Some twenty years ago I published a piece about Woody Allen in Emma, a feminist magazine in Germany. It was called “What has 25 years of psychoanalysis taught Woody Allen about incest?” The answer, as you might well imagine, was “nothing.” Because he wooed and married the sister of his children. (The fact that she was an adopted sibling is irrelevant).
I blamed not just Woody Allen, but also psychoanalysis, for they had, at the time, a history of denying the reality of child sexual abuse. In the years that followed, psychoanalysis has gotten somewhat better, whereas he appears to have learned nothing since.
I say this in light of the recent drama that has been unfolding in the media over the last couple of months. I am very happy to see people taking the accusations seriously. I wish Woody Allen would do the same. Because here is the crux of the matter: No matter where you stand on this issue, whether you believe Dylan, as I do, or you believe Woody Allen, the point that cannot be disputed even by him, is that he has caused tremendous unhappiness in his family. To Dylan foremost, but to many of the other siblings and of course Mia Farrow. Understandably. To everyone, it would seem, but Woody Allen.
So here is my question: How can you be happy when you know that you have caused and are still causing immense suffering and unhappiness in others?
Now if we take this idea and run with it, there are very serious implications, which is how Marius the Giraffe, Auschwitz, and eating animals, come into the picture. Somebody in the Copenhagen Zoo (which will now forever be linked to this barbaric act) said that the children who watched the skinning and the dissection of the much loved young giraffe, derived pleasure from it. They were happy. So what? Marius suffered. Marius was betrayed. Marius was butchered. You cannot be happy at the suffering of another.
The psychiatrist Robert Lifton is much praised for his invention of the term “doubling” which he explains by saying that an executioner in Auschwitz, could yet be a loving family man, kind and compassionate to his wife and children when he returned home from “work.” This is what I call a “junk idea.” Never mind all the other reasons (how on earth could Robert Lifton know what kind of family life these Nazis had?), what I am suggesting here is that we should not accept the idea of somebody being happy, and leading a “good” life while causing other people immense and unnecessary suffering.
So finally we come to eating animals. I understand that this is a stretch. And that is what I believe we need: to stretch our thinking into areas it may not be accustomed to going. When we eat an animal, that animal is being killed for us (not, of course, literally, but in the deeper sense). There is no way around it: it is a personal act. If you drink milk, a cow is being milked for you. If you eat eggs, a hen is laying one for you. If you believe that those animals suffer (and proof is only a click away on Google), how can you, in good conscience, say you don’t care? We do care. Everyone cares. It is perhaps the next to the last final frontier that we will need to enter.
Next to the last? Yes, the very last is this: Can animals help us to stop the devastation of our planet? For the first time as a species, some scientists believe we are on the brink of self-extinction. I believe, and I hope I am not the only one who does, we have something very deep to absorb from the animals we stop eating that could save us from final destruction. That is the theme of my new book: Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.