Who, Pray Who, Will Save the Houseflies? And Our Sanity?

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Who, Pray Who, Will Save the Houseflies? And Our Sanity?

By Mark Morford on SFGate.com
June 2009

In defense of PETA's total stupidity

Oh, how easy it is to laugh and mock and sigh with savage delight.

How easy it is to point at extremist groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as they come out and admit, in public, to an actual reporter, that they wish President Obama had not killed that fly, that tiny little hunk of bacteria and regurgitated food bits and death, but had instead taken a moment to capture it gently between his loving presidential palms like it was universal health care reform and then set it free outside, so it could go spread germs and fecal matter and disease to various flowers and small children and Republicans.

How delightful it is to point out how this group is, once again, so laughably insane and out of touch, how they have jumped the shark once again, which they seem to do with delightful, if obnoxious, frequency.

But hang on a sec. Maybe there was something in that hilarious little story that gave you pause. Maybe you decided to drill down into the idea for just a moment, just to see, and then perhaps realized, well, yes, OK fine, there is an actual point to be made in there, somewhere, just behind the roaring ludicrousness of it all.

It goes something like this: If you're going to truly revere life, if you're going to come out and claim that there is sanctity and divinity to all God's creatures, be they gleaming sex-crazed dolphins and sweet slobbering puppies, on down to gnats and sea slugs and giant hairy bird-eating tarantulas, then yes, you're sort of forced to admit that even houseflies deserve a hint of respect, a touch of empathy, the reluctant admission that even they don't actually deserve to die, per se.

You also know this is a rather extreme and lopsided perspective, totally unfeasible in daily, circle-of-life reality. But then again, when you hold it up to the light and turn in around a few times and let the facts of human life refract through it, it's really not all that insane. It sure as hell reveals more than a few ugly truths.

You have but to ponder: How many millions of living creatures do we slaughter every day on this planet in service of our top-of-the-food-chain gluttonous desires, from cattle to ducks, chickens to horses, pigs and lambs and just about all the rest, and let's not forget raping and pillaging and sucking dry our glorious oceans? Really, is there a living creature we humans have yet to slaughter, skin, eviscerate, consume, commodify, exploit in some relatively obscene way? Nope.

What about our beloved pets? How many millions of dogs and cats are put down in shelters every year because we overbreed and underappreciate and think we own the damn place and yet have really no idea what the hell we're doing?

Truly, it takes only the slightest peeling back of our supposedly noble and good natures to see exactly how staggeringly brutal is our general treatment of the animal kingdom, what level of hypocrisy and denial we all live on, no matter what sort of righteous pro-life group or worldview we claim as our own.

So then perhaps you think, all right fine, flies are sacred or whatever, but give me a break, is there not some sort of moral relativism at play here, some obvious sliding scale of who-really-gives-a-damn, given how a filthy insect is certainly a bit further down the ladder of divine consciousness than, say, a silverback gorilla, or a giraffe, or a blue whale, or Megan Fox?

And really, don't we have to take into account this admittedly warped understanding just to get through the day? Because if we don't, if you stare too long at the entire equation of just how inequitable and absurd this existence really is on a blood-and-guts, who-eats-who level, you will quickly go insane, and fanatical, and likely join a group just like PETA and become entirely insufferable and no one will want to have sex with you ever again? Yes. All true.

So, you flip it over. You toss it around. You examine all angles, including the one that notes how PETA and self-righteous groups of its ilk -- hardcore vegetarian, vegans, raw foodies, animal moralists, et al -- how you can sort of burst their bubble in a split second simply by, well, by pointing at their lunch.

You can inform them about their lovely organic salad, about how the various threshers and mechanical lettuce-picking machinery over at the organic farm casually kill countless rodents and insects and birds every week as they move through the fields, not to mention the animals that were run over on the highway during delivery. In short, no matter what you eat, some animal, somewhere, has suffered and died for your meal.

Not fair? Sorry, totally fair.

You try to parse and balance it all. Maybe you realize, the point here is not to become so extreme in your reverence that you become utterly frozen, paralyzed by the knowledge that no matter what you do, you are going to kill some other living thing -- or rather, many, many of them -- simply by walking around, breathing, existing.

The point is not to become like ancient Jain monks, famous for such extreme reverence for all life that they would literally sweep the ground in front of them as they walked, in order to avoid harming even the smallest insect with their footfalls. Totally ridiculous, you think.

Except, of course, that it's not. It's also terribly beautiful. Luminous. Aiming toward something like purity, enlightenment, higher consciousness, even as it reveals, by contrast and sharp relief, just how violent and destructive life is, quite literally every step of the way.

And so maybe, as you go about your PETA-mocking day, you try to understand that the idea is to minimize harm and impact, to tread a bit more lightly, to see where you fall on the grand spectrum.

Over there, at the far end, is PETA and its ilk, severe to the point of silliness and total impracticality and eye-rolling give-me-a-freaking-break. On the other end ... well, I don't know what, exactly. Some sort of bloated, trophy-hunting imbecile who kills endangered exotic animals on a private game reserve for sport and whose ex-wife has her puppy killed so she can make a belt out if it.

It is the ever-present question we like to bury and try to ignore. Where do you fall along the continuum? How much consciousness do you have at any given moment of the impact you have? What is your true intent? Do you crush the damnable fly? Do you shrug and scoff and move on? Do you offer thanks? Do you dare see through it all?

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