September 21, 2011 marked the eruption of open gaiety in the American Armed Forces. It will also stand as the day that the highly queer city of West Hollywood, CA, banned the sale of wool and fur within the enchanted bounds of that most unusual metropolis—although a wide range of other goods, services, and people remain for sale there.
Having banned the sale of cats and dogs last year, WeHo (as its denizens affectionately call it) has already legally designated pets as “animal companions” and their owners as “guardians”—the latter move since echoed by such burgs as San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and all of Rhode Island. Fur Free West Hollywood, the plan’s progenitrix, is jubilant, and the ongoing move to put pets in the same legal role as children (whom they have replaced in many households) continues.
Opposition thus far has been commercially motivated. The Chamber of Commerce and The Avenues—Art, Fashion and Design District are predictably concerned about the impact on their member businesses’ bottom lines. So too is the Fur Information Council of America, who will attempt to challenge the ban on constitutional and legal grounds. One supposes/hopes/expects that the American Wool Council will follow suit—there is a lot more involved here than merely Fur Information Council spokesman Keith Kaplan’s fear that the ban will damage the city’s efforts to establish itself as a little Paris: “You cannot be a fashion destination if you cannot represent the designers’ full collections of designs in retail establishments. There’s no truer determination of consumer attitudes than the cash register.”
This whole episode is part of the larger controversy over animal rights, which also encompasses such issues as hunting, animal experimentation, and meat consumption. The alleged cruelty of force-feeding geese led to the state’s bans on foie gras. When authorities find those who breed roosters for cockfighting, they charge the “guardians” with animal cruelty, while the animal “companions” are summarily destroyed. One can only hope that the officers who execute the roosters barbecue their corpses lest they die in vain.
Inside or outside the fairie realm of WeHo, the animal-rights cause makes me want to tear out my hair. Animal clothing products are both renewable and biodegradable, while the synthetics used to replace them are neither—and are frequently petroleum-based. If we all become vegans, most domestic animals would either starve or be slaughtered en masse, while game animals’ conservation and management would lose popular interest and therefore funding. (I wish the money that is put into animal-rights causes went to keeping the State Parks open.)
Don’t get me wrong—I love animals, and not just to eat and wear. I was raised with dogs, cats, fish, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, turtles, and snakes, and I enjoyed them all. Pets teach children responsibility and—at least in the case of the canine and feline brigades—provide semi-intelligent companionship and unquestioning affection. Cruelty to such creatures lowers the individual. It is little shock that most serial killers begin with torturing pets. But that is the moral issue: the spiritual damage done to the torturer by his deeds. Nevertheless, animals are not human beings, and no culture except ours—save for those few who have worshiped them—has ever tried to elevate animals to human status.
Why do we do it? I suspect that it is the psychological defense mechanism called “compensation.” All cultures, societies, and individuals need to feel good about themselves. For Americans there is the added need to be forever on a moral crusade to feel part of God’s elect. So it is that we have compensated, since the 1960s, for what our ancestors would have considered various sorts of sexual depravity by condemning alcohol and tobacco. The clue to understanding animal rights’ psychological appeal is the whole “companion/guardian” lingo. In saving defenseless animals, we are compensating for the fact that as a society we bathe in the blood of the unborn.
I can understand someone who is vegan and pro-life, but such folk are relatively few. Many more will shed tears over vivisection while vociferously supporting abortion. I have seen many an ad with graphic pictures of dead and abused animals, but we know what happens when folk employ lurid snapshots of dead human fetuses to oppose abortion. If every scrap of animal skin, flesh, and milk were banned forever from human consumption, we would still be the horribly cruel society that we are—and insufferably smug as well.
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