will only come when
our vision of a transformed world is brought into harmony with the means we use
to make that vision come to life. This is not easy to achieve, but it has been
done before, and it can be done again. To do otherwise is to ignore much of what
has been learned in the last century about the true nature of the interdependent,
interconnected world in which we live. Whether you talk to a historian, a psychologist,
a philosopher, or an indigenous elder sitting on a mountaintop, the message is
the same. Whatever methods we use to change the world will, in strong measure,
come to define the character of who we become, and the nature of the new society
we create. It is, essentially, a law of the universe.
So let us be open minded, let us engage in spirited debate and dialogue, and
together forge strategies of unparalleled creativity and boldness. But at the
same time, let us do so in ways that safeguard the integrity of our principles
and the language that defines our deepest values. The work of making real change
happen is best measured in decades and lifetimes, not in the quarterly cycles
of business. Let us not be seduced into believing that the power to mangle language
and manipulate perception has anything at all to do with serving the common good.
It never has, and it never will.
Compassion is the highest expression of human potential. As such, it can
never be bought or sold, only freely given and received. Using this word
as a label
for the products of suffering and exploitation is nothing short of an act
James LaVeck is cofounder of the nonprofit
arts and educational organization Tribe of Heart and producer of award-winning
documentaries The Witness and
Peaceable Kingdom. A substantial revision of Peaceable
Kingdom, which will include an examination
of the ethics of “humane” meat, is currently in post-production.
To learn more, visit www.tribeofheart.org.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.