When: Thu., Sept. 9, 7 p.m. 2010
The thing that makes Hal Herzog's new book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, stand out from any number of other recent books on the subject is its dispassion. He's a professor in the emergent field of "anthrozoology," and he brings an anthropologist's unprejudiced attitude to his research, whether he's hanging with cockfighters in rural eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina (he teaches at Western Carolina University) or with the volunteers at a huge animal sanctuary in southern Utah. He wields his dispassion like the lantern of Diogenes, searching vainly for reason and moral consistency in a society that cherishes and protects certain members of the animal kingdom under penalty of law (as Michael Vick can attest) while consigning millions of others to lives that are nasty and short.
Herzog shows, in myriad examples, that we're inconsistent to the point of utter irrationality in our dealings with animals, not just as a society but individually. He loves exposing the hypocrisy of animal rights activists who wear leather, or of gamecock breeders who devote themselves to the tender care of their birds before attaching lethal metal gaffs to their feet. But he's careful to include himself among the hypocritical and inconsistent. He's thought carefully through many ethical dilemmas (Should we sacrifice animals for medical research? Should we feed euthanized kittens to pet snakes?), and he's concluded that, though our emotional responses and cultural biases may be arbitrary or unfair, leavening our reasoning with gut reactions is inescapably human.
It's the logical reasoning in Some We Love, however, that's a breath of fresh air. Discussing our responsibility to treat animals humanely generates a lot of emotion, on both sides. Jonathan Safran Foer's recent vegetarian cri de coeur against factory farming, Eating Animals, was met with surprisingly angry and dismissive reviews; decrying the queasy ethics of our protein-manufacturing systems can put meat eaters on the defensive (like the young man working a booth at the Durham Farmers' Market last month, wearing a "People for Eating Tasty Animals" T-shirt—I bought my vegetables at another stall where they didn't needlessly antagonize their potential customers). The calm, reasoned tone of Herzog's book gives one room to think and invites readers to make up their own minds. The discussion and book signing starts at 7 p.m. Herzog also visits McIntyre's Books Sept. 11. —Marc Maximov