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In case you don't feel guilty enough

OPINION

  • An orphaned baby elephant drinks milk from a bottle at the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for Orphans within the Nairobi National Park.
An orphaned baby elephant drinks milk from a bottle at the Daphne Sheldrick… (THOMAS MUKOYA / REUTERS )
March 02, 2014|By Stephen Markley, @stephenmarkley | For RedEye

Let's face it: I'm smug about all the things I've been right about politically speaking. George W. Bush and the Iraq war would both be disasters, equality for gays and lesbians, the seriousness of global warming—the list goes on and on.

Because I'm shooting like 99.9 percent from the field on this stuff, and I'm so totally annoying about it, I'll go looking for a Great Question of Our Times that will make me feel awful when I'm 80. Unfortunately, it's probably the way we treat animals.

According to a recent piece in Scientific American, scientists now believe that elephants not only display human-approaching levels of cooperative intelligence but also empathy. And they can paint better than me (seriously, watch the videos on YouTube). It's stuff like this that makes me picture my grandchildren saying, "Grandpa, how did you justify going to the Lincoln Park Zoo? How did you eat bacon? How did you do nothing and say nothing while all these feeling, thinking creatures were brutalized or enslaved for your pleasure? Also, isn't it lucky that Grandma is Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone? What a babe."

The Oscar-snubbed documentary "Blackfish" puts this question in even finer repose. Speaking as a child who enjoyed the hell out of Cleveland's SeaWorld back in the day, I don't see how anyone can walk inside that place or buy a Shamu doll after watching the ways in which captivity can lead killer whales to psychosis.

So am I crazy, or is it beginning to feel like there's a sea change (boom) going on in how we talk about animals and understand animal consciousness? We have an absurd relationship with the animal kingdom, most evidenced by dog-lovers. The money, resources and passion allocated toward saving and assisting dogs is bizarre when we take pigs—a more intelligent, emotionally aware animal—and happily grind them to death in industrial processes that Jigsaw couldn't dream up in seven movies.

Yet at the same time vegetarianism and veganism are problematic ways to go about remedying this absurd relationship. I long ago made my peace with eating animals, though I try to do it less (the real problem is when I'm drunk, in which case you can point me to the nearest Taco Bell). As a widespread solution, you can't guilt people into not eating meat any more than you can guilt them into reducing their carbon emissions.

But where does that leave those of us with the cloying suspicion that our behavior is unreflective and morally dubious? Technology? Can we engineer animals that have no sentience and then lop off their flesh while they remain brain-dead and unaware? Will someone claim PETA's $1 million prize for "test-tube meat"? I really don't know.

However, I'm all about doing the easiest things in life that make you an incrementally better person with little to no effort: be an organ donor, vote, drive less, watch political documentaries, etc. Now we can add to that list: Never set foot in SeaWorld.

Also, if my grandchildren are reading this: Until you've tried bacon, don't judge me you smug little bastards.

RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."

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