Why do you like animals more than humans? Why don’t you care about people?
These remarks are commonplace for seasoned vegetarians/vegans/animal rights advocates. And when figure skater Johnny Weir responded to criticisms from animal rights groups about wearing fox fur in a costume, he communicated the same sentiment posed by these questions, saying:
“I totally get the dirtiness of the fur industry and how terrible it is to animals. But it’s not something that’s the number 1 priority in my life…There are humans dying every day. There are thousands, if not millions, of homeless people in New York City. Look at what just happened in Haiti…I tend to focus my energy, if there is a cause, on humans. While that may be callous and bad of me, it’s my choice.”
Weir acts as if not wearing fur would somehow detract from his philanthropy towards humans, or as if he was so busy volunteering in a soup kitchen, he didn’t have time to not wear fur. But these groups are not asking for Weir to take time out of his busy work schedule, or stop supporting other philanthropic causes. They aren’t asking him to adopt a homeless dog, volunteer at his local animal shelter, do a PSA about saving the whales…in fact, they are only asking him to NOT do something. What could be easier than that?
I don’t think that omiting an animal’s fur from his costume wardrobe will in any way affect his skating abilities or inhibit his ability to support other, human-benefitting causes. And as an animal lover, I would like to abolish the misconception that people who help animals somehow don’t care about humans.
In fact, the people I know who support animal rights also happen to be some of the most passionate about human rights. People who eat vegetarian know that by not supporting the meat industry, they are also not supporting the unfair treatment of workers in the meat industry, many of whom are undocumented and are treated as disposable parts of the factory. They are also fighting for a more sustainable and environmental way to live, and doing their best to create a better planet for future generations of earthlings — including people.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, people who show hatred and violence towards animals have a greater chance of showing those same dangerous tendencies towards humans. The F.B.I.considers animal cruelty a predictor of later violence, and looks for animal abuse in the past when profiling serial killers.
Now, I’m not comparing Weir to a serial killer, but I do think that people who show a greater respect for animal life and make conscious compassionate choices in their daily lives do tend to exhibit this kindness in other ways–it’s like once you open the box of caring and compassion, it seeps into every part of your life.
So I say it’s downright silly to ask someone who cares about animal rights why they don’t care about people. Weir did, by the way, agree to replace the fox on his costume with faux fur, a move he’s made clear is NOT to appease animal rights activists, but to protect his integrity and the integrity of the Olympics. His concession might have earned him a bit more respect if he didn’t make a childish who’s wrong/who’s right game out of a request for a more compassionate wardrobe choice. That’s another thing Weir doesn’t seem to understand — that those who truly care about animals aren’t out to “get” people, or make them look bad, or force them to bow down to the animal rights behemoth that is PETA.
To me, animal rights is about spreading good in the world and encouraging others to live a kinder life, according to their values — not “defeating” people like Weir. I hope that people who accuse others of caring about animals more than humans will re-examine their own lives, and ask themselves what they are doing to make the world a better place — then, maybe they will admire someone who is doing something to spread kindness to anyone, animal or human. And just maybe, they will follow suit.
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