Episode #144 The Meat Paradox: Ethics, morality and shamanic spirituality: exploring the politics of protein with Rob Percival
Our relationship to the animals we eat, and the understanding that their death feeds our life is complex and lies at the core of our humanity.
For most of our evolutionary history we have held this tension in ways that gave thanks and treated animals as relations. But in the past decades, we have created hells on earth in our industrialised farming and abattoirs so that eating from them is no longer remotely ethical. How do we resolve the paradox? Is global veganism the answer or are there other ways to create a generative relationship with our humanity and the food we eat? With Rob Percival, author of The Meat Paradox.
For hundreds of thousands of years, we lived as forager-hunters, our lives intimately entwined with the lives – and then deaths – of the animals that we ate. And then we cut that link and now we eat meat in plastic packages with cute pictures on the front to remove our awareness of the death that has arisen.
Rob Percival is a writer, campaigner and food policy expert. His commentary on food and farming has featured in the national press and on prime time television, and his writing has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Prize and the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Food Sustainability Media Award. He works as Head of Food Policy for the Soil Association.
The Meat Paradox is his first book and it’s one of the best, deepest, and most genuinely engaging that I’ve read of the many that seek to address the huge cultural divide that surrounds our consumption of meat. This is a book that delves into neuroscience (denial, cognitive dissonance and the lies we tell ourselves), indigenous spiritual/shamanic practice, ancient ancestral practice as depicted in cave paintings that were created over a span of 30,000 years (that’s a long time for an art form) and the actual experience of what it is to stand in an abbatoir and make eye contact with a cow as she walks into the stun cage.
Reading this book will change your life. Talking to Rob on the podcast was a joy and an inspiration and we ranged across all of these subjects and more.
Nonetheless, this is a deeply felt, deeply touching podcast that delves deep into the very meat of our identities in the modern world.
Manda: My guest this week has looked very deeply into this. Rob Percival is a campaigner and food policy expert. His commentary on food and farming is featured in the national press of the UK on prime time television, and his writing has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Prize and the Thomas Reuters Foundation’s Food Sustainability Media Award. He works as head of food policy for the Soil Association, which is the UK’s charity that looks at more ethical and sustainable ways of creating food and promoting farming. And his book, The Meat Paradox, is an absolute wonder of journalism and scholarship and thought and shamanic exploration. It goes into so many of the avenues that Accidental Gods exists to explore, and I was completely delighted to be able to invite him onto the podcast. So people of the podcast please do welcome Rob Percival.
Manda: So Rob, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. And you have just moved from London to Falmouth. How is it down there in the beautiful south west of England?
Rob: It’s beautiful down here. Yeah. The sun is shining.
Manda: Yay. Probably yay, but our sun is shining and we are desperate for rain. I’m guessing you’re not in the part that’s growing and so not quite so desperate for rain. Anyway, you’re next to the sea. You have an infinite supply of water if you can just get the salt out of it.
Manda: Indeed. So you wrote The Meat Paradox, as far as I can tell, during lockdown. And I’d really like to explore the content. It’s one of the most fluent and deeply thought books around this very complex and challenging ethical problem that I’ve ever met. So first question did you come across the meat paradox as a concept and then decide to write the book? Or did you start writing the book and then discover the title and the concept as you were going along?
Rob: Well, I think it was the former. In my day job I work for the Soil Association, an organisation that campaigns for regenerative and organic food and farming. And in that capacity, as the organisation’s head of food policy, I’ve been very embroiled in this really heated and divisive meat debate that’s been going on for a number of years now. This question, should we eat meat? Seems to get people very animated, whether they’re coming at it from a vegan perspective or as a farmer. The debate has played out across social media and in the press, and I became interested not only in why that question seemed to be so complicated, but why there was such a potent emotional charge attached to it. Why did people get so het up about the meat question? And I began to explore the psychology of meat consumption. And that led me to this this body of research that’s been conducted under the banner of the meat paradox just in the past decade, mainly published in the journals of social psychology. And it was from there that I went on this much broader journey into the culture and history and evolution of our relationship with meat.
Manda: Beautiful and brilliant, which is the bulk of the book, the idea that we could learn from current indigenous peoples and from what we have left from our ancestors. And from there look at the history of how we have come to be a modern society that has dissociated itself so completely with the intimate nature of life and death, that eating meat inherently is. And the book is divided into sections that look at our past and our current indigenous peoples, but also the neuropsychology of eating meat and the tribalism of it. So I’d really like to explore the heated nature of the debate and where the psychology of that comes from. Because I recently read the IPES report, The Politics of Protein, and was really struck quite early on by a quote that they put in in a block in the middle. Which is ‘if they can get to you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers’. And that sank in quite deep and seemed to me to hit the core of quite a lot of our culture wars at the moment, which is if a certain section of those who profit from maintaining business as usual can get all of us to claw each other’s eyes out, with a viciousness heretofore unknown, about topics that don’t actually address the overall systemic crisis, then the system will not change. And that the viciousness of the to eat or not eat meat debate is part and parcel of all of that. And I wondered what you found, if you could explain to us what you found about how and why it is such a polarising thing and the strategies that we use to convince ourselves that our side is right.
Rob: So yeah, that’s a really great quote. This word or this phrase meat paradox broadly alludes to the fact that we instinctively empathise with animals. We care about animals, but we still cause them harm in the context of food production. Harm on a huge scale. And there’s this split between our values and our behaviour often. Most of us say that we care for animal welfare. It’s very important to us, especially in the UK. And yet most of the meat that we consume has come from low welfare intensive industrial animal farming systems, primarily poultry in this country. In the past few years we’ve seen this this shift towards flexitarian eating, vegetarian, vegan diets. One in three of us now say that we’re eating less meat, citing concerns for animal welfare or the environment. But actually, if you look at consumption data, sales data, that figure isn’t really reflected there. We’re not actually eating significantly less meat. So there’s something going on beneath the surface, where our identity is becoming increasingly pulled into different directions. And the body of research that I explore in the book suggests that this is fundamentally rooted in our empathy. We do care about animals in a really fundamental level, but we’ve become very adept, especially in our society, at averting our gaze from the harm that’s caused to them. Even in high welfare farming systems, you know, we’re killing animals; that that means causing them harm. And we don’t like the psychological and emotional consequences of that to weigh too heavily upon us. So we’ve devised a whole suite of sort of cognitive and cultural mechanisms to keep those complicated feelings at bay. We dissociate the meat on our plate from an animal.
Rob: We don’t really think about the animal when we eat it. We’ve become very polarised in our thinking. We say this is natural, this is normal, this is right, without really teasing out what we mean by those words. And on the level of our society, we’ve told ourselves a story about farmed animals and their relative importance, their relative capacity for intelligence and sentience, which really puts them in a sort of box that says these guys aren’t so important. You know, we care much more about wild animals than farmed animals. And all that has been ticking along, you know, for a number of decades. But the rise of the vegan movement in the last few years has really punctured that set of defence mechanisms. There are now people walking amongst us who are voluntarily forgoing animal consumption, showing that it is a choice just in the way they live their lives. And this this has caused a kickback. We don’t like that message to be dwelled upon. We don’t like to be prompted to think about the choices of our actions. And in the context of the world of social media and so on, this debate has rapidly become highly polarised, where it’s very difficult to inhabit that middle ground now and say, well, actually there’s there’s something to be said for the the case for and against meat consumption on both sides. So yeah, there’s lots to unpick in all that. But we have seen this splitting in the past decade, this real dichotomy emerging between those who think that it’s right and those who think that it’s wrong.
Manda: And the backlash against those who think that it’s right, it seems to me it has a very similar flavour to the petrol heads who deny climate emergency and then go out and buy a bigger car and drive it around more, just to prove that they’re right. There’s a kind of a I’m going to do more. I’m going to eat more meat because there are people eating no meat and somehow by my eating more meat, I will prove that I’m right. And in the book, you explored a cult that I have to say I’d never heard of, that followed someone who absolutely promised that on a specific date, a specific event was going to happen. And when it didn’t, tell us a little bit about the psychology of that and what it teaches us about this impact.
Rob: So this this body of research, which relates to the psychology of meat, traces its way all the way back to a psychologist called Leon Festinger, who was working in the fifties and who became aware of this cult that was coalescing around a Chicago housewife. She’d been visited by aliens in her dreams, by extraterrestrial beings. She was engaging in sort of automatic writing and had this prophecy that the world was going to end on a particular day. And so Leon and his colleagues did something that they wouldn’t be allowed to do today for sort of professional ethics. They infiltrated the group. They started taking detailed notes of how this situation was unfolding. And really, they wanted to know how everyone would react when this date arrived and the apocalypse didn’t come, the flood didn’t come. And the flying saucer that was going to come to take them away didn’t arrive. And what they observed was really interesting. It was those who had invested the most in this cult, those who had given up their family, their jobs, their homes to in anticipation. They found extraordinary ways of rationalising what had happened. You know, they said, oh, actually it was our faith that meant that they didn’t need to arrive to take us away. We were spared because we were believed. And it was from this and a whole series of other observations about how these folks responded, that are Festinger developed this notion of cognitive dissonance. We like or we need on a really quite deep level, for our beliefs and actions to cohere in a way that makes sense to us. If we’re living in such a way that our beliefs don’t cohere with our actions, then something has to give.
Rob: We either change the way we think or the way we act, or our values, our behaviours. But we’re seeking this underlying coherence and in the context of the modern meat debate, this is a really valuable insight. Because most of us think of ourselves as animal lovers. We care about animals, we we care about animal welfare. But it’s patently obvious that we’re often behaving in ways which cause significant harm. So how do we how do we deal with that? That dissonance between our values and our behaviours? And those on the the vegan side of the fence have sought a resolution that involves radically altering one’s behaviour, removing all animals from the diet. Whereas those of us on the more omnivorous side of the fence have indulged various of these sort of cognitive evasive strategies to try and find reassurance that actually we are still behaving in a way that feels coherent and so on. So yeah, it all comes back to flying saucers.
Manda: Yeah. So let’s unpick the cognitive behavioural strategies that meat eaters employ to make it okay. I was reading a paper just before we came on that referred back to a Japanese word that I can’t pronounce. But basically the cutification. We put pictures on our milk or our meat of happy skippy cows in beautiful, or to us, you know, monoculture grass, perfectly green and lambs skipping around. And that that somehow, and I still don’t understand the psychology of that, makes it okay then to eat the meat inside. And partly that’s because we’ve utterly removed the awareness of the living hell of the abattoir, I guess. So I want to look a little bit about the strategies that we employ and then I want to look at your experiences of the reality of the parts that we tend to cut out. So what are the strategies that modern Western individuals employ to make it feel okay?
Rob: I think there are four sort of broad categories that they fall under. And the first one is really basic and actually happens, is found across cultures, we can perhaps come back to that, but it’s a simple process of categorisation. You know, we eat some animals and not others. You know, some some are pets, some are food, some are not food. And there are really good reasons to think that this is just a basic way of channelling our empathy in certain directions. So we are instinctively empathetic by nature. It’s expressed inconsistently with each other and especially across the species boundary. But there’s something there we have to channel and handle, so we just divide them up. Looking beyond that, there is really interesting evidence around how our perception of the moral value of animals shifts in different situations. So in one of the sort of founding studies related to the meat paradox, the researchers gave two groups of volunteers a set of questionnaires to fill out. And among these questionnaires was one which asked about the the moral value and sentience of a cow. So they didn’t know what they were doing, these these two groups. And one group was given beef jerky to snack on while the other one was given cashew nuts. The group that was snacking on beef jerky rated the cow when they came to that particular questionnaire as being less sentient, less mindful, less deserving of moral concern.
Rob: And they didn’t know they were doing this. They hadn’t consciously made that decision. They weren’t taking a rational sort of judgement in that moment, there was just this underlying dissonance caused by eating a cow while thinking about its mind, and that prompted them to shift their perception in that moment. There are also sort of ways in which we manage to dissociate the meat on our plate from the animal that provided it. So we don’t typically engage in the slaughter of animals. Those of us who aren’t farmers or working in the food industry are quite detached from that process. A lot of the food that we eat has been highly processed. It’s been chopped up and rearranged. And there’s no sort of heads or eyes looking at us. It’s not true across all cultures, but that’s true in our culture. And the language that we use as well can also distance us. We talk about beef and and so on instead of cow, pork instead of pig. Again, there are historical reasons that’s the case, but the research suggests that all of this helps to mute our empathy, dampen the degree to which we identify with the living, breathing individual who provided this meat. And layered on top of that is a sort of web of wilful ignorance and cultural evasion.
