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August 19, 2005

Whose Ox?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- PETA -- is in hot water again, this time for a traveling exhibit that compares slaughtering animals to lynchings. I've seen mostly opinion columns about the controversy -- the most complete one I've read is the from the Chicago Sun-Times's Mary Mitchell. She begins her column thus:

After apologizing for its "Holocaust on Your Plate" ad campaign three months ago, what made People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals think it could get away with comparing the mistreatment of animals to slavery? Honestly, I don't get it.

Here we are reminded about PETA's earlier indiscretion of comparing animal cruelty to the Holocaust.
The reason I'm blogging about this is because to me it seems yet another example of the "who's on first" issue when it comes to suffering, or, perhaps (given the topic), whose ox is being gored. We've visited that issue twice already in this fairly new blog -- on July 30 and Aug. 9. Now we come to it again from another perspective.
Who suffers more? Whose suffering is more important? Whose suffering is more valid? Everyone thinks their own suffering is the worst. By comparing sufferings, whom do we devalue? Do we devalue anyone in doing such a comparison?
Maybe what we should be asking to get to an answer-- if indeed an answer can be gotten to -- is: who shall rank sufferings? And what shall we have achieved once we have ranked them?
And then there's always the issue of those whose sufferings aren't considered important enough to worry about. What brought this aspect of the whole sorry mess to mind was the headline of the New York Sun's John P. Avlon's column: PETA's Animal Slavery Insanity. Insanity, of course, seems to almost everyone an acceptable term for something wrong, something immoral.
A nice note on which to close the week.
COMMENT-AUTHOR:Lawrence Carter-Long
COMMENT-BODY:A fine example of why Edge-Centric is on my required reading list.

Thanks, Mary.

Odds are Mary Mitchell doesn't "get it" because she's not familiar with PeTA's pattern dating back -- in my recollection -- to the PeTA/MADD flap but probably further.

PeTA didn't think it could get away with anything. They weren't trying to. PeTA compulsively courts controversy then goes through the motions of apologizing just as the backlash sets in, but before too many supporters dash away. From a PR standpoint, it's all very calculated.

Still, your primary point "who shall rank sufferings?" is a good one. It's a question which deserves to be asked more often by both offenders and offendees alike whatever side of the fence of these brouhahas one happens to reside on.

Perhaps we should also ask why we feel compelled to rank suffering at all?

Posted by mjohnson at August 19, 2005 05:06 PM