I was saddened, but not surprised, to see that that a student organization once again sponsored an “animal house” spectacle in which other animals from a regional zoo were transported and put on display for the amusement of Wittenberg students. The “animal house” event was featured prominently – and celebrated – in the Sept. 5 edition of the Torch.
In light of all the violence and injustice perpetrated against so many members of our species within the country and throughout the world, scarce consideration is given to the vast exploitation of the other inhabitants of the planet. From factory farms and slaughterhouses to laboratories and classrooms, these other earthlings – all sophisticated beings capable of pleasure and pain – are forced to endure terrible confinement and exploitation. Scarcely a thought is given to their lives and experiences or the serious ethical questions raised by such chauvinistic treatment. Such exploitation of other animals occurs daily on this and other campuses. Biologist Jonathan Balcombe notes that the general ideas supporting this maltreatment have changed little since the Middle Ages.
Zoos have long been criticized by scholars and activists. Confining other animals in zoos precludes them from their natural lives, behaviors and relationships. Their resulting distress frequently is displayed in pathological behavior, including repetitive, purposeless movements like rocking, pacing or swaying. The debatable benefits of zoos for conservation can be better met by protecting and preserving their homelands, supplemented with true sanctuaries for those animals requiring assistance. Zoo expert Rob Laidlaw writes that today’s zoos are characterized by “escalating degrees of commercialization and commodification of nonhuman animals, all in the pursuit of revenues.” For cities struggling under the growing stresses of 21st century capitalism, confining other animals for display is primarily a means of attracting visitors whose spending boost local economies.
The exploitive “animal house” exhibit, and indeed many classes at Wittenberg, only reinforce deep cultural biases. They also impede Wittenberg students from thinking critically about the oppression of other animals and becoming aware of how such oppression also is deeply entangled with human suffering and some of the most serious problems facing the world today – problems ranging from world hunger to deadly chronic diseases to the depletion of vital natural resources to the killing of the oceans to climate change and the violent global race for what’s left. Moreover, the beliefs supporting the oppression of other animals are the ideological foundations for all other forms of oppression. Until we become conscious of, and begin to resist, the unjust treatment of the others with whom we share the planet, we will remain unable to undermine the injustice done to one another.
Professor of Sociology