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Letter to a Sonoma County Jail Cell
A letter to my friend Wayne who is in jail
Necessary context for those who do not know it, which I imagine is many people: Wayne Hsiung, founder of DxE (Direct Action Everywhere) is sort of the Malcolm X of the animal rights movement. His substack can be found here: https://blog.simpleheart.org/
Wayne and I go way back, and Wayne has just been convicted of several felonies for rescuing animals from cruel mistreatment that is literally against the law. This conviction was obtained with perjured testimony, bought and paid for by an industry which daily does the indefensible on an industrial scale, and delivered by a judge who excluded all evidence of animal cruelty from consideration, and gagged Wayne during the trial in clear violation of his rights to protest an ongoing atrocity, in clear violation of the First Amendment. So I thought I would write my friend a letter in his jail cell, but I had a few things that I thought other people might need to hear. So I decided to make it an open letter.
Wayne has never been particularly popular among the general populace. I remember regularly hearing during college (while Wayne was in graduate school) that Wayne was damaging the vegan cause, and being told that I was much more helpful to the cause, because I'm nice and give people vegan food instead of forcing them to listen to horror stories about what goaes on in slaughterhouses.
I have always been deeply offended by comments like this, because, while I do pass out vegan treats whenever I can, I am not ignorant of what it is that goes on inside a slaughterhouse. I know that no unanesthetized method of execution can ever be a pleasant experience (and anaesthesia might spoil the taste of the meat!). I know that few of the methods used to execute the animals we eat are foolproof, resulting in some small but nonzero error rate that has been deemed acceptable by the powers that be. I know that chickens whose throats are missed by the knife are subsequently immersed in boiling water to remove their feathers for further processing. I know that the same happens to some small but nonzero number of pigs. I know what the inside of a factory farm for egg laying hens looks like, because Wayne and Direct Action Everywhere have shown the whole world. Or at least that portion of the world whose eyes are not clouded with the cataracts of hypocrisy.
I could go on about the things that I know, things that are known to anyone who cares to know them. But Wayne already knows them, because he has been going into slaughterhouses and other factory farming operations for more than a decade to investigate and save whatever animals he could. (Which is very, very few animals. It has broken his heart, I feel.) So I will spare Wayne the details.
And now, finally, it is Wayne that is in the cage, yearning for freedom and companionship. It is Wayne whose precious output the factory farming industry is extracting for its own uses, using whatever methods it thinks it can get away with.
But what, in truth, can they get away with? They can buy as many politicians as there are seats in Congress. They can buy as many judges as there are benches for judges to sit on. They can buy as many cops as there are guns for them to hold and point at those who would rescue a dying hen. But what they cannot buy, what they could never in a million years afford, not even with all of their profits, and centuries of government subsidies, what they cannot buy is the truth. They cannot make people see what is not there to be seen.
They have committed a serious blunder by jailing a man as righteous as Wayne Hsiung, and the price will be their empire of cruelty. Inevitably, as day follows night, the animal rights movement has won, is winning, will win. Direct Action Everywhere has open-sourced and published its operational manual, and copycat groups will spring up wherever three or more people share a vegan meal and have courage in their hearts. Which is more and more places every day. No industry can contend with an outpouring of courage and compassion on this scale. No industry ever could, and no industry ever has, and no industry ever will.
And so, it falls to us to dictate the terms of a just and lasting peace. For no war, even among the nonviolent ones, is ever between absolute good and absolute evil. When one side of a war commits uncountable atrocities, and has done so for centuries, and the other side assiduously practices nonviolence, and has done so for centuries, then perhaps one can be forgiven for making this mistake. But it is still a mistake.
What, then, is worth saving from the old world, the world from before Wayne Hsiung's conviction? There are several things that seem to me worthy and valuable things, and there are several things that seem to me fine and acceptable things. So let us list these, and then discuss how we will deliver these things without committing any more atrocities than we already have. For make no mistake, that is the war that we are fighting, the game that we are playing, the race that we are running. We must stop the atrocities, not by any means necessary, but certainly by using the means that are well within our grasp, that hurt no one except the plutocrats whose pockets are lined with the loot from boiling pigs alive, from confining chickens to quarters so close that they cannibalize each other from the stress of having no stable pecking order and no way to escape.
The first thing that seems to me worth saving is of course the animals themselves. It would be a terrible shame if there were no more cows, or chickens, or pigs. If the Earth became a peaceful paradise where all meat came from a vat, and there were no animals to revel in their newfound freedom, that would still be unjust and ugly. If there is a loving creator, we must preserve his creations, in all their might and splendor and tenderness. If there is not, well, nonetheless.
The second thing that is worthy and good and true, that deserves to survive, is simply the ability of rural farming communities to make a living. These are good and decent people, some of them, most of them, who have been put in an impossible position by the chances of history. They must choose between continuing to commit and support the atrocities, and between feeding and clothing their families and paying their internet bills and having a little bit left over to leave in the collection plate on Sunday. These are all true and worthy things, things that the human race would be poorer without.