Rob: So even those of us who profess to care deeply about animal welfare, the evidence suggests that we don’t actually think about it very much when we’re buying meat, when we’re eating meat. We sort of choose to turn that engagement off and on. And we tell this story on a cultural level, societal level, around our relationship with farmed animals, where there’s some sort of contract. You know, they’ve agreed to the terms of the deal. They get a good life and a quick death. Implicit within that is the idea that they’ve sort of agreed to this setup and they benefit from it. And again, there’s lots to unpick there, but this all weaves together; all these different strategies and into a place where we go about our days pretty unperturbed by the fact that we’re eating so many animals. But if we were confronted with the crux of the matter in the slaughterhouse, we would find it probably quite distressing, quite disturbing. So that’s the the gap that the book sort of explores, what it means to bridge.
Manda: Thank you. Yes. So in the book, you very movingly describe your experience in an abattoir, which I have to say I think was incredibly courageous. In my veterinary past, as part of my veterinary training, I had to do two weeks in an abattoir and it very nearly finished me, in terms of just walking away. Because it was horrible in ways that up until then, I suppose I was a teenager still – I qualified when I was 21, so I would still have been in my teens. And I hadn’t really got there. I’d got a bit suspicious when we had our meat inspection training and the guy in the not very clean white coat stood at the front of the class and tapped a carcase with his pointer and said, gross pathology, if you can’t see it, it isn’t there. And I thought I’m not I’m not sure about that, really. So that was a first kind of. ‘Oh…’. And then there were all the apocryphal tales of the young enthusiastic vet who went out to the abattoir, somewhere up in Western Scotland because it’s always in Western Scotland and and started actually looking and finding all those things that shouldn’t have been there and, and pushing back. And the abattoirs acceptance rate of carcases dropped by 50%. And what did they do? Of course they sack the new young vet and bring back the old one so that everything gets pushed through.
Manda: So that was my first and this isn’t necessarily quite what I’ve been told, but then we had to go. And I think what really hit me hardest was the layerage. That these animals were brought in and they were kept in concrete pens for 24 hours. And the smell of absolute abject terror has lived with me ever since. And the only other time that I ever got anything close was walking down the street in New York where they had these horses that took people for, I don’t know, cart rides. I don’t even know what they called them. And I smelled the same smell. And I remember just standing there going, Oh, God, I am so sorry. And this one horse that had blinkers on turned right around and made eye contact with me and I got the worst migraine I have ever had in that moment and basically collapsed on the street. And I think if anybody walked into it… I was vegetarian for the next 20 years after that experience. I just can’t do this anymore. I cannot be part of this. And everyone who’s been in an abattoir says if everybody who ate meat had to go in an abattoir, it would stop overnight. And so tell us about your experience of that.
Rob: Gosh, yeah. I mean, in some ways, I guess I was fortunate. I wasn’t in a big industrial facility, you know, some of the really intensive operations where they’re just really focussed on getting as many animals through as possible. It was a smaller outfit, not too far from Bristol, three men working the line and they did sheep and cows and then pigs. And I, yeah, I spent the day there with a group of trainee vets and, and in some ways it is quite a sort of schizophrenic experience. Sort of drift in and out of emotional engagement with it. There are ways in which it becomes quite quickly just a sort of routine, repetitious, you sort of detach from it, see what they’re doing. You can admire the sort of technique of the men working and the efficiency of the process, or perhaps that was just a sort of defensive mechanism. I was sort of trying to cleave to that point of view, because there was a sort of guttural response to everything that was going on. A visceral reaction. The incident I describe in the book really relates to one cow in particular. So I was there all day. There were dozens and dozens of animals coming through, but it was only one animal, in particular one cow, wherein I had this moment of real intimacy. I’d climbed up onto the stun cage, and she was standing at the door. She didn’t want to come in. She she was clearly conscious that something was going on.
Rob: I don’t want to project too much, but she didn’t want to go in. She didn’t want to walk into this space because something wasn’t right. And then she looked up and saw me at the far end. I was sort of dangling between the bars and she looked me in the eye and I looked at her. And they’re sort of curious creatures, cows, you know, they’re very curious. And it was my gaze really that led her in. And then the sort of stunt man bent down and did his thing. And anyway, the long and the short of it was that in that sort of moment of joint gaze, it was completely clear to me in a sort of pre rational, I didn’t think this, it was just impressed upon me in such a way that this was a person I was dealing with. It was a cow person. It was not the same as a human person. And the the full sort of ethical and emotional weight of what then happened sort of bore down upon me. And that’s what really carried me into the investigation that followed. How do people handle this? How do people across different cultures handle this? We’ve been eating animals for a very good reason for a very long time. You know, they’ve in various contexts in the past been completely essential to our diets. How have people managed this, the potential for this to be quite so burdensome, emotionally and ethically.
Manda: So let’s move to that. With a small segway of you describe quite clearly in the book that potentially and it seemed very plausibly, we are human because we made the move towards eating more meat. And the eating more meat enabled our brains to grow and therefore enabled us to eat more meat. And there was a kind of a positive feedback loop that meant that Homo sapiens is Homo sapiens, because in the beginning, foraging on the sabre tooth kill carcases, and later learning to kill ourselves became integral to who we were.
Manda: We don’t probably need to go into that huge depth, but can you say a little bit about that?
Rob: Well, I think that that is true. The accepted wisdom in Palaeoanthropology is that our deep ancestors ate a sort of varied diet. They were eclectic and adaptable. It shifted from geography to geography, season to season. But there’s evidence that animal foods became increasingly important throughout that. Fat and meat and so on, and that there was this feedback loop that emerged that then led to more complex behaviours and so on. This narrative has been overstated in some contexts to make out the we’re sort of instinctively, in the depths of our nature, we’re predators or carnivores or whatever. Which isn’t true. And it’s often this argument is wielded today as a sort of one dimensional argument for why we should continue to eat meat. Which is not the point I’m making. But I think it’s true that there is this deep history of omnivorey and that animal foods have been tremendously important and have been necessary in various contexts in the past and various societies. Even today in some of the indigenous hunting societies I talk about, that’s undoubtedly the case. So there’s been this underlying necessity that we’ve been having to deal with. And at the same time, the potential for the act of killing to be a cause of great moral anxiety, to be really distressing. And what I’m really interested in, is how we handle that tension, that paradox in our nature. And what are the sort of stories and rites and rituals that the different societies have have evolved to help them make sense of it.
