David Schaefer: Dear Worcester, Keep Your Hands Off My Elephant
Monday, October 14, 2013
Few people share the belief offered by the ordinance’s chief advocate on the City Council that it is “cruel” to import animals like tigers, elephants, and bears from their natural habitats and train them to perform tricks – any more than it is to “imprison” them in zoos. Nor has any evidence been proffered to indicate that the minuscule number of wild animals legally imported by Ringling Brothers somehow contributes to the “extinction” of such species – again, any more than importing them for display in zoos does. (As the Ringling Brothers spokesman quoted by GoLocal points out, the vast majority of the endangered animals used in its shows were born in captivity, not captured abroad. So in promoting their breeding, the company is actually increasing their number.)
As GoLocal’s story indicated, the group that drafted the proposed ordinance, BornFreeUSA, is opposed not only to the use of wild animals in circuses, but also to “the international wildlife trade,” animal “trapping,” and the use of “fur.” (Whether or not these limits are intended to apply only to “wild” animals, there is nothing inherently crueler about killing bears than minks for fur – or for that matter, killing wild or domestic animals for meat.) Logically, and quite likely, once circus animals and the wearing of animal furs are banned, the next step will be a campaign to prohibit meat-eating and the wearing of leather shoes.
What is most striking, in the rationale offered by City Councillor Konstantina Lukes for the proposed ordinance, is the comparison of removing animals from their “natural environment” and “forcing” them to do tricks, and doing the same thing to human beings. She is evidently denying any essential difference between the human race and other animal species.
Contrary to this denial, and contrary to the very title of “BornFree,” it is human beings, not any other animals, that are by nature free, according to the Declaration of Independence, because we alone possess reason and the consequent capacity for self-government. (The underlying reasoning is supplied in the English philosopher John Locke’s great book Two Treatises of Government, the work that directly inspired the Declaration.) It is for this reason that we elect our governments for limited purposes only. To deny the essential difference between human beings and other animals is ultimately to deny the very ground of our human rights.
To each his own
Citizens who dislike circuses that include wild animals are free to “vote with their feet” (and pocketbooks) by staying away. But we don’t need government to tell us which performances we are allowed to attend. Any personal distaste that members of the City Council have for circus performances has no more relevance to their duties than do their tastes in food and clothing. Who ever gave them the right to impose their particular likes and dislikes on the rest of us?
During her long tenure on the City Council (and before that on the School Committee) Konstantina Lukes has distinguished herself by her integrity, her thoughtfulness, and her independent-mindedness. It would be most regrettable if she should tarnish this distinguished record of public service by successfully imposing a ban on circuses in order to satisfy the whims of a fringe group, at the expense not only of the happiness of Worcester families but of the fundamental principles of free government.
David Lewis Schaefer is professor of political science at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, where he teaches courses on political philosophy and American political thought. The author of numerous books, articles and reviews in his field, he has also contributed columns on current affairs to such media as The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and National Review Online.
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