Allegory of the Pigs
In the forest depths, at dusk the final rays of stubborn light push their way through the thick green, marking shadows on wild pigs coming to feed. Threaded into an endless continuum of breath and sweat spent in bestial search and continual motion, growing to know nature which forged them as it forever was knowing itself, the scattered herd dies down with nightfall, winding gradually in to a tighter fold of lean silhouettes panting beneath the presence of a silver moon. The slow return to their slumbering place was tonight, interrupted yet again by some curious offerings left in the clearing, which though strange to this forest, merged deliciously with, thus so easily confusing fungi and bark, with berry, hot musk and all else in a pigs nose. To begin with, out of that natural caution, the animals quite easily resisted the peculiar food. If nothing else, it posed a poor parody of the things always yielded by the old forest, with almost scornful derision they scoffed at such taunting deliberateness. But, whoever was behind it doggedly persisted and so the pigs, harmless as the offer seemed to be, trusted and ate. In the following weeks the smell, insidious as it was savoury, increases and spreads throughout the forest so that eventually no pig had gone without a taste of it. This night, half draped in darkness, were four men who seemed to have been present the entire time, though going undetected by the animals approaching the food it now became obvious they had left here for them. Making themselves well seen, the fellows don’t make a move, their eyes fixed and yet somewhat aloof, they breathe methodically and in all their demeanour refrain from startling the pigs. Only a stone’s throw away, they stood spread awkwardly beneath slender pines, watchfully observing the animals digging in their snouts with a near palpable satisfaction. The next morning they return and feed them by hand. With time, the pigs cease hunting and foraging all together and are then led off to a farm, having come to know the men’s faces and hands and smell. Their new masters bring them into a wide, grassless pasture over the face of which stands some large, semi-complex wooden mechanism the likes of which such animals had never seen. Behind them all, the compound gate is shut while the pigs are led on into an enclosed pen and once each one had entered this new, though more confined living space, the entrance is sealed; just before, surging out of two overhead wooden shoots comes a free flow of strange feed, quite similar to the sort with which they were lured to this place but sweeter somehow than even that. This goes on for twenty-three days. Each morning, at a certain hour, the animals are woken and fed, again at noon and yet again at dusk and soon enough they’re moved from the confines of their wire pen, much to the animals delight, but are instead split within the great wooden mechanism, into units designed for one pig only, lined up in great rows of ten, side my side, fully encaged. Further care is taken, so that the females are kept in the western region while their piglets are grouped separately in the southern and the males left toward the easternmost part of the contraption. Whilst all this went on, the pigs did wonder, as was natural and of course, disliked that their new food lacked natures variety and that they now no longer walked and breathed and toiled in familial communion but here there was constant provision, no fear of winters scarcity or the chase of preying beasts. Soon enough, the pigs are given exercise. Each morning, at a certain hour the males and females of breeding age are released from their cages and ushered into the old forest, then once at its heart, are quickly taught to seek and unearth black truffles. The animals knew the forest floor well, and knew even better the mouth-watering taste of the forests best hidden fruit, but if ever the heavenly nostalgia of their old life’s freedoms grew too strong and a pig carelessly ate, a swift lash to the skull or back would be his, thus the sweet taste of truffles soon ran bitter in all their mouths. And further rules soon followed, as the pigs quickly found that the truffles were their sole ticket to sustenance, for whenever their noses failed or rain fall hindered the search, their bellies would assuredly go wanting. As this daily goes on, the animals, growing accustomed to these new laws, come under the impression that the whole arrangement had made their new masters quite rich. Their daily feeding is increased to six, but now they are no longer fed all together in the wire pen but individually in their units at appointed times during the day and while the older work, the young are trained to do the same. It was at first concerning how, oftentimes in the forest, while searching out the truffles a pig might fall ill, become injured or merely be dragged off by a crafty predator, as their lean bodies had grown plump and senses altogether dull. Nevertheless, the remainder would carry on industriously and any poor victim would be quickly and entirely forgotten. The animals grow slower and more rotund, very irritable and given to complaining if ever their feeding was delayed or decreased. As time goes on, the pigs might even make noise or refuse work and in such instances, their masters would unlock the gates and threaten to cast them out entirely but when the animals glimpsed back into the now terrifying expanse of the forest, with its curious inhabitants, lawlessness and inconstant nature, they would beg ‘shut your gates, we will behave’ and fall back into order. As generations of pigs pass on and on, nothing but the wooden structure is understood, only routine is comfortable, soon mating, foraging and the likes are all forgotten for only thoughts of truffle finding and its rewards remain. In due time, the pigs grow to love their masters, so accordingly their feed is increased to twelve and between child, male and female, enmity