Even amidst so many problems and so much cruelty, there are countless markers of change for the better for animals in our society. Aramark’s announcement a little more than a week ago that it will require its suppliers to observe more humane standards is a sign of the tremendous progress happening in the food sector. Last week’s pledge from Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige to not allow more wild animal acts in his state comes just weeks after Ringling Bros. pledged to phase out its use of elephants in its traveling acts.
More broadly, we’ve seen a step-by-step transformation in the legal framework against cruelty, a series of court wins, and some strong rulemaking by the Obama Administration, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement last Friday of a proposed rule to stop the mistreatment and slaughter of downer calves.
Beyond these specific campaign gains, we’re also seeing thought leaders embrace animal protection ideals. No credible thinker will now defend animal cruelty, and the shrill voices who routinely chimed in a few years ago on behalf of even the worst practices are fewer in number, and now cloaking their opposition to reform in the language of animal welfare itself. There’s a new book out about animals almost every day, law schools now include animal law in their course work, and major universities have animal studies programs. Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, and other talk show hosts embrace animal protection.
But one of the most exciting trends has been the embrace of our values and philosophy within conservative circles. I recently interviewed a top official at the Southern Baptist Convention, and he’s just one of so many faith leaders to embrace animal protection. On Saturday, former Governor Jeb Bush gave a commencement speech at the evangelical-dominated Liberty University, lauding young people committed to working as “protectors of creation” and noting that “Christians see in nature and all its creatures designs grander than any of man’s own devising – the endless, glorious work of the lord of life.” It was certainly not the first time that folks at Liberty had heard this line of argument – an English professor and HSUS Faith Advisory Council member, Karen Swallow Prior, recently released “Fierce Convictions. The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist,” in which she details the history of the evangelical involvement in the animal welfare movement.
But the item that has enthused me most in this regard was last week’s column by Charles Krauthammer. Writing for The Washington Post, in his nationally syndicated column, Krauthammer observed that “there has been a salutary turn in our attitude toward animals, especially their display and confinement.” He celebrated the move by Ringling and panned SeaWorld’s attempts to excuse its mistreatment of captive orcas.
Krauthammer noted that he’s “long thought” that when future generations look back on practices that are “abominable,” “it will be our treatment of animals” that they will single out for condemnation. Though he professed he’s not a vegetarian, he predicted that “[meat eating’s] extinction will, I believe, ultimately come.”
Like a lot of people, Krauthammer knows that there’s a serious moral question revolving around animals, and he’s celebrating progress while also admitting to his personal struggle to find ethical consistency. I’ve said many times before that because the use of animals is so widespread and cruelty is all around us, it’s hard to avoid contributing to it entirely with our buying habits, transportation choices, and other features of normal living.
At The HSUS, our measure is not perfection, but progress. We want more probing, more intentional action, more change – and not to throw your hands up just because we cannot live a no-impact life.
Krauthammer is just the latest conservative voice to sign up to the animal protection cause, along with columnists Kathleen Parker and George Will, also of The Washington Post; Rich Lowry of the National Review; Matthew Scully, a long-serving presidential speechwriter and author of “Dominion;” Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard; Mary Eberstadt of the Ethics & Public Policy Center; and many more.
I want to welcome Krauthammer writing on animal issues in such a forceful way. We need him, and more like him.