Ivan the terrible.
Every so often I get a visit from Ivan. Ivan is one of my patients who has had a long and arduous life working as a labourer. Years of manual work have worn away at his hips and knees and now he is the proud recipient of three prosthetic joints. Unlike most of my “disabled” patients, Ivan likes the vigorous life. With his savings he bought himself a small farm, and now in his gentle and measured pace tends his cows, pigs and ducks.
Coming from Eastern European peasant stock he seemed the type that always looked out of place in the city; always more at home on the land
I would see Ivan on a regular basis: repeat scripts of his medications, blood pressure checks and the general medical concerns of a man of his age. During his visits, he would keep me informed of the circle of life on his farm. He would bring his grandchildren with him on the farm and they would have the honour of naming the piglets. He would get up at night on cold winters to make sure all the cows were properly housed and warm. He would fret over sick animals and always ensure that if required; the vet would be summoned. He tended his pastures so that his animals would be fat and happy
A few months ago he was late for his appointment and visibly distressed. One of his calves had wandered off. As he lived close to a rail line, he was concerned that it was a risk of being hit by a train. He searched over his farm without avail for hours till finally the sounds of the anguished beast drew him to a small gully. The animal had fallen down the crevice and was unable to get itself up. Foxes had torn pieces of flesh from its hindquarters and udder. Ivan scared off the foxes; distressed and seeing that the beast was beyond help, got his gun form the farmhouse, and taking great care to get a clean shot, put the animal out of its misery. You see, Ivan cared for his animals.
All his calves had names. One day I enquired of a certain “Daisy” of whom he had talked so fondly about.
“How’s Daisy?” I asked.
“I slaughtered her this morning for meat”, He replied.
“I thought you liked Daisy?”, I asked surprised.
“Yes, I did”
“I could never kill an animal I developed feelings for”, I said.
“Nonsense, that’s what they’re there for”
And with that he uttered a great metaphysical truth: The animals exist for the benefit of man.
Ivan was bought up “old school”. He believed that man stood at the apex of creation and that all other living things served him. However Ivan never took this to mean that it was a one way street. Ivan also believed that it was the obligation of man to look after the living things. Cruelty to his animals was as unimaginable as infanticide; one had the obligation to treat animals well. Unlike Peter Singer, Ivan did not believe that the animals had rights; rather Human beings had obligations. The concept of comparing animals with humans was ridiculous; Ivan’s grandchild was worth infinitely more than any piglet. Ivan wouldn’t have argued with Peter Singer, he would have punched him in the nose. Ivan hated animal rights activists not because they were pro-animal, but anti-human. Equating the animal with the human did not make the animal more human but provided a philosophical justification for the human behave like an animal.
Ivan felt that this was all some sort of intellectual sophistry; a denial of common sense. He felt that that the animal rights activists were “sick”, a diagnosis with which I whole heartedly agree. It seemed to me that one could get a better grasp on metaphysics working on the farm than in a prestigious university. Peter Singer please take note.