So I’m skimming the e-mail version of the UVA Law alumni newsletter when I see this item: it’s about someone I don’t know: Jeffrey Kerr, ’87 graduate of the law school. Mr. Kerr is now General Counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
What a marvelous world we inhabit today! Regardless of your opinion of PETA and its preferred policies (most of which I am either indifferent to or downright oppose), you can’t help but smile admiringly at the fact that we have here a hugely well-educated, obviously very intelligent, and clearly hard-working modern American devoting his specialized talents to protecting creatures that, in pre-industrial times, would (had these creatures been alive at all) have been accorded absolutely no consideration by human beings. And in the process of devoting his talents to helping animals, Mr. Kerr is, no doubt, handsomely compensated. (Not compensated, I’m sure, as well as are the likes of IP attorneys and cardiovascular surgeons – but compensated well enough to allow him and his family to live what is at least a comfortable modern middle-class American life-style.)
It is only because modern Americans have in fact raised nearly every human being in our society far above the level of desperate poverty that was the norm everywhere on earth until just a few generations ago that we can – and are willing to – devote substantial resources to making the lives of animals better.
If you’re like me, you find talk of captive killer whales being “enslaved” and of possessing constitutionally protected rights to be ludicrous. But if you’re like me you also celebrate the reality that we live in a world that permits, legally and – much more importantly – economically, such discussions to occur, as well permits the possibility for those discussions to bear fruit. Mind you, I do not wish PETA well in the great majority of its endeavors. But I’m pleased to be a denizen of a society so incredibly prosperous that we can survive the successful pursuit of even of such policies without the bulk of us suffering any noticeable decline in our living standards.