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Chapter 17: Cognitive Dissonance
Two years later:
“Luuuke!” Jared was angry.
Luke returned the now half empty book of stamps to Mum’s purse. “It wasn’t me!” he lied.
“Who else would put a sticker over my webcam? I want to skype and I can’t get it off!”
“I jus’ needed to borra it for a minute an’ I dint want anybody spyin’ on me.”
“No one can spy on you, idiot! You have to turn the webcam on yourself!”
“You’re the idiot if you think they can’t turn it on and watch you when you don’t know they’re watchin’ you. I saw it on that film about the man who had to escape from the government. And it was on that programme about the lawyer whose daughter was bein’ spied on coz she didn’t close her laptop and they switched on her webcam from somewhere else not in her house!”
Jared wasn’t listening. He’d heard it all before. He referred the problem to a higher power.
“Mum,” he called downstairs, “Luke’s been messing with my computer again and I can’t get the sticker off! He’s not supposed to touch my stuff!”
Mum’s hands were immersed in hot water. She didn’t have the energy or the inclination to referee her sons’ squabbles so she pretended she hadn’t heard. Jared turned back to his brother.
“The next time you touch my stuff I’ll take your walkie talkies and smash them with a hammer!”
Luke, secretly thankful to Jared for reminding him, stuffed his walkie talkies into his rucksack and went downstairs. He had a bus to catch.
When he got to the bus stop the bus was already there. Joe was trying the driver’s patience by rummaging slowly in his pockets for his fare, bringing out one small coin at a time in an effort to delay the bus’s departure. When Luke stepped on behind him he found his two pound coin and put the driver out of his misery. Luke did the same and the boys ascended to the empty top deck and sat down on the front seat.
“Happy New Year,” said Joe.
Luke was frantically searching his bag. “Yeah, happy …. did you bring your notebook?”
“I forgot mine,” said Luke, annoyed. “Did you write down where we’re s’posed to be meetin’ the others?”
“No,” said Joe, “but I remember. We’re meeting them at the library.”
Luke frowned with uncertainty.
“We always meet at the library,” Joe reassured him, “the first Saturday of every month. At the library.”
Luke shook his head. “I know that’s what we normally do, but last time that woman kept watching us and Tania thought she was trying to listen to our plans so we said next time we’d meet somewhere more private. I wrote it down. Don’t you remember?”
Joe’s recollection went further.
“Yes, I remember that, but then Isabel said she didn’t think the woman was listening and Tania was just paranoid and there wasn’t anywhere else we could meet that was warm and dry and she thought we should meet at the library as usual.”
Luke still looked uncertain.
“Twelve o’clock. At the library. As usual,” Joe reiterated.
“Okay,” said Luke, finally giving up the search for his notebook, “good.” He leaned back in his seat and put his feet up on the window ledge in front of him.
The boys hadn’t seen each other since Christmas so the half hour bus ride was a good time to catch up. Luke pulled an impressive-looking, hard plastic case out of his rucksack.
“I got these from me Mum and Dad,” he told Joe, and opened the case to reveal two walkie talkies. They were green, brown and black in a camouflage pattern, with buttons under a screen and a short antenna sticking up on one side. In addition the case contained a charger, ear pieces, belt clips, and survival bracelets with built-in compass and whistle. “They work as far as three kilometres apart, so we’ll be able to talk to each other if we’re on a mission and we’re doin’ different bits of it and we have to keep watch and tell the other one if someone’s comin’.” Joe hesitantly reached for one of the bracelets. “Oh yeah, and we’ll both wear one of these – go on, try it on,” encouraged Luke, “and then if we get lost, or if the walkie talkie battery dies, we can survive with these coz there’s a whistle so we can blow it and hear where each other is and know if it’s north or south.”
“They’re brilliant,” said Joe, obviously impressed.
Luke carefully retrieved the bracelet and put it back in the case. “What did you get?” he asked.
Joe reached into his bag and pulled out a smart pair of binoculars. “I like bird watching,” he explained.
“Score!” said Luke, “these’ll be good for missions too coz we’ll be able to see if someone’s comin’ from a long way away before they see us.”
“I use ’em for looking for UFOs too,” said Joe, lifting the binoculars to his eyes and looking through the window at the skies ahead.
