Monday, March 27, 2006

Animal-rights terrorism

Here’s some good news. Within a generation or so, people could be eating people in fancy restaurants. More exactly, they could be eating “cultured” human flesh, meat grown from human cells. This would give a whole new meaning to “eating Chinese”, “eating Greek” – or “baby food”. This is no joke. It will happen. Research on developing cultured meat is well under way, and the economic and culinary prospects are awesome, not to mention disgusting. Best of all, though, is the prospect of beginning to put an end to the barbaric practice of factory-farming sentient animals.

Why is the mass torture and slaughter of animals apparently impossible to eradicate, despite the damage it does to human health and to the environment? The answer is not simply economic. Here’s the real scoop: torturing, slaughtering, and consuming animals is all about domination and salvation. It’s all about who we humans are and what our ultimate fate is. Just saying, “No, thanks, I don’t eat meat” at a dinner party is enough to induce existential terror in many people, and is the basis of the snide remarks that can follow. Of course, these people are not likely to recognize themselves as suffering existential terror, since the whole response mechanism (“I think I’ll go out and butcher a cabbage”, “Paul’s music sucks”, “These wackos are against scientific progress”, etc., depending on the particular issue at hand) is designed to normalize the situation and push the ontological and moral issues back out of sight.

It’s instructive to note the frequency with which it is asserted that ascribing rights to animals is unacceptable because it would reduce human beings to a brutish, dog-eat-dog level, and in effect mean the end of human rights. This is nonsense: showing respect for animals (or women, or black people, or whomever) does not require or imply showing less respect for humans (or men, or white people, or whomever). The real fear here is that if our destiny is one with the other living creatures of this world, then we have been abandoned by God or Fate and there is no eternal salvation for us – for surely God cares little or nothing for individual animal lives, from all the evidence around us, including our own treatment of those lives.

This is the real terrorism of animal rights: the terror induced in those who feel a threat to their privileged place in the grand scheme of existence.

It is not only those who long to be saved by God who can feel threatened by the idea that humans and non-humans are in the same boat, morally speaking (even if there may be good reasons to prefer humans when the boat springs a leak), but also those who see evolution as certifying human moral superiority (“We’ve clawed our way to the top of the heap”). I’ve noted before how, for those who want to believe that God has conferred a special status on human beings, Darwinism threatens the doctrine of human exceptionalism. But the desire to be assured that humans occupy a special place in the universe runs deep, and is not limited to religious believers. Ostensible devotion to science can mask an arrogant dismissal of the non-human world and those who would speak for it.

Conversely, as Rod Preece makes clear in his important book Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution, those who have defended animals on the basis of their kinship with humans have often, at least in the past, been motivated less by the idea of biological evolution than by a religious, and specifically a Christian, belief in the unity of God’s creation. This was especially true of the nineteenth-century debate in Britain over vivisection. As for Darwin himself, he wrote that the subject of vivisection made him “sick with horror”, yet he refused to condemn the practice insofar as it might advance scientific knowledge. By contrast, Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator of the theory of natural selection, condemned it entirely. In making a case for some animal experimentation, proponents might at least have the decency to be “sick with horror” at the necessity, if such it be. Unfortunately, too few display Darwin’s decency.

Happily, vivisection of non-humans may one day be replaced by experimentation upon living human bodies and organs, grown in vats for the purpose. Not only would the “models” yield more reliable information (because they would be the real thing), but waste would be minimized: any unused surplus could be donated to food banks.

So imagine a Thanksgiving dinner in 2056. Out of the oven comes the roast baby, perhaps with an apple in its mouth. Will Father carve the baby, or is that tradition a bit sexist? Yum! Baby meat! “Reminds me of veal”, says Grandma. Mother scowls. “What’s veal?” asks little Timmy. “Not something we talk about in polite company,” says Mother, “not something that people eat any more. Here, let me give you a hand.”

Friday, March 24, 2006

Moonbat musings

A right-wing blogger, Ben Domenech, just hired by The Washington Post, has now been forced to resign after being outed as a serial plagiarist. It's always particularly satisfying to hear of plagiarists getting their comeuppance. Domenech's attempt to defend himself ends with this wonderfully lame sneer: "To my enemies: I take enormous solace in the fact that you spent this week bashing me, instead of America." Take that, commie moonbats! ("Moonbats", in case you don't know, is what right-wing bloggers invariably call left-wingers. Left-wing bloggers return the favour by calling right-wingers "wingnuts".)

Meanwhile, the struggle to build a semi-democratic society in Afghanistan is not going well. Unless enough pressure can be applied to the regime, it could be death for one man who did the outrageous: converted from Islam to Christianity. Thank God we don't live an a barbaric nation where religious intolerance reigns. On the other hand, if you live in the U.S.A., then you'd better thank God -- or else you may be one of those evil-doers the Patriot Act was designed to sniff out. Americans, it seems, don't trust atheists. And if you're a Canadian bound to or from another country, be very careful about changing planes at a U.S. airport. Like Maher Arar, you could be kidnapped by U.S. authorities and "rendered" to somewhere like Syria to be tortured, even if you're completely innocent.

Be smart, stay at home. Even better, move to Alberta, where the government has so much money, they're throwing it at everyone and everything in sight. And if you decide to stay put, don't gripe about Albertans' good fortune. As Finance Minister Shirley McClellan pointed out, "This wasn't luck." You bet it wasn't. Albertans worked hard to put all that oil into the ground. They deserve to get rich.

Monday, March 20, 2006

With God on his side

It’s the third anniversary of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq. (No, CNN, not the “three-year anniversary”.) The word quagmire seems appropriate: “a soft boggy or marshy area that gives way underfoot; a hazardous or awkward situation”. More specifically, the invasion forces in Iraq cannot win the war, which has become a constant military and economic drain on them, and withdrawal is likely just to make matters worse faster, at least from their point of view.

Civil war now rages in Iraq, even if it’s as yet of relatively low intensity. But Dubya insists that he sees light at the end of the tunnel. With the neo-con project of turning Iraq into a giant platform for U.S. domination of the Middle East in danger of being blown to smithereens by endless I.E.D.s planted by Sunni good ol’ boys, the U.S. administration is reduced to endless repetition of the mantra that we must fight the terrorists over there or else we’ll have to fight them over here. Never mind that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and little to do with terrorism. And now Bush and company are cranking up the rhetoric about the imminent threat from Iran, just in time to ward off a Republican defeat in the upcoming November Congressional elections. The problem is that the U.S., having shot itself in the foot in Iraq, doesn’t have the capability to invade Iran. But air strikes are a real possibility, something that would have unpredictable and possibly dangerous consequences for the whole region. Having just reaffirmed his doctrine of pre-emptive war, and with an unshakeable faith that God is on his side, Bush is not likely to be deterred by common sense.

Meanwhile, the Harper government insists that Parliament should not debate Canada’s role in Afghanistan because that might undermine the morale of our troops there. How fragile does the P.M. think our soldiers’ psyches are, anyway? It’s true that Canadian forces in Afghanistan free up some U.S. forces for Iraq (though the numbers are not large), but there is a case for international intervention against the odious Taliban, religious zealots who assassinate school teachers for teaching girls to read and write. It is insulting not only to our troops but to the rest of the Canadian public to be told that the people’s elected representatives ought not to debate this issue.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What did you do in the war? (2)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What did you do in the war?