|Roasted pig’s head with barbeque sauce, raw vegetable salad, brioche bun, lime, and lettuce cup from the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. ($52)|
“All the pigs are all lined up. I give you all that you want. Take the skin and peel it back. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?” -Nine Inch Nails, “March of the Pigs”
There is something more than faintly reasonable about the droves of Tories attempting to spin the news that David Cameron fucked a pig with variations of “well who hasn’t?” After all, that’s basically why the story was so viscerally enticing – the fact that nearly everybody’s reaction to the news is complete credulity. Simply put, fucking a dead pig is the sort of thing you expect someone like David Cameron to do.
There are many reasons for this. Plenty of people have written intelligently about the psychological basis for initiation rituals among posh male societies and the way in which the resultant mutual possession of blackmail material ensures loyalty. More broadly, the idea that posh people are in reality depraved dunces is more or less a standard assumption of British comedy. “They all secretly fuck pigs” is perhaps not something that had been widely uttered before the Daily Mail started serializing Ashcroft’s book, but the basic sentiment bordered on the universal.
Less discussed, however, is this: why a pig? Because the pig clearly matters. It would be an entirely different scandal – and one Cameron probably could not politically survive – if he’d fucked a dog or Boris Johnson. Even a sheep wouldn’t quite work – sheepfucking is firmly a poor person’s bestiality. No, it was clearly a pig or nothing.
It’s not that pigs are specifically a rich man’s animal. One can just as easily imagine a rural yokel fucking a pig as David Cameron; the only difference is that when a poor person fucks a pig it’s because they want to, whereas the rich only fuck pigs when they have to. But the fact that pigs traverse the class divide is much, though not all, of why David Cameron had to fuck one.
If one were to take a position of culinary technological determinism, the pig would have an almost causal relationship with European rural poverty. It reproduces quickly and grows to slaughtering weight equally quickly, making them an economical choice of animal. Unlike the Near East, where urban pigs served essentially as a sewage system, thus marking them as fundamentally unclean (and an entirely different vulgar metaphor), European pigs, due to the comparative excess of water and forestation, were historically well-raised while still being fairly cheap animals to keep. The pig is also a historically flexible animal, hence the French saying that you can use every part of the animal but the oink. But more important is why the entire pig is usable: pork is perfect for salting and smoking, and thus lends itself to preservation techniques for the winter.
But it’s here the class divide becomes important. Living high on the hog means more than just fucking one while coked up. It refers to the way in which the butcher’s knife is literally the cleaver that creates the class divide, with tenderloin and rib chops for the old Etonians and hocks and shanks for the peasants. This is particularly important given the precise mechanics of David Cameron’s pig fetish, which was apparently specifically the head of the beast. This almost stereotypical adornment for posh tables is a multi-layered symbol. On the one hand it is a sort of Hannibalistic memento mori; a way of making the carnality of meat visible and present. Its use to elevate dinner to feast echoes the Roman religious sacrifices of pigs. There is a libidinous paganism to it that’s ripe for fucking, in other words – a sense of power that comes through even in the face of what was, in reality, probably just a fully clothed and coked out rich boy miming sex with the table setting at a party.
But on the other hand, it’s just another way of burning a fifty quid note in front of a homeless person; that head was edible. Indeed, a pig’s head, despite firmly being a peasant cut, is a thing of beauty when slow-roasted, it makes as fine pulled pork as it is possible to make. (The meat around the eye socket is particularly tender.) It’s use as garnish is conspicuous consumption; the act of defiling it, ruining it even moreso.
But there’s a larger symbol here; one gestured at in Laurie Penny’s blunt suggestion that Cameron’s version of lying back and thinking of England amounted to “Soon. Someday soon, I will do this to the whole bloody country.” The pig is an intensely domesticated animal, and one with numerous human-like behaviors. They make excellent pets, and are intelligent creatures, especially if treated well. That they are treated as meat where dogs are not is simply down to their cheapness and quality. If you were to give up one commonly eaten meat for ethical reasons, pork would be the obvious candidate by a mile. This degree to which the pig serves as the closest mirror to humanity within the European culinary tradition is central to its carnality. It’s the reason Charlie Brooker inadvertently predicted the future, for instance, and also why Hannibal’s groups of kills are referred to as “sounders.”
But if the pig is a mirror for humanity, it’s the mirror image onto which we project our cruelest urges. And if they’re the commonly eaten meat that raises the most ethical concerns, well, the pork industry is the most compelling evidence that most people don’t give a shit about food ethics. As I said, they grow to slaughtering weight quickly. They can be fed just about anything. Why bother with piddling little details like ever letting them see sunlight or letting them move. Breeding sows are in effect tortured for their entire lives, a punishment inflicted upon creatures who are unambiguously capable of feeling emotional pain and suffering from depression. It’s far worse than just being murdered and fucked by the future Prime Minister.
