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Tuesday 6 April 2010

Black clouds in the distance for zoos

Current logo of the Labour PartyImage via Wikipedia

Barely a week after an apparent government poll announced that a supposed “94%” of the general public wish for the “total ban” option on travelling circuses with wild animals, Angela Smith, Labour MP called for a ban on zoos. Smith is not new to the animal industry in the UK. In 1998, just one year after the Labour party received £1m from the political animal lobby, she showed an anti-circus Animal Rights video to Parliament.

I am often very wary of logical fallacies. The “slippery slope” fallacy is one I probably check in myself more than any other. The trouble is that everything seems to point towards a “thin end of the wedge” approach to the attack on the animals in education and entertainment culture and industry. Having read through the huge amount of written material that led up to the Animal Welfare Act 2006
due to my father being one of the main consultants, I noticed that the more militant Animal “Welfare”[i] groups were quite transparent about their approach. They argued that a wild animal ban in circus would be the first step towards a total ban on animals in circus. The same would apply to zoos then safari parks, petting zoos and any animal in the media. This is the approach and, for all their faults, they are quite transparent about it. Putting it quite simply, and sadly I see it creeping in among the more philosophical members of the rational scepticism that I support, the issue is that an animal rightist sees any animal being exhibited as being “exploited” and any captive animal as a “prisoner”. Richard Dawkins, a man I have a huge amount of respect for, put the “slippery slope” fallacy to Peter Singer, the author of “Animal Liberation”. Singer’s response was that people would be rational enough not to allow the rights issue to go too far. And yet this does not correlate with what the Animal Rights organizations are saying and it certainly doesn’t hold true when we look a philosophy of an organization like PeTA, the largest and most famous Animal Rights organization in the world. They equate pet ownership, including guide dogs for the blind, with slavery.

Labour have officially said that they are not seeking a ban on zoos, but the question on the jaded members of my culture will be “for how long?”  Zoos have a history that is undeniably connected to circus. The two worked together very closely, the world over until recent decades. In the changing political climate, it is fair to say that the zoo industry as a whole consciously distanced themselves from circuses. Despite an amicable relationship kept for old time’s sake among certain people in the zoo world, there are many zoo representatives that not only publically denounce circuses, but also the entire animal entertainment industry. This latter stance is hugely hypocritical and, as Angela Smith’s recent statement has shown us, doesn’t work for zoos in the long term. Divide and conquer is a tactic the Animal Rights movement have long used on animal industries with great effect and is a subject I see myself returning to time and again.

When I see different animal industries and their representative opposing one another on the basis of irrational Animal Rights arguments in order that they may cynically curry favour it makes me look back at history. Like it or not, the animal industry is at war with the Animal Rights movement. I appreciate that this sounds like a siege mentality and it is a feeling I don’t embrace gladly, but I have seen all of this unfold in my lifetime. I have seen the way it affects people in my culture and I have watched the effect on the businesses in that culture. Invasions into countries have often been done with the allied support of natives. Look back at the Roman conquests and you will see that often early on the campaign the Romans would acquire support from native tribes who had issues with their fellow countrymen. The same applied with the Conquistadores, the Ottoman Turks and so on. There is a lot to be said about this and it further convinces me that humans operate and instinctively work best in small groups, but this is not the point. Getting one’s house in order is important and inter-tribal conflict or criticism can help to move matters forward. However, a larger picture should be observed. My enemies’ enemies are not always my friends.

[i] I use inverted commas for the word welfare, as I believe these groups have far stronger philosophical roots in “Animal Rights” than Animal Welfare. The two are distinctly different outlooks on non-human animals.

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