BOOKS: Animals, Politics and Morality

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1993:

Animals, Politics and Morality, by Robert
Garner. Manchester University Press (Room 400, 175
Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010), 1993. 258 pages,
$59.95 hardcover or $24.95 paperback.
“That humans exploit animals is indisputable,”
Robert Garner writes in Animals, Politics and Morality.
“Of greater import is the extent to which this exploitation is
justified.”
Outlining the general historical evolution of
human attitudes toward use of animals, Garner explores in
depth the issues surrounding the use of animals in agricul-
ture and biomedical research, the need for zoos and other
artificially maintained sanctuaries, and the tendency of peo-
ple to view wildlife differently from domesticated species.

In the end, however, a reader is probably no clos-
er to understanding why humans maintain the odd relation-
ship we do with animals, and without an answer to this
essential question, the rest remains a mystery, albeit well-
documented and footnoted. Garner’s concern is to encour-
age us to treat animals with more respect, care, and com-
passion, but as with many books of this genre, a key and
possibly persuasive part of the equation is missing. For
instance, Garner skirts the issue that our civilisation,
despite technological advancement, has inherited the mind-
set of the agricultural age, a lengthy span when human soci-
ety was founded upon and organized almost entirely around
the production of animal products and byproducts. Animals
were and remain our tools, our means not only of prosper-
ing, but of sustenance. Even now, though we may pretend
our economy is founded upon service and technology, we
still need to eat. The agricultural age is still very much with
us, along with the attitudes it engendered.
Garner does point out that most of us feed on ani-
mals psychologically as well as literally. Many of our
domesticated animals serve no purpose other than to provide
companionship, which in itself is a curious comment on the
human/animal relationship.
Rather than the master/slave relationship we now
perceive between ourselves and animals, the truth may be
that we keenly feel our dependence upon other creatures and
often rebel against it. It has not proven to be in our nature to
act kindly or solicitously toward beings we feel indebted
toward; witness the wars between the sexes and generations.
Neither is our control of animals as complete as many like to
believe. Why else would we become so upset over extinc-
tions, or when we learn that certain species won’t breed in
captivity? There is more going on here than mere esthetics
or economics.
Garner promotes philosophical and legal measures
that might help to ease the suffering of animals. However,
he points out that, “the animal protection movement must
continue to direct its attention toward public opinion, since
only when attitudes toward animals change will greater pro-
tection for animals become a realistic proposition.”
While Garner offers hope, we must be aware of the
deeper issues, upon which he barely touches, that maintain
the status quo. Our fate and that of other species are inextri-
cably bound together: morality in our dealings with animals
is not a rote exercise to be practiced like piano scales, but
the key to our own survival.
––P.J. Kemp
[Now a social worker, P.J. Kemp spent 34 years on a
Quebec dairy farm.]
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