Moby
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I was raised by animals. Specifically, Jamie, the dog, Charlotte, the cat, and a whole gaggle of lab rats that my dad rescued from Columbia University, where he worked. I spent the first two years of my life in a small basement apartment in Harlem. And in addition to the animals, there were also people. There was my mom, my dad, their friends. And it was the mid 60's, and my parents and their friends were really young. So they drank, and they smoked, and they screamed at each other, and they listened to loud music, and they cried, and they yelled; while the animals just kind of sat there, calm and quiet. So I learned this lesson with these calm, wonderful animals, that animals are safe, quiet and to be trusted, and with my parents and their friends screaming and yelling, that humans are loud and terrifying. So, when I was two years old, my dad died. And my mom packed me and Jamie, the dog, and Charlotte, the cat and our gaggle of lab rats into her rusty old Plymouth, and we drove up to Connecticut, where she had grown up, and she rented a tiny little house by the train station in Darien, Connecticut. And our menagerie just expanded. This tiny house became a zoo with more adopted dogs and rescued cats and lizards and more rats and mice and hamsters and gerbils and even some baby squirrels we found in the backyard. It was this wonderful zoo, and I loved all of these animals, like, unconditionally. And my mom, tragically, was newly single because my dad had died, so she started dating, and she had way better taste in animals than she did in men. (Laughter) So she dated Hells Angels, she dated drug addicts, she dated musicians ... (Laughter) Just as a little quick aside - (Laughter) Just to be clear - dating musicians is always a terrible idea. (Laughter) So, our menagerie of animals were just calm and wonderful, but these Hells Angels, these drug addicts, they were loud, they were violent, and it just sort of reinforced the lesson that I'd learned in that small basement apartment in Harlem once again: animals are wonderful, humans are terrifying. And I loved our animals so unconditionally that whenever anyone of them died, I grieved inconsolably. So, that's me with Paco, the cat. And when Paco was hit by a car, I had to stay home from school for a day and just mourn and cry because Paco was my best friend. But I was a suburban boy, I loved animals, but I also loved hamburgers, and I loved hot dogs, and I loved pizza with sausage and pepperoni. And my mom made this meatloaf that she wrapped in bacon and she served with greasy egg noodles, and I loved all of that. I loved every piece of disgusting junk food that was served from the window of a fast-food restaurant, in styrofoam, with greasy napkins. And it was like this phrenological paradox, like there was a wall built in the middle of my brain, and this side of the wall loved animals, with their decency and their kindness, and this side of the wall loved eating animals. And I would say it was a paradox, but it wasn't, because - I mean it is: it's a paradox, it's not a paradox - which is a paradox. And ... (Laughter) Because it was also the status quo. Like, everyone I knew loved animals, but everyone I knew loved eating animals. So it never dawned on me that this was a paradox. And on school trips, we would go to farms and visit cows and pigs and chickens, and I loved them as unconditionally as the animals in our home. The cows in particular because they were shy but curious, cautious but affectionate, and I loved them, but I loved hamburgers. And when I was 10 years old, I was playing at the dump because I grew up poor white trash in one of the wealthiest towns in the US. And I spent a lot of time playing at the dump because it was really interesting. There's all this weird, fascinating garbage that the rich people threw out, and there were rats and raccoons, like, fighting over scraps of food. And while I was at the dump, I heard this sound, the tiniest of sounds, just this little "meow." And the dump was a loud place, I-95, the freeway, was right there, and there were dump trucks going by - it was a cacophony. And over this cacophony, I heard it again, this tiniest "meow." I felt like Horton in "Horton Hears a Who." (Laughter) And I saw this cardboard box, water damaged, and I opened it up, and inside this cardboard box, there was three dead kittens - tiny, like the size of my thumb. And there's one barely alive kitten, so young that his eyes were still closed. And I scooped him up, and I rushed home, and my mom and I then rushed him to our local vet. And our local vet knew us really well (Laughter) because we had so many animals. And when the local vet saw this tiny, sick kitten, he shook his head dolefully, and he said, "Don't get too attached, because kittens this young don't live without their moms; they don't survive." My mom and I took the kitten home, we named him Tucker - to this day I don't know where that name came from - and we made him a soft little bed out of old t-shirts and rags, and at this point of my life, my