Jewish World Review July 11, 2000 / 8 Tamuz, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I HAVE ONLY RECENTLY started watching CBS' "Survivor," the desert-island TV show where mildly annoying people are deprived of food and water until they become extremely annoying. So, I missed the controversy about these volunteer castaways eating rats. Apparently, the cast ate vermin and the pro-vermin lobby - A.K.A. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - went nuts.
"Rats have rights" chanted protesters outside of CBS studios in New York. This was no stunt. Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, has said, "There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."
I was disappointed that I missed the rat-hunting episode. Fortunately, I did watch the latest installment in which some contestants killed and ate a chicken. One of the "tribes" was given three live chickens. There was some hand-wringing about the necessary neck-chopping, but eventually the superior logic of "chicken tastes good" trumped all misgivings. They'd planned on eating the other two, but native monitor lizards ate them during the night.
Presumably PETA should be against this barbarity as well. And I don't just mean the human-chicken murder. What right did the monitor lizards have to eat the chickens? American-bred chickens are not indigenous to the South China Sea where "Survivor" takes place. Monitor lizards don't need to eat chickens to survive. So where are the protests?
This exposes the essential problem with extreme animal rights activists and environmentalists - other than the fact that they're loons. They insist that "nature" has a natural state and we're just intruding. Anything we do "to" nature, must be a damaging mistake. Humans are the problem. A writer for Wild Earth magazine summed it up nicely: "Voluntary human extinction," he wrote, "will solve every problem on Earth, social and environmental."
There is even an organization called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) founded by a man named Les U. Knight. "I realized that the best thing for the planet would be for us to phase ourselves out completely," Knight told the Economist. Extinction, according to VHEMT, is "the hopeful alternative to the extinction of the billions of species of plants and animals."
Of course, plenty of more moderate groups share the same thinking, if not the conclusion. The current push to reinstate grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park - which I endorse because I think bears are cool - is just a more benign example of attempting to "restore" nature.
In a fascinating article in the current issue of Reason, Ronald Bailey reports that the United States is spending an estimated $200 million a year trying to eradicate the foreign-born zebra mussel. They came over here in Russian ships by accident and they are thriving in our lakes and rivers. Environmentalists don't want you to know that the water-filtering zebra mussel has made Lake Erie four to six times cleaner and improved the health of endangered species. Why? Because word can't get out that human interference is ever beneficial.
Or take the fast-growing anti-biotech movement. It's believed that "natural" foods are safer, better and cleaner than "genetically engineered" foods. It's lost on these people, it seems, that almost every major crop has been genetically engineered through selective breeding.
Everything from "organic" corn to free-range chickens have been developed over thousands of years. There are no wild cows, and you won't find most of the apples you like anywhere but on a farm. Not only are our animals "unnatural," most of them don't belong here - just like the zebra mussel. The only livestock that is native to America is the turkey.
Ultimately, nature is not a stable condition, it is a series of chaotic events that seems stable to us. We impose an idea of "right and wrong" on the natural world.
When it comes to animals, I am in favor of saving the rare, cute, beautiful and majestic animals first (pandas, tigers, whales, etc.) and the overpopulated, vile and disgusting animals (pigeons, rats, Clinton's legal team) last.
Those are my values. The point is that nature is neutral. For instance, the asteroid or volcano - whichever - that killed off the dinosaurs was a "natural" phenomenon. But presumably even VHEMT and PETA would want us to try to stop another asteroid from heading this way, if only to keep it from killing all the plants and