I've been reading a lot about J.M. Coetzee and his novels lately. One part of it has to do with my interest in borderlands: in the past dozen years, he seems to have bared down hard on the arts of the not-really-an-autobiography-autobiography, the not-really-a-novel-novel and the not-really-a-self-satirizing-formal-experiment-formal-experiment-in-self-satire.
I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidences. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money.I find myself notice the form of argument implied here more and more often, especially when vegetarians talk about everyone else. "If only they could see it how I see it," the line goes. "If only they could see that it's not beef, it's cow; it's not venison, it's deer; it's not a carcass, it's a corpse. If only they stopped forgetting that the sandwiches they're eating were once living, breathing things, they'd give up meat just like I have!"
It is as if I were to visit friends, and to make some polite remark about the lamp in their living room, and they were to say, "Yes, it's nice, isn't it? Polish-Jewish skin it's made of, we find that's best, the skins of young Polish-Jewish virgins." And then I go to the bathroom and the soap wrapper says, "Treblinka — 100% human stearate." Am I dreaming, I say to myself? What kind of house is this?
Well, no, not really. It's not as if I suspect these claims are made in bad faith; I just doubt they'd ever move anyone not already inclined toward vegetarianism. There are plenty of people who adopt meat-free diets — permanently or, more often, otherwise — on the strength of a behind-the-slaughterhouse scenes PETA video or two. But, speaking as an omnivore who has seen countless many of these grainy, surreptitiously recorded montages of chicken-debeaking and cow-dropping, I guess I just don't care. Not only do they never make me consider giving up meat, I'd bet folding money that I could eat a fresh-grilled piece of corpse while watching them.
(And I'm not even terribly attached to meat. I often think how little I would mind if I woke up one morning to a world that has turned completely vegan. I'm no fan of vegetables, true, but presumably I could avoid my leafy greens almost as easily if all of humanity was producing and consuming an infinite variety of vegan cuisine rather than the unappealing subset now available.)
Abortion, another issue in which I have no real sake, gets tied up in this semantic nonsense as well. The "If only they could see that it's not a fetus, it's a person!" side must see types like me as an irritating obstacle indeed, since I both (a) have no objections whatsoever to abortion and (b) don't see fetuses as "not people." Once again, I arrive at the tentative conclusion that, if you come to declare a belief to the external world, you probably internally "believed" it, in some sense, already.