When your Property is alive

It’s really simple, either you recognize animals as property, and that the owners of the property have a right to drown it, or burn it, or break it’s legs, or turn it into a lovely thanksgiving dinner with stuffing and potatoes, or you don’t.

A post on Vox Day’s blog has spawned a mildly interesting discussion, but when I saw this assertion, I knew I had some inspiration for a blog post. The author of this comment, dh, is a “regular dissenter” – he’s politically liberal, and usually challenges the majority uber-conservative community on whatever topic du jour is.

This horrified me, though. A little context: the blog post in question discusses, among other things, that some of the people working on Life of Pi were actively covering up a swimming accident that endangered the tiger. And if you want to read an article giving a great example for how the “watchmen” get corrupted by the very industries they’re supposed to be guarding, take a look. Now, let me say up front, that I think there are reasonable standards, and unreasonable standards. Accidents happen. And a movie set is an extremely high-stress environment involving a lot of people who probably have zero experience dealing with animals: under such circumstances one would expect rather more accidents to happen than under normal day-to-day living conditions. Especially given the Hollywood culture where fame and money gives one the power to do whatever one wants, even to the detriment and harm of others. How many human injuries are there on set, I wonder? If the rates of injury are roughly equivalent – perhaps a bit higher for animals, since they can’t speak – that would suggest to me that there isn’t a particular problem with “animal cruelty” going on. Possibly a disturbing “end justifies the means” mentality, depending on rate and type of injury, but not some kind of particular disregard for animals’ safety. Not every job is as safe as paper-pushing on a desk!

However, just because accidents happen in real life, and animals are property, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to burn them alive. Let’s look at inanimate objects first. Do you have the right to do whatever you want to an inanimate object that is your property – including destroy it? Of course. But what if it’s a famous painting? In that case, even though you might have the legal right to destroy it, morally, you shouldn’t. What if you own a historic building? Well, if you own the house, you should be able to do whatever you want with it, right? Nope. There are all kinds of restrictions that can be – and are! – placed on ownership, and that’s just with inanimate objects!

When it comes to living things, there are even more restrictions, and this principle has existed for literally thousands of years. Go read the Bible – not only are there rules for how one treats animals (a violent bull must be restrained by its owner so that the animal won’t kill someone and have to be put down, for example), there’s also regulations for how one treats one’s slaves. Property that is living does not exist solely on the whims of its owner. Living things have rights. So no, even though I own my fish, I don’t have the right to “drown them” by leaving them out of water, or burn them, or crush them (no legs to break) – but I would have the right to kill them humanely and eat them, if I wanted, since they are potential food sources. (I wouldn’t – they’re too small – but at one time I did own a few fish of a species that is a major source of food for the people who live by Lake Malawi.)

I’m responsible for the well-being of my animals. That means I feel terrible when anything results in their pain or deaths – even though I obviously don’t intend them any harm! But the thing is, the ideal of “no harm or pain” even for a housepet is not obtainable. My fish are quite capable of hurting and killing each other. Accidents happen, and even when I’m not entirely sure what happened, I can only do my best to fix whatever it was that went wrong and dispose of the bodies respectfully when everything I can do isn’t enough.

But you have to remember, the ideal perfect world is what we strive for, not what reality actually is. In the wild, animals suffer unimaginable pain and horrific deaths. Accidents in the wild are usually lethal. Accidents in human keeping? Well, we can do things like isolate, treat with medication, take to the vet. There aren’t any veterinarians for wild animals. And where a wild animal might die screaming, being devoured alive – what do humans do? Usually, kill quickly, cleanly, and with as little pain and suffering as possible. And we police ourselves, too, so that if any incident comes to light in which an animal suffers for no good reason, we sanction the ones responsible.

So maybe that whole “no animals were harmed” thing is bogus. This is real life. Accidental harm happens to human and animal alike. Let’s get real – the standard ought to be something like “no animal was treated with indifference or cruelty, and the staff did its best to see to the needs of all animals on set.”

And dh? He shouldn’t ever be allowed to have any pets, if that’s his real opinion, and not just some half-baked caricature of “conservatives” that he’s regurgitating. As Sarah Hoyt would say, we earn our own humanity by behaving humanely – especially towards those creatures who are in our power.

After all, maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t think of another predator species that cares about the pain of its prey.

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About pancakeloach

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