by Marcia Mueller
Mahatma Gandhi once said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Maybe that test can also be applied to a species—Homo sapiens. But if so, we are failing.
The over 60 Billion land animals slaughtered each year by Big Ag, and the 2-1/2 trillion sea lives taken each year, although astronomical numbers, are not the whole story.
There are 100 million mice, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, pigs, monkeys, fish and birds killed in research each year.
Wildlife services killed 32 million wild animals in the last decade, with 3.2 million in 2015 alone: 68,905 coyotes, 771 bobcats, 480 bears, 385 wolves, 284 mountain lions. This list does not include the small “trash” animals or “varmints” trapped and poisoned for being a “nuisance” to someone.
Bullfighting kills 40,000 animals a year.
Over 1 million animals are killed every year on American highways.
Almost 3 million unwanted dogs and cats are killed in shelters in America annually.
On federal land alone more than 200 million animals are hunted and trapped every year.
Then there are the animals who are abused and/or killed individually by sadistic human beings: The dogs languishing and chained in backyards, and the cats set on fire, and horses abandoned to their fate, and the ponies dragged around to parking lots for store openings and rides, and wildlife living miserable and lonely lives in entertainment or roadside zoos.
We continue the torture and the killing for the worst of reasons—because we can.
We have enough brain power to concoct religious and legal reasons to justify the carnage and to create the devices and restraints that make it possible. We have created an economic arena where the mass slaughter and abuse can be carried out for profit. It is the economic engine of Big Ag and Research. It is the creator of millions of low-paying and ugly jobs on factory farms and slaughter lines and higher-paying jobs in laboratories.
We have also created a social setting where people accept animal torture and death for their own satisfactions and pleasures, which include the blood lust of the bullfight, the thrill of the hunt, the taste of the cheeseburger, and the vanity behind the fur coat and the big game trophy.
There has been some shift in recent years with the growth of the animal rights movement. Along with Augustine and Aquinas, Aristotle and Kant, book shelves contain the writing of Peter Singer and Tom Regan on animal rights and human responsibilities. More organizations are fighting for animals and promoting veganism.
But it is hard to be optimistic. The killing spree began in our hominid past and continued unabated through the millennia until now, when animals are tortured and killed by the billions, without being questioned by the majority of humanity.
Making the world better and more compassionate will require more concessions than most people are willing to give. It means giving up profits and pleasures gained at animals’ expense and costing animal lives. It means exercising mercy, empathy, and self-sacrifice. And those are qualities not much seen in our long journey on this planet.
The final history is yet to be written. But at the moment it does not look promising as a record of our moral progress. Jim Robertson, in “Exposing the Big Game,” suggests a verdict:
“When the dust settles on man’s reign of terror, he will be best remembered as an egomaniacal mutant carnivorous ape who squandered nature’s gifts and goose-stepped on towards mass extinction, in spite of warnings from historians and scientists and pleas from the caring few.”
We have a long way to go to prove Jim Robertson wrong.
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