The Politics of Stuffed Animals: A Critical Analysis of the Representation of Animal Bodies

The Politics of Stuffed Animals: A Critical Analysis of the Representation of Animal Bodies

Nothing is so ironic and absurd as a stuffed animal. It simultaneously makes non-human animals the objects of our deepest affection and the objects of our deepest alienation. The mere existence of the stuffed animal suggests that animals are individual beings that should be loved and respected, but also beings whose bodies we can objectify, alienate, commodify, and consume.

In feminist scholar Carl J. Adam’s The Sexual Politics of Meat she talks about something called “the absent referent” – a concept she borrows from Margaret Homans’ Bearing the Word – as it pertains to the bodies of non-human animals and women. For the sake of my analysis, I will only focus on her description of how this concept relates to non-human animals:

“Behind every meal of meat is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The ‘absent referent’ is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product. The function of the absent referent is to keep our ‘meat’ separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal, to keep the ‘moo’ or ‘cluck’ or ‘baa’ away from the meat, to keep something from being seen as having been someone (Adams 13).”

From this passage, we can see that the absent referent refers to something which used to exist, but which now no longer exists. It the end result of processes which effectively remove the body of the animal from the dinner plate, and thus, from our minds. To borrow a term from Ferdinand de Saussure, it is a “signifier” which points to something once “signified” whose signification – and thus, it’s meaning – has been lost through a long chain of linguistic, sociological, cultural, and economic alienation which objectifies and commodifies animal bodies in to create a product that is consumed by people.

For Adams, the product being produced is “meat” – i.e. a once-living being which has been rendered a non-being through a violent separation from its environment, it’s natural desires, it’s social relations, its status as an independent subject, and its very life. In a similar vein, I argue that the stuffed animal also replaces the absent referent (the real animal) in the same way meat does, but with a few distinct differences.

In the case of meat, for example, there is an obvious linguistic turning away from subject of the animal (flesh becomes “meat,” cows become “beef,” pigs become “pork,” etc.) where the term “stuffed animal” does not possess this characteristic. Secondly, the meat that replaces the referent of the animal is often processed and prepared – at least in the Western world – to look completely different from the animal itself, whereas the stuffed animal replaces the absent referent through an imitation or caricature of the real thing. Thirdly, stuffed animals are the objects of our affection whereas meat is the object of our desire for food. Although people will often say things like, “I love steak,” this is clearly different than saying, “I love stuffed tigers.”

However, beyond these distinct differences, it’s clear that both stuffed animals and meat are products whose existence depends on the same underlying processes of alienation, objectification, commodification which Marx describes as being essential to industrial capitalism.

In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx argued that industrial capitalism exploited and alienated people in four major ways. The first form of alienation was the estrangement of the worker from their own labor – that is to say, the act of working appeared as something that didn’t belong to the people working, but something which made them suffer by expending their physical and cognitive powers in the dehumanizing processes of production (Marx 75).

Secondly, Marx argued that people were also alienated from the products that they produced, as they could not use them for their own benefit or take ownership of them. Rather, the products themselves effectively exercised power over the people that made them (75).

Thirdly, he claimed that industrial capitalism alienated people from their very nature as free, conscious, and creative beings, and fourthly, he argued that capitalism alienated people from their status as human subjects and instead allowed themselves to perceive their subjectivity through the act of alienated labor (77, 78), which was essentially to assume the status of objects that were exploited and commodified by industrial capitalism.

In the same way Marx’s analysis of estranged labor revealed an important contrast between human beings as they truly are – or rather as they should be –  versus human beings under the artificial, slavish, objectifying, and dehumanizing forces of industrial capitalism, my analysis of the stuffed animal will aim to reveal an important important contrast between animals as they truly are – or as they should be – and animals as they are seen through the lens of our capitalist system which alienates, objectifies, and commodifies animals.

Returning to Carol J. Adams’ use of the absent referent to refer to the real animal whose bodies are destroyed, dismembered, and consumed, I also hope to show how the absent referent equally applies to the real images of animal bodies which are also destroyed, dismembered, and consumed.

To buy a steak is to assert one’s right to kill another sentient being and thus to alienate it from its life, and to buy an animal is to assert one’s right to control the life of another living being by alienating it from its freedom. Similarly, I argue that to buy a stuffed animal is to assert one’s right to control how animal bodies should be perceived – namely, as objects to be kept and used for our own purposes. Therefore, in the same way that Adams argues that meat is a substitute for the missing referent of the animals we kill and eat, I argue that the stuffed animal is a substitute for the missing referent of animals we enslave and exploit. While the former act destroys animal identity in a literal sense, the other destroys animal identity in a figurative sense.

Moreover, whether one is eating a steak or buying a stuffed tiger, in both cases one is acquiescing to and reinforcing an ideology. The former ideology, which psychologist Melanie Joy has popularized is known as “carnism”: the belief that eating meat is “natural,” “normal,” and “necessary.” The latter ideology has no name as of yet, so I will call it ocularism: the belief that non-human animals should be seen and depicted as objects to be used for human purposes. In the way that one can see how the anthropocentric worldview underlies the prejudice of speciesism, and in the way one can see how speciesism underlies the ideology of carnism, I argue that this same combination of anthropocentrism and speciesism underlies the ideology of ocularism.

Ocularism, like carnism, is also a belief which is constructed, disseminated, and reinforced by the matrix of power relations at work within society which includes media, special interest groups such as the meat and dairy industries, as well as pre-established socio-cultural norms, traditions, and prevailing beliefs and attitudes about animals.

The most common methods employed for the dissemination and dialectical social reaffirmation of this ideology are the processes of abstraction, dissociation, fragmentation, and anthropomorphization. By abstracting, dissociating, fragmenting, and anthropomorphizing images of animals’ bodies through media, culture, tradition, and economics, we collectively determine how animals are seen, thought about, and treated by people in larger society – namely, as objects to be used.

One example of the use of abstraction and dissociation regarding carnism that has already been mentioned is when we call animal corpses “meat” and engage in the act of eating animal bodies. If a person says they are eating meat, you will have an idea of what animal they could be eating, but meat itself is a general category which is only made possible by abstracting from – and thus obscuring – the animal itself.

Of course, one could go further and specify what type of meat they are eating, whether it is from a cow, a pig, or a rabbit, but this addition is still an abstraction which only tells us where the meat came from, not what the meat is – that is to say, flesh. Furthermore, in the process of this abstraction we are also engaging in an act of dissociation which puts distance between the body of the dead animal and what appears on our plate. This effectively allows us to avoid acknowledging the fact that an animal has been killed and that we are consuming its dead body.

