I never thought I would side with Sarah Palin on anything

Apparently, Sarah Palin shot a caribou on her show, and now everybody is outraged. There is reason for outrage, of course, against any act of violence towards animals. And it’s reassuring to know that people do, sometimes, care about animals other than their own dog or cat. There is also reason to be outraged that the caribou was killed as a tactical move – to raise ratings, get the show more noticed, and of course, as campaigning for 2012, which as Jezebel points out, is pretty much the reason for the show’s existence.

But here is the thing to get most outraged about: Sarah Palin actually has something she can hold over the American public. Here is Palin’s tweet:

“Unless you’ve never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch or eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight’s episode. I remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)”

She’s right. Factory farming is, by far, the most systematic and widest reaching animal cruelty in our world right now. (Actually, it’s possible that if you combined scientific animal testing and cosmetic animal testing, the numbers would be pretty close.) If you eat factory farmed meat, you don’t have much of an ethical leg to stand on when it comes to any other animal rights (or welfare) issue. Matthew Scully explores that point at great length in his book, Dominion. So, what animal rights pioneer of our time has responded to Palin’s statement?

…Aaron Sorkin? The guy who wrote The Social Network? Really?

Anyways, Sorkin writes,

Like 95% of the people I know, I don’t have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals. I don’t enjoy the fact that they’re dead and I certainly don’t want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn’t do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

This is pretty incensing stuff, but I’ll try to analyze the response with a minimum of cattiness.

1. He begins his argument with ‘everybody else does it.’ (“Like 95% of people I know”)

2. If that “look it up” is directed at me and not Sarah Palin, I’m kind of offended. Regardless, does he not see the awful irony in describing his response as “visceral,” given that the etymological origin of viscera is a Latin word meaning “entrails?” That’s just bad taste.

3. Use of the word “relish,” instead of “agree with” or some other ethical/moral response. To me, that says ‘It makes me sick to think about hurting animals, but it doesn’t make me sick to think about eating meat, so that makes it okay.’ Although, in his (sort of) defense, he may have been too busy being angry to really think about his word choice, in which case, points 2 and 3 are void.

4. What exactly constitutes “torturing animals?” Any pain inflicted? Any pain inflicted for hedonistic purposes? Any pain inflicted for hedonistic purposes rather than to create a product for consumption? I seriously have no idea what he’s talking about. Is he naive enough to think that his meat and leather come from animals who haven’t suffered in some way? Or is he privileging the suffering of the animals who are his dinner over the suffering of the caribou who is Sarah Palin’s dinner, and making an arbitrary distinction that one is justified? Is it the idea of having one on tv while one is behind closed doors?

5. Alternatively, it is totally possible that he just is not aware that they planned on eating the moose. He may think that it was just a joy kill. If that is the case, the first two sentences of this quote would still be totally reprehensible, but the last part would make more sense.

There is reason to worry about something like this being on tv. If Palin’s popularity rises, the popularity of hunting could potentially rise. The most recent statistic I read is that 5% of Americans consider themselves hunters. (I’m fairly certain that those 5% are spread out between northern Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.) If those numbers continue to decrease, it is possible that hunting may become the exception rather than the rule in a few generations. If Palin ushers in a new era of hunting vogue, that would be awful. (Unless the hunting was for meat, and intended to be as painless as possible, and replaced factory farming. Then it would be okay.)

I don’t need meat to survive, and I believe that is the case for many people. So it’s not that I laud Sarah Palin for killing a caribou. It’s just that at least she acknowledges the violence involved in eating animals. My aunt once told that she just pretends that the meat she buys in the grocery store comes from the meat fairy. Palin doesn’t pretend. Furthermore, she recognizes connections in our exploitation of animals: factory farmed meat and wearing leather are not that separate from hunting. Finally, she doesn’t make arbitrary distinctions about one that is right and one that is wrong.

Here is what I take away from this debacle: If Sarah Palin can recognize the hypocrisy that is our treatment of non-human animals, then what excuse does the rest of America have?

Related: PETA’s response, NY Daily News

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