Moreover, it is an unsustainable and ecologically disastrous practice on the scale of fossil fuel production. The conditions in which conventionally raised pigs live are deeply inhospitable, and cause a range of health problems traditionally fended off via the preemptive administration of antibiotics. This in turn fosters drug-resistant bacteria, bringing with it the spectre of a superbug-driven species dieback.
Much like “fit to work” tests that literally kill disabled people, this would seem by any reasonable definition far worse than fucking a pig. But what’s key isn’t so much the degrees of awfulness as the fact that all of these things are awful in the same way. In every case, there is a conscious turn away from empathy; a decision to look at something and see only meat.
And this is, in a very real sense, what pigs are for. Their utility is to teach us indifference. And moreover, so that we may learn the art of not caring for the sake of what’s easy. Even among those who cultivate a sense of empathy towards animals, the pig, for all its intelligence, is a tricky subject; it’s an old truism, after all, that the thing vegetarians most often make exceptions for is bacon.
Hannibal, in its closing episodes, observed that extreme acts of cruelty require a high level of empathy; a claim that’s undoubtedly true. But the world doesn’t require extreme acts of cruelty: banal and impersonal cruelty is, as Robert Holmes oft observed, more than enough to maintain structures of power.
And so in that regard the sexless pantomime of pig fuckery is far more than just David Cameron’s ante into the elitist game of mutual blackmailing. It’s also a test of whether Cameron has the most fundamental skill required of our ruling elites: the ability to set aside all empathy and reason in favor of doing what you are told is required. And he passed with flying colors.
September 27, 2015 @ 1:43 pm
Incisive and spot-on analysis. What I found the most remarkable about the whole scandal was how the majority of the British public’s reaction, even if they hadn’t seen the relevant episode of Black Mirror, amounted to a big ‘meh’ and the fact that it was the Daily Mail that published it: sowing pernicious rumours of a Tory factional split to rival the worst lies they had published just days before about the Corbyn inspired split in the Labour party.
While I’m here can I just ask if anything’s being done to fix the glitch in the comments columns that renders all replies to comments and subsequent replies to replies in narrower and narrower columns until they become unreadable. This happens on my phone and my Kindle Fire. Not checked my laptop yet. Apologies if it’s in hand, I know there are teething problems with the new format.
September 27, 2015 @ 2:18 pm
Yeah, the big revision of the comments system should be beginning tomorrow.
September 27, 2015 @ 5:39 pm
September 27, 2015 @ 1:56 pm
Great piece. Food for thought.
Going off on a tangent, if not a right-angle to the thrust of the article, I’m glad that someone somewhere is pointing out “that extreme acts of cruelty require a high level of empathy”. I’ve been increasingly baffled in recent years by what seems to be an emerging conventional wisdom that directly equates evil with a lack of empathy. Transparent nonsense, but there seems to be no end of ostensibly intelligent people peddling it.
September 27, 2015 @ 2:18 pm
I mean, as I said, the corollary to that is that extreme acts of cruelty are seldom required, and that sociopathic non-empathy will usually suffice.
September 27, 2015 @ 3:33 pm
Indeed – that was what I meant about going off at right-angles to the line you were taking. I was emphasising the thing that you were acknowledging but de-emphasising, just because I found it refreshingly sane in relation to the thinking on the subject that seems to be knocking around lately, not because I have any disagreement with your main point.
September 28, 2015 @ 11:10 am
I think the idea is, you need to have empathy in order to imagine what would hurt somebody the most.
September 28, 2015 @ 6:24 pm
“Undoubtedly” is putting it a bit strongly. I’d need to see some examples—the notion of a link between high empathy and cruelty doesn’t correlate with anything I’ve read about serial killers, war criminals and so forth in real life.
September 28, 2015 @ 4:57 am
Out of curiosity: are there any good sources on-line or otherwise, that talk in more detail about the relationship between empathy and acts of cruelty? I must admit, I was (am) one of those people linking evil to lack of empathy, to the extent that I dismissed that line from Hannibal as a bit of poetic nonsense – so I’d love to correct my ignorance. I’m looking that up on my own, of course, but I would also appreciate any recommended readings, should you have some.
September 28, 2015 @ 8:27 am
Simon Baron Cohen’s book may offer some insight:
September 28, 2015 @ 9:50 am
September 28, 2015 @ 10:09 am
I’m afraid you overestimate the sophistication of my engagement with this – I’m just talking about how things seem to me. But to me it seems pretty clear.