Similarly, the ocularist corollary to carnistic abstraction and dissociation occur every time one buys and consumes media depicting animals in a way that objectifies them. Every time one buys book, watches a cartoon, or otherwise consumes media which depicts animals as things to be owned and used rather than subjects to be respected, one is necessarily dissociating oneself from the reality of animal bodies and opting into a fictionalized world of representation. Therefore, in the same way that carnism necessitates the dissociation between the animal that has died and the animal being eaten, ocularism necessitates the dissociation between the animal that exists and the image of the animal being seen.

With carnism, it’s also clear that the fragmentation of animal bodies takes place in a few different ways. The first two are most obvious, as they consist of the literal dismemberment of the animal and the digestion of individual body parts. However, the third form of fragmentation, though not a violent act, is perhaps the most powerful because it aids human beings in further abstracting and dissociating from the reality of animal bodies to make the act of consuming them possible.

This third form of fragmentation has to do with the way in which animal body parts are perceived in the mind – namely, as fragmented objects which are no longer traceable or thought of as traceable to the animal body from which they were taken. Although we might name the animal parts of a turkey on Thanksgiving by calling them “legs,” “wings,” and “thighs,” the images associated with these words are not the real legs, wings, and thighs of the animal, but are the parts of animals as they appear on our plates, fully cooked and prepared for our consumption.

With ocularism, fragmentation occurs whenever one buys clothing, shoes, cookware, decorations, or other products which depict animal faces, tails, eyes, or other body parts as something separate from the being to which they belong. Similarly, I argue that what allows for human beings to engage in the act of purchasing images of fragmented animal bodies has to do with the way individual animals are perceived in the mind – namely, and images no longer traceable or thought of as traceable to the animal from which they were taken. For example, when one buys clothing with distorted or exaggerated cartoon faces of cats, dogs, pigs, or cows, one is not associating these faces with the real animals, but with an imagined and fictitious version of animals purposely designed for our entertainment and consumption.

Lastly, is the tactic of anthropomorphization. This idea is evidenced in the carnistic sense by children’s media involving early childhood, in commercial advertisements, and adult media like Family Guy, Sausage Party, and Bojack Horseman. In the ocularist sense, it can be found in in myths, fables, children’s stories, and in movies like Homeward Bound, Babe, Air Bud, Finding Nemo, Chicken Run, and Zootopia, and in children’s TV shows like Curious George, and Peg + Cat. Admittedly, the tactic of athropomorphization seems counterintuitive because, like the stuffed animal, it seems to bring us closer to the subjectivity of animals by making them the objects of our affection.

However, I argue that these anthropomorphized versions of animals keep us from recognizing animals as they really are – namely, as conscious, free, and independent beings rooted in and belonging to their own environments and societies – because these representations of animals are made to speak, act, and think in ways we know are not accurate or true (i.e. to behave like humans).

Therefore, when the book, show, or movie has ended, one can easily stop thinking about animals as living subjects since one’s belief in the individual subjectivity of animals relies on the suspension of one’s disbelief rather than on challenging one’s established beliefs, and is based on the degree to which non-human animals can reliably demonstrate human abilities characteristics. Therefore, because the default view of most people is to see non-human animals as separate and unequal to humans, and because the media being consumed never directly challenges this hierarchy, the anthropomorphized versions of animals ironically help to reinforce the view that animal bodies are objects to be used for human purposes – namely, for the purposes of entertainment.

Given the violent and exploitative relationship with real animals embodied in the ironic absurdity of the stuffed animal, the real question becomes, how does one go about restoring the real images of animal bodies, and thus the subjectivity of real animals to our world? How does one fight against the abstraction, dissociation, fragmentation, and anthropomorphization embedded in media, discourse, and culture?

Perhaps a good place to start would be to allow for increased public access to animals in a way which doesn’t objectify them, caricature them, confine them, or exploit them. Given the proximity of human beings to pet animals, zoos, farms, and animal shelters, all of which depict animals in a state of human subservience, exploitation, and confinement, I admit that allowing for a healthy view of animals and animal bodies will be difficult but not impossible.

Nature shows, animal sanctuaries, and state and national parks, I would argue, could become vehicles not just for accurate and healthy ways to encounter animals and images of animal bodies, but for providing a biocentric  framework and an anti-speciesist mode of discourse rather than using an anthropocentric framework and a speciesist discourse to talk about animals and animal bodies. In doing so, such places could provide opportunities to show animals as they are truly are and to teach others how animals should be seen: not as creatures beneath us, or as “wild animals,” but as free beings that inhabit the earth whose lives we have no right to take, and whose bodies we have no right to use for our own selfish purposes.

Calling an animal “wild,” after all, is a speciesist term which places human beings in a position of power over other animals and relegates non-human animals to the background and to the status of object. Like calling another human being “slave,” calling an animal “wild” denotes our desire to control and dominate another being and alienate it from its nature in order to make it “tame” – which is simply to force it to submit to our will. Therefore, we must realize that even in the language we use to name, designate, and categorize animals, we must seek only to understand them and respect them as equal beings in our world, not to treat them as abstractions or objects.

While it’s historically true that we human beings are often the victims of the circumstances of our own time and place, it’s also true that we are not slaves to those circumstances. Change is possible and change will come when more people realize what they are doing to themselves and to others. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Man will become better when you show him what he is like.”

The Birth of Gender: An Allegory

The Birth of Gender: An Allegory

Not long after the dissipation of The One, there arose an especially bright and ethereal creature on earth. By nature, the creature was full of potential and power, but was also a creature that was conflicted in mind and body, for it seemed to love and hate itself, and would often try to harm itself because of this. Sometimes it would feel too much and other times too little. Sometimes it would show great strength, and other times it would show great weakness. Sometimes it would show great mercy, and other times it would show none.

One day this ethereal creature felt so at war with itself that it decided to split itself into two separate pieces which became more solid and defined in shape. Once the split was made, however, lasting peace was achieved. The two parts, no longer bound to the ethereal being, had themselves become free beings of the earth. No longer at war, they saw each other as equal partners and recognized themselves for what they were: two bodies sharing the same soul.

However, after an incalculable period of years, the two parts began to distinguish themselves from each other, for as they continued to spend more time together, they found that there were small but noticeable differences between them.

By climbing trees together, one of them found it was better at climbing, and by swimming the other found it was better at swimming. One found it was better at dancing, and the other better at making music. One found it was better at building, and the other at planning. At first these things didn’t seem to matter much, for they knew they were part of the same whole. However, the more the two beings focused on these small, unimportant differences, the more important these differences became.

