Species Amnesia
March 7, 2014

Species Amnesia

It’s what we have forgotten that defines who we are. Human minds inhabitant a very different world from the one they were meant to and the one that our bodies still react to. For instance, in this digital age, when we get angry, we are now more likely to perform a virtual SHOUT by typing in capital letters on a social networking site than doing what the anger-induced flow of hormones in our bodies tell us we should be doing. When we are angry we should actually shout or even indulge in a good old therapeutic primal scream, physically expressing our emotion. We should deal with the source of anger by going on the attack – literally – or taking action to defend ourselves from our antagonist. It’s the old fight/flight scenario and if all we do is switch to upper case, all that adrenalin is going to zap us instead of helping us.

This is what I like to call Species Amnesia – the often complete divorce between the life of a modern human being and the prehistoric processes that our physical bodies were designed for. It has many manifestations and I was reminded of it today when I heard a radio report of a controversy regarding something as apparently innocuous as a butcher’s shop window. Somewhere in the wilds of darkest southern England a local family butcher in a busy shopping center had the audacity to hang some carcasses in his window and immediately raised a storm, well a flurry I suppose, of protest at the supposedly gruesome exhibition. It’s  a bit like the furor that greeted artist Damien Hirst’s display of animals cut in half and exhibited in a preserving tank at Tate Modern. At least Mr. Hirst employed a defense of artistic challenge to public conceptions of life and death although I suspect a thought process more along the lines of “This will get lots of publicity and make me a mega millionaire”. If so it worked, unlike the butcher’s defense which appears to be simply “Er, that’s where I cut my meat from, gov.”

What is intriguing about this fuss over nothing is that the objectors were not an army of animal welfare activists or militant vegans, but mostly your average meat munching shopper who objected to animal bodies because the sight was “upsetting” especially, it seems, for the children who presumably thought meat was those lumps of grey, pink, red, or brown stuff in a plastic tray and covered in cling film and labels covered with Union Jack flags or pictures of pleasant rolling hills. They just had no idea where meat actually comes from or what is involved in turning a herbivorous domesticated ungulate into burgers or steak.

Back in the days when I was a child – oh no not nostalgia I hear you cry – you could hardly walk down the high street in my local town without making way for a man carrying half a pig or a side of beef from his truck to the butcher shop. Most butchers had hares, rabbits, pheasants and other game, still in their furs and feathers, hanging outside. No, it’s not nostalgia, it’s just another measure of the steady progress of Species Amnesia.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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