Sunday, February 28, 2010

Life is Complicated, but Ingrid Newkirk is Simple

On Thursday I caught a couple minutes of the Orcas Gone Wild episode of Larry King Live as I made my "I'm almost out of here but I need one more" cup of coffee in the break room at work. I paid attention instead of tuning it out because I saw the smiling face of Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president and terrorist backer, arguing with what to all appearances was a Paul Hogan lookalike. I'm speaking, of course, about Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. Just look at these guys! I'll bet if I asked, "Who wants an ice cream cone?", both of them would say yes.

I make fun of Jack Hanna because I like him. At least, based on this first impression, I do. I dunno, maybe he eats babies when he's not being tag-teamed by Ingrid Newkirk and Bob Barker (you can read the transcript of the episode here - not a whole lot actually happened, in truth). From what I saw, though, he seemed like a level-headed guy who argued from a position along the lines of, "Dying sucks but these things happen, and giving people exposure to animals is educational and fun." Ingrid Newkirk, however, is the president and co-founder of PETA, a double-speechy organization for which I hold quite a bit of animosity.

Now, I want to say here that I am all for the ethical treatment of animals. It's just that I suspect I disagree with Ingrid on exactly what that pesky word "ethical" means. I certainly don't think that it means, for example, paying for the legal defense of a man who firebombs a research lab - and if you have any qualms about animal research in principal, while we're on the topic, PZ lays out an excellent defense of just why we need to use other animals for practice, with a close to home case-in-point. At the end of the day, I think animals are deserving of rights when they're capable of upholding the responsibilities that come with them. This doesn't give humanity a license for fuckery, you understand, it just means that wild animals have a tough time playing the civilization game (Hell, humans have a tough time playing the civilization game). You can read a summary of PETA's foolishness here, and of course consider the source. I, for one, am suspicious of anyone and anything that claims to undertake an intellectual endeavor on my behalf, but I have to say they've got their shit together on this one (PETA makes it real easy for them, as it happens).

Anyway! This is about an orca, I swear! I think my favorite moment was when Newkirk blathered on about stuff everybody knows: this is a wild frickin' animal, a male as it happens, "raging with hormones" an' stuff. Christ on a bike, he killed his trainer, he didn't fuck her. According to witnesses - I couldn't get video of the actual incident - the orca grabbed his trainer Dawn Brancheau around her waist, thrashed her about, and then dragged her underneath the water where she drowned. This is how orcas kill their prey sometimes, and the orca probably thought of it as horseplay (but I'm not an orca psychologist, so you can take that with a grain of sea salt). Now, this is a fuckin' tragedy, OK? I understand that. It's awful that a human being died such a brutal, painful, death doing her dream job. But everybody dies, and I think it's better that she died doing something she loved rather than growing old and bitter doing something safe which she hated (after which she'd retire and have to deal with the problem of dying anyway).

This is what I think Paul Hogan Jack Hanna was going for when he said, "This young lady sacrificed her life and she would be sitting here today saying that she'd do it again for the great work she's done and Sea World has done to educate tens of millions of people over the last 46 years." Hanna also took some flak for making what I thought was an entirely appropriate analogy, saying that the dangers of working with orcas don't stop people from working with orcas just like the dangers of working in outer space don't stop people from working in outer space. Oh, and double points to abc10 in California for this report: after seeking to do some sort of exposé, I guess, they dug up all of four incidents across three decades and two continents, peppering their narration with weasel words and loaded language. But then, that's news for you, I suppose.

So while I'd agree that it's "unnatural" in the warm & fuzzy sense for an orcinus orca - which is more like a giant dolphin than it is like a whale, anyhow - to be taken out of its natural habitat and placed into an enormous aquarium where it does things that make people pay money to see it, I'd say that it's just as unnatural in the same warm & fuzzy sense for a homo sapiens to be placed into an enormous steel termite mound where it does things that make people pay money to not have to do them. Oh, I also don't think that there's anything wrong in principle with being "unnatural" in the warm & fuzzy sense, and I don't think there's anything particularly good about being natural in the first place (is there really an alternative, anyhow?), because I don't buy into the naturalistic fallacy. Now, sure, things like consent matter (really and truly!), but I'd wager that if orcas could talk, they'd say that choosing between cooped-up existences where they get steady meals and the total wild where they'll probably starve or be eaten is a tough choice to make. Or if you don't dig that, then at least dig my actual point, that life is complicated and this shit ain't as simple as Newkirk makes it out to be. I mean, she said that the animals at Sea World are swimming in their own diluted urine, as if that's not also true in the goddamned ocean. Fuck's sake.

I need to stop watching TV at work. It rots my brain and makes me ranty.

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