Grunt and Squeal and Squawk with the Animals

November 14, 2009

My friend Evan pointed out some surprising facts last week.  At least they were surprising to me.  Did you know that PETA has killed thousands of animals?  That is, at least according to this source (and it does cite its sources).*

Here are some more facts:

—According to PETA—this is a quote—“Silk Production Causes Painful Death for Insects”.  Ergo, “Don’t buy silk....”

—Another PETA Web site admonishes us, “don’t buy wool.”  (Evan says, “ask any shepherd what happens to a sheep that doesn’t get sheared for the summer”.)

—PETA further admonishes, “Never patronize zoos.”  (If you read the rest of that page, for balance, also read at a minimum a commentary by the president of the Saint Louis Zoo.)

—A blog that PETA’s search feature points me to (and that’s owned by PETA, in any event) at least implies that the blind and other handicapped shouldn’t have the benefit of assistance animals.  (“Why can’t these assistance dogs be replaced with humans who are paid for their services...?”)  Sure enough, further investigation reveals that a writer for the The New Yorker interviewed the president and co-founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, and learned that

She regards the use of Seeing Eye dogs as an abdication of human responsibility and, because they live as “servants” and are denied the companionship of other dogs, she is wholly opposed to their use.  She has had at least one dog taken from its owner.

(This and other highly interesting excerpts are available here; an article abstract is available on The New Yorker’s own Web site here.  The New Yorker site won’t let you see the whole article unless you have a subscription, but I have access to a Lexis-Nexis subscription, and I’ve confirmed that these words are indeed contained in that article.  The article is “The Extremist: The woman behind the most successful radical group in America”, April 14th, 2003, page 52, by Michael Specter.)

Here’s another interesting fact.  As it happens, this is the next sentence in the article:  “Among her most frequently cited statements is: ‘When it comes to feelings like hunger, pain, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.’”**

Huh.  Isn’t that interesting?

Look, I’m as much in favor of preventing cruelty to animals as the next guy, and if it seems appropriate to the majority in any given state to pass laws saying that cows can’t be kept in a pen so small they can’t sit down, chickens have to be able to flap their wings, etc., that’s fine.  It’s one thing to be in favor of treating our animal chattels humanely, but it’s quite another to say that animals are morally or metaphysically our equals.  They’re not.  I won’t try to get into that whole discussion here, but I will ask, for anyone inclined to go down PETA’s path, how far are you willing to go?  If meat is murder, and killing silkworms is murder, is stepping on an ant or a worm on the sidewalk murder?  If a worm is on the same level as a human being, why limit your compassion to the animal kingdom?  Isn’t that just another arbitrary boundary?  Is baking bread murder?  It slaughters billions of innocent yeast cells.  What about washing hands and killing all those bacteria?  If meat is murder, do we have a moral obligation to send police out into the African veldt to keep the lion from preying on the zebra?

Or think of it this way.  Maddox (formerly of maddox.xmission.com) once pointed out—in what may be the only time he has ever seriously cited a source—that modern harvesting equipment kills huge numbers of field animals every year.  (Warning: Maddox is funny but vulgar.  Here’s his article about whether vegetarianism is murder.  The source he cites is Time magazine, this article, on this page.)  Anyway, do we need a source?  Long before modern farming machinery, Robert Burns famously described inadvertently almost killing a mouse while plowing a field, in his ode “To a Mouse”.  Do you believe that agriculture is a grave societal evil, on the order of genocide or slavery?  Should we ban the motorized combine, and even the simple eighteenth-century plough, with all deliberate speed?

Perhaps the most surprising fact was that there are also objections to PETA that properly have nothing to do with animal “rights”.  At some point, Evan asked, “Is it a victory to get people to reconsider eating meat if you treat women like pieces of it?”  It sounded as if PETA had made a practice of exploiting women (and men’s lust) to sell their product, so to speak (the product being their mad ideology).  Sure enough, the same New Yorker article confirms in plain terms, “Naked women also play a central role in PETA’s demonstrations and advertisements....”

I had never heard of any of this, but the very next day, I went downtown and happened to see two of these PETA girls standing on the street corner.  They were holding signs saying “Leather is a fashion felony” (or something like that) and wearing “police” uniforms, faithfully reproduced right down to such authentic details as fishnet stockings.  (Even if you’re OK with the objectification of women, shouldn’t PETA picket itself for promoting fishing or something?)

OK, so PETA wants to change the rules, to “think outside the box”:  Instead of a rational appeal (animals are humans’ equals; therefore you shouldn’t kill them for leather) or even a straightforward emotional one (look at this cute animal; therefore you shouldn’t kill them for leather), PETA tries to hitch its crusade to men’s sex drives.  In response, I have a modest proposal.  Let’s change the rules.

