The Fate of Horses

A cloudy, chill day; the rain has stopped for the moment. We may have snow later but it will likely not stick. Last Tuesday I awoke to a brilliant reddish sky; sure enough the old mariner’s saying proved correct and by evening we were in the midst of a storm. Hopefully all this rain will replenish the water table.

We have settled firmly into January and February arrives soon. Winter has yet to appear, we continue to set new high temperature records, seemingly weekly; any promise of winter finally coming must be taken with a great deal of skepticism.

I’ve been thinking about the capitalocene and the destruction it has brought. Last night we watched the current episode of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. The program focused on the destruction of tens of thousands of war horses by the British at the end of WWI, and the impact of that action on those who had cared for and loved the horses. The rationale for the slaughter was that it would cost too much to bring them home; they were expendable even after offering heroic service.

Predictably, I could not get to sleep afterwards. The massacre of the horses, like that of the buffalo, was an act of economic convenience. I guess those who cared for the horses should not have been shocked given the total disregard for life exhibited by the generals who had sent so many men and horses into hopeless, and mortal, combat.

Of course, WWI, like most wars, was irrational, if predictable. And as in most wars, the only ones who profited from it were the arms dealers and black marketers.

The destruction of the horses marked the transition of farming in Britain from small scale, horse drawn, agriculture to what is now factory farming. With the transition from horses to tractors came the destruction of the hedgerows and the near complete disruption of ancient ecosystems, generating the collapse of Britain’s wildlife. Sadly, the destruction continues apace, driven by capital and a growing population.

Recently there has been a good deal of writing about Disaster Capitalism and its impact on individuals, communities, and ecosystems. There’s money to be made from suffering; the result is a form of capitalism that essentially creates disasters in order to generate profits, the impacts of climate change being one example, the destruction of family farming another. (True family farms are much more environmentally friendly than factory farms.).

It seems to me one cannot separate disaster capitalism from colonialism, as if one looks at the past five hundred years through the disaster capitalism lens, colonialism and its impacts come into focus as a program of systemic violence against people and ecosystems, all in the name of profit. Looking forward, the capitalocene promises an accelerating cycle of destruction, apparent innovation, and ecosystem collapse, resulting in incomprehensible suffering.

Yet the impacts of the marriage of disaster capitalisms and colonialism remain essentially invisible to many. Think for a moment about the frequent truck commercials aired on tv, in which a vehicle tears wantonly through wilderness. The commercials promise fun and power over Nature but ignore the inevitable environmental impact of those fun rides. (I suspect they also fuel the problem of dirt bikes going off path and destroying vulnerable ecosystems in our local parks, making spring without wildflowers more likely.)

Disaster capitalism flourishes by selling the destruction of the very communities our lives depend on. Strangely, like so much evil, it does so while remaining invisible in plain sight.

15 thoughts on “The Fate of Horses

  1. Oh, all those horses! Heartbreaking. To my way of thinking, they shouldn’t have been used in war to begin with. On a happier subject…it is snowing like crazy in central Maine, and it actually looks like winter.

  2. Pretty bleak assessment, and all the bleaker for being accurate IMO. Those horses. Makes me nauseous to think of it.

    I think there are some outposts of beauty, compassion, resistance, sustainable community but I don’t know if they are enough. Still, it’s the only way to live. My local Buddhist sangha is offering a Rewilding the Soul series this year, which looks at climate change and how to respond. I just watched a webinar this week through various sponsors including Mass. Audubon and Lexington Living Landscapes that featured Dave Goulson, a Brit who’s the author of Silent Earth: Saving Our Insects, who talked about his passion for insects and biodiversity and who followed his own bleak assessment of insects’ decline and endangerment due to habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, fertilizers, light pollution, and (introduced) disease with examples of rewilding, of regenerative farming (rejuvenation of former depleted farmland), of urban rewilding or what Doug Tallamy calls Homegrown National Park, a patchwork of habitat for insects (and everything else up the food chain). It captures the imagination but is it enough to counteract or even turn the tide of rampant greed?

    1. Yes, there are many outposts. We shall see whether we turn the tide. I think we will add new insect hotels to our gardens in the spring. Strangely, perhaps, I keep writing and arting in hopes of catching the attention of a few people. Anyway, hope and action are crucial, even as disparity threatens.

  3. Also, we got 6″ of snow a few days ago and now another 10″ or so last night and today, with more coming on Wed and Thurs. Very wintry looking here in west-central NH at the moment.

  4. What a distressing post. I had not heard of the destruction of the horses before. How inhumane. I like your thoughts on the capitalocene and the colonial mentality. Breaking the personal mentality (both conscious and unconscious) that supports both those agendas seems to me to be a big of the work right now – something along the lines of changing the world by changing ourselves. My ideas on this are still formulating and aren’t particularly articulate yet.

    1. Suzanne, I imagine we are all colonized. I also know that for many people taking on their own colonized experiences is daunting. Anyway, I believe you are correct that taking own our own colonization is the central task of the moment.

      1. Yes, it is very difficult. Overwhelming sometimes. It’s Australia Day here today. Many aboriginal people call it Invasion Day. There are a lot of unresolved issues coming to the surface right now.

      2. We deal with very similar issues, only with a much longer history. Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day are both days of mourning for some Natives. I never cease to be amazed by the seeming lack of knowledge about the genocide and am always taken aback when someone says “Just get over it”. Anyway, now that I have given up on Twitter I am not in touch with Aboriginal folks in Australia.

        Yes, it is often overwhelming. It remains important to fond comfort and joy.

      3. Thanks Michael. There were big demonstrations across the country here yesterday. Knowledge about the genocides is part of it. Aboriginal issues are high on the agenda here as the country debates whether or not to vote yes on a referendum for an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament later in the year. Yesterday’s demonstrations are just a start I think. I know I need to get more informed about a lot of the issues raised myself.

      4. Suzanne,
        I can’t imagine what would happen here if there were to be an official Native representative to Congress voted on. On the other hand, it is very sad, I think, that needed representation is so challenging. At the same time, being raised in a Native, that passed as white, I’m not surprised.

      5. Yes, it’s a very polarizing issue. I hope it gets through but there are so many arguments for and against – even within the Aboriginal people. The debate is only just beginning.

      6. Yes, I know there are arguments within the Aboriginal community as there are here. Too often proposals by governments that look good on paper turn out to make matters worse. This makes knowing what to do very challenging and divisive, which is probably the intent.

      7. What a good point. Looking at things that way helps me get clear as to what is really happening here. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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