Manda: So let’s have a look at some of the indigenous peoples that you explored who are still alive and therefore we can talk to them. You particularly highlighted the Inuit, the Cree and I’m probably not going to say this right, the Tukano in the Amazon. And it seemed to me that they had different micro twists on what was broadly the same narrative, which is we are all people in the web of life. We are human people, they are seal people or monkey people or whatever it is; elk people. What interested me…. Okay, let’s go back a bit of a step. Because in my shamanic training, I worked for a while with somebody of Central American origin who took white people as apprentices. In the end, I chose not to be an apprentice, but one of the senior apprentices told me their story, which was after 12 years of training. their kind of final initiation was that they had to sit out, in as far as I can tell, suburban America. But suburban America is very different to suburban UK. Light a fire, sit with it for a week. So not sleeping. Basically we’re talking about serious sleep deprivation where you can nap for long enough, but then you have to get up and keep the fire going. And at the end of that week, a deer would come. And you had to kill the deer and do something, I can’t remember exactly what, with the deer. And this person sat with their fire for a week and kept it going.
Manda: And then the deer came and they had a rifle, because this is suburban America and you can have a rifle in your back garden and shoot a deer and not be arrested. But they couldn’t bring themselves to kill the deer. Exactly as you described with the cow. Well, not exactly, but similar. There was a gaze to gaze. They’re a white Western person. They may have done 12 years of training with a Central American shaman, but they cannot do it. And the deer hung around for the length of time it took for the moon to rise from the horizon, to the top of the sky. So quite a long time. And then eventually kind of shrugged the deer shrug and walked off. And 10 minutes later there’s this scream of tires and the sound of an impact and a lot of shouting and the screaming tires going off and oh, goodness, that was a car hitting a deer. And this person goes with their rifle down the road and there is their deer, not dead. And they have to shoot it. And so the lesson I took away from that was of the sacredness of the giveaway and the relationship, and that there was a choice made. And the deer had come to offer itself as part of a sacred pact, in a way. Very similar to the contract that you described earlier that I would like to unpick later on.
Manda: And that seemed to me to make sense in the context of other Native stories that I’d heard, particularly plains first peoples in America, where they would dream a particular buffalo and they would go out on their horse and the whole herd of buffalo, of hundreds of thousands of buffalo. And they would ride along and they would see the one in their dream and they would shoot it and that would be it. It’s a bit more complex than that, but that was the concept. But what I came to in your book was a much different idea, where there wasn’t a pact, really. There was a lot of obfuscation of…it wasn’t really me that killed you. And please don’t come back and hit me. I have to either poke your eyes out or blindfold you and pretend to be a crow so that you the bear, don’t know that actually, I, the human am the person who just killed you. And similarly with the Tukano in the Amazon, there was a lot of the shaman negotiating that for every animal we kill, you get a bit of a person. So can you… I’m really interested in the distinction between those and whether all of the native peoples that you spoke to, the indigenous peoples, all had the obfuscation? And the example that I had was therefore unique.
Rob: Great question. And wow, what a story. The first key point here is that in many of these societies, in order to locate, capture and kill your quarry, you have to empathise with them. You don’t have the long range rifle or night vision goggles. You have to track them to find them. You have to engage with the elk or the reindeer as a thinking, feeling, being. You have to get into their perspective or you have to inhabit their body to understand their tracks and so on. So in a very real sense, you’re confronted in quite a complicated way with the fact that you’re engaging with the person, who is in many ways similar to a human. So there’s a moral dimension to this. And just simply denying that the elk is intelligent or sentient, as we tend to do with farmed animals, isn’t really an option. So there’s a dilemma there. And often, as you alluded to, there’s a… I mean, there’s a huge variation across societies, obviously… But there is a common underlying framework which I think is acceptable. The idea that if you treat the animal right, pay respects to its guardian, the master of animals, this figure which recurs across cultures; you know, you can take the flesh as food and the animal’s soul will be reborn. And there’s this cycling of souls throughout the biosphere. And humans are caught up in this in various ways.
Rob: And in many societies, not all, but in various societies, there is this sense that the animal is giving itself as a gift. But what also comes through, and this has been the focus of more recent anthropological research, is that there’s a split between what the stories say is the sort of ideal relationship between humans and animals, and what actually happens when you pick up your spear and walk out into the forest. It might be that the animal is understood to give itself as a gift. But there’s still a chase, there’s still a bloody kill, it’s still violent. There’s an underlying sense in which the animal perhaps did not want to be killed. And these sort of strategies of dissociation and deflection and so on automatically arise because the potential for moral anxiety is so great. So I don’t want to be projecting a sort of particular interpretation onto what these societies say. But this is the sense, this is the story that’s coming through from various anthropologists who work on this. There is a recurring, a deep rooted sense of moral anxiety, which is addressed in various ways, even when it’s understood that the earth cycle of souls and that it’s a gift and so on, there’s still something to be dealt with there. And the Tukano were of particular interest. They’d hatched this really elaborate story which I got quite involved with in the book.
Manda: So definitely I would like to explore that more, because all the way through all of the cultures was a sense of there being a threshold of enough. That up to a point it was okay to take meat, but taking excessive meat was going to have serious consequences. And the Tukano seemed to have that one, as you say, a narrative that really addressed that in a very succinct way. Tell us a little bit more about their story of what happens when we eat meat.
Rob: So the Tukano are a group of 20 tribes living in the Colombian Amazon, and they tell this compelling narrative about the forces that animate the cosmos. They see the world as this great energy circuit, energy streaming from the sun and flowing through the biosphere, moving through plants and animals and from organism to organism. But it’s essentially a closed loop circuit. The volume of energy is finite, and humans have to manage it essentially in their ecological interactions by ensuring that their environment is balanced and that their actions are a coherent with the flourishing of the whole. And hunting is the most consequential act in that sense. Because you’re redirecting part of this energy circuit from the animal domain into the human. And if you hunt an excessive number of animals, the world can become unbalanced and so on. That’s the story. And it falls upon the shaman to play a lead role in helping manage this, both in a sort of mythic sense – he goes off in trance to negotiate with this being called Vaí-mahsë, the Master of Animals. But also, that figure, he or she will take quite specific ecological decisions regarding where the tribe should be hunting, which animals they should be taking, and so on.
Rob: And there’s a real, a really strong ethic that comes through around curtailing consumption to that which is necessary. It’s okay, it’s acceptable for humans to consume animals. It’s still very complicated. There’s all sorts of mythic and psychological issues to deal with around the kill, but it’s okay to do so as long as you limit your consumption to that which is necessary. And if you consume more animals than you need, or if you mistreat them, then there are reparations to be paid. And in the Tukano’s culture, those reparations come in the form of what they call an exchange of souls; this perfectly symmetrical sort of calculation of human lives and animal lives. For every animal killed, there’s a human soul that must be given in return. And it’s those who have consumed too much meat more than they need, who are given over to be reborn in the body of their species. And this exercise has a really interesting effect upon the culture as a whole and upon the behaviour in relation to meat. It puts a real kerb on consumption. You only eat an animal if you’re confident that you need to.
Manda: And the hunter only kills if they’re confident that it’s right to do so, because otherwise they are going to be the one reborn. There are two things I want to look at first, and the first of those is that while in the Amazon you undertook a journey with the plant medicine that I would know of as ayahuasca, but was called something that I probably can’t pronounce by the Tukano. And I wondered, did you go and meet the Master of Animals? Or did you, when you were with the plant spirit, experience something that helped your understanding or deepened your understanding in any way?
Rob: So the Tukano refer to ayahuasca as yahé. The vine, as it was originally discovered, as it were, by Westerners, was in the Tukano’s territory. And it plays a very important and interesting role in their relationship with the meat paradox. I explore how the Yahe ceremony is the avenue through which the shaman goes off to negotiate with the spirit of the forest and so on. And there’s an important way in which the shaman plays a sort of role within the society, where he deliberately accentuates the anxiety that people feel about consuming meat, through this sort of botanical tool, to give it a very crude name. He uses the sort of communal Yahe sessions to reinforce people’s belief in this figure, the Master of Animals, to reinforce this notion of reciprocal exchange of souls, to really conjure and entrench this sense that every action that the community takes in relation to the animal world is tremendously important. So there’s a sense in which they’re using, basically, psychedelic therapy to remind people – that’s a horrible way of putting it, it’s inappropriate – but of reminding people that their relationship with animals is really important and that it needs to be carefully managed.
Rob: And I’m not of that society, so I have only an outsider’s perception of what’s going on based on their testimony and and the work that anthropologists have done. But in my experience, drinking Yahe, which I recount late in the book, there’s a sense, I think… I don’t try and explain quite what happened at that stage. I don’t want to give away the ending of the book. But I think what what Yahe is really useful for, is stripping away some of the sort of preconceptions and ideas that you have on a sort of personal or cultural basis around who you are and what’s going on in the world. And I certainly didn’t just enter the Tukano’s universe and see the world through their eyes when I drank it. But as far as the book is concerned, with unravelling this sort of web of deception and dishonesty that we’ve wrapped ourselves in in relation to animals, it perhaps played a role in helping me peel some of those layers away.
Manda: Okay. Thank you. And similarly, later on in the book, but not towards the end, you explore your experience of going to visit the caves in southwest France, where you go a long, long, long, long, long way in. And there are then these extraordinary paintings. And one of the things that really hit me in ways that I’d never understood before, is that these were made over 30,000 years. These are an art form that lasted a thousand generations. If we consider a generation to be 30 years, which I think is quite a long way of considering a generation, 30,000 years of human activity, building these extraordinary living, vibrant pictures, which are almost exclusively of animals that we hunt. And there are none, as you say, there are none of dwellings. They’re not showing us what the places were that they lived in. There were none of plants. There were none of people wearing different sorts of clothing. There’s animals and occasional people. And these are all deep, deep in caves where just to get there would have been an act of initiation, I think, when you’re either crawling in the dark or following someone who’s got something that could go out at any moment. And when you get there, as you tell us and please tell us more, there’s a possibility of creating states of mind that are very similar to the states that you would reach with ayahuasca or psilocybin or other plant medicines. Tell us a little bit about your experience of that and what you learned from it.
Rob: So I became interested initially in just how deep this this meat paradox reached. So it seems obvious that our society is very conflicted about eating animals. When you look across different societies, different contemporary societies, as we’ve just alluded to, hunting societies, there’s a level of complexity, anxiety, which they are grappling with as well. When did this first begin? If we look back into human history, our evolutionary past, we’ve been consuming animals for at least 2 million years. At what point did that become complicated? And there’s no easy way of answering that question. Emotions leave no direct trace in the archaeological record, but we can search for the earliest evidence of sort of ritual behaviour that seems clearly preoccupied with animals. And that earliest evidence does emerge around 40 to 50000 years ago, depending where you look. Perhaps a little deeper in some instances. But in relation to rock art and there’s a really well studied European tradition; around 40,000 years ago, where our ancestors, as you say, crawled into these distant, deep, difficult crevices under the earth just to paint animals on the wall. And it’s bewildering. Why on earth would you do this? And it seems that the preoccupation with animals evidences some sort of deep rooted emotional need. You’d only do this if you had a real need to express something, to release something, to encounter something.
Rob: And scholars have been weighing up different interpretations for many years. It was David Lewis Williams, a South African scholar, who observed that often alongside the animals, there are these geometric marks and forms recurring, almost like a miniature language. There’s 20 or so forms and figures; sort of swirls and dots; which are found in caves which were decorated many millennia apart. They’re hundreds of years apart. They were painted by people who had no knowledge of each other. Yet it’s the same forms, the same recurring images. And he observed that actually these are the same forms in images that the Tukano paint on their houses. That they carve into their wooden structures. And this led him on a line of inquiry which led him to conclude that probably they provide evidence that our ancestors in caves were accessing altered states of consciousness, not through psychotropic drugs, not through yahe, but through sensory deprivation. And that this might have formed some part of a sort of early, early shamanic complex, cultural complex. Wherein those who were seeking these altered states were doing so for mythic reasons, in order to perhaps encounter these mythic figures, the Vaí-mahsë, the Master of Animals. Or for some sort of process of cathartic release. You know, we know that psychedelics can be used for cathartic release. This is part of what the Tukano were doing in their Yahe Ceremony. So there seems to be some sort of continuum between the deep rooted concerns around meat and our society and various other societies and what was happening in these caves. So I explore the evidence that suggests this is the the earliest expression of the meat paradox, our earliest response to it.
Manda: I’m really interested that you think that we’re fulfilling an emotional need by going into the caves. When my first instinctual response was that this was a spiritual need and that those two are different? Are they not different for you?
