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Excerpt from Thought To Exist In the Wild

Unsupportable Pretense (p. 88)

This culture’s unsupportable pretense that humans are superior to animals (and by now you know who is meant by this) leads within this culture to the equally unsupportable pretense that humans have the right—indeed, the mandate—to exploit animals (and also the vast majority of humans: the poor, women, non-whites, the indigenous, and so on) in any way the exploiters see fit. If humans wish to encage animals for the entertainment of humans, humans have the unquestioned right to do so. And so on.

No, that last paragraph isn’t quite true. I’ve reversed cause and effect. I do not believe that the notion that humans are superior leads to the notion that humans have the right to exploit those they consider beneath them. Instead the urge to exploit comes first, and justifications must be found to support this urge. Naked exploitation is rarely fully pleasing or sustainable to those perpetrating it. Exploitation is an empty substitute for relationship, at least as empty in its own way as spectacles. If spectacles substitute vicarious for direct experience and superficial identification for real relationship, exploitation involves taking by force what within a relationship might have been offered as a gift, which means it substitutes the taking of some tangible benefit for the building of a relationship. This means that exploitation will necessarily be as dissatisfying as spectacles, and for the same reasons. And because exploitation necessitates and leads to superficial relationships distant from the real beings of all participants, exploiters, analogous to consumers of spectacles, must also often ratchet up exerted control in order to stave off inevitable boredom, that is, to keep exploiters believing that they have experienced something, even if this belief lasts only for the short time of the act of exploitation itself.

Gifts form the core of mutual relationships. Much of the joy in these relationships is in the sparks in the spaces in between the participants, in the voluntary acts of giving and receiving time, energy, bodies, emotions, voices. Exploitation cuts those exchanges short, deprives them of their depth. Energy is still there, energy is still transferred, but it is shallow, empty, sharp.

An example may clarify. Let’s say you and I are in love. Let’s say you and I make love, give and receive each other’s bodies, give and receive pleasure through our bodies, send and receive affection and meaning through our bodies, through our actions.

Now let’s say we’re not in love. Let’s say I want to have you and you do not want to have me. You do not want to share yourself with me in that way. Now, let’s say I take you anyway. I force myself on you. Certainly energy still passes between us. And I still feel a sort of pleasure. It doesn’t much matter to me, on a fundamental level, whether you do or not, else I would have listened to you in the first place. But communication still takes place, although it is different than it would be if our intercourse were mutual.

You, at least, would be far more guarded, would give me far less of yourself than if it were mutual, and you would show me different parts of yourself in rape than in making love. You would not only close off much of the energy going out to me, but the energy that was coming out to me would be different: perhaps love in one case, perhaps hate and rage and sorrow in the other. And you would attempt to close off as much of my energy as possible coming in to you. You would receive less of me.

All of this leads to fundamentally insoluble problems for those who exploit (as well as, of course, for those they exploit). As with spectacles, when that deep organic flow of energy from relationship is cut off, it has to be made up somewhere. Certainly some of it can and does come from sucking the life of those they exploit. But still something feels wrong, feels empty. And so they must convince themselves that the other welcomes the exploitation, eagerly awaits the exploitation. But still that doesn’t suffice, still they feel empty. And so now they must rationalize their behavior. They must attempt, desperately, incessantly, pathetically to normalize and moralize their behavior, to make others and especially themselves believe their behavior is both normal and moral, not exploitative.

How could it be exploitation if these others “literally don’t have the brains” to know they’re being exploited? How could it be exploitation if God gave us dominion over all these others, to subdue them, to master them? How could it be exploitation if evolution gave us dominion over all these others, because we’re so damn smart? How can it be exploitation when humans are the sole bearers of meaning and the sole assigners of value? What we say goes. If we say it’s not exploitation, well, by God and by evolution it’s not. How can it be exploitation when animals are here solely for human pleasure?

* * *

It really isn’t exploitation. Humans really aren’t animals. Animals really can’t think or feel.

Just keep saying that over and over.

* * *

But even if you do, in the end it still won’t help. Spectacles and exploitation are both parodies, toxic mimics, of real relationships, taking on the form and perverting the content. As such they can never provide what we are missing but sometimes don’t even know we miss, what we need but sometimes don’t even know we need.

You cannot cure loneliness with spectacles or exploitation. You can make yourself forget for a very short time, but the emptiness will come back. It will always come back.