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MATTHEW SCULLY: The Animal Protection Movement is everything that Social Justice ‘Woke’ activism isn’t

Matthew Scully: There are no subtle or imagined 'micro-aggressions' on the list of our offenses against animals; just blunt, relentless, at-times horrific abuse.

MATTHEW SCULLY: Going back to the 1990s, I have often advocated for reforms in law to assure animal protection, a cause I consider underrated by both major political parties and deserving of more serious attention than it receives. We humans tolerate or overlook some extremely harsh practices that just don’t stand up to reason or conscience. Sparing animals from such abuse is a cause I will gladly compare with most of the things we demand and argue about in politics, in any fair test of moral importance.

Today’s harangue, however, is directed not at fellow conservatives but at the progressive left, with special attention to “woke” twenty-something activists lately emerging from college to instruct us all in social justice. For reasons mostly unwarranted, young progressives as a group are assumed to have a concern for mistreated animals. It’s an impression that the bad actors in animal-use industries are happy to promote, so that we think of animal protection as some strange outgrowth of leftist ideology — something normal people don’t have to worry about.

In reality, of course, men and women of every political stripe care about animal cruelty, whenever the issue comes up in controversies at the state or federal level… With the admirable exception of Senator Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, it’s hard to name any prominent figure on the left who has had much to say on the subject, or who has challenged such large-scale cruelties as factory farming. And in any case, whatever good instincts woke progressives have aren’t worth a lot in practice, given the manias of ideology that dominate their agenda.

This explains why, for instance, when China’s “wet markets” were in the news as a suspected source of the coronavirus — complete with details of tortured wildlife and slaughtered dogs — we heard rebukes from commentators on the left over the “racism” and “xenophobia” of those criticizing the markets. They know that certain culinary habits tolerated in Asia are vicious and barbaric, and a pathogenic nightmare besides. But in progressive circles you’re not allowed to talk that way anymore, least of all from the shameful position of some white Westerner daring to judge another culture.

There was a time when college-aged activists used to champion such noble and still-urgent causes as saving elephants, whales, Newfoundland’s baby seals, and other creatures from the depredations of their human enemies. These days, cruelty to wildlife is a peripheral concern and the great foe is carbon… To take just one example of a neglected global concern, elephants remain as persecuted as ever by poachers serving the Asian ivory market… Yet from our progressive environmentalists, for years we have heard practically nothing about the problem, because they’re too busy redirecting economies, transforming global paradigms, calling out “climate deniers,” and all the rest…

It’s an environmental agenda today marked by cold abstraction, sterile, “save-the-planet” platitude, eco-apocalyptic hysteria, statist solutions, and constant virtue-signaling about our downsized “footprints,” with animal protection a detail purely incidental to other, less benevolent objectives. Even giving up animal products, which come from an industrial sector that accounts for as much carbon emissions as any other, has never really caught on among progressives. Going vegan would require personal effort, and it’s still not quite fashionable enough…

Among humanity’s more altruistic endeavors, we should always include efforts to spare animals from affliction at human hands. Indeed, the humane movement reflects an ethic and spirit that might be exactly what are missing most in our woke progressives, or that at least might help to shake them of their narcissism and self-pity. Just for starters, “do the work” of studying animal cruelty — witness the things that some people and industries do to animals — and you’ll think twice before ever again calling yourself a helpless victim.

What better therapy to clear the mind of ideological fixations, and to let in the fresh breeze of real life, than contemplating animals and their humble lot? Defending them from gratuitous harm needn’t be everyone’s top moral priority for us to appreciate the effort as, at least, an outward-looking cause, with the chance to do good things for their own sake, never mind what’s in it for us, and to extend human compassion as far as it can reach… There are no subtle or imagined “micro-aggressions” on the list of our offenses against animals; just blunt, relentless, at-times-horrific abuse…

The cause invites attention away from conflicts, resentments, and trivial differences of race and background that can so consume us, affording a vantage point that all of us can share… Animal protection is a straightforward cause, modest in its way and not a pretext for any larger agenda or reordering of society, though modesty of this kind can make for intensity and focus unlike anything among the woke with their diffuse and endless complaints. There’s no wallowing in discontent among animal advocates, no wasting fervor on ideological dead-ends, not counting a few theoretical types with their notion of “speciesism.”

In this cause, any form of wrongdoing that we can name has resourceful activists dedicated to its abolition; people doing the actual work of applying their talents to real-world concerns, with no time for self-enamored inventories of personal awareness, fragility, entitlement, privilege, appropriated identity, or other states of mind… I have long admired, an activist and brilliant photojournalist named Jo-Anne MacArthur. For years she has devoted herself to traveling the world and exploring laboratories where primates, dogs, rabbits, and other creatures are experimented on, factory farms and slaughterhouses where mainstream reporters almost never venture, and all of the other unlighted places where the spirit of mercy is nowhere to be found.

Her mission is to make animal-use industries “visible and accountable,” and no one perusing her work will doubt the need for that effort. “Find your own Calcutta” was Mother Teresa’s advice when asked how to discern a charitable calling. Ms. MacArthur found hers, not in hopeless places where humans have no power, but in hopeless places where they have far too much of it. Her pictures, in books like Hidden and Captive, show battered, frightened, and lonely creatures who never before encountered a human who wasn’t trying to hurt them, each the representative of uncounted others…

Easier causes were available to her, struggles less fraught with disappointment, more inner-directed, more in vogue or “on brand,” more attuned to “national conversations” and media-manufactured “moments of reckoning.” What does she get, if she ever manages to end that one town’s miserable tradition? Just the knowledge that beautiful, intelligent, and innocent creatures will be left alone in peace. Not much in the grand order of things, maybe.

And yet it’s a hell of a lot more than all of our woke social-justice warriors will ever accomplish, unless they can just get over themselves and start doing something real… The effect is more subversive than any uprising of ideology from the left or the right, as you begin to ask yourself how any of this could possibly square with simple standards of humanity that all of us profess. Indeed, how irrelevant and self-indulgent so many of our displays of public outrage can seem, when you remember that all the while we permit abuses so outrageous they have to be concealed from public view. SOURCE…


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