College Quarterly
Winter 2004 - Volume 7 Number 1
Reviews The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals.
Jeffrey Moussaief Masson
New York: Ballantine Books, 2003

Reviewed by Michael Whealen

In a time when I must confess that I’ve pretty much given up on the self-serving promises of our duly elected representatives, I find myself increasingly wondering about what else I’m being fed, and what the long-term consequences of my consumption might be. Don’t get me wrong; two of my favorite dishes are fried chicken and roast beef. And—horribile dictu—I have two leather jackets & several pairs of quite serviceable leather shoes. I also have friends and acquaintances that are vegans of various stripes. Heck, I was once a vegan, long ago, in my undergraduate years, until a severe case of hemorrhoids forced me to give it up (“Overactive lower bowel from too much roughage,” quipped my doctor, as he clipped and tucked).

Jeffrey Masson has written a book about the ethical implications of our consumption of animals and animal products that perhaps ought to lead us to interrogate how we treat those animals that provide us with what we eat, and what we wear. This is his fourth book on the affective domain of animal life. Sure, I, too, found it hard to suppress a snicker when I heard that Pamela Anderson had joined PETA’s crusade against KFC for buying chicken breasts and sundry other parts from poultry factories. But I think Masson and the animal rights advocates are on to something here.

A word about Masson. Decidedly a very public intellectual, he currently resides in New Zealand, after many years in North America. A bit of a self-promoter, he first made his mark some twenty years ago with the publication of The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. Based on the access that Sigmund Freud’s daughter allowed him to previously unpublished letters in the Freud Archive, Masson argued that Anna Freud withheld some of her father’s letters to his friend Wilhelm Fliess from publication. In this correspondence—quoted in The Assault on Truth—Freud confessed that, in a self-serving career move, he tailored his psychoanalytic theory to configure his female patients’ accounts of having been sexually abused during childhood by adults as fantasies. Read charitably, Masson’s point is that Doctor Freud behaved most unprofessionally according to Hippocratic standards. Masson’s contention unleashed a storm of controversy, and cost him both his license to practice psychoanalysis and his position as director of the Freud Archives.

The point to be made, I think, is that both in his work on Freud, and in his more recent work on animals, what Masson is trying to do is speak for the kinds of silent or dumb suffering that ambition (in Freud’s case) and greed (in the case of factory-farmed animals) can produce, condone and perpetuate. Based on some five years’ research and the author’s visits to slaughterhouses, poultry factories and farm sanctuaries, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon looks at the emotional lives of those farm animals that we raise—often in the most cruel environments—in order to kill, eat and wear them. Relying on an eclectic mix of science, literary allusions, myth, history and personal observations, Masson shows us that pigs, chickens, cows, sheep and the like have complex emotional lives, and are capable of expressing sentiments like love, loyalty, friendship, boredom and grief over loss. Yet we warehouse them, mutilate them, and even turn them into lethal, virus-bearing cannibals, all in order to slaughter and ultimately to consume them.

Now, admittedly, farm animals do not think in the way that humans do. But, Masson contends, they do feel much as we do. And what seems to follow from this is that we should at the very least give some consideration to treating these helpmates of ours—who have, after all, been serving us for some 10,000 years—more decently. Certainly we treat our dogs and cats as individuals with feelings. Yet, under the current exigencies of factory farming, there is scant room for such consideration when it comes to farm animals. Did you know that many pigs waiting for slaughter die from what is probably sheer fright even before they are herded to their deaths? Or that even well-fed chickens will sometimes sit quietly next to a person just, presumably, for companionship? Or that a cow whose calf is taken away at birth will bellow and low in mourning for days over the loss? There may be a bit of anthropomorphism going on here, but having no conclusive evidence to the contrary, I’m prepared to give Masson’s motivational attributions the benefit of the doubt.

It would be naïve to hope for an end to factory farming, of course. But I don’t think that’s Masson’s agenda, or even his prescription. Rather, he seems to be calling for a greater trans-species sensitivity based on a reverence for these useful companions of ours. We all know—or can imagine—the kind of regimented suffering and mass death that goes on in our abattoirs and other animal factories every day. This book should at least sensitize us to be attentive to and supportive of any efforts to ameliorate this suffering while the animals live.

Michael Whealen, Centre for Academic Writing. York University


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology