Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

"No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned." – Yoda to Luke, The Empire Strikes Back

I have this friend. He’s a great guy, concerned about the environment, social justice issues, local and international politics, sustainable living, heritage preservation and so on. He has so much integrity, passion and commitment that he started an online newspaper, devoting most of his free time and energy to inform and educate the masses (and he doesn’t even get paid for it!).

He’s also a huge animal lover. For as long as I can remember he’s written about issues concerning animals. He’s always condemned local and national acts of animal cruelty. He’s called for stronger laws to protect animals we call pets from abuse. He’s written against the insidious past-time known as sport hunting. And he’s been a relentless pain in the butt towards those who keep whales in captivity.

He supports local animal rights groups when they hold their protests and vigils, advertises and covers various lectures and symposiums to enlighten the public on animal issues, and even features animal adoptions on his website.

Yet despite all his concern and compassion for other living beings, he still supports the exploitation, suffering and slaughter of animals for food. He still EATS animals and animal products.

We’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve even offered to take him out and treat him to a delicious vegan meal at a restaurant just down the street from his house. So far he hasn’t taken me up on it.

In a recent email, my friend wrote:

“please don't ask me if I am vegan yet .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not eating an egg is a bridge too far.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. Many people I’ve spoken with over the years have expressed the same sentiments. But does this make my friend a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical to condemn those who exploit and kill animals for commercial gain or personal satisfaction, only to support other forms of violence towards animals?

What’s the difference between stealing whales from the wild (or breeding them in captivity) to live as slaves for human entertainment, and breeding cows, pigs and chickens to live as slaves destined for slaughter (yes, cows and chickens are slaughtered when they can’t produce any more milk or eggs) because people enjoy the taste of their flesh and secretions?

And what’s the difference between the family who buys a season’s pass to the marine park and the family who buys a ham for Easter?

I can picture my friend interviewing someone who kills animals for their fur. “Isn’t it cruel to kill an animal just to make someone else look good?” he asks. The fur trapper then replies:

“please don't ask me if I am going to give up killing animals for the fur industry .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not trapping animals is a bridge too far.”

Or how about the person who keeps whales in tiny concrete tanks?

“please don't ask me if I am going to stop displaying whales .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not displaying whales (and jeopardizing the success of my business) is a bridge too far.”

Cruelty is cruelty, and suffering is suffering. It is no less so just because it’s being done to a different kind of animal. That doesn’t mean I think my friend is a cold-blooded killer or cruel animal collector, but in regards to reducing animal suffering and ultimately the amount of unnecessary violence in the world, if you’re not part of the solution…

So what IS the solution for my friend? Put your money where your mouth is. Like Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world. If you’re against animal exploitation, slavery and cruelty, go vegan. Can’t give up eggs yet? Then give up everything except eggs. A little bit is better than nothing at all. But don’t write it all off because you’re too old or too set in your ways.

Or as Yoda would say, only in your mind is the bridge too far…