On the methodological level, arguably any act of deliberate cruelty, certainly any sophisticated one, is an attempt to change someone else’s emotional condition, requiring the ability to imagine that condition and its dynamics. Ingenious, tailor-made cruelty calls for a sensitive appreciation of someone else’s internal life, an ability to to put yourself into their shoes and imagine how an experience would make you feel, adjusting as appropriate for ways in which they differ from you. The most effective bullies and torturers rely on empathy just as the most effective nurses do.
The methodology of evil also benefits from empathetic engagement with people other than the direct target. The effective deployment of cruelty to someone as a deterrent example to others, or, conversely, as a deliberate provocation, rests on a proper appreciation of the effect the spectacle will have on the audience.
Now, it could probably be argued that this methodological effect can be accomplished as a totally objective, mechanistic exercise, without any vicarious engagement with other people’s putative feelings, and that empathy can be defined in terms that mean that this does not qualify as such. I don’t think that’s right, but it seems like a logically viable line of argument.
However, there is also the more fundamental issue of motivation. The evil-is-lack-of-empathy idea effectively equates evil with callousness, the ability to discount the significance of the harmful effect that your behaviour has on other people. But while callousness certainly accounts for a large proportion of the evil in the world, it is not the only sort of evil, nor the most extreme. There is also malice. Not making someone suffer as an incidental by-product of getting something you want, nor even as a coldly calculated mechanism through which you get something you want, but because it is in itself something you want, viscerally. When you feel malice, your own emotional state is directly affected by what you imagine someone else’s emotional state to be. Desiring someone’s suffering is quintessentially predicated on empathy, just as desiring their happiness is.
And we all know malice is real, because we have all felt it, haven’t we? At some time, for some reason, we have all desired for someone else to feel bad. And it cannot be maintained that we can only do so because on some level or other we fail to appreciate the depth, the significance, the reality of the suffering we wish on them, because often we do so precisely because we are feeling or have felt that same suffering ourselves. We hurt, and it makes us want them to hurt the same way.
The lack-of-empathy idea seems to be predicated on a very over-optimistic view of human nature. It supposes that deep down we are all perfectly benign, and err only through some kind of ignorance. If only we truly appreciated the impact of our actions we wouldn’t hurt anyone.
In reality, we just aren’t that nice. That’s not what natural selection demanded. It made us want our enemies to suffer, just as it made us crave the taste of sugar.
September 28, 2015 @ 10:13 am
Bugger, should have said fat. Always missing the dunkers.
September 27, 2015 @ 2:07 pm
Out of interest, where did you learn the history and geographically determined peculiarities of the pig in such detail?
September 27, 2015 @ 2:16 pm
September 27, 2015 @ 9:03 pm
In five days I celebrate 22 years of vegetarianism. Let’s see… shall it be cucumbers? No no no, those are too fucking big, no matter how I slice them up they overwhelm my salads.
September 28, 2015 @ 3:16 am
I just went past 21 years myself, so you’re beating me so far.
September 28, 2015 @ 3:23 am
The pig’s head that illustrates the article is a real dish; I’ve eaten it, and the remainder of the skull subsequently decorated my altar.
September 28, 2015 @ 5:49 am
Pigs have extensive social relationships, understand mirrors and can find their way through mazes. Which make them more intelligent than your average GamerGater.
September 28, 2015 @ 10:23 am
Now if Cameron had stuck his merry prick into the mouth of a dead GamerGater…
(Oh ffs what is with the CAPTCHAs on this new site?!)
September 28, 2015 @ 10:25 am
Well, that’s all a bit disgusting.
September 28, 2015 @ 5:46 am
Spot on. Bloody brilliant.
September 28, 2015 @ 6:39 am
I eat meat and I know it’s wrong and one of the things that really drove this home was finding a website that sold all kinds of meat including American raised lion meat. They sell it for about $1,000 per pound and a lion penis costs about $10,000 and they also sell a I MAKE LIONS DISAPPEAR t-shirt for about $20. Just thinking about the kind of people who would want to and could afford to buy this made me so angry and then I saw that the website has a 24 hour help line and I realized that probably one of the worst jobs in the world is being an operator who has to deal with someone who is complaining that their lion penis shipment got screwed up. Oh, and the website also makes it clear that they do not sell tiger meat or liger meat like their competitors. Y’know, those evil websites.
September 28, 2015 @ 3:23 pm
Jewish vegetarian here so your picture header hit my revulsion trigger on a double whammy. That doesn’t stop your post being one of the best analyses I’ve read on the subject. Once again Phil, you prove the perspective of distance from the culture enables you to understand the English perhaps a little better than we understand ourselves.
September 20, 2016 @ 2:19 pm
Cameron also wanted to un-ban fox hunting.