Tag Archives: Ethics

Looking for the door to ‘Enter’?

Is ‘Enter’ a tough read? The answer to the question, based on feedback by presenters at the launch of the book ‘Enter’, has been mixed and telling:

  • The book is “deep and yet accessible” (Paul Ashton)
  • “I read it remarkably quickly – twice.” (Joshua Mentz)
  • “I found (the book) a tough read and a very interesting and a fascinating read.” (Ken Barris)
  • “(The book) will speak to those who take the trouble to engage with it” (Louis de Villiers)
  • “The book demands that you enter, and entering a space is different from how we normally approach life. Entering is hugely challenging.” (Matthew Mentz)

So just in case you feel daunted at the prospect of getting into ‘Enter’, the following summary of each presenter’s take on the book should be of value to you as an overview and synthesis of the book.

Paul Ashton (read by Penny Busetto)
Penny reading from Paul Ashton's introduction to the book: "Many of us live in a state of disconnection from our whole selves " | photo credit: Ken Barris
Penny reading from Paul Ashton’s introduction to the book: “Many of us live in a state of disconnection from our whole selves ” | photo credit: Ken Barris

Paul Ashton’s talk (‘Entering the void’) contextualises the book by placing it within a Jungian framework in which, according to Jung, the purpose of life is not to become good but instead to actualise by becoming whole. This requires us to integrate unconscious, suppressed and shadow stuff that together constitute deadness or void at the centre of our being into which we must plunge in order to find ourselves.

Ken Barris
Ken Barris: "... so Hennie I think you also have to look into the heart of lightness as well as the heart of darkness." | photo credit: Tony Carr shooting with film (non-digital)
Ken Barris: “… so Hennie I think you also have to look into the heart of lightness as well as the heart of darkness.” | photo credit: Tony Carr shooting with film (non-digital)

Ken Barris responded as I anticipated many might. He found the book a difficult, challenging and interesting read but, in line with the author’s temperament, dark and pessimistic. Ken problematized the book’s hypothesis that the act of thinking separates us from world-in-itself (as in the world beyond our respective thought-bubbles). His closing, playful yet pointed advice was that the author should also look into the heart of light.

Louis de Villiers
Louis de Villiers: 'If (the book) touches one person and breaks the rock for the tears to flow, it will be worth it'.
Louis de Villiers: ‘If (the book) touches one person and breaks the rock for the tears to flow, it will be worth it’.

Like Ken Louis de Villiers’s speech (no video) pointed out that the author’s nature militates against light-heartedness and joviality, borne out in the writing, and that few will be able (or be inclined) to follow his (spartan) example. Ken and Louis’ responses are important in that they most likely represent a majority position

Joshua Mentz
Joshua Mentz: " ...there’s a narrative in the book of where we as a society are in association with our psyches" | photo credit: Ken Barris
Joshua Mentz: ” …there’s a narrative in the book of where we as a society are in association with our psyches” | photo credit: Ken Barris

Joshua Mentz widened and deepened the dialectic by pointing out that apart from the autobiographical aspect, the book deals also with where we are as a society in association with our psyches and how that plays out and impacts on our relationships – also with animals and the planet as a whole.

Matthew Mentz
Matthew Mentz: "The book demands you enter." | photo credit: Tony Carr shooting with film (non-digital)
Matthew Mentz: “The book demands you enter.” | photo credit: Tony Carr shooting with film (non-digital)

Matthew Mentz brought the discussion down to earth by bringing home to those present that the book’s real challenge lies in its demand that readers enter a space different from how we normally approach life. An exercise made incalculably difficult if who we are has been suppressed (and we are therefore almost entirely void)

Llewellyn Alberts
"Jesus kom weer ... " ('Jesus is coming again') - Lucky Lew (also known as Llewellyn Alberts) playing one of his songs at the launch of 'Enter' | photo credit: Ken Barris
“Jesus kom weer … ” (‘Jesus is coming again’) – Lucky Lew (also known as Llewellyn Alberts) playing one of his songs at the launch of ‘Enter’ | photo credit: Ken Barris

Llewellyn Alberts sings four poignant – sometimes gritty autobiographical songs that touch on all these themes thus enriching, deepening and rounding off the discussion.

To view any or all of the above presentations click here

Still daunted? Questions? Please use the comment box below.

Feature image is by Gustav Doré  in Alighieri, D. The Vision of Hell, Part 2, The Inferno. Project Gutenberg | EBook. #8780

‘Entering the void’ and other voices

Paul Ashton, Jungian analyst, Ken Barris, writer, critic and friend and three readers who helped shape the text: Louis de Villiers, Joshua Mentz and Matthew Mentz, and Llewellyn Alberts – quoted at the head of chapter eight, were asked to present at the launch of my indie-published book ‘Enter’. This is what they said.

