Chicken-Human Relationships: From Procrustean Genocide to Empathic Anthropomorphism
An Animal Rights Article from


By Karen Davis, Ph.D., United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
From The Spring 2010 issue Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture

Sound of a Battery Hen

You can tell me: if you come by the
North door, I am in the twelfth cage
On the left-hand side of the third row
From the floor; and in that cage
I am usually the middle one of eight or six or three.
But even without directions, you’d
Discover me. We have the same pale
Comb, clipped yellow beak and white or auburn
Feathers, but as the door opens and you
Hear above the electric fan a kind of
One-word wail, I am the one
Who sounds loudest in my head.

In Greek mythology, Procrustes (“the stretcher”) is a bandit who keeps an iron bed into which he forces people to fit. Watching his victims approach from his stronghold, Procrustes stretches or shrinks the bed in advance to predetermine their failure to fit into it so that he may torturously reshape them to suit his will. If the victims are too tall, he amputates their limbs; if they are too short, he stretches them to size.
I suggest that Procrustes is a particularly “fit” symbol of the false anthropomorphism used by many human cultures, in particular today’s industrialized society, to force nonhuman animals into constructions fundamentally alien and inimical to their nature.
The wishes and desires of the modern human psyche seldom coincide with the needs and desires of animals; hence a Procrustean solution is sought whereby the animal is either cut down to size or stretched to fit the agenda.
In diverse aspects of our modern human culture, animals are physically altered, rhetorically disfigured, and ontologically obliterated to mirror and model the goals of their exploiters.

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