Maddox once suggested (again, warning: vulgarity), “sponsor a vegetarian”—if you commit to eating three times as much meat as you normally would for as long as your friend is vegetarian, in theory, you can completely neutralize his efforts to reduce the slaughter of animals.  I don’t recommend that.  More modestly, my suggestion is that every time you see a PETA publicity stunt involving girls who look as if they should be told to go put some clothes on, instead, go out and get some new clothes for yourself, made of leather or other “felonious” materials.  If successful, such a plan would cause every such PETA stunt to lead to more, rather than less, material support for the leather industry, the fur industry, etc.

Because I saw those girls downtown, today I bought myself a shiny new leather jacket (well, shiny used leather jacket).  I’ve never owned a leather jacket before (unless you count my leather-sleeved high-school letter jacket), but I think I’m going to like it.  What will you buy the next time you see unethical advertising for the ethical treatment of animals?

Being ethical doesn’t have to be painfully expensive, either.  There’s no reason you have to purchase the most expensive leather jacket you can find (or even the second-most-expensive); apparently you can get new leather jackets that look pretty sweet for under two hundred dollars, or even forty if they’re really on sale.  Also, thrift-store buys totally count.

It doesn’t have to be a leather jacket, of course; even a leather watchband would do (and again, no need to get the most expensive one you can find; apparently even a basic ten-dollar watch can meet your cow-killing needs).  Correction (November 16th, 2009): An alert reader points out that the band of that watch, upon closer inspection, is made of faux leather, but apparently you can still kill cows with a watch under twenty-five dollars (with a band made of “genuine pink leather”, whatever that is).  At that point, though, you’re not getting many square inches of cowhide per dollar; for just thirty dollars more, you can have a whole fedora made of leather, and really get your money’s worth.

There’s also no reason it has to be leather.  We all know these PETA types would disapprove of your buying fur at least as much.  Maybe there’s a lady in your life who would enjoy a new mink coat? 

If we take PETA at their word, silk must be just as good as leather and fur—it’s all murder, right?  You could buy a silk coat, or a silk scarf, or a silk necktie.

For that matter, according to PETA, wool is out, too, right?  Which means it’s in.  There may not be a more inexpensive way to be ethical than by buying a warm woolen coat, hat, scarf, or other article.

The possibilities are endless.  Use your imagination!

Finally, here’s another surprising fact:  People pronounce PETA’s name “pita”—not “pet-a”, which is how I always assumed it was pronounced until I actually heard it pronounced.  It’s funny, they actually make the “E” in “PETA” lowercase in their logo, as if to help people get the pronunciation right—but if all the other letters are capital and the “e” is lowercase, if anything, doesn’t that suggest a short “eh” sound?  Also, apparently they don’t like the word “pet”—again from the New Yorker article: “At lunch, dozens of employees slip out to spend some time with their companion animals.  (Nobody at PETA would ever use the word ‘pet.’)”—but they sure have them; so why not call their organization “pet-a”?  The alternative—“pita”—is halfway to a delicious, lamb-filled gyro.

* In an effort further to evaluate the credibility of the source, I tried searching for it on PETA’s Web site, peta.org—to see whether PETA had responded to the accusation—and found it only in users’ discussion forums (all trace of which seems to have been erased from the PETA Web site itself) and in PETA’s “PETA in the News” section.  The latter links us to this news story, which mentions petakillsanimals.com and says, “PETA isn’t shy about responding on its own Web site, consumer deception.com....”  (On the contrary, I would say that PETA is shy—it responds not on its own Web site, peta.org, but on a separate Web site created for the purpose, consumerdeception.com, which nowhere mentions that it has any connection with PETA, much less that it is PETA’s “own Web site”—but never mind.)  Take a look at PETA’s anti-anti-PETA Web site yourself, but it looks to me like exclusively ad hominem attacks on the guy who apparently runs petakillsanimals.com—in other words, no substantive response to his actual criticisms of PETA.

After more searching, I was finally able to turn up two pages where PETA responds generally to the criticism about its killing of animals, without naming the critics.  (Warning: These pages include very disgusting photographs of animals.)  On these pages (here and here, if you want to see them—you’ve been warned), PETA says or implies that the reason it kills so many of the animals it takes in (more than 90% of them, according to petakillsanimals.com) is that “most” of them “come from miserable conditions”—they’ve been starved, they have various disgusting wounds and diseases, etc.—and are essentially unadoptable.

** With the qualifier “When it comes to...”, that sentence could be interpreted as making a very narrow statement about whether animals feel pain, etc., but the rest of the paragraph, and what Miss Newkirk says elsewhere in the article, confirms that she considers animals to have just as much moral worth as people, if not more.

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2 Responses to “Grunt and Squeal and Squawk with the Animals”

  1. Evan Says:

    It’s hypocritical to me in two senses: first, they call anyone in commerce who kills animals a murderer, even though they do it themselves, and second, one of the reasons they justify their expansive euthanasia program is that they don’t have the resources or facilities to care for these animals–which, given the millions of dollars they have, is absurd.


  2. […] 19, 2010 Just because I wrote about PETA a little while ago, I have to share this:  Earlier today I was wearing my leather jacket, eating a […]


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