I don’t know who added the words to the photo, but it was taken in Vietnam in 2011 by Graham Lavery who left the pleading kitten to die. Among the reasons he gave was that the rights of animals should be left to human preference and convenience. Specifically: “Does rescuing it jive with the ethics and practices of the local people (it is their country after all)?”
Lavery’s explanation put me in mind of Michael Vick, a football player who got in trouble for dogfighting, also in 2011. Before realizing that his career would be over if he didn’t apologize, Vick said: “Yeah, fine, I killed the dogs. I hung them. I slammed them. I killed all of them. I lost fucking millions, all over some fucking dogs.” (He also killed dogs and other animals by drowning, hanging, electrocution, and bludgeoning with shovels.)
What most caught my attention about the Vick case wasn’t just his insatiable sadism, but that his defenders were fellow blacks who argued that his behavior should be excused, if not respected, on the grounds of cultural diversity:
Jamie Foxx: “It’s a cultural thing... Mike probably just didn’t read his handbook on what not to do as a black star. I know that cruelty to animals is bad, but sometimes people shoot people and kill people and don’t get time.”
Whoopi Goldberg: “He's from the South, from the Deep South ... This is part of his cultural upbringing…” (Vick isn’t from the Deep South but from coastal Virginia. I spent 36 years in the Deep South, and I was friends with many blacks, yet I never even heard of anyone holding a dog fight.)
Spike Lee: The boycott of Michael Vick’s clothing line is “…yet another example of white racism in the United States, where black people aren't allowed to get ahead.”
Steeler’s coach Michael Tomlin: “Yeah, those things that he has gone through are tough. Picking a dog up over your head and slamming it to the ground repeatedly until it takes its last breath can really take a lot out of a man.”
Others argued that once Vick apologized, the public should forgive him, but how can the human public forgive someone for crimes against the nonhuman public? A black boxer said, “it’s not like Vick killed humans” (maybe the boxer didn’t know that the abuse of black people was once justified on the basis of their “subhuman” status).
How is it that these black celebrities are blind to the fact that pathological sadism expands to include all species, including their own? Likewise, how is it that people like Graham Lavery can fail to see that the callous denial of rights to other animals is one with the callous denial of rights to humans, apathy and cruelty not being limited to only some species.
The defenders of Lavery and Vick agree that the rights of animals should be relegated to human preference, and nearly all of the human race agrees with them. Sure, few of us torture animals for entertainment, but neither do we want to know how the animals we eat were raised and slaughtered, nor do we care to reflect upon the fact that we don’t need to eat them at all. Why is it wrong to kill animals for fun, but okay to raise them in misery in dark warehouses and then slaughter them like so many Jews in a Nazi camp simply because we like the way they taste? In considering the rights of other animals, why is it that the key consideration is that they belong to other species rather than that they share our species’ capacity to experience loneliness, sadness, terror and pain? How can we regard ourselves as either fair or compassionate if we willingly support unnecessary misery? Yet, we not only do this, we dismiss vegans and even partial vegetarians as self-righteous prigs.
Our denial of rights to animals is one of the reasons that I hold myself and my species in contempt. I have never once gone to bed at night knowing that I spent my day doing all the good that I might have done. My friend, Jodi, is probably the only person I have ever known who even might make such a claim: http://catwomanflix.blogspot.com/, and she is consequently impoverished and despised. The only good that people receive praise for is the good they do for humans, and even these people are often hated because they shine a light upon the mean, petty, and inconsequential lives of their fellows.
Before the concept of sin started to go out of vogue, Episcopalians used to recite the following in preparation for communion:
“We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.”
Like I, Peggy is an atheist, but we differ in that guilt has no place in her life. She labels herself a responsible hedonist, which means that she finds meaning in pleasure tempered by integrity. I’m struck by what I regard as the shallowness of hedonism, my own meaning being to think, observe, search, and examine. Peggy might well ask what good this has done me, and I have no answer except to say that we are as we are—which is probably how we have always been—and that we could not have been otherwise.
But are the values of people like Lavery or Vick also unalterable? If they are, then there is no turning away from evil. When I examine my own life, it would appear that what I am is a necessary progression from what I was, but if this is true of everyone, the Vicks of the world will always get-off on torturing animals (and people too when they can get away with it), and the Laverys will always relegate the treatment of animals to local preference rather than fairness and compassion (the result of this attitude in my own country is factory farming, as well as the annual suffering and death of millions of unwanted dogs and cats even while breeders crank out expensive and genetically inferior pedigrees).
What bothers me most about such people is that I’m a member of the same species. When I reflect upon the Christian concept of original sin, I conclude that it is real, and that it consists of being born into a species that is so deeply flawed that there is no limit to the suffering that we willingly impose for reasons of greed and pleasure, even to the point of driving species after species into extinction, and ultimately making the earth unlivable. Such are my people, and such am I. If there is any good that comes from my reflections, it is the humility of knowing that truly evil people aren’t separated from me by kind but by degree.