Two animal stories, one national and one local, show the utter thoughtlessness of the American lifestyle. Gator attacks in Florida have experienced a sudden and precipitous increase in recent days as new developments have pushed into formerly wild areas. And new residents in many suburban Salt Lake City developments are complaining heavily about vol (small outdoor rodent) “infestation.”
Now I’m not usually one to go on and on proactively about animal rights issues, nor is it anything new that the people who have moved to where the polar bears are will shoot them. But to me the fact that entire organizations of people are deploying man-hours by the hundred to try to eliminate the alligators and the vols in these areas, and that news organizations run these stories about “menaces” that need to be eliminated speaks to the same American thoughlessness that leads us into Iraq on the war front and to disasters like Bhopal on the commerce front.
It’s not about the animals, it’s about Americans feeling as though they should be able to get what they want as a matter of rights. If this property isn’t mine but I want it, I should be able to pay someone to make it mine. If I pay someone to make it mine and there are wild populations of small animals on it that have lived there since time immemorial, I should be able to pay someone to make them go away. The destruction of ecosystem, introduction of poison into the water tables, and need to explain to my children why it’s okay to kill 150,000 burrowing rodents who were there first are not problems. It is the damn animals that are the problems. After all, they’re the ones on my property. “It’s Mothers’ Day,” said the local official in Florida, “and this woman’s life has been snuffed out.” That’s why it’s right to hunt down the gators in response. Because they clearly have no respect for individual rights. Because it was done on Mothers Day, clearly demonstrating the alligator’s lack of respect both for property rights and for an individual’s right to undisturbed holidays. “To anyone who questons what I’m doing,” said the lady with the ‘vol infestation,’ “you’d do the same if they were on your property. It’s only because it’s on my property and not yours that you’re complaining.”
I am an American. Everything I want, not just in property but in basic terms of existence, I should be able to have—at most, I should have to pay a small fee to have it like I like it. Certainly, however, there should be no laws or rules, neither imposed nor even natural, that might disturb my acquisition of property.
That people will build housing developments in the middle of gator populations or entire vast valleys full of vols, that other people still will buy property in these developments knowing full well that animals live there already, that both will actively seek using massive resources to empty these areas of all non-human life after doing so, and finally that the news media will report this as a good thing, a problem in the process of being solved… lays bare a deep, putrid sickness in the American psyche, in capitalism, and in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that still guides the American sensibility and spirit.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re vols, gators, indigenous peoples, political opponents, or even competitors in the marketplace. They can be killed. Not they must be killed, which as the bloodlust that it would characterize might at least grant some dignity to the victim. No, it’s much more banal and amoral than that. They are not even “the other.” They are the not-me. And to an American, whatever is the not-me can be ignored or destroyed at will, not with malice, but with little, if any, thought at all.
I remember being taught this in grade school by at least two teachers. “Worry about yourself,” they said. “Let the others worry about themselves. When everyone is worrying about themself and not anybody else, that’s when everything gets done right.” What a philosophy to teach to a five-year-old! But I look around and I know that this Locke-meets-Smith understanding of the world is much more a backbone of American consciousness than any other ideal.