Animals in Circuses. Think before you ban.
Peter Kellow writes
It was G. K. Chesterton who remarked: “Wherever you find animal worship, there also you will find human sacrifice.”
When Tory MP, Mark Pritchard, introduced his motion in the Commons on Thursday, 23rd June to introduce a law “banning the use of wild animals in circuses” he may not have been guilty of animal worship exactly, but, with all the hoo-hah that has arisen following his motion, there is a sense that collectively we are bordering on something like it. And the accompanying human sacrifice is well and truly present – although it has hardly been mentioned.
Lion tamer Judy Allen beside her lion "Friend"
Pritchard’s motion seems to have taken everyone by surprise, not least the Prime Minister who instructed his chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, to let the MP know that “he would look upon it very dimly indeed” if he continued with his proposal. Cameron has since recanted and decided to accept the Commons vote which supported the motion. This looks like another U-turn where he puts expedience before his beliefs. Banning circus “wild” animals has been described as a “little issue” and we should concern ourselves with more important things like poverty and war. But does it have a wider reference?
Problems begin with the wording of the motion itself. It calls for “a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses”. But in what sense are the animals “wild”? Circus people claim that the vast majority are reared especially for their life in circuses, and it is indeed difficult to imagine how they might be capturing lions in the wild and turning them into circus performers.
To promote themselves, of course, circuses like to maintain the fiction that their lions and tigers are “wild”. It would hardly help to say that these were animals that were the result of generations of captivity with many of their “wild” instincts bred out of them. The elephants cannot be considered wild as they come from the working elephants of India who are bred for their docility and obedience. As for chimpanzees – do they really suffer in the circus life and are they “wild’ in any sense?
The other problem with the wording is the mention of the word “circus”. Why is the motion confined to circuses and not extended to all performing animals including those in, say, films? On the end credits of films, we routinely see the words “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” and take this as true. And what about sports such as horse racing where animals quite often die, or dressage where they are force to perform unnatural movements? The promoters of these events could not post a similar message.
Many people find zoos more upsetting than circuses, for zoos make prisoners of animals. At least circus animals have an active life with contact with other animals and humans. In addition, there is an uncomfortable feeling that circuses may be targeted, as the people that work in them are, after all, travelers, and travelers have been the subject of suspicion and revilement throughout their history - and still are.
I have some big problems with this “little issue” for it touches on some fundamental principles. The subject came up on BBC1’s Question Time, on the day the motion was presented in Parliament. The panel consisted of three MP's, a comedian and a TV journalist and all agreed with the ban giving reasons such as the fact that they find having “wild” animals in circuses “wrong” or “upsetting”. There are of course many things in life that are “wrong” or “upsetting”. But we seem to live in times where the reaction to such feelings has to be to reach for a legal ban. Can we not just accept that some things we do not like just have to be tolerated?
With regard to the circus animals the big narrative that has been almost absent from the debate is, as G. K. Chesterton would remind us, the human dimension. There are many people’s livelihoods that depend on circuses with animals. Circuses are often long established businesses that were created to provide this entertainment for people, mainly children. And, yes, what about the pleasure and excitement these performances give to people.
In an age of manufactured screen images at least the circus provides a real and relatively unambiguous exposure to the physical nature of these beasts. I may not like it. You may not like it. But does that justify reaching for the law to intervene?
On Question Time there was applause for a member of the audience that suggested a fund to provide money for the animals’ comfortable retirement. There was no similar suggestion for the people who had put their lives into training themselves to handle the animals and put on a show. This omission is bordering on the callous - but no one picked it up.
But there is a further aspect to this affair that makes me very uncomfortable, and suggests that there is a real shallowness in the arguments for the ban. Supporters of the ban are attacking something that is not just highly visible but actively promotes itself. Indeed, it is a business and so shouts about itself so that you cannot miss it. It might be a highly conspicuous example of the way we treat animals, but conspicuousness is hardly material to the degree and amount of distress the animals may suffer.
Apparently there are some 46 animals involved nationwide. But what about the millions of battery hens and pigs reared intensively in Britain. There is of course one big difference in the case of the latter. You cannot see them. Out of sight, out of mind, their miserable lives do not trouble us.
A few years ago, when you waited in your car to board the continental ferries, you frequently saw open sided vans full of live lambs or calves. It was a distressing sight to see just as you were about to set sail on your pleasant, carefree holiday. Actress, Joanna Lumley was so distressed at having the start of her holiday spoilt in this way that she participated in a successful campaign to get the practice banned. Now, what was very visible evidence of how the farming business treats animals has disappeared. But that has absolutely no affect what goes on behind closed doors in giant industrial sheds.