ensues. This goes on twelve years. Over this period, the men made work for themselves too and focussed much of their efforts on the fortification and expansion of the wooden framework they had initially built, much to their pig’s delight. Now, the structure was impressive and they had plenty of pigs to fill it with, for the original number had doubled twice over although their appearance had changed a great deal since that time. Their new masters, for the sake of hygiene and quality, had very efficiently designed a method of removing any sick, old, spirited or in any way irregular animals until even every wild stroke of colour was gone from them all. This too, the pigs had grown to appreciate. Their work of finding truffles had not changed at all, and due to the great increase in population, their findings had also multiplied tenfold since the beginning. It now seemed to the animals as if, they had always been so fat and slow for their daily feedings had been long maintained at twenty-four and because of this, each animal would wait expectantly upon his food shoot, only able to grunt or dribble at his neighbour. After eight months of bounteous findings, the pigs again venture out into the woods and as dictated began to dig, they dug their dripping snouts into the leafy earth until their pink bodies shook with vigour. They remained all morning and yet, found nothing. For a moment they cease their shoving, grunting and guttural sounds, and raising their heads, suddenly notice the deathly silence which had seized the old forest. As far as their beady eyes could tell, there was not a breath, not a heartbeat or presence besides theirs in the whole wood. It is as if there’d been a cull of life and so tired from searching and unable to bear the harsh air, the pigs return to the farm without spoils and itching with hunger. The fellows, waiting as usual by the gate, spot them returning and with a knowing look, take to their heels. They don’t return for months. Once they finally had, it seemed all things prior were discarded as their efforts were now focussed on the dismantlement of the old wooden system for in its place they were hurriedly building an entirely new construct, in no way similar to the old and in all ways more advanced. Industriously, the men laboured day and night hunched over blueprints, with possession-like fervour, increasing the mechanism with every passing day. All the while, the pigs have remained. In the absence of their masters, the prolonged lack of enforced order unleashes within the population confusion unlike that of any other time. With no work, the animals are left to gorge and struggle continually against one another, having utterly lost all natural means of communication. So engrossed in this madness, they do not notice their masters return, hatred and chaos ensue. Now too fat to be housed in units, the fellows quickly see to it that the animals are once again forced together in the wire pen within which their first fathers were held and are, for the moment, left to their own devices. The pig’s noise, filth and anger goes on, only ceasing briefly when, not long after, their macilent handlers begin showing stories with puppets through a white sheet, behind which a small fire illuminates and enlarges the crude toys. And so each evening, silence befell as the men would project images and tell tales of preying beasts, famine and all the things a pig would naturally and otherwise fear. Attentively they’d watch and listen, bound to every utterance, squealing and screeching in rapturous enjoyment of the terrifying panic that erupted whenever the shadow of a fiend crept across the screen. Day and night, they can soon think of nothing but these monsters. Early one morning, the restless, rabbling populace happened to wander out, after chewing apart their wire fence and to their surprise stumble upon the great barn which housed the men’s new contraption. Stunned, the men think it wise to pacify the animals, explaining their machine to put the beasts at rest for now. “It will serve you also”, they smilingly agree, before turning the animals back to where they came. The days go by as ever and the pigs cheer on the busy men and the fantastic mechanism over which they toil, barely able to contain their excitement for the great wonders the future held for them all. One night, as all were gathered in the wire pen for the evening’s horror show, and the men readied their puppets, a bored pig unseen, at the very back of the mad rabble, is perturbed by the bite of a gadfly. The animal soon works himself into a fit, dodging and shooing the thing until he had unknowingly left the others, flinching and angrily trotting off for an unintentionally great length before noticing he’d ended up alone outside the men’s barn, with the only light being that escaping out from its open doorway. Cold, night air whips down the animals back, and the distant ruckus of the other’s cheerful shrieks remind him of the show and of the gadfly which pinches him one last before flying off. Relieved, the pig sees no harm in moving quietly toward the open door, or toward the light and the noises coming out of there. Peering slightly in, his eyes are transfixed by what he sees. A huge complex of rubber conveyor belts, gleaming steel frames, rows of polished cleavers and jagged-edge saws, automated hooks, and a chasm-like mincer waiting in the centre. The animal can make nothing of these things, but soon realises another pig peering in with him, having followed for the sake of following. Both marvel at the motionless mechanical monster, taking care not to be seen by the fellows hard at work readying their new construct. In gormless awe, the one who kindly followed turns briefly to the other “Isn’t it good what they’re doing?” the animal pleasantly asks, patient for a pigs agreement. But with his gaze unmoved, the other makes no reply, knowing they will be finished by morning.
Copyright Brett Oscarson (2005)