Orwell And Freedom
"Orwellian" is a familiar term spawned by the British Author George Orwell. It is an adjective describing an idea, movement, conflict or situation that some identify as being disturbing and destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It evokes an attitude of cruel, brutal or draconian control of facts and reality by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past.
A feature of an Orwellian society – familiar now to countless targets of the movement that calls itself a force for the rights of animals – is the "unperson," a person or entity whose past, life and status as a moral human being is expunged by society, and from the public record and memory. In New York, the carriage drivers have been reduced to the status of "unpeople," the mayor refuses to meet with them or speak with them or visit their stables, but he is eager to ban them.
In the widening number of conflicts between animal lovers and the animal rights movement, the "unperson" is becoming familiar. It might be a homeless man with a sick dog, a researcher, a circus owner or a carriage driver. They are always cruel, greedy, inhuman, immoral, people whose status as a moral human being is expunged and discarded, so that they can be destroyed or deprived. Their accusers are always moral and righteous, saviors and rescuers. The world becomes black and white, there are no colors, no grays.
The "unperson" has no rights, he or she is not entitled to them or deserving of them. His freedom is taken away.
Orwellian is the prescient term, I think for the movement to remove animals from American life, and to deprive human beings of the freedom, respect and support necessary to own them, live with them and work with them. Orwell's ideas about freedom came from his experience in Burma when it was a British Colony. He saw that Colonialism required acceptance of the idea that the colonists existed only for the good of the government that colonized them.
I have seen over the past year that the animal rights movement as it has affected the lives of horses, elephants, ponies and other animals and the people who own them has adopted a similar ideology, it also evokes an attitude of cruel or draconian control of truth and reality, in our time by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of reality and truth and manipulation of history. I would add to that the polarization of the country, the collapse of a functioning journalistic entity, political correctness, hyper-sensitivity, technologically-transmitted hysteria, and the shrinking of the American mind to the eternal arguments of the "left" and the "right."
As Americans label themselves more and more and forgot how to think for them for themselves, they are easily influenced by people who manipulate information and images and technology to tell them how and what to think. They exchange warring links with one another, everyone talking to themselves, everyone increasingly incapable of judgement, reason, or thought. Socrates would have killed himself sooner if he saw our version of dialogue.
When I started writing about the carriage horses last year, I was inundated with angry messages demanding to know why I was supporting animal cruelty and abuse. The same thing happened to me this weekend, of course, when I wrote about the elephants and Ringling Bros. In our culture, you state an opinion and wait to be assaulted for daring to think it. Many horse people wrote me yesterday to say I was right about the horses, but wrong about the elephants – the elephants should, of course, be banned. But not their horses.
A woman with a border collie told me I am right to defend working border collies, but wrong to defend circus owners who use elephants. It was almost disorientingly familiar. The very same people who been lying for years about the carriage horses are suddenly truth-tellers to be believed and supported when it comes to elephants. It is not okay to come after my dog and horse, but elephants are different. It is not okay to take my freedom away, but go ahead and take theirs.
I know very few people who know a thing about elephants – myself included – but many who seem sure of what they are thinking and feeling and where they should or shouldn't live or work. Knowing a thing about animals is not, in our culture, required, even for those who presume to decide their fate and future. Like horses, elephants have been working with people for thousands of years. Their ancient and beloved work is now an outrage, soon, a crime.
If you study the carriage horse controversy, you see that experts and behaviorists and biologists are never consulted, only ideologues who know nothing about animals get to speak for them. This sad story is repeating itself with the elephants.
I am a supporter of George Orwell, as well as the right of animals to survive in our world, their most basic right. I am fascinated to see how comfortable people are to watch the freedom of others taken away, even as they are outraged at the very idea that anyone might curtail theirs. Why, I wonder, don't they know what Orwell and Jefferson and Paine knew, which is that when you arbitrarily and without cause take away the freedom and property of one citizen, you threaten every citizen, including yourself.
Do people have the right own animals that they treat well? Does a young man or woman have the right to choose a career as a carriage driver? To own a horse? Do I have the right to own a border collie and work with him? Does an elderly woman have the right to own a dog, even if she has no eight-foot fence or the money to build one? Does a circus have the right to own elephants as long as every legal and qualified authority says they are treating the animals well and caring for their health?
If not, who gets to tell us what we can own, and what we can do, and under what authority? Do people have the right to assault and harass people for years without cause and drive them out of their work and way of life while government and the law looks away and counts the contributions?
There are many animal welfare issues in both the horse and carriage horse controversies that are worth discussing – shelter, work, training, travel, traffic. But what about freedom, something that is critical to all of our lives but which never seems to come up as more and more people without any authority tell us what to do and how we can do it.
Orwell would appreciate the great irony of a movement – it will one day be seen as a hysteria, like the witch trials – that causes the slaughter, disappearance and extinction of countless animals while claiming to save them and speak for their rights.
Man and animals have had a sacred and powerful relationship for thousands of years, human beings have always had the freedom to own and work and live with animals – and see and know them – as long as they are treated well.
We are losing that freedom in our country, where growing numbers of people – many hiding behind computers – are emotionalizing animals, seeing them as helpless and surrogate children, becoming ever aggressive at telling other people what to do and at showering politicians and legislators with money to make certain they make them do it.
As long as I care for my animals and do not harm them, it is no one else's business what I do with them. No one in the carriage trade is being accused of abuse, Ringling Bros. circus has not, in any of the trials or legal confrontations with the animal rights movement, been cited for abuse by any judge. They have broken no laws, yet they have been bludgeoned into retreat. Yet the carriage trade is struggling for their very existence, and a wealthy and famed circus has been forced into doing something they did not ever want to do.
That does not sound like freedom to me, it sounds like the death of freedom by a thousand cuts. If they can't do it to my border collie, they can't do it to your horse or your elephant. That is the boundary of a democratic society, it is how a free people live and work. Orwell cautioned in his writing that this culture of rigidity and control is a hungry one, it needs the unpeople to grow and survive, to raise money. They first go through the horses, then the elephants, then the ponies, and the chickens on farms, and the horses in Hollywood.
Then they will come for the dogs and the cats.
If you are an Orwellian – I suppose I am – then it follows, that they will one day come for you.
And if you read your Orwell (start with "1984"), you will recognize it right away, it is not the free nation of Jefferson and Paine, it is the Orwellian world of denial of truth and manipulation. It will cost every one of us and every animal in the world.