"Inquisition: An official investigation, especially one of a political or religious nature, characterized by lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments." – Dictionary.com
Joshua Rockwood and I spent about four hours recently exploring just about every one of his 90 now- famous acres at West Wind Acres Farm. Almost every person who drove or walked by stopped to talk to him, hug him, encourage him, shake hands, offer support, arrange to buy his food. The photographer in me noticed his sad eyes and I wondered if I was misreading them, or if he was just worn down by the trouble he was in. Joshua prides himself on being an open book, transparency is almost a religion with him.
At the end of our time together I asked if there was sadness in his life beyond his arrest for animal abuse, cruelty and neglect.
Joshua hesitated for just a second, and then told me about Alyena, his third child, who was born on November 18, 2011, and who died on January 1, New Year's Day, 2012. Aly spent the first 14 days of her life in the hospital, the last 21 days at home, and that is where she died, 34 days of age.
It was glad I asked.
I was trying to get a sense of this soft-spoken and seemingly idealistic man who is accused of crimes against animals, and who is suddenly at the center of an intense controversy over the real nature of animal abuse and the struggles of family farms. He is no cardboard cutout, no image on TV. He is a very human being.
In some ways, Joshua is different. He is transparent, and strong. He has a substantial following of friends, family, neighbors, customers and fellow farmers, people who have known him for a long time, and who are rallying to support him.
But he also seemed to me to be just like every other person I ever met who farmed, lived, trained, rode, played and sported or otherwise worked with animals. He loves to be around them. He has no wish to harm them.
The Hypocrite's Crime
If you are serious about understanding animal abuse, you need to first understand this, whatever your beliefs about the welfare of animals:
Farmers do not farm and live with animals because they hate animals and wish to hurt them. In the life and self-interest of the farmer, it makes no sense. Carriage drivers do not choose to drive carriages in Central Park in order to starve, overwork or mistreat horses. Farriers do not trim the hooves of donkeys and horses because they like to cause pain. Elephant handlers do not join the circus to torture and mistreat the elephants. For much of my life, I have lived with animals, met and talked with the people who feed, care for them, train them, live with them, farm with them, breed them and care for them. I have never met one who did not love animals or who set out to abuse them.
I am sorry that the people on Facebook and elsewhere who accuse others of abuse so casually will never look into the eyes of these people – the farmers, carriage horse drivers, animal trainers – and see the pain and sorrow their accusations cause.
The New Inquisition to stop animal abuse is miserable and dishonest at it's core, as all inquisitions are. Lord knows there animals who are abused, but the Inquisition has moved far beyond the reality of real animal abuse, and beyond reason. It is too often based on cruelty, prejudice, ignorance and the judgement of others. These accusers are inherently hypocritical in that they take no responsibility for their own actions or behavior, they always find other people to blame and accuse. To be a hypocrite is to have a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral religious beliefs or principles that one does not really possess. It is not possible to be virtuous and practice cruelty and prejudice and injustice.
"The hypocrite's crime," wrote the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt, "is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core."
I love this idea. Like Shakespeare, I know not to judge other people. We are all sinners, we are all human beings. I am a sinner, and have been a pilgrim all of my life, I have made too many mistakes to count or comprehend. I know of few human beings so free of error or frailty that they can tell me how to live, let alone how to care for my donkeys and dogs.
I know of very few people who can tell that to Joshua Rockwood, almost surely not the secret informer who invaded his life, worked in the dark to denounce him, and whisper to the animal police to try and ruin his life.
If it were different, if we were not hypocrites, we would all know that almost all of the men and women who drive the horse carriages in New York love their horses, and the elephant trainers love their elephants, and the operators of the pony rides love their ponies. This is evident to anyone who goes and looks for themselves.
These are not jobs, they are a way of life. If all the animals are ultimately driven away or taken away, so will the traditions and way of being for many people that the animals represent, from the circus to the small family farmer to the Irish or African immigrant carriage drivers to the elderly woman with a poodle and no fence to the homeless man whose dog and only companion is stolen from him and killed. Americans fought a revolution to stop the British from unreasonable search and seizure, the New Inquisition is founded on both.
'All Of Us Are Experts At Practicing Virtue At A Distance" – Theodore M. Hesburgh, Notre Dame
In a half-century, there will be a different Story: the children will be asking where all of the animals went, all of the horses and the elephants and the ponies and the chickens. All the animals were abused, their teachers will tell them, they all were sent to the wild, but they never returned. it became too difficult and frightening for people to own and live with them. And so, they are all gone.
When people confront their own humanity, and understand that they are dealing with other humans – not saints, but people – the context changes, righteousness and rage fades, empathy can live and grow a major source of real abuse will fade. But that rarely happens, it is very easy to damn people from behind a computer screen. We don't ever have to face them.
Joshua is around animals all the time, just like trainers, carriage horse riders, dog handlers and elephant trainers. He has Maremma sheep dogs to guard the sheep, he had horses until they were taken from him, he has cows and chickens and pigs. he has chosen a life with animals.
He told me he will get his horses back, no matter what it takes. So far, friends and supporters have raised more than $50,000 to help Joshua keep his farm.
The scenario of abuse we are confronted with now every day, all across America is really one story, the same story, not many different ones.