How do we square this circle? How can rural farming communities continue to profit off of agriculture, and how can the animals that humanity has tamed continue to be taken care of by people who know their needs and wants and have a paying job that allows them to provide that care? Most importantly, how do we do this without in any way compromising or trampling on the rights of the animals in whose name we have fought?
What is it that the factory farming industry provides to rural communities? The obvious answer is jobs, which function as both a source of income and a source of meaning. But let us examine the issue in slightly more depth.
For as long as they have existed, large farming conglomerates have always extracted as much surplus value from rural communities as they have been able to, and that has always been a large amount of surplus value. Ever since William Jennings Bryan gave his famous "Cross of Gold" speech, and before then even, the financial system has ruined the fortunes of small farmers, has bankrupted small farmers, has torn the familiies of small farmers asunder.
The small farmer is not our implacable foe. They have traditionally used atrocious methods such as branding, castration, etc. without anaesthesia, but they have always exercised careful stewardship over the animals under their dominion, if only because this is the only way for them to earn their daily bread (and meat, and cheese, and eggs). If we are to win this war, in the name of the animals, then we will need allies in Red states as well as Blue ones. What better ally could we ask for than the experts with the domain knowledge to care for our precious animal siblings, who struggle in their own way against our common enemy, the enormous factory farming conglomerates?
The jobs that the industry provides are difficult, dangerous, and low-paying, and the fortunes extracted for executives are immense. By concentrating truly enormous fortunes and confining truly horrifying numbers of animals in minimal amounts of space, the factory farming industry has made it nigh-impossible for the typical family farm to exist.
When most people think of farms (when people lie to themselves about where most animal products come from), they always envision the sort of traditional farm where animals live in spacious areas and are cared for by expert farmers who are deeply invested in the animals under their charge. These farms still exist, and we could make them the norm if we only had the political will to rein in the factory farming industry.
The animals under the dominion of humankind are best thought of as children: precious, defenseless, unable to signal consent, but well able to signal its absence. We have tamed them over the course of millennia, we have removed their natural defenses, we have destroyed entire bloodlines of those who fought back or resisted in any way. We have made them the perfect, convenient victim. And yet we have not had the foresight to erase their eyes, their kind and brave eyes. We have not had the stomach to look in those eyes and misinterpret signs of terror and submission. And so, whatever we see when we look at a terrified, injured animal, we will always see ourselves reflected in that most precious of mirrors, the eyes of another soul.
And what, do you think, we want that reflection to look like? For one does not choose one's reflection as one pleases; it is the natural result of how one lives one's life over the course of decades, of how one's ancestors lives their lives for millennia. You can part your hair differently, but if the very sight of a member of your species holding a knife, together with the screams of previous victims, if that causes uneasiness and terror even among those who have been bred for absolute docility and absolute submission, if that were true (and you know in your heart that it is true), then who are you? Who will you ever be?
I say that you are the person you choose to be. Not the person you chose to be yesterday, or the day before. The person you will be tomorrow is the natural, predictable result of the person you choose to be today. Natural and predictable, to be sure, but not inevitable. For even if you harden your heart today, tomorrow is another day, another chance to do the right thing. While you draw breath, you are gifted with the absolute freedom to do what is right and with the absolute freedom to do what is wrong. And I think you will find, if you listen to that quiet voice in your mind (not the loud one that tells you what you already think, but the quiet one that tells you that you may be wrong), I think you will find that it is not so hard to tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Not if you listen carefully, and certainly not if you pray with all your heart and all your strength that you might listen carefully enough.
What, then, are the terms I propose for the peace treaty between animal rights activists and the rest of society? They are simple, and hopefully intuitive:
People have the right to eat meat, but not the right to kill animals for their flesh. Animals have the same basic, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that we extend to all of God's human children. Animals may only be killed at the natural end of a long, rich, and meaningful life, to ease their suffering, the same way we do for dogs and cats. Since people may, if they choose, eat the flesh of an animal so euthanized, a non-poisonous form of euthanasia will have to be devised. (Having deeply considered the question myself - how would I choose to be euthanized if my flesh needed to be eaten by those I loved and who loved me - I recommend an overdose of nitrous oxide. It is initially enjoyable, painless, presumably insanely expensive rather than prohibitively so, and effective enough that it remains a popular choice for assisted suicide in humans.)
People have the right to eat milk and eggs, but not the right to coerce or rape animals or take away their children to do so. Animals must be taken care of in a way that is consistent with their clearly expressed wishes for safety and autonomy, and their clearly expressed wishes to defend their families. Their enthusiastic consent must be obtained for any procedure that is performed on them or their loved ones.
To enforce the first two provisions, all animals under the dominion of animal agriculture must be fit with first-person surveillance cameras, similar to a GoPro or the body camera that police officers wear. They must also be constantly surveilled by third-person surveillance cameras, for their protection from any violation of the terms of this treaty.
