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Bless the Beasts (Should conservatives care about animal suffering?)
National Review ^ | 12/16/2011 | Claire Berlinski

Posted on 12/16/2011 7:29:56 AM PST by SeekAndFind

Some virtues are by accidents of history associated with utopianism, hostility to private property, anti-clericalism, and other core beliefs of the Left. I can scandalize a yoga instructor anywhere in the world by declaring myself an avid admirer of Margaret Thatcher, though I challenge you to read the yoga sutras and conclude from them that devotees must favor an overregulated financial sector.

Concern for the welfare and dignity of animals is such an issue, associated with nihilist leftists such as Peter Singer and local totalitarians who seek to regulate pets out of existence. But one need not believe that animals have been endowed with all the rights of humans to insist that they are more than a commodity that tastes good.

The conservative case against routine indifference to animal suffering has best been made by Matthew Scully in his 2002 book, Dominion. As I read it, the cat in my lap stretched out her paw and tenderly patted my cheek. “She would taste good,” I thought, was not a morally serious answer to the question, “Should I eat her?” And if it was not, how could it be a serious answer to this question: Should I eat an animal that has been separated from its mother at birth; confined its whole life to a pen in which it could not lie down to sleep or even turn around; castrated without anesthetic; force-fed; maddened by pain, fear, and sensory deprivation; and often inadequately stunned before slaughter, and therefore boiled and dismembered while still conscious?

Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, is not notably a philosophical conservative. Nor has his record at the Humane Society been unimpeachable; Michael Vick remains — despite his apologies and Pacelle’s — as plausible a campaigner for his organization as O. J. Simpson would be for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Pacelle has been too quick to praise animal shelters that are no more than killing machines. (There are better solutions: trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing, for example.) He is not Scully’s equal as a prose stylist; his writing is a bit schmaltzy. But many of the arguments in his new book, The Bond, are compelling; some are new, and those that are not are cogently restated and worth restating.

Our instinct, he proposes, to care for animals is as much a part of our nature as our instinct to exploit them, and a better part of it. If Scully locates his argument, ultimately, in natural law and Christian theology, Pacelle appeals to the bond we instinctively feel with animals, one so ancient that to dismiss it as effete sentimentalism is surely to take the easy way out. This bond may be viewed through many modern prisms — genetic, evolutionary — but it has been observed from Aesop to Kipling. Children are born with a keen curiosity about animals; their horror at the thought that the animals are to be slaughtered must be trained out of them. It is well known that children who torture animals have something very wrong with them: They often grow up to practice this enthusiasm on humans.

I am happy to accept that animals are not humans and that the life of a human is more sacred than a cow’s. But it requires tergiversations of the mind and soul to accept that animals are thus like plants and their lives no more sacred than a carrot’s. We need not value animals more than children to ask, as Bentham did, whether they suffer, conclude that they do, and demand of ourselves that we limit the amount of suffering we impose upon them.

As Pacelle observes, it is not normal in human history to see animals as commodities much like plasma TVs even as we live in ever greater intimacy with them as pets. It is perverse to share our beds with cats and dogs as millions more of them every year are gassed or injected with sodium pentobarbital in animal shelters — a grotesque euphemism, as is the word “euthanasia,” for there is no shelter there, nor mercy in the killing of animals who are healthy, rambunctious, and young. They die terrified, and they die pointlessly: Very few are vicious, and most are capable of forming deep, affectionate bonds with humans. Revulsion at this is neither a left-wing sentiment nor a new one. “Though critics try to cast the animal-protection movement as something foreign, eccentric, and subversive,” Pacelle writes, “this cause has long been a worthy and natural expression of the great Western moral tradition.” William Wilberforce, he adds, is rightly remembered as a campaigner against cruelty to animals.

Pacelle’s tour d’horizon of the development of our understanding of animal nature raises important points. The Cartesian and Skinnerian views of the animal mind are dead. Since the cognitive revolution began in the 1950s, psychologists have grudgingly come to accept the obvious: Animals have minds. (No one without a Ph.D. in psychology could have failed to see this in the first place.) What kind of minds? We do not precisely know, but surely they have them.

Do they suffer? Of course. Do they love? Everyone who has lived with a cat or a dog knows the intensity of their emotions. Not just the cats and dogs, either; the natural world is bursting with stories of animals who have formed loving bonds with humans — lions, tigers, elephants, all the way down the phylogenetic tree to octopi. What are we to make of the sight of a monster crocodile who slobbers his way toward the edge of his pool, snorting with satisfaction, in order to be chucked under his chin by his trainer? That is a reptile, after all, one whose ancestors were on the planet millions of years before humans appeared. The capacity for this behavior appears to be at least latent throughout the animal kingdom. Is it right to observe this and conclude that our behavior toward animals is morally unimportant, or, as Pacelle characterizes the arguments of critics, that “animal welfare is ultimately a trivial matter — the product of effete modern sensibilities?” No, I agree with Pacelle: Our treatment of animals is a measure of our character, and to mistreat an animal “is low, dishonorable, and an abuse of power that diminishes man and animal alike.”

