Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fear and Loathing

In a recent comment, Black Dog Lady (BDL) said of animals, "They are born knowing." A great line that reminded me of another one from Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, which my kids are listening to on CD:

"God had given men reason, by which they could find out things for themselves; but He gave animals knowledge . . . which was much more prompt and perfect in its way..."

As to BDL's question of why some people hate animals, my feeling is that it is not so much an inferiority complex as a "mortality complex."

BDL, I agree with you completely that being close to a good animal is a humbling experience, but I doubt seriously that these people have been close to very many animals of any kind.

I think what those who want to eradicate domesticated animals see in them are little reminders of our own inevitable death. And it scares them.

How far do you have to look to see pets suffering and dying around you? Not far.

Humans are relatively long-lived animals. A man can outlive 7 or 8 dogs, watching each of them suffer from time to time and all of them die. If he was uncomfortable about that, and about his role in it, might he be sympathetic to the notion that it would be better if no more dogs were born?

Maybe. But the kind of person who lives with animals through their births and deaths is unlikely to be so scared of death and suffering, per se.

Such a person likely understands that the great enjoyment of sharing animals' lives comes at a cost of seeing their death and suffering. If this person is also a hunter, a farmer, a butcher, a biologist, so much better will he know this.

The lesson I've learned (entirely common to people with like experience) is that life is absolutely worth living--children are worth having, dogs are worth keeping---despite the fact that pain and death are necessary parts of it all.

The people who, on the other hand, choose not to live with animals (or children), and have little or no experience of them from childhood or in their daily lives, are much less likely to intuit this balance or imagine it could be worth any suffering.

If they choose not to eat meat (not to mention hunt or approve hunting!), so much further can they stand apart from this essential knowledge about life.

I am not saying all animals' rights activists are urban, childless vegetarians, but to whatever extent that demographic informs the movement, you can bet personal inexperience of (and fear of) death contributes much to their fervor.

As to the middle ground and any hope of reaching it by the opposing sides on this issue, I say it's impossible so long as we insist on including the extremists in the conversation.

There has to be at least one gram of shared belief between parties for there to be any hope of compromise. I have more faith in the US and Iran coming to terms than I have in a satisfactory compromise on this issue.

Is it that bad? Is there nothing we agree on? What about humane animal husbandry standards? Basic animal welfare. Can't we agree on that?

Mary and I can agree on that. Patrick and I can agree on it. The head of Baton Rouge animal control and I can agree on that. And I could find grounds for agreement with most any animal welfare group (and there are MANY) who do not insist that humans cease to keep animals.

Let this question define the dichotomy: What is the solution to the many and serious problems associated with the keeping and breeding of domestic animals?

A) The destruction of all domesticated animals

B) Something else

If you think there must be some other solution(s), you are one of us.


mdmnm said...


Great post!
Have pets, you're going to cry. Hunt, and sooner or later you're going to cause some pain and have to reconcile with that. While I wouldn't say that I'm able to do either of the above with perfect (or sometimes any) equanimity, dealing with all that seems to be one of the central points of life.
Nice sketch of another front on the culture wars.

prairie mary said...

For a view that doesn't get into the media because there's not much potential for exploitation as a war, try googling the Delta Society. ( might do it.) What you ought to get is a dedicated organization that develops helping relationships between animals and people. I happened into one of their conferences by "mistake" one year and found a LOT of good stuff.

Even you Rousseauians ought to love it.

Prairie Mary