Why, Matthew Scully asks, is cruelty to a puppy appalling
and cruelty to livestock by the billions a matter of social indifference?
Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George
W. Bush, is the most interesting conservative you have never heard of. He
speaks barely above a whisper and must be the mildest disturber of the
peace. But he is among the most disturbing.
If you value your peace of mind, not to mention your
breakfast bacon, you should not read Scully's essay ''Fear Factories: The
Case for Compassionate Conservatism for Animals." It appeared in the May
23, 2005, issue of Pat Buchanan's magazine The American Conservative--not
where you would expect to find an essay arguing that industrial livestock
farming involves vast abuses that constitute a serious moral problem.
The disturbing facts about industrial farming by the $125
billion-a-year livestock industry -- the pain-inflicting confinements and
mutilations have economic reasons. Ameliorating them would impose
production costs that consumers would pay. But to glimpse what consumers
would be paying to stop, visit www.factoryfarming.com/gallery.htm. Or read
Scully on the miseries inflicted on billions of creatures ''for our
convenience and pleasure": "... 400- to 500-pound mammals trapped without
relief inside iron crates seven feet long and 22 inches wide. They chew
maniacally on bars and chains, as foraging animals will do when denied
straw... The pigs know the feel only of concrete and metal. They lie
covered in their own urine and excrement, with broken legs from trying to
escape or just to turn..."
It is, Scully says, difficult, especially for
conservatives, to examine cruelty issues on their merits, or even to
acknowledge that something serious can be at stake where animals are
concerned. This is partly because some animal-rights advocates are so
off-putting. See, for example, the Feb. 3, 2003, letter that Ingrid
Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal "animals
other than humans sent to the
terrorist Yasir Arafat, complaining that an explosive-laden donkey was
killed when used in a Jerusalem massacre. The rhetoric of animal "rights"
is ill-conceived. The starting point, says Scully, should be with our
obligations the requirements for living with integrity. In defining them,
some facts are pertinent, facts about animals' emotional capacities and
their experience of pain and happiness. Such facts refute what
conservatives deplore, moral relativism. They do because they demand a
certain reaction and evoke it in good people, who are good because they
consistently respect the objective value of fellow creatures.
It may be true that, as has been said, the Puritans banned
bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bears but because it gave
pleasure to the spectators. And there are indeed degrading pleasures. But
to argue for outlawing cruelty to animals because it is bad for the cruel
person's soul is to accept, as Scully does not, that man is the only
concern. Statutes against cruelty to animals, often imposing felony-level
penalties, codify society's belief that such cruelty is an intrinsic evil.
This is a social affirmation of a strong moral sense in individuals who
are not vicious.
It is the sense that even though the law can regard an
individual's animal as the individual's property, there nevertheless are
certain things the individual cannot do to that property. Which means it
is property with a difference. The difference is the capacity for
enjoyment and suffering. So why, Scully asks, is cruelty to a puppy
appalling and cruelty to livestock by the billions a matter of social
cannot be any intrinsic difference of worth between a puppy and a pig.
Animal suffering on a vast scale should, he says, be a
serious issue of public policy. He does not want to take away your BLT; he
does not propose to end livestock farming. He does propose a Humane
Farming Act to apply to corporate farmers the elementary standards of
animal husbandry and veterinary ethics: "We cannot just take from these
creatures, we must give them something in return. We owe them a merciful
death, and we owe them a merciful life."
Says who? Well, Scully replies, those who understand
Judeo-Christian morality, whose whole logic is one of gracious
condescension, or the proud learning to be humble, the higher serving the
lower, and the strong protecting the weak." Yes, of course: You don't want
to think about this. Who does? But do your duty: read his book ''Dominion:
The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy."
Scully, a conservative and hence a realist, knows that man is not only a
rational creature but a rationalizing creature, putting his intellectual
nimbleness in the service of his desires. But refraining from cruelty is
an objective obligation. And as Scully says, ''If reason and morality are
what set humans apart from animals, then reason and morality must always
guide us in how we treat them."
You were warned not to read this. Have a nice day.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
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