After another period of years, the two equal parts had learned to take a special kind of pride in what they could do better than the other. The one who was better at climbing liked to think of itself as a tree climber, and would make a show of climbing trees often just to reaffirm this fact. The other being, who was better at swimming, began to think of itself as a swimmer, and would swim often to prove this.

As the years passed, however, both beings began to feel different. Suddenly the one being felt it could not climb as well as it once had, and the other could no longer swim the same, for they realized that they were that they were mortal. Soon they would pass into the earth, their spirits returning to The One from which all things come.

Upon realizing their inevitable fate, they became afraid and decided to do something they had not though of before: they would attempt to join themselves together. However, as much as they tried to join themselves permanently, they could never become one in the way they once were, for although their souls were the same, their bodies were different.

Still, not content to give up on their attempt, they searched their bodies to find the ways that they matched and tried to put them side-by-side, but this did not work either. Suddenly in their search they found two parts which were different, and by putting them closely together, they realized that they could feel a sense of oneness they had not felt since being split from the ethereal being.

Although this feeling of oneness was only temporary and did not save them from death or return them to the whole, they nevertheless began to enjoy this feeling of oneness so much that they would lie close together for days at a time until they grew hungry or tired from it.

After another incalculable period of years passed and the habit of lying together was established, both beings noticed something strange: within their separate bodies, other distinct bodies had begun to form. At first this made them very afraid, for they feared that their souls might be swallowed by the presence of these new beings, and so they cast them out of themselves.

However, once these new and smaller bodies were cast out of the two beings, they began to realize what had happened. For these new bodies, while at first appearing different and alien, began to look and act much like the two beings who had made them.

After seeing how similar they were to themselves, the two beings were excited by their creation, and over time, grew to love the creatures they had made. In fact, the two beings grew to love their creations so much that they began to teach them everything they knew about climbing, swimming, dancing, and singing so that they would know the best and proper way to do these things when they were older.

Like their parents, these new beings were also equal but different from each other. Though they both came to learn of the things their parents had taught them, they were taught different skills depending on how much they looked and acted like one parent or the other.

While the one parent who had thought of itself as the superior climber emphasized the teaching of climbing and dancing to the one that resembled it most, the parent who thought of itself as the superior swimmer began to emphasize the teaching of swimming and singing to the one that resembled it most.

Because of their differences in appearance and ability, and because of the ways their parents had taught them, each of these smaller beings grew up thinking of themselves as distinctly different from the other, for their parents had failed to teach them that they had both come from the same soul.

Instead of seeing themselves as parts of the whole, they saw themselves as separate and distinct from each other, and began to divide themselves further than their parents had. By the time they reached maturity, one identified themselves not by their commonality with the other, but by their own ability and appearance. Not only did both beings constantly climb and swim to affirm that they were the better than the other, but each had grown to think of itself as a climber or as a swimmer, a dancer or a singer.

As another incalculable amount of time passed, and their parents died from old age, the two beings became very sad, for they missed their parents dearly. In fact, they missed them so much that in order to immortalize their memory and the ways they had been taught, these beings began to draw markings on themselves in the form of tattoos so that they would not forget where they had come from or what they had each been taught.

By the time these beings reached old age and had offspring of their own, they too would teach them as their parents had, tattooing different symbols on their chests. These symbols would let them and others know what they had been taught, what they could do, and how they should see themselves in relation to others – as different bodies with different souls.

As time continued to pass and these beings continued to grow, reproduce, and die, the importance of their different tattoos became greater and greater until they began to take on a life of their own. Soon there were beings that were marked with tattoos who could only climb trees, while others who were differently marked were only allowed to swim. Some were marked for dancing, and others could do nothing but sing. So strong was the meaning and the power of these symbols that they began to control the beings that had created them.

One day, one of the beings marked for climbing grew tired and decided to sit down against a large tree to regain its strength. However, while it was resting, it heard a band of singers singing a beautiful melody just outside of the forest. As the climber listened to the melody, the music made it smile and its spirit was lifted so high that it forgot the state of its exhausted body altogether.

In fact, the melody had filled it with such rapture and joy that a forbidden urge welled up within this being which it simply couldn’t suppress any longer. And so the climber began to sing along with the singers, harmonizing with their melodious chant.

Hearing him through the forest, the singers became aware of this harmony and thought the singing was quite good. However, when the climber walked out of the forest and revealed the tattoo on its chest, the group of singers suddenly stopped singing and began to stare at the climber with a sense of shock and horror which made the climber feel ashamed and afraid.

The crowd of singers, showing their disgust on their faces, began to crowd around the climber who had dared to disobey the rules and started to shout and spit at this outsider. They felt dirty and defiled by the fact that they had been tricked into singing along with a climber, and so their anger and hatred began to grow until they were ready to kill.

But before the crowd of singers could lay a hand on the disobedient climber, a particularly compassionate and brave singer in the back began to sing a loud and beautiful solo which stopped the crowd in their tracks. Realizing it didn’t need to feel ashamed, the climber then lifted its bowed head and answered the singer’s call with a matching harmony.

As the two became louder, they began to feel a sense of pride and liberation which stood in defiance of their tattoos and their sacred traditions. One by one, the other singers gradually overcame their fear and joined in until they had a full chorus going. Soon other climbers in the forest began to hear them and see them all singing together before they joined in too.

As the song grew louder and more powerful with the addition of more climbers, the song soon reached all the way to the coastline where the swimmers swam, and to the mountains where the dancers danced until every being on the earth was singing in unison. In that moment, the power of their different tattoos to control them was no more, for they felt a sense of freedom and unity that none of them had ever experienced.

From that day on, they began to do away with the old traditions of selective teaching and tattooing. Instead of marking and attempting to control their offspring, they began to teach their children without prejudice and raise them without labels, regardless of their appearance, strength, or natural talent.

By the time those with old tattoos and prejudices had passed away, everyone on earth had learned to see each other not as separate beings, but as unique bodies with the same soul – as creatures bound together in the spirit of love, united with each other in the essence of The One.

A Hegelian Analysis and Critique of Feminism & Men’s Rights Advocacy: Why Feminism’s Failure to Acknowledge Male Oppression & Female Privilege is Problematic, and Why MRAs Need Feminism.

taThe 19th Century German philosopher, Hegel, once expressed the notion that we should see the past, not as a list of primitive ideas which we should be discarded once they have been conquered, but as a repository of knowledge that can be used to inform the present. He was also of the opinion that one could learn most from the ideas one most disliked.

Perhaps nowhere else in the present is Hegel’s view of history and learning more clearly needed than in the present conflict between feminism and the emerging Men’s Rights Advocacy movement.

