Friday, November 18, 2011
Horse Slaughter, A Debate Misdirected
Legislation has been advanced that will make it more likely that horse slaughter houses will return to our nation. The debate over horse slaughter has, to date, been played on a playing field created by the biggest agribusiness and factory farm interests. It is sad that so many people that would otherwise be expected to stand up for horses have been lured away from taking a strong stand against horse slaughter by a savvy media and public relations strategy. This effort, designed to show that horse slaughter is the best thing that could happen to the equine industry and a practice so kind and humane that those who slit the throat of horses should be lauded as humanitarians who only seek to end the suffering of unwanted and abused horses, has found fertile ground.
We must first look at the actual issue here. The factory farms and agribusiness corporations that are funding the return to horse slaughter do not have a financial stake in the slaughter houses. Only a handful of such facilities will exist either way. They are looking down the road and fear that efforts to end horse slaughter could one day lead to efforts to end the factory farm system. Their ultimate concern is that it could lead to the banning of the slaughter of other livestock. That is what underlies this debate.
There is nothing unusual about such a strategy. It has been employed through out our history by institutions both of the right and left, both good and bad. The ACLU supports the right of Nazis and Klansman to parade, not because of support of either group but for fear of what their suppression could lead to. The ACLU is open about its motivations. Other groups are not always so open. The NRA opposes every effort at firearms regulation because of the fear that the passage of one restriction, however minor, could lead to the passage of more restrictions.
Of course, some of the major horse registries that support slaughter have a direct financial interest in the spilling of horse blood. Few of the other entities that are funding the efforts to make the slaughter of horses seems like the work of angels have such a direct financial interest, yet they are spending a fortune on lobbying and public relations.
Make no mistake about it, the concern that such groups have is not for the good of horses today, but instead is aimed at protecting potential threats to their coffers twenty to fifty years down the road.
They have succeeded in causing too many opponents of horse slaughter to play their game and engage their claims. I decline to do so. Of course, they have completely mislead people into believing that the closing of slaughter houses in America has had any impact on horse prices. The simple reality is that the export for slaughter market coupled with the extreme reduction in of breeding over the past decade has resulted in a horse supply much smaller than it was when we still had slaughter houses in America. The truth is that we had very few death houses and they had a minimal impact on horse prices.
The remainder of their policy arguments are equally vapid and I will not engage them because each ignores the only issue that is relevant to the discussion--"Is horse slaughter immoral?"
If slaughter of horses is immoral than none of the other issues matter. Morality does not adjust itself to suit practicality. If a practice is immoral it does not matter how many advantages its acceptance would bring to society. That is why we do not look at the economic advantages of euthanizing "unwanted senior citizens."
If one accepts that the slaughter of other livestock is not immoral one must either accept that horse slaughter is moral or that their is a fundamental difference between eating a horse and eating a cow. In short, one must assert that the life of a horse is of a different value than the life of a sheep.
I believe that it is. In making such a determination I look to several factors, religion, tradition, reason, and the intangible recognition of what is.
It is easy to look at the views of various religions on the issue. The consumption of horse meat is banned by the Torah, the Koran, and has faced condemnation by the Pope dating back several hundred years. I am not a student of Eastern religions but I am not aware of the promotion of equine consumption by humans in any of the larger Eastern systems of belief.
In looking to tradition, western civilization has never placed the consumption of horse meat on the same level as the consumption of other livestock. The French fondness of horse meat is relatively modern and dates back when horse meat was considered a food of the people and not as "elitist" as the consumption of beef and mutton. Eating horses was a political statement, not one based in hundreds of years of tradition.
The most difficult case to make against horse slaughter is to rely on simple reason. Reason tells us that a horse is not a human and there is no logic in distinguishing between the flesh of horses and that of any other beast. Such an argument is compelling and were the issue only examined on that basis it is impossible to argue against horse slaughter. But reason has its limitations. The use of pure reason can lead, and historically has lead, to justification for the most horrific acts of cruelty perpetuated by man.
The ability to use reason is a great part of what makes us human, but it is the ability to go beyond reason that harnesses the brute that is our nature. It is that view beyond reason, the ability to recognize what simply is, which, when coupled with reason, that brings out what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.
The recognition of what is must lead to the conclusion that the horse is spiritually linked to us as is no other animal. Humanity is not characterized by merely what we build or that which we create. The core of the human experience, that which distinguishes us from the apes, is our system of beliefs, dreams, aspirations, and ideals. The human body rarely lasts over a century but those beliefs, hopes and ideals can continue to last until the last human no longer does.
It is the spread, advancement, refinement, and improvement of those ideals that give us hope for a better future. It is our innate flaws as humans that hamper that spread, that advancement, that refinement and that improvement.
That which is "me" is not only that which I do, but that which I believe. And those ideas, beliefs and ideals were brought to me and to all of us on the backs of horses. Until quite recently in human history the spread of knowledge, culture, and belief could travel no faster than could a horse. For two decades now much of what is known has been communicated via computer. For several millenia much of what was known was communicated via horse back or horse drawn conveyance.
I do not suggest that we should not eat horses because we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service. I believe that it was the horses unique ability to form a bond with humans that made that service possible. It is that bond that distinguishes the horse from the sheep. I do not suggest that there are no other animals to which some people can bond. Nor do I suggest that all people can form such a bond with a horse.
I believe that the slaughter of horses is immoral primarily because of that intangible recognition of what is. The ability to reach into the human spirit and lift it is what makes horses different than other livestock. This is not because of a classification that people make regarding animals. It does not matter if a horse was "raised for slaughter" anymore than it would matter if a child was cloned for spare parts for future organ transplants. We cannot classify. We cannot designate. We can recognize what is. We can deny what is. We cannot designate what is. God has done so already.
The intangible recognition of what is--the recognition of the spiritual connection between humans and horses is what caused Crow chief, Plenty Coups, to express in exasperation, "The white man, who is almost a god, yet still a child, says that the horse has no soul. How can that be? Many times I have looked into my horse's eye and have seen his soul."
Is banning horse slaughter practical? Of course not. However, practicality has no place in considering issues of morality. One must simply do that which is right.
What gives me the right to say that horse slaughter is immoral? I am bound to do so because, like Plenty Coups, I have looked in my horse's eyes.
Posted by Steve Edwards