To Answer Your Question: Dearest Nephew,

by Timons Esaias

For me it is all reduced to a single image: the memory of sitting in the stands at Belmont, that day, when the second race was canceled because the horses wouldn't come out of the starting gate.

I read the copy you sent (and thanks for sending it because the day the bookstores in this town stock anything scholarly has not yet come) of Developments and Trends Leading to ...etc. and I have to tell you that it's so much feces. The history of the Animal Rights Movement is all very well done, except that it gives the impression that they knew what was coming, or that they had something to do with it. They didn't and they didn't. For the most part those people were just causeniks. They didn't have a clue then, and they still don't. Victory is not a sign of wisdom.

This isn't just venom. I can assure you that there wasn't anyone on earth who expected it. And we still don't understand it. This book is just an attempt to paper over our ignorance with scholarship. If you want to write about it I wouldn't depend on this book. I suggest you go back and read every magazine you can find, and watch every newscast you can stand. Then you'll see how little was known.

You wanted my reminiscences. All right, here they are.

It was the most mystifying thing I'd ever seen.

I was at the race-track (you've seen them in the movies) so I got to see things happening right at the beginning. They had just loaded the gate for the next race when the church clocks rang the hour; they could be heard because the crowd quiets for the start. And then the bell rang and the gates opened and the announcer shouted "They're off," but they weren't.

Nothing happened. You could hear the sound of confusion coming from the crowd. I put up binoculars and saw the jockeys whipping the tar out of their mounts, without effect. The announcer started wondering aloud about it. What I noticed then, quite a distance from the starting gate, was that the outriders were also having trouble with their mounts. The horses were just standing around in the paddock not responding to their riders. Some of them even went down in place.

The start was called off and the gatesmen came out to the front of the gate to haul the horses out. They were unsuccessful, even with the back of the gates open as well. Finally the jockeys got off and stood around waiting for something to happen.

At about that time some clever race-fan remembered the legend that animals could sense an earthquake in advance, and stood up to announce it to everyone. With memories of the World Series Earthquake dancing in their heads the crowd panicked and fled. I was in the top of the stands so it didn't effect me, but six people were crushed in the flight to avoid being crushed by the earthquake.

They closed the track, of course, so about an hour later I was driving home and listening to the radio. There were already weird news reports, so weird that you could tell that the reporters thought it was a hoax. They laughed at what they read, or they emphasized the words that put responsibility elsewhere. They named the wire-services for every story. Have you ever noticed that wire-services only get air-credit when the story is suspect?

Which reminds me of something about that book. It missed the point. It credits everything from Communism's post-Gorbachev disarray to New Age spiritualism for the changes wrought by all this, but it never credits the real vehicle. What happened that day changed the world because of the existence of a world-wide free press. The impact was great because all over the world the story was being covered, and being heard. It would have just been unconnected, strange incidents if we hadn't had the news to drive it home and show us the scope of it.

That aside, the press was weird that day, and so was the story. There were several race-track stories already on the air, which makes sense since many of them were live on TV. I remember that there was a greyhound track story as well. I can't remember whether the bull-fight story was in the first news or the next hour, but a bull had been butchered in place by a matador because it refused to attack, and the picadors had to goad it while on foot because their horses wouldn't come back into the ring. Then a rodeo-in-a-dome had stalled because the animals were recalcitrant. And the report ended with the gal that was shot in the leg by a cop because she went berserk beating her carriage horse (she drove a Central Park buggy) and then she started attacking the crowd that gathered.

My thought as I listened was that somebody had hacked into a satellite or something and was putting false reports out. Then I realized that I was driving home early because of the same kind of thing. You cannot imagine how creepy I felt then.

When I got home I turned on the tube (they really had tubes then) and found out that CBS had already named it. They couldn't just report things in those days, they had to have them named. Anyway, there it was breaking into the soaps: A CBS News Special Report: Animals In Crisis.

