Friday, May 28, 2010

Misplaced Priorities

A recent blog post by the animal rights group In Defense of Animals (IDA) complains that the nation of Zimbabwe is planning to sell baby elephants to North Korea. In the face of two countries that continually engage in human rights abuses, the most this group can find to complain about is an elephant.

My Gut Reaction: One cannot help but wonder whether IDA, upon learning that Nazi Germany was using the skins of Jewish people to make lamp shades, would not congratulate the Germans for no longer using animal leather.

Analysis: It is worth remembering that Zimbabwe and North Korea are two of the worst human rights offenders in the world today, as can be demonstrated by looking at the 2009 Amnesty International Annual Report. In its section on Zimbabwe, the report characterizes the country as having undergone "an unprecedented wave of state-sponsored human rights violations," pointing to post-election violence and the disappearances of dissidents. Similarly, North Korea faced issues such as executions, prison abuse, and widespread food shortages.

In the face of such atrocities, to focus attention on animals seems short sighted, misguided, even warped. Although one does not want to see animals suffer, in the end the interests of humans must trump those of animals. To do otherwise risks devaluing the lives of humans, rather than advancing the interests of animals.

What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the countries in question are both populated by non-white people. One cannot help but wonder whether the group in question would be so quick to focus on the interests of elephants if the populations of Zimbabwe and North Korea were largely Caucasian. Indeed, many people in Africa have come to have unflattering opinions of the environmental movement, as they believe that many white environmentalists value the life of one elephant over those of one hundred Africans, as Barack Obama reported in his memoir Dreams of My Father.

This is not to claim that the animal rights movement is composed of conscious racists. Most would be horrified at such an accusation, and would never think of themselves in such a way. However, it is worth wondering whether the hidden structures of societal racism could be, however subconsciously, affecting their attitudes, with results they never intended.

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