Rob: So I think as we’ve alluded to with the Cree, that there’s this sense in which there’s a spiritual narrative around humans and animals and the way the world works and the animal is a gift and so on. And then there’s the the emotional complexity of what happens when you actually thrust the spear into that creature. And probably what we’re seeing, or I say probably we don’t know, but it’s plausible that what we’re seeing in the caves is a combination of the two. There is a sense in which what’s being expressed in these images is imagery that pertains to a sort of spiritual realm, this idea that there are these greater beings, these guardian beings, the sense of rejuvenation of animals and a sort of mythic complex. But also a need to find release for these complex emotions which characterise the meat paradox; the sense that there’s a degree of atonement that’s needed with the animal world for the violence that is intrinsic to our relationship with it. And in some caves you find that the image maker has carried a tooth or a bit of bone or something, and they’ve stuck it into the wall almost as a sort of exchange, a token of exchange between worlds. This currency, this bringing animal blood in the paint, animal bodies back down into the earth to give back what was taken. This is obviously somewhat speculative, but it sort of coheres with the way that we behave today and think today. And these people, those who made images in the caves, they’re modern humans no different to anyone alive today.
Manda: Yeah, that would take us on a whole different narrative. That’s really interesting because I have a 30,000 year old fossilised horse’s tooth that occupies a particular place of my altar and is currently bound to a tree on the hill as a result of a shamanic journey that I did, that led to the book that I’m writing. So for me, taking a bit of a tooth in, is a gateway for me to connect with the spirit of the animal whose tooth it was. Which isn’t necessarily a reparation, it’s more ‘you’re my guide and this is a doorway that you have opened for me’. But let’s leave that one, because we haven’t got a huge amount of time. And I really want to bring us back to the present day and our current state of being. Because it seems to me one of the big disjoints that we have with either indigenous peoples or our ancestors, is that for them there was no moral ambiguity around eating plants. We know or we believe, with current thinking, that the Amazon is one great big farmed or at least slightly managed environment. But it was managed in a way that was completely holistic and that allowed for and supported the thriving of extraordinarily complex biosystems. Our current methods of farming are wholly destructive. If any of the science is to be believed, we’re within two decades of the oceans being completely dead and partly it’s CO2, but a lot of it is toxic runoff and a lot of that is toxic runoff from agriculture, where we are exploding planetary boundaries of nitrates and phosphates and potassium particularly.
Manda: And the other third of killing the oceans is microplastics, which is a separate thing. So we exist now, or I exist as a human being, with a moral dilemma of everything that I eat, actually everything that I do; simply existing as a human being is destroying the world. We’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. I am part of the fact that the turtle dove, as you say in the book, is is now on the critically endangered list. And it’s not because I eat turtle doves, which I have never done. It’s because I exist in a system that is completely destroying the whole of the ecosystem. And and actually, it seems that Britain is uniquely very bad. Somebody, one of the authors that I follow, I can’t remember, on Twitter posted: you only have to go to Normandy to realise that there is much more species, many more things are alive in Normandy than are alive in Britain. Because we have been particularly good at the kind of militarisation of our agricultural system. So we exist with a moral dilemma where meat is murder, as you say in the book, there is no question of that.
Manda: And we’ve managed to convince ourselves that somehow white meat, that chicken and fishes is better than red meat. When anyone who’s been anywhere near an industrial chicken plant or the killing of chickens, which is beyond horrible, knows that this is not true. Unless you have the absolute privilege of… We live in a village in the middle of nowhere; the lady in the next village has half a dozen chickens that root around. And I’ve been there and watched her pull their necks. And I think if there is an animal contract that says we will look after you, keep the foxes off you, feed you nice stuff and five or six years down the line, I’m sorry we’re going to eat you. Then that’s as good as that equivalents get. And my alternative in my vegetarian days,and I was vegan for about six months, it wasn’t a good experience. But what do I do? How do I, as a human being now in the Western culture, exist in a system that is destroying the planet? And so I would like to take us beyond the meat paradox to the human paradox of living, and explore how you have overcome that paradox and then extend that to how could we as, as a culture address that paradox? Does that make sense as a question?
Rob: Absolutely. Yeah. And a big, obviously important question. And I think the meat paradox sits at the very centre of this. The way that we farm, our industrialised food system, is a key driver of ecological breakdown. It sits at the very heart of what we do alongside our overreliance on fossil fuels, our reliance on fossil fuels. And the industrialised food system is being driven by global demand for cheap meat. So our relationship with animals, which is broken on a really fundamental level, is a key driver of all of this. As I could tell in the tone of your voice and as you alluded to, it’s scary, there’s a huge amount at stake. But there is also in the context of farming and land use and the way that we eat, there’s enormous agency within our hands. The type of system change that we need to see can be brought about. There are all sorts of forces stacked up against us in the sort of food industry and government and so on. But fundamentally, we’re already seeing the type of shifts we need on the land. It needs to be scaled up massively this decade. We need this move I’m referring to away from extractive agriculture, towards more regenerative approaches, more agro ecological farming, which remains somewhat on the sidelines but is becoming increasingly mainstream and has the capacity if, if enacted properly and quickly, to put into reverse some of these trends around biodiversity loss and soil degradation.
Rob: There’s a really important shift that’s needed to make that happen around the way that we eat. As I describe in the book, we need to come to the conclusion that both farmers and vegans are part of the solution and all those who sit in between the polarity of the debate isn’t helpful. Those who point out that industrial animal agriculture is driving this crisis and who choose to opt out from consuming animals are very much part of the solution. Those who are on the land trying to employ regenerative and agro ecological approaches that integrate livestock into these complex agro ecosystems, they’re part of the solution. There’s no easy answer to the ethical question around meat and animal death, but there are obviously much better ways that we can be handling that question than we are now. So I feel not optimistic, but like there’s a huge amount that we can do this decade to make things less terrible.
Manda: So that’s in the UK, where a lot of our… You know, I live in Shropshire, most of the land is 45 degrees. You can’t get a tractor on it without killing yourself. And and a lot of it is sheep wrecked and I would like it not to be. But worldwide, if I’m understanding you and reading wider, particularly the politics of protein, more accurately. We would have to basically stop intensive farming. We have to do on a humane level and we have to on a planetary level. And so in terms of diet, it doesn’t seem to me that you’re advocating everybody to become vegan. And if you were, I would be interested to know how we get there without intensive monoculture farming, which seems to me not as disastrous as intensive livestock farming, but still pretty disastrous. Where would you set yourself on a UK level and then on a global level in terms of how do we feed ourselves and not keep pushing the six mass extinction over the edge?
