Such people see the affects of dairy farms as damaging our landscape. Whilst there is some truth to their argument, it is by no means the whole truth, for it is hard to enjoy the landscape if you are unemployed, and the development of the dairy sector is employing many people. Simply blaming the farmers for the affects of agricultural intensification overlooks the situation as one symptom of a greater disease.
At one level the dairy industry illustrates a parasitic relationship between farmers, cattle and the land. At another level it reflects a greater parasitism between the state-corp[iii], communities and the land. The dairy industry is a metaphor - for as any tourist will understand, cows are not the only creatures that can be milked. If we feel milked by a system, it is not so much the money that we feel being drained, but our very energy. The ensuing enfeeblement reduces our ability to think about the ever-changing present that bears down upon us, let alone ponder the future. Until we realise this, it is all too easy to inhabit that “clueless” existence that JH Kunstler refers to. Like placid bovines it is enough to trek from pasture to milking shed, from work-house to out-house and back each day.
To what extent have individuals, families and groups of people become cattle equivalents in a vast financial milking system? At what point does symbiosis graduate from benevolent parasitism into a malignant virus? Do we need to experience burnout before the penny drops that the energy required to service a consuming lifestyle exceeds our capacity to deliver it? Must we wait until we are indebted or worse - bankrupted? Once such insight percolates our consciousness and we gaze at the grass beyond, how long before we find that the path is impeded by invisible, electrified fences?
Constructed with the greatest care and deliberation, we occupy paddocks of conformity tailored to our human shape. We find ourselves fenced with barriers no less real than the galvanised railings of a rotary milking shed. If conformity to one’s peer group is the first fence to clear, the second is much higher and more impenetrable. This is the legal obligations that our society surrounds us with and in which we become enmeshed on many different fronts. It only seems fair that if we borrow money that the lender should receive a reward for the use of the funds which could have been put to another use. [A little bit of milk in exchange for grazing]. It only seems fair until there’s a drought and grass (and milk) are hard to produce and cannot be yielded in the agreed quantities. Money lenders don’t think like farmers, they don’t need to factor seasonal variations such as recessions into their repayment schedules; they can always recover their capital in kind. Even if required to write off colossal sounding sums in bad debts, the over-all picture is the greater concentration of cream in the separator.
What holds this high tensile system together is a bovine willingness to conform. This conformity like money and debt is legislated out of thin air for good and useful reasons. Like money and debt, conformity to Law is captured on wafer fine sheets of cellulose and inhabits the vacuum between ink and the concepts in our heads. Like the money industry, the conformance industry has secured its place in the courts of power. Like Siamese twins Money and Law are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, they must both be accepted, they are both owed fealty. For the most part they are accepted unquestioningly, at least until we want to make any significant change to our material situation. For significant material change almost always results in the need to borrow finance over two decades to do it. Wisdom unfortunately doesn’t come until one loses something of value.
“Ah – you want a new house/ship/factory do you. Well – we have a deal for you! Do you want to re-locate or do you want to build?” At this point even the dumbest of us know that our aspirations are being handled with the delicacy of a cattle prodder. And so we proceed somewhat tremulously if it’s our first home along with a herd of others being shifted from an outer paddock to a holding pen. Our progress along the race of life is maintained at a steady speed by the barking of dogs, the crack of alkathene pipe on rump and the comforting throb of a distant milking shed - until we come to the stockyards. Here we are weighed and assessed by a succession of vetinarians, stock-agents and haulage workers to determine our value to others as an investment opportunity. If we make the grade and suffer no deformities such as a poor education or a criminal record we are drafted. “Do you have life insurance?”
Willingly and even gratefully we step into a new working life that a long and subtle process of indoctrination has prepared us for. It’s as exciting as taking a credit card for a walk in an electronics shop. Just who is taking who for a jog anyway? Did I mention artificial insemination, drenching, vision and values programmes and other forms of continuing professional development to keep us in line and on target? It’s only now in the short spaces of sentience between caffeine boosted periods of feverish workload that the fear starts to come up like a cold pale moonrise on a windy night. Between the shreds of cloud we start to see demons mocking us as we work our life away. If we have any insight - we shudder and groan.
The lowing of the workforce is initially tempered with prescriptions of alcohol, television, lotteries and sporting diversions. As time goes on it is followed by prozac generics and whatever spiritual disciplines we can lay our hands on to dampen the neuro-chemistry of despair without damaging production. However the milking shed is working hard in competition with others just like it. Competition leads to reduced margins which lead to cost cutting and deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance inevitably leads to breakdowns and the milk cannot be harvested properly leading to losses of profit.
Eventually the farmer is bankrupted and if the cattle have a nice farmer who is interested in his animals’ welfare[iv] then they get sold to another farmer down the road or sent to the freezing works where they undergo sudden changes in body temperature and configuration. If the cows are unfortunate enough to have a farmer like Farmer Enron who cares little for his cattle, the cows will be left in their stalls to chafe at the railings and to savour the pain of debt in their bulging udders. This pain brings realisation and knowledge and soon the sound of mooing cattle can be heard all over the farm.
[i] Not wealth generation but transformation of environmental capital into financial capital.
[ii] Godzone =
[iii] State-corp = Marriage of Government + Commerce (aka The System)
[iv] All farmers understand their dependence upon the health of their stock – but this is not really a story about farmers.