It's marvelous when you think about it, how quickly it unfolded. It was scarcely two hours old and they were already swamped with news and video. Since it had started simultaneously all over the world they were already discovering that the hens weren't laying and that cows were doing as much as they could to avoid being milked, though if you've seen pictures of those set-ups you know that wasn't much. It was a bigger deal in the less modern nations where the cows were just in stalls, or less. But in any case they weren't eating.

Let's see, they had already called the zoos and had found that the animals weren't eating and the trained ones weren't performing. The Mounted Police were on foot, and the slaughterhouses were having to drag half-ton animals to the killing stalls. Oh yes, Sea World: no show.

There had been a riot at the Garden where dog-owners at a show had become uncontrollable when their charges refused to participate. Many animals, and not enough owners, were killed. They had a report from that Las Vegas casino with the circus, too.

It went on like that for an hour, and I remember some shrink they put on who was sitting in the studio, watching all the film, and still tenaciously insisting that it was some manifestation of mass hysteria, that there were probably incidents like this every day that never got linked together to suggest a story, and now we were frightening the animals into strange behavior because of our own hysteria and our 'smells'. I still remember him coming back to our 'smells' while the body-count was rising.

It remains my firm conviction that every ten years we should round up all the people who have gone into psychiatry and psychology, and commit them.

It took the religious zanies a while to get going, but they had it together for the seven o'clock news.

It was a miracle, it was a dire warning, it was the Millennium, and the Second Millennium, and the third, it was a Coming, and a Going, and an Act of Satan, and Allah, and Ahura-Mazda, and Him, and Her, and It, and Fred, it was the Beginning, it was the End, Kaput, Finis, or any damn thing but a General Strike.

The President had made a career of dealing with every crisis by saying that what was already being done was quite adequate, but that some reassessment might be in order; after which he would pull together all the things that were already in existence and call it a program. Well there he was telling us it probably wasn't serious but that he'd keep in touch. The only government agencies which were responding to the crisis were the National Weather Service (which told us they didn't think there was anything in the air) and NASA (which told us it wasn't in our stars). The NIH and the NSA were up to their eyeballs in uncooperative lab animals and not ready to talk about it. I'm sure that some governments formed anti-animal goon squads on the spot, but don't quote me. Anyway, it was a pretty comical performance. Only one or two of the Federal faces seemed to be as worried as they should have been.

It's unfair of me to pick on those folks, though. No-one could imagine a reasonable cause for what seemed to be happening, and it is very difficult to assess events in which one cannot quite believe. After all these years, we still don't know the cause. Remember that, when you read something that pretends the contrary. We still do not understand.

The next morning, the news was very grim indeed.

In retrospect we know that most of the world met this situation as it meets most situations: with indifference. Many communities were distracted by the event into reduced levels of violence. But that morning there was an endless list of frightening exceptions to that rule. The were leavened by the merely abnormal: the farm animals that wouldn't work, circus performers that wouldn't, nature film subjects that wouldn't, and so on. But there was a lot of mayhem to cover as well. Later research was to show that the paranoid schizos couldn't take the strain, and that was a lot of it.

The main thing, however, was our world-wide discovery of our vast dependence on the other animals. Few people took much thought of how important animals were, or how tightly we were still enmeshed in our slavery of domesticated animals. (Our idea of ourselves in the Twentieth Century, until that day, was that we were independent of the planet, its animals, and our past.) The animal rights people were the worst. I can tell you that very, very few of those people had ever worked with an animal, in the sense of having put one to a plow or hitch, or even having milked a cow or goat. Most of them were urban, college-educated, middle-class, and at least one generation from the farm. They based their ideas of the animal kingdom on their own pet cats; which was like basing an assessment of humans on a study of Zsa Zsa Gabor. You wouldn't know her, would you? That's part of the point.

There were many exceptions to that rule, though, to be altogether fair.

