Sunday, December 03, 2006


Check out the above story. Think they were framed? Think they are psychotic or sociopathic? Think someone is paying them to do this in order to make PETA look bad? Could be.

The Great Falls Tribune has printed a story claiming that PETA wants jail time for the old man who rented a trailer for he and his four cats which, by the time he was evicted and left the cats behind, had increased to thirty cats -- desperate, starving and filthy. It occurred to me that the old man himself might be grateful to be put in a shelter, even one so rigid as a prison, if it were clean and he were fed. What little twist of mind makes these “humane” folks so intolerant of human animals?

Among the packet of materials Phyllis Johanson sent me from Portland, where we used to both work for sanity and compassion, was a ghastly story about a video of a man butchering a springer spaniel (an exceptionally soft and eager sort of dog) -- maybe to eat. A canine snuff film. Then later came an even worse story about the slaughterer having done this heinous thing because he was paid by someone who wanted to use the video to raise money for “humane purposes” (the principal beneficiary of the generosity being himself). He was presenting an atrocity as something he would prevent, secretly knowing that he was the person responsible for it happening.

We are a society very accustomed to death, suffering, and starvation inflicted on both innocent animals and innocent people and just as accustomed to appeals for funds to help both. Let’s just look at animals. ANIMAL PEOPLE ( estimates there are about 6,700 animal charities and agencies (undefined) in this country. Most have no oversight except their own boards. This organization publishes an annual “Animal People Watchdog Report on 121 Animal Protection Charities” which shows the generous salaries of the non-governmental CEO’s and the huge proportion of their society incomes that is used for offices and more fundraising. They also monitor shelters in terms of killing: how many, what methods, etc., and note cases of interest, programs, and quite a bit of other detail. This group is headquartered on Whidbey Island, in liberal la-la land where ideals are high and not entirely practical. This is the same territory that gave rise to the PETA-like PAWS. On the other hand, if Animal People are at all accurate in what they report, they are serving transparency well.

But this is part of a cultural phenomenon that affects more than animals. A twisted sort of psychosis seems to be creeping into our whole society, partly through the media -- both as news reports and as fiction. “Death Angels” slip through nursing homes with syringes, killers of abortionists insist on the forced pregnancy of every woman who conceives, poisoners contaminate both illegal drugs and those on the shelves of drugstores, and we calmly watch African genocide on television at suppertime. In the aftermath of the poisoning of a Putin enemy, the means of death are discussed in great detail. At the same time interviewers wonder whether to let people know what they are. Listeners might want to know for their own use if their lives becomes so intolerable that they must self-destruct or maybe as a means of undetectably removing troublesome others. Then there are the cases of mothers who kill their children because “God” demands it. Was all this here before, and we just didn’t notice it? Was it censored?

When one combines this preoccupation of accepting death as a solution with the ever expanding knowledge of government lists of who is a “security risk” (notably eco-terrorists, humane society-terrorists, Native American troublemakers, uppity women...) the potential is more than just horrifying. Using our fears as justification, we are targeted by those we expect to protect us. If we and our animals are all to be “micro-chipped” and put on a value-based “security risk” list, are we far from numbers on our arms and death camps? Yet a Great Falls Tribune survey found that three-fourths of respondents thought the list (which already exists) was a good idea.

I remember vividly that at Heart Butte the superintendent kept a list of ten kids he wanted to remove as trouble-makers -- he did it, too. As well as removing any teacher who gave him trouble. The problem was that it was his methods that caused the trouble, so that every kid or teacher he removed was soon replaced by another just as opposed to him. The voters have suggested that this is George W. Bush’s problem, too.

Partly I blame the fascination of fearful death on the tedious boringness of life in carrels and at checkout counters. Thinking about death, even our own, gives a little adrenaline kick. So we are eager to learn all about the Unabomber gluing misleading footsoles onto his shoes and OJ “not” killing his wife.

Then there’s the power in being able to inflict suffering and death on what no one cares about: out-of-it street drunks, prostitutes (esp. ugly ones), and stray animals. In primary school I had a classmate who was killing cats. It was hushed up and he was spirited out of there -- I’ve always wondered what happened to him. His existence was denied; the possibility of anyone doing such a thing was denied. It was as though he were the body of someone from outer space that we shouldn’t know about. We were not told not to kill cats -- (we were not told not to put beans up our noses either) so we wondered: how did he do it? What exactly? How many cats? Where did he get them? Somehow he turned into a kind of Batman villain in our minds -- unreal, exaggerated, not just a small boy who was screwed up.

I’ve been watching BBC “Mystery” series crime stories. “Prime Suspect,” “Cracker,” “Touching Evil” and “Wire in the Blood.” The detectives are portrayed as usefully deranged, near-criminal enough to act as Charon going between the land of the living and the land of the dead. The trouble is how attractive they are, how uncertain about what is this side and what is that side. Usually produced by the underside of British life in this century, the better writers are Irish. In the old cultures of the world such people were shamans, wizards, sorcerers. People knew they were dangerous, as likely to turn on you as not.

On “Touching Evil,” the male character with the piercing eyes and the bullet-pierced forehead (Robson Green), says, “I’m losing the line. I can’t trust myself.” His partner (Nicola Walker) says, “Then trust me. I know what’s right. I’ll guide us both.” Big claim.

PETA is making that claim -- trying to force their judgment onto the society at large. I don’t think their claim is valid and I don’t think they are up to it. Circling back to the original news story, I think they are leading vulnerable people right into the River Styx.

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