Muscovy duck at Stow Lake

Speciesism and security theater

[Image: A Muscovy duck stands on a path next to a lake.]

Content note: Description of violence against animals.

Yesterday, I needed to get out of the apartment. The management was turning off water in the building for repairs, as they’ve done an uncomfortable number of times lately. I can deal with no hot water, but with no running water at all, and noise from construction on the vacant units, I figured I should stop being a hermit and get outside for a few hours, as difficult as it is for me to be around people nowadays.

I ended up going to Golden Gate Park, wanting to visit Stow Lake to look at the birds. I’d run around that lake several times when I was in marathon training three years ago, but I was usually too tired and in too much pain by that point in the run (especially on the return leg) to appreciate the views. I wanted to go there now with no agenda, no time limit, and no heavy camera (the snapshot at the top of this post was taken with my cell phone).

As I set out, it was a typical “summer” morning in San Francisco: weather in the mid-50s and overcast. Though this weather is ideal for running, it wasn’t so good for casual strolling, especially as I was feeling very depressed.

Once I arrived at the lake, I enjoyed watching various geese, ducks, and other birds. Some approached me, then wandered off, probably because I didn’t offer any food. But I won’t pretend to know their thoughts; I’m not an expert in animal behavior, and I’m sometimes uncomfortable seeing animal advocates ascribing emotions to our fellow animals to “humanize” them. The only things I know for sure is that they want to live, don’t want to be imprisoned, don’t want their bodies manipulated, and don’t want their children taken away from them. For me, that—lack of consent—is reason enough to leave them alone, regardless of their feelings or intelligence.

I watched one duck, the one pictured at the top, for awhile, as he (I believe he was a male) preened his feathers. I felt very sad, thinking about the billions of birds we kill for their eggs and flesh every year. I remembered a scene in Cowspiracy where a backyard farmer selected a duck from his flock of prisoners to kill, and chopped their head off with an axe. I’ve watched that film three times, and every time I’ve closed my eyes just before the axe came down. I cannot bring myself to watch that scene. I think that the people who need to watch that scene are the ones who have no problem eating the flesh or eggs of “humanely-raised” animals, not me.

After leaving the lake, I wandered the park and came upon the de Young Museum. I knew that being the first Tuesday of the month, the museums were all offering free admission, but I didn’t particularly want to see the exhibits; I was just hoping to find a restroom. As I approached the building, before I got within twenty feet of one of the side doors, a security guard came out and demanded that I open my backpack. As these were the first words anyone had spoken directly to me in over two days (as I’m a hermit, and Ziggy has been out of town), I just stood there in mild shock.

I soon recovered and complied. He looked in my (mostly-empty) backpack, then said that I would have to hold it in my hand, not on my back. I decided I didn’t really want to go in the building at that point, so I just wandered around the sculpture garden, holding the backpack in my hand as instructed. I felt shaken, though relieved he had at least addressed me as “Sir” instead of “Ma’am.” I didn’t think he was racially profiling, as I saw him asking the same of white visitors, and he was a black man himself. I just wondered whether this policy was actually making a real difference to the safety of park visitors, or if it was another example of security theater.

I worry that we are going to devolve into more and more of a police state, without any true reduction in violence. I believe that our culture of killing that allows us to breed and slaughter billions of our fellow animals every year extends to how we treat our fellow human beings. This is not to say that vegans are necessarily less violent than non-vegans; I’ve seen terribly oppressive behavior from vegans since becoming active in animal rights, which I’ve documented on numerous occasions. But just as our US-American “Independence Day” really only celebrates the liberation of a select few, I believe we cannot have true peace and liberation as long as we continue to dominate every other species on the planet.

I don’t have all the answers to how to eradicate violence. It will never be possible to do so completely; we cannot exist without destroying life. But we can certainly do a better job at co-existing with others than we are doing right now. Veganism is one part of how we can evolve into a truly peaceful species.