It’s a familiar scene: Four hyenas have separated a sickly, young zebra from the protection of its herd, sending it into a panic. Giving chase, the predators run their prey into utter exhaustion. When its defense gives out, they begin feeding excitedly on its crippled form – tearing away chunks of striped meat while it’s still alive. The young zebra’s disembowelment and ensuing death finally ends its torment.
This is by no means the most brutal act found in the natural world. Scavengers prey on newborns and the unborn. Carnivores suffocate their meals into submission. Parasites destroy their hosts from the inside out, causing unspeakable pain. Cannibalism is a common occurrence for more than 1500 species.
That said, when extremist animal-rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) demand, in the words of PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, “total animal liberation” (i.e. no pets, no seeing-eye dogs, no animals used for AIDS research, no zoos, no animals used for food, clothing, or basically any human-related purpose whatsoever) what utopian world do these folks think spawned us? A glance at PETA’s website suggests that it must have been a cutesy one without any slimy insects or reptiles. Or hyenas.
PETA has become the worst kind of “environmental” activist group – one whose decrees are blindly followed by its members without any attempt to understand basic ecology.
PETA has become the worst kind of “environmental” activist group – one whose decrees are blindly followed by its members without any attempt to understand basic ecology. As a result, more rationally-minded animal rights proponents and vegetarians have received a bad rap. Much of the general public now assumes that vegetarians are naïve treehuggers who simply can’t stomach devouring anything with eyes, and that animal rights activists run around willy-nilly pelting fur garments with paint. Such fallout has inspired the ire of fellow animal rights campaigners.
“Ingrid Newkirk runs PETA like a guru cult,” said Merritt Clifton, founder and editor of the national animal protection newspaper Animal People. “Sooner or later, everyone who questions her or upstages her in any way, no matter how unintentionally, ends up getting shafted in the most humiliating manner Newkirk can think of.”
It’s true that PETA has done a lot of good since its founding in 1980. They’ve shut down squalid animal testing facilities, strengthened animal cruelty laws, and launched successful campaigns against the likes of KFC and McDonald’s. However, most of their philosophical underpinning remains irrevocably skewed.
Let’s start with hunting. Sure, most people with a conscience condemn poaching, hunting for pure sport, and those who get their rocks off by guzzling beer and killing stuff. But let’s not forget that hunting for sustenance – a practice utilized by most surviving indigenous people – is an ecologically sound and completely natural endeavor. In fact, more ecologically sound than, say, eating some highly processed meat replacement produced in a large-scale industrial facility and shipped halfway across the country to your plate. As an added bonus, the production of the soy used in such highly processed products is now competing with cattle grazing as one of the main causes of rainforest destruction.
PETA even goes so far as to tell children their fathers are murderers for engaging in any type of fishing. Fishing! Are pelicans murderers? How about sharks? The cover of one cartoonish PETA brochure features a maniacal fisherman with crazy-eyes violently gutting his catch beneath the words “Your Daddy Kills Animals!” Within, it warns children to keep the family pets away from psychotic animal-hating daddy because “they could be next.”
And what about fur, leather, and other animal-derived products? Again, our hunting and gathering ancestors utilized nearly every part of the animals they killed – creating tools, clothing, and shelter – without producing the type of waste and devastation created by even one industrial plant cranking out carcinogenic synthetic fibers. Of course, eating meat excessively and imprisoning and slaughtering animals on a massive scale for nothing more than one desirable product is a travesty, but that’s the real issue here.
The problem isn’t that human beings shouldn’t ever incorporate meat – loaded with a wide array of essential proteins and complex fatty acids – into their diets, or use any products or innovations derived from animals in their daily lives. The problem is that we’ve extracted ourselves from the basic checks and balances of the ecological world and declared dominion over it – the net result of this being industrialized agriculture and factory farming. These processes serve to disassociate individuals from the procurement of their food, enabling society to lose the respect it once had for the species (including plants) that give their lives so we might continue to exist.
PETA’s underlying Disneyfied vision of nature is merely the laughable icing on the deeper cake of hypocrisy and extremism.
PETA’s underlying Disneyfied vision of nature – where everything coexists peacefully without suffering, pain, or death – is merely the laughable icing on the deeper cake of hypocrisy and extremism. The group funds the ALF – an organization that firebombs laboratories conducting experiments with animals – and decries any and all animal testing, while simultaneously benefiting from its results. Case in point: PETA’s Senior Vice President, MaryBeth Sweetland, is a type A diabetic kept alive with synthetic insulin. She apparently doesn’t see this as a moral quandary.
“I’m not going to take the chance of killing myself by not taking insulin,” she said. “I don’t see myself as a hypocrite. I need my life to fight for the rights of animals.”
What’s more, PETA’s definition of ethical treatment includes the euthanizing of nearly two-thirds of the unwanted domesticated animals that come into their care. From July 1998 through December 2005, the group killed over 14,400 dogs, cats, and other “companion animals.” In 2005, 31 felony counts of animal cruelty were brought against two PETA employees for the unlawful disposal of animal carcasses in North Carolina dumpsters. According to veterinarian Patrick Proctor, PETA told North Carolina shelters they would try to find the dogs and cats homes. He handed over two adoptable kittens and their mother, only to learn later that they had been swiftly euthanized.
Finally, there are the over-the-top ad campaigns. Some highlights include: The “Holocaust on Your Plate,” a campaign which juxtaposed images of factory farms with images of holocaust prisoners and expectedly enraged the Jewish community. The “Are Animals the New Slaves?” exhibit, which displayed images of noosed black men hanging from trees alongside photos of slaughtered cows and was suspended after outcry from the NAACP. And last but not least, there’s the infamous “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, which utilized nude models to demonize fur. Hey, sex sells.
Rather than making ridiculous demands such as “total animal liberation,” activists looking to better the Earth should turn their attention to building local, eco-friendly methods of food and clothing production – animals and all. Because if the mere act of one species feeding on or utilizing another in pursuit of its own survival is unethical, PETA better move to another planet.