Politics & Policy

I Am a Person for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

(Xavier Marchant/Dreamstime)

We often wonder how people of the past, including the most revered and refined, could have universally engaged in conduct now considered unconscionable. Such as slavery. How could the Founders, so sublimely devoted to human liberty, have lived with — some participating in — human slavery? Or fourscore years later, how could the saintly Lincoln, an implacable opponent of slavery, have nevertheless spoken of and believed in African inferiority?

While retrospective judgment tends to make us feel superior to our ancestors, it should really evoke humility. Surely some contemporary practices will be deemed equally abominable by succeeding generations. The only question is: Which ones?

I’ve long thought it will be our treatment of animals. I’m convinced that our great-grandchildren will find it difficult to believe that we actually raised, herded, and slaughtered them on an industrial scale — for the eating.

RELATED: Support for Animal Welfare Grows on the Right

To be sure, there has been a salutary turn in our attitude toward animals, especially their display and confinement. To its credit, Barnum & Bailey is retiring its elephant acts. Festooning these magnificent creatures with comically gaudy costumes and parading them about, often shackled, is a reproach to both their nobility and our humanity.

Or consider those SeaWorld commercials reassuring us how well their orcas are treated. The tone is contrite and almost apologetic, as befits a business that trains splendid creatures to jump high on command for fish — and for our amusement.

And although some of these measures are market-driven — SeaWorld has been hemorrhaging customers and Cirque du Soleil has been thriving without animals — they are nonetheless welcome. As are the improvements in zoos. The zoo animals I remember from my childhood were so sadly caged, so restlessly pawing the ground, so piteously defeated. Today, the enclosures are more forgiving, the bars largely gone, the running space more ample.

RELATED: Elephants Take a Bow: Ringling Bros.’ Surprising Decision

It’s understandable. The zoo used to symbolize man’s dominion over his menacing adversaries, his competitors for living space. Tigers still roamed, and could eat you. Now the competition is over. Our rivals have either been wiped out or driven back to the bush. Except for the occasional shark dining on some intrepid surfer, the threat is gone — and with it, the thrill of conquest.

No need, therefore, to display wildlife bound and tamed, King Kong–like. The overriding mission of today’s zoo is conservancy — the care, study, preservation, and propagation of the various species, some of them endangered.

Another advance, and not just for them but for us. One measure of human moral progress — amid and despite the savageries we visit upon each other — is how we treat the innocent in our care. And none are more innocent than these.

RELATED: Pro-Life, Pro-Animal: The Conscience of a Pro-Life, Vegan Conservative

One measure of human moral progress — amid and despite the savageries we visit upon each other — is how we treat the innocent in our care. And none are more innocent than these.

Which brings us to meat-eating. Its extinction will, I believe, ultimately come. And be largely market-driven, as well. Science will find dietary substitutes that can be produced at infinitely less cost and effort. At which point, meat will become a kind of exotic indulgence, what the cigar (of Cigar Aficionado) is to the dying tobacco culture of today.

As a moderate carnivore myself, I confess to living in Jeffersonian hypocrisy. It’s a bit late for me to live on berries and veggies. My concession to my qualms is a few idiosyncratic distinctions (of no particular import). And while I don’t demand that every chicken I consume be certified to have enjoyed an open meadow and a vibrant social life, if I can eat free-range, I will.

No. I’m not joining PETA. Indeed, I firmly believe that man is the measure of all things. Sometimes you have to choose. I cringe at medical experimentation, but if you need to study cats’ eyes in order to spare some humans from blindness, do it. (Though not to test cosmetics.)

RELATED: What Is the Meat Industry Trying to Hide?

If the Delta smelt has to die to conserve 1.4 trillion gallons of water for the parched humans of California, so be it. If the mating habits of the Arctic caribou have to be disturbed so we can produce 1 million barrels of oil a day — on a drilling footprint the size of Dulles Airport in a refuge the size of Ireland — I say: Apologize to the amorous herd, then drill.

But some things are unnecessary. Caging beautiful creatures. Displaying them for spectacle. It’s good that these are being rethought.

The cheeseburger question we leave to our progeny. Though, when their time comes, they should refrain from moral preening. They will, by then, have invented abominations of their very own. Humans always do.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2015 The Washington Post Writers Group

Most Popular

Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More
Film & TV

A Sad Finale

Spoilers Ahead. Look, I share David’s love of Game of Thrones. But I thought the finale was largely a bust, for failings David mostly acknowledges in passing (but does not allow to dampen his ardor). The problems with the finale were largely the problems of this entire season. Characters that had been ... Read More
Immigration

The Merit of Merit-Based Immigration

Having chain-migrated his way into the White House and a little bit of political power, Donald Trump’s son-in-law is shopping around an immigration plan. And if you can get past the hilarious juxtaposition of the words “merit-based” and “Jared Kushner,” it’s a pretty good one. As things stand, the ... Read More