Essay: Opinion:

The Political Correctness of Animalists


by Dr. Manuel Alfonseca

Escuela Politécnica Superior, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Francisco Tomás y Valiente

Madrid, Spain


In an article in the Spanish major newspaper La Vanguardia, the writer Quim Monzó recalls a campaign organized by the City Council of a Catalonian village to move people to collect canine excrement, with a poster where a pig-like dog appeared to tell its master: "I am your dog. Don’t make me look like a pig. Collect my excrement." The poster provoked numerous complaints from local animalists, which considered it an insult to pigs. Quim Monzó adds the following comment:


As expected... we are now hearing the slogan that the time has come to eliminate all phrases that trivialize the suffering of animals. [The animalist association] proposes that we stop using expressions like "kill two birds with one stone" or "be treated as a guinea pig”... We must not say "take the bull by the horns". There is also an English expression "bring home the bacon," which should not be used either.


Monzó has given his article a significant title: Idiots, idiots everywhere.


I would not dare to call animalists idiots, but I must accuse them of irrationality. Do they really believe that some pig was offended by the campaign for the collection of canine excrement, or whenever we say don’t be a pig (or any of its synonyms) to rebuke a dirty person? I am afraid that pigs are not even aware of our use of language. The only ones who bother about this are animalists, and until proven otherwise, we must assume that they are human beings, not animals.


Of course, at least part of the animalists think that human beings are just animals, with no special rights, apart from those held (for instance) by cockroaches. I have talked about this in one of the most visited posts in my own blog. In fact, the very existence of animalists is one of the proofs that man is a unique species. Do you happen to know of any other species who feels responsible or proposes to speak with political correction about members of a different species?


When we behave irrationally, we are more irrational than irrational animals.

John Maxwell Coetzee is a South African-born winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, vegetarian by conviction, who has embraced in his books the defense of the rights of animals. His novel The Lives of Animals is very well written and tries to be impartial. The main character, Elizabeth Costello, who defends in public what is obviously the position of the author, is answered by those who do not share her ideas, and sometimes cannot find an answer.


When I read the book, it seemed to me that Costello (and therefore Coetzee) relied more on feelings than on reason. She appealed too much to the image of all those poor animals that suffer and are sacrificed to serve as food. While reading the book, I could not help but wonder if Coetzee (or all those animalists around us who cannot polish Coetzee’s shoes) will one day come up with the idea of forbidding carnivorous animals to kill and eat their usual prey. Will lions be forced to become vegetarian? No, they just want to compel our own species.


Thank goodness, for it has been done before: well-intentioned people, of little biological knowledge, advocated during the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth the extermination of vermin, as they called carnivores. The result was an ecological chaos in all the places where this was put in practice. In fact, carnivores are the best friends of herbivores, as they help them to control the growth of their population, which in their absence would quickly lead to the depletion of their vegetable diet and to their own extinction.


Samuel Butler was an English writer who in 1872 published a novel significantly titled Erewhon. Observe that this word, read the other way around, becomes Nowhere, which means the same as Utopia. But as it is written in reverse, the novel speaks about a reversed utopia, that is, a dystopia (a word that in Butler's time had not yet been invented). Rather than representing a perfect society, it describes an imperfect society, so as to criticize the defects of Butler’s own society.


In Erewhon one day a preacher of animalism defends the rights of animals, and achieves the promulgation of a law that forbids eating animals that have not died of natural death. Immediately there is a crowd of citizens who go to the judges with a dead sheep and say: Your Honor, I’ve come to ask you to declare that this animal died of natural causes, so that we can eat it. A stone hit it on the head and it died. Tired of this Kafkaesque situation, a philosopher comes up with the solution: he preaches the rights of vegetables, which are also living beings, and demands a law declaring that only vegetables that have died a natural death should be consumed. Reacting against this absurdity, the citizens of Erewhon come to their senses and abolish the law against the consumption of animals.


I suggest modern animalists should read Erewhon, to find out how far their nonsense could take them.


Although many animalists assert that man is just an animal, following typical attempts by materialists to reduce us to that level, in fact many animalists seem to do exactly the opposite: they inadvertently raise the animals to the human level. They do this even with insects, as when they speak of the horror suffered by a caterpillar being devoured by a hymenopter larva, although they reserve their special compassion for the higher animals: birds and mammals.


In their campaign against animal acts in circuses, animalists use the following motto:


A circus is a prison


They usually say the same of zoos, even though modern zoos have little resemblance to those of the early twentieth century, the so-called menageries.


Is this so? Do animals in circuses and zoos feel imprisoned? I rather think that animalists put themselves in the place of the animals, imagine how they would feel personally in their place, and extrapolate their own feelings.


I am going to tell a story that I consider a pretty powerful proof for the assertion that zoo animals do not feel imprisoned. It is the experience of a famous animal lover, Gerald Durrell, who at first collected animals for zoos, and then founded his own zoo on the island of Jersey, which he dedicated to the important task of forming colonies of endangered animals, to preserve a remnant that may serve to keep the species alive; and finally he founded the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to the conservation of endangered species. He should not be suspect for the strictest animal lovers.


Brother of the famous novelist Lawrence Durrell, the author of The Alexandria Quartet, Gerald Durrell published 26 autobiographical books about his childhood on the island of Corfu (My Family and Other Animals, his most famous work), or about his travels in search of animals, his efforts to found the Jersey zoo, and his expeditions to film animal documentaries in exotic places on Earth. This is the story, which I have taken from his book The Drunken Forest (1956):


In 1954 Gerald Durrell organized an expedition to Paraguay to collect animals for zoos. After several weeks in the forest of Chaco, he had assembled a good collection, temporarily housed in small cages, when suddenly took place the coup d’état by General Alfredo Stroessner, who was dictator of Paraguay for 35 years. Durrell received notice that the situation in the country made his urgent evacuation advisable, and was promised a small plane to pick him up in the jungle, along with his team, to transfer them to Argentina. Naturally, he could not take the animals he had gathered, except for a handful, the most vulnerable, which would have to travel on the laps of Durrell and his companions.


With great sorrow, because their efforts had come to nothing, Durrell had to give back their freedom to most of his animals. And then the unthinkable happened: the reptiles, it is true, left the camp and entered the forest as fast as they could. Birds and mammals, however, refused to leave. In those few weeks they had become accustomed to the easy life of captivity, and for several days they surrounded the camp and chased everyone who came out, expecting to receive food. It took them several days to get convinced that they would not be given anything, which forced them finally to disperse through the forest in search of their livelihood.


Did Durrell’s animals feel that they were in prison during their captivity, as a human being would have felt in their place, and as the animalists claim? I doubt it.



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