Please note that if you have a problem with sound you can pump up the volume using the YouTube slider (bottom left of the YouTube screen) and the volume control of your computer or speakers. Enjoy!

Paul Ashton: ‘Entering the void’, introduces the book

Penny Busetto reads an introduction to the book written by Dr Paul Ashton who couldn’t attend:

Summary: In his introduction Paul noted and showed how his own ‘pet interest’ in the topic of the void overlaps with the book (Enter). Paul’s sense is that void experiences signify disconnection from or loss of our whole selves, which has come about through unconsciousness, neglect or denial. Paul felt that the book describes this loss, and how descent or falling into the void brings about the dark night of the soul revealing long repressed negative aspects of ourselves that we didn’t know were us – but also positive aspects. Over time, by doing what the alchemists describe as turning base metals into gold: a sense of solidity, wholeness and nuance is achieved which enables the integration of light and dark, self and others, and out of which choice flows. Paul believes that the book describes this process.

Click to download Paul’s talk: ‘Entering the void’

Ken Barris crits the book

Summary: To illustrate the point that in his view Hennie’s temperament (Hennie or Hendrik, the author) invites or dwells on calamities [laughter from the audience], Ken commenced his address with a scripture reading from chapter one verse eight of the Book of Job. Ken likened Job’s contestation with a metaphysical God to Hennie’s grappling with the idea of mind or consciousness. Ken found the book a tough, interesting and challenging read that threw up two problems or challenges for him: (1) how do you think and (2) who are you? With respect to the first problem Ken questioned the premise in the book that humankind is by definition separate from world-in-itself by pointing to the audience that he noted comprised community. On the question of who we are, Ken suggested that, generationally speaking, were Hennie to look at his own family line he would see that not only trauma but creativity has been passed down and that additionally to looking into the heart of darkness, Hennie should look into the heart of light.

Click to download Ken’s speech: Ken Barris crits ‘Enter’

Louis de Villiers gives his take

Summary: As he was unable to be present Louis mailed an input which unfortunately was overlooked during the last-minute preparations for the talk.

Louis recounted how he met Hendrik (the author) 15 years previously, his impressions at the time and how their friendship grew. He then expanded on Hendrik’s propensity for seriousness. He referred to an incident in the book to illustrate what he sees as Hendrik’s fearlessness to go where most would not dare: namely, to drop the societal façade and to connect deeply with another. He ended by saying that the book will speak to anyone who takes the trouble to engage with it.

Click to download Louis’ speech: Louis de Villiers’ take on ‘Enter’

Joshua Mentz gives his take on the book

Summary: Joshua confided that he had always experienced Hendrik (the author and Joshua’s father) as somewhat eccentric but, as the years progressed, also wise. He believed Hendrik was “wired differently”, a quality that attracted others. He mentioned that Hendrik had had a hard life and been very brave to have gone through what is described in the book, and also by laying himself bare in the book. The book is therefore an intimate read. Additional to the autobiographical side, the book contains a narrative about the interplay of individual psyche with society and how this plays out with respect to how we treat ourselves, one another, animals and the planet. Joshua concluded by saying that it’s an important book highly coherent and an engaging and a surprisingly quick read that he believes will have a positive effect, and that it would therefore be good for people to read it.

Click to download Josh’s speech: Joshua Mentz’s take on ‘Enter’

Matthew Mentz gives his take on the book

Summary: Matthew concurred that the book is challenging because it demands readers enter a space different from how we normally approach life. Therefore in preparation for his speech Matt confided that he had tried to enter – the result being the clothes he was wearing. He then questioned why he had dressed that way. Was it he or to make his dad (Hendrik, the author of the book) proud? He concluded that if the latter had been his motive, then he hadn’t entered. References to Dante, Eliot and hell in the text, triggered for Matthew a question he had pondered over the years, namely, the implications of the alchemists’ understanding of ‘as above so below’. Matthew suggested that because we have forgotten why we react as we do, maybe things aren’t the way we assume them to be and that possibly it’s hell we need to get into. Because Hendrik lays himself bare in the book Matthew pointed out that he also lays his family bare and because Hendrik’s parents are dead the way they are described in the book isn’t the whole picture. Matthew concluded by saying that he was proud of the book. And although everyone could read the book it was really a book of kin in that Hendrik as scribe had captured something important that will remain in the family and be passed down the generations.

Click to download Matt’s speech: Matthew Mentz’s take on ‘Enter’

Lucky Lew AKA Llewellyn Alberts plays four of his compositions

  1. Kom dans Klaradyn (Come and dance Klaradyn): A song about love doomed on the altar of perfection quoted in chapter eight of the book
  2. Jesus kom weer (Jesus is coming): A song for Job
  3. Bloemfontein (Bloemfontein): Autobiographical tale of woe played out in Bloemfontein (a town in South Africa)
  4. Die huis van Maria Maree (The house of Maria Maree): One of Lucky Lew’s happy songs about love among the sirens
Thank you

A thank you to each of the above presenters, as also Oscar O’Ryan, who, at very short notice, shot the videos. Thank you also to our photographers: Ken Barris, Tony Carr and Oscar O’Ryan.

Thanks guys for helping launch ‘Enter’

‘Enter’ saw the light of day almost a year earlier but when the Book Lounge declined to include the book in their launch programme the books remained in their boxes under the bench in the lounge for close on a year.

What finally prodded me into action was the realisation that unless I held the launch before the imminent permanent departure from Cape Town of my eldest son (Matthew our first-born) and his family I would have difficulty ever finding another opportunity to launch the book. But where?

Fortunately Joshua (our second-born) and Rowena Quinan (his spouse) came to the rescue and offered their beautiful home in Camps Bay, with an almost 360 degree view of the 12 apostles and the Atlantic ocean.

Frantic

Sasha (Matt’s spouse) took on the task of managing the whole process in my absence – as I live in Suurbraak, and my good friend Malcolm Doyle-Davidson (Club African Day wines) arranged a generous sponsorship of some excellent reds and whites courtesy of Eugene Kinghorn of Saxenburg wine estate. The presenters (see below) all agreed to help launch the book, the invitations went out and those who accepted arrived.

Launch

Lia met and registered the guests at the door. Josh and Rowena’s house started filling up. Josh gathered everyone around for the inputs which Oscar O’Ryan, when approached at the very last moment, kindly agreed to video:

  • Penny Busetto read an introduction to the book: ‘Entering the Void’, written by Paul Ashton who couldn’t attend
  • Ken Barris offered a crit of the book
  • Josh tended the apologies of Louis de Villiers, who had been a reader during the editing phase, and who couldn’t attend
  • Joshua Mentz, a reader during the editing phase, gave his take on the book
  • Matthew Mentz, a reader during the editing phase, gave his take on the book
  • Llewellyn Alberts, quoted in chapter eight of the book, played four of his compositions

Oscar’s footage has been edited and the Afrikaans translated into English and uploaded to YouTube. Additionally each speech was transcribed and summarised. To access the videos, transcriptions and summaries please click here.

Below are pics of their presentations (to view the full-sized image click on any image and use the arrow keys left or right. To escape click ‘x’ top left or hit your ‘Esc’ key):

Each presentation built on its predecessor. In the audience: a sense of solemnity and of care and love were apparent see below (to view the full-sized image click on any image and use the arrow keys left or right. To escape click ‘x’ top left or hit your ‘Esc’ key):

After the presentations Malcolm plied everyone (our Muslim brethren, Ighsaan and Redewan, and our teetotallers excluded!!!) with wine, Rowena passed around the snacks and helped Sasha invoice copies of the book. I signed.

Below are pics of some of those present  (to view the full-sized image click on any image and use the arrow keys left or right. To escape click ‘x’ top left or hit your ‘Esc’ key):

Reflections

The book was very much a team effort. I have already introduced the readers above (Fred, Josh, Louis, Matt) who were merciless during the editing stage (you can find Matt’s contact details below) . Who also worked hard during this phase was Stefanie Swanepoel (you can find her contact details below) who served as editor and proofreader. Its professional feel are all thanks to Doret Ferreira (contact details below), while Dustan Franks helped create the supporting website (details below).

I’ve already mentioned how the evening would not have been as huge a success that it was without such a beautiful venue (Rowena and Joshua), launch manager (Sasha), reception (Lia), Oscar agreeing at the very last moment to capture video footage of the proceedings (find his contact details below), a warm yet crisp and firm anchor man (Josh), a strong team of presenters (Penny, Ken, Josh, Matt and Llewellyn), something I would never have thought of: a sound system (Llewellyn – find his contact details below), volunteer photographers (Oscar, Ken, and Tony Carr who went all retro, non-digital, shooting with film), a wine part-sponsorship organised by Malcolm (to order wine see his contact details below) to bring down costs.

‘Enter’ has now officially been launched thus confirming that I am blessed to be related to and friends of what must be the some of the most interesting, generous, warm, loving and kindest people in this world, each of whom I thank humbly for kindness and support in what for me was an extremely difficult birth.

