Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cockfighting in Louisiana and one newspaper editor's take on it

On Friday, Louisiana became the last US state to ban cockfighting. At a press conference at the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Centre, state Attorney General James D. Caldwell and HSUS announced the ban (along with a ban on dogfighting). According to HSUS, reports show that

(t)hese cruel and illicit encounters are spawning grounds for other criminal activities, including drugs and violence, dragging down entire communities. Credible studies and law enforcement experts agree that people who engage in this kind of violence against animals are likely to exert violence against people.

Two days later, Houma, Louisiana's The Courier decided to publish a video of what they asserted was probably the last legal cockfight in the state. Along with it, Keith Magill, The Courier's Executive Editor, decided to wax philosophically about whether or not the killing of animals for either sport or food should turn our heads, regardless of the suffering they endure in either practice. It's pretty obvious that his intention is to express that it's hypocritical to condemn cockfighting if one enjoys happily munching away on factory farmed chicken. I tend to agree with him and believe that if you condemn one, you should condemn the other and act accordingly by not supporting either. He makes his own position clear about eating animals early on, though (''I consider myself an avowed carnivore''), and in doing so, seems to imply that it's perfectly alright to acknowledge another creature's suffering but to then turn a blind eye to it for the simple sake of one's own pleasure.

While it was likely just the convenient use of an old cliché, Magill's opinion piece's title ''We Are What We Eat'' speaks more about the workings of his own mind and personal system of ethics than it does anything else. He raises examples of the suffering that's inherent in the animal slaughter industry, but punctuates his article with affirmations of his unfaltering love of the taste of various ''delicious'' chicken parts. Reading this opinion piece felt like being tossed around on a raft at sea, as he juxtaposes images that at face value seem intended to ellicit compassion (e.g. ''Millions of chickens, according to one USDA report, make it alive into the 'scald' tank where they either die from burns or drown''), with unapologetic statements flaunting his lack of guilt in feasting on these same chickens, regardless of his knowing what they suffered on the way to his plate (''I'll probably think about it as I bite into my next delicious Chik-fil-A'').

When he brings up cockfighting, he claims to have mixed feelings about it, but then launches into a paragraph where he poeticizes the bloodsport, saying that it ''possesses some oddly admirable, even beautiful, qualities'' and then that ''(e)ven if you abhor the practice, the valor of two animals in a battle to the death, the artistry of their lethal dance and their sheer will to survive are amazing to behold''. Thanks for going all Hemingway on us, Magill, but there's nothing beautiful or courageous about strapping spikes to a couple of birds and throwing them at each other so that a bunch of cro-magnons can have some fun waging bets while getting off on another creature's suffering. Incidentally, here's what the HSUS has to say about this thing Magill finds beautiful and courageous and the people who are drawn to it. It ain't pretty, boy-o.

Ultimately, Magill's focus on the nastiness of the slaughter industry after going off on his little creative spurt is by no means meant to soften anyone's heart to the brutal treatment of animals in said slaughter industry. Instead, it's meant to drive home that cockfighting is really no different from what animals go through to become our food, and since that food is soooo yummy and Magill (as he expects his readers will want to do) intends to continue devouring it with pleasure, then why be disturbed about cockfighting? He's right that it's illogical to condemn one and condone the other, but wrong to suggest (even though he never blurts it out in so many words) that one's willingness to turn a blind eye to one type of suffering should leave one able or willing to turn a blind eye to a second instance of suffering. He's discussing ethics while admitting that he's able to remove himself from caring about his own accountability concerning harms he acknowledges are real. That someone with this mindset should take it upon himself to address what he views as hypocrisy in terms of ethics just seems a little weird, y'know?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apparently the whole "cockfighting is less cruel than fried chicken" argument is a popular one amongst its proponents. Harmon Leon posted a video and story on Orato.com about his "infiltration" of one of the last legal cockfights in Louisiana, and was given the same line by a cock trainer. You can check it out here: http://www.orato.com/lifestyles/2008/10/16/keep-your-laws-my-cockfight