Last week, following the US House of Representatives unanimous vote passing the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, I was asked what I thought about the law.
Truth is, when I was asked, I had no idea what I thought about it. I’d heard some vague buzz about it, but I’d been busy with super important things, like winding down from Vegfest, getting my kids ready for Halloween. and consuming obscene amounts of Fall-themed baked goods from Recess and Sweet Praxis, so hadn’t actually read up on it.
Once the question was asked, I sat down with Google and a couple of coffees and learned what I could.
I can now say that my opinion of the bill is this:
Which is to say that, having read what I could find, I think that this bill might possibly do a little bit of good, might possibly do a little bit of bad, and probably won’t mean much at all.
I’ll explain that, but first this:
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) bill is an expansion on existing laws dealing with the production of “crush” videos (videos that involve “crushing” or otherwise torturing small animals, usually as part of a sexual fetish). It was sponsored by Ted Deutch (a Democrat) and Vern Buchanan (a Republican). If passed in the Senate, it will lead to stiffer penalties for people who create or traffic in crush videos where the Federal government has jurisdiction– basically, interstate trafficking, bringing things into the country, and so on. Per the the proposed law, violators could be fined and/or jailed, with a maximum of up to seven years in prison.
You can read the whole thing here. It’s not long, and there’s not a lot of jargon. Pretty straight forward.
The bill is really, really limited in scope. But the intentions are basically good ones. So I sort of kind of a little bit like it. Or at least the idea of it.
And really, any time anything gets bipartisan– and in this case unanimous– support, it’s something to stop and take notice of.
But there are problems.
I’m always more than a little bit skeptical of attempts to make society better by making prison sentences longer. The displays of animal cruelty outlined in this bill are already illegal in the US. This mostly just clarifies a few things and makes the penalties steeper. If the goal is to punish those whose behavior we don’t like, then hooray, this will probably do that pretty well (as long as the offender is poor, poorly represented, not clever enough to get away with it).
If the goal is to actually prevent cruelty, I don’t imagine this having much of an effect at all. The US already has the highest incarceration rate in the world– we’re 4.4% of the world’s population but we house 22% of the world’s prisoners. All those overcrowded prisons haven’t done a lot to fix our social ills, and I doubt filling them up even more is going to lead to a brighter future for humans or animals. As a vegan, my fantasy is less beings confined to cages, not more. And that requires different mindsets, a different vision of ourselves and our place in the world, not just stiffer sentencing.
As a collective, we Americans get a lot of satisfaction out of punishing bad behavior, but we don’t like to put a lot of thought or energy into addressing its roots.
This bill is a fantastic example of that.
The contradictions in the bill are staggering.
In spite of it’s name– Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture– the bill is not particularly interested in preventing cruelty to animals. It is interested in protecting a certain kind of cruelty toward some animals; particularly, cruelty toward animals that has a socially unacceptable sexual element involved.
Under this bill, putting on stilettos and stepping on a rabbit can get you seven years in prison.
Dipping live chickens into scalding water to remove their feathers while they slowly bleed out remains a perfectly acceptable standard practice.
Torturing a Guinea pig gets you steep fines and jail time.
Torturing pigs is business as usual.
Selling crush videos on the black market gets you arrested.
Selling the broken bodies of animals who have been confined, tortured and slaughtered gets you a paycheck; if you run the company, it gets you millions of dollars, federal subsidies, and a voice in government.
PACT addresses some disgusting but relatively uncommon cruelty toward animals while ignoring the pervasive cruelty that happens every single day in our food system.
Except that’s not even correct.
PACT doesn’t ignore the cruelty in our food system; it explicitly endorses it.
Written into the bill are “exceptions” for “the slaughter of animals for food,” “hunting, trapping, fishing” and “medical or scientific research.”
The authors aren’t interested in preventing cruelty to animals, but in legitimizing or delegitimizing certain motivations, certain pleasures.
Filming animal cruelty in the bedroom is a no-no (as of course it should be); filming animal cruelty in the woods remains perfectly fine.
Fleeting sexual pleasures are bad; fleeting sensual pleasures associated with our taste buds make that same behavior perfectly okay.
In other words, it’s perfectly fine to be cruel if bacon. If cheeseburger.
The absurd suggestion here is that the fleeting pleasure of fast food or a cookout– that flavor and texture and feeling that will be forgotten in an hour– makes acts of abuse somehow less cruel, somehow okay.
In the US alone, 25 million animals are slaughtered each day. That’s more than 9 billion per year. That’s more than 1 million per hour, more than 17,000 per minute, more than 250 per second.
250 animals per second, almost all of whom have lived in horrible, cramped, filthy conditions, almost all of whom have been treated cruelly from birth to death, almost all of whom die under the most grisly circumstances, are completely ignored in a bill called Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture.
So, like I said, my reaction is, basically, “meh.” Sounds good. Probably came from a good place, good intentions. But in the end mostly just reinforces the notion that only “some” lives count.
Want to stop animal cruelty and torture? Including crush videos?
We can do that by, as a collective, rethinking our relationships with all living things. By feeling compassion toward and connection with all those who suffer (let’s include humans we don’t like here, too; let’s include people whose behavior pisses us off, or people from faraway places, or people who have ideas different from our own).
And how do we help the wider society develop that compassion and sense of connection?
I always go back to this idea:
People want to have something good in their lives. People want happiness.
We can be activists. We can write letters and go to protests and vote with our dollars each time we go grocery shopping or out to dinner.
But we can also live fantastic lives.
We can show the world how good it is to live with compassion. We show that by allowing all the good that comes from this lifestyle to shine in our lives. We show the world that the rewards of compassion are community, health, happiness. We live lives that others want, and we welcome them with open arms when they ask to join us.