grandmother was living with us. And my grandmother had the world's most misanthropic Dachshund. His name was George, and George hated everybody. He hated me even though I loved him - story of my life - (Laughter) he hated my mom, he hated - I think he even hated my grandmother, but he just sort of tolerated her because she fed him. So, George walked over in his cranky way to see what was going on with this mewing kitten, and something very surprising happened. George jumped in bed with Tucker and became Tucker's mom. And George cleaned Tucker and warmed Tucker and stayed by Tucker's side 24 hours a day for two weeks until Tucker was healed and well. And my uncle Joseph Kuguielski was a photographer for the New York Times and some local papers in Connecticut, and he took that picture. (Audience) Aaw.. And you are right to "aaw" because it's adorable. (Laughter) And he ran this picture in some local papers, so for a day, Tucker and George were really famous (Laughter) in animal circles in Southwestern Connecticut. It was my first vicarious brush with fame. (Laughter) So, I loved Tucker. He was my best friend, he was like the little brother I'd never had. He used to meet me at the end of my driveway when I came home from school, and we played together, and we slept next to each other, and I loved him so much, but I kept eating hamburgers, and I kept eating hot dogs, and I kept eating junk food. And then, one day when I was 19 years old, I was sitting on the steps of my mom's house with Tucker. And we had this orange shag carpeting, so I'm sitting on the orange shag carpeting with Tucker, and the sun was coming through the windows, and it was just this perfect moment. And I looked at Tucker, who at this point was about nine years old - fun aside, Tucker lived to be 23. So I looked at Tucker, and I saw this perfectly formed being, this individual with two eyes and a central nervous system. And all of a sudden, that phrenological wall in my head disappeared, and I extrapolated. And I realized that just as Tucker had two eyes and a central nervous system and a rich emotional life, I mean, he had personality, he was funny, he was idiosyncratic, and he had this deep desire to avoid pain and suffering and to be alive and to be happy. And so, suddenly, I extrapolated, and I realized that every creature with two eyes and a central nervous system was like Tucker. They just wanted to avoid pain and suffering and wanted to be happy. So in that moment, I left behind hamburgers, hot dogs, etc., and I became a vegan and an animal activist. And that was 35 years ago, so I've been a vegan animal activist ever since then. And it's the most important part of my life. I love making music and doing other things, but animal activism - I was going to say Trump, but - (Laughter) it surpasses the other things that I do. And honestly, being an animal activist can be really hard because every year 100 billion, over 100 billion animals are killed by and for humans. That's billion, with a B. So it's challenging. But on another hand, being an animal activist is kind of easy because all I have to do is to remind people of what they already know and to remind people of what they already feel. Because I assume everyone here, except for the sociopaths, has had the experience of, like, bonding with a cat or bonding with a dog and feeling the heart-expanding love. And of course, I mean, as I've been doing this for a long time, I've learned many things that have sort of reinforced my animal activism. The fact that animal agriculture is the second leading cause of climate change. That 75% of antibiotic resistance - the plague that awaits us all - is a result of animal agriculture because the animals on factory farms are treated so badly and they're so sick that the only thing keeping them alive are mega doses of antibiotics. The role of animal agriculture in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer, obesity. The fact that 90% of rainforest deforestation is attributable to animal agriculture. Fifty percent of ocean acidification comes from animal agriculture. So all these facts sort of strengthened and buttressed my activism. But at the end of the day, what sustains me as an activist is love. The unconditional love I had for all the animals I grew up with, the unconditional love I have for all animals. And I think that's the best part of who I am, that selflessness and love and patience and kindness. And I think it's the best part of who we are. You know, the part of humanity that wants to protect the innocent and defend the vulnerable. That's the best of humanity, not the part that puts animals in factory farms. And that epiphany, that realization, that moment I had with Tucker on the stairs in my mom's house stays with me, and that realization is sort of encoded into the core of who I am: the realization that every animal with two eyes and a central nervous system wants to avoid pain and suffering. Every animal, no matter how big or how small or how wild or how domesticated, just wants to be alive and simply wants to be happy. Thank you very much. (Applause)