Stop press

Enter has gone on to win a South African Independent Publishing Award in the philosophy category. My thanks to Ken who alerted me to the award by putting me in contact with Darryl Earl David of UKN (University of KwaZulu-Natal) who manages the awards. Darryl’s contact details are below if you want to be put on his festival mailing list or have an indie-book in the wings.

Supporting one another

I believe we should support one another in the same way I was supported and so below I’ve listed the contact details of those who helped me – in case you ever need a related service:

  • Anything requiring handwork, skill and/or creativity (metalwork, woodwork, electronics, roofing): Llewellyn Alberts | Salsa Sound, salsasound@gmail.com or 076 848 9560
  • Boutique website design: Rowena Quinan | Precision IT consulting
  • Dance and the creative arts: Louise Coetzer and Oscar O’Ryan | Darkroom Contemporary, louise@darkroomcontemporary.com & oscar@darkroomcontemporary.com
  • Dance and the creative arts (performance and creative arts as tools for healing and transformation): Jennifer van Papendorp | Indoni Dance, Arts and Leadership Academy – papendorp@telkomsa.net, 083 55 66 054
  • Editing and proofreading: Stefanie Swanepoel | stefanieswanepoel@yahoo.co.uk
  • Fine wines (large carefully selected range, reasonably priced and delivered to your door): Malcolm Doyle-Davidson | African Day Wine Club, malcolm@clubafricanday.com or 082 363 9361
  • Graphic design (illustrator and publication design, including brand identity and information graphics): Doret Ferreira | dotted line design – doret@dottedlinedesign.co.za
  • Music: Llewellyn Alberts | salsasound@gmail.com or 076 848 9560
  • Photography: Oscar O’Ryan | Oscar O’Ryan or Darkroom Contemporary  – oscar@darkroomcontemporary.com
  • Research (sustainable development & food systems) & Programme Evaluation: Sasha Lagrange-Mentz | sasha.lagrange@gmail.com
  • Sound: Llewellyn Alberts | Salsa Sound – salsasound@gmail.com or 076 848 9560
  • South African Independent Publishing Awards and literary festivals: Darryl Earl David: | davidd@ukzn.ac.za
  • Sustainable livelihoods (agroecology as in autonomous and ecological household and farming systems): Matthew Mentz NicheUnity
  • Translation English-French and French-English: Sasha Lagrange-Mentz | sasha.lagrange@gmail.com
  • Videography: Oscar O’Ryan | Oscar O’Ryan or oscar@darkroomcontemporary.com
  • WordPress/website design (freelance developer with more than 10 years experience in web development & online marketing. Focuses on high quality web development solutions and specialises in front end development, WordPress development and performance optimisation): Dustan Franks | WordPress Ninja 

Seven black wattles


Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savour the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, savouring must come first (E.B. White)


“But Louis,” I remonstrated, “Look behind you. There’s a forest of black wattles.”

“Well I have pulled out seven of them.”

Louis de Villiers uprooting 1 of 7-black wattles
Louis de Villiers uprooting one of seven black wattles

Louis and I were tending a small herd of goats alongside the Caledon River, which joins the Buffeljags to flow past the former mission village of Zuurbraak, Suurbraak or its original Attaqua Khoikhoi name !Xairu  meaning ‘A place called Paradise‘ in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province in South Africa.

Gaunt, testy – but with a twinkle in his eye signalling a heart of gold, my good friend, Louis de Villiers, is an inveterate kampvegter (champion) for the environment. He therefore walks the talk, which is why he was tugging away at a black wattle while all I wanted to do was enjoy the evening watching the goats graze.

In South Africa, the black wattle tree (Acacia mearnsii) is classified as an invader, which ‘competes with and replaces indigenous grassland and riverine species … (thus reducing) the grazing area for domestic and wild animals.’ (Invasive Species South Africa).

The forest of black wattle in question was growing on the lower slopes of the Langeberge and was now also invading one of the few remaining thickets of original vegetation that, inter alia, included  Kaapse boekenhout and wild almond which, incidentally, was sustaining our goats. Chastened by Louis’ example I undertook to do the same. However, I am ashamed to confess that since that day, I failed to uproot one single black wattle.

That event took place on 27 July 2015. Almost a month later on the 17 August I received a visit from Gari whose plot adjoins the stretch where Louis uprooted his 7 black wattles. Gari shared his concern that not only black wattle but the goats were destroying the natural vegetation alongside the river, which he informed me he was planning to conserve as a retreat for anyone wishing to relax there. Part of his plan was to rid the area of black wattle. The second part of his plan was for the area no longer to be used for grazing, and would I mind?

