Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Elephants On My Mind

When I was a little girl, children’s books were a big part of my life and I had definite favorites. I loved the Madeline stories about the perky French orphans, and the Dr. Zeus stories with their quirky characters and wonderful language, and (yes, I’ll admit it) the beautifully illustrated Disney books featuring Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio and others. But my very “bestest” favorite was Babar, the stately, even royal elephant, dressed in 3-piece suits (or cloaked like a king) with his beloved Celeste and their children by his side.

So it was natural enough that Babar came to mind today when I first heard a few scratchy details, then read the full story about Raju, an Indian street elephant, who was rescued by animal conservationists after 50 years of unrelenting abuse and shameful neglect by his owner/handler. This animal was so miserable that he literally wept when he realized he was being saved. The fact that he cried is what seemed to surprise people.

I don’t know anything about other mammals (mammals other than us), and I never gave their capacity for tears any thought, but I guess on some subconscious level I just assumed they could cry. What surprised (and horrified) me was that this animal had been so mistreated for so very, very long. Why do people do this to animals, the animals they supposedly love as pets, or value for their labor, or kill to market them for food – but not before making them live in the most horrible ways imaginable, then killing them in a fashion that is nothing less than Naziesque?!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m not an “animal person.” I don’t go all mushy at the sight of a doe-eyed puppy, or feel all warm and bubbly watching a kitten play with a ball of wool. For the most part, I dislike and fear animals – probably because I was attacked by a German Shepherd as a toddler, grew up in an urban environment, and never had a pet. I just want to steer clear of all animals and wish they’d return the favor.

That said, I totally disapprove of people hurting animals, often very badly, apparently for the fun of it. What kind of ghouls are some of us that beating and torturing animals amuses instead of appalls, that we hunt for sport instead of survival, that we show no decency to the animals who nourish us? Back in the old days, many Native American nations performed rituals of honor and gratitude for every animal they killed (which they did as swiftly and painlessly as possible), then made sure they used every part of the animal in some useful way: food, clothing, shelter, tools, ornaments, whatever. Waste was dishonorable and cruelty a sin.

I’ve read that murderers, particularly sicko serial killers, often begin with killing small animals, then larger ones, working their way up to people. We know that humans have been savage throughout history and perhaps we’ve only been kidding ourselves that, as a race, we’ve evolved into less savage beings. Certainly spending 15 minutes with the News of the Day and learning – not about war, war is a more complicated thing – but about the individual, day-to-day cruelty that grown-up people impose on each other, on children, on animals, is enough to convince you that savagery is as contemporary as Silicon Valley. Violence, especially against those most physically vulnerable (women, children, domesticated animals) seems ever increasing and perpetrated by increasingly younger people, as well.

I’m not a vegetarian and seriously doubt I ever will be. And I don’t believe in animal rights in the sense that other animals have the same rights as human animals. Even though there are savages among us, I still believe people are special and that we have rights that animals (and corporations…) don’t have.

But I also believe that if people are to justifiably consider themselves superior to “lower forms” of life, then we have the highest form of responsibility to protect and respect all animal life, most especially those animals who work for us, are our companions, or who feed us. If we don’t do that, then Babar really is the one who belongs in the three-piece suit and we, as Raju was for 50 years, should be bound with chains, forced to perform tricks for mindless tourists and subsist on garbage. Have we really progressed so little? If so, maybe Raju’s tears were not for his freedom, but for our stunted souls.


Anonymous said...

I believe it was someone like Albert Einstein who said that a human society or culture needs to be judged on the manner in which it treats its most vulnerable members and animals. I'd say that the human species has always had an overinflated view of its own importance on this planet and we certainly fail miserably, by and large, on the above criteria. Thank you for speaking out about the respect we owe to the other species - animal and otherwise - with whom we share this beknighted rock which we have succeeded in poisoning for everyone and everything.

MizB said...

Thanks for your additional observations, as well as your kind words about this post. The quote you mentioned is (ironically) from Gandhi.

Anonymous said...

My heart swells with pride when I read your honest and fair opinions. You are right on target about the way we humans treat other animals who can't do or can't invent the constructive things which humans have. But neither do animals maliciously and with pleasure destroy, for the sake or thrill of destroying life, shelters, each other, as humans do.

Carry on, Jeanne. I'm proud of you.