Every package of meat, milk, or eggs needs to come with a QR code on it that leads to a first-person GoPro and third-person surveillance video of the animal’s entire life, so that you can tell the animal was never mistreated, and that they died an easy death of natural causes, at the end of a long and meaningful life.
State-of-the-art machine learning models should be deployed to analyze all of this footage for violations of the terms of this treaty.
The right to rescue abused animals should be enshrined in law as an affirmative defense against being charged or convicted of any nonviolent and minimally disruptive act that is necessary to get the abuse to stop.
There is some relatively small upper limit on the number of animals that a single corporate entity is allowed to have dominion over. This limit should be small enough that small and medium-sized family farms are the largest entity that can have dominion over any animal. This provision is necessary both to prevent overcrowding and the abuse that has inevitably come with any industrialization of animal agriculture, and also to prevent the animal agriculture industry from ever again becoming a large enough monopoly that it is able to purchase enough judgeships to jail a person like Wayne Hsiung, my friend to whom I am writing this letter.
This next passage is written by GPT-4. (You can tell because my self-righteous and bitter tone is absent.)
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness is a significant document in the field of cognitive science, particularly relating to animal consciousness. It was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, held at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Here are the key details and context of the declaration:
Background and Purpose: The declaration was the outcome of a series of discussions by a group of neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists. It was intended to acknowledge the current scientific understanding of consciousness in animals, including birds and non-human mammals, and even some invertebrates.
Similar Neurological Substrate: The declaration states that non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, possess neurological substrates complex enough to support conscious experiences.
Animal Consciousness: It asserts that animals are conscious beings, capable of experiencing perceptions and emotions.
Human-like Experiences: The declaration suggests that animals can also experience states of consciousness similar to humans, such as attention, intention, memory, and even a theory of mind to empathize and predict the actions of others.
This declaration challenged the traditional anthropocentric view of consciousness that considered it unique to humans.
It has implications for the ethical treatment of animals, suggesting a greater consideration and welfare for animals used in various industries, including research, agriculture, and entertainment.
Controversies and Discussions: While the declaration was hailed as a step forward in understanding animal consciousness, it also sparked debates. Some scientists argued that the declaration was premature, given the still-limited understanding of consciousness, while animal rights activists used it to support their causes.
Signatories: The document was signed by prominent scientists in the field of consciousness research, including Stephen Hawking and several other leading figures.
Long-term Impact: The declaration has been influential in shaping subsequent research and discussions on animal consciousness and ethics. It continues to be a reference point in debates about animal rights and welfare.
Overall, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness marked a significant milestone in the scientific community's recognition of consciousness in non-human animals, paving the way for further research and ethical considerations in this area.
What, then, are we to make of the scientific consensus on animal consciousness? The only true consensus remains that there is no consensus. We cannot truly turn this bloody and foul page of history while doubt remains about the existence of animal consciousness. Evil can hide in any shade we allow to exist in our minds, and such shade is always plentiful in the absence of definitive and compelling scientific evidence.
Some scientists somewhere will have to build a complete paradigm of neuroscience sufficient to answer the question once and for all. I pray that this can be done swiftly enough that the atrocities can end as soon as possible. I pray it daily.
And so, I ask you, if you read this screed and thought it made any sense, to write your own version, and tell it to anyone who will listen, and a few people who won't. Print out this screed, or your own screed, or whatever else you want to write, and send it to Wayne. Let Wayne know that the world has heard him. Let the world know that you have heard him. Let Wayne's jailers, and the system that jailed him, and the billionaires who paid them to jail him, let them all know what they already know, deep down in their bones: that change is coming, that another world is possible, that another world can be ours if only we earn it with our courage and our compassion. Send him so many copies of this letter, or your own letter, or whatever you feel needs to be said, that it is simply impossible for Wayne to read all of them in the few hours a day he is given access to outside media. That it is simply impossible for the jail administrators to read all of them, or even process all of the physical copies. That it is impossible to deny, even for those who would blind themselves to their own complicity in mortal sin, that another world can be held back for even one more day.
And maybe draw a picture of a cute animal on your letter. Wayne could always use more of those in his jail cell.
And Wayne, if you’re reading this, take care of yourself. The road ahead is long and winding, but you have already played your part. Someday, and I predict someday soon, those who have delivered the perjured testimony and crooked judges and complicit court system will wake up to what it is that they have done, and they will discover that they do not have the stomach to continue doing it at the scale that would be required to shut down the animal rights movement. Someday soon, you will lie on a soft bed, with those who love you, including Oliver, your beloved dog, and you will know a peace that passes understanding. For there is no greater service to humanity than charitably but honestly pointing out its flaws, as we would with any friend of ours, when they have hurt someone who did nothing wrong. And there is no greater champion for the animals than you, Wayne. You have earned your place in the nonviolent Valhalla of the world’s great moral champions. Now rest, and dream of freedom, and love, as any animal in a cage must do from time to time.