Monday, June 13, 2005

Why Conservatives Should Care About Animal Cruelty, By Matthew Scully

An amazing read. It's long, but worth it. Good to see that someone believes that these issues should not be politicized. In essence, it is an issue all humans should be concerned about. It's important to note his credentials.

Amazingly, (be ready for a shocker) he "...served until last fall as special assistant and deputy director of speechwriting to President George W. Bush." Wow, not that is something I never expected.

Torture on the Farm:
Why Conservatives Should Care About Animal Cruelty
The American Conservative
By Matthew Scully
May 23, 2005 issue

A FEW YEARS AGO I began a book about cruelty to animals and about factory

farming in particular, problems that had been in the back of my mind for
long while. At the time I viewed factory farming as one of the lesser
problems facing humanity—a small wrong on the grand scale of good and
but too casually overlooked and too glibly excused.

This view changed as I acquainted myself with the details and saw a few
typical farms up close. By the time I finished the book, I had come to
the abuses of industrial farming as a serious moral problem, a truly
business for good reason passed over in polite conversation. Little
when left unattended, can grow and spread to become grave wrongs, and
precisely this had happened on our factory farms. The result of these
ruminations was Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and

the Call to Mercy. And though my tome never quite hit the bestseller
there ought to be some special literary prize for a work highly
in both the Wall Street Journal and Vegetarian Teen. When you enjoy the
accolades of PETA and Policy Review, Deepak Chopra and Gordon Liddy,
Singer and Charles Colson, you can at least take comfort in the diversity
your readership. The book also provided an occasion for fellow
to get beyond their dislike for particular animal-rights groups and to
examine cruelty issues on the merits. Conservatives have a way of
the subject, as if where animals are concerned nothing very serious could

ever be at stake. And though it is not exactly true that liberals care
about these issues—you are no more likely to find reflections or exposés
concerning cruelty in The Nation or The New Republic than in any journal
the Right—it is assumed that animal-protection causes are a project of
Left, and that the proper conservative position is to stand warily and
firmly against them. I had a hunch that the problem was largely one of
presentation and that by applying their own principles to animal welfare
issues conservatives would find plenty of reasons to be appalled. More to

the point, having acknowledged the problems of cruelty, we could then
support reasonable remedies. Conservatives, after all, aren’t shy about
discoursing on moral standards or reluctant to translate the most basic
those standards into law. Setting aside the distracting rhetoric of
rights, that’s usually what these questions come down to: what moral
standards should guide us in our treatment of animals, and when must
standards be applied in law? [text cut]

We don’t need novel theories of rights to do this. The usual distinctions

that conservatives draw between moderation and excess, freedom and
moral goods and material goods, rightful power and the abuse of power,
all do just fine. As it is, the subject hardly comes up at all among
conservatives, and what commentary we do hear usually takes the form of
ridicule directed at animal-rights groups. Often conservatives side
instinctively with any animal-related industry and those involved, as if
thing is right just because someone can make money off it or as if our
sympathies belong always with the men just because they are men.

I had an exchange once with an eminent conservative columnist on this
subject. Conversation turned to my book and to factory farming. Holding
hands out in the “stop” gesture, he said, “I don’t want to know.”
life on the factory farm is no one’s favorite subject, but conservative
writers often have to think about things that are disturbing or sad. In
case, we have an intellectually formidable fellow known to millions for
stern judgments on every matter of private morality and public policy.
nowhere in all his writings do I find any treatment of any cruelty issue,

never mind that if you asked him he would surely agree that cruelty to
animals is a cowardly and disgraceful sin. And when the subject is
to farmed animals—the moral standards being applied in a fundamental
enterprise—suddenly we’re in forbidden territory and “I don’t want to
is the best he can do. But don’t we have a responsibility to know? Maybe
whole subject could use his fine mind and his good heart. [text cut]

Treating animals decently is like most obligations we face, somewhere
between the most and the least important, a modest but essential
to living with integrity. And it’s not a good sign when arguments are
constantly turned to precisely how much is mandatory and how much,
therefore, we can manage to avoid.

If one is using the word “obligation” seriously, moreover, then there is
practical difference between an obligation on our end not to mistreat
animals and an entitlement on their end not to be mistreated by us.
way, we are required to do and not do the same things. And either way,
somewhere down the logical line, the entitlement would have to arise from
recognition of the inherent dignity of a living creature. The moral
of our fellow creatures may be humble, but it is absolute and not
within our power to confer or withhold. All creatures sing their
praises, as this truth is variously expressed in the Bible, and are dear
Him for their own sakes. A certain moral relativism runs through the
arguments of those hostile or indifferent to animal welfare—as if animals

can be of value only for our sake, as utility or preference decrees. In
practice, this outlook leaves each person to decide for himself when
rate moral concern. It even allows us to accept or reject such knowable
facts about animals as their cognitive and emotional capacities, their
conscious experience of pain and happiness. Elsewhere in contemporary
debates, conservatives meet the foe of moral relativism by pointing out
that, like it or not, we are all dealing with the same set of
realities and moral truths. We don’t each get to decide the facts of
on a situational basis. We do not each go about bestowing moral value
things as it pleases us at the moment. Of course, we do not decide moral
truth at all: we discern it. Human beings in their moral progress learn
appraise things correctly, using reasoned moral judgment to perceive a
order not of our devising. C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man calls this
“the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are
really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe
and the kind of things we are.” Such words as honor, piety, esteem, and
empathy do not merely describe subjective states of mind, Lewis reminds
but speak to objective qualities in the world beyond that merit those
attitudes in us. “[T]o call children delightful or old men venerable,” he

writes, “is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own
or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which
demands a
certain response from us whether we make it or not.” This applies to
questions of cruelty as well. A kindly attitude toward animals is not a
subjective sentiment; it is the correct moral response to the objective
value of a fellow creature. Here, too, rational and virtuous conduct
consists in giving things their due and in doing so consistently. If one
animal’s pain—say, that of one’s pet—is real and deserving of sympathy,
the pain of essentially identical animals is also meaningful, no matter
conventional distinctions we have made to narrow the scope of our

If it is wrong to whip a dog or starve a horse or bait bears for sport or

grossly abuse farm animals, it is wrong for all people in every place.
problem with moral relativism is that it leads to capriciousness and the
despotic use of power. And the critical distinction here is not between
human obligations and animal rights, but rather between obligations of
charity and obligations of justice.

Active kindness to animals falls into the former category. If you take in

strays or help injured wildlife or donate to animal charities, those are
fine things to do, but no one says you should be compelled to do them.
Refraining from cruelty to animals is a different matter, an obligation
justice not for us each to weigh for ourselves. It is not simply unkind
behavior, it is unjust behavior, and the prohibition against it is

Proverbs reminds us of this—“a righteous man regardeth the life of his
beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel”—and the laws of
America and of every other advanced nation now recognize the wrongfulness
such conduct with our cruelty statutes. Often applying felony-level
penalties to protect certain domestic animals, these state and federal
statutes declare that even though your animal may elsewhere in the law be

defined as your property, there are certain things you may not do to that

creature, and if you are found harming or neglecting the animal, you will

answer for your conduct in a court of justice. There are various reasons
state has an interest in forbidding cruelty, one of which is that cruelty
degrading to human beings. The problem is that many thinkers on this
have strained to find indirect reasons to explain why cruelty is wrong
thereby to force animal cruelty into the category of the victimless
The most common of these explanations asks us to believe that acts of
cruelty matter only because the cruel person does moral injury to himself
sullies his character—as if the man is our sole concern and the cruelly
treated animal is entirely incidental. [text cut]

Whatever terminology we settle on, after all the finer philosophical
have been hashed over, the aim of the exercise is to prohibit wrongdoing.

All rights, in practice, are protections against human wrongdoing, and
too the point is to arrive at clear and consistent legal boundaries on
things that one may or may not do to animals, so that every man is not
to be the judge in his own case. More than obligation, moderation,
liberty, or any of the other lofty ideals we hold, what should attune
conservatives to all the problems of animal cruelty—and especially to the

modern factory farm—is our worldly side. The great virtue of conservatism
that it begins with a realistic assessment of human motivations. We know
as he is, not only the rational creature but also, as Socrates told us,
rationalizing creature, with a knack for finding an angle, an excuse, and

Whether it’s the pornographer who thinks himself a free-speech champion
the abortionist who looks in the mirror and sees a reproductive
services provider, conservatives are familiar with the type. So we should

not be all that surprised when told that these very same capacities are
often at work in the things that people do to animals—and all the more so
our $125 billion a year livestock industry. The human mind, especially
there is money to be had, can manufacture grand excuses for the
of other human beings. How much easier it is for people to excuse the
done to lowly animals. Where animals are concerned, there is no practice
industry so low that someone, somewhere, cannot produce a high-sounding
reason for it. The sorriest little miscreant who shoots an elephant,
in wait by the water hole in some canned hunting operation, is just
“harvesting resources,” doing his bit for “conservation.” The swarms of
government-subsidized Canadian seal hunters slaughtering tens of
of newborn pups— hacking to death these unoffending creatures, even in
of their mothers— offer themselves as the brave and independent bearers
tradition. With the same sanctimony and deep dishonesty, factory-farm
corporations like Smithfield Foods, ConAgra, and Tyson Foods still cling
countrified brand names for their labels—Clear Run Farms, Murphy Family
Farms, Happy Valley—to convince us and no doubt themselves, too, that
are engaged in something essential, wholesome, and honorable.

