Would you, could you, in the streets?

It’s a rare day when Mark Morford and I agree. Usually his columns fill me with a sense of rising bile at his general stupidity and lack of insight into a situation. So I was surprised when I read yesterday’s column, about the mass slaughter of dogs in China, to find myself actually liking the column, the writing, and the thoughts expressed.

Mass slaughter of dogs in China, you say, what’s this? Well, China has a rabies problem. Not a massive rabies problem, but it does kill around 2,000 people a year, and the Chinese government has decided that the best way to deal with it is slaughtering the canina population en masse, usually with clubs and sticks. The government argues that it’s too late and too impractical to attempt to vaccinate all the dogs, therefore security teams wander the streets of Chinese cities picking up stray dogs and clubbing them to death. One might argue that this is one solution to the problem–after all, millions of birds were summarily executed for a much less tangible threat (though it could have become more deadly).

Most people, upon hearing this news, have a visceral reaction of disgust. It’s unfathomable, especially to Westerners, that animals should be mass murdered for social convenience, right? That people wouldn’t take care of their animals, vaccinating them and taking them to the veterinarian? That’s dirty, that’s subhuman, that’s wrong.

As Mark Morford points out, we Americans slaughter over three million cats and dogs every year. We may do it with sodium pentathol, and we may do it behind the walls of “animal shelters,” but it still happens. We also pump sensitive, intelligent animals full of harmful hormones and keep them in feedlots for their short and miserable lives before slaughtering them in brutal conditions. Factory farming is as ugly in my eyes as slaughtering dogs in the public street–it’s just that most people don’t face up to the realities of where their meat comes from.

Furthermore, not much protest was raised about the mass slaughter of poultry across Asia in an attempt to combat bird flu. Millions of birds were slaughtered and stacked in pits. Some were burned alive. And all this for an epidemic that has yet to materialize.

Morford mentions that many Chinese foods are alien to the Western palate. It’s true that if it’s edible, or can be made so, that the Chinese will eat it–often with amazing results. But a trip through a Chinese market can be disturbing for someone raised in Western culture. Which is odd, because we share many of the same values, it’s simply that the Chinese are more open about them. Would you rather be in a culture of hypocrites or a culture of honesty?

To be frank, I’d rather be in a culture without homeless and unwanted animals, in a culture where meat is rarely eaten and when it is, it’s raised with respect and love. But until then, I have a hard time swallowing the outcry over the dog slaughter.

It is said that you can tell a lot about a culture from the way it treats its animals. I think that this is very true. Americans, for example, are sneaky and devious and like to sweep things under the carpet. We don’t like to face ugly realities, although we are happy to reap the benefits in the form of steaks, bacon, and all the other sundries of the abattoir. We’re also raging hypocrites–it gets back to the “would you, could you” debate. Why are some animals in American culture proscribed, while others are permitted? Why is it that we eat cows and not horses? Goat milk but not mare’s milk?

Our response to situations we don’t like, as Morford points out, is to push them away. If an epidemic of Foot and Mouth disease is discovered, farm animals die. An outbreak of “bird flu” results in the slaughter of millions of birds. It’s not just China that slaughters animals in response to epidemics, and as Morford says, it’s not just animals that we slaughter. Don’t like terrorists? Kill them. Have an issue with Rwandans? Look the other way while they are mass murdered. Don’t like the fact that people are living on the nice new land you discovered? Give them smallpox infested blankets.

No, it would appear to me that killing things is in human nature. Westerners may like to think of themselves are more highly advanced than Easterners, but when you dig a little more deeply below the surface, I suspect you will find that we are much the same.