Animal rights message in The State of the Art, Iain Banks’ science fiction

This is a science fiction writers’ take on the hypocricy of lamenting past human tragedy while contributing to a current non-human tragedy by eating meat. For context, the book The State of the Art was written by Iain Banks in 1991.

Diziet Sma is a member of an advanced dual humanoid/AI civilisation on a covert mission to Earth to study the planet. In this passage, she is exploring Paris while pretending to be an Earthling in the late 1970’s Earth time. I skipped over the text I didn’t think was necessary for transcribing brevity.

It was the memorial to the Deportation [the holocaust].

I came out stunned. I was angry at them, then. Angry at them for surprising me, touching me like that. Of course I was angry at their stupidity, their manic barbarity, their unthinking, animal obedience, their appalling cruelty; everything that the memorial evoked… but what really hit me was that these people could create something that spoke so eloquently of their own ghastly actions; that they could fashion a work so humanly redolent of their own inhumanity. I hadn’t thought them capable of that, for all the things I’d read and seen, and I didn’t like to be surprised.

I had lunch in a smoky little place near the St Sulpice Metro; you sat on high stools at a bar and they selected a piece of red meat for you and put it, dripping blood, on a grid over an open pit filled with burning charcoal. The meat sizzled on the grill right in front of you while you had your apertif, and you told them when you felt it was ready. They kept going to take it off and serve it to me, and I kept saying, ‘Non non, un peu plus… s’il vous plait.’

The man next to me ate his rare, with blood still oozing from the centre. After a few years in Contact you get used to that sort of thing, but I was still surprised I could sit there and do that, especially after the memorial. I knew so many people who’d have been outraged at the very thought. Come to think of it, there would have been millions of vegetarians on Earth who’d have been equally disgusted (would they have eaten our vat-grown meats? I wonder).

The black grill over the charcoal pit kept reminding me of the gratings in the memorial, but I just kept my head down and ate my meal, or most of it.

My reading is that Diziet is miffed that the humans can mourn the holocaust, and yet contribute to something just as bad (just for different species) when they eat meat. Thoughts?

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