By taking a Hegelian approach, I argue that MRA movement, far from being the scourge that will dismantle the equality and progress feminism has achieved, will help us to achieve greater progress by keeping feminism honest, and by helping to synthesize equality-based feminism with gender feminism in a way consistent with ideas about intersectional social justice.

Furthermore, rather than seeing feminism as useless, oppressive, and harmful to men, I argue that the MRA movement needs to acknowledge and adopt the feminist concept of privilege pioneered by feminism in order to fully realize and fight the oppression of men and women alike.

After reading and thinking through various feminist and intersectionalist works, after watching the MRA documentary,“The Red Pill” and after listening to to several discussions between feminists and MRAs, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hegel’s dialectic: the idea that every mature idea or movement (thesis) must first undergo necessary conflicts with its opposite (antithesis) before finally settling into a stable and coherent whole (synthesis).

Therefore, in the pursuit social justice and of synthesizing feminism with MRA, I will attempt to draw from the original thesis of feminism (the belief in female liberation and oppression and denial of female privilege and male oppression), while also drawing from the MRA antithesis (the belief in male liberation and oppression and denial of male privilege and female oppression) in order to arrive at a synthesis consistent with ideas of equality and intersectional notions of social justice (the idea of gender liberation for all, and the recognition that varying degrees of privilege and oppression are common to all genders – and to all people generally – because power relations and the oppression produced by them are interrelated and interdependent).

As a means of unpacking this dialectic and exposing the differences and similarities between the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, I’d like to compare examples of how the two different movements treat specific ideas relating to power and gender – namely, ideas about privilege, oppression, and notions of masculinity and femininity. If the MRA movement is to avoid becoming the new patriarchy, and the feminist movement the matriarchy, clearly we are due for such an analysis.

Let’s start first with the feminist understanding of power and privilege. The feminist understanding of privilege is that privilege is a function of power – specifically, male power (patriarchy) – which places the needs, desires, and values of men over the needs, desires, and values of women in virtually every single area of society.

As proof of the all-encompassing nature of male privilege, women point to the number of male CEO’s, members of congress, tenured professors, and so forth, drawing attention to the lack of representation of women and lack of consideration of women’s needs in these key areas.

The feminists then conclude, based on these facts, that because men have historically enjoyed and continue to enjoy certain privileges that women do not within key areas of life, that male power therefore controls and dominates the whole of larger society, oppressing women in the process.

Moreover, since the feminist understanding of privilege is that is solely function of male power (or white, male power), feminism as it is currently understood cannot reasonably suggest that that men are also oppressed, as this would contradict the notion that males are the source of privilege and power.

In essence, the gender-based notion of patriarchy as the source of all oppression (male and female), but which excludes a discussions of men’s oppression and female power is problematic because it focuses on fighting the oppression of women and the privilege of men while refusing to allow men and women to recognize and combat the oppression of men and the and privilege of women.

The problem of feminism is therefore one of ontology, because it operates under the assumption that males cannot be oppressed, or at least that they cannot be oppressed to the extent women are, thus undermining the principle of social justice for all people.

Conversely the MRA understanding of privilege is much like that of the feminist, only in reverse. Although MRA advocate understandings of privilege is that privilege is a function of power, they suggest that this power is not patriarchy (male power), but matriarchy (female power) which disadvantages men and elevates the needs, desires, and status of women.

The MRA, like the feminist, will cite key areas of society in which males are disadvantaged, citing domestic abuse against males, male homelessness, suicide rates, legal issues surrounding children, and so forth, concluding that women actually control and benefit from larger society more than men do.

However, also like the feminist, the MRA movement’s ontological problem keeps it from acknowledging – or rather, at the very least, makes it reluctant to acknowledge – that male privilege and female oppression both exist in society because this shifts the focus and attention away from men and male oppression.

By taking an Hegelian approach, we can therefore realize that both groups are right to a degree, but that both groups are also wrong. They’re right in their diagnosis that privilege exists, and that gender-specific privileges exist, but they are wrong in their diagnosis that gender privileges exist only be for men or only be for women, or that oppression only exists for women or only exists for men.

To begin our analysis, let’s look at feminist and MRA notions of “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity, on a basic level, is something that MRAs and feminists agree upon – namely, that rigid, misplaced ideas of what it means to “be a man” are harmful to men. The disagreement comes about when designating who or what is precipitating the harm.

Feminists, for example, claim that toxic masculinity stems from patriarchy – that is, that rigid ideas of masculinity are a self-imposed byproduct of male power – while MRAs claim that toxic masculinity is not due to self-imposed male power, but rather stems from female power which is imposed on men from the outside.

Again, if we take the Hegelian route and realize that gender itself is dialectical – that is, that gender roles and ideas about masculinity and femininity are negotiated through a push-pull process within a society that both privileges and oppresses, we can realize how both positions are right to an extent, but can also see where that both positions miss the mark.

If we accept gender is dialectical, if we accept that what it means to be a “man” or “woman” within a society is determined by a combination of males and females, and if we accept that this dialectic takes place within a society in which the distribution of power between men and women is relatively equal but distributed throughout society in different ways, then we must acknowledge that the idea of toxic masculinity is something which is imposed on men by men and imposed on men by women. It is not solely patriarchal, but neither is it solely matriarchal. It is both.

In this sense, all notions of what it means to be a “man” are derived from what most males and females think manhood should entail just as notions of what it means to be a “woman” are derived from what most males and females think being a womanhood should entail.

Moreover, not only is gender negotiated between men and women, but I argue that the relationship between all genders – including the male-female binary – is necessarily interdependent because it is a function of how power operates – namely, through the dialectical negotiation of privilege and oppression by people within society.

To make this interdependent relationship clear, let’s examine the idea of chivalry – an idea which necessitates gender toxicity which is thought to be solely patriarchal by feminists, and solely matriarchal by MRAs. Again, I’m going to show the ways they are both right and wrong.

Contrary to feminists and MRAs, I argue that the idea of chivalry (which includes the toxic idea of the strong male savior and the corresponding helpless damsel in distress) reveals the degree to which rigid gender roles and toxic ideas of masculinity and femininity are codependent, as well as the ways in which both men and women are equally privileged and oppressed by traditional notions of gender.

Since chivalry, by its very definition, puts men in the position of being the strong, decisive, savior of women, it simultaneously puts women in the position of being weak, passive, damsels in distress. In this way, we can see how chivalry harms men by telling them that their identity as a man can only be validated by being responsible for saving women; but we can also see how chivalry harms women by telling women they can only validate their identity as a woman by being saved by men.

Moreover, in the dialectical and codependent relationship between chivalrous men and damsel women, we can also see the ideas of privilege and oppression at work for both genders.

