Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Animals Are People Too

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

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The British have always loved their dogs. In his home, which as you know, is his castle, the Englishman loves his dogs more than his children which might have something to do with the decline of the British Empire. But America's newest animal legislation might have something to do with the decline of American civilization.

Talking of the decline of civilizations, if you absolutely must have a British historian, get hold of Paul Johnson with his marvelously readable Modern Times and his insightful A History of the Jews. But whatever you do, leave Arnold Toynbee on the shelf. He's an anachronism and as obsolete as, well, the British Empire.

He was a Johnny-one-note whose entire academic career was based on his theory of why civilizations rise, then inevitably fall and fade away. When someone pointed out to him the inconvenient fact that Jewish civilization has hardly vanished, he retorted that Jews are merely fossils of history. Some fossils. Some historian.

That most civilizations do seem to eventually disappear is obvious. Though I don't think much of Toynbee's theories, he was dead right when he succinctly said that civilizations die from suicide not murder. French civilization, such as it was, is well on its way to death at its own hand, though of course many see that, not as a loss but as progress.

Callers to my radio show have often asked why it matters if a civilization dies while its inhabitants merely adapt to another civilization. I answer that it matters because the quality of your life and more noticeably, the lives of your children will dramatically change. Needless to say, those without children experience more difficulty grasping this truth.

The children of today's French will possibly have to study both Arabic and French in school. The squalor of their streets will make even today's litter-strewn Champs Elysées a fond memory. Tomorrow's public places could become so dangerous in daylight that Parisians will yearn for today's Bois de Boulogne at night. French entertainment will most likely have to conform to Islam's dazzling notions of wit and farce.

Here in the United States, however, if we allow our American civilization to commit suicide, it won't be replaced by Islam but by the civilization of secular sentimentality where compassion is king.

But wait! Wouldn't it be wonderful finally to live in a culture of compassion? For too long we have been governed by big business where only the dollar matters. For too long we have favored the rich with their harsh repression of everyone else. Now, with compassion finally enthroned as the central organizing principle of public policy we will usher in utopia.

Its arrival might be marked as late Monday night, May 22nd 2006. That was when Congress passed a bill (amazingly, by 349 to 24) requiring that emergency management teams take into account household pets when drawing up evacuation plans.

Apparently that great statesman, Tom Lantos, Democratic representative from California, saw a picture of a boy separated from his pet during hurricane Katrina. "The dog was taken away from this little boy, and to watch his face was a singularly revealing and tragic experience, this legislation was born at that moment." So moved was Tom, that he sponsored the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act.

No matter how virtuous the strong feelings of compassion felt by congressmen may be, we don't pay our representatives to legislate on the basis of their feelings. That is how civilizations commit suicide. We would greatly prefer it if they weighed up long term future effects against today's call of compassion.

Every single law has unintended consequences. That is a reliable law of reality. Another reliable rule of reality is that resources on this planet of ours are limited. That is what legislators tell us when they mandate that we waste our valuable time sorting through trash to recycle it. This shortage of resources assures me that at sometime or another, sooner rather than later, some suffering human being is going to die because an emergency worker's limited time and energy was going into rescuing some little girl's pet gecko. (Did you see the look on her face?)

When compassion determines our actions, the most visible becomes the most demanding. When feelings dictate, the most emotionally evocative becomes the most compelling. Whether in romance, finances, or public policy, whenever heart rules head, we make the kind of decisions that we later rue.

What Arnold Toynbee never did understand is that when good and decent people abandon the durable faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and when they renounce the Judeo Christian value system with all its integrated complexities, they tend to replace it with just compassion. Only Biblical tradition stands between us and the proposition that compassion to animals is morally equivalent to compassion bestowed on humans.

Drooling concupiscents and degenerate lechers masquerading as politicians flaunt their compassion. Light-fingered legislators caught in the cookie jar piously proclaim their compassion. Compassion excuses anything and cloaks anyone in virtue. Compassion inspires government and celebrities to embark on quixotic crusades like ending world poverty or eliminating African AIDS, that in the end will accomplish nothing but frittering away money confiscated from hard-working taxpayers.

Without the subtle nuances of Biblical morality, virtuous gets redefined as compassionate. By renouncing God's exquisite tension between firm and gentle, between justice and mercy, and between discipline and forgiveness, we slide down compassion's seductive and slippery slope toward decline, decadence, and ultimately oblivion.

Ever higher taxes are imposed - to provide needed social services for the elderly. The elderly evoke more compassion than hard working tax-payers trying to support their families. Perhaps the tax was carefully weighed and determined to be needed but we cynically suspect it came to pass on account of the politics of compassion.

The contrite, captured convict evokes more compassion than his invisible victims so a Vermont judge frees a serial rapist because he "doesn't believe in punishment."

Our military is dispatched on welfare missions to God-forsaken corners of the world to bring humanitarian relief. Foreign aid is poured into the swollen bank accounts of America-hating dictators. All this because television footage of suffering third-world children evokes more compassion than the Kansas farmer whose son is in Somalia and whose income is confiscated to pay for it all.

Government repeatedly excuses millions of illegal immigrants because a poor man swimming the Rio Grande and hiking the sun-scorched desert to find a job evokes more compassion than the American victims of the largely invisible but undeniable pain his presence inflicts.

It all happens ever so slowly. And each incremental decline in the quality of our lives is too small to make a fuss over. Thus, little by little, compassion replaces virtue and abolishes freedom. Little by little compassion introduces its daughter, tyranny, and little by little, a great civilization commits suicide.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Rabbi in Seattle, and President of "Toward Tradition." "Toward Tradition" is America's leading bridge-builder between Jewish and Christian communities; spanning the divide between Christians and Jews by sculpting ancient solutions to modern problems.

For free and unrestricted use with attribution. Additions or omissions of text without written authorization from Toward Tradition constitute a violation of copyright.

© Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Read the entire article on the Toward Tradtion website (new window will open).

Posted: 26-May-06

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