“Spaceships?” asked Luke, interested.
“Yeah, I saw a documentary about aliens coming to Earth and it said they were real and they’ve been coming to Earth for years and they’re watching us to make sure we don’t send bombs into space and they stopped the Americans when they did try to send some up there.”
“Really?” asked Luke, wide eyed, “so they’re good aliens?”
“Yeah, they’re good, stopping bad people with bombs. But the people who make the bombs are trying to keep the aliens secret because they want to keep making the bombs because they get a lot of money from it. So they want to make people scared of aliens by making fake alien ships to attack Earth so that the Earth people will want them to attack the aliens,” Joe took a breath. “But really it’s not the aliens because the aliens are peaceful and we shouldn’t be attacking them we should be making friends with them coz they could help us save the environment.”
“Wow,” said Luke, “sounds like a good film. D’you think it’s true?”
“Oh yeah! It’s true. They had lots of evidence and lots of people have seen them and some people have been killed to shut them up or blackmailed to change their stories. I know it sounds made up but it’s not. You should see the film.”
“Yeah. What’s it called?”
“Have you got it on DVD?”
“No, it’s on Netflix.”
“We haven’t got Netflix.”
“Neither have we but I signed up for a month’s free trial on Janet’s computer and there’s a week left so you can watch it at mine.”
Luke nodded. He really wanted to see it.
“Come round after school on Tuesday.”
“You’re lucky Janet lets you borra her computer. Jared gets in a right hump when I borra his.”
“Janet won’t be there,” explained Joe.
The boys got off the bus at the radio station and walked through the pedestrianised High street to the library. It was only ten to twelve. They were going to be early for once.
The January meeting of the Secret Society of animal stick up for-ers commenced thirteen minutes later.
“Maybury,” said Tania, “has anyone had a reply yet?” They all shook their heads.
“No,” said Joe, “surprise surprise.”
“Well, they can’t ignore us forever,” she said, undaunted. “Did you bring the petition?”
“Of course,” said Isabel, pulling a clipboard from her bag.
“Okay then, let’s go! Outside the cinema?”
“Last time we stood there nobody was interested,” said Isabel. “Let’s stand in front of the RSPCA shop.”
Outside the charity shop, Joe held the petition while the other three tried to tempt people to sign it.
“Excuse me,” said Tania.
“No, I’m in a hurry,” replied a frowning man.
“Would you mind …” asked Isabel.
“Sorry. Bus to catch,” replied a lady pushing a bike.
“Stop Maybury Sanctuary killin’ animals!” shouted Luke.
“What?” asked a shocked passer-by, “Maybury Centre for Animal Welfare? Why would they kill animals?”
“They are!” declared Luke, “sign our petition.”
The man and his wife read the petition:
WE, THE BELOW SIGNED, DEMAND THAT MAYBURY CENTRE FOR ANIMAL WELFARE STOP HAVING ANIMALS KILLED FOR THEIR CAFE AND MAKE THE CAFE COMPLETELY VEGAN.
The couple breathed a sigh of relief. “So they’re not actually killing animals,” said the man.
“You’re spittin’ hairs,” said Luke. “They’re payin’ for ’em to be killed and makin’ money out of it.”
The man shook his head. “You’re making it sound like they’re killing kittens. You could get into a lot of trouble spreading lies like that.”
“It’s not lies! If you paid someone to kill your wife, wun’t that be murder, even if you dint do it yourself?”
“Why would you say such horrible things about Maybury Centre? They do so much good,” the wife joined in. “We got our Maxie from them. She was starving when they found her and they nursed her back to health.”
“I’m not sayin’ they don’t do good things,” Luke clarified, “we’re just askin’ ’em to be that good to all animals. Why don’t piglets matter? Or cows?”
The wife tutted and ducked into the shop while her husband continued to set Luke straight. “Slaughtering animals for food is not murder, it’s necessity. Think of all the wild animals that kill to eat. It’s just nature.”
“It’s nature for foxes, and cats, and lions and tigers and crocodiles, but it’s not nature for us. We’re not s’posed to eat animals, we’re s’posed to eat vegetables.”
The man laughed. “What gives you that idea? Humans are omnivores – that means they eat plants and animals,” he said with condescension.
