The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A TREATISE ON THE RIGHTS OF PLANTS: Now I would prefer not to point fingers here, but there’s a great, yes, even an abyssal, a word I am using here for the first time, even though it's the wrong word to use here, given that I will not be talking about a credibility gap as I originally planned to, but something else entirely, but I like abyssal, so it stays in; I like it because it is both short and polysyllabic, unlike polysyllabic, which is not short, but is definitely polysyllabic in the best sense of the word; (end of digression; thank you for your patience. If you have lost your place, something that is always possible, given the length of these digressions, please start from the last word in this digression from the digression. Ready? Okay, here we go...even a tremendous) double standard at work in American public life. We do not choose to recognize this double standard for fear it will ask us for money or the use of the family car on Saturday night, but whether we recognize it or not, the double standard is there, when it is not next door annoying the neighbors’ dog. On the one hand, society castigates athletes roundly for their use of steroids, and rightfully so, I think; the habitual use of performance enhancing substances compels the average sports fan to wonder if what they are watching at sports venues and on their television sets is the result of training, hard work, and the human desire to excel, or the entirely predictable outcome of ingesting this year’s line of new and improved pharmaceuticals.

The abuse of steroids and other such drugs calls into question the validity of every sports record broken over the past few years, for when one wishes to debate whether Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds was the better home run hitter, Ruth’s supporters can point out that he achieved his record without any help from his pharmacist, unless you include bartenders, hot dog vendors, bookies, tarts, trollops, harlots and strumpets as falling under the rubric of pharmacist; it’s a mental leap, to be sure, and there’s no small amount of cognitive dissonance involved, but you can always scrape the dissonance off your shoes on the welcome mat outside before you come in and track it all over the carpet. And yes, I know about Hank Aaron hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth; I was in the bathroom when Aaron hit number 715; but Aaron’s always lived a clean, upstanding sort of life devoid of drugs, drinking, and the usual causes of scandal, with plenty of exercise and good nutrition, and if I used him as an example then I couldn’t use the words strumpet and trollop in this sentence, as the underlying concept behind those words was more or less obsolete by the time Aaron hit his last home run back in the 1970’s, and I was looking forward to working them in somewhere before the end of this sentence of three to six months in the county jail.

That Major League Baseball, among other professional sports, is finally doing something to restore some credibility to the playing field is belated, to be sure, but welcome nonetheless. This new determination to do something about artificial enhancement in professional sports stands in direct contrast with the widespread attitude of ‘everyone does it so it must be okay’ one finds everywhere in agriculture. There is not a category of fruit and vegetable anywhere in the country that growers, often with the connivance of major agribusiness and chemical companies, have not enhanced using chemicals that would get any athlete caught using them banned from their sport immediately, if not kill them outright. Yet these very same chemical companies routinely boast in television commercials on public television, among other places, which is supposed to be commercial free, but isn’t, not by a long shot, about how their product will turn any plant from arugula to zucchini into a full-blown, oversized, record-breaking, pistil-packing behemoth of botany.

This laissez-faire attitude towards chemical enhancement raises all manner of disturbing questions about modern American society, if you think about it too much. How can the nation’s youth, the future movers and shakers and insurances executives trying to get out of paying off the policies on all that moving and shaking, acquire a decent respect for the principles of fair play and good sportsmanship when 4-H clubs throughout the land encourage the youngsters in their charge to use artificial means to bolster plant growth in order to win blue ribbons? As Napoleon once pointed out, some people will do amazing things just to get a piece of ribbon, but should we in our modern age encourage unethical behavior simply because a short faux Frenchman thought it was a good idea two centuries ago? And this casual attitude towards chemical, and now genetic, alteration of plants bespeaks a dark and disturbing undertone in out attitudes towards plant life in general.

We scream foul when a ballplayer uses a steroid; a few days ago in New York the police arrested a group of men for doping a racehorse, yet no one says anything about the horrors routinely inflicted upon plants. Even the average vegan, one of a group who should take an ethical stand against the abuse of plants, will shout vigorously against genetically modified food and then go straight home and eat