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Vasu Murti

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Politics and Passions - Winter 1995-96

Part 11 Animal Liberation Has Its Antagonists

Animal liberation has its antagonists. "I'll tell you what the environmental movement is in this country today, folks," insisted Rush Limbaugh on an April 22, 1993 television broadcast, "It is the modern home of the socialist/communist movement in America." According to Limbaugh, the "real mission" of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) "is destroying capitalism, not saving animals." (The Way Thinqs Ought to Be, p. 108)

The reality? As an integral part of a secular moral philosophy, ethical vegetarianism and purchasing only cruelty-free consumer products are comparable to economic boycotting -- a political tactic used by liberals and conservatives alike.

In The Case for Animal Riqhts, Dr. Tom Regan observes: "The rights view is not antagonistic to business, free enterprise, the market mechanism, and the like. What the rights view is antagonistic to is the view that consumers owe it to any business to purchase that business's goods or services. The animal industry is no exception."

According to Dr. Regan: "The rights view's denunciation of standard toxicity tests on animals is not antibusiness. It does not deny any manufacturer the liberty to introduce any new product into the marketplace, to compete with the others already there, and to sink or swim in the waters of free enterprise.

"All that the rights view denies is that the toxicity of any new product may be pretested on animals in ways harmful to them. Nonanimal alternatives are not ruled out by the rights view. On the contrary, their development should be encouraged, both on the grounds of the public interest and because of the legitimate legal interests of the manufacturers.

"Nor is the rights view antiscientific," concludes Dr. Regan. "It places the scientific challenge before pharmacologists and related scientists: find scientifically valid ways that serve the public interest without violating individual rights."

Abolitionists are almost always accused of being anti-capitalist by the very industries they attack: "(The abolition of the slave trade) would be extreme cruelty to the African savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life," claimed James Boswell, an 18th century pro-slavery writer.

According to Boswell: "...the anti-slavery crusade...the ranting of a handful of moralistic bigots, (which attempted) abolish so very important and necessary a branch of commercial interest, must have been crushed at once had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of planters, merchants and others, whose immense properties were involved in the trade...suppose that there would be no danger."

Social progress means change. The invention of the automobile and the end of the Second World War brought about radical change in the work place. Anti-abolitionists claimed that the end of human slavery would bring with it the collapse of the economic structure of the Southern United States. In his book, The Status of Animals in the Christian Religion, author C.W. Hume noted:

"The major cruelties practiced on animals in civilized countries today arise out of commercial exploitation, and the fear of losing profits is the chief obstacle to reform."

"In the eighteenth century," observes Keith Thomas in Man and the Natural World, "it was widely urged that domestication was good for animals; it civilized them and increased their numbers: ‘we multiply life, sensation and enjoyment.’" The Reverend William Jones wrote in 1801, "(It was) best for the beasts that they should be under man."

This supremacist thinking has its roots in Aristotle, who wrote:

"...for all tame animals there is an advantage in being under human control, as this secures their survival. And as regards the relationship between male and female, the former is naturally superior, the latter inferior, the former rules and the latter is subject.

"By analogy, the same must necessarily apply to mankind as a whole. Therefore all men who differ from one another by as much the soul differs from the body or man from a wild beast -- these people are slaves by nature, and it is better for them to be subject to this kind of control...

"Assistance regarding the necessities of life is provided by both groups, by slaves and by domestic animals."

In her book, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, on the issue of animal experimentation, Marjorie Spiegel explains: "Many of these experiments are completely non-medical in nature, being done to test out new hair sprays, oven cleaners, shampoos, etc. for toxicity. A myriad of alternatives to using live animals in research exist -- many often superior to methods employing animals -- making current practices an archaic holdover from a less sophisticated era, fairly calling back to the days of dungeons and sweat-boxes.

"Furthermore, billions of tax-dollars are spent each year to literally torture animals -- supposedly for our benefit -- while many humans in this country lack access to even basic health care."

The Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) newsletter (Vol. VI, Nos. 1-2, l991) substantiates Ms. Spiegel's observations by citing John Robbins' EarthSave organization as stating that taxpayer subsidies to the livestock industry in California for 1991 totaled $24 million, while the yearly budget for child welfare was only $125,000.

"Limbaugh's chronic inaccuracy, and his lack of accountability wouldn't be such a problem if he were just an obnoxious entertainer, like Howard Stern," observes Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an independent media watch group. "But Limbaugh is taken seriously by ‘serious’ media: In addition to repeat ‘Nightline’ appearances, he’s been an ‘expert’ on such chat shows as ‘Today,’ ‘MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,’ ‘Charlie Rose,’ and ‘This Week with David Brinkley.’

"The New York Times, Los Anqeles Times, and Newsweek have published his columns.

"At the beginning of his first book, The Way Things Ought to Be," observes FAIR, "Rush Limbaugh hails ‘wholesome family values’ as the key to a decent society. But Limbaugh's recurrent ‘family values’ rhetoric is frequently contradicted by his actions.

"While criticizing premarital sex and ridiculing liberals for saying cohabitation is the same as marriage, he's lived with girlfriends before marriage. He denounces others over profanity and pornography, and then uses expletives in interviews with Playboy and Penthouse (and lies when questioned about it by fans).

"He gleefully does a radio commercial for Hooters -- a restaurant chain that promotes itself by emphasizing its waitresses’ breasts -- in an ad making light of the ‘shameless exploitation of women.’ He warms up his in-studio TV audience with a joke about prostitution. He extols the Ten Commandments, and then defends breaking the commandment against bearing false witness, as long as the untruths are told to the U.S. Congress.

"While paying lip service to ‘family values,’" concludes FAIR, "his comments about women are often crude, lewd, and lascivious. It's estimated that some 25 percent of Limbaugh's audience are Christian conservatives -- which raises questions: For Limbaugh, is the rhetoric about ‘family’ and ‘tradition’ merely a means to attract that audience? And for his conservative religious followers, is Limbaugh's prurient talk excused as long as he affirms their political and social prejudices?"

"When I listen to Limbaugh, as I often do," observes Texas political commentator Molly Ivins, "I find he consistently targets dead people, little girls, the homeless, and animals -- none of whom are in a particularly good position to respond. It is the consistency of his selection of helpless targets that I find so appalling.

"On his TV show in 1993, he put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and said: ‘Did you know there's a White House dog?’ And then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old and as far as I know had never done any harm to anyone...

"I also think he has a somewhat cult-like effect on his followers. They listen to him for three and a half hours a day on radio and television. I am in a position to assure you that David Koresh did not talk to the Branch Davidians that much. But that is precisely what cult leaders do: They talk to their followers hour after hour after hour."

Go on to: Part 12: Cartoon
Return to: The Next Distraction

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