Sun | Dec 8, 2019

Orville Taylor | The value of life

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A man kills a goat for a Christmas feast in Kellitts, Clarendon.

The thought of my child being wilfully killed by another human being raises all the hairs on my neck and head - and you know just how difficult that must be.

My colleagues in media often use the unnecessary adjective or adverb, brutal or brutally. However, the taking of another human life is an act of the utmost savagery, whether it is done neatly by poisoning or the use of a weapon. It takes a special type of person to kill anything at all, except time, and even that is difficult for ambitious people.

Despite our being partially designed to eat meat, as is evidenced by our residual canine and semi-sharp premolar teeth, most humans cannot manage the sight of blood and do not have the heart to kill anything.

In fact, there is an interesting disconnect between people who eat meat and confronting the source of their food. Most of us growing up liked the idea of a thick drumstick, a hefty piece of bacon or ham, or pot roast, which was tied up like a prisoner to avoid the flavour escaping.

With the pungent 'raw' smell of the dead flesh neatly masked under swaths of thyme, pimento, scallion, the only reason we shed a tear is because the onion burns our eyes. We almost totally forget that the meat that we are gobbling down used to walk, run or fly and perhaps had a family too.

It is only when we were confronted with the image of our nonchalant grandmother wringing the neck of the prized pigeon or when Mass Taata plunges the half-a-lass into the jugular of the pig that we hand-raised, that it actually hit us that there was actually a connection between the savoury slabs of meat with the burnt tomato garnishing it and the animal with a face.

Of course, those of us who were forced to undergo the wretched torture of watching our parents cook goat head soup, cow head or hog head had to confront the reality that the meat is actually what remains of a living organism and, oftentimes, it is a creature with which we might have bonded.


Mental distance


Our eating of meat, which we euphemistically refuse to refer to as flesh, is made easy because we distance ourselves from the killing. There are myriad studies that demonstrate that there is a relationship between watching the actual killing of our food-source animals and the desire to eat meat. Most recently, an emerging academic, Wouter van der Sleen, discovered that almost 40 per cent of avowed meat eaters did not wish to watch a video showing the killing of animals for food. Interestingly, after watching the footage, the very imposing finding was that "watching this video negatively influenced meat consumption levels".

We have also, as humans, found clever ways of justifying the killing and eating of certain types of animals. We baulk and sometimes puke that some Asians eat everything with legs except the furniture. Indeed, it is with some amusement that I discovered that there is a very popular dog breed in one of those countries, which is called 'Chow'. Before you laugh, remember that a very common name for Jamaican dogs is 'Bully', and second to tin mackerel, corned beef is the most widely consumed canned food animal.

The less human we consider the prey item, the easier it is to kill and eat. Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, author of the 1975 book Animal Liberation, once remarked: "I think there's very little likelihood that oysters, mussels and clams have any consciousness, so it's defensible to eat them." A dumb animal is supposed to be like a plant. Thus, it has no consciousness and provides no moral dilemma when we eat it.

Psychologist Steve Loughnan and a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne found that the more closer an animal is to our plates, the less intelligence or personality we think that it has.

Other research points to animals which we consider useful to not qualify as food. Anthropologist Marvin Harris finds logic in Indians considering cattle as unkillable because their overall usefulness makes them sacred. We humanise our donkeys, dogs and say neigh to the eating of horses. Eating of the cat is also taboo, although some sects consume it clandestinely.

What is important from this lesson is that the critical variables in not taking the life of any entity are considering the creature as intelligent and worthy, and recognising our oneness with them.

It is this disconnect that takes place in the minds of murderers. Somewhere they feel that the lives of their victims is of little value. A rapist who kills his prey without necessarily taking her life does so because he does not consider her (him) human.

For three decades, our political and other leaders taught the fathers and mothers of this generation of murderers that some human beings are not worthy of living, because they have other political or other allegiances.

As difficult as this might be, and God knows I hope I am never in the position, I do not support the taking of any life except to eat or to protect the lives of other creatures. Therefore, roaches, flies and other vermin are fair game. Similarly, I have no compunction with any would-be criminal, including a teenager, forfeiting his life in the commission of a felony. The Use-of-Force Policy of the Constabulary as well as the common law, are very explicit here. However, once the killer or attempted killer or rapist is caught, there is nothing in the law of Moses which instructs me.

All life is valuable, including that of the Deacon and those yet undiscovered killers of poor Yetanya. The death penalty is simply revenge and does nothing to bring back the victim. All it does is perpetuate the lie that life is not precious. My only disclaimer is that the killer deacon could have killed attempted to himself before committing the murder.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to and