So this happened today:
Ringling Bros circus says it will stop using elephants
Yeah. I am very sad.
I am a big fan of the circus, and have attended many circuses with animals. As such, I have given the issue of animal treatment a lot of thought. It is not that I am wilfully-blind to animal conditions for the sake of my own entertainment. I do not want to see animals mistreated -- no-one does.
I do not accept the claims of the owners wholeheartedly, and I do not accept the claims of PETA wholeheartedly, either. I am sure that the truth lies somewhere between those opposites, and, frankly, I was pretty OK with that.
I have no problem eating animals, and no problem wearing animals -- it would be disingenuous for me to have a problem using animals for entertainment. Are zoo conditions any worse than for factory farm chickens? For raising veal? Probably not. And if I have no moral issue about those, what's the qualitative difference regarding the treatment of elephants?
Perhaps the difference is that elephants have a higher level of consciousness. More so than a horse? Do we also have an issue with horse acts? With using horses for their labour? If we make the distinction based on the level of consciousness, why is there a issue for the treatment of elephants at the circus, but nothing said about child labour there? Should we not have a greater problem with that? (I certainly did.)
To put it simply (and not that there is a simple answer), I felt that given my moral position on the treatment of other animals -- for food, clothing, even companionship -- it would be logically inconsistent for me to have a problem with just this one aspect of humanity's treatment of animals. I viewed elephants in the circus as just another domestication of animals for our own purposes. And I'm pretty fine with that.
No-one wants to see elephants mistreated. Of course not. I was never convinced that animal domestication in and of itself was abuse. I was never convinced that captivity necessarily means cruelty. I was never convinced that the handlers are a bunch of sadists only interested in inflicting misery -- I'm sure they love their animals, and that it's in their own best interests not to abuse them.
Idunno. There are no easy answers. But there rarely are in life, are there?
This was my moral position. We all have our moral lines, and animals in the circus or zoo do not cross mine.
No elephants in the circus, no elephants in the zoo -- I may never see an elephant again. And that makes me very sad. I love them.
(And no, I'm not going to entertain a debate on this today. If you want to argue, you're on your own.)