Monday, May 22, 2006

Barbaro and The Barbarians

Michael Bryant / Inquirer

"Man is the cruelest animal." Friedrich Nietzsche

What is it about our culture that makes us accept--even applaud--grievous injury to human beings while at the same time we abhor even the hint of harm to animals?

No, this isn't about animal rights. Well, yes it sort of is, but it's really more about human rights.

I'm willing to bet more people turned away in horror from Barbaro's breakdown and limping gait at the Preakness Saturday than from the sight of Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand slamming into a metal fence May 12.

Okay, partly that's because Rowand walked away a hero. Injured but alive, with a broken nose and a fractured eye. Bloody but unbowed. He sacrificed his face to make a game winning catch. And Rowand will be back on the field. He already showed up in the dugout this week to a well deserved standing ovation.

Barbaro got his own ovation, but in defeat, not victory. In response to a crushing loss. No win at the Preakness, no Triple Crown, nothing. And his fate is far less certain. Even if he survives, his racing days are over. It's a heartbreaking injury for a thoroughbred horse.

But. It's. A. Horse.

Yes, Barbaro is a 25 million dollar horse. A champion. If he lives he'll make his owners millions more in stud fees.

I'm not sure what Aaron Rowand's contract with the Phillies is worth, but for sure no baseball player ever gets that latter benefit. Well, maybe Pete Rose. No, just kidding.

What's not so funny is the peculiar reflexive reaction most people feel if an animal gets hurt. I'm on board as an animal lover, grew up with cats and dogs, still have a cat. And no, I won't get into that boring debate. If you love your pet and he/she/it loves you, that's all that matters.

Just to add to my creds, I've cried and mourned sincerely when various of our pets died or had to be put down. And I talk to the cat when we're alone together. Don't ask.

On the other hand, if somebody said, Your pet or your kid, which one dies? No contest. In fact if they said, Your pet or another human being ... pretty much no contest there either. Admittedly pedophiles, terrorists, murderers and such would give me a harder ethical dilemma. But still.

People. Animals. Food chain. Do the math. It's as old as time. And in this modern age, somebody's got to kill a lot of animals if we want to eat chicken, pork, lamb and beef.

Which brings up another issue: I'm not against hunting either. I don't like it, but if it's legal and the animals aren't endangered, hunting's really no different from fishing. As long as it's a fair fight. You don't fish with an AK-47 and you don't need a shoulder-mounted missile to bag a duck.

What bothers me is the way our culture marginalizes, lionizes, even monetizes violence against humans in entertainment ... and accepts with far too little protest the very real violence against humanity in a war.

People get beaten senseless and knocked off left and right on the Sopranos, but hey, it's a TV show. Yet the same viewer vultures go postal if Bambi's cousin is hit by a car or a kitten gets stuck in a drainpipe. Has Walt Disney's anthropomorphizing of animals so seeped into the collective American consciousness we can't distinguish an animal from a real person?

No living, breathing creature should be made to suffer. And no one should celebrate when they do. Violence is bad. Period. But we need a reality check about who comes first. And a priority makeover about what's really important.

If the news media carried on half as much over every injured soldier or civilian in Iraq as they did about one horse, we might get the hell out of this horrible war.

Let's remember, if Barbaro lives, he'll father lots of children. Dead soldiers never will.

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