While chivalry grants men the privilege to be the strong, decisive savior of women, it also gives men the burden of having to self-sacrifice for women at the expense of their own well-being (male oppression). Similarly, while being the damsel in distress makes women unable to be seen as strong, decisive saviors (female oppression), it also grants women the privilege of avoiding the same self-sacrifice which would be equally harmful to their well-being.

In other words, chivalry, as well as other toxic and rigid ideas about gender, are always a double-edged sword because they simultaneously privilege and disadvantage the people that adopt, reinforce, and perpetuate them. In this sense, while one gender within the savior-damsel dialectic might feel more liberated or less oppressed than the other, the reality is that both are equally privileged and oppressed.

Furthermore, what makes gender toxicity so hard to dispel – whether that toxicity is masculine or feminine – is not because of patriarchy or because of matriarchy, but because of the lack of awareness and understanding on the part of the men and women who adopt these roles of the harm they cause to themselves and to the people in their lives.

Interestingly, the notion of intersectionality – the idea that systems of oppression are linked – also helps to explain the various ways in which people recognize or fail to recognize privilege and oppression as it relates to gender, and therefore fail to realize that they are complicit in the perpetuation of feminine and masculine privilege and oppression.

For example, a man’s inability to realize or articulate the fact that tall women threaten his masculinity and the masculinity of men around him makes him complicit in perpetuating the idea that a man who is short – i.e. less tall than a woman – is somehow less of a man or less desirable to women.

Conversely, a woman’s inability to realize or articulate the fact that short men threaten her femininity and the femininity of the women around her makes her complicit in perpetuating the idea that a tall woman – i.e. a woman who is taller than a man –  is somehow less of a woman or less desirable to men.

To conclude, by synthesizing feminist and MRA conceptions of power, privilege, and oppression, we can see how the progress of social justice depends on realizing and becoming conscious of our own privilege and oppression relative to our gender, race, class, nationality, and species so that we can use our privilege to liberate ourselves and others rather than continuing to dominate and oppress ourselves and others.

As sentient beings that inhabit the earth, we are all complicit in the pain and suffering of others just as we are complicit in their pleasure and joy. If we hope to bring more happiness and less suffering, it therefore behooves us to be aware of ourselves and our history, to be aware of how our thoughts and actions impact the lives of others, and to listen to the voices of others different from us with objectivity, understanding, and empathy.

Supper Time: A Brief Dialogue

Supper Time: A Brief Dialogue

It is supper time. A family sits together at a broken and uneven kitchen table. The table is split in half with a large crack running down the middle. The wife sits at the higher end of the table with her daughter while the son and father sit at the lower end. They are all sitting with their heads bowed with the food the men have prepared on the table. The Matriarch speaks.

Dinah: “Dearest Mother God, Creator of all things, guard us and keep us from subjugation and bless us with equality and liberation. Bless our family, especially our daughter, Eve, who will soon be the woman of the house. Bless this food for the nourishment of our bodies. Amen.”

All: “Amen.”

Eve: “Thanks mom.”

Dinah: “Of course, dear.”

The mother serves herself a plate of food, then hands her daughter an empty a plate to serve herself. The husband, Cain, and their son, Adam, look on as the mother and daughter eat. The husband and son are hungry, but the mother and daughter ignore them. The mother and daughter continue eating together and engage in conversation.

Dinah: “So, how was school sweetheart?”

Eve: “It was okay. I didn’t do as well as I wanted on the math test, but I’m really staring to love my cooking class.”

Dinah’s face goes white as she purses her lips. She speaks softly and carefully.

Dinah: “What was that I heard?”

Eve: “I…like to cook?”

Dinah: “What have I told you about cooking? Cooking is men’s work; we’ve been over this. A woman should pursue a career more suited to her gender.”

Dinah, turning to her husband: “What do you think, husband?”

Cain, looking surprised caught off-guard: “Well, um…I…your mother’s right, Dinah.”

Dinah, turning back with a satisfied smile: “Thank you.”

Adam: “I don’t like to cook.”

Cain: “You’ll get used to it, son. The man bears the stain of the first sin; don’t you forget that.”

Adam’s stomach growls loudly

Eve: “What was that?”

Dinah: “I think they’re hungry, dear.”

Eve: “Oh…should we let them eat now?”

Dinah: “Alright, but don’t give them too much. They can’t control themselves when you give them too much. Plus, they make such a mess.”

Eve fixes a plate and hands it to Adam who when fixes a plate for his father. They have no silverware but eat anyway. They are both very hungry.

Dinah: “Not too fast now or you’ll make yourselves sick. You can’t do any housework if you’re sick.”

Adam eats a bit too fast. He spits some of his food out on the table.

Eve: “Yuck! Mother, look what Adam did!”

Dinah: “Adam! You eat your food like a civilized person!

Cain: “He’s doing his best.”

Dinah: “What was that?”

Cain: “Sorry…I just meant…he’s only a boy, that’s all.”

Dinah: “That’s a poor excuse for bad behavior.”

Adam: “Maybe if you gave him silverware he’d – ”

She looks at Cain angrily, speaking slowly, but firmly.

Dinah: “You know why he can’t. You know what happens when you give men a bit of control. They can’t handle it. It goes to their heads. Besides, after all you’ve put us through, you should be grateful.”

Cain, bowing his head in submission: “Yes, dear…of course.”

Adam, wiping his mouth with is shirt: “I’m sorry mom.”

Dinah: “You’ll learn soon enough.”

Adam: “I will. I promise.”

Dinah: “Good boy.”

Eve: “Mother, I’m finished.”

Dinah: “Give your plate to Adam, dear.”

Eve hands Adam her empty plate.

Eve: “Can I go play with dolls?”

Dinah: “Honey, we’ve been over this. Dolls are for boys; trucks are for girls.”

Eve: “Right. Can I go play with trucks?”

Dinah: “Yes, dear.”

Eve excuses herself from the table and runs off into the living room. Dinah follows after her to make sure she is playing with trucks. The father and son are sitting together at the table.

Adam: “Dad?”

Cain: “Yes, son?”

Adam: “Will it always be like this?”

Cain: “It’s just the way it is, son. You’ll understand when you’re older.”

They both get up to wash the dishes together. Adam, remembering the stain of his sin, scrubs the dishes extra hard with is hand, cutting it in the process. He bleeds into the dishwater and begins to cry. The father notices this and reprimands him.

Cain: “No pain, son.”

Adam wipes the tears from his eyes and continues washing, burying his emotions in the hot, soapy water.

Adam: “No pain.”


