Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"The Discontinuous Mind"

I spotted this inked on yesterday's "things to do" page in the notebook I keep on my desk at work. I can't remember where I read it. It came to me just now upon overhearing a conversation between three people behind me in the elevator.

The elevators at work are outfitted with little TV screens playing an absurd loop of current events, advertisements, words-of-the-day. Evidently the screen had just flashed something regarding the Michael J. Fox/ Limbaugh incident, and a guy behind me said "It's enough to make you turn liberal, you know? When something like that affects you -- I mean, forget religion, you would do anything if there was a cure." His two companions murmured assent.

Aside from the idiocy of the phrase "turn liberal" -- wanting people to not suffer from crippling diseases makes one a pinko lefty? what I was struck by was the sentiment of you care about it once it affects you. There goes the pesky discontinuous mind again!: I just couldn't quite make the leap to thinking what something must be like for another creature, until it was happening right in my living room. Who knew that empathy was so taxing: I picture Evel Knievel not quite being able to jump all those buses, so many! laid end to end!

I wonder what they had for lunch? A turkey club with crispy bacon? Ham and swiss on rye? Do they have a "Support Our Troops" magnet on the car? The discontinuous mind sanctifies a clump of cells with a soul, said clump of cells whose development has not yet even reached the stage when it has gill slits [tuna sandwich? anyone?] as they bite into the charred dead flesh of a creature with the cognitive abilities of a three year old.

This isn't sentimental. It's all fact. The question is what do you do, as a moral agent, with those facts, even if it is to say, "You know, I just don't want to deal with that." That was what I used to say. I used to love me some bacon, love me some steak, liked my cheeseburgers bloody. Bloody, meaning it is a once-living creature's blood dripping over my face. My discontinuous mind labelled it "juice," as it had been labelled for me since I was a baby, since my sister and I would joyfully pretend to be dinosaurs eating ribs at dinner.

I just finished Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat, a book I would have mocked ceaselessly as little as four years ago. Although I wish it were better written, it is dead-on.


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