Friday, December 30, 2005

Did the Sky Fall? A Conservative Speaks Out for Animal Rights

Wow, came across this today. I think this is great. Not that I am for the conservative ideology. But that some conservatives (whatever that is now) see that their beliefs should not be incompatible with animal rights. In fact, she is quite dismayed and confused as to why her side WANTS to be against it. As she says ...."I left the event with a better understanding of why so many of my peers use “Republican” as a synonym for “jerk.”"

Interesting reading. Unfortunately though, very rare. Even she admits that most on her side will never accept any understanding of animal rights philosophy even though such behavior makes no sense at all.


A Conservative Speaks Out for Animal Rights


In fact, you’re as unlikely to catch me in a tie-dye as in a fur coat. I’m an unabashed capitalist and registered Republican who abhors gun control and would like to do away with welfare altogether. I believe in individual rights rather than group rights and in limited government rather than big government. I believe in free market economics and a strong national defense. I think the blame for most of society’s problems lies with the irresponsible behavior of individuals rather than “corporate greed.” I like it when men hold doors for me. I believe in God. Put it all together and I’m the last person most people expect to find boycotting the circus or checking the label on my lipstick to make sure it wasn’t tested on animals. According to conventional wisdom, animals are supposed to be outside the scope of my concern.

I want to know who decided that being conservative means you can’t care about animals. More importantly, why would conservatives want it to?

Liberals are fond of painting conservatives as cold and uncaring, and, as a group, we’ve never been too good at fighting them on that one. But for us to actually help them do it by proclaiming that caring about animals contradicts what we’re about, well, that’s just plain stupid. It’s bad enough when liberals try to claim compassion as their own exclusive turf, but I am far more incensed when my fellow conservatives drive the point home. If the buzz phrase “compassionate conservatism” means anything at all, surely it’s that we shouldn’t dismiss issues of pain and death with a smirk and a jeer.

Yet we do it all the time. At a College Republicans Convention I attended, amid tables staffed by the NRA, the Eagle Forum, and Citizens for a Sound Economy, vendors hawked stickers ridiculing environmentalists and animal protectionists, stickers with slogans like “Pave the Rainforests” and “People Eating Tasty Animals.” When I asked them what made them think Republicans would be a receptive audience to such unkind sentiments, they looked at me like perhaps I was an escapee from the UFO conspiracists convention being held on another floor of the hotel. I left the event with a better understanding of why so many of my peers use “Republican” as a synonym for “jerk.”

I’m used to encountering resistance from people of all political persuasions to my belief that animals deserve to be free from unnecessary suffering. After all, agreeing means giving up hamburgers, learning which detergents and shampoos are rubbed into rabbits’ eyes, and seeking out shoes made of synthetics, not leather. But I can’t get used to hearing other conservatives tell me animal rights is for communists, hippies, or liberals (often all three at once!).

When was it decided that scoffing at kindness is part of the conservative ideology package? After all, there are plenty of reasons to support the Second Amendment that have nothing to do with blasting helpless animals into shreds. And experimenting on animals is both cruel and bad science; as The New York Times reported, “So much evidence has accumulated that chemicals frequently have wholly different effects in animals and humans that officials throughout Government and industry often do not act on the studies’ findings.” So if you’re interested in reliable, efficient research, those who waste tax dollars force-feeding cocaine to monkeys, sewing kittens’ eyes shut, and poisoning beagles should draw your ire.

It’s a mistake to argue that the conservative tent has no room for a belief that we don’t have the right to eat, wear, or experiment on animals. The fact is, there are people who care about animals on both sides of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. We are young, old, religious, atheists, bankers, truck drivers, doctors, teachers, bricklayers, homemakers, liberals, and, yes, conservatives. Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, argues that compassionate conservatism must be extended to animals who are raised and killed for food. In his book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, Scully asks why, if we are appalled by cruelty to a puppy, we regard with indifference the abuse and mutilation of other intelligent, sensitive animals. Pat Buchanan recently won a national award from PETA after he made the gutsy decision to place animal rights issues, specifically the abuse of farmed animals, squarely on the cover of his American Conservative magazine.

Why should liberals have a stranglehold on the belief that there is a kind alternative to every cruel act? Like humans, animals have interests that shouldn’t be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. It doesn’t matter whether they’re cute, or useful to humans, or an endangered species, or whether any human cares about them at all. (After all, if finding someone likable or attractive was a prerequisite for not hurting them, some of us would be in a lot of trouble.) In this day and age, with virtually unlimited choices of food, clothing, and entertainment, we don’t have to choose between human rights and animal rights. We can take care of ourselves and treat animals compassionately; this isn’t a competition.

Animal rights doesn’t have to be your issue. You don’t have to carry picket signs outside KFC or go naked to protest fur if you don’t want to. But neither should you automatically assume protecting animals is something that can’t fit in your ideological package. Forget for a moment that you’re more Rush Limbaugh than Jane Fonda and examine what we do to animals with an open mind. You just may find that you, too, object to treating animals like walking entrĂ©es, handbags, and lab tools.

When you think about it, there’s nothing partisan about compassion. And conservatives, who have as much heart as anybody, shouldn’t want there to be.

Alison Green is a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

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