Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The lives of moral soldiers

Here in Orange County, our newspapers are dying. The Orange County Register is resorting to desperate measures, including cute dog and baby contests.

Naturally, lately, they’ve been yappin’ about our local Olympic athletes—we have quite a few—including a young swimmer named Amanda Beard. Evidently, Beard has done some posters for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Well, good for her, I say.

Today, the Reg has suddenly turned on Beard, breaking the BIG STORY that her volunteer work for PETA maybe isn’t so impressive after all (Can Amanda Beard have her leather and eat it, too?). It's a new low for the Reg.

The breathless reporter asks: “Did Amanda Beard, the raised-in-Irvine Olympic swimmer whose unclothed curves flesh out a new animal-rights advertisement, pull a 180?”

You can see the poster above. (These kids today.)

Like other PETAphiles, Beard has expressed her disinclination to wrap the coats of dead animals around her. She opposes “fur.”

So here’s the breaking story: “as recently as last September, interviews reveal, Beard expressed an undying affinity for clothing made from cowhide.” Also, evidently, 18 months ago, she told someone that she plans to be buried in her favorite leather sandals.

• • • •

If you’re a vegetarian or an animal rights person, then you are familiar with this phenomenon. For some reason, otherwise pleasant and reasonable people suddenly turn into yelping jackals—er, yelping Hannities—when they think they’ve detected some sort of inconsistency or hypocrisy in an animal welfare advocate.

What’s the matter with them? Were they born in a barn?

Worse, sometimes, they’ll openly ridicule those of us who refrain from eating animals out of concern for their welfare. They’ll grab a cold cut, hold it high, and shout, “oh, the baby pig, the poor baby pig! Watch me now!” They’ll gobble it down and laugh.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this. I weary of it.

Let’s get back to this swimmer. I know nothing about her, of course.

She’s pretty young—26 years old. Recently, someone’s explained to her just what is done to animals to produce fur, and she’s horrified by that. (I’m just supposing.) But, of course, she may assume that other animal products, including leather, are produced more humanely, which is why she singles out fur. For many animal products, that is probably correct. For others, not so much.

And so, for all that we know, she is not hypocritical at all.

Further, she may think (I don’t know) that she is on a long road toward living a life that better harmonizes with her values, including her humaneness. The truth is that one cannot suddenly arrive at the end of that road overnight. Those who attempt that usually fail. And so, possibly, she is starting down her road by condemning a particularly gruesome form of inhumaneness—the fur industry—while, say, attempting some sort of semi-vegetarianism. You’ve got to start somewhere.

I’ve known many people who have viewed themselves as being on this road. If they stay on it for any length of time, they'll come to understand that they can never entirely disconnect their lives from animal exploitation and abuse (or, for that matter, from human exploitation and abuse). That is a hopeless goal.

They may even realize along the way that one's concern for animals is a concern for them, not a concern for one's own moral purity. It is really an immature thought, the thought that being humane means having no personal connection with inhumaneness. To care about the pain and suffering of beings is not about oneself. It is about those beings. One who attains some sort of causal purity with regard to animal exploitation and inhumaneness may suppose that he has attained the moral heights. No. He is a soldier in a solitary foxhole, disconnected from the war.

Suppose instead he or she has made an effort over time to get others to think about these issues; she has persisted in efforts to pass and popularize legislation that helps animals. Slowly, progress is made. (In fact, that is occurring.)

Such a person might spend much less time on moral purity. Hell, she might not even be a complete vegetarian.

She might even wear leather shoes.

But, relative to the cause—that is, relative to improving the lives of animals—she is the more valued soldier.

I know nothing about this Amanda Beard (aside from the photo above!). But I will be very impressed if, twenty years from now, we can look back at her continuous and intelligent involvement in the larger effort to lessen the horrors we perpetrate on non-human animals.

If, when we look down at her feet, we are surprised to find on them those silly leather sandals, we can shrug and smile and briefly note the complexities and ironies of the lives of moral soldiers.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful essay, Roy/Chunk. I mean it. How wonderful to see someone call out this mean-spirited crap for what it is: the idiocy that emerges when people who are doing NOTHING to help animals or people or the environment attack with glee whose who are doing SOMETHING to help, but just not doing EVERYTHING (which is, as you say, impossible, and yet often an admirable ideal on which those travelling this road are aiming at).


Lauren Madeline Curtis said...

I know this is specifically about vegetarians, but it's pretty funny to think about:

Anti-animal rights people are stupid and they smell bad.