Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: Setting the Table, Part 2

This is the third post devoted to the content of my new book. In the first post, I quoted from novelist Dean Koontz's preface, and about six weeks ago, I excerpted the opening section of the Introduction. Today, we conclude our look at the Introduction, in which I wrote:
Perhaps we should not be surprised at the growth of the animal rights movement. Americans love animals. We coo over and coddle our cats and dogs as if they were human children. We paste “Save the Whales” bumper stickers on our cars. We flock to national parks to catch fleeting glimpses of bear, elk, and antelope, remnants of the wild America that once was and yet, still is. We fictionalize and anthropomorphize the animal world with movies like Bambi and Babe. We want our cheese to come from “happy cows.” At the same time, as primarily urbanites, we disassociate ourselves emotionally from the fact that meat comes from killing animals and that our stylish leather jackets were first worn by cows or sheep as their skin.

This love affair with animals can often be charming, if a bit loopy. It is also a potent indicator of our prosperity and cultural success. Most in the West have become so removed from the struggle for daily survival that we now have the luxury of caring deeply about animals and their suffering—which is a good thing. Moreover, our care for animals reflects our empathy, one of the great human virtues.
I then discuss an incident that I think illustrates how we project our own emotional attributes onto animals:
Our deep affinity with animals begins very early in life. I was reminded of this a few years ago whilst on a family vacation to Ireland. In the west coastal town of Dingle there is a unique tourist attraction: “Fungi” the lone dolphin. Tourist boats advertise trips into the harbor to see Fungi, with no fee charged unless he makes an appearance. Liking dolphins and wanting to see one up close, my wife Debra, niece Jennifer, and I eagerly bought tickets, and along with about 20 other tourists, were soon on a boat slowly cruising toward the mouth of Dingle’s small picturesque harbor.

As if on cue, Fungi arrived, swimming almost within reach on the starboard side. We all pressed eagerly up against the railing to get a good look. I was standing behind a very excited little boy—who couldn’t have been older than four—ecstatic at being so close to the magnificent animal. Suddenly, he sighed in ecstasy, held his arms out as wide as he could, and with all of the love in his innocent heart, crooned, “Ah, Fungi!”

It was a touching moment. Fungi was utterly indifferent to the child, no doubt swimming alongside the boat knowing he would be fed by a deck hand as his usual cut of the day’s profits for making an “appearance.” But to the little boy, Fungi epitomized the joy and hope of life itself.
I segue from there to Debra, during the same vacation, reading an awful passage to us from a biography of the French novelist Alexandre Dumas, in which he killed a dolphin--simply because he never had:
“Why did you read us that?” Jennifer and I moaned in unison, our splendid moods of the moment ruined at the thought of such gratuitous cruelty against an innocent animal. The fact that the incident had occurred more than one hundred years previously did nothing to diminish our upset.

And yet: Killing animals has always been and remains inextricably bound with human thriving. We do so for food and leather, in medical research, in sport, and when necessary, to ensure a proper environmental balance. More to the point, there is a lot at stake in this debate. Indeed, pause a moment and consider the impact if we were prevented—as animal rights/liberationists advocate—from domesticating animals. Medical research would be materially impeded. There would be no more fishing fleets, cattle ranches, leather shoes, steak barbecues, animal parks, bomb-sniffing and Seeing-Eye dogs, wool coats, fish farms, horseback riding, pet stores, Indeed, in the end, perhaps not even attractions like Fungi. Millions would be thrown out of work, our enjoyment of life would be profoundly diminished, our welfare and prosperity materially reduced.
From there, I lay out the structure of the book, and then bring the Introduction to a close:
The stakes in the animal rights are larger than the sum of its parts. It is my hope that after reading this book, readers will agree that it is a distinctly human and noble calling to continually implement ever-improving methods for raising and caring for animals. But this must not and cannot include granting rights to animals as if they were people. Indeed, I hope this book will convincingly demonstrate that the very concept of animal rights should be rejected because by seeking to destroy the principle of human exceptionalism the movement subverts human rights as it undermines our ability to promote human health, prosperity, and well-being.
In coming weeks, I will be doing some well known nationally syndicated radio programs about all this, both in a debate format and as a sole guest. Once the final details are set, I will let y'all know in case you want to tune in.

1 comment:

  1. During the debate over human slavery, proponents argued that businesses dependent on that unpaid labor would die. When slavery ended, people who made their living on the backs of slaves found another way to make money. The same thing will happen when we no longer exploit animals for profit.