A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Can a Cage Set You Free?

kathy-rudy-010212Kathy Rudy hates cruelty to animals, is a professor of ethics who has written a book called Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy, writes passionately about human rights and animals … and also tries to make a case for supporting zoos. Her case is insupportable.
In an essay in Salon, she argues that:

Global warming, climate change, deforestation, human development and human overpopulation are putting the lives of all wild animals in grave danger …

We should continue to pour resources into conservation, but at the very same time we need to recognize that the vast majority of these efforts are failing. Failing miserably. The harsh reality is that if we cannot find ways of accommodating and controlling wild animals in places like zoos and sanctuaries, we will lose them for good. Extinction really is forever.

Rudy’s basic case is that we need to exercise a kind of positive dominion over other animals, which includes locking them up so that we can enjoy them. She criticizes the animal rights cause on the basis that it is largely based on “a notion that no longer seems tenable” – that individual freedom, autonomy and self-determination are to be valued above all else, and therefore that “that no animal should ever be used for human purposes whatsoever.”

She calls this a profoundly American notion – the same one that “leads us to free-market capitalism, neoliberalism, global domination, and winner-takes-all social Darwinism” – and seems to be arguing that animal rights philosophy stems from the same kind of ideology as oil pipelines and cutting down the forests to graze more cows for McDonalds.

But animal rights has nothing whatever to do with capitalist libertarianism. The two could not be further apart.

Capitalist libertarianism gives humans the freedom to do what they want to other animals and the planet, with as little restriction as possible – in other words, it is the diametric opposite of the view that however much we humans choose to screw each other over as part of our own “freedom”, we should leave the other animals alone.

There are really good zoos out there too. They do exist. Places where animals have enough room, good food, an existence where their “freedom” is somewhat curtailed in return for care, connection and belonging.

. . . [We need to] embrace a different model where interdependence and care are paramount. And we need to extend that circle of care to all animals, and to the planet itself; I do not want to be part of the generation that proclaims the last tiger is gone, or the last grey wolf, or the last polar bear.

But the issue is not how many species we can preserve from extinction. The issue is how to stop humankind from destroying the entire natural world.

In her book, Rudy argues that changing our relationship to nonhuman animals will be driven most successfully “from the heart as much as from the head.”

That would be just fine if there were any substantial evidence that we can easily change the hearts of others. There isn’t, and such a thing is certainly not going to happen before the damage is irreversible.

Nor is there any evidence that going to zoos changes people’s hearts about animals. Quite the opposite: it simply reinforces the notion that it’s OK to lock elephants, tigers, whales and other animals up for our entertainment and amusement.

It is, indeed, this very desire to “take dominion” over all these animals, which includes locking them up in zoos, that has led to this disaster.