Rights vs. Common Sense by
2 September 2003
rights groups are taking a generally decent concern and turning
it into a joke. Many animal rights groups seem less concerned
about preserving our environment and wildlife than they are
in converting every person into an animal rights activist. There
is, in each of their well-meaning souls, an "inner-Disney" at
book, the Quest for God, Paul Johnson, the conservative historian,
argues that one of the great moral debates facing human beings
in the next millennium will be our treatment of animals.
me, to be honest, that Johnson, known for his tough analysis
of liberal and politically correct dogma, came down so soft
on the issue of animal rights. You just don't find many conservatives
willingly identifying with animal rights concerns. (NR's Matthew
Scully and James Buckley being a few of the exceptions). It
is Rush Limbaugh, after all, who takes so much pleasure spoofing
animal rights activists -- one of his funnier concoctions was
a video tape of a fish bowl. Put in the tape, simulate the experience
and save those gold fish!
Williams, another admired conservative, recently told a radio
audience that he simply did not care about deer that came on
his property. He would just as soon shoot a deer as save it.
Though James Buckley is from the royal house of conservatism,
and admonished his conservative friends for taking lightly environmental
concerns, should you raise the issue of animal rights or the
environment in some quarters you are immediately put into the
category of "squish," a nice way of saying your conservative
credentials are suspect.
concede that animal rights is a difficult issue for those of
us prone to sympathize with the creatures who are routinely
slaughtered, abused or destroyed in the name of food, profit
and development. Most of us eat meat and fish, have engaged
in outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing at one time
or another, and benefit from the economic and business activities
for which nature often pays a dear price. And like so many other
issues -- from law enforcement to racial concerns -- the common
sense middle ground gets lost on the edges of the ridiculous
Still, if conservatives can be accused fairly of being a little
deaf to reasonable concerns for animals, it is just as true
that animal rights groups are taking a generally decent concern
and turning it into a joke. Let me just cite a few examples,
without throwing stones at particular groups.
National animal rights groups rallying thousands of people to
oppose a coon hunt that is really a training exercise for dogs
-- no racoons are hurt, but the charity benefiting from the
event (doesn't sponsor it) has been demonized.
· One group has a campaign that -- I am not joking --
enlists convicted felons to write about what it feels like being
caged. (How about victims writing about what it is like to run
into a freed felon at the wrong time?)
· A scientist in England literally fears for his life
because he engages in the lawful use of mice and rats for his
research. He was targeted by an animal rights group in England
and does his work now under armed guard, behind high security
is a step forward in our moral evolution?
animal rights groups seem less concerned about preserving our
environment and wildlife than they are in converting every person
into an animal rights activist. There is, in each of their well-meaning
souls, an "inner-Disney" at work, if I might borrow
a phrase I once heard a scriptwriter in Hollywood use. They
anthropomorphize animals -- as if a raccoon that lives in the
wild was minding its own business having a café latte
when these coon dogs came along and chased him up a tree. In
the process, they ignore the larger context in which animals
live and survive.
I am no fan of hunting, especially when it is done for sport
rather than for food. There is also no question that in American
history abuse of nature and wildlife became the norm. I need
not recount the list of slaughters -- buffalo, carrier pigeons,
wolves, bears -- in which men measured their virility in part
by the number of wild animals they could kill. That is an unfortunate
legacy we are still trying to reverse. But I am not prepared
to label all hunters or fishermen extremists. Many of them have
a deeper understanding of nature and the wild than their critics,
and many I have met are deeply concerned about protecting the
wild in order to preserve a way of life they love.
between the extremes there is a vast ocean in which most of
us swim. Some animal rights proponents consider any use of animals
abuse. On the other side, harsh opponents of animal rights sound
like one hunter who told me on the phone: "I'd run over
a hundred coons with lawnmower to save someone with cancer."
Thanks, but no thanks.
Franz Kafka, master of the bizarre scenario, posed this one:
can an otherwise perfectly just society be just if that justice
depends upon the suffering of one creature? Kafka's question
stimulates others we might consider. How many animal lives is
a human life worth? To what uses can we justly put animals?
How does an enlightened society deal with animals? Are there
not ways for us to deal with issues such as pet stores, zoos
and the meat, fish and poultry industries so as to be more decent
to the creatures from which we derive so much benefit?
lover of God and nature, I cannot take these issues lightly,
much as I enjoy sitting down to a nice steak once in a while.
If as a spiritual people we believe the holy scriptures of Jews,
Christians and Muslims, then we must also believe that God made
the heavens and the earth. Are not the creations of God sacred?
Is not an animal that took millions of years to evolve according
to the timetable of God worthy of consideration and concern?
