19 June 2008

Stupid Green Elitism and Stupid Southern Pride

So I've just watched the most recent episode of 30 Days, Morgan Spurlock's FX program. In this episode, a hunter from North Carolina (George) moves in with a family in Los Angeles--one of whom works for PeTA. It was an interesting episode, and George for the first few days recited the counterarguments that I've heard a lot in my classes. For years now, I've taught segments from Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and Michael Pollan's "An Animal's Place" in my classes--and the shit really hits the fan when we talk about Singer. Freshmen tend to respond very negatively when someone says that animals have (or ought to have) the same rights that humans have.

So as I watched George spend 30 days with the LA people, I was reminded of my experiences with these students. You hear these things over and over again:
  • animals are made to feed us
  • we evolved/were meant to eat meat
  • God put us above all other animals: it's in the Bible (that one especially bothers me when they don't capitalize "Bible")
  • we are more advanced than all other animals, so we can do anything with them we want
  • the world could not support us if we all became vegans
  • if we didn't animal test, lots of humans would die as a result
  • animals raised in CAFOs don't know any better, so it's not really a problem
All of these have a multitude of of responses, but often they tend toward the shrill and dogmatic--when they make any sense at all. Now, I am personally sympathetic with the animal rights movement, and I agree with most all of their core tenets. I do not think that animals are meant to feed us or that we, by virtue of our more powerful place in the food chain, have a right to test on, abuse, or industrialize animals.

But I do eat animals. I eat bacon (or "meat candy" as it is known in our home), beef, chicken, etc. But I do a lot of research on where my food comes from. I don't buy meat from anywhere but the butcher and a local family ranch, and our bacon comes from Beeler's, a natural pork-producer from Iowa. The point is that I don't have a problem eating a cow or a pig or a chicken--as long as they got to live the lives they were supposed to live. I won't eat a chicken that's been raised in a cage its entire life, and I won't eat anything raised in a CAFO.

What was missing in the first part of the 30 Days episode was the animal rights folk putting themselves in the place of someone else whose cultural experience isn't the same as someone from LA. We got the indignant suburbanites who are disgusted that someone could go out and "murder and animal in cold blood." That pissed me off. Because North Carolina is viewed as stupid and backward (and...Southern...), that way of thinking and cultural experience isn't valued at all.

It was actually George who (eventually) made the good faith effort to understand where these people are coming from; they made no attempt to understand him and his life. All he got from a lot of the people was hard-core, unrelenting rhetoric: "I don't think we have a right to kill any animal for any reason."

Maybe I'm going to sound like Carl Rogers here, but beating someone who disagrees with you about the head and neck with your own ideas seems to further entrench those ideas with which you disagree. Maybe George isn't ready to become a vegan. Why not start with the basics: make him understand that animal suffering is just as wrong as killing animals--for good or bad reasons. The worst that happens is that he listens, because he sure as hell wasn't listening when people were telling him how he should stop eating meat. So you maybe have one more person who is making informed choices about where his meat comes from; he is, as Wendell Berry has pointed out in The Unsettling of America, becoming an informed consumer and voting with his purchases. That will hurt KFC or Carl's Jr. much more than standing out there in a chicken costume pretending to butcher Col. Sanders!

It just bothers me that people who are so certain they have the moral or intellectual high ground--the Moral Majority, PeTA, Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers, The Sierra Club, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the other screechers on conservative talk radio, Michael Moore, Al Franken, and the other screechers in liberal media outlets, etc.--cannot really talk to people who disagree. Well, it's not that they can't talk to them; it's that they can't listen. They are unwilling or unable to place themselves in another's shoes, to take a moment to imagine why someone might think something different.

That's the real problem here. No North-Carolina-born-and-raised-hunting-man is going to listen to a bunch of white-bread-upper-crust types lecture him about how he's going to live his life. The most fruitful approach would have been to bond over a mutual respect for animals (even if they can't see the respect for animals in hunting, it's there...usually). Then once that common ground has been established, they could move on to other ideas about which they disagreed. OK. Not a big deal. Everyone learns something, and hopefully the better idea wins out in the end.

Honestly, I'm not sure that any of this made a helluva lot of sense. But that's what bloggin's for, apparently.

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