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Cagey Arguments



Which of the following issues merit the concern of any conscionable American with enough free time, or extra cash, to spare: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which recently left 13 Israeli soldiers and 45 Palestinians dead, plus 2,000 Palestinians homeless? What about Sudan’s 21-year-old civil war, which has left 2 million dead?

Or how about the growing chasm of misunderstanding between the Muslim world and the West, a problem that’s festered for so long and has been so egregiously mishandled by all sides that it’s thrown us into a needless war? Throw out the Middle East altogether and we’ve still got the international child-sex trade to deal with. Not really interested in the outside world? There’s a growing disparity between rich and poor in this country, and a lot of children who aren’t getting the education they’re due.

But what do an increasing amount of young people today spend their early adulthood years worried about, concerned about, pumped up about? Animal rights. Or more precisely, the six rabbits, two doves and five finches freed from a Brigham Young University barn last weekend by the Animal Liberation Front, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. And unless you read about it there, you probably wouldn’t even know about such feats of derring-do unless you were reading this column right now.

They’re hardcore rebels, the Animal Liberation Front. They’re into “direct action,” smashing the windows of two Salt Lake City restaurants serving meat, an act they took responsibility for back in January 2000. While the rest of the world wrestles with complex issues affecting the future of humanity, or tries to nurture the potential of those who fall on the wrong side of power and authority, this righteous lot takes the easy way out, spending time outside fur shops; nattering about the abuses of “speciesism.”

It’s every generation’s right to have its own cause. Previous generations had Vietnam or took on South African apartheid, both worthy causes of protest. It’s also the habit of older generations—such as mine—to ridicule the passions and causes of younger generations. In this instance, that habit ought to be exercised more frequently.

Animals have value. Not just as food, pets or experimental resources, but also as sentient beings that feel pain and joy. A vegetarian diet frees up water and land for the production of plant-based food for the world’s hungry. A better world is one where animals are respected. Give the animal-rights crowd that, but not the proviso that animals are equal to people. Animals have the right to be free of pain, but not, when we shift that term into the human realm, the “rights” of public education, housing or a fair trial.

Why, then, the fuss? Time spent freeing animals is time spent in a vacuum. Such actions don’t have nearly the same consequence as working toward the benefit of humanity. Animals do not alter the course of history, science or the arts. On an ecological level, animals can alter the course of the world. But even there, humans trump the animal kingdom, because we can pollute the world—even destroy it with a bomb. Some would say we’re fast on our way to doing just that. Then there are those who’d rather break into animal cages.

The choice seems so obvious; it’s almost silly that someone would write an editorial about it. But these are strange times, with even stranger ideas afoot.