Tragedy of the commons

Matt and Sasha (my son and daughter-in-law) and the other livestock farmers of Suurbraak grazed their goats, cattle and horses on that same stretch of commonage years before Gari and others moved onto their plots. Sharing the commons is also a large troop of baboons, which periodically come down from the mountain. Consequently there is huge pressure on whatever land remains – exacerbated by plant invaders (black wattle, blue gum, hakea, and pine).

Clearly the stage is set for the tragedy of the commons. What’s to do, particularly as there is clearly a need to conserve what little is left?

As I see it, Louis has demonstrated the solution: seven black wattles: ‘The challenge,’ Louis explains, ‘Is to find the balance between our way of doing and living, while recognising and respecting the delicate balances in nature in which we are interfering.’

Had I, therefore, as intended, followed Louis’ example set on the 27 July 2015, there would have been 224 fewer black wattles. But I had done nothing. So If I needed grazing for the goats, while valuing biodiversity and beauty I realised I must stop pretending all is well with the commons and I must do something to conserve what is precious.

My commitment, therefore, is that whenever and wherever I graze the goats –including that stretch – I would pay my dues by pulling out the equivalent of seven black wattles. Yesterday I started working on my backlog and uprooted 60 black wattles. Added to Louis’ seven, equals 67 fewer black wattles. Tonight, at least seven more.

Combating black wattle aliens
Combating plant invaders along the Buffeljagsrivier flowing past Suurbraak

Acknowledgement: Louis shared the quote above by E.B. White, which he says sums up his dilemma.

Afterword: While visiting, Louis also took out a grove of hakea, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post: a how-to get rid of hakea.

Why I shall continue eating meat

My intention is to clarifying for myself why I eat meat.

The question was shaped by a discussion I had via Twitter with Jo Lister,  BentoGrassConsumerAction,  Free Ranger and @EGalgut (account closed and apparently subsumed into Bento), and via  The Daily Pitchfork with James McWilliams, Janet Schultz and Charlie Talbert.

The vegan position as I understand it

Jo Lister and Bento, both vegans, believe that because humans as a species know right from wrong, we have a moral obligation not to inflict suffering on animals because, like us, animals are sentient. Consequently, they refuse to participate in any exploitation of animals be it by eating meat, wearing animal products or using animals for entertainment in zoos and circuses. Humans who do mistreat animals are, as James McWilliams observes, guilty of speciesism. Bento and McWilliams reject as illogical the argument that eating meat is natural by invoking the naturalistic fallacy. A call to veganism is compellingly and movingly articulated in the movie Earthlings.

GrassConsumerAction & Free Ranger are non-vegan activists promoting ethical farming practices.

I am wary of bringing morals into the question

I don’t know about you, but I have a kneejerk reaction to anyone telling me that for moral reasons I should not eat meat. It’s not just that I’m obstinate. It’s that I’m suspicious of anyone playing the moral card, because in my view any injunction, rule, practice or belief that is at heart an ‘ought’ instead of an ‘is’ doesn’t gel with me, as being too easy, pat and/or empty. To be anything other than who I am, cuts me off from my true nature which, let’s face it, is seldom if ever moral, let alone compassionate. Instead, I believe it is necessary to enter and live what is real. By ‘real’ I include my shadow, suppressed self. It also requires me to open myself to what is on the other side of my thought bubble. This means participating in a world which is immediate, fluid, complex, fraught, and with no easy answers. (I expand on this position in, Enter).

For me, the speciesism argument is patronising and coercive

Speciesism is what happens when one species (human) assumes for itself power over another (animal) thus resulting in exploitation. It’s a thought-provoking take on what is happening on earth. Nevertheless I am concerned and suspicious when – like with many –isms: speciesism starts being used as a stick to beat others as in: ‘There’s a lot of confusing unique behaviors and speciesism in this comment thread.’ (McWilliams). This bears out my sense that –isms polarise and stratify into us (the enlightened) and them (the speciesists), and in the process demand specific behaviours which, ironically, are subtly demeaning. For instance speciesism assumes human-animal interaction in terms of omnipotence and powerlessness, which then legislates specific human behaviours such as compassion, whereas in my experience the interaction between human and animal seldom operates within such narrow confines. In fact I have been in awe when in the presence of animals and at other times, comforted. I have felt loved. I have learnt to show respect. I have shared with animals and have received two, three, four-fold in return. I have experienced intimacy. And I have felt afraid. This is why Janet Shultz’s sense of ‘coexistent presence’ speaks to me so powerfully, by re-defining the relationship in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

I concede that my stated reason for eating meat was illogical (naturalistic fallacy)

When I justified eating meat ‘… because it is natural’:

Bento corrected me for being illogical, by invoking the naturalistic fallacy.

