I had come home from work at 6pm after your standard day chock-filled with First World Problems: I was too busy at work to take my full lunch break, someone nearly ran me off the road by merging without indicating, my health insurance card didn’t work when I went to pay for a dental appointment, and I was rostered to work at my second job at a time that clashed with the weekly meeting of my passion project. Suffice to say, it was with a barely-veiled frustration that I walked through the front door to encounter my mother, scanning the contents of another spam email detailing an online petition.
She began to read me the petition’s purpose as I peeled off my fifty thousand layers of clothing that comprise my armour against Melbourne’s erratic interpretation of springtime.
“The rape, torture and abuse of animals are all prohibited in Denmark. But it is still legal to have sex with an animal. The absence of such a law has led to a huge bestiality business. In Denmark, people can actually go to animal brothels and, for less than 100 U.S. dollars, pay to molest animals.”
“It’d be cheaper in Thailand,” I replied. This throwaway comment elicited a scandalised giggle from mother dear.
The combination of my stress-induced delirium and her moderately-encouraging reaction was all it took for me lapse into one of the divisive, albeit amusing, rants of which I am so fond.
My fury, laid bare, is as follows: is this really a problem worthy of such outrage?
Animal abuse is completely abhorrent, though I acknowledge my own hypocrisy given that I’m pretty much as close to a carnivore as you can get without being some kind of feline, or an Australian man in his sixties. But is the world really so tapped dry of social justice issues that this is the headline protest du jour?
Maybe I'm just a very pedantic kind of political critic, but to my mind, there are a myriad of human rights and environmental issues happening all over the world right now, all of which warrant a greater outcry than they have received. But even if that argument is, in itself, a straw-man, and my focus is narrowed solely to the context of animal abuse, I still take issue with the purpose of this petition.
If the sexual exploitation of animals is so offensive and debauched that it deserves prime position on a mailout to every subscriber of this (not unknown) website, why the hell isn't this protest about Thailand, where the breach of sexual taboos is a tourist staple, or in Mexico, where "donkey shows" are a major income stream? Why get all hot under the collar about an occurrence that, despite the feigned moral outrage, is stated in the opening line as something that is already prohibited?
Because those countries aren't the same, to the general Australian perspective, as Denmark. Some collective of one-click world-changers are seething because animal abuse exists in Europe, where people are "civilised" (read: white) and therefore should know better. By contrast, those celebrating a vicarious thrill in the wake of their indignation are not so frazzled by the more socially acceptable “barbarism” of animal abuse in Asian and Hispanic countries. And when one asks why that is, an awkward silence follows. Because, consciously or unconsciously, these people justify their indifference under the guise of animal abuse being part and parcel of "those" cultures. It’s not cultural relativism. It’s “othering”. And it’s not okay.
Animal abuse offends me, same as anyone else. But I am moreso offended by what this petition implies, that we should not care about animal abuse in some cultures, because their standards of human decency are perceived as lesser. One of these days, I hope that Australians can come to terms with the fact that we are not a glamorous Anglo-Saxon outpost of exceptional civility, studded amidst an archipelago of Asian savages. I can only pray that eventually, Australians will realise that our country, too, is a largely Asiatic culture.
But that is a despicable dream, because the pearl-clutching of this petition is the bite-size sample indicator of Australia’s modern-day priorities when it comes to internet slacktivism. If this is where well-meaning discourse has taken the average Australian, then I can only imagine what the subject line will be for the next moral panic that lands in my mother's email inbox.
I learned recently that in Michigan, USA, a man is legally considered the owner of his wife’s hair. Since apparently all of the world’s problems more severe than “things that are forbidden and prosecuted but not, technically, written into law through the very complex process of legal amendment” have been fixed, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the subject line of the next spam fury-fodder.
Yes, my life is choc-a-block with white, middle-class privilege, but I don't use that as an excuse to presume my problems are greater than the problems of, oh, everyone that isn't me. I am livid by the arrogance with which people whip themselves into a frenzy over something purely logistical. And that's disregards entirely the complex argument as to whether internet petitions actually make a difference in the first place.
At the culmination of my rant, which expressed much of these sentiments and certainly contained more curse words, my mother turned to me with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk.
“How do you even know so much about animals being sexually abused?” she asked, and then, running with a recurring joke, “And does your perpetual rage mean you don’t have a new boyfriend yet?”
“I’m a worldly, worldly cynic.” I replied, the stormcloud over my head finally passing over, and leaving amusement in its wake, “And if you must know, my new boyfriend is a donkey.”
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.