In any event, I’ve not yet noticed that anyone who cares for animals is diminished in his capacity to care for humans. To the contrary, in fact. Surely our compassion is not in such finite supply that we must measure it out in teaspoons lest there be none left.

The book ranges over a horror of commonplace cruelties, from puppy mills to sport hunting, but common sense suggests to me that of all these cruelties, industrial farming is both the worst and the one we least wish to think about. It is good, many conservatives will respond, because it is efficient: The world needs cheap food. Profits are good, and wealth is good — but most will allow that some industries are profitable and vile. That it is possible to make a fortune as a pornographer does not mean it is noble. That it is possible to become rich by making music that glorifies gang culture and cop-killing does not mean we ought to admire those who do so.

Still: It is immensely difficult to arrive at a position of personal decency untainted by contradictions or hypocrisy. Animals, when left to their own devices, often die of disease or eat one another. It is absurd — if only because ought implies can — to suggest we must do something about that. Perhaps here the principle should be Arthur Hugh Clough’s: “Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive / Officiously to keep alive.”

Still: Many animals, my beloved cats included, are obligate carnivores. I feed them meat — yet I have rescued and liberated mice from their clutches. No reason for this, I know; just sentiment.

As for laboratory animals, I’m willing to leave the moral gray area as a gray area and concentrate on the obvious abuses. Only the obtuse would endorse torturing primates, for example, to do research that serves no higher purpose than to put out a paper no one will ever read establishing for the 50th time that primates don’t seem to like being tortured. I’m more willing to accept sport hunting and medical research on certain animals, under limited circumstances, than I am factory farming. The way the animals are cared for is important, as is the point of the research. That the answers to these questions are difficult, and that our principles come into conflict, does not mean we should shrug at the questions or say that they do not exist.

All farming, not just the industrial production of meat, causes harm to animals. Plowing and harvesting cause immense suffering to field animals; as Barbara Kingsolver aptly put it, “I’ve watched enough harvests to know that cutting a wheat field amounts to more decapitated bunnies under the combine than you would believe.” “Cruelty-free” is a marketing slogan, not a serious argument. Yet the fact that some animals must suffer is not an argument for absolute license. We are not obligate carnivores, and we have a great deal of choice about how much meat we eat and how we treat the animals we eat before we slaughter them, if to slaughter them we are determined. At least we might ask ourselves whether they were permitted to run; sleep unmolested; enjoy the company of their own kind; experience sunlight, daytime, and nighttime; and express the instincts with which they were endowed by their creator. We choose to impose the hell of factory farming upon them so that we can eat something that tastes good and costs less. The word for this, as Matthew Scully remarked, is gluttony; it is not a virtue.

Although it is not precisely the argument Pacelle makes, one seems to me implied: The more an animal has the capacity to love us, the more shameful it is to mistreat it. It is partly that dogs love and trust us so that makes our betrayal of them so shameful; it is morally relevant that no one has ever said, “He’s loyal as a snake.” Unlike Pacelle, I support comprehensive No Kill legislation of the kind promoted by Nathan Winograd, and hope to see it enacted in every American city.

As for factory farming, I doubt the practice can be changed until widespread moral revulsion takes hold. I encourage the stirring of conscience. To me, those cows and pigs in factory farms look a lot like the cats and dogs who have laid their heads on my chest.

Before you object, ask yourself: Are you sure? Really? Are you sure you are not twisting yourself into rhetorical knots to justify your impulse to do anything you please to creatures who cannot object? After all, if you come across a paper bag in the gutter and it seems something’s in it and you don’t know if it’s alive, you don’t kick it, do you?

— Claire Berlinski is a freelance journalist who lives in Istanbul amid a menagerie of adopted animals. She is the author of There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: 112th; animal; animalcruelty; antihunting; bang; barfalert; claireberlinski; kittyping; liberalnutball; suffering
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To: SeekAndFind
Stupid article, written by a liberal nut.

Anti-hunting, anti-farming, liberal BS!

41 posted on 12/16/2011 8:13:12 AM PST by Beagle8U (Free Republic -- One stop shopping ....... It's the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: dfwgator

sez you. Do you think it better to have people living in tent cities. I think Christian values would help. Where is your Christian concern for others? hating the poor is not appropriate. It is really a matter of “there but for the grace of God go I.” In a bad economy, hating the poor is especially hard hearted.

42 posted on 12/16/2011 8:13:43 AM PST by yldstrk (My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: Fawn

I certainly recognize it, my point is there are others who expand their definition of it, as with a lot of other things, to infringe on our rights.

43 posted on 12/16/2011 8:13:52 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: SeekAndFind

Should liberals?

44 posted on 12/16/2011 8:14:17 AM PST by onedoug (lf)
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To: yoe


I hate zoos for reasons like you have stated. Separating elephants after 30 years together, sick, cruel. Sending elephants to a hideous place like Chicago so they can freeze? sick, cruel.

45 posted on 12/16/2011 8:15:51 AM PST by yldstrk (My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: yldstrk

I have concern for others, in fact, by making Government the conduit for human compassion, takes away that responsibility from the rest of us....most people consider paying their taxes as “giving at the office” as far as helping the poor.