I had never before encountered the naturalistic fallacy until Bento mentioned it. McWilliams further elucidated the concept for me in his post, When It Comes To The Morality Of Meat, Nature Is No Guide’. As I understand the naturalistic fallacy, I cannot claim something is good on the strength that it happens in nature, for example claiming that humping in public is acceptable because animals do it. So if it’s illogical to say I eat meat because it is natural, and as my decision to eat meat results in alarm, fear, pain and/or grief for a member of another species why do I eat meat? Otherwise, Jo Lister’s observation to me holds:

Why I eat meat (hopefully, without resorting to the naturalistic fallacy)

It’s a long story. My mother turned to nature cure in my 14th year. Since then for much of my long life I have been vegetarian. Now occasionally I eat meat. The reason I now eat meat is because during my years as a vegetarian I felt much like the walking dead or catatonic. I lacked vitality. I was light-headed. I bordered on being perniciously anaemic. Therefore, I resorted to drinking pots of Keemun tea and, later in my life, double espressos and chocolate, all of which, because it was caffeine-induced, provided a false energy.

Now when I eat a small portion of meat my body immediately says thank you, I feel grounded and connected, and I have the strength to carry on. This dramatic contrast tells me that I had been vegetarian (and I’m not even talking veganism!) at the expense of my health.

There’s another reason. I manage a small agroecology farm in Suurbraak, South Africa on behalf of Matt (my son) and Sasha (my daughter-in-law). The farm is situated between mountain and a perennial river and bordered by wilderness. Because I do not see myself as separate from my context, I cannot avoid – nor do I wish to avoid, taking my cue from nature. Here my lived reality is an ecology in which life (baboon, rooikat or lynx, buck, otter, water mongoose, porcupine, horse, goat, cow, mouse, snake, owl, ibis, frog, wasp, spider, scorpion) is forever attacking or protecting turf in an attempt to stay alive for as long as possible in order to procreate. In what way am I so different? That I’m moral?

But I am also trapped in another context, human. I said ‘trapped’ because humans increasingly live almost entirely in their heads as if what is beyond their thought bubbles doesn’t exist, thus leading lifestyles that cause incalculable harm to the fabric of the whole of which humans form part. Take, for instance: CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), fracking and nuclear waste. Therefore I believe you and I should find ways to re-connect with what is beyond thought. This includes not only connecting with wilderness but also our feelings, and the past, which we often try to fudge or forget. One way to connect with wilderness, the past and/or our feelings is to take absolute responsibility for every decision I make, including slaughtering for food.

It follows therefore that slaughtering must be personal. By personal I mean that I live my involvement in or my responsible for this animal’s death. And to make it personal I too must be prepared to slaughter at least once in my life so that I experience first-hand what is entailed for the animal and the person doing the slaughtering (see my post Eating Meat).

If this is not possible then the act of buying, preparing and eating meat must happen in full consciousness, relatively speaking, in so doing acknowledging the death of the animal I am eating.

I believe my responsibility also extends to ensuring that the animal I’m eating led a natural life as in free-range, grass-fed, horned and suckled. This will of necessity push up the price of meat. That is as it should be, see: ‘Our responsibility towards the animals I farm’. This requires that I check the label before buying my meat. But because labels also lie or fudge the truth (See James McWilliams’ article in Harpers: Nature’s perfect package, Labeling our way to a clear conscience (paywall)) we need food activists such as GrassConsumerAction and Free Ranger to help us hold retailers accountable.

Ideally the animal I eat should have been slaughtered with the minimum of trauma. Unless I am a farmer or know a farmer who slaughters and whom I can trust, the killing side in modern society will remain problematic. As one farmer put it – reported, I think, in ‘National Geographic’: ‘My animals lead a good life with one bad day’. This I must accept.

My beef with vegans for being pie in the sky

I didn’t set out to be confrontational as I have the utmost respect for the manner in which vegans live their beliefs. But at the same time vegans, like meat-eaters, should be answerable.

If vegans had their way, the question then follows: would we have farm animals? And if the answer is no then surely their noble quest to prevent the slaughtering of farm animals would mean that they wouldn’t have been born in the first place, thus depriving them of life.

In addition to food, the animals we farm help build quality soil via their droppings. My sense is that without farm animals we would be another step closer to ceding control to the fertiliser, herbicide, GM corporations to create an artificial environment, which they then control.  Apropos, is this TED address by Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change.

