Hey South Florida, your speciesism is showing.
A recent bout of cold weather in South Florida had the disturbing effect of causing iguanas, a non-native species introduced to the area by humans, to become immobilized and fall out of trees where they generally sleep. Even more disturbing were the ensuing discussions and news reports about what to do with them where conversations ranged from moving the iguanas to where they could get warm and recover from this cold-induced condition (that would be my choice, and I confirmed with a wildlife rehabilitation expert that they can and often do fully recover when assisted and given the opportunity to do so) to calls for “humane euthanasia” (a euphemistic rationalization for opportunistic killing) and even suggestions that they be butchered and eaten.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the loudest, most fervent voices seemed to be the ones advocating for either killing these sentient individuals or just letting them die, with these lethal options often being framed as a “favor” to the local environment the “problem” reptiles are accused of destroying.
The underlying issue here is this:
Humans create “problems” like this all the time through actions that include unnecessary introduction into the local environment of non-native species brought in as pets/property, forced overbreeding of companion, farmed and “wild” animals, urban/suburban sprawl, overuse of resources causing displacement and starvation of native non-humans – to name a few – while seeming to have no workable long-range strategy in place for dealing with the consequences. The default “management” plan often ends up being the violent extermination of innocent, vulnerable individuals and groups who wouldn’t be here in the first place had it not been for human interference by bringing them in and throwing the ecosystem out of balance.
I often wonder how long it’ll be before the idea that humans occupy special protected status erodes to the point that the “cure” for human homelessness is to start “humanely” dispatching those nuisance layabouts whenever possible.
Historically, our specieswide refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, combined with our socially accepted laziness in seeking morally justifiable solutions for the problems we’ve created yet refuse to own, results time and again in our resorting to the use of unnecessary violence and killing as a brute “solution”.
We cause unmanageable situations and later position ourselves as victims of circumstance when inconvenient consequences arise and grow beyond our control. Our irresponsibility creates true victims – in this case, the iguanas we thought would make such cute and interesting pets who couldn’t possibly end up outside their enclosures and alter the ecosystem – and we justify killing those victims (and others such as pythons and other non-native species again imported as pets/property, then discarded into an unsuitable environment and left to fight for their survival) by hiding behind the rationalization that we are merely defending ourselves and being protectors of the environment.
It’s a tragic narrative worthy of Mary Shelley:
“I brought you here and created an unexpected condition. I don’t like the consequences. I’ll have to kill you now. Sorry, it’s for the best.”
As a species and as individuals, we can do much better than this. It’s time we start.
When our actions create victims, it’s time to change our behaviors.
Our action of living non-vegan creates trillions of victims every year through our consumption and use of land-dwelling and aquatic non-human sentient beings whose vulnerable bodies we thoughtlessly exploit in order to satisfy our personal pleasure, comfort, convenience and entertainment. But it’s not about abstract numbers, as this excerpt from a previous essay explains. It’s about individuals:
In truth, it wasn’t the sheer numbers that affected me – it was the individuals. I can’t imagine what six million or ten billion of anything actually looks like, but looking into the terrified eyes of one calf being torn away forever from her mother, one pig in the slaughter line watching his companions hung by their feet and having their throats slit, one baby chick having her beak seared off with a hot blade, one dog being skinned – ALIVE – and thrown in a pile of dying, mutilated dogs, one cow struggling valiantly to evade the man trying to shoot her in the head with the captive bolt gun… that’s what haunted me. The eyes.
Eyes like yours and mine. Eyes that rolled in their sockets in pain and anguish. Eyes that screamed and cried and pleaded. Eyes that, if they could speak in words, would say, “Why are you doing this to me? What have I done? I don’t understand. Please stop. You don’t have to do this”. And though there were no words, I understood the language conveyed by those eyes and I could not pretend to not understand. I saw the pain, I saw the fear, I saw the misery, I saw the hope and the life drain from those eyes, I saw defeat… and I was affected.
The Simple Solution
Consider if the iguana situation described above had instead involved kittens, puppies, rabbits, horses or other non-humans who are generally looked upon as “cute” (but still have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment). More than likely, people would fall all over themselves organizing efforts to rescue and re-home these unfortunate individuals, however this clearly was not the case for the iguanas and this difference in attitudes, approaches and behaviors based solely on species membership points to the glaring speciesism that pervades our largely non-vegan society.
As individuals, when we make the commitment to live vegan by abstaining from the exploitation of other vulnerable individuals for our selfish benefit (as we generally tend to do without hesitation when those potential victims are human), we live in integrity with our values, aid in the dismantling of the violent form of oppression known as speciesism and help create a peaceful, fair and just world for all beings regardless of species.
Live vegan – there’s nothing to it but to do it.
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