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From 24 November 2002 Issue

Birds of a Feather
By Greg Lawson - ParkStRanger@aol.com 

Last Tuesday, Steve Best suggested I attend his Intro to Philosophy class. Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, was the guest speaker. In attendance were a couple of hundred of Steve's students and also some other special guests - a dozen cockfighters who had come to hear Wayne and defend their lifestyles.

At first Steve was a bit worried that the cockfighters would cause disruptions and was even considering how to kick them out, but at the end of the class Steve was glad they had been there. No more graphic illustration of the idiocy of animal abuse could have been presented, not by slides nor by video.

Wayne is at the other end of the spectrum occupied by Steve Best as a speaker. Where Steve is passionate, Wayne is dispassionate preferring to present the facts in an often nonjudgmental way. Perhaps this is because Wayne is used to speaking before lawmakers and so he comes across as a cool lawyer type as opposed to Steve's often religious fervor.

Wayne began by asking the class a number of questions concerning how they felt about the rights of animals. Steve turned his back so the class wouldn't be worried about how the answers might affect their grades. "Do you think abuse to animals is wrong?" "Do you think dog fighting is wrong?" "Do you think cockfighting is wrong?" "Do you think hunting for sport is wrong?" "Do you think raising animals for food is wrong?" A surprisingly large number of people raised their hands indicating that they thought those activities were wrong. Obviously, they had listened in Steve's previous classes and done the reading assignments. Only a few hands went down on the raising animals for food question.

Then Wayne gave a history of the rights movement, describing how civil rights and women's rights preceded the animal rights movement and how the question of our moral responsibility to animals is the next question we are asking ourselves as a society. Wayne talked about the arguments for hunting, and explained why they just don't hold up to logic. During the first 45 minutes of the class Wayne had only briefly mentioned cockfighting.

About halfway through the talk Steve went over and whispered in Wayne's ear something to the effect "Wayne, I think you should talk about cockfighting some more. Let's mix it up with these cockfighters."

So he did. Wayne described the barbaric practice without using the word barbaric, that was to be said later by Steve. Wayne explained how Oklahoma had just become the 48th state to ban cockfighting and how the HSUS was going after New Mexico next. When he finished, Steve opened the discussion up to questions and welcomed questions from the cockfighters. Steve maintained order in the class and tried to prevent disruptions from the barbarians, which did occur, but were quickly squelched.

The cockfighters sat in about four groups spread around the room. Two were right in front of me on the first row. (I had sat behind them with the honorable intention of helping to protect Wayne and Steve should violence erupt). They were obviously all heated up by the threat to their way of life. One grizzled geezer was granted his opportunity to make his point and said "Don't listen to these guys...Think for yourselves....After they take away our livelihood they will be coming for you. They will try to stop you from eating meat. If you beat your dog, they will make sure you go to jail." Cries of "YES" and applause filled the room. And also "Sit down you moron."

"I'm just trying to feed my family. I have worked hard all my life," said another cockfighter. "You are trying to hurt me and my family."

"Drug Dealers work hard to feed their families," commented a student.

Steve said to the cockfighters, "We don't want to cause you any harm. But we don't want to see you make your living from harming other creatures. We want you to find a more ethical way of living."

"If we don't outlaw eating chickens, we shouldn't outlaw cockfighting," said a student.

I added my comment to the debate. "I understand that argument. I don't eat chicken. There is a certain amount of hypocrisy to being opposed to cockfighting and then to go have lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I hope you will remember this when you join your families at Thanksgiving, that you say 'Please pass the tofu.'"

The cockfighters went on to demonstrate that they didn't have a moral leg to stand on. The TV cameras captured it all. The students saw how self serving all arguments are for the continued exploitation of animals for profit, for entertainment, for our gluttonous appetites.

I am glad I went to Steve's class, it was a lively interchange between young developing minds who will determine the course of our movement, and relics of the past who, sadly enough, will be relegated to a chapter in the future book of Mankind.

I am also glad we exited through the back door.

Go on to ACT Radio - Animal Concerns of Texas
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