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Marko Sijan Headshot

Why We Treat Animals Better Than the Poor

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Seal lovers around the world are barking over a recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to slaughter two seals enslaved at an aquarium on the Magdalen Islands of Quebec.

Normally, at summer's end, once they've done their unpaid labour amusing tourists, seals are freed back into the sea. But this time, afraid the seals will spread disease to other marine mammals, the DFO wants to murder them. After much worldwide wailing, the DFO asked for public donations totalling $73,000 to pay for transport of the seals to another slave den in France. Again, public rage was swift, one seal lover howling, "How dare you now demand money from those who have had the courage and humanity to speak out against the impending execution of innocent creatures."

Courage. Humanity. Innocence. I'm baffled by the power of the media to turn such weighty words into gibberish. How is speaking out against cruelty to animals an act of "courage"? Animal rights is the cause par excellence of the wealthy, their "generosity" the most lucrative of modern brands. The seal cause is also cut-and-dried: to support animal rights of any kind puts one at no risk of controversy (brand-staining).

And where's the "humanity" in defending animal rights? Like me, devout animal lovers and environmentalists (often one and the same) betray an underlying misanthropy, a profound disgust and disillusion with humanity. Ask my uncle why he and my aunt never had kids but have 11 cats, strays they saved and nursed back to health. He'll say, "We're very disappointed in humans." Then ask my friend and his wife, owners of two dogs and three cats, why they care so much for the welfare of animals and so little for the welfare of the poor. They'll say, "I would drop-kick any human in a second, but an animal?"

We can love animals because they aren't our competitors; they're dumb and easily used to serve our ends. Also they're innocent: they don't know right from wrong. On the other hand, human animals, namely the poor are as bankrupt in the moral economy as they are in the financial one. Or so we think as our grandparents thought and our children may too, if they don't grow up. Writing off the poor lifts us to a height of superiority, where we save a lot of money being indifferent to their misfortune, for which we're all responsible.

The two most immoral things we hate about the poor are: they don't have a job with which to contribute their "fair share" to the tax base; and worse, they're on welfare, or free meal courtesy of the hard-working, debt-heavy taxpayer. The poor then are doubly evil because they take too much and give too little back. Our captains of industry and their government lapdogs have never designed it this way. No, the poor choose to stay poor, century after century.

"Spare some change?" "No, but here's a thought: get a job. You don't have a job because you're a dumb slug." It requires no courage but a great deal of humanity for me to say such things to the homeless. My fellow "haves"agree with me, and their opinions matter because I can use them to get what I want. You see, my opinions of cute animals and other "have-nots" reveal today's version of a moral vision.

Today I love animals and hate people, especially those below and above me. It feels right. My lame duck cynicism fertilizes the growth of global free market capitalism. Convinced of my impotence to influence it, I'm resigned to its rewarding greed and punishing fairness. I'm weak as a seal, drowsy as a dog. I contribute to the poor's misery by, for example, buying clothes made by children who earn less than a living wage, children who aren't white.

Recently, at a party full of white people like me, I said that while cultural and ethnic diversity paint a pretty picture, they're fictions, obscuring the fact that human similarities outweigh cultural differences. I was then reamed for sharing such a racist and privileged view, so easy for one who's never suffered the prejudices poor ethnic minorities suffer, who's never felt the power of culture to unite those under occupation. For the rest of the night I shut up and stewed in guilt.

I felt even worse another day when I talked to a Lebanese man. "Do you support the Israeli occupation of Palestine?" He asked, cheeks and knuckles trembling. I said, "No ... but I'm not anti-Israel." I barely got the "but" out before he started screaming about the Jews as beasts that must be destroyed; that he watched his friend incinerated by an Israeli rocket; and I'm an entitled white ass who'll never know true pain.

I have nothing left to say, except I love seals. My humanity compels me to share in that courageous seal lover's rage at the savagery of those DFO stiffs. Endorsing innocent creatures makes me feel compassionate. Hand in hand, compassion and generosity form the most profitable brand. But if a bum asks me for money, or an immigrant asks my opinion regarding the affairs of the poor, I keep my elite mouth and wallet shut.