December 20, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

How do cattle die? Lots of ways. Lightning kills hundreds on the Colorado prairie every year, I learned when I was a reporter. Add in various infections, "hardware disease," rattlesnake bites on the nose—and, yes, four-footed predators.

Back then, I was exposed to all the wildly elaborate explanations of the mutilations, each one requiring more secrecy, more advanced technology, and a bigger cover-up than the last. Occam's razor was nowhere in sight.

Then one day in the early 1980s I was deer hunting in eastern Washington with my father. On our lunch break we crossed the border to visit the ranching cousins on the British Columbia side.

Somehow the conversation turned to predators. My cousin Wendell was saying how right after a cow dies of natural causes, coyotes will approach the carcass but not chew on it right away.  Dad (hunter, forest ranger) nodded in agreement.

"Aha!" I thought. How many times had I been told that it was spooky and weird how coyotes, in particular, would approach a "mutilated" (eyes, rectum gone) cow but not eat from it right away!  Yet here were Dad and Wendell treating that as normal behavior. (more after the jump)


What was different? It was not that BC coyotes were different from ours. It was that Wendell was not under the spell of the "mutilation narrative," in which normal events had to be interpreted in a sinister way.

Five hundred years ago in Europe, livestock problems might be blamed on witches—and there were well-developed narratives about what happened. See, for instance, Norman Cohn's Europe's Inner Demons.

In the West, at least, we no longer find some old lady with too many cats and torture her into confessing that she killed Manuel Sanchez's calves with powders given to her by the Devil.

Similar behavior occurs elsewhere too. Right now in Peru the scary narrative involves human fat.

What does it take to have cattle mutilations?

1. Lazy editors and reporters who treat these claims as either entertainment or who (like Linda Moulton Howe) abandon any skepticism and  become believers in the wilder mutilation narratives themselves.

2. Rather than do the hard work, these journalists find it easier to interview those UFO "investigators" and other people who push themselves forward, claiming to have some secret "woo-woo" knowledge about what is really going on. 

3. Readers and viewers who enjoy the "woo-woo" and try to come up with creative variations on it.

4. Livestock raisers, now aware of the "mutilator narrative," begin using it to explain death of animals that might have been attributed to predators or just shrugged off as unexplained (although not inexplicable) in the past.

5. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

So you can think that visitors from Tau Ceti IV need cow rectums to save their dying planet.

Or you can think that we don't spend enough time studying the animals around us.

2 comments:

smartdogs said...

Excellent series. This belongs in a magazine.

(Also FYI, the jump link on this post doesn't work.)

Chas S. Clifton said...

Thanks. Link fixed now, I hope.