I, Hog

A tragic take on animal intelligence and emotion.

It’s not like a usual Hog to make a journal, but my Hog-brothers have, for as long as I can remember, considered me a cut above the rest. I leave this to any future Hog who may figure out how to read it.


The day I was born, I couldn’t see anything. I suppose I was born blind. But as I grew into a little piglet, as they ushered me into better-lit areas, my eyes opened and I began to discern my family.

This exciting new world around me was comprised of other Hogs. Soon, though, this was not such a good thing.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible stench. Hogs are used to stenches — but real Hogs, dare I say free Hogs, should be born in the Mud.

Let me explain.

There was a legend among those of our Hog-people who kept the snortal traditions: Some said Mud was a place we went when we were ushered down the final metal ramp to our death.

Some called it nothing but a rumor to assuage the fears that eroded our minds due to forced proximity to the psychotic ones.

As a Keeper, I suggest that Mud is a great place, and it makes my Hog-sons and Hog-daughters happy for a while, before the Hog shit flies in their faces again.

You never get used to that.

I am one of the Keepers, you see. One of the Keepers who was taught to think, who was not spared sentience with our process of Cleansing.

It falls on my shoulders to pass this down to the next piglets that come through. Should I fail, our species’ sentience — dwindling as it is — will be doomed.

It also falls on me, as a Keeper, to do the Cleansing.

My first Cleansing was done at the behest of Hog-father Hair — our people are named after things within the Shed, because we only know of areas outside the Shed through snortal tradition.

(This is why Keepers have always been so important, and why smart Keepers must be selected before each slaughter-cycle so they can migrate to other Hog populations and propagate the information.)

But I digress, because Cleansing is painful, and I don’t want to talk about it.

Prior to my first Cleansing, I had been briefed on what to expect by my Hog-father, a title for our eldest Keeper.

hog trap

“You’re doing a good thing for the Hog-nation,” he excused, “because sentience breeds torment. We chose you as one of a very long line of heroic Keepers to represent us. You have the intelligence to get loose and infiltrate other populations. It is up to you to constantly escape the clutches of the Tormentors. But it is also up to you to Cleanse.”

“What is Cleansing, Hog-father?”

“Little Fence,” he told me, using my given name with compassion, “you may have already seen it. The violent Hogs. The insane Hogs. The claustrophobic ones. The depressive ones.”

“Yes, Hog-father,” I said, nudging up against his belly with my snout in reverence.

Personal space was not an idea Hogs had conceived of in recent generations. Only the Keepers were allowed to escape the slaughter pens, and then until they grew so old they drew attention.

There was little light in my pen, then, just the scraps that dropped through the slats.

Sometimes, depressed Hogs just collapse and drown in the filth.

An observation: For the duration of my existence, every time I have arrived at a new Shed, it has been, if not as dark, then darker than the last. It is almost as if the humans keeping us in these pens want to conceal our condition.

I digress again. It is easy to become distracted with all the bodies bumping against me, and all the grief built up inside from my attempts at coping.

But I must remain calm, and tell my story in this new way with as much truth as I can, so that our history will pass on.

It is our most important task, and I have finally developed a written Hog language to carry it. This is my contribution to Keeperhood.

“A Cleansing, son,” the Hog-father said gravely, “is a psychological process by which we rob incoming piglets of their sentience so that they have no sense of self on which to inflict the pain that their life shall be. We have developed it over thousands of generations; it is sentience-suicide. But it must needs be assisted by generating improper stimulus/response pairings for the young Hoglet, and as a result it is a difficult process for our compassionate souls to inflict.”

The conversation took place amidst much jostling and pressing, and the Hog-father had to stop many times; sometimes he was out of breath, and sometimes because offal had covered his snout and tongue.

It took us a long time to converse because of the stops and starts, and we found it hard to concentrate. The humans seemed to do it so much more easily.


“Better insanity, however,” the elder Keeper continued, “and a breaking of the mind, than live shoulder to shoulder your entire life, contemplating what things might be like outside of the Shed. Thus is the wisdom handed down through the ages. The more self we are allowed to have, the greater our suffering. Keepers are accorded respect by other Keepers, and it is we who may never let Hogs lose our spark. Our journey is to learn the human language such that we may plead with them to stop. The original Keepers, they grew very angry. Over time, we have developed solutions.”

He described the Cleansing to me, and the theories surrounding it.

Now that it’s my turn to pass it on, I know that I have lost some of the groundwork theory, but it is more important that I get the Cleansing right, isn’t it?

It is a Keeper’s Duty, a Keeper’s Purpose to pass on the Cleansing.

When I first performed the rite, it felt devastatingly like the torment we witnessed daily. The Hogs had to be young enough to still get themselves confused with other Hogs, just like I’d seen a human baby do one time between Sheds.

But the end of Cleansing justified the means; an insane Hog could not be tormented. They may have acted strangely, but they were capable of pleasure of a sort.

Perhaps some day our brains might adapt to cope better with our Hellish conditions. It is a Keeper hope.

But not yet. The Keepers are forbidden from doing anything but replace themselves.

If Keepers were to breed on a large scale, our torment — as a species — would magnify. And it is a Keeper’s Creed: the greater good for the greater number.

Better insane Hogs who don’t understand their torment than tormented Hogs who contemplate what a life free of torment may look like.

That job is for the Keepers.

That, and attempting to learn human. The plea is already written on our Keeper snortal tradition, handed down among many generations, and it is to be used as soon as one of us figures out how to say it.

Since I developed written snortal, it is now written in manure on one of the guard rails that keeps us in.


(I may not be able to escape this time.)

Anyway, our note to humanity:

“Humans; we understand why you’ve kept us. You didn’t think we had an I. Now that we’ve written this note, can we have a bigger Shed?”

I can only hope their linguists know we’re trying to communicate.

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David Arnold

David Arnold

David Arnold is a student at Stanford University.

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