46 posted on 12/16/2011 8:16:31 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Slings and Arrows
No, but when spiders walk across the floor, this kitty has a problem with them:


47 posted on 12/16/2011 8:18:57 AM PST by SkyDancer ("If You Want To Learn To Love Better, You Should Start With A Friend Who You Hate")
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To: SeekAndFind

“Should conservatives care about animal suffering?”

Only if it makes them more tender.

48 posted on 12/16/2011 8:23:54 AM PST by AppyPappy (If you really want to annoy someone, point out something obvious that they are trying hard to ignore)
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To: 1rudeboy

The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.

49 posted on 12/16/2011 8:26:43 AM PST by allmendream (Tea Party did not send the GOP to D.C. to negotiate the terms of our surrender to socialism.)
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To: SeekAndFind
I've not yet noticed that anyone who cares for animals is diminished in his capacity to care for humans.

Caring for the welfare of animals does not imply a lack of care for humans, but nor should it lead one to presume the opposite. Up to the moment he tested his cyanide capsules on the poor beast Adolph Hitler absolutely loved his dog.

And one noticeable theme of today's watermelon Green movement is that while adoring (in a pagan religious sense) nature they openly advocate the elimination of mankind (except, of course, their enlightened selves) from the face of Mother Gaia. Show me a radical Green and I'll show you the perfect little Fascist.

50 posted on 12/16/2011 8:28:55 AM PST by katana (Just my opinions)
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To: americanophile
“”“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

- Mohandas Gandhi””

That cornball quote doesn't quite fit in with Nazi Germany. Hitler was a vegan, animal nut who even sent out instructions to German farmers calling for more humane ways to slaughter animals. Part of his mindset dovetails nicely with the PETA nuts who are all in for animals, but could care less about the murder of babies via abortion.

51 posted on 12/16/2011 8:34:20 AM PST by ohioman
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To: ohioman
who even sent out instructions to German farmers calling for more humane ways to slaughter animals.

That wasn't done for humane reasons, it was a way to stop Jews from slaughtering animals in the Kosher tradition.

52 posted on 12/16/2011 8:37:29 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Fawn
The Bible makes no reference to animals having souls. There are no animals in heaven. They are put here for our use. We are however, required to treat them well. That is in the Bible. We are the top of God's love and we are given many things for our pleasure. We are judged on what we do with God's property.

To infer that animals will go to Heaven is spreading wives tales to people too lazy to find out for themselves. It's sorta like saying "God helps those that help themselves." It not in the Bible. In fact, reading the Bible could infer that God is more likely to help those that cannot help themselves.

Over the years, this fallacy of animals going to heaven has gotten under my skin because it fosters people doing stupid things like running into a burning building to save a cat or killing a human for killing a dog. This is where the eco freaks come up with wanting humans dead to save animals. We have people in California suffering 40% unemployment and loosing a lifetime of wealth over a minnow.

In my mind, to put a dog as equal to humans is an abomination. You will most likely end up like the woman living with a chimp that tears the face off her best friend. I personally know people that had their child attacked by their dogs because they failed to recognize the dogs couldn't be trusted. The dogs are not equal to their child. Do these dogs go to hell because they got jealous of the child? They are just dumb animals that have no soul to be judged.

53 posted on 12/16/2011 8:37:41 AM PST by chuckles
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To: ohioman

Well, luckily Gandhi wasn’t from Nazi Germany. Otherwise, it’s something of a non sequitur.

54 posted on 12/16/2011 8:37:45 AM PST by americanophile ("this absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, is a rotting corpse which poisons our lives" - Ataturk)
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To: dfwgator
You are right about the Kosher tradition, but he also expressed genuine concern about the suffering of animals. Today, he would be a popular professor at one one of our leftist, Ivy League Colleges. The anti-Israel stuff would go over quite well with the leftist “elite.” :)
55 posted on 12/16/2011 8:42:54 AM PST by ohioman
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To: SeekAndFind

I care about animal suffering. But, I absolutely hate, HATE that commercial(can’t remember even who puts the ad out but, I see it on FOX every now and again). There will always be animal suffering. The only thing we can do about it, is to treat our own animals well and report any abuse we see.

56 posted on 12/16/2011 8:44:31 AM PST by MsLady (Be the kind of woman that when you get up in the morning, the devil says, "Oh crap, she's UP !!")
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To: americanophile

Gandi wasn’t from the USA either; therefore, my statement is logical.

He also came from a country that never learned the emotional value of a delicious steak sitting alongside corn on the cob and mashed potates. :)

57 posted on 12/16/2011 8:50:15 AM PST by ohioman
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To: ohioman

Gandhi was also a supporter of Hitler.

58 posted on 12/16/2011 8:53:34 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Beagle8U

How do you know it’s stupid? You didn’t read it.

59 posted on 12/16/2011 9:01:09 AM PST by 1rudeboy
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To: allmendream

One thing that makes this sort of a thread humorous is the argument that people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.

60 posted on 12/16/2011 9:04:24 AM PST by 1rudeboy
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