Since I'm a speciesist animal lover, I find most of PETA's philosophies about animal rights to be confused misplacements of ideas that evolved to increase the fitness of the human species. And so, while I might have fostered many dogs for many different shelters, I still count the needs of humans as priority number one and flinch more than a little when I find that 25 million dollars per year (PETA's annual budget) isn't being spent on, say, anti-genocide campaigning in Darfur or AIDS relief in Africa. But let's leave aside philosophical quarrels for a second and assume for a moment that it is unproblematic to devote massive amounts of human energies and resources to the cause of animal rights even if it by necessity neglects other human issues. What should it tell us when we hear that PETA may make Michael Vick a spokesperson for animal rights? PETA comes under a great deal of fire even from fellow animal rights activists for their tactics, which many feel are more show than service. The currently airing HBO documentary on PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk shows several organizations disagreeing with her attention whoring, which they feel gives a bad name to the overall endeavor of ending cruelty to animals. Now that Michael Vick has taken a course in empathy for animals, PETA is considering using him in one of their commercials (no word yet as to whether Vick will be wearing any clothes):
Newkirk confirmed the group was in discussions with Vick to appear in a PETA public service announcement, but said it would happen only if the message was a strong one.
"If Vick agrees to say: 'Look at me, look how far I've fallen after being a star.' Then we'd be glad to do the announcement," Newkirk said.
Now, PETA's propensity to sell their message with sex has always just been a bit silly. It wasn't until they compared animals caged for slaughter to those killed in Nazi concentration camps that I surmised they were absolute opportunist nutjobs whose ideas about morality deserved zero hearing (an opinion only reinforced by the discovery that Newkirk has written checks out to people who torch university laboratories). According to PETA's equivalencies, then, a neo-Nazi skinhead who only a few months ago was convicted of beating a Jewish man to death would, after a sensitivity course, be a reasonable candidate for speaking out against anti-Semitism and hate crimes. But chances are, not many PETA members would agree with this–maybe not even Newkirk herself. If they don't, it exposes the conceptual fallacy in their Holocaust ads, and, in a way, the practical confusion of the overarching PETA mentality–that non-human life is worthy of reverence and consideration equal to that which we afford humans. While it may be true that one guilty of a crime can have a more intimate experience with its evil and thus a deeper understanding of why it is wrong, it is equally as true that most humans experience a visceral and deep feeling of repulsion for those guilty of murdering their own. Nobody wants to see sexually depraved child murderers doing PSAs on the dangers of internet chatting for minors. If Vick wants to try to salvage his career by speaking out against dogfighting on behalf of PETA, that's fine by me. What he did was disgusting and we should hope that our societies keep a check on people who increase the suffering of living things for purely recreational purposes. But we should enjoy PETA's hypocrisy here, as it simply helps to show why we should punish people like Vick, while recognizing their crimes are not equal to the killers of humans–precisely because we know that humans have a tendency to see themselves in other living organisms (especially those that have some similar features like eyes noses, etc.). But the main reason this should concern us is because we know that people who don't make this essential connection might fail to make it in the case of our fellow humans.