“But we’re not meant to,” insisted Luke, “if we were we’d have sharp teeth an’ claws to kill with and we’d eat ’em raw.”
At that moment the man’s wife emerged from the shop, frowned at Luke and escorted her husband away. Luke kicked the pavement in frustration. Thankfully Isabel had been more successful with a few people leaving the shop and Tania looked like she was making headway with a passing group of foreign students. Luke composed himself and tried a gentler approach.
“Will you sign a petition to save the animals?” he asked a lady holding a little girl’s hand and pushing a pram.
“I will,” said the little girl, “I love animals!”
“I think he meant me sweetheart,” the lady laughed.
“No,” Luke smiled, “I meant everybody.” He took the clipboard from Joe, held it low enough for the little girl to reach, and gave her the pen. She signed her name in large undisciplined letters and Luke thanked her sincerely.
“Now you Mummy,” she said to the lady.
“What is it for?” asked her mother.
“It’s for the animals!” the daughter replied, hands on hips, “weren’t you listening?”
When her baby started to cry the woman was eager to get moving again so she signed the petition without reading it, took her daughter’s hand and went on her way. Luke, with spirits lifted, was about to approach another pedestrian when a tall woman, wearing a badge that labelled her the manager, came out of the shop and stood in front of them.
“Please don’t stand here,” she said to the Society, “you’re upsetting our customers.”
“I’m sorry,” said Tania, “we don’t mean to upset anyone, we just thought that people who supported the RSPCA would be interested in this. It’s a petition to make Maybury Centre go vegan.”
“I know what it is,” replied the tall woman, “and we don’t support it. Maybury Centre has done a lot of good work in this community and it’s horrible of you to tarnish their reputation. If you really cared about animals you wouldn’t be attacking an animal rescue charity.”
“We’re not attacking anybody,” said Isabel, “we’re simply asking them to stop having animals killed for their cafe.”
“It’s the way you’re saying it! You could just write ‘please stop selling meat’ or ‘please make the cafe vegan’ without using these shock tactics.”
“People think meat is normal,” said Joe quietly, “they don’t react to it because they think it’s a normal, everyday thing that everybody eats and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Yes,” Isabel finished his thought, “they don’t think of the animals who were killed to make the meat ….”
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” the tall woman interrupted, shaking her head. “Move along now please or I’ll be calling the police.”
The Society did as they were told and walked, grumbling, up the street. Tania was the first to express what they were all thinking.
“It’s like they’re blind! How can they spend their whole lives working to protect animals without seeing that their diet kills millions?”
“They’re in the Matrix,” said Joe.
“Mm,” said Luke, “what?”
“The world that has been pulled over their eyes to blind them from the truth,” Joe quoted. The silence that followed indicated his friends needed more. “This is your last chance, after this there is no turning back,” he continued to recite lines from the film. “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Tania grinned. “I love that film.”
“I haven’t seen it,” said Isabel.
“You haven’t seen it?” Tania was incredulous, “you’ve got to see it – it’s brilliant!”
“Whaddaya mean ezzactly?” asked Luke, still trying to make sense of Joe’s analogy.
“We’ve chosen to take the red pill,” Joe explained, “so we know the truth – that animals suffer in farms and slaughterhouses, and that it’s not natural for us to eat them. The people who agree to sign the petition are also choosing the red pill – they’re listening, they want to know the truth. But the people who refuse to sign are choosing the blue pill because they want to stay in the Matrix – a world where the news, the adverts, and the schools tell them what’s good and what’s bad, so they don’t have to think for themselves.”
Everyone nodded, slowly and thoughtfully, each understanding that whoever wrote that film was a genius. At the end of the street they turned a corner and approached a stall in front of Spittles department store.
Behind the stall stood a man in a suit and a woman with short, spikey, pink hair that was purple at the ends. She had hundreds of earrings in her right ear but only one in her left. She wore pale blue lipstick and black nail varnish. The stall was covered in leaflets about animal cruelty.
“Do you have any petitions that need signin’?” asked Luke.
“Are you over eighteen?” said the man in an attempt at humour.
“Well, thank you but you have to be eighteen to sign these petitions.”
