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Book Review April 16, 2004
A Holy Book
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
There's a rule, I gather, that any human life is worth more than a fossa's life, so that I have to accept that these villagers, extras from a Naipaul novel, are each and every one more valuable than the last breeding pair of Fossas.

I can't see it, myself. There are people walking this earth whose life is not worth that of a garden snail, who will only look good in their coffins. And there are other people one would give one's own life to save. But the notion that any human life is worth more than any animal life simply because it's human is nothing but Christian cant with the Christianity turned to low volume, a pop version of Berdyayev's mocking enthymeme: "Man is descended from the apes, therefore we must love one another."

And this nonsense needs to be opposed, because sooner or later the jihad for the mammals is going to be nose-to-nose with the jihads of the villagers, and you'll have to choose. I choose the mammals; I say the life of the last breeding pair of Bengal tigers is worth more (MUCH more) than the lives of the entire human population of, say, Houston. Or Dhaka, for that matter.

But I'm not allowed to say that yet, not even by the fools representing the so-called "animal rights" tendency advocated by Peter Singer. This schoolmarmy moralizing is essentially Christian too; it simply takes the "you have to love everybody equally" premise even further into sheer madness by arguing that all life has equal "rights," since hierarchies of affection are forbidden. So not only am I required to love every human -- Dick Cheney or the guy who draws Garfield -- but I'm also required to love every slug, scabies mite, tapeworm or sow bug as much as I love my dog.

Beneath both these imperatives requiring an impossible, feigned love is the bizarre idea that we "have to" love anything. There is no "have to" in matters of affect; there's only family. And mammals are our extended family. The life of a Bengal tiger is worth more than that of a tapeworm, a mite, or slug -- because we and the tiger are family, and we and those creepy invertebrates are not. We are not equidistant from every other creature; we never were. Our pantheons were always local and partisan, and usually put the bigger carnivores and most admired prey animals on top. Just look at what we were drawing on the cave walls 10,000 years ago, and you find mammal solidarity fully developed.

We're simply recovering from a bad bout of moralizing fever. I don't have to love Bob Hope or a banana slug in order to have loved my dog. We were fellow mammals, from two species that have been working together successfully for thousands of years. There is a local hierarchy in any affections, and at the base of ours is simple family feeling--mammal solidarity.

But never mind the polemics, just flip the page and there's something else fantastic: the Dwarf Sperm Whale, that mimics a Great White Shark (not around Orcas, presumably)...the Maned Wolf, that shiftless-looking, gangly Okie of the Pampas who, to the disgrace of the rest of the Lupus sub-clan, subsists solely on termites...ah, and you can't skip the Giant Otter, with its leggy poolside languor...

Then we'll talk about the jihad.

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