Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 385, September 17, 2006

"Libertarians are happy to have a dialog, even if people don't agree."


Cruel Precedent
by Lady Liberty

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

For the last week or so, I've been obsessed with a couple of books. It's not that I'm not usually obsessed with reading because I am, but rather that these books have particularly occupied my mind and affected my emotions even despite the fact they're not at all my typical favored reading material. The truth is that it's a little odd that I'd ever buy such books as these in the first place. But here's how that happened:

I was spending my lunch hour one day in a nearby thrift store (for those of you who don't know or who are "above" thrift store shopping, I'll tell you now that, if you're willing to spend the time, thrift stores can be a treasure trove of everything from antiques to inexpensive text and reference books to designer clothing—often still bearing their original price tags). During a quick perusal of the books for sale (you can't minimize the temptation of hardcovers at 50 cents a pop!), one book stuck out solely because of the cover illustration which was that of a pretty white cat.

As it happens, I live with a pretty white cat myself (named—all too appropriately—Kitten Kaboodle), so I pulled the book off the shelf and took a quick look. The description offered inside the front flap advised that it was an omnibus collection of three previously published books, and that each of the books featured a white cat named Polar Bear. I flipped the pages to the first chapter of the first book and read a couple of pages. As the author began to tell the tale of a wild cat rescued from the streets of New York on Christmas Eve, I smiled remembering my own rescue of Kaboodle on a sunny August day last summer. A few pages later, I actually laughed aloud in the store as the author continued with the insane process of getting his new charge to settle in.

It still wasn't my usual type of book, but let's face it: I've been reading some depressing non-fiction as well as some pretty scary fiction of late (if you haven't yet read Matthew Bracken's wonderful sequel to Enemies Foreign and Domestic entitled Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista, I recommend it highly), and I needed a little bit of a break. Besides, the book was 50 cents and it had that pretty white cat on the cover! I pulled two quarters out of my purse and took the book.

In short order, I was utterly fascinated both with the story of the cat and with the author's other friends. Cleveland Amory is a man I'd never heard of, but many of you probably have. Aside from being a noted humorist, he was also very much a mover and shaker in the early days of the animal rights movement. And when I say mover and shaker, I'm not kidding. Amory didn't stop with rescuing a little white cat from a cold alley on Christmas Eve, 1977. No, he actively assisted those who snuck onto Arctic ice in the dead of night to paint baby seals with vegetable dye so their pelts would have no value and they wouldn't be clubbed to death. He knew of—and tacitly condoned—the ramming of whale killing pirate ships.

Now while his politics involving animals can't be termed anything but extreme, he made an entirely valid point throughout the three novels he wrote about Polar Bear, and that is this: Deliberate cruelty isn't a good thing. He may have drawn the line in a different place than you or I would, but the point remains, and after some of the stories he told, my own line inched a little more towards his. (Important note for hunters: Please don't send nasty letters. I do not, as Mr. Amory did, oppose all hunting.)

Like I said, I rescued Kaboodle last summer. I found her wandering lost and nearly starved to death along a very busy local highway. Several people tried to approach her and she ran away. I merely spoke to her, and she literally leaped into my arms. I'm not sure why—maybe it was my voice, or maybe she recognized the scent of my other cats on my clothing and hoped that meant I was a cat lover—but once I was holding the shivering little creature, I couldn't let her go.

I took her home with me and nursed her through ears that were so badly sunburned the top half of them was literally crispy (I thought she'd lose at least the tips, but she miraculously kept the whole ears); an upper respiratory infection that required that I sit with her under a steam tent most of the night, put hot compresses on her nose, give her antibiotics, and keep her warm; the unsurprising flea infestation she'd acquired; and careful nutrition to ensure she didn't make herself sick trying to make up for all those days she obviously hadn't eaten at all.

I spoke with some employees at a nearby business later on, and they shook their heads when I told them about Kaboodle. "Oh, I know," said one woman. "People drop off kittens here all the time."

Cleveland Amory was, among many other things, the co-founder of the United States Humane Society. While this group draws its line on some aspects of animal rights much further to the left than I would, it does do some very good work particularly where companion animal rescues are concerned. It also has parleyed its knowledge of animal cruelty into something that's quite applicable to people.

It seems that those who abuse animals are statistically very likely to escalate into abusing other people, often children. In some parts of the country, trained Humane Society representatives accompany social workers on calls involving reports of abuse. While the social worker interviews the family and takes a look at the children, the animal expert pays a visit to the family pets. In an overwhelming number of cases, if the dog (or cat or pony) is abused, so are the children.

The reasoning here is quite obvious. In order to hurt someone, you need to have control over them. Hurting animals, especially small ones, is the place to start since they're easy to restrain even if you're not so big yourself (many of the worst abusers do, in fact, start out as children). There's no question whatsoever that these animals feel both fear and pain much the same way that people do (cats, in fact, have been used in medical experiments involving pain and brain injuries specifically because their brains and nervous systems so mimic that of human anatomy), and for some sick reason, this gives some people a real sense of power.

Of course, once you've vivisected a squirrel (that's where Jeffrey Dahmer started) or thrown kittens into a frying pan filled with hot grease (as a man in New York did a couple of weeks ago), you up the ante for your "thrill." And if you can stand there and enjoy an animal screaming and bleeding, how much more of a sense of power would it give some of these perverted people to hear and see the same from a child? From a woman? From anyone?

The point here isn't just that of animal cruelty (though frankly that's bad enough) or of child abuse (which is even worse). It is, instead, the precedent that's set. No matter how awful you or I might think something is, if we start small and work our way up, it's possible to inoculate ourselves against our horror (though in all fairness, there's a line the vast majority of sane people won't cross no matter the rationale or the provocation). It works even better if we don't know we're being desensitized.

