Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Deconstructing the labels by Anna Webb

Anna Webb returns to the fore with a vengeance in this excellent analysis of the meaningless yet emotive language animal rights and pseudo-animal welfare groups use to reel in public support. The issue of language is an important once when it comes to the animal rights movement and Rouster is very intrigued by the reference to George Orwell in this essay. Orwell, of course, saw language as a means to influence and control people. In "1984", for example, "Newspeak", coupled with "Double Think", was created so that the masses found it hard to express themselves in anyway outside of the ruling government's philosophy. In "Animalscam" Kathleen Marquardt wrote about the way animal rights groups purposefully created phrases like "companion animal" instead of "pet", and used words like "murder" to describe any sort of killing of an non-human animal. However, this essay takes a look  the reality behind the very labels these groups use...
Orwell said in his essay “Politics and the English Language" that “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”.  It is “designed to ... give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”  This phenomenon, while being particularly prominent in strictly political speech, is also present in all sorts of partisan slogans.  It is a fact that there is a fine line, sometimes, between words meaning a great deal and them meaning absolutely nothing.  I am not talking about garden-variety sloppy writing as the result of sloppy thinking.  I am talking about a deliberate abuse of language to create meaningless but indisputable sound-bites.  If you want to know what’s in the tin, you need to de-construct the label.

Let’s take a look at something apparently innocuous and apolitical.  Let’s look at PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  They are generally taken by the public to be a charity designed to protect animals from abuse – but are they?  If you examine their name closely, they don’t even claim to be.

“Ethical Treatment.”  If you ask anyone whether animals should be treated “ethically”, I bet you that everyone is going to say YES.  I dare you to find a person who states that animals should be treated UNethically.  However, “ethical” is one of those beautiful words that you can’t argue against but means, in practice, nothing.  If you look in the dictionary, “ethics” are “a system of moral principles”, or “that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions”.

The problem with ethics is that while there are certain cultural boundaries, they can be wonderfully subjective.  The Nazis believed they were acting ethically when carrying out their atrocities.  Mother Theresa believed she was acting ethically in looking after the poor and the sick.  These are very extreme examples and I’m sure all of us have very firm ideas as to whose ethics we would support.  Still, this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that my ethics and your ethics are probably different, and we’re both ultimately “right” in our own little worlds.

To take a less extreme example, with regards to animals the ethics of a halal butcher are very different from those of a vegan.  We can all take sides, and most of us do.  In fact, it’s almost impossible not to, because our own personal ethics will be screaming at the back of our heads.  Leaving aside an endless argument about who’s “wrong” and who’s “right”, what ethics are PETA going on about?  Why would you want to name yourself something along the line of “People Supporting a Concept so Nebulous That It’s Ultimately Meaningless”?

Well,  call me silly,  but I reckon it’s because when you’re shaking a collection tin at people, that works a lot better than the more factual “People Who Think It’s Morally Acceptable To Take Your Pets Away From You and Kill Them Rather Than Having Them Live Unnaturally”.    If you think I’ve lost the plot, wait and hear me out.

Given the fact that they sell themselves to the public as an animal charity, you could be tempted to assume that PETA’s ethics are those of the vast,  moderate majority.  As a culture,  we hold to generalised ethics.  Most of us wouldn’t starve an animal or let it go without necessary medical care.  We wouldn’t beat an animal needlessly – some of us would not beat an animal at all, others may see mild physical punishment as necessary in some settings, to prevent a greater evil.  I wouldn’t kick my dog about because I’ve had a bad day, but I’m happy to pull hard on his leash to prevent him from walking into the road, for instance.  Most of us sit somewhere in the middle of the topic, with slightly variable but still fairly balanced views.

PETA want our money to fight the cause on our behalf, but their ethics are as extreme as those of any devil and any saint.

Let’s look beyond the label, and see what they actually want.  I’ll let them do the talking:

Did you catch that?  Animals are not ours to use FOR ANY OTHER REASON.  That’s not me not being able to starve,  neglect,  or beat my dog.   That’s me not being able to keep a dog.

It gets worse.  Say PETA decide that I can’t “use” my dog for comfort and cuddles, because it prevents him “leading his own life”.  They take him from me.  What then?  He can’t “lead his own life”.  He’s the product of countless generations of breeding for darling, loving, useless pets.  If you put him outside the door, he doesn’t want to run off into the woods to commune with his wolf ancestors, he wants to come back in where there’s warmth and food, and smear mud on my sofa.

So, what to do with all these emancipated pets?  PETA found a good answer to this conundrum.  Let’s put them down, then they cannot be repressed again!  I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.  Statistics from the US shows that out of 2345 animals removed from owners in 2010, 44 were adopted and 63 transferred.  The remaining 93.81% were put down.  That was actually a good year, as in 2009 the percentage of pets put down was 97.3, and in 2008 it was 95.8.

Over 33% of PETA’s budget is spent on advertising to animal lovers, so they can take their money and use it to kill animals.  And people fall for it.  Nebulous language has its uses, you see?  The New York Post suggested PETA should stand for “People Eradicating Thousands of Animals” .  Nice and  compact, but still not a money spinner.

The example of PETA is admittedly quite extreme, but similar examples can be found all over:

·         RSPCA - Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  They run a campaign against animals in Circus.  Their argument is that “Scientific research has shown that travelling circus life is likely to have a very harmful effect on animal welfare for many species.”  Well, actually, that is completely untrue.  In fact, the only independent scientific study of Animal Welfare in Circus, carried out by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington and commissioned by – wait for this - the RSPCA and UFAW (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) demonstrated that “circuses do not by their nature cause suffering and distress in animals”.  Dr Kiley-Worthington states, "On balance, I do not think that the animals best interests are necessarily served by money and activities diverted to try and ban circuses and zoos either locally or nationally” .  So, the cruelty in circus they state they are fighting, and they want you to pay them to fight, is in fact been proven to be non-existent BY THEIR OWN RESEARCH.  A more correct name would then be “Royal Society for the Prevention of Activities We Have Arbitrarily Decided to Be Inappropriate Involving Animals”.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same ring.

·         CAPS -  Captive Animals’ Protection Society.  Their stated aim is to “end the use of animals in entertainment”.  This includes Circuses, Zoos and Aquaria.  Now, to me “captive” conjures up emotive images of chimps sticking their arms out of tiny cages, but no, they take a rather wider view on the subject.  For instance, a terrapin in an aquarium fits the bill.  Where they sit on the countless number of pet terrapins in people’s homes is anyone’s guess.  So, a better name would be “Animals Who Are Already Well-Protected by Legislation and Routine Inspections That We Deem Not Sufficient Without Any Actual Fact to Back Us Up Protection Society”.  Too wordy, I guess.

I could go on forever, but I’d probably develop an ulcer.  These organisations are using OUR money, donated by US the public, to put down innocent, healthy animals and randomly attack windmills.

What is the solution?  Firstly, do not donate without a careful investigation.  You can start by asking the following:

·         How are the funds spent – for instance, what is the proportion of income spent on rescuing and re-homing vs. advertising? 

·         What are the actual campaigns and how are they conducted?  Are you unwittingly about to sponsor terrorist campaigns or illegal activities?  This isn’t an idle suggestion, as some organisations go to extreme lengths to try and realise their goals.

·         What is the scientific basis of the campaigns, if any?  Is this purely a faith-based crusade?

This is just the start.  You can’t shop purely by the name on the tin.  You have to read the label, and if the label doesn’t carry the right answers, you have to investigate further. Do not let a bit of emotive language, a sprinkling of faulty logic and a hefty dose of ruthlessness do damage to your thought processes, or your wallet.  Do not let their woolly speaking lead you into woolly thinking.  Don’t let them treat you like a sheep.

Peta vs Animals
Via: Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
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