Yet when corporate farmers need barbed wire around their Family Farms and

Happy Valleys and laws to prohibit outsiders from taking photographs (as
the case in two states) and still other laws to exempt farm animals from
definition of “animals” as covered in federal and state cruelty statues,
something is amiss. And if conservatives do nothing else about any other
animal issue, we should attend at least to the factory farms, where the
suffering is immense and we are all asked to be complicit. If we are
to have our meats and other animal products, there are natural costs to
obtaining them, defined by the duties of animal husbandry and of
ethics. Factory farming came about when resourceful men figured out ways
getting around those natural costs, applying new technologies to raise
animals in conditions that would otherwise kill them by deprivation and
disease. With no laws to stop it, moral concern surrendered entirely to
economic calculation, leaving no limit to the punishments that factory
farmers could inflict to keep costs down and profits up. Corporate
hardly speak anymore of “raising” animals, with the modicum of personal
that word implies. Animals are “grown” now, like so many crops. Barns
somewhere along the way became “intensive confinement facilities” and the

inhabitants mere “production units.”

The result is a world in which billions of birds, cows, pigs, and other
creatures are locked away, enduring miseries they do not deserve, for our

convenience and pleasure. We belittle the activists with their radical
agenda, scarcely noticing the radical cruelty they seek to redress. [text


Conservatives are supposed to revere tradition. Factory farming has no
traditions, no rules, no codes of honor, no little decencies to spare for
fellow creature. The whole thing is an abandonment of rural values and a
betrayal of honorable animal husbandry—to say nothing of veterinary
medicine, with its sworn oath to “protect animal health” and to “relieve
animal suffering.” Likewise, we are told to look away and think about
serious things. Human beings simply have far bigger problems to worry
than the well being of farm animals, and surely all of this zeal would be

better directed at causes of human welfare. You wouldn’t think that men
are unwilling to grant even a few extra inches in cage space, so that a
can turn around, would be in any position to fault others for pettiness.
are small acts of kindness beneath us, but not small acts of cruelty?

For the religious-minded, and Catholics in particular, no less an
authority than Pope Benedict XVI has explained the spiritual stakes.
recently to weigh in on these very questions, Cardinal Ratzinger told
journalist Peter Seewald that animals must be respected as our
in creation.” While it is licit to use them for food, “we cannot just do
whatever we want with them. ... Certainly, a sort of industrial use of
creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a
liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just
caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity
seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that
across in the Bible.” [text cut]

Those religious conservatives who, in every debate over animal welfare,
to remind us that the animals themselves are secondary and man must come
first are exactly right—only they don’t follow their own thought to its
moral conclusion. Somehow, in their pious notions of stewardship and
dominion, we always seem to end up with singular moral dignity but no
singular moral accountability to go with it. Lofty talk about humanity’s
special status among creatures only invites such questions as: what would

the Good Shepherd make of our factory farms? Where does the creature of
conscience get off lording it over these poor creatures so mercilessly?
is it possible,” as Malcolm Muggeridge asked in the years when factory
farming began to spread, “to look for God and sing his praises while
insulting and degrading his creatures? If, as I had thought, all lambs
the Agnus Dei, then to deprive them of light and the field and their
frisking and the sky is the worst kind of blasphemy.” [text cut]

Of the many conservatives who reviewed Dominion, every last one conceded
that factory farming is a wretched business and a betrayal of human
responsibility. So it should be a short step to agreement that it also
constitutes a serious issue of law and public policy. Having granted that
certain practices are abusive, cruel, and wrong, we must be prepared
actually to do something about them. [text cut]

We need our conservative values voters to get behind a Humane Farming Act
that we can all quit averting our eyes. This reform, a set of explicit
federal cruelty statutes with enforcement funding to back it up, would
us with farms we could imagine without wincing, photograph without
prosecution, and explain without excuses. The law would uphold not only
elementary standards of animal husbandry but also of veterinary ethics,
following no more complicated a principle than that pigs and cows should
able to walk and turn around, fowl to move about and spread their wings,
all creatures to know the feel of soil and grass and the warmth of the
No need for labels saying “free-range” or “humanely raised.” They will
be raised that way. They all get to be treated like animals and not as
unfeeling machines.

On a date certain, mass confinement, sow gestation crates, veal crates,
battery cages, and all such innovations would be prohibited. This will
livestock agriculture’s moral race to the bottom and turn the ingenuity
its scientists toward compassionate solutions. It will remove the federal

support that unnaturally serves agribusiness at the expense of small
And it will shift economies of scale, turning the balance in favor of
farmers—as those who run companies like Wal-Mart could do right now by
taking their business away from factory farms. In all cases, the law
apply to corporate farmers a few simple rules that better men would have
been observing all along: we cannot just take from these creatures, we
give them something in return. We owe them a merciful death, and we owe
a merciful life. And when human beings cannot do something humanely,
degrading both the creatures and ourselves, then we should not do it at

Matthew Scully served until last fall as special assistant and deputy
director of speechwriting to President George W. Bush. He is the author
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to

No comments:

Search for More Content

Custom Search
Bookmark and Share

Past Articles