I may have been early on the current bandwagon for “animal rights.” I went full-bore vegetarian back in about 1987, and have remained so ever since. But even I think things are now out of hand. My local town council back in Kamloops had actually banned circuses, because they supposedly abuse animals by making them perform for money. I expect apple pies and motherhood to be next.
No, wait, motherhood is already under general censure. But never mind.
I recall a gag on the original “Saturday Night Live” in which Gilda Radner, playing a dotty old woman, misheard a call for “equal rights” as “eagle rights,” and was irate at the absurd suggestion. As if anyone could seriously call for rights for eagles.
The skit would not be funny any more. We have gone beyond the point even of equal rights for animals. It is now abusive to make them perform for money. But you are watching me, a human, perform for money now. Where’s the outrage?
It sounds mad, I know, but we now seem to judge a person’s moral worth by his concern for animals, not people. That is what the current drive for “wilderness areas” and the new Species At Risk Act (SARA) are all about: animal use of land takes precedence over human use for it. And we now believe, almost literally, that any boy who kills a cat is tantamount to a serial killer.
Let me make myself clear here: I do not advocate killing cats. I do not dare; I know the wrath that would descend on me if I did advocate such a thing. But there is a question of balance, of perspective here. If we are going to accord all animals an inherent right to life, are going to view them as we must view fellow humans; that is, in Kant’s phrase, always as an end, not a means; the consequences are going to be troublesome. We are all going to have to be strict vegetarians, for a start. We are going to have to stop farming, mining, even building roads and houses; it disturbs animal habitat. We are going to have to learn to tolerate cockroaches and mosquitoes earning their daily bread. We are going…
…to the dogs. Or to the birds; this is Cloud-Cuckoo Land.
I do not advocate the killing of cats. But I cannot see it as equal in wickedness to the killing of people. And it worries me the harm done to humans by this notion, not least to normal, healthy young boys experimenting with cruelty. For boys have done such things in all times: fished with live frogs, cut up snails, tied tin cans to puppy dogs’ tails. “The Annotated Mother Goose” reveals that one traditional counting rhyme was originally for pulling the legs off a Daddy Long Legs. And yes, your present correspondent, has done this himself, has also burned ants with magnifying glasses, beheaded live perch, once shot a bird with my new bb gun. There you are—I’ve been a serial killer all along.
Kids will do this, and, most times, get over it. One cousin of mine used to like to blow up frogs in the local marsh with blockbusters. He is now a family man and a professional chef.
But today, caught doing it, a boy will be treated from then on as an incipient serial killer. It horrifies me to think what this will do to his life.
And in the end, there is no evidence that kindness to animals and kindness to humans is linked. In fact, the evidence to the contrary is striking. Mike Tyson kept pigeons as a child. Hitler was a strict vegetarian whose affection for his dog Blondi was legendary. Caligula, bloodiest of Roman Emperors, loved his horse enough to make him proconsul. Nicolae Ceausescu, communist tyrant of Romania, had his dog Corbu driven through the streets in its own limousine. It slept in its own villa. It held the rank of colonel in the Romanian Army. And, when Corbu was scratched by a cat in a visit to a hospital, Ceausescu ordered the hospital demolished.
In other words, excessive love for animals is a symptom of a general inversion of values which easily extends to cruelty towards other humans. Such inversion of values is the essence of all evil, in Judeo-Christian theology: because the world was created by a good and all-powerful God, everything in creation is good. Evil, therefore, consists of choosing a lesser over a greater good: of preferring a lesser to a greater creature.
So sentimentality, as the great psychologist Carl Jung has observed, is often a façade masking brutality. So we are elevating animals to superhuman status at the same moment we are massacring unborn humans in their millions. The one perhaps enables and helps to justify the other: indeed, Peter Sanger, the great apostle of animal rights, also advocates abortion.
Animals are easy to love: they are so naturally dependent. One can love them without diminishing oneself, at no emotional risk. They are incapable of challenging one’s sense of superiority. One can love them, in sum, as a possession. One can own them. Love for and kindness to animals, therefore, may no more signify true charity than loving care lavished on one’s car, or one’s cottage, or one’s plate of roast beef.
So let’s keep things in perspective, and keep love for our fellow man first. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out: “one can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.”
There’s only the one way to skin that cat.