Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life Held Cheap

This past week Alaskans—some of us, anyway—were revolted by three news stories about senseless killing.

The first was the destruction of twenty-eight wolves on the Alaska Peninsula as part of a predator control program, a program which is not only short-sighted but ignores research from Canada that suggests that instead of shooting predators, stopping hunting and letting nature take its course will not only replenish stocks but result in more trophy animals.

As Jenny Pursell noted in her letter to the Juneau Empire, on Monday, July 28, fourteen of the wolves, adults, were shot from the air. Of course they had pups. And each pup was pulled from the den and shot in the head.

(It should be noted here that no one has ever been allowed to film the airborne carnage: every pilot who was asked if he'd carry a film crew responded that he didn't dare for fear of losing his license or contracts. Twice Alaskans have rejected this sickening practice at the polls; we will reject it again in August.)

The second story comes from Point Hope, the northwestern-most corner of the North American continent, where life really is on the edge, and subsistence hunting can mean the difference between getting by and abandoning the village. Among subsistence hunters, every scrap of what is killed is used. In violation of this sacred trust, villagers were outraged by the sight of at least one hundred and twenty caribou that had been shot and left to rot over a forty-mile area [Anchorage Daily News].

The third story was the shooting of churchgoers in Tennessee because the gunman hated the liberal views of the congregation, especially as regards gay people.

These days it seems that many Americans' first reaction to irritating problems is to kill. It is as true of us as a nation as individuals. The present Administration thinks nothing of destroying tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives in a war that is based on a lie.

Even before this war began, in the eyes of much of the world we are considered barbaric on account of our use of the death penalty, which makes us just as guilty as the criminal each time someone is executed in our names, individually and collectively.

The media we produce, especially films and computer games, reinforce a Rambo-like mentality. When in doubt, kill. Need a little action? Kill. Been dissed on the street? Kill. Fed up with liberalism? Kill. Don't want to wait for nature to take its course? Kill. Don't like the government of another country? Kill. Want to know whom to elect governor? Go with the lady who killed the big caribou and cynically used the photo in her election campaign.

Do we now think that the most exalted meaning of what it is to be human is to kill? Are we now so isolated from each other and from the complex web of nature that we no longer have any sense of empathy with each other or the environment in which we live?

What now do we regard as "civilizing" influences? The so-called "right" of each individual to bear arms inflicted on us by a Rambo-court that chose to ignore decades of precedent? Does this decision imply the right to kill?

In an age when we now have to legislate what used to be considered basic human decency, do we even know or care any longer what "civilized" means?

As a country, as a state, as individuals we need to ask ourselves some very hard and basic questions about why we hold life so cheap, not only the lives of animals and people we disagree with, but our own lives that seem far too often to be driven only by greed and "having fun," usually at someone else's expense. Whatever happened to integrity and respect, especially self-respect?

What are we going to do when global warming really starts to bite? Survivalists are ready to kill. Will we be reduced to rending one another like rabid dogs?

The news this past week does not offer much in the way of hope for any other outcome.


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