Categorical errors

The RSPCA's claim that animal organ transplants are unethical is like saying that going for a swim violates the sea.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Sentimentalist, fundamentalist, mentalists

It must be the approach of spring or something, but animal sentimentalists appear to be in full bloom at the moment.

First the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) announces that it has ethical concerns about organ transplants for animals, on the grounds that animals cannot give their ‘consent’. This argument is self-contradictory. It basically says that animals should be treated like human beings because they are incapable of acting like human beings – that is to say, thinking and speaking. It’s is a bit like saying that it’s wrong to cut down trees because they can’t give consent, or that going for a swim is rape because you didn’t ask the sea’s permission.

Meanwhile, a rowdier and even more empty-headed organisation, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), has won another victory. The accountancy firm Deloitte & Touche has severed its links with Huntingdon Life Sciences because its staff have become the target of animal rights activists. ‘This is one of the fastest campaigns we’ve achieved’, said a spokeswoman for SHAC. ‘Any firm now foolish enough to take over from Deloitte & Touche will be subjected to the same treatment.’

It’s good to know that with war looming in Iraq and talk of dirty bombs, the animal rights lot still know what’s really important in the world. It makes me ashamed to be a vegetarian. To them I can only say: ‘Not in my name.’

Then there’s PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organisation for supermodels, film stars and intellectual titans in general. Its latest exhibition, on show in San Diego, is called Holocaust on Your Plate, in which harrowing images of people in concentration camps are juxtaposed with animals on farms. The campaign’s creator Matt Prescott believes that ‘the very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible – that we can do anything we want to those we decide are “different or inferior” – is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day.’

This ignores two issues. It was the inability to draw the line between the human and the animal world that legitimised the Holocaust. People commit genocide because they view their victims as animals. PETA are making precisely the same error, which has precisely the same effect: dehumanising the Jewish people. Secondly, animals are inferior. Get used to it.

The philosophy of the animal rights lobby is that humans and animals are no different in essence, only in scale. I’m starting to believe it. The intellectual bankruptcy of these people makes me suspect that the boundary really is porous, or at least some of my co-humans are starting to slide back down the evolutionary chain. It really makes me understand why they hold fellow humans in contempt.

  • Do something less boring instead

An imam in the northern Indian village of Jogiakheda has imposed a ban on locals watching TV, attributing to the goggle box the blame for all types of social maladies. Mufti Raees Ahmed called on the elders to issue the edict after he felt this device had caused a rise in petty theft and a fall in attendance at mosques and schools.

Tempting as it is to accuse this mufti of casuistry, or simply of going Talibananas, he does have a point. TV is a source of misery. I appreciate that there are myriad reasons for our increased propensity for unhappiness today, but, with sincere apologies to spiked‘s TV man Dolan Cummings, I do think that Baird’s baby is partly to blame.

Take the 1980s comedy Cheers, currently being given another airing on Channel 4 at lunchtimes. Cheers is a bar full of laughter, tears, warmth, a place ‘where everybody knows your name/and they’re always glad you came’. Yet have you ever visited a pub that remotely resembles Cheers? Ever? Where are the fights, the dull nights, the surly bloke who knows your name, only because he thinks it is ‘Phil’ or ‘Dave’ and you’re too polite to correct him? Solo drinkers just aren’t like Norm and Cliff. They are more Barney from Simpsons, a programme that in the shape of Mo’s Bar, depicts the spirit of public houses with brutal honesty.

TV simply raises our expectations to impossible levels. It fools us into believing that we are missing out on a better life. People watch programmes like Cheers and then wonder why their local doesn’t have that same kind of camaraderie or community spirit. They watch Friends and start to wonder why they don’t have such close, funny and rich friends. They observe Sex and The City or This Life and are consumed by the fear that they too should be going out shagging and falling in love all the time. Even the whining residents of Albert Square enjoy a communal bond in the Queen Vic that you won’t find in real life.

This is because in real life everybody watches too much TV. To put it another way, have you noticed that people on TV are rarely caught watching the thing themselves? That’s their secret to happiness. I’ve certainly noticed that in real life the saddest people with the most vacuous lives are the ones that watch the most TV.

Real life just doesn’t correspond to the fantasy land conjured up on the small screen. It consists mostly of hard work interspersed with moments of laughter, happiness, frustration and anger, with very occasional periods of real trauma and bliss. Or at least it should be this balanced, if people’s grasp on reality wasn’t warped by TV itself.

  • Clerical terrors

What have the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the comedian Mark Thomas and al-Qaeda’s recently arrested number three Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got in common? Apart from the fact that you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with any of them shouting and pontificating, they are all sons of priests.

Beware the son of a preacherman.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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