Monday, February 4, 2013

Electronic Monitoring for Non-Human Animals

There's an extraordinary example in today's New York Times of the disconnect between the way wild animals and farm animals register in many human minds and hearts. Emily Anthes writes approvingly in "Tracking the Pack" of how the "expensive GPS tracking collar" worn by some wolves can allow scientists to "gain crucial insight into the lives of gray wolves." Advances such as these in modern communications technologies are, as Anthes points out, beneficial in all sorts of ways. "Bird lovers can follow the migrations of bald eagles," and followers of fish can do the same with some marine species. That sort of learning, she reasonably suggests, "can prompt affection for these creatures, even if we never meet them."

The disconnect occurs when she brings in cows:
The technology is still evolving, and we've only just scratched the surface of what's possible. In the years to come, perhaps wildlife biologists will take a take a page from the creators of Teat Tweet, a yearlong project featuring twelve tagged dairy cows and an automatic milking machine. Each cow was given her very own Twitter account, and a program broadcast her milking stats to all her followers. On July 14, 2011, for instance, a cow named Goldwyn Windy tweeted "I just squirted 18.9 kgs of milk out of my teats in 7.10 minutes. What did you do today?"
It would be hard to find a more pernicious example of how effective the propaganda of the shills of factory farming can be. First, we breed cows to make endlessly cheap milk and dairy products, killing their male children with quick brutality, growing the cows' udders until they are massively uncomfortable for the cow, and keeping the animals indoors all their lives--again, so they can produce more, more cheaply, of what we want to consume. But now the final touch; let's pretend the cow can speak. And wouldn't it be cute if, instead of objecting to all the pain we cause her, she were to say how proud she is of doing just what we want her to do. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? Well, let's pretend.

When Anthes moves from cows back to the non-human animals that truly interest her--wolves--she provides an interesting segue: "Of course, tweeting cows are pretty silly, and we don't need technology to get to know an animal." "Silly." That's a word worth thinking about.

So too is this sentence from the Teat Tweet website: the reality of modern farming is that "the cows are now able to literally milk themselves at all times, day and night." How lovely. How upbeat. All something they they have managed themselves, of course, not something that humans have done to them, and that makes their lives painful and unpleasant. Of course not. Silly.

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Postscript: I have just checked out Anthes's own blog. She enjoins us to enjoy turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, and, when we think of the bird, to "marvel at its remarkable genome." In fairness, it is possible that, in focusing on wild animals, Anthes has managed not to know of the horrendous cruelty that humans inflict on factory farmed animals--turkeys surely included. How do we stop the not-knowing? How do we stop the cruelty?

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