Family Secrets

“Bleating Hearts” holds up an uncomfortable mirror

Posted Nov 12, 2013

Rat in a shiny new prison.

Huis clos.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every family has a secret. At forty-six, a man is told that the woman who raised him is actually his grandparent and his “aunt”, his biological mother. While looking through old papers and after a lifetime of baptisms, confirmations, masses, and holy day celebrations, a 53-year-old woman discovers her family is not Catholic, but Jewish. There are a million variations to the theme of family secrets - some minor, some major.

Family shadows disappear into silence for one reason, because the secret holder is afraid – afraid of what will happen when the truth outs – shame, shunning, or, at times, prison and death. Polish parents persistently denied their Jewish heritage even when faced with documents found by their children proving otherwise. In a place where Nazi effigies on public buildings are yet to be painted over after more than 70 years since Poland’s Jews were “disappeared,” secrets remain menacing, the threat of telling very real. [1]

Secrets are like Harry Potter Howler letters. Their potency builds with time. There is no turning back, no closing the lid. The truth explodes reality, the truth demands accounting. This is exactly what Mark Hawthorne’s new book does, writ large for the entire modern family of man.

Image of book cover, Bleating Hearts
Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering is a methodical inventory of our culture’s sad truth. [2] Modern identity is shaped by violence. Our lives thread through a cultural fabric literally made from the mutilated bodies of other animals. Food, ritual, entertainment, health and medicine, education, housing, clothes – all involve abuse, torture, objectification, and death of nonhuman animals.

Thanksgiving, a cherished holiday in North America that brings together even the most estranged family, involves the killing of near 300 million turkeys annually. [3] Aquaria, zoos, and theme parks incarcerate lions, orcas, elephants, octopi, and scores more. These entertainment inmates live in quarters no larger than a thumbnail compared with the natural wild. Those who have not been torn from their families are born to mothers chained and raped with metal instruments during artificial insemination. The warmth of a winter jacket given lovingly to a child or spouse comes from feathers ripped from screaming geese, their skin and psyches left raw and broken. The architecture of everyday life - houses, windows, airports, cars, and roads – obliterate billions of insects and rodents beneath the press of concrete. Chickens are publically displayed then killed in the name of art. [4]

Most of what Hawthorne carefully documents is well known – consciously or not. Eyes may avert when opening a package of chicken that is accompanied by what can only be described as a kind of Kotex to soak up unappetizing signs of blood. Heads may shake in disapproval at the brutality of dolphin drives and elephant culls, but despite these affective stirrings of conscience, laughs and jokes erupt when a squirrel falls from a feeder to the pavement below.

Despite science’s recognition that birds’ brains are comparable to our own, expressions of captive parrot misery are commonly ridiculed by veterinarians and breeders as “tantrums of a three-year-old child.” Filmmakers manipulate, harm, and kill the very subjects they purport to protect. Millions of turtles, snakes, frog, and other wildlife are captured, used, and killed by legal authorities claiming to conserve those they destroy. Starlings by the hundreds drop from the skies for unknown reasons until months later, the government admits culpability. All this and many things more.

But life as we know it goes on. Truth is concealed under a protective wrapping of cognitive dissonance. The owner of the stomach made queasy by the sight of poultry blood excitedly orders filet mignon au point. Decriers of the ivory trade eagerly travel in an ecotourism-approved Land Rover to ogle elephant survivors suffering from the terrors of human-caused Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). The tender guardian of two felines staunchly defends biomedical research that surgically implants metal screws and clamps into a cats’ heads. [5, 6, 7, 8]

The global shift to animal liberation is arguably the most profound cultural change in human history. Rightly, explosive tensions surround the issues for two key reasons. First, an embrace of animal rights nullifies a pledge of mutual deterrence – an agreement to uphold the unwritten pact of human privilege. This is why a son, after declaring his conversion to veganism, is regarded as a family traitor. His actions are taken as implicit renunciation of his human kin.

Animal rights is a volatile issue for another reason: there is lucre in holding the species line. This is why colleagues excoriate a scientist when he insists that the rights of whales subjected to “conservation research” are akin to human rights violations. Conservation and science research depend on the ability to study other animals in ways that are largely prohibited for humans. Lucre relates to why a woman is jailed by authorities for feeding and fraternizing with deer. [9] In the U.S. alone, wildlife, conservation, and related agencies and communities harvest hundreds of millions of dollars annually from direct and indirect hunting receipts. [10]

Mark Hawthorne’s impeccable compendium is stark testimony to the end of human privilege. Today, Bleating Hearts is an essential reference for any and all studies. Soon, it will number among other history books on the rise and fall of modernity.

The secret of our culture is out. Even science has openly recanted humanity’s mistruths. [11] But the truth is good. The future is brighter and better. What could be more healing, more healthful, than the cessation of violence against our animal family? What could be more inviting than the promise of peace and respect together? This is the alternative that the author of Bleating Hearts invites.


Literature Cited

[1] Muller-Paisner, V. 2005. Broken Chain: Catholics Uncover the Holocaust's Hidden Legacy and Discover Jewish Roots. Pitchstone.

[2] Hawthorne, M. 2013. Bleating hearts: The hidden world of animal suffering. Changemakers.

[3] Southcombe, A. 2013. Message from a pumpkin. The Kerulos Center; retrieved November 13 2013.

[4] Bradshaw, G. 2012. !5 minutes of shame. Psychology Today.; retrieved November 10 2013.

[5] de Vise, D. 2010. Wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer shows that animals are often set up to succeed. Washington Post. retrieved November 6 2013.

[6] Allen G. 2011. 200 starlings found dead but this time there's no mystery: U.S. government admits poisoning birds in South Dakota. Daily Mail. retrieved November 7 2013.

[7] Bradshaw, G. 2012. With friends like these: can conservation kill elephants? Psychology Today.

[8] PETA. 2013. Cats Tormented and Killed in University Lab, Retrieved November 11 2013.

[9] Stienstra, T. 2003. Deer feeder puts fawns before freedom. Unbowed and unrepentant, woman repeatedly jailed for giving animals food. SFGate. retrieved November 11 2013.

[10] International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 2002. Economic importance of hunting in America;; retrieved November 11 2013.

[11] Cambridge Declaration. 2012. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness