Rats have rights!” screamed a dozen protesters at CBS’s studios here on June 16. Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were aghast at CBS’s hit program, Survivor. Stranded on a remote, tropical island, its contestants have resorted to roasting rats for food. This is too much for PETA, which defends pests — even when they are consumed for nutrition.
”Mary Ann, Skipper, Ginger and the others on Gilligan’s Island became America’s most beloved castaways — and they did so without cruelly killing animals for ratings,” says PETA campaign coordinator RaeLeann Smith.
Even in today’s Disneyfied New York, most rodents are tougher than Mickey and Minnie Mouse combined. Some 28 million rats infest Gotham’s streets, subway tunnels and sewer pipes. If these critters have rights, is it fair for municipal exterminators to poison them?
While hoping that any such killing would be “quick and painless,” Smith told me, “we would encourage them to control the population with non-lethal methods such as sterilization.”
And if rats have rights, how about the mosquitoes that carry the deadly West Nile virus? “The question of whether or not mosquitoes have rights is not as clear,” Smith says. “There are gray areas obviously…Should you spray for mosquitoes, there may be a kinder way or a less violent way, both to the mosquitoes and to the environment.”
Through such vermin-hugging notions, PETA inadvertently lampoons the legitimate issue of animal welfare. Consider just a few of its wacky ideas:
• Shouting “meat pimp!”, PETA activist Arathi Jayaram threw a tofu cream pie at Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman at a May 30 Washington, D.C. appearance. “Shame on you, Dan Glickman, for pushing meat and promoting animal cruelty,” she hollered as cops whisked her away.
• Last May 9, PETA asked Wyoming to delete from its license plates an image of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. PETA’s Kristie Sigmon wrote Governor Jim Geringer that the plates “promote and glorify” rodeo events.
• PETA inflamed parents in February with a MilkSucks.com web page designed to sell college students on beer’s alleged superiority to milk. “Save a cow’s life,” urge the bottle openers that PETA distributed.
• PETA also opposes animal testing, even to perfect cures for terminal illnesses. When USA Today asked spokesman Dan Mathews about this potentially life-threatening belief, he advised: “Don’t get [diseases] in the first place, schmo.” PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, once explained that if AIDS could be cured through animal testing, “we’d be against it.”
PETA is not just an edgier version of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is a pack of dangerous radicals who have raised misanthropy to a fine art and hope to dislodge man from the top rung of the evolutionary ladder. To PETA and the animal rights crowd, human beings are walking, talking viruses that not only inhabit the Earth, but also infect it.
As Newkirk has said, “there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” One wonders how Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel might react to this Newkirk nugget: “Six million people died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.”
To her credit, Newkirk applies her down-with-people philosophy to herself: “I would rather see a blank space where I am,” she has said. “At least I wouldn’t be harming anything.”
An author pen-named Les U. Knight apotheosized this world view in Wild Earth magazine. “Voluntary human extinction,” he wrote, “will solve every problem on Earth, social and environmental.”
Controversial groups add plenty to serious debate. While the AFL-CIO and American Association of Retired Persons advance some zany concepts, they are formidable players with views that must be engaged and refuted rather than dismissed with a wave of the hand. PETA’s high profile notwithstanding, it deserves to be laughed right into the same political padded cell that now houses the Temperance League and the Flat Earth Society.
In one sense, this is a shame. The impressive energy, creativity and passion of PETA’s 700,000 members would be beautiful if they busied themselves by finding homes for all the creatures crowding America’s animal shelters. And just imagine the good they could do by teaching illiterate children to read, guiding welfare moms back to work or caring for shut-in seniors. But rather than serve as People for the Ethical Treatment of People, PETA’s lemmings accelerate America’s descent into madness by screeching at the tops of their lungs…in defense of rats.