“You don’t have to be eighteen to sign ours,” said Tania.
“Nor these,” said the woman.
“Yes they do,” argued her comrade, “petitioners have to be old enough to vote.”
“That’s the people who start the petition, not the people who sign it. To sign it in America you only have to be thirteen.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so.” She turned to the Society, “Are you all over thirteen?” They shook their heads. She smiled, “well, that doesn’t matter because this is not America. In Australia the rule is you only have to be old enough to understand the petition.”
“This is not Australia either,” admitted Isabel.
“How old do you have to be in England?” asked Tania.
The man and woman looked at each other and shrugged. “Not sure,” said the man.
“Oh let them sign!” said the woman cheerfully, “we need all the signatures we can get!”
One by one the Society members signed four different petitions. One was to end live transport; another was to end vivisection; the third asked for an end to animal farming subsidies and the last was a petition to Spittles department store, asking them to stop selling factory farmed duck.
Isabel was the first to finish signing. “Will you sign ours now?” she asked.
The woman eagerly took the offered clipboard and read the petition. “Oh yes, absolutely!” she said and quickly added her name and email address before passing it to the man.
He read it and nodded his agreement. “Good luck with this,” he said as he signed, “sadly there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in the animal welfare universe.”
“What’s that?” asked Tania.
“It’s the mental discomfort or psychological stress a person feels when they try to live with conflicting ideas or beliefs,” the man explained. “Like if someone smokes even though they know smoking is unhealthy. There is a conflict between wanting to do it and feeling bad about doing it, so they try not to think about it being bad for them.”
Tania and Isabel nodded slowly.
The man went on. “The conflict makes them mentally stressed, so they have to either change the behaviour – stop smoking – or change their belief that smoking is bad for them.”
“Ahh,” said the girls in unison, nodding more vigorously.
“In the case of animal welfarists eating meat and dairy – they need to believe that it’s not cruel, that they’re not bad people for doing it, because they want to keep doing it,” he said, putting it into context.
“Like the smoker who wants to keep smoking,” said Tania.
“Exactly,” said the man, smiling, “and they won’t thank you for forcing them to face the truth.”
By this time Luke had finished reading and signing all the petitions and the woman noticed his name.
“Luke Walker?” she asked, standing back to look at him, “good grief, I almost didn’t recognise you! You’ve grown!”
Luke was embarrassed. He looked at the woman more closely. She did look a bit familiar but he knew for a fact he’d never met anyone with pink and purple hair.
“Kris,” she said, “don’t you remember me?”
“Oh,” said Luke, still a little unsure, “did you used to have long black hair?” he asked.
“That’s right,” she smiled, “it’s so good to see you again. What have you been up to?”
“What’s this?” asked the man, “do you two know each other?”
“Oh yeah, me and Luke go way back,” she said and went on to explain how she’d been arrested for something Luke had done and he’d saved her from the cops. Joe had heard the story many times but had assumed it was wildly exaggerated.
“You really did that?” he asked, grinning.
“You know I did. I told you,” said Luke, stunned that Joe had forgotten something he’d been told about more than once.
“Is this your secret society then?” asked Kris.
“How d’you know about that?” asked Tania, wondering just how secret it could be if a woman she’d never met or heard of knew about it.
“I believe I’m an honorary member aren’t I Luke?”
“er, yeah,” said Luke, embarrassed again. The Society was democratic, no new members were allowed without everyone’s agreement, so this revelation put him in an awkward position. “I, er, met Kris before you were in it and she’s an outlaw like us so I said she could be in it, but I never saw her again so I din’t think it was worth mentionin’,” he explained to the girls. “She can be trusted,” he added.
With that settled everyone turned and looked at the man in the suit.
“He can be trusted too,” Kris laughed.
Satisfied that they were all playing for the same team, Tania asked if they could share the stall to get more signatures for their petition. The man said they could and relocated a couple of piles of leaflets to make room for the Society’s clipboard.
“Will you tell Spittles to stop selling factory farmed duck?” Kris appealed to a smart-looking woman in high heels approaching the store.
“No thank you, I’m alright,” she said, waving Kris away without looking at her and continuing through the revolving doors.
“I know you’re alright!” muttered Kris angrily, “it’s the ducks who aren’t alright. You selfish …”
“Kris,” the man stopped her, “you won’t get anywhere like that. You’ve got to smile and be charming.”
“I know, I know,” she agreed, “I’m no good at this.”
“You’ve got a short fuse.”
Luke picked up a roll of stickers from the table. “Can we have these?” he asked.
“What are you going to do with them?” asked the man.
“What are you doin’ with them?”
The man shrugged. “Nothing really. They came with the leaflets for the Spittle campaign. Thought we’d just give ’em to kids if they wanted them. Kids like stickers don’t they?”
“These are no good for kids,” said Luke, “they say ‘FACTORY FARMED DUCK’ on ’em. They’re meant to be put on stuff that’s factory farmed duck.”
“Weeell,” the man looked at them and pushed his chin up under his lips like he was considering.
“Aren’t they?” Luke didn’t have the patience for long contemplations, “what else could they be for?” The man didn’t answer so Luke asked again. “Can we have them?”
“Let him have them,” said Kris, “what harm can he do?”
Luke eagerly grabbed the stickers, “come on,” he urged the rest of the Society. Tania and Isabel were reluctant.
“We’re supposed to be getting signatures for this,” Tania said.
“We’ve only got another hour,” added Isabel, “we won’t reach today’s target unless we buckle down.”
“What’s today’s target?” asked Luke.
“Three hundred, so we need another twenty seven,” Isabel replied.
Luke made a command decision. “Okay, you two stay here and do that, me and Joe’ll do this,” and the two boys disappeared through the revolving doors.
The man raised his eyebrows at Kris “You were saying?”
She shrugged. “They’ll be fine,” she said.
Inside the busy department store Luke and Joe headed to the food hall at the back. It was like a supermarket only posh. High on the walls were colourful photographs of grazing animals alongside stylish pictures of meat and fish dishes with captions like “Committed to Animal Welfare” and “RSPCA Freedom Foods”.
Luke turned to Joe. “The leaflets said this shop is sellin’ ducks from factory farms so stick these on anythin’ with ducks in,” he said, handing Joe half the stickers. Then he reconsidered and took them back. “No, it’s busy so we’d better stick together. You pretend to be shoppin’ – get a basket – an’ I’ll put the stickers on.”
Joe fetched a basket and the two outlaws headed for the chilled section. They walked along the large glass-fronted cabinets and whenever they saw anything labelled ‘duck’ Joe reached up and pretended to be rummaging, picking things up, looking at them, putting them back, choosing something else. All the while Luke, screened from onlookers by his friend’s authentic movements, commenced putting stickers on plastic-wrapped trays of duck spring rolls, duck breasts with plum sauce, and duck legs with Hoisin sauce. Then they moved on to the freezer section and Luke stickered a pile of whole ducklings with giblets while Joe casually kept watch. After that they progressed to the tinned meat aisle but there was a man restocking the shelves. Luke whispered something to Joe who shook his head.
Luke frowned. “If you won’t do it, I’ll have to do it and you’ll have to do the stickers on your own!” he whispered.
Joe accepted the commission, preferring that to the alternative, so Luke approached the shelf-filler. “’Scuse me,” he said politely, “I’ve lost me mum, can you put an announcement out for her?”
“Sure,” said the man, helpfully, “come with me.”
As soon as Luke and the man were out of sight Joe, as fast as he could, began stickering stacks of tinned duck cassoulet, duck confit and duck liver pãtè. He had to keep pausing, trying to look casual, every time someone entered the aisle, but as soon as they left he resumed. Sometimes the stickers were frustratingly difficult to peel off their backing paper but he took deep breaths to calm himself and persevered. When he heard the announcement for Mrs Kathryn Janeway to meet her son at the customer service desk he knew his time was up. With only one sticker left, he made his escape before the shelf-filler returned. The two boys rendezvoused in the toy department and left the shop unhindered, but not before Luke affixed their last remaining sticker to a yellow toy duck.
“What’s your name?” asked Isabel.
“Andy,” said the suited man, “what’s yours?”
“Isabel. Why do you dress like that?”
“In a suit you mean?”
“To look respectable.”
“Like an estate agent?”
“Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was going for,” said Andy.
“Oh, sorry,” Isabel apologised. “Like a bank manager then? Or a teacher?”
Kris laughed again.
Andy sighed. “Not like anything in particular,” he said, “just a regular upstanding citizen as opposed to a scary, pierced, tattooed, hippy dippy punk, like someone I could mention.”
“Heyyy!” Kris was mock-offended.
“I think she looks nice,” said Isabel.
“Yeah, she’s cool,” Tania agreed.
“Thanks guys,” Kris smiled.
“Yes yes yes, she’s very cool,” said Andy, “but she looks like a weirdo. If we want to persuade ordinary, mainstream people to take us seriously they have to be able to relate to us. We have to look ordinary. Approachable, respectable, non-threatening.”
At that moment a policeman arrived.
“Afternoon folks, have you got a permit for this stall?”
“Don’t need one officer, we’re not collecting money,” Andy replied.
“How long have you been standing here?”
“Got here about twelve o’clock didn’t we?”
“Yeah,” said Kris.
“And you’ve been here the whole time? All of you?” Kris and Andy nodded. “What about you two?” he asked Tania and Isabel.
“We got here about quarter past one,” Isabel told him.
“And where were you before that?”
“The library,” said Tania, deciding that their brief time in front of the RSPCA shop wasn’t worth mentioning.
“No.” The girls felt their faces flush.
“Can anyone vouch for that?”
“Is there a problem officer?” Andy intervened.
“Spittles have found stickers on a lot of their duck products. They’ve had to take a couple of hundred pounds worth of stuff off the shelves.”
Everyone behind the stall tried to keep their faces expressionless.
“Any stickers here?” the policeman asked as he browsed the stall, “you’ve got leaflets about Spittle’s factory farm duck. Did you do it?”
“Certainly not,” said Andy truthfully, “we’re just here to provide information.” The policeman looked sceptical. “Look,” Andy gestured to all the literature on the stall, “no stickers.”
“Nevertheless,” the policeman continued after a moment’s pause, “Spittle’s would like you to move away from their store.”
“We have every right …” Kris began to object.
“Nevertheless,” the policeman repeated with emphasis, “I would like you to move your stall away from this store.”
“No problem officer,” Andy replied, “we can do that. No problem at all.”
Wearing a serious, ‘don’t mess with me’ expression, the policeman looked hard at Andy and Kris before nodding and turning away.
“This is exactly the kind of thing I was trying to avoid!” complained Andy. “Now they think we’re thugs.”
Kris shook her head. “I call that a win,” she said, “we weren’t going to get that duck off the shelves by just standing here handing out leaflets.”
“We’re playing a long game here Kris,” Andy argued, “we have to keep to the high moral ground. We can’t force the issue or it won’t stick. We’ve got to persuade people to do it for the right reasons, so they won’t renege later on.”
Kris shrugged as she continued piling leaflets into her battered shopper on wheels. The girls, who could see both sides of the argument, quietly exchanged glances before retrieving their clipboard. Andy folded the table and all four of them relocated outside the Arndale Centre.
“D’you think Luke and Joe will be able to find us?” Isabel asked Tania.
“I hope so,” said Tania, “if they don’t get here soon we’ll have to go. Our bus leaves in ten minutes.”
“Are you all going home together?” Kris asked.
“No, we don’t live in the same village,” said Isabel.
“Don’t worry then, if you’ve got to go, you go. I’ll explain it to them when they get here. If they get here.”
“Did you reach your target?”
“Nearly,” said Isabel, smiling, “Two hundred and ninety four.”
“Not a bad day’s work then,” said Kris.
The girls thanked her, said their goodbyes and made tracks for the bus station.
At the public toilets Luke was having trouble with the automated hand-washing machine. He’d been dispensed liquid soap, no problem, but after covering his hands with it he’d been unable to get any water. He moved his hands from left to right, trying to activate the sensor, but nothing happened.
“Don’t bother,” said Joe, wiping his hands on his trousers, “it doesn’t work.”
Luke was annoyed at the sticky mess. “We’d better get back to the others,” he said, grabbing a handful of toilet tissue.
“They’ll be gone by now,” said Joe, “their bus was at three.”
“Oh. Shall we go then?”
“Okay. Unless you wanna see the new Spiderman.”
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