Friday, August 26, 2005

Wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?

A number of blogs recently let loose on the latest controversial campaign from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In words and pictures, PETA draws parallels between the treatment of of non-human animals and oppressed human beings. The focus on black Africans has elicited outrage, just as PETA's earlier "Holocaust on Your Plate" drew strong condemnation. Critics have been particularly incensed about what they see as the implication that the suffering of cows or rabbits is comparable to the suffering of blacks or Jews. In the eyes of the critics, PETA is guilty of racism and anti-Semitism for equating these human victims with animals.

Of course, that's not how PETA sees it. PETA's point is that just as inflicting unnecessary suffering or death on groups of humans is a moral outrage and displays the ignorant bias we call "racism" or "anti-Semitism", so many of the ways we treat animals are morally outrageous and manifest an ignorant bias that can be labelled "speciesism". Alice Walker apparently agrees with PETA's parallel. And it was Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote, "for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka". The problem, however, is that PETA's tactics have had the effect of diverting attention away from the treatment of animals and toward the issue of whether PETA itself is racist or--in the case of using women like Pamela Anderson to denounce fur or promote vegetarianism by wearing nothing, or nothing but a few lettuce leaves--sexist. My conclusion has to be that these deliberately inflammatory campaigns (though certainly not all of PETA's campaigns) are dumb because they are counter-productive: they wind up antagonizing too many people instead of making them think. They give people a wonderful excuse for not taking a good look at themselves in the mirror.

But wasn't Hitler a vegetarian? This silly rejoinder to Pamela Anderson and PETA (one of numerous silly rejoinders that get trotted out) raises the fascinating topic of the Nazis' attitudes toward animals and non-human nature in general. Hitler's hero, Richard Wagner, advocated abstaining from meat, and Hitler did restrict his own intake, mainly for health reasons. Nonetheless, he continued to eat meat, Bavarian sausages and stuffed pigeon being two of his favourite dishes. The Nazis had an ambivalent attitude toward animals, identifying with predators while looking upon members of other races and nations as less than fully human. Indeed, the Nazi world-view vehemently rejected the idea that humans could transcend the harsh, dog-eat-dog laws of nature. But more about Nazis and ecology in a coming post.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home