It is to a great degree the same hypocrisy that wanted the ban on hunting. Hunting when it happens is highly visible and deliberately puts on a spectacle. It attracts attention. If the people who run battery farms likewise charged around the country celebrating their activities with red coats and bugles they would no doubt suffer the same opprobrium as the hunters. But tucked away in their sheds, wearing brown overalls, torturing animals throughout their short lives, and forcing them to live in disgusting chemically controlled environments; they remain out of sight with nothing to fear from public opinion.
Some people have tried to find sinister motives behind David Cameron’s last minute intervention claiming that he has been lobbied by firms connected with the training of animals for performances. He may well have been contacted by them and realised that there is a human dimension here, hence his threat to his MP. It is perfectly reasonable that politicians should listen to the opinion of businesses. The problem here is that his eye was off this particular ball and his intervention was too clumsy and too late.
Civic Republicanism is essentially a humanist philosophy and so human concerns form its primary basis.
But that is not to say that in any way we should not protect other sentient beings, wild or otherwise. What is needed in this debate is above all a sense of proportion and perspective. We are going out of our way to look after the interests of 46 animals whose level of distress has not been properly studied. It is assumed to be dreadful we have absolutely no proof of that, that is more than anecdotal. In the process we are letting the cruel, calculated, systematic abuse of animals in warehouses pass with very little comment.
Civic republicanism is also about liberty for the individual and for businesses. Liberty has to have its limits but to impose those limits we have to be very certain that it makes sense and is necessary.
The circus tradition exists in many countries and in an increasingly antiseptic world still thrives. Cameron was surely right in the view (that he so quickly abandoned) that animals in circuses should be legal but regulated. Many of us must be amazed to hear that they were not already so regulated. Circuses should be able to justly put on their big tops the message “No animals are harmed in the making of this show”. If that can be done: Let the show go on.
We cannot survive on the Financial Service Industry alone
Member David G.Smith writes
With our current Financial crisis taking more and more Companies to the wall and the the prevailing strikes going ahead, when is it that this appaulling Government is going to show some interest in saving not only the jobs of our people but the very infrastructure that is just keeping this Country going?
We have lost what Manufacturing we had to Offshore Companies and now we are paying the price for that. (considering that we as a Country set them up with expertise and knowhow in the first place)
The comedian double act of Cameron and Clegg sits back trying to tempt the Unions to give up the strike as a gesture of goodwill for the Country, when they control a Government that is spending millions on quangos that they promised to abolish.
Only this week, reports have it that the Communities Secretary, Pickles has run up a bill for a figure approaching £300K on Limousines. Whilst this is small by comparison to some departments, it is non the less at this time a slap in the face for the workers about to lose their jobs, houses and just about every other thing that they have worked for.
This government with its smug self indulgence, rules for them and not for us attitude must be brought to book before we lose everything that once was great about Britain. We cannot survive on the Financial Service Industry alone, having lost Manufacturing and no firm plans to re-introduce it on a major scale, that will give some hope to those with all the skills in the foreseeable future, we now have the reality of losing our High Street Retail Brands.
For me an ALL OUT STRIKE IS WHAT WE NEED TO MAKE THIS GROUP OF UNMASKED BANDITS (THIS GOVERNMENT) TAKE US SERIOUSLY.
No Sign of Life in Youth, Politically Speaking?
Michael Portillo on This Week on Thursday, 23 June, made this comment:
My view is that it is really puzzling that youth is so unpolitical at the moment, when you think about all the provocations. We were mentioning about ideologically divided times. There have rarely been more ideologically divided times that now in the United States and yet nothing is happening.
We’ve fought wars in Iran and Afghanistan and Libya and yet nothing is happening. In the sixties, the music and the feeling of young people went hand in hand.
For heaven’s sake, in the sixties, in the United States, students actually died in demonstrations. They were gunned down. There was a big thing happening.
But there is no sign of life in youth, politically speaking, at all
Well, he may be forgetting the student demonstrations on university fees, the No Cuts campaign and the Stop the War Coalition has a high youth element, but is there any broader truth in what he says? In referring to the sixties he is referring to a time when socialism and Marxism had real appeal. With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the compromisation of Communism in China the appeal of the radical left has gone into a steep decline.
This has left a void as there is no obvious radical political idea to rally around. I would love to think that Civic Republicanism could fill this void and believe it must if the country is to have a future. But we are not quite there yet!
Recommended article of the week
Excellent article from Andrew Rawnsley on the real divide between the North and South of England and how it is opening up.
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