Man’s Real Best Friend

Humans Firsters rally against equal rights for animals.

A disparate group of “humans first” activists rallied in front of
Golden Gate Fields last Saturday, arguing that an animal rights
movement that seeks to elevate other species to the level of humans is
misguided and dangerous. Even by Bay Area standards, this demonstration
was unique. A true united front of farmers, horse-racing fans,
cosmetics executives, Christian activists, medical researchers,
immigrants, and left-wing activists found itself agreeing that the
movement to grant animals human-style privileges and rights has gone
too far.

In keeping with the East Bay’s history as the incubator of new
political movements, speakers implored the crowd to spread the message
of “humans first” to people throughout the world. Speakers told of the
problems for the species if all living beings are considered equal to
men and women. “We need the jobs that cosmetics bring,” said cosmetics
industry executive Giselle Moss, referring to the current human
economic crisis. “It is only with the help of our animal friends that
we can keep our industry alive. But just because they help us does not
mean that they are our equals.”

The hypocrisy of animal-rights activists also was a common theme.
“Do these animal lovers who own pets let them vote on their
conditions?” one speaker asked.

Speakers lauded the new heroes of their movement, the California
animal farmers fighting back against the 2008 initiative that banned
inhumane conditions on factory farms. In a recent op-ed column in
The New York Times, one of these farmers recently slammed
animal-rights activists and “Hollywood types,” writing, “They think
fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and
chickens should run loose?”

In one of the day’s most passionate speeches, prisoner-rights
advocate Ruchell McClain told the crowd, “Americans spend $17 billion a
year on pet food and huge sums on health care for their pets but won’t
fund adequate health care or proper living standards for California’s
prisoners.” Added McClain, who was on a temporary protest furlough from
his twelve-year sentence for mortgage and postal fraud: “In California,
chickens run free, why not me?”

Conservation Christians from Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union
carried signs featuring Biblical verses: “God gave man dominion over
the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living
thing that moves on the earth.” One of their numbers cited the recent
chimpanzee attack in Connecticut as emblematic of the problems with the
animal-rights movement. “The chimp was treated like a king and
hobnobbed with Hollywood types in commercials. While many American
humans have lost their prescription drug coverage, the chimp even got
Xanax when he was nervous,” Christian spokesman Wallis Dobson said.
“The result of favoring animals over humans is that (attack victim)
Charla Nash is in critical condition.”

The final speaker was Estrella Caballo, wife of one of the men
recently arrested at a large cockfight raided by Oakland police. “Many
humans die every year around the world in boxing matches, martial arts
matches, and ultimate fighting events,” Caballo said through an
interpreter. “But when the working men who do the dirty work in our
society want to relax with the sport of cockfighting, they are jailed
and ridiculed. Why do we allow men to kill men, but put men in jail
when chickens kill chickens?”

The demonstration was held at Golden Gate Fields, which recently
declared bankruptcy. The track is scheduled to be auctioned on April 3,
which could deal a fresh blow to the East Bay economy. Among the
demonstrators, Northern California’s horse-owning elite, many of whom
were clad in fur, stood side by side with seedy-looking punters and
union track employees.

As the rally was ending, a small group of left-wing activists
marched into the crowd, chanting from Mao’s Red Book, “Of all the
things in the world, people are the most precious.” While the crowd
appeared a little uneasy with the new arrivals, all enthusiastically
joined their chant.

As might be expected, the intelligentsia was not amused. Jacques
Butler, a Cal professor of critical studies, derided the protestors.
“This menagerie is just a bunch of specistists. Just like racists and
sexists before them, they think they are better than the others on our
planet.” Swatting a fly off her vegan meal in our interview, she said,
“It is time for these human-firsters to realize that we must share with
all sentient beings on an equal basis.”

The issues these protestors raise are important. Like it or not, in
this time of growing economic difficulty, some matters are zero-sum.
Watching animal-rights activists fight to stop experimentation on
animals that could lead to advances in human health looks to have more
and more in common with those who have stopped our use of stem cells
for beneficial research. And, talking about animal “rights” leads to an
intellectual morass. Human rights come from human laws. Where do animal
“rights” come from? Should democracy be mandatory for all species?

But in respect of the issue’s complexity, it must be observed in
this 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin that the unbroken
evolutionary string of life binds humans to other beings in ways we
should all ponder.

Recently I was with a group of men and, as often happens when men
get together, one told a sexist joke. The punch line revolved around
the issue of who is man’s best friend, his wife or his dog. At the time
I grimaced at the misogynism of the man who told it. But later I
thought about the arguments of the human-firsters and wondered if this
joke would seem so funny to many if animal rights and privileges were
elevated to levels enjoyed by our species.

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