Rob: Yeah, I think the Sustainable Food Trust, the report they’ve just published, is one of several recent reports which have arrived at broadly the same conclusion. If you take it as read that we need to phase out fossil fuel based inputs, because they clearly have no future, while bringing biodiversity back onto the farm, building resilience into our soils and so on. Then it requires a significant dietary shift. And intensive animal farming is really fossil fuel based. The only way we can farm so many pigs and chickens is through these cheap commodity crops, which are grown using fossil fuel based fertilisers. So once you start to look at a more regenerative approach, one that combines more complex crop rotations and integrates crops and livestock and so on, that necessitates quite a sizeable dietary shift. And I think there’s broad agreement that pigs and chickens are the ones whose population we need to cut the most. But there remains an important role for grazing animals in those rotations and on some biodiverse pasture. Now there’s a legitimate debate in the UK around whether we should be giving more of that land, more of that pasture land, grassland, especially in the uplands to sort of ecological regeneration, rewilding and so on. And I’m very sympathetic to that. And I think you can square the circle. You can have this regenerative agricultural farming alongside rewilding. It doesn’t have to be a polarised debate.
Rob: So we’re looking at a farming system which integrates animals within it, ruminant animals in a lower sort of population. And there are good nutritional reasons, for at least some of us, to consume those animals; there are certain segments of the population where a fully vegan diet can be more challenging. Pregnant women and young children and so on. So there’s clearly a sort of nutritional case for consuming some of those animals. I think you could quite easily conceive that a large portion of the population would go plant based and fully plant based in such a scenario. We’d be producing way more peas and beans and so on. Veganism doesn’t have to equal industrial monocrops and so on, it can be provided for by an agricultural farming system, but that would be a farming system that includes animals integrated within it. And then we’re down to the big questions around how should those animals live? What sort of lives should we make sure they have? Is it really right that we kill them and eat them? You know, these these are questions we should continue to ask. We shouldn’t take their ecological significance as a sort of get out of jail free card for that ethical debate. But I think that there’s an important role for both vegans and those who are consuming less and better meat in this more sustainable future.
Manda: And I’m guessing, I’m just thinking of the land around here. Our freezer is currently packed with the Dexter steer that used to graze on our land, but we have one of the very few, very small abattoirs in the next village where literally you walk your cow off, or your steer off the trailer, walk it in, there isn’t even a cage. The guys give you a white coat, you hold the halter, you give them a bowl of oats and somebody walks up with a gun. And it’s still horrible but given that death happens, it seems to me… I don’t know. As a vet I’ve probably killed more animals than anyone except a slaughter man. But I’ve always done it in the absolute belief that I was doing the right thing at the right time for that particular animal. Because we with animals have the capacity to say, you’re suffering is too great, we have no capacity to alleviate it and death is the best option. But with farm animals, we’re not saying your suffering is great. We’re saying tomorrow you don’t get to see another sunrise because I want to eat you. And that’s a very different philosophical and moral premise. And so as a very last thing; you posit that part of the agrarian revolution, where we shifted from being forager hunters, where the shaman might identify that seal as the one that you go and find and you go and kill it and you bring it back and everybody eats it in sacred ceremony; to the point where we develop a contract with the animals that says we’ll keep the, currently foxes, because we’ve killed all the predators in the UK. But we’ll keep the predators off you, we’ll feed you nice things, we’ll trim your feet and keep you safe and you won’t starve in the winters. And as a result, you’re part of the contract is that we get to eat you. Have you ever come across anyone that you think was adhering to that contract in the UK or anywhere in domestic animals?
Rob: I think the contract, these sort of cultural narratives and this idea of a contract has been voiced by various folks who have looked at our relationship with animals. Michael Pollan famously described it as a contract and so on. But it’s not plucked out of anywhere, it’s not just plucked out of the aether. This is a good, pragmatic description of what farmers and land managers are doing day to day, when they do care for their the animals in their keep and when at an appointed time, they then take the animal’s life. So I think that the question is, what would it mean for us to genuinely uphold our end of the bargain, to really prioritise the animals well-being? And perhaps we would still consume their body at the end of their life, but what would it mean for us to really put their their well-being first? And the obvious place where that breaks down, I think, even in high welfare systems, is around the length of the animal’s life. So pigs in a high welfare farming system, even organic, might just live for six months. Where we’re killing them as infants, adolescents. This is a big, complicated area to unpick, you know, what’s the moral significance of the length of an animal’s life? But I think one way in which we can better, arguably we can better, upkeep our end of the bargain, demonstrate our commitment to the contract, is to give animals a full life. Is to value them for their individual worth and ecological function and treat their meat as a by-product, which is nutritionally important and which we might still consume, but isn’t the primary purpose of their existence.
Rob: I’m talking about the sort of de commodification of animal life, a shift in our perception of the role of animals within our food system. You know, they should be seen as as as valued members of a biotic community, within an agri ecosystem on a landscape. They’re there for primarily their ecological function. And once they’ve had a long life, a good life, we might eat them. But we won’t take their life as a sort of adolescent, unless there’s some very good reason for that. I know anyone who’s listening to this who raises animals, this is obviously a sort of simplistic suggestion and to some degree it’s really complicated, lots to unpick. But I think it’s a sort of headline ambition that we should be thinking about when we think about these really big questions about the future of our relationship with animals.
Manda: Yes. I guess we’re heading towards a whole other podcast, because we are running out of time, because the economics of that would have to change significantly. The steer that is currently in our freezer is there because the abattoir would not kill over four years. They didn’t…there’s something to do with BSE that I don’t fully understand because it’s a long time since I did my meat inspection degree and the BSE didn’t exist when I was doing it. But you can’t let them go over four without everything becoming a lot more complex. And I think there were rules about selling the meat. I’m not sure. So it seems to me that that would require big systemic change. Everything on this podcast ever gets to is we need total systemic change, so we still need total systemic change. So as a final question, you’re head of food policy for the Soil Association and therefore you’re in amongst policy being made at a governmental level. And I realise our current government is in the process of changing. We’re about to get a new Prime Minister. Things are different. But are you noticing at the levels of governmental change where systemic change might be nudged into being, that anyone is taking notice of this? Or are they still wedded to asking the wrong questions so that the answers don’t bother them and the fossil fuel industry can continue business as usual?