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Thirdly, on the question of epistemology: it appears that vegans assume a dualistic world comprising 2 discrete contexts/realities/worlds but equal – to avoid speciesism: wilderness and human. If so we have the classical dilemma of explaining how these two worlds interact without falling into what Gilbert Ryle called a category error, which in this case might be the anthropocentric assumption that compassion and abstinence from killing are more appropriate than, for instance, contentment from being nourished.

Fourthly, is the naïve, lopsided belief that given the right circumstances, tools and/or attitudes we should and could rid the world of pain – without realising that it is often through pain, terror, grief (all the supposed negatives) that we connect with life.

In conclusion

Matt, my son, who reviewed the first draft, pointed out that I might run into problems having promoted an argument based on anti-thought and pro-feeling, and then tackling vegans at the end in a very logical fashion thus not identifying the complexity and feeling of living the vegan way. This, I concede is a valid criticism. To Matt’s critique I add that of my friend and co-reviewer, Louis de Villiers, who observed that everyone has to decide for him or herself.

So let me conclude by saying that I was a vegetarian for years at the expense of my health. Now I eat meat at the expense of my peace of mind. I believe that’s what it comes down to, namely, a decision on which alternative to sacrifice.

Our responsibility towards the animals we farm

The message I glean from our goats: is it necessary also to disrespect us?

Early morning I looked at Daisy (matriarch of a herd of 4 adult and 6 baby goats) standing at the entrance to the enclosure, and asked her please to let Kashka through, whose turn it was to be milked. Daisy stepped aside, and Kashka slipped in.

Surprised, I gratefully responded, “Thank you mama. Thank you.”

Daisy looked back at me with those clear, yellow glass eyes of hers and flashed, “No problem”, turned aside to meditate in the sun.

Respect

It’s been 6 exasperating months during which I have tried to deal with Daisy’s ongoing bitchiness towards the entire herd – particularly towards Kashka, until about 3 weeks ago I read somewhere an author lamenting that we no longer groom one another. A week or so later Matt, whose farm, with Sasha I’m looking after in their absence, commented: “Look at Billy’s beard. Do you polish it?” And I laughed, but then the word ‘groom’ popped back into my mind.

One or two mornings later I thought that now the tick season has passed and I have more time on my hands between milking each goat, why not rub each one down?

I started with Daisy. I scratched behind and around her horns and then worked my way down and up her spine and flanks. The moment my nails dug firmly into her hair, she stopped munching her oats and barley and stood quietly – as if in a trance. Then I used my palms to smooth her hair. After I had finished, Daisy resumed feeding. A while later I lowered the stable barrier and the grande dame of goats slow-marched down to join the herd, as if saying, “Respect! What took you so long?”

I now groom every goat daily – even Billy. The herd glistens in the Overberg sun.

Maybe it’s because I live alone but I’ve also taken to talking to them. Not in goat language – but in English, adult to adult. For instance, today I told Daisy she mustn’t try to slip back to feed from the kids’ lucerne once I’ve indicated it’s over. She looked at me with those clear yellow eyes of hers. OK.

Last night when I untethered Daisy after feeding time, she didn’t immediately push aside Pegasus to get to what was left of her lucerne, instead she continued lying on the fresh straw, chewing the cud sleepily.

The message I glean from the goats: we share our milk, we accept that in the great scheme of things you’ll take and slaughter our kids, therefore is it necessary also to disrespect us?

On Eating Meat

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

I am looking after my son and daughter-in-law’s small, off-grid farming operation in Suurbraak. Since taking over the operation, their 3 mother goats have each given birth to 2 kids. The other day Sasha (my daughter-in-law) returned for a few days. On one of these she slaughtered one of the male kids.

Some years earlier, Matt (my son) woke me in my tent, pitched on their then, newly purchased Suurbraak plot with the question, “Dad, whose turn is it to slaughter the goose?”

I did the deed as I realised that it was hypocritical of me to share their meals without playing my part. Ever since I have been glad I accepted Matt’s challenge, because it meant I had paid my dues with respect to eating meat. Additionally it confirmed for me that, done properly, animals accept their death in a way that we also need to do.

How I did it was to catch the bird, carry it in my arms to the fence nearest the river where I told it what I intended to do. Initially the bird protested but afterwards it grew quiet and the trees, river, mountain, bird and I merged. I then knew it was time. Sasha held the bird’s neck on top of the chopping block where it lay without moving until — several attempts later — I severed the head with an axe.