It wasn't the loss of a day's production of eggs and milk and honey and fish (they weren't going into the nets to any extent), because these things could be done without for a day. It wasn't the slight dip in the number of birds' nests available for soup, or the missing musk. It wasn't the gelatin, leather, feathers, furs, hides, fat, ivory, teeth, bone, horn, meat, blood or any of the other products which depend on the death of animals. It was things like the discovery that so much of that industry depended on the animals going--fairly quietly, and regularly--to the slaughter. The idea of consistent resistance came as a shock.

Our science was not advanced enough to create and test most drugs, treatments or surgical procedures without testing them on animals first. The world's agriculture was still dependent on work animals, and the world's economy was not prepared to shift dramatically away from it. The world's transportation system was still heavily dependent on draft animals, nor was the economy or the ecology prepared to shift to motors for everything.

Animals were the primary source of protein in the human diet. The Inuit peoples, as just an example, were totally dependent on hunting for survival.

Many economies were dependent upon fisheries, both for cash and for food in many regions where agriculture could not support the population.

The list went on and on. Thousands of important links in the chain of human society were held together by animals. Chief among these was that most crops had to be fertilized (in the sexual sense) by insects or birds, and their noncooperation could starve most of us off the planet.

It made for a chilling series of realizations.

The chilling was tangible, for as you probably know, even though the whole thing ended just twenty-four hours after it began, the world financial markets went to shit the next day, and they have still not really recovered, these four decades later. The politicians were grim and serious on the news by the third day, and I swear that the fact that it was over only made it worse. They had discovered they were not in control.

It was on the third day that you started to hear the term 'general strike' by which the whole thing has come to be known. There's no good way to prove that the animals colluded, but it sure looked that way. Whatever the animals were thinking, to the humans it was a general strike.

Let me tell you as a witness that the events of that twenty-four hours changed our world more than anything I can think of. There have been all kinds of attempts to get a handle on the event itself. A great deal was made of the fact that the Amish had no trouble working their animals that day, except that they wouldn't pull buggies. A great deal was made of any exception, real or imagined, to the apparent rule of non-cooperation. Looking for signs of weakness, I presume.

Most people still cling to some form of the 'outside agitators' theory; which doesn't surprise me, because all my life I have watched people looking for somebody else to be behind the reaping of their own crops. They blame God, or the Devil, aliens, and the Pavlov Institute, among others. I take the other view, that it doesn't matter who or what might have been 'behind' it, it was the animals that acted.

I said before that it was the generally free press that made this have its great impact. Let me make the fanciful observation that it was the psychological fear that the animals had some sort of free press, some general undetected communication, of their own, which terrified us into the changes which have taken place.

The atmosphere has not been the same since. There has been resistance to it, but the general trend has been the two-fold one of vastly reducing the activities which would offend the animals (not eating many of them being notable), and vastly reducing their participation in human society.

In my day most people had pets. Do you know anyone of your generation with a pet?

Almost every city had a zoo.

Do you not find it curious that we have discovered that we really can converse in humaniform languages with the primates, and in tonal code with the sea-mammals; can, but don't? Did you know that almost all the funding has dried up? It might be because of the economy, but not entirely. It's the fear, I think. We really don't want to talk with them, just as we don't choose to live with them anymore.

It would have been far better if love and concern for animals motivated the changes, rather than fear. Fear is causing us to exclude them, rather than liberate them. I'm not sure where that process can lead, since we all live on just the one planet.

You ask me how I feel about all the changes from before that day to now. I must tell you that I don't know. On balance I guess it's better now, though changes of that dimension are bound to produce a lot of suffering. It's the fear that bothers me. Understanding and love are needed to cast out the fear.

When you write your book, focus on that.


About the author, Timons Esaias

Tim's stories have appeared in six languages and nine countries. Recent appearances include "The Mars Convention" in Interzone #135 and "Norbert and the System" in The Best of Interzone hardback anthology. Tim has found a niche in SF Poetry with six sales to Asimov's and two nominations for Rhysling Awards.

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