Against A Hierarchy of “isms”: Why Ideological Rigidity and Supremacy are Harmful to Intersectional Social Justice

2+2 = 4. If you take away any part of this equation, it cannot express the same truth. Ideology is the same way. If you take one piece away and replace it with something else, it does not express the same idea. It might express a similar one, but it will not be the same one.

In this sense, our traditional understandings of patriarchy and white supremacy as systems of oppression are currently undergoing and will continue to undergo a similar process of revision as more women and people of color assume positions of power, and as power shifts its locus elsewhere.

In other words, feminism and other “isms” can no longer express cannot afford to reasonably express the same idea about the nature of power which they have in the past simply because times and circumstances have changed and will continue to change, thus rendering the traditionally rigid conceptions of power less coherent and less useful with each passing decade.

Although sexism and racism are alive and well today, the truth is that patriarchy and white supremacy are not the structures they once were, although their lasting influence is obviously still embedded in key institutions, cultures, languages, attitudes, and behaviors.

In saying this, I am by no means suggesting that patriarchy white supremacy no longer exist, or that one doesn’t need to worry about them. I’m merely suggesting that since much progress has been made along several fronts of fighting injustice, this should give us pause to re-evaluate the evidence on the ground, and to revise the ideological tools we currently have at our disposal.

Doing this will ensure that we can better understand and diagnose injustices, and will safeguard us from trying to skew evidence to meet a rigid and antiquated ideological framework. After all, when social justice begins to look and behave like young earth creationism, you know you’re in trouble.

While it might be tempting to cling to the simpler models of the past, revising our tools for diagnosing and combating injustice shouldn’t be seen as a death knell of social justice or a betrayal of past movements. On the contrary, it should be seen as a good and necessary exercise for getting at the truth, and as a way of bettering oneself and one’s understanding of the world. In the way that the scientific revolution made religion more honest and humane, a revolution in thinking about social justice, will made achieving social justice more attainable.

The truth is that we know all social justice ideologies, like all good movements, must adapt or die. They must continually revise themselves or else come to an end – either because the social problems they have been designed to diagnose and treat have been cured, or because the zeitgeist and the locus of power has shifted. This is simply the self-correcting nature of all knowledge and progress.

Therefore, just as the Catholic Church had to shift its theology after substituting  the Geocentric theory of the solar system for Copernicus’ Heliocentric model, I argue that Social Justice must necessarily shift its focus away from the hierarchy of “isms”  and of the primacy of one “ism” over another in order to be truly effective and intersectional.

Recently I watched an interview with Carol J. Adams – an intersectional feminist whose work I greatly admire – wherein she spoke about her book, “The Sexual Politics of Meat.” I would recommend this book to anybody interested in intersectional social justice, feminism, or veganism, as it offers crucial insights about how power functions by illuminating the web of oppression which links the domination of women with the domination of non-human animals, and links notions of masculinity with meat-eating culture.

However, with that said, there was something that disturbed me about the interview when Adams was asked the following question:

“What advice do you have for vegans living in a carnistic world?”

Adams then answered with the following statement:

“Well…I’m just gonna correct this. We’re living in a patriarchal world that is using meat-eating to prop it up.”

To be fair, it seemed that Adams was clearly trying to be inclusive and didn’t  mean any harm in saying this, but we know historically that the use of words, as well as the omission of them, ends up mattering a lot. In Adam’s case, they suggests that meat-eating is solely a function of masculinity – and therefore solely a function of patriarchy. However, from my perspective, carnism is clearly also a function of speciesism as well as a function of the alienation, objectification, commodification of non-human animals under capitalism.

In other words, Adam’s worldview – or at least the one her statement implies within this interview – suggests a hierarchy of “isms” in which one ideology (feminism) is necessarily superior to other ideologies, and that the problems these other ideologies attempt to diagnose and cure (racism, homophobia, speciesism, etc.) are merely subordinate to the central issue of patriarchy.

While I understand that feminism is Adams’ passion and life’s work, I feel that when she attempts to rank issues of social justice in an objective, hierarchical manner – not just in terms of their relative importance to her own lived experience – that she unintentionally and unnecessarily erects barriers to social justice which is truly intersectional.

For example, if I chose an anti-speciesist ideological framework which privileges anti-speciesism over ideologies, I could just as easily argue that, “We’re living in speciesist world that is using patriarchy to prop it up.” However, I suspect that any feminist reading this statement would be quite put off by it, as it suggests feminism is a subordinate ideology and that sexism is a lesser problem than speciesism.

In the same way the Church’s claim to a monopoly on truth precipitates needless conflict between Christians and other faiths, the claim to ideological primacy – whether it is feminist, marxist, or anti-speciesist – can only lead to division in a world seeking justice for all.

The fact that different people perceive, understand, and experience injustice differently renders this type of ideological primacy problematic, especially if the goal of intersectional social justice is to acknowledge, highlight, and address a whole range of interrelated injustices stemming from the same source.

It might very well be true from a pragmatic, utilitarian viewpoint that curing one injustice first (e.g.racism) could better enable one to more easily cure another (sexism) than if one had initially targeted a different one (speciesism), but thus far I have no real way of knowing (and I suspect Adams doesn’t either) which injustice should be tackled first, nor have I been presented with a convincing argument which definitively shows me why one injustice should take precedence over another.

It’s probably true that ending speciesism would grant women greater control over their own bodies, and it’s also true that allowing women control over their own bodies would likely grant non-human animals greater control over theirs, but I cannot say definitively say whether women’s rights or animal rights should take precedent over the other since they are inextricably linked.

The only thing I can attempt to do is argue why it might be practically advantageous to focus more of one’s time and energy engaging in a different strategy for fighting what is an interrelated and shared goal – i.e. ending all injustice.

To be clear, I adamantly reject the idea that there is one grand social evil which underlies all others, whether that evil is labelled patriarchy, capitalism, racism, sexism, or speciesism, simply because power is not relegated to a single domain, nor does power remain static.

Even in a raceless, classless, sexless, and otherwise equal society there would still be attempts by the strong to dominate the weak. This is because there will always be those who seek what feminist theologian Elizabeth Fiorenza describes as “power over” (hierarchical power) and those who seek “power for” (liberating power).

Moreover, in laying claim to a single theoretical framework, one necessarily limits one’s ability to understand reality, and therefore to understand how power functions within that reality, because the lens one is using is necessarily narrow and limited by the bounds of one’s chosen ideology (capitalism, feminism, racism, etc.) Simply put, if your only tool for fighting injustice is a hammer, every injustice will tend to look like a nail.

This, after all, is what leads some well-meaning feminists to wrongly conclude that the “gender wage gap” exists – not because there is evidence for it, but because it is in keeping with the ideology one wishes to map onto a perceived reality. By mistaking correlation for causation, the nail of patriarchy is therefore proclaimed to exist where an alternative socio-economic analysis might reveal that the problem is not a nail, but a screw which requires an entirely different tool to fix.

Furthermore, I completely reject the elevating and subordinating of social justice issues because the whole idea is self-refuting. By  treating other issues and movements as a means to an end, it necessitates injustice in the pursuit of justice. By presenting other social justice issues as inferior issues which merely accompany and help shed light on the “real” overarching issue, it destroys its credibility by becoming tyrannical and fascistic.

One cannot ethically justify elevating one issue over another just because one happens to belong to a certain oppressed group, because one’s life is less impacted by other issues, or because one has a stronger investment in a particular movement any more than one can ethically justify elevating the status of men above women because one happens to be a man whose life is impacted more directly by male issues.

This, after all, is the type of justification which racists, bigots, and imperialists have used throughout history against others who were different or were considered “lesser,” and who always cited some version of “the greater good” in the process of silencing, killing, or subjugating others.

Simply put, we cannot fight justice by being unjust, and we cannot fight hierarchical systems of domination by creating hierarchies of domination. When we do this, we become participants in a long history of oppression and support the very thing we are fighting against. To this end, we would be wise to heed the words of Dr. King when he claimed,“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Vegan activist Gary Yourofsky argues that speciesism is the root of all evil; Carol J. Adams argues patriarchy is the root of all evil; Marx argued that capitalism was the root of all evil. But the truth is that an evil tree has many roots, and if you only cut one at a time, it will keep growing back.


The Sleepover: A Brief Dialogue

The Sleepover: A Brief Dialogue

It is late on a cold winter night. Two young girls are having a sleepover. They are both wearing matching pairs of colorful fuzzy pajamas with happy farm animal faces on them. Phones in hand, they share online videos of frolicking baby animals.

Ari: “Did you get that puppy video I sent you?”

Eva: “Totes adorbs!”

Ari: “Totes!”

Eva: “What are you sending?”

Ari: “You’ll see.”

Eva: “Awwww! They’re so adorable!”

Ari: “Aren’t they? I just love cats. I wish I could hug every single one.”

Eva: “Me too!”

Ari: “And sloths.”

Eva: “I know!”

Ari: “Have you heard the sounds they make?”

Eva: “What?! No!? Send me one!”

Ari: “OMG – they’re sooooo cute!”

Eva: “Didn’t I tell you?”

Ari: “I want one already!”

Eva: “Don’t you already have a cat?”

Ari: “Yeah, but you can never have too many animals.”

Eva: “True. My grandma has six cats.”

Ari: “No way!”

Eva: “And a dog.”

Ari: “No fair! Mom won’t let us have a dog.”

Eva: “Why not?”

Ari: “Dad’s allergic.”

Eva: “Aw, that sucks.”

Ari: “It’s whatever. Maybe one day…”

Eva, completing her sentence: “You’ll get a sloth?”

Ari: “I wish.”

Eva: “Me too.”

The two girls are suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door. It is Eva’s mother. The two girls grow silent. The mother talks at them through the door.

Mother: “Girls? Girls, it’s getting late. Time for you two to get to bed.”

Eva: “Aw mom, really?”

Mother: “Yes sweetie. It’s almost midnight.”

Eva: “Okay mom, we will.”

The mother walks downstairs. The girls wait until they can no longer hear her footsteps. Eva turns on her phone again. Ari gives her a look.

Ari: “I thought your mom said that – ”

Eva: “That we needed to go to bed?”

Ari: “Yeah.”

Eva: “Where are we sitting right now?”

Ari: “Your room?”

Eva: “No, but what are we sitting on?”

Ari: “A bed?”

Eva: “Exactly.”

Ari: “Oooh. You’re pretty smart.”

Eva: “I know, right?”

Ari: “I wonder what we’ll have for breakfast tomorrow.”

Eva: “My dad’s gonna make us breakfast, I think.”

Ari: “Awesomesauce.”

Eva: “I just love the smell of bacon in the morning.”

Ari: “And sausage.”

Eva: “That too.”

Ari: “What about eggs?”

Eva: “Only if they’re scrambled.”

Ari: “Why?”

Eva: “It makes me feel like I’m eating a baby chicken.”

Ari: “Gross.”

Eva: “I know that’s not what it is, but still…”

Ari: “I know what you mean.”

Eva: “Now you’ve got me all hungry.”

Ari: “Sorry.”

Eva: “It’s okay. Wanna share some more videos?”

Ari: “Okay.”

Eva: “What about this one?”

Ari: “OMG it’s a little piggy!”

Eva: “isn’t it cute? I just love its little snout.”

Ari: “Sooo cute!”

Eva: “I heard they’re smarter than dogs.”

Ari: “Wow, really?”

Eva: “Really.”

Ari: “Who told you?”

Eva: “My dad. He’s a farmer, so he should know.”

Ari: “Cool.”

Eva: yawns

Ari: “Stop, you’re making me –” yawns loudly

Eva: “Sleepy?”

Ari: “Yeah.”

Eva: “I’m gonna try to get some sleep, I think.”

Ari: “Good call. Me too.”

Grabbing their twin plush kittens, they both lie down on the bed, pulling the wool sheets up to their necks. Eva turns off the light. They rest their heads against their soft, down pillows.

Eva: “Night Ari.”

Ari: “Night.”

Thinking of tomorrow’s breakfast, they fall into a deep slumber. The pig video is stuck on replay, and silently repeats over and over on Eva’s phone. Their matching fuzzy pajamas are wrapped around their innocent, fragile bodies. They know they are safe and loved. The disembodied cow and pig faces on them are happy and smiling. In the morning, they awake to the smell of bacon.

The Good Shepherd: A Very Short Story

The Good Shepherd: A Very Short Story

In a cottage in the highlands lived a kind shepherd who loved animals. He looked after his flock of sheep as if they were his family, and even gave them human names. He also learned to recognize their unique voices and personalities, and felt it was his duty to guard them from the wolves that would prowl the highlands at night.

One morning while the shepherd was tending to his flock, he noticed that something was wrong. A young lamb was struggling to keep up with its mother, limping and bleating frantically as it trailed behind. Seeing the young animal’s distress, he approached the mother and her lamb for a closer look.

To the shepherd’s surprise, he saw that one of the legs of the lamb had been broken – perhaps an accidental fall from a cliff. The shepherd’s heart went out to the wounded lamb, and so he gathered it up in his arms and carried it for the rest of the day, following closely behind the mother.

At night, when the rest of the sheep were asleep, he took the lamb to his cottage where he fashioned a splint out of wood and carefully wrapped it around the lamb’s injured leg. Once the splint was secured, the shepherd breathed a sigh of relief. He knew he had saved the lamb’s life.

Having kept the lamb with him through the night, he reunited it with its mother the next morning just as the sun was rising and the rest of the sheep were waking. The shepherd was glad to see the mother and her baby safe and secure, and a smile broke out across his face as she watched them comfort each other after only hours of being apart. On that day, the shepherd’s love for his flock seemed to grow even more.

Over the next few days, everything seemed perfectly fine. The flock seemed happy and healthy with plenty of time for grazing and play. But every so often the shepherd spot a figure in the distance – a large wolf standing no more than a few hundred yards from the flock. He suspected that it had been following them for a few days.

The shepherd, of course, was used to the occasional wolf encounter, and he could usually scare them off with a shout quite easily. However, this wolf didn’t behave like the others. It seemed especially watchful, as if waiting for the right moment. There was a kind of unparalleled focus and desperation about it that could not be matched by the others, and it made the shepherd wonder.

When a few more days had passed, the wolf appeared more regularly. In fact, it seemed to be getting closer with each passing day. The shepherd was now starting to worry. Remembering the ways his father had taught him as a child, he began to shout, throw stones, clap his hands, and even wave his arms up and down. This would scare off the wolf for maybe an hour or two, but as soon as the shepherd would turn around to make sure it was gone for good, the wolf would be back once more.

After a week had passed and the wolf continued to move closer, the shepherd’s mind often returned to the baby lamb he had saved. He worried what would happen to it during the night, and would often be plagued with nightmares of waking to find his entire flock gone – killed by a pack of ravaging wolves. In fact, the shepherd became so worried that he had taken to sleeping in the fields alongside his sheep just in case something happened, although he prayed that nothing would.

One night the shepherd suddenly awoke to the alarmed cries of his flock ringing in his ears. His worst fears had been realized, for his sheep were now under attack. The shepherd looked around to see several pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness, their silver-white coats illuminated by the light of the full moon. Upon seeing this, the shepherd began to scream at the top of his lungs, throwing anything he could find at the encroaching wolf pack, but this only seemed to annoy and anger them.

Out of the corner of his eye, the shepherd then noticed something that made his blood run cold – the lamb with the splinted leg was standing was standing helplessly out in the open, away from the flock. The lamb’s voice cried out for its mother, who now stood between her baby and one of the larger, silver predators.

Spotting a rather large tree branch on the ground, the shepherd instinctively grabbed it in one hand and charged at the wolves, swinging wildly as he did. When enough of the circling wolves had retreated, the shepherd rushed to the little lamb’s aid, lifting it high off the ground and into his secure arms. He knew he had saved it once again, and this was a small comfort. Still, the wolves had made their way back, but instead of attacking all at once, they seemed to be searching for something, appearing more curious than ferocious.

Suddenly the shepherd spotted the largest wolf in the pack. It was the same wolf that had been following him for the past week, and it looked like she was pregnant. As she moved towards the flock, it was clear that the others feared and respected her, as they scattered at her approach. Eyeing the flock closely while keeping her pack in check, she began to swiftly move in and out of the flock, weaving back and forth in zigzag pattern – almost as if she was trying to herd them.

Holding the lamb closely to his chest, the shepherd watched her move silently and gracefully, her sleek coat gleaming, her wolf eyes shining a deep yellow that was both beautiful and terrifying. In that moment, the shepherd stood paralyzed with fear and awe. He thought that this is what it must be like to encounter the gods, for there was something magical about her gate and her unwavering sense of purpose. And yet, he feared for his own life and the lives of his sheep.

As the minutes passed he noticed that the pattern of the female wolf began to change until she eventually stopped. She had found what she was looking for – an old ram that the shepherd had raised several years ago. Gathering up his courage, the shepherd dashed over to the elderly sheep with lamb and stick in hand, prepared to defend his elderly brother.

But as he moved closer, the reality of the situation became clear: the ram was deathly ill and in pain. Although fully grown, an unknown disease had weakened him so much that he could barely stand and could scarcely see. Upon seeing this, the shepherd cursed himself. After all, he had been so worried about the young lamb that he failed to notice the rest of the flock.

The shepherd now found himself in a dangerous quandary. If he kept the ram, it was sure to die, and if he allowed the wolves to get at him, he would also die. As the shepherd’s mind raced back to the days he had cared for the sheep when it was only a lamb, tears began to well up in his eyes. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of parting with it. It had become part of his life and his family.

The shepherd’s anguish and anger now completely conquered his fear, as he began to angrily and defiantly curse the wolves with every fiber of his being. He yelled and screamed at the top of his lungs, letting his body tremble and his eyes light up with rage. He called the wolves all sorts of names, spitting at them, mocking them, even throwing his stick into the pack where a few wolves yelped with pain and surprise. He wished then and there that these wolves had never existed, for they had brought him nothing but worry and misery.

And yet, even as the shepherd’s heart continued to sink and his rage continued to burn, his eyes were drawn to the sagging stomach of the pregnant wolf. Slowly, the shepherd began to think about why she had come. He thought of her cubs that would be born without food. He thought of how she had diligently tracked him and his flock for days without rest. He thought of her bravery, of her pain, and of the hunger and danger that drove her to his flock.

It was then that the good shepherd realized an important truth: as much as he loved his sheep and cared for them, they did not truly belong to him any more than the wolves that hunted them. For they were both free beings of the world, and he had simply been charged with their stewardship. He understood that he could no more use their bodies for his own gain than he could allow the wolves to use his body for theirs.

After realizing this truth, the hatred in his heart which had burned so fiercely was replaced by a sudden rush of sympathy. He wiped the tears from his face, for he at last understood what needed to be done. Taking a sharp knife from his pocket, he calmly approached the sickly ram. Kneeling before it, he ran his hands through its coarse, woolly coat one last time. He then put the blade to the ram’s throat, closed his eyes, and whispered a final farewell.

As the dead ram lay bleeding on the ground, the wolves, guided by the alpha female, began to silently move in on the corpse. Sensing the danger, the shepherd quickly moved out of the way, taking his flock with him into the surrounding hills, the lamb held safely in his arms.

But as he turned to look back one last time on the sacrifice he had made at Nature’s altar, the only thing he could see was a large pair of yellow orbs that seemed to pierce deep into his soul. As they gleamed and flashed in the moonlight while he made his escape, he imagined that perhaps this was her way of saying, “Thank you.”