Can we not somehow find a balance between the view that any
use of animals is immoral and the equally extreme view that
any concern for animal life is absurd?
cite a story by Garrison Keillor. As a young boy, he observed
a pig slaughter, the story goes. The people who killed the pigs
were very serious about their work and went about it with respect,
almost reference, for the animals that they would kill. That
surprised him and when he started to taunt the pigs by throwing
pebbles at them, his grandfather grabbed him by the arm and
promised a whipping if he did it again.
story is a powerful parable -- that suffering is a part of life
and all of us, right on down the food chain, face an end that
is difficult and often frightening. The animals that give us
nourishment, joy and entertainment of the grandest kind at the
very least deserve to be handled with concern and care, out
of respect for God's creation and in recognition of our own
rights folks on the extreme will scoff -- how can you honor
nature and animals and then kill them? I would argue that if
animals are honorable, then there is nothing inconsistent about
using animals in a way that minimizes suffering. Animals kill
routinely, not from a malicious desire to inflict pain (usually)
but out of instinct, survival and even play. Human beings likewise
evolved as creatures that needed animals for clothing and food.
We still do. Yes, vegetarianism is an option, but it is not
an easy option given our histories, traditions and needs. It
would require research, study, and carefully planned diets --
and not all of us have the time, resources or inclination to
go this far.
all heartless people who hate animals? Not hardly. Perhaps we
understand something deeper than my animal rights friends can
grasp -- life is fleeting for us all, and use of animals for
food, entertainment or recreation is part of the joy of living
in this imperfect world. If animals themselves instinctively
respond this way, why are humans expected to detach themselves
completely from the very "nature" that animal rights
groups claim to cherish?
politically correct for animal rights advocates and conservation
groups to talk about the deep wisdom of Native Americans --
but even a movie like Dances with Wolves, a romantic view, does
not hide the fact that they used buffalo for a variety of purposes,
including food. It was not use of animals that caused them moral
outrage, but the abuse of them -- waste, pointless slaughter,
needless cruelty. These are fair concerns from any cultural
standpoint and defining the acceptable uses of animals is a
even the most extreme animal rights folks, when pushed to the
logical conclusion of their world view, would have to concede
their own hypocrisy. The other day, while cleaning out my back
yard, I cut limbs, raked leaves and generally civilized it.
I suspect, in doing so, I stepped on a few hundred ants, swatted
a few mosquitoes, and perhaps robbed a few worms and snails
of their homes. Where does this abuse of life fall on the animal
rights advocate’s moral barometer? Well, insects are different
I hear them say. So there is a hierarchy, I might respond. Where
does the hierarchy begin and end and who decides?
raccoon chased up a tree justifies severing ties to well-meaning
people who love dogs and who enjoy the outdoors, what driving
an automobile that harms our eco-system and results in the countless
slaughter of animals on our highways. Have animal rights advocates
given up their cars, or their homes, which were built in the
middle of wilderness at one time or another, or their leather
shoes, or other products derived from animals? These are necessities,
some argue, and our response is: necessary to whom?
clear rather quickly that value judgments have to be made, and
that each of us carries our own system of values into this emotional
discussion. That is a start of a dialogue, but certainly not
a conclusion of the debate.
suggest that there are greater environmental issues facing us
as inhabitants of this planet than the agenda put forward by
many in the animal rights camp: over-population, endangered
species, oceans being depleted and polluted, proper management
of resources; real abuses of animals, of the kind that probably
occur in our mass production meat industry and in the mass transportation
of exotic animals for pet stores and zoos, a terrible waste
of nature that makes Rush's television idea actually less comical
than it seems. But many of these groups seem more intent on
getting a headline than getting something valuable done.
means fight for more ethical treatment of animals. Raise the
consciousness of people about the world in which we live. But
while you are at it, acknowledge that the world in which we
live is fallen and imperfect by design -- the cycles of life
and death are as natural as the air we breathe. Waste is by-product
of biological life, and production of any kind entails costs.
Nature is a tough taskmaster and if we claim to love nature,
then we must also reconcile ourselves to its ways.
gave fish to the masses to eat, Abraham sacrificed a lamb as
a tribute to God, and millions of people sit down to dinner
truly thankful for the gifts we receive. The respectful use
of animals for food, clothing (as a byproduct of food products,
I would hope) or entertainment is hardly criminal. We should
cherish and revere the gifts that God and nature have given
us, and we should do what we can to protect and respect this
wondrous planet. That is a sacred obligation – but vegetarianism
George Shadroui is a Memphis based writer who has been published
in more than two dozens newspapers and magazines, including
National Review and Frontpagemag.com.