That's how government abuses work. They start small. They start with an excuse that many of us are willing to buy. And then, as the public is desensitized, the abuses are gradually increased. By the time we realize the level of the abuse to which we're being subjected, it's too late for us to have nipped it in the bud. In fact, it's often too late to do much at all. But just as one kitten can be rescued, so can one gun owner. Just as one dog can be saved, so can one property owner. Precedents can be set in the opposite direction.

For example, many states (my own included) are upping the seriousness of animal cruelty as a crime. Part and parcel of that decision making process has been the fact that it all too often sets the precedent for further and even more horrific cruelties to animals and to people (though I freely admit I don't honestly care about the likely escalation—I'm all for punishing severely anybody who cuts the feet off a living kitten to feed to his snake as an Ohio man did a few years ago).

In much the same way, years of economic development rhetoric and greed led directly to the Supreme Court's lamentable decision in the case of Kelo v. The City of New London. That ruling dealt a real blow to property rights. But another precedent has been set via a federal court decision out of Cincinnati, Ohio which effectively nullifies the Kelo argument. The decision by residents of Northwood to continue their fight was bolstered by the Kelo miscarriage of justice, so proving that even bad precedents can be good if they're used as motivation.

The gradual implementation of some 22,000 gun laws relies almost entirely on the notion of precedent and slow escalation. Yet there's beginning to be a backlash there, too. In fact, the defeat of a California measure intended to require microstamping of bullets fired by handguns came about not only because gun advocates fought it but because they were joined by rank-and-file police officers who opened their eyes and saw that the precedent would actually cause more harm than it would help. The 15 states (to date) that have passed various forms of "stand your ground" laws are also a pretty good indicator that we're beginning to see just what "slippery slope" means even as more of us recognize the concept of "unalienable" rights.

The inroads made into the Fourth Amendment thanks to the War on Terror are finally slowing a little as the general public is at long last waking up to some of the very real effects rendered on their own liberties. It seems no one wanted to object when terrorists were surveilled, but when we learned that we were all being surveilled just in case there were terrorists among us, well, that was too much. And good for us for suing phone companies for violating privacy policies, and for refusing to release library information without a warrant!

At the same time, though, we ought to remember that these troubles were largely caused by those of us who ignored the ongoing precedents being set by the War on Drugs and the overweening monitoring of anyone so much as accused of being a sexual predator let alone labeled as one (I'm as opposed to sexual assault as anybody—I'm a woman who's been sexually assaulted, for heaven's sake!—but labeling an 18 year-old a predator because he has consensual sex with his 16 year-old girlfriend is ridiculous). And now the precedents set are encouraging officials to suggest that DNA samples be taken from everyone who happens to get arrested, never mind charged or convicted!

Maybe the worst thing of all—and the most disheartening parallel—is this: People drop off kittens because they don't want the responsibility of caring for them or finding them homes (or heaven forbid actually stepping up to have mama cat spayed ). And the very minor responsibility of placing a "free kittens" ad in the newspaper pales in comparison to the responsibility we must take on ourselves to exercise real freedom.

George Bernard Shaw said that, "Liberty requires responsibility. That is why most men dread it." When I first read that quote, I honestly didn't understand it. Who wouldn't want freedom? Who wouldn't want responsibility for themselves—to make their own decisions, to live as they see fit, to raise their children and maintain their property as they consider most appropriate, and to have the means to effectively defend all that from those who would steal it?

But when I consider the kind of person who would repeatedly hit a dog in the face (a man in New Hampshire did so in August to illustrate what he'd like to do to his wife's mother), and the people who pushed an eight or ten-week old Kaboodle out of a car to live or die on her own, well, I'm starting to get it. When somebody doesn't bother to control his anger enough that he can't stop himself from being physically abusive and making threats; when somebody would hurt or leave to die a living creature solely for their own convenience, well, it makes perfect sense that they'd be happy to relinquish the control they're not using to somebody else. Unfortunately, that somebody else is the government, and they're ready to pick up and run with whatever we let go.

The only way that abusers of any kind can be stopped is to actually take action to stop them, and sooner rather than later. Tougher animal cruelty laws are a good start where animal abusers are concerned, and that some will thus be prevented from working their way up to children or other human beings is some very sweet icing on the cake. With that precedent to go on, we now we need to ensure that there are tough repercussions as well for those who would deny their oaths to uphold the Constitution and who instead abuse our liberties with the single mindedness of the man in California who, in an altercation with another driver, grabbed her little dog and threw it into oncoming traffic.

In that California case, the dog died; the man was utterly vilified. Vilification is, it seems, the least we can do with those who would kill our freedom. But we can do better than that. We can vote them out of office. We can impeach those who aren't due to be replaced in the immediate future. We can refuse to elect those who've shown in their previous offices or jobs a tendency toward abuse.

We can even make a point of imprisoning those whose abuses result in the demonstrable loss of property or liberty of others—after all, taking someone's freedom can also be defined as "kidnapping" or "slavery," both of which are crimes and for which there are significant punishments already on the books; taking someone's property is called "burglary" or "robbery," both of which are also illegal. We can, in short, refuse to tolerate the theft of our liberties, and can even step up to engage in precedents that will restore some of those liberties back to us.

Conversely, we can just let it go. But if we choose to abrogate our responsibilities, there's a very good chance that, as with all other abusers, the abuse will escalate. And the truth is, we don't have a whole lot of freedom left to abuse. When that's gone, we can only imagine what comes after that. The one certainty is that it won't be anywhere near as warm and fuzzy as my pretty little white cat.

Now available: Eternal Vigilance: The Best of Lady Liberty 2002-2004 Exclusively from Visit today for news, commentary, and a patriotic goodie shoppe.
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