A Test of Our Character

Maybe the most encouraging book I’ve read this year is by a young conservative columnist named Rod Dreher. It’s called Crunchy Cons and in this book he argues, to put it in a nutshell, that so-called conservatives who choose efficiency and profit over livable cities, good honest food, beauty, and the health of the planet, aren’t really conservatives at all.

I hope to write a feature on this book, which I think has a lot to say to this nation, and which I hope will be taken seriously by the right and left, but for now (while I’m trying to catch up on about nine different studies and papers) let me just quote a representative passage. In this passage he mentions about another book along the same lines, called "Dominion," by another young conservative named Matthew Scully, who has spoken scathingly of Dick Cheney’s style of hunting.

In "Dominion," Matthew wrote that when we look at an animal (and, he might have said, a forest) and see it only in terms of what practical use it can be to us, we are not seeing what’s really there, only an extension of ourselves. Conservatives see quite clearly the danger of sentimentalizing the natural world; hence our dismissive attitude toward those environmental extremists who see no essential difference between a redwood tree, a spotted owl, and a human being. But we on the right don’t see so well is the cost, moral and otherwise, of our hardheaded so-called realism.

Take factory farming. If we only think of farm animals, say, in terms of their ending up on our dinner plates, there’s no logical objection to industrialized meat production of the sort that crams thousands of animals into cramped pens, never lets them see daylight, and jacks them up with antibiotics to avoid infection from their unhealthy confinement, and hormones to boost their growth. But people recoil from films and photographs depicting the ugly reality of factory-farming methods, because there is something within us that cannot abide treating creatures this way–even creatures we plan to slaughter for food. Again, this paradox is hard to explain to vegetarians, but responsible hunters and livestock farmers know it instinctively. It’s about respect.

"Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship," Matthew wrote. "We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they stand unequal and powerless before us."

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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