I agree with Howard Rosenberg most of the time and I enjoy his columns--they make me think even when we disagree. But I am so troubled by his attitude toward animals--as revealed most recently in his column "Grinding Through Gristle for the Ad Mill" (Calendar, July 3)--that I'd like to reply.
Rosenberg seems chagrined that McDonald's is using "Babe" in its hamburger commercials. He says the movie about a talking pig "delivered a powerful message: All creatures deserve respect, all have worth and destinies beyond what humans preordain for them." He also quotes Gretchen Wyler, president of the Ark Trust, a media-watching animal rights group, as saying the film had "a vegetarian message."
I know a lot of meat-eating people who have seen and enjoyed the movie "Babe," none of whom have taken a "vegetarian message" away from the experience. I have not seen the film, but I don't need to in order to know that there's a difference between humans and animals that Rosenberg and Wyler prefer to ignore. When discussing animals it is dangerous to use words such as "worth" and "destiny" in any other context than what animals' "worth" is to human "destiny."
It is instructive that the only way a film seems able to convey the message that animals have worth equal to humans is by--surprise!--giving the animals human traits. Anthropomorphizing can make for entertaining films but to carry this practice to the real world is unrealistic and intellectually dishonest. Animals do not have conversations in the English language. They do not read books. They don't even comprehend the mindless local television newscasts that Rosenberg so rightly criticizes from time to time.
Until and unless a higher life form evolves on this planet, humans are its custodians and its rulers. Period. Humans evolved through a long process, a process that, in the end, is about nothing more or less than domination. Humans dominated all other species, and continue to do so. Humans are omnivorous, and have the right, as the dominant species, to decide whether to eat the flesh of other species. Humans have an instinctive need to survive, and as the dominant species have the right to use whatever plants and animals are at their disposal, in any way necessary, to create medicines and/or devices to accomplish that end.
No one with any shred of humanity would advocate cruel, meaningless mistreatment of animals. But it is precisely because of our humanity that we cannot tolerate such mistreatment. In other words, if a human being can be so callous as to enjoy the needless torture of a helpless creature, he or she demonstrates a callousness contrary to human nature and is therefore a threat to the remainder of the human population.
Humans may have an interest in preserving certain species in order to maintain the planet, and one would hope that humans will be smart enough to do so. But pigs don't have the ability to make that choice. Nor do bears or cows or fish or caterpillars. Only humans do. And it is the right of humans, as the rulers of this planet, to use whatever the planet provides to accomplish those ends.
Humans come first, Mr. Rosenberg. It's as simple as that.