Being and Swine. Animals, Politics, Revolt
Fahim Amir’s highly original book gets off to a good start with its quirky title – an amusing pun on Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Being and Time). The book is about the human relationship with animals and the natural world and in particular the human tendency to colonise, oppress and exploit. It also considers the ways in which animals resist the progressive mechanisation and compartmentalisation of nature by humans.
Fahim Amir interprets the relationship between humans and animals within a Marxist framework, in which animals represent the bottom rung of capitalist exploitation. He proposes a parallel between the exploitation of the proletariat and the human colonisation of animals for their meat, anticipating that this ‘proletariat’ will eventually rise up to overcome the exploiting elite. The book includes an enlightening chapter on American meat-rearing, which developed into one of the most profitable and global industries during the nineteenth century. Long before Ford, it led to the first assembly line – but was called a disassembly line, as it was the mechanised way of transporting the dead animals along to the workers who cut them up. Amir suggests that the fact that animals still require some human handling during the processes of rearing, killing, butchering, canning and distributing constitutes a form of rebellion, in that their lives and deaths cannot be completely instrumentalised for human purposes.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, pig-rearing was common among the poorer American population, both as a source of food and income. Pigs in the big cities were regularly left to range freely, roaming the streets and returning to their sties at night. As this practice seemed like a rebellion of animals and humans combined, many attempts were made to ban it. The free-running animals, defended by their keepers, damaged people and property, caused accidents and ‘threw Ladies over’. Yet the numerous attempts to stop the practice ultimately failed as the pigs proved to be an effective way of keeping the streets free of litter.
Amir also posits a reversal of the exploitative relationship between humans and animals: city birds who have fed for decades on food and water contaminated by hormones now sing better songs, get stronger mates and procreate more successfully. Meanwhile, Mexican birds weave cigarette butts into their nests as if they have learned that the residual nicotine keeps mites at bay.
Being and Swine is a fascinating read, full of novel ideas and memorable historical anecdotes that shed new light on the relationship between humans and animals and prompt us to re-evaluate our place in the world. Combining political themes, philosophy, history and the relationship between man and nature, the book also chimes with the growing preference for meat-free diets and sustainable nutrition
‘ Fahim Amir has a wonderful light-footed way of getting to the heart of complicated, contradictory and ambivalent issues.’
‘Full of anecdotal treasures, interesting literary references and ironically shrewd passages.’
– Die Zeit