While shopping in the local grocery store, I heard a father explain to his young daughter, “We don’t buy those eggs. We buy this kind.” “What’s the difference?” the little girl asked. Her father patiently explained, “These eggs are from chickens that weren’t raised in cages. They could move around and be happy and eat food that was good for them. The other eggs are from chickens that don’t have a happy life.” So goes the explanation for buying eggs from cage-free chickens by a father to his four or five year old daughter.
This past week, I wondered how a similar father would explain to his young daughter why so many people were happy that a man was hunted down and killed. It’s a very odd thing to consider. Think with me for a moment about this conundrum.
There is a growing trend to prefer products from animals that were humanely treated, like eggs from cage-free chickens or grass-fed beef. Items like veal, shark fin soup, or foie gras are considered incorrect to eat because they cause inhumane treatment to animals. Even though animals aren’t human, we commonly speak about humane practices in raising farm animals and, of course, in their slaughter. Because of the inhumane practices in the treatment of animals raised for food, many people have chosen to become vegetarian. In addition, there’s been growing awareness over the last twenty years of animal rights in research as well as in the treatment of pets. For instance, many regions have laws against tying up or chaining dogs in a yard. Overall, measures to prevent cruelty to animals are viewed as the progression of a civilized society to a higher moral standard.
The growing animal rights movement isn’t the only “pro-life” development in the United States. Social and religious conservatives work tirelessly in support of legal limits on abortion and recently succeeding in passing new restrictions in several states. This year, the State of Illinois abolished the death penalty. The United States continues to debate issues regarding health care and the end-of-life, also reflective of concerns about the humane treatment of others.
Yet, this week, many people in the United States did nothing less than celebrate the brutal killing of an unarmed man: Osama bin Laden. The US military invaded the borders of a sovereign nation and with overwhelming force killed an enemy of the United States. The response of the American people, as a whole, was to celebrate and take pride in the accomplishment. Various groups had parties to celebrate his death and high-school students made t-shirts to mark the event.
Let me be very clear: I believe that bin Laden master-minded and financed atrocities committed against the American people and many other people the world over the last thirty years. He was a fanatical leader. Justice needed to be served.
At the same time, what does it say about our values when we teach our children that chickens should lead happy, cage-free lives while simultaneously delighting in the brutal killing of a person? How do we see it as progress in society to treat animals humanely but don’t value the humane treatment of people as a value?
Perhaps there was no way to avoid the killing of bin Laden. Yes, it may prove to be the only way to strike a blow at the international terror fueled by al Qaeda. I am willing to accept that as the reality of the situation. But I fundamentally believe that celebrating the brutal killing of another human being diminishes our humanity in fundamental ways.
Whatever else Osama bin Laden may have been, he was also a human being. His actions brought harm to countless people. That was tragic. It was also tragic that he was victim of his own fanaticism. He disregarded the humanity of others and diminished his own capacity to acknowledge the dignity of others. Indeed, when I think of bin Laden, the only word that comes to mind is tragedy. He was a tragic figure who brought tragedy to lives of people throughout the world. He seemed to take pride in the pain he brought to others and saw it as a demonstration of his faithfulness to the god of his faith.
When people celebrate his death and view it as the right of the United States to hunt him down, are they (we) demonstrating attitudes very different from his? Do we not use the same rationalization as he did to impose a particular view of the world on others by claiming it as “our right?” Isn’t taking pleasure in the killing of another human being something less than human?
While the world may prove to be a safer place without him, I cannot celebrate his killing. Instead, I experience deep regret that one individual was the source of such pain to many people. The events of his death renewed in me a desire to make the world safer for others. Just as a father taught his daughter that chickens should have happy, healthy lives to produce eggs, so I hope for ways that we can all learn to support other people in leading happy, healthy lives to produce a world that is humane.
The humane treatment of animals? While I value not treating other beings with cruelty, isn’t it time to consider what it means to treat other human beings humanely?
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.