Animal Rights Campaign Stinks; Voting with Your Feet

Feb 16 2015 | 04:52 AM

    There were about two dozen of them. While one dozen waved their banners and signs at passing motorists on Independence Ave., another dozen of them marched in a circle, chanting their carefully ordered slogans: "One struggle! One fight!/Human freedom! Animal rights!" and

    Hey, Shalala! Whaddya say? How many primates Did you kill today? They carried posters, the most common of which showed a spider monkey that looked like it'd been strapped in the electric chair, with the slogan: "Primate Research?Science Gone Mad."

    Actually, the animal-rights protesters seemed to have gone a bit mad themselves. Their demonstration last September in front of the Washington offices of the Dept. of Health and Human Services had scarcely gotten started when one of their number?a 21-year-old kid from Portland, OR?was dragged away in handcuffs after he burned an effigy of HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

    If a right-winger had burned Shalala in effigy, it probably would have been considered a hate crime. But these were animal-rights people who had worked themselves into a tizzy about the National Institutes of Health funding research that uses monkeys and apes in medical experiments. If you burn a Cabinet official in effigy in support of a left-wing cause, it's not a hate crime, it's "activism."

    Stop the torture! Stop the pain! Donna Shalala is to blame!

    For most of the Primate Freedom Tour crowd, it seemed, "activism" was a full-time gig. At first glance, one might suspect they were all idealistic young college kids from Oberlin and Wesleyan. Not so. A quick survey of the Freedom Tourists along Independence Ave. turned up just one student, from Hamilton College in upstate New York. The rest seemed to be older, in their late 20s or early 30s. They were mostly white; the only "diversity" I spotted in the crowd at HHS was one Asian chick.

    Stylistically, the protesters favored the familiar "alternative" look: white guys in dredlocks, Army fatigues and grimy t-shirts, chicks in tanktops and ripped, saggy jeans. Piercing seemed to be universal and unisex. One girl I talked to had both nostrils, one eyebrow and her tongue pierced.

    And then there was the smell. I was reminded of George Wallace taunting hippie hecklers in the 60s, suggesting there was one four-letter word they ought to learn: S-O-A-P. I don't know if this neglect of personal hygiene was a political statement on the part of the animal-rights activists, or if maybe they had spent the previous few nights camping somewhere without access to showers, but they genuinely reeked. You could smell them from 50 feet away. Of course, they weren't there to display their grooming or lack thereof. Of course, they were there to display their outrage, of which they had plenty.

    There were posters with quotes from Bertrand Russell and Mohammed, and this "quote" from Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my species when I consider God is just." What Jefferson actually said, was, "I tremble for my country when I consider God is just," a comment on the wrongs of slavery.

    The fudged Jefferson quote is indicative of a problematic tendency toward overreaching analogies on the part of the animal-rights crowd. They compare primate research to the Holocaust. They see parallels between the legal status of animals and "the abomination of human slavery." And they model their own protests after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Again, as with burning Shalala in effigy, a double standard applies to the obnoxious pronouncements of these left-wing activists. If a right-winger?say, Jesse Helms or Pat Buchanan?compared blacks or Jews to apes, the outrage would be incredible. The animal-rights crowd does so continually, and nary a peep is heard from the NAACP or the ADL.

    Well, maybe an occasional peep is heard. Called for comment last year, a spokeswoman for the American Jewish Committee said the comparison of primate research to the Holocaust "really is offensive." And Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former HHS secretary and president of Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine, last summer in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution let loose a scathing denunciation of the Primate Freedom Tourists: "To claim, as they do, that their efforts are on the same moral plane as the struggle to end segregation borders on insult? Moreover, their assertion that primates and African-Americans share equal rights carries ugly overtones."

    If Dr. Sullivan was outraged by the Primate Freedom Tour rhetoric, he's gonna go ballistic over Steven M. Wise's new book Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals. Wise, who has taught animal-rights law at Harvard University and elsewhere, is the founder and president of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights. His book argues that chimpanzees are sufficiently sentient to qualify for certain rights. Wise trots out all the usual analogies?slavery, the Holocaust, civil rights, apartheid?and even manages to work in a reference to affirmative action.

    Wise weaves in philosophical discussions of Aristotle, Darwin and the latest research on primate intelligence with analogies from legal history, including Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. This razzle-dazzle display of erudite sophistry (66 pages of notes for 270 pages of text) may seem perfectly plausible, until you stop to remind yourself: He's talking about chimpanzees!

    It seems impossible for Wise and the other animal-rights advocates to grasp that not every social problem lends itself to what some commentators call "rights talk." Americans are taught from a very early age to cherish and defend their rights, so there is a tendency to smuggle the language of "rights" into every argument, because once something is recognized as a "right," Americans consider it beyond debate.

    What Wise and his fellow travelers are up to is an effort to use the language of rights to prevent cruelty to animals. This is spurious and unnecessary. Spurious in that no basis for chimpanzee rights exists in our Constitution; unnecessary in that one may oppose cruelty to animals without any resort to such legalistic nonsense. The best approach to reducing such cruelty is by an appeal to our humanity, rather than to an ape's "rights."