If you pay attention, it is the same every time, it follows a script, just with different names but often in the very same words.
You can substitute elephant trainers, carriage drivers, farmers, pony ride operators – Joshua Rockwood – and only the names change. The story is always the same, the story is taught in workshops all over the country, it has become so common it seems ritualistic. Several weeks ago, police raided Joshua's farm during one of the worst cold waves in American history. The story came to him. They charged him with 13 counts of animal abuse and neglect including frozen water, overgrown hooves, failure to provide adequate shelter or feed.
He had crossed to the other side of life, the Story had become his life.
The Story is a stepchild of what is called animal rights activism, and it is told again and again in the name of stopping animal abuse. Thousands of people volunteer to tell it for various reasons, one of them being the enormous social and political power it confers, the sense of being superior and virtuous. They have become the new special police and secret informers of the animal world. It is not clear that they save many, if any animals, but they do frighten, intimidate and harass many of the people who own them, people who are very much like Joshua Rockwood.
They make it more difficult every to keep animals in our lives and with people, and in the world.
If you blank out the names of the animals, the elephants, ponies, horses, pigs, dogs, you will see that all of the stories are the same. And so are all of the people, they are all the new apostates and heretics, all called to the stake to face their accusers.
The horse/elephant/pony/do/cat/pig is abused, tortured, mistreated, starved, enslaved, confined in chains, neglected, trained in the most brutal of ways, exploited by greedy and uncaring humans. Abused. The animals would be better off dead than in bondage. The human beings are subhuman, "unpersons," beyond the range of normal moral conduct. They do not deserve to be respected, listened to, deserving of empathy in any way.
There are always those grainy videos – animals with sores, wounds, ribs sticking out, overgrown hooves. They are downloaded and shared and reprinted many thousands of times, animal abuse inquisitions always feature chilling images, the photographs of suffering animals are veritable money machines, another wrenching chapter in the sorry story of amoral human beings.
The Story has raised tens of millions of dollars, much of which goes to marketers, political campaigns, lobbyists and advertising agencies. It has been repeated so often, it has convinced legislators and many millions of people of things that would have been utterly laughable just a few decades ago, when people left the country and the farms – and the animals – for the cities and suburbs, where all animals became pets and many became surrogate children. It has convinced people that abuse is epidemic, when it is not, and expanded the idea of abuse so that it has become an opinion, rather than a crime.
One Day, All The Animals Were Sent To The Wild. They Never Came Back
The Inquisition In Search Of Abuse is a hungry beast, it requires lots of fuel to sustain it. Things known to be false by almost every biologist, behaviorist or animal trainer or agricultural expert alive have become conventional wisdom, they are repeated so often and with so much skill: it is abuse for a pony to give rides to children or a work horse to pull carriages or for any elephant to work in any circus, for a farmer's water tanks to freeze in sub-zero temperatures, for a dog to sit in the car in the summer, for a cat to go outside, for a pig to get a frost-bitten ear when the temperature is -27 degrees.
In the Story, the moral path is for all animals to be returned to the wild, to nature. There is no danger in the wild, where all animals belong; no predators, starvation, exposure or disease, no development or climate change. (of course, there is no wild). There are no predators, there, no disease, no fighting for food, no starvation or exposure to heat, ice and snow. It is always a sylvan place, far from abusive humans. The animals frolic all day, they feast on lush pastures and drink pure spring water. They live out their lives in peace and harmony.
After the Story is told, and the charges have been filed, and the apostates convicted or punished or warned, the lobbyists descend on state and local politicians with videos, photos, petitions, contributions and threats. The real animal lovers and experts and farmers – the people who know the most about animals – are ignored, they only have one role in the story: to be accused.
If you compare some of the witchhunts and Inquisitions in both modern and medieval times with the hysteria and cruelty and ruthless inquiries of the New Inquisition, the two seem almost eerily familiar. So is the Orwellian identity described by the writer George Orwell in his great novels.
The inquisitors do not ever negotiate, argue or reason. They never admit wrongdoing, they never change their methods, never consult experts or authorities. They are as wedded to dogma and obsessed with evil as any Church or cult. They exist outside the normal systems of justice, law and compromise. Any farmer or animal lover who has been targeted will testify that it is a fearful, not reasoned experience. Once targeted, there is rarely any escape or avoidance. Once accused, there can be no innocence or acquittal. If you are accused, you are guilty. If you plead innocent, you are guilty of deception, if you plead guilty you are condemned.
There are no loving or ethical human beings in the story, only a rigidly-black-and-white reality. Almost anything is acceptable in such a just cause. It is okay to kill animals in order to save them. There is no mercy, there is no compromise. Empathy is unknown.
And this is the reason I am writing about Joshua Rockwood, why me and so many other people are determined to follow this sad story, this unneeded trauma, it should never have happened.
Joshua Rockwood is not an abuser of animals, an apostate or a heretic, and he refuses to be yet another victim in this Inquisition.
He is very much a human, and human beings are entitled to as much dignity and respect as dogs or pigs or horses. They are not, wrote Henry Beston, our brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.
I believe the case against Joshua Rockwood could be a turning point in the battle to save animals and keep their in our lives, and to treat animals and people with respect and dignity. If you are so inclined, you can support Joshua Rockwood here.