Monday, May 31, 2010

Risks and Sacrifices

I would put a human at risk to save the lives of an animal species or even one animal, but what does "risk" even mean? Too often we truncate phrases like "unacceptable risk" or "irresponsible risk." Then they become zero-tolerance, one-drop-rule memes. They become the kind of meme that makes a child afraid to cross the street when there is no traffic coming, or even according to established safety rules.

Kim Carlton walked his pet tigers to the mall and let people pet them. I think that was a very good thing that taught people to be comfortable around animals that we live with. Were the children at risk? It was a good kind of risk. Saying that it's a bad risk is saying that the experience with the animals is worthless. Ask the autistic child who comes out of his shell to hug a cheetah what that experience is worth. It's worth a lot. That makes it a productive risk, a good risk. The sacrifice of a tiny bit of our safety is well worth it. This is just saying that we take a millionth of a chance that someone will die, or maybe a thousandth of a millionth of a chance, to live an extraordinarily good moment.

The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are not just enumerated in the Constitution. They are in the body of the Constitution and they are the primary focus of the Constitution. This is the point by which I justify my next statements.

It is right to allow an animal to die to protect the rights of its owner. That got some knee-jerk emotional reactions, didn't it? But think about it. Our human rights are considered so important that even when protecting them in another nation many people can justify the use of death on a large scale. The case can be pretty vaguely connected to our own personal rights, but it would look like the defense of our own rights would be far more vigorous. I read about the child who was bitten in the face by a rescued dog. He pulled the dog off his daughter and the dog attacked her again. If I faced the same situation and were mentally prepared by having read his, the dog would die in my hands. I would twist its collar or I would crush its throat until it was thoroughly and unmistakably dead. Immediately. I am speaking as someone who has actually slept in the same bed with a dog the same day that it bit me, accidentally of course. I understand the difference between an accidental nip and tearing someone's face off. There are a few people out there who seem to need a little education in that area.

If we're not thinking clearly we do find ourselves killing the pet tiger just in case, although no pet tigers have ever broken loose and harmed someone off the property that they live on. Just like dogs they would be more likely to either stay away from people or make new friends and some of them are as easy to handle as dogs, not all but some, and the risk is very minimal. On the other hand, in a schizophrenic split, we might try to preserve the life of a dog that is actually in the midst of a deadly attack instead of killing it when we get the upper hand. In the case I mentioned, killing the dog would have prevented further injury to the girl. If we somehow "can't sacrifice the life of an animal" to protect a human, we are so very very sick. This is upside down, too, because the animal that actually causes harm might be protected over one that has never so much as scratched anyone.

Then we have confiscations of animals without due process of the law based on the idea that the animals might be unhealthy, might be dying or starving, might be about to die, and so on. So an inspector from the USDA can just write up a confiscation order. What if the owner's own judgment and that of his veterinarian is that he's doing the right thing, perhaps feeding less because his animal has a long-term illness that requires the animal's movements to be restricted? I've seen a medically dependent human die because a "federal inspector" ordered an increase in that human's feedings, and I am willing to testify to this.

All that controversy matters little because the issue of due process under the law overrides. Yes, it trumps the risk that an animal will die. We're talking about animals that under other circumstances the exact same authorities order killed for no reason besides breed and species. See how it gets to be schizoid?

Due process of the law is necessary because with it we have a justice system. Without it, we don't. It is the weapon with which we defend our rights. We are not only allowed but obligated to protect our human rights from any agency, governmental or otherwise. It is a higher obligation than saving the life of an animal. Giving up our right to ownership, voluntarily, on a case by case basis, without coercion, exercises our right to make our own choices, so that's OK, but those who coerce should be read the Riot Act. We should also demand money.

It should be all too easy. Roy Cooper's tigers should only have been taken, if then, after he had his day in court without a rush to judgment and their lives should have been left at what little risk there was in order to preserve his human rights. The person who violated his rights should have to be an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant for five years, or better yet, have to perform manual labor on a cattle farm. Too many other people have experienced arbitrary confiscations and this contradictory use of concepts, practices that nullify, in real terms, the very existence of the law and the justice system.

Way too much has been sacrificed of our justice system and of essential due process using the alleged safety of animals as an excuse. Even the lives of animals have been sacrificed, and their safety is in question when the number of homes available for those animals keeps shrinking. Humans can all sacrifice a little bit of our safety to give homes or allow homes to exist, to respect the rights of people who want to keep those animals, and it's a very tiny bit, and at the same time we are preserving our own rights in general, which are worth more than the lives of the tigers or dogs or whatever.

Many of us humans consistently use our rights to serve the needs of animals, so it's a win for them and a win for us. That is a central theory of animal culture.