    Reasoned argument will probably do nothing to dissuade Steven Wise and the animal-rights fanatics from their quixotic crusade. Their immunity to reason is what makes them fanatics in the first place.

    Robert Stacy McCain is an assistant national editor for The Washington Times.

    Foot Soldiers Of Change by Sam Smith Granny D's 3000-mile trek across the country on behalf of campaign finance reform reminds us that we are still bipedal as well as binary creatures, and that this earlier capacity sometimes surpasses the latter in its salutary effect on human events. For one whose writer's trade lets his fingers do most of the walking, this is hard to admit, but the truth is that we often pay more attention when words are backed not only by action, but by action requiring some form of athleticism?the effort serving perhaps as an outer and visible sign of an inner and invisible pace. Witness the success of fundraising endurance events such as the one creating an improbable synergy between bicycles, AIDS research and gin.

    Not even the cynical media is immune to the allure. The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported 90-year-old Granny D's triumph even though they largely ignored anti-sweatshop and other recent sit-ins, fasts and demonstrations, the greatest student protests since the anti-apartheid movement.

    The roots of the phenomenon lie deep in our past. The anthropologist Earnest Hooton noted, "When the proto-human ancestors of man took to the ground, they were offered the theoretical choice of several different postures and modes of locomotion. They could become pronograde and go on all fours; they could adopt a squatting posture with knees bent and develop a hopping mode of progression; or they could stand erect and walk upon the hind limbs." Imagine, for example, how different American politics might be if Al Gore not only woodenly pointed his finger as he scolded Bill Bradley, but also hopped sternly toward him. On the whole, choosing an erect and ambulatory manner seems to have worked to our advantage.

    Since then, social and political change have been repeatedly linked to walking, from Moses hiking toward the promised land to the underground railroad of the 19th century and the picket lines of the 20th.

    There was a time when you had to walk whether you wanted to or not, and the nature of that walk bore considerable cultural significance. Richard Sennett in Flesh and Stone points out that "Greek culture made walking and standing expressions of character." A 17th-century guide to youths' behavior was excruciatingly specific: "Move not to and fro in walking, go not like a ninny, nor hang thy hands downwards, shake not thine arms, kick not the earth with thy feet, throw not thy legs across here and there."

    Today, we are far more interested in distance than in deportment. Hence the necessity of pointing out that Granny D traveled 3200 miles over 12 months using approximately 1400 steps to the mile. Which is, I suppose, a bit easier to remember than that the residents of New York City's Upper East Side contributed more to congressional campaigns in 1994 than all the residents of 21 states. Or that in 1990, one-tenth of one percent of the voting age population accounted for 46 percent of all the money raised by congressional candidates. Or that spending, say, 10 dollars in public funds for each voter for our campaigns would be but a fraction of what politicians now spend in tax breaks and subsidies to pay back their big contributors.

    And just what is the connection between these two sets of stats? Only that thousands of words poured out on the subject by the likes of myself have failed to motivate, arouse or anger, while the primeval instincts of one citizen well past any desire to tinker, toy or titillate, get results.

    It has happened before. For more than three weeks, Gandhi and his followers walked to the sea, there to gather salt in contravention of a British law that required the flavoring be bought from a government monopoly. In his biography of Gandhi, Louis Fischer writes: "Had Gandhi gone by train or automobile to make salt, the effect would have been considerable. But to walk two hundred and forty-one miles in twenty-four days and rivet the attention of all India, to trek across the countryside saying, 'Watch, I will give a signal to the nation,' and then to pick up a palmful of salt in publicized defiance of a mighty government, that required imagination, dignity, and the sense of showmanship of a great artist." It was not long before the jails were filled with some 60,000 protesters.

    Thirty-five years ago last month, following beatings and several murders, Martin Luther King Jr. started what he called a "mighty walk" of blacks and whites from Selma to Montgomery, ending in a rally of 25,000 before the Alabama Capitol building. Among those on the march was 70-year-old Sister Pollard, who declined a ride, saying, "My feets is tired but my soul is rested." King's speech echoed with the metaphor of the walk:

    "We are on the move now... No wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now. And the burning of our churches will not deter us. We are on the move now. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now... Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching, mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom..."

    Theoretically we should have to walk no farther than the voting booth or city hall to find our democracy. But it has been sold, moved out of town, and the flights there are all booked. We are daily taught, through dependence on devices and subservience to systems, that we can't do much about it all. Then we see someone trying anyway, and are reminded by this simple act of human will that there is no software for courage, no implants for the soul and no satellite guidance system that replaces a sense of moral direction. There is only us individually and together. And then, perhaps, we may even find ourselves getting off the gym treadmill and metaphorically or literally walking somewhere with someone for some good and righteous thing, our feet tired but our souls rested.

    Sam Smith is editor of the Progressive Review (http:// prorev.com/) and author of Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual.