Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, February 11, 2005

"Wear Your Own Fur"

I lack the energy to get worked up about fur-as-accessory. The truth is, there's a food chain on this planet, we're at the top of it, and we can be as indulgent with that power as other organisms are. Granted, we are blessed as a species with the (putative) ability to take the long view, and so you will find me arguing strenuously, at least occasionally, that responsible stewardship of this planet requires restraint, the devising of sensible empirically justifiable solutions (reality-based, anyone?) to problems of biodiversity, and so on. Cruelty, though? -- we all die, every last one of us, every creature, all of us. And none of us really gets to choose when, either. Why should a chinchilla be granted a natural death when such isn't guaranteed to anyone else?

I should jump in here and note that I've been a vegetarian since childhood. I should also note that I eat eggs, dairy, and seafood, though this wasn't always the case. And no, I don't think seafood is really any different than beef, from a moral point of view, though dairy and eggs trouble me less (insofar as I favor on policy grounds if no others the preservation of abortion rights). My vegetarianism, all of this is to say, is not morally based but more a matter of early childhood habit and a subsequent filling in of blanks regarding the health benefits of staying as far away from red meat as is humanly possible.

All of that said, I do have a less principled objection to the wearing of fur: I think it crude.

Today, I was standing on the corner when a woman walked by in a hip-length brindle fur coat that seemed to me unusually shaggy. Perhaps it was fox; regardless, it was significantly longer fur than that found on most fur coats I see or have seen. It was also undoubtedly real. You simply can't simulate that sheen, that fine coloring and movement.

And that's what got me: this fur, of unusual length, was being blown on this woman's back in ripples like those that course through grain fields, brindle waves of grain. And as I stared, the downtown foot and automobile and bicycle traffic melted away, the noise faded, and for just a moment I was looking at some animal's pelt. I was troubled, troubled terribly, that this woman should wear something so utterly not of her -- so obviosly of another (formerly) living thing -- as though it were her(s). Worse than crude, it was an affront to the natural order, though, again, not specifically due to any cruelty visited upon animals in connection with their inevitable deaths.

It was an odd response, in light of my fairly steady conviction that pretty much every animal on this earth kills other animals, and we're really no different, nor need we be. I do not object to hunters who eat their kill, and I do not object to meat eaters who are prepared to kill what they eat (of course, I don't expect anyone to actually do so on a daily basis, but it's the sort of bluff an honest carnivore ought to be prepared to call, and that is a conviction grounded on moral principles). I think sport hunters are wasteful and obnoxious, and I think there's a disingenuousness in enjoying the spoils of a task one finds too unpleasant to perform, but my responses even to these phenomena are fairly moderate, at least up to the point where such behavior threatens extinction, which, while sometimes inevitable, is nothing we need to actively encourage by self-consciously destructive behavior.

Just the same, while we are not outside the food chain, we are nevertheless beings fundamentally more sentient than most or all of those that we kill. I believe our knowledge of mortality burdens us with a responsibility to consider the gravity of our actions and their consequences both in micro- and macrocosm.

How this woman would react if she were confronted, say at a zoo, by a fox possessed of a coat like her own. Would she coo, involuntarily or calculatedly for the benefit of her children or grandchildren, at how cute he was? Would she compliment his coat. Would it even dawn on her that her coat is comprised of bits and pieces of several such pelts, carefully matched after being relieved of the still-warm flesh of their original owners. Given the choice, would she prefer to kill the animals herself, or pay the thousands of dollars she or somebody else paid someone else to do it?

Maybe what irked me today is that I tend to dislike most manifestations of ostentation. Or maybe it's that mink coats, for example, resemble the coat of no animal I regularly encounter. Today's coat, however, was noticeably canine. It shivered and bowed in the breeze in roving crescents just like an attentive husky's might as he stood on stiff forepaws in a pine forest, nose held high, sniffing the breeze for a trace of dog, of a felled carcass transformed to carrion, or of nothing at all but the robust and variegated scent of the world itself.

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