Rob: I feel I work with some very talented civil servants within government who understand what’s at stake and who are committed to genuine solutions. I can’t say the same for our current crop of politicians. I don’t think on the whole they get it. I don’t think they’re inclined towards the right solutions. It’s a very difficult political environment, at the moment. There are, you know, there are good individuals on both sides or within all parties. But we don’t currently have the right leadership in place. But what does give me reassurance is the degree to which public opinion polls consistently show climate, environment are among the top national priorities. You know, Brexit, NHS, environment. You know, we have an energy crisis, cost of living crisis at the moment. And that public commitment to political action in this space remains undimmed. So at some point, they’re going to have to respond, because they’re going to realise that it’s within their own self-serving political interests to pay attention. So the people are increasingly in the right place, even if our political leaders are are woefully falling short.
Manda: Beautiful. Okay. We’re going to have to stop there and recommend to everybody that they read your book. And one of the things I wanted to explore and we didn’t have time was the extent to which the concepts that we’ve been exploring were weaponised in the Brexit referendum; and people were getting targeted images on their social media feeds promising that cute little animals weren’t going to be killed anymore if we left the EU, effectively. And I know that they stooped very, very low, but I’d had no idea they’d stoop that low. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, but it’s astonishing the levels to which everything is being twisted to achieve the political goals that those who have the power to twist want. So I sincerely hope that you’re right, that they see the light and don’t just decide to point us in other directions so that we’re asking different questions and getting answers that keep them safe. And in the meantime, for everybody listening, the meat paradox continues to be a paradox. And it is, I think, beholden to each of us individually to investigate how we live and what we eat generally. And how we can contribute to the solution and not keep contributing to the problem. And you’ve offered us some really, really clear, succinct and obvious routes. And thank you. Thank you for writing the book, which is fantastic, and thank you for coming on to the podcast. It’s been a delight.
Rob: Thank you very much for having me.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Rob for the scholarship of his book, for its beauty, for its deep spirituality, and for his courage in exploring this deepest of questions. The conversation didn’t go entirely as I’d planned. The very last line of the book, or at least the last line of the prose in the acknowledgements, is: ‘and to Odin; maestro and mentor, bearded traveller, and example to us all’. And I read that and was really quite excited and had planned the entire conversation to be one of real in-depth exploration of spirituality, partly because the book really goes there in the exploration of current indigenous beliefs around this moral question. And also the diving deep into our ancestral past with the cave paintings in France. And then we had the pre podcast conversation, Rob and I, and I said, was it all right to go there? You know, just because you put it in the last line of the acknowledgements doesn’t mean you necessarily want to talk about it. But are you happy to talk about it in the podcast? And he looked a bit shy. And it turns out that Odin is actually his dog. And even though he has a tattoo on the edge of his hand, which I was able to see because we have a video link and the tattoo is of an eye, that looks remarkably to me like an Odin sigil. He still isn’t a priest of Asgard, apparently.
Manda: So we didn’t have that conversation, but I just wanted to let you know that it was there. Because it makes people read the acknowledgements at the end of a book, if nothing else. And this is a book well-worth reading, genuinely. It’s 360 pages long, but that acknowledgements page is page 246 and the last 114 pages are the references. It’s very academic, but it’s also very beautiful and very poetic and takes us deep into places we really didn’t have time to go to in the podcast. Leaving aside that we didn’t have the spiritual insights that I’d hoped for, we also didn’t get to something that increasingly for me and therefore for this podcast is important. And it has been for a long time. Way back in 2016, when I was doing the Masters, my first term papers question was What does a shamanic economic model look like? And I was two days off having to hand in, still doing the shamanic processing, when the God that I work with (one of them) stood in front of me on a walk and said, You’re asking the wrong question. And the question is, what is humanity for? And only when you’ve got that can you arrange an economic system around it. And in order to answer that question, I have daily to ask the question, what am I here for? And as we touched on towards the end of the conversation with Rob, I think that our moral dilemma, our paradox, extends now beyond our killing of mammalian species. Or even birds and fish and mammalian species. Things that we would give sentience to.
Manda: Because we know that plants are sentient. And yes, I know that I can pick an apple or a wild raspberry or bramble off a hedge and not kill the entire plant. But I can take eggs from the chickens and not kill the chickens and do on a daily basis. And yet for almost all of us, the things that we eat are integral to the destruction of the biosphere. If the Goes report is right at all, then the killing of the oceans is as much the industrial runoff from agriculture as it is the carbon emissions and the microplastics. And even our ability to assess carbon emissions is badly skewed. There’s a whole area of conversation around, do we look at Gwp star or do we use other measures of greenhouse gas emissions? And I’m reading papers yet really to solidify around why does nature create methane? And what is the role of eructated methane in normal soil creation? And all of these move out into the concept that there is so much of a wider system. And simply interfering in one place, going vegan or not going vegan, is not enough to make systemic change. Unless we can change the whole of the way that we live and our diets are an integral part of that, to become part of a living system; and not using living animals in the way we also use plants; as things to be chemicalised and as part of our complete destruction of the living soil and the living oceans.
Manda: Until we can do that, then everything that we eat is part of the problem. It’s just how we choose to assess its impact on part of the problem that matters. So for me, the question of what I am here for becomes central to how do I live? And I would like to pass that on down the line. So that is my message from this week and from today. What are you here for? Are you living the best life that you can? And are you living in a way that brings you as close as you can towards integration? Because one of the key messages of Rob’s books and lots of the books that we read, is that we are really, really good at lying to ourselves and each other about our motivations and our actions. And somehow, somewhere along the line, we have to stop that. And I want to leave you with a quote from the London Review of Books. It comes from an astonishing essay called A Million Shades of Red by Adam Maurice Jones. And I will put a link to this in the show notes, too. It’s largely about homosexuality, and it’s a review of a number of books. The actual quote, I think, has applications beyond the essay. And it says:
Manda: ‘Intellectual power has its uses, but it doesn’t enable its possessor to operate independently of emotional damage, though it may convince him (or I would say her or them) that they are doing just that.’ And predatory capitalism is falling to bits around our ears, which is going to be a traumatic process. And all of us who grew up within that, which is to say anybody who was around since the Romans, as far as I’m concerned, has been deeply traumatised, has huge emotional damage as a result of the environment that we inhabit. And our intellectual power is part of what gets us out of this. But so is understanding the emotional damage and seeking to find ways not to pass it on. So that, too, is the message of this week. I’m going to hit quite a big number zero birthday next week. So I’m thinking quite a lot about these things. It’s a good time to review what I’m doing.
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