Thursday, February 08, 2007

A dog's life

I once saw dog skins displayed for sale in a Xian market; a sad sight as much for my suspicions of the mistreatment of the animals as for the actual sight of their hides hanging in the smoggy wind. I've been infuriated at video of crated dogs being thrown violently onto oriental concrete floors from the back of trucks, man's best friends whimpering at the pain. I love dogs as much and maybe more than anyone, but because I'm a human and a bit of a hypocrite, I don't suffer as much when people hunt raccoons or weasels for their skins or bludgeon cattle for their hides.

There seems to be a distinction, although a hypocritical one perhaps, between raccoon fur and the fur of the Asiatic Raccoon dog, although both are quite intelligent and both share the "cuteness" factor which after all is the most important indicator of how we decide whether an animal is a friend or food. When the Humane Society finds that some fur being sold under designer labels as raccoon or rabbit is actually dog, we are offended. Some of what is labeled as fake fur, they say, turns out to be raccoon dog as well and there is a push to put the raccoon dog on a list of forbidden fur. I have no idea if that animal is endangered. I have no idea whether this is an animal you would want or could have as a pet. I have no idea whether it is more attractive or cuddly than a raccoon, but dog is the magic word that puts it in a different category from something you might set a trap for or would call an exterminator in a panic if you found one in your attic. Our hierarchy of sympathy for animals is not objective.

Don't get me wrong, I have strong feelings about humane treatment of animals. It's human to be humane after all and although animals have little inhibition about ripping other animals to pieces and eating them, there is hypocrisy in everything human. I know that pigs are intelligent animals, but I do like the bacon and bratwurst that comes from killing them. I feel terrible eating lamb and I won't eat rabbit unless I'm in danger of starvation ( which I'm not) because they're cute. I try not to eat mammals at all, in fact, and I have gone so far as to chase a wayward mouse, several lizards and any number of insects out the door rather than to kill them, but I draw my ethical lines in a different place than PETA or those who refuse all animal products for either moral or other reasons known only to Californians.

As I said, all that is human is hypocritical and those eating their organic vegetables fertilized by fish and bone meal, or manure from cattle fed on ground up parts of other cattle also have to explain why bugs and vermin and parasites are not worthy of their compassion, why the wildlife and habitat destroyed by their developments and their agriculture and their waste products doesn't outweigh their sentimental sympathy for raccoon dogs and why that leather upholstery in your BMW is more morally supportable than a hamburger. There really is no way to live the doctrine of Ahimsa, no way to survive without participating in the destruction of life and much of that life, from tapeworm to tiger, would be quite happy to consume you, given the chance. The lion that lays down with the lamb would die, as would the lambs in time, and miserably too, if there were nothing to keep their numbers down. Utopia would be a dead world.

That middle class American fantasy of a wind-powered, pollution free pure land : an escapist fantasy paradise full of organically grown, low energy, cruelty free, natural fiber where everything is artisanal or Tuscan or organic, or at least has a pretentious Euro-style name. Where everyone is very thin and very well dressed and very middle class and perpetually healthy and totally in tune with the latest wisdom about crystals and nutrition and fung sui and the pandas and baby seals and raccoon dogs frolic care free in the sun, is just that -- an escapist delusion; a tiny, temporary thing that could only exist as a bubble supported by the suffering and exploitation of others.

In the world of the immediate future; in a world of tens of billions struggling to eat, despoiling the land and sea and air in the process, there may no longer be any way to eliminate factory farms or animal suffering or to implement organic farming on anything but a tiny scale. Does it matter if we decrease our individual energy use by 20% while the population doubles? There may be no way to save most of the animals, there may be no way to save us or even to approach that fantasy of the simple, pure, pre-industrial but high tech, tastefully dressed in organic cotton life of sipping $6 organic soy milk Tuscan Lattes with artesanal Madagascar cinnamon sticks hand picked by joyful virgins in a tropical paradise. Life pushes the limits and the limit of our life is squalor, privation, disease and suffering as our numbers inevitably continue to grow.


Intellectual Insurgent said...

I draw my ethical lines in a different place than PETA or those who refuse all animal products for either moral or other reasons known only to Californians.

Ok, that's just funny. I have recently met a number of vegans here and I still don't understand the extremist position of no dairy. Come on, not even milk.

d.K. said...

It has to do with the fact that, unlike the happy cows in California in the fields of clover, the cows spend most of their day with their head clamped tightly between metal stanchions, unable to move other than to eat and like salt, thereby drinking more water to produce more milk. They view this treatment as unethical, and having grown up on dairy farms, and still being repulsed when I see it, I can totally understand the why dairy is part of their credo. By the way, I eat meat, dairy products, chicken, etc., so while my heart is in the right place, my willpower and discipline don't hold up to the test.

Capt. Fogg said...

I'm revolted by mistreatment of animals too - I won't eat veal that's raised in a crate and factory farms are an abomination, but I have a feeling that much of the movement has to do with feeling good, not doing good.

Florida for what it's worth has a constitutional amendment forbidding farmers to put sows in "gestation crates" to prevent their piglets from harm. You can get 5 years in the slam for doing that, and it was pushed through by PETA even though there were only two farms in the state using crates.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk is on record saying that if animal experimentation produced a cure for AIDS, they would still oppose it. I think that's over the top - to put it mildly. These are the people who have told us that fish are caring, feeling, intelligent and self aware creatures.

Save an animal - eat a PETA member!

d.K. said...

I agree with you on PETA. I've seen some of their absurd statements, like the one you site regarding AIDS, and seen them throwing red paint on women wearing fur coats - just idiotic. I was simply referring to the commenter, not understanding why Vegans include milk along with meat in their habits.

And, a lot of them aren't and don't claim to be activists. They're making personal choices that yes, make them feel better about themselves, but don't affect any meaningful change in the larger scheme of things, and I think they'd admit that. Then, there is that lunatic fringe element that does believe that they are doing good, when really they are just feeling good, and will not admit to that.

BTW, the WaPo has an essay today by a former American interrogator in Iraq, who's now haunted in his dreams by his actions in 2004 in terms of the way he treated human beings. So, it's interesting to see that some of us don't limit cruel and unnecessary mistreatment to animals of the four-legged variety. How sad.

Intellectual Insurgent said...

So true DK. It's hard to expect humans to be fair to animals when they are so brutal with each other.