I was moved and humbled as my actions had been true to my philosophy, which is not to shy away but to enter every situation which presents itself. Based on my most recent experience, however, I now realise that that event, although epiphanic at the time, was betrayed the moment I dishonoured it by neatening and packaging it into my philosophy thus becoming slick, complacent and arrogant.

This time round was different. I had been present when Kashka, the mother-goat, gave birth. Over the months I had dealt with diarrhoea among the newly-born, waves of ticks and goat politics. We all knew one another’s measure. We had a routine. They all trusted me. We were a team.

Sasha and Matt have a policy that when either slaughters, the other is not present. “It’s easier, that way,” Sasha explained. Consequently, I heard and didn’t see what happened. It was early morning. The mother kept calling.

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

Before she stepped out to do it, I looked carefully at how Sasha was handling the situation. Her face was set like porcelain. She appeared a million miles away, locked into her own moment. She took a last gulp of her espresso.

I don’t think it was my imagination that after the killing the barnyard was in shock. All the goats had turned their backs on me. They chewed the cud and gazed into middle distance. Later Kashka came to me to ask. For days she kept looking. She kept calling.

“Of course,” Sasha confirmed, “but she will accept.”

And she has. The gash that rent the whole has closed as if nothing happened. But at times I still feel the incompleteness.

A few days after, Matt, Sasha and Enzo (their not yet one-year-old son) travelled to their smallholding on the other side of Sedgefield to spend a few days camping. Matt wanted to catch a fish for Enzo, which, he managed to do, just before nightfall.

“I walked back with it in my pack,” Matt shared. “It didn’t want to die. It must have listened to my footsteps. When I got to the tent, I gashed its brains with a knife. Killing is never easy, Dad. We cooked it on the coals. It was good.”

This post also uploaded to Medium.

What happens after trust is lost?

I noticed a hard cyst on Pegasus the goat (see above and the footnote). I was staying on Matt and Sasha’s plot in Suurbraak (footnote). The following day the cyst was oozing. Sasha explained via email how to treat it (footnote).

It took me x3 espressos and x4 blocks of whole nut chocolate to come round to accepting that I would have to deal with it that very day. It took almost as long to prepare for the operation, before I walked into the open field across from Matt and Sasha’s plot, took hold of and then lead Pegasus slowly and gently back to the plot, hooked her to the gate, locked away the dogs and started the procedure.

My mother had been a nurse so I knew all about getting in deep and thoroughly draining before applying the dressing.

While leading her from the field and throughout the procedure which, as Sasha predicted, was clearly painful, I spoke reassuringly to Pegasus. It therefore seemed to come as a surprise to her, when I indicated that the procedure was over. She then slowly ambled off to join the others.

As instructed, I discarded the puss and cloths and sterilised the receptacles and implements.

I am grateful to Pegasus for allowing me to drain the cyst down to the blood. I also feel privileged that she and the other goats allow me to milk them and to pluck ticks – even from their eyebrows.

The other day in their barn, while feeding barley to each goat in turn, it came to me that the heart of love is not passion but intimacy, whereby another allows you into her or his or its space. And then I think about dogs chained in back yards (see below), battery chickens with no beaks, livestock born into CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and mammals in laboratory cages, and I wonder how we as a species, very recently – in our lifetime, allowed it to happen, and what the implications for us all will be.

Maltreated dog
Maltreated dog
Footnotes
Pegasus

Matt and Sasha’s name for their middle she-goat is Pegasus.

Suurbraak

Suurbraak is a mission village in the Western Cape of South Africa off the N2 highway just beyond Buffelsjagsrivier on the way to Barrydale

Sasha’s instructions

Yes it is unfortunately a little infection that is re-occurring. You basically need to wait until it is ‘ripe’ – that is when the ball is not so solid and softer to the touch – and then you need to pierce it and to thoroughly empty it. Best is to lance it with a scalpel, alternatively a very sharp knife; it is quite gross and gives off a foul smell. Sometimes she scratches it open on her own and you must then quickly (when you spot it!) empty it. We use lots of toilet paper to squeeze it out and then clean out the wound with an antiseptic to a soapy mix – there should be some near the basin in the barn. There you will also find green clay (in a powder or gel form) to then cover the wound with, and avoid fly or bacterial infection. Make sure to squeeze it out until you get to blood and to put all contaminated paper and tools in a plastic bag to throw away. Wash your hands thoroughly and do not touch other goats with ‘contaminated’ hands as we read that these types of cysts are innocuous but unfortunately contagious. It sucks. Emptying the cyst can be painful for the goat so you might ask Kria to come and help you handle the goat whilst you do it. If this turns you off I am sure you can ask Kria to handle it for you, she accepted to be our stand-in vet.