I think that people’s attitudes toward animals are changing, and this is a good thing. While I do not ascribe to the extreme (some might say “bizarre”) views of Peter Singer – which include, basically, indicating that chickens should vote and advocating via advanced logical structures that those of us in developed nations should crack off 25% of our respective GDPs to support those in developing nations – Singer introducted a concept in the 1960’s called “speciesism” to indicate that humans ought not approach their interactions with other living species from a biased, species-oriented viewpoint.
Here we have some PETA advocates, dressing as “cavemen” to protest the brutal treatment of rabbits raised for fur in Australia. This picture immediately reminded me of the cruel bias against the GEICO cavemen. According to a recent LA Times blog, “everybody hates PETA.”
Probably because their point of view is divergent from most others, and because they do gross and disgusting things (this caveman picture indicates the better sort of PETA attention-getting behavior).
Which brings up the question of priorities, attitudes, and the situation of animals in the real world. In the recent California election, an animal-rights proposition passed easily, setting standards for factory farming in the state. This was not an extreme proposition, but people have been made aware of the inhumane, unhealthy and unsanitary practices that are all-too-often conducted at commercial production farms. Eggs don’t taste very good when you know they’ve been forced out of a chicken who cannot even move her legs and whose beak may have been cut off for “safety” reasons. Milk should sour, when you realize that at some dairies, milking machines, budget concerns, and tight production schedules mean that the cow blood and body fluids could be all through that glass of moo. Burgers should inspire “food for thought” when one realizes that the consolidation of meat packing and production in the U.S. has caused both an influx of “illegal” labor that cannot read safety instructions or procedures for sanitary operation. As covered in Fast Food Nation, these common practices have resulted in breakouts of deadly E. coli infections, feces in ground beef and a high rate of injury among these poorly-paid, trained and treated workers. All so you can have “cheap meat” – that is worth the price? It’s up to each individual.
As someone who is more Audubon Society and Sierra Club than PETA, I do consider myself an animal lover. I have many friends who are vegan or vegetarian. I also understand the instinctive negative reaction to proposed products like cloned meat and milk. I am not comprehending how this process would “save” animal lives; beef must still be “raised” and the animal will be alive, whether it is born through the traditional (if one knows about current methods of cattle husbandry – “cloning” is actually more palatable than some of the stuff they do) method or a clone. Milk still will come out of the cow, as a physical product. Big vats of “protein” that grow mindlessly, as in our sci-fi concepts — this is what most people think of when they hear “cloned meat and milk.”
And on the other side, there are the truly endangered species. Recent experience with establishment of open space preserves, or truly significant tracts of land such as the California Condor Reserve in the Sespe National Wilderness, shows that species can and will rebuild themselves if they are given a chance. Human action still threatens wild species, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. A drive is currently underway to ban lead ammunition in wild areas – primarily because it kills Condors – a species that actually became extinct in the wild, and which has been reintroduced, so that there is a current population of about 270 birds, derived from the initial group that were bred in captivity as a last-ditch effort to save the species.
Most people really do not care about wild animals, and can only be convinced to care about humane treatment of livestock or pets through consistent education efforts. However, these attitudes may be changing – and a good example is the success that the banning of lead ammunition is having – it is likely to pass. Nobody has to hunt with lead ammo, and I think even Ted Nugent would agree with me, because these birds are dying from eating lead-shot game that the hunters have just left in the wild to rot (Condors are carrion birds). A solution would be to use less-poisonous ammo – or better yet – if you are hunting, take the game and at least have the decency to eat what you kill (as Ted says). If you ate it, then you could remove the shot so YOU would not be poisoned, and this would also solve the problem for the birds (and other animals).
It had been years since I had seen a big animal in the wild, and in the last five years, I have seen a mountain lion, a bobcat, many large birds – eagles, hawks, falcons, and even a condor. I have seen numerous deer, and many smaller examples of wildlife. I practice low-impact hiking and camping – I think everyone should learn the basic principles. We live in a complex, interwoven web of life on this planet, which is the point that environmentalists and conservationists have been trying to make since John Muir first introduced these concepts. If we are not hungry at the time – what is the point of killing an animal, just to leave their carcass to rot? So, maybe that is the first point that everyone can agree on. If you fish, but not for the purpose of eating the fish you catch, then the catch-and-release fishermen have the right idea. If you hunt for recreation, kill only what you can and will eat, and do not kill pregnant, juvenile or breeding animals.
I often recall the story of Easter Island, which was deforested, leading to the eventual starvation and near-destruction of the people who lived there. What did the guy that cut down the last tree on that island think he was doing? Having a nice fire, doing what he felt like doing. So therefore, there were no more canoes, the soil washed away, and they got to sit on their eroding rock and starve, eventually cannibalizing each other (evidence of cannibalism has been found).
I hope the future of animal species is one that will allow them to not just survive, but to flourish. Without them, it will not just be a deadly-dull, ugly Soylent Green world, it could be very much more Harry Harrison – “Make Room! Make Room!” This is the thing with PETA. Humans are animals too. Animals have varying behavior that all fits in the scheme of things. Humans – at least in the larger evolutionary scheme, seem to have been omnivorous scavengers. So, we do not have to have the total protein diet of a large carnivore. We do not have to have the heavy roughage diet of a herbivore with three stomachs. We do not have to have stones in our craw to grind up grain. But we also don’t have to kill like insane criminals and leave the carcasses to rot.