Find the balance; remove the extreme

“Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” — Thomas Edison

Before we can find a balance to the animal rights issue, we need to eliminate the extremes, and hanging from Moos Tower to protest the use of animals in research is only one example of one end of a spectrum.
There are people on this planet who have no regard for life, animal or human. To the best of my knowledge, humans are the only species that kill for fun, with the exception of a mad monkey pulling the feathers off a chicken, so I’ve heard.
When government officials live in fear of the next U.S. embassy bombing, or parents fear for their child’s life being taken by a bullet shot by a fellow classmate, worrying about the plight of rats used in biomedical research gets pushed way down the priority list.
But caring about those rats is a starting point toward good all-around ethics. I believe the highest ethic achievable by humankind is the golden rule. There it is. You don’t hurt others. Pure and simple.
There are people who love to hunt; they love to kill. They feel nothing as an animal lies dying, only that maybe they screwed up because they didn’t make the kill in one shot. These same people equally enjoy pissing off environmentalists and animal rights advocates — also, because it’s fun.
As a society we are truly confused when it comes to killing animals. Like a completely washed-down interpretation of what whites imagine Indian life to be like, the noble hunter kills an animal, but with respect. This twisted logic leaves an animal dead, no matter how justified the killer may feel.
There are numerous examples of hypocrisy: the vegetarian who wears leather or the person who claims they love animals but eats hamburgers thinking cows are somehow an alien species compared to their pet dog.
The past couple of weeks have left a trail of opinions and editorials debating from opposite ends of the spectrum the right to use animals in research. Two groups in particular, Focus on Animal Contributions To Science and Student Organization for Animal Rights, stood on opposite sides of the ring: FACTS for; SOAR against. Each side presented a rational, collegiate argument, distancing themselves from the outrageous antics of the activist who hung from a rope on Moos Tower, the incident that spawned the current civil debate.
Yet, hints of extremism can be found in the writings of both groups. The FACTS agenda is a cold one, righteous in having the right to not feel in the name of research. SOAR will debate up to a point, but if pushed, has no qualms about endorsing acts of extremism, leaving the reader to wonder just exactly how far WILL they go?
Perhaps the most rational and feeling argument — more rational in that it has heart — is the piece by Mary Van Beusekom and Liza Moscovice, co-chairwomen of Concerned University Lab Animal Professionals and lab techs in the neurology department. In short, Beusekom and Moscovice painted a picture of a researcher caring very much for animals, while at the same time caring for the research work involved. They are researchers searching for new ways to not use animals.
Beusekom and Moscovice represent balance in the battle of extremes. Not all activists hang from towers or blow up labs and not all researchers laugh hideously while spraying hairspray in a rabbit’s eyes.
Tradition is blinding, obscuring the horror of senseless slaughter taken for granted through the mechanism of habit. When hunting season rolls around, many hunters don’t think twice about cleaning up their muzzles and buying those new hunting boots they’ve had their eye on all year long.
Growing up as a hunter, I never knew what an ecosystem was. I heard nothing about animal rights. In fact, in my nice, safe little corner of the white suburban world, I knew nothing about rights at all: black, women, gay or animal. Habit.
When you stick your hand in an aquarium and the fish run away, it’s because they don’t want to die; they don’t want to be hurt. Have you ever purposefully tried to hurt or scare an animal? Animals run in fear. They want to live.
When mothers club baby seals with baseball bats and poachers saw off the faces of elephants with chainsaws, then maybe the absurdity of an activist hanging dangerously from a tower is not so absurd. When ethnic cleansing in Kosovo is no more an issue than most of the population of North Korea starving to death, we’ve gone too far. When a gang shooting bores us or a terrorist attack thrills us like a scene out of a James Bond movie, we’ve gone too far.
Most people today hunt for choice, not necessity. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Shooting Sports Foundation report declines in license sales every year since 1993. There is no reason to kill animals for something that is simply a hobby.
For those who don’t know, rock guitarist Ted Nugent has no qualms about “killing Bambi.” Ted Nugent is a good example of the ancient god Orion … gone psychotic.
Meanwhile groups like Fund for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the activist side and the National Rifle Association on the killing side seem to all be hanging off a tower somewhere.
From zoos to circuses, rodeos to bullfights, vivisection to trophies and pets to pigs, people exploit animals to the max. And from prisons to insane asylums, city streets to skyscrapers and families to friends, people exploit the hell out of each other.
Humans have developed clever systems for justifying killing. We have unethical hunting behavior — poaching, poor shooting and wastefulness of harvested game. Some hunters are righteous in the need to trim herds because of overpopulation, but forget the problem was already caused by destroyed habitats. We have euthanasia instead of a bullet or the cut of a knife. The very term “humane killing” is a glaring oxymoron.
We kill in the name of freedom. We kill in the name of self-defense. We kill through negligence. We kill via premeditation. And perhaps the worst, we kill for fun — for no reason at all.
From the cover of a November issue of Sports Afield is “The New Hunter,” a featured photo of a rifle-bearing female hunter. In the article Ted Kerasote argues that hunters of the 1990s “are expressing an ecological awareness and sensitivity for life that makes them value process over product, the experience over the trophy.” There’s hope.
Representatives from all sides of the debate each have their own grab bag of rhetorical devices, from the Second Amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, from the Bible to the latest PETA news release. Facts, figures and dates are plentiful, arguments are well formulated and rights are declared. Still, the killing goes on.
There is a vast collection of ecosystems that make up this planet, and we are very much a part of those ecosystems. How we take care of them will determine how they will take care of us.
Jerry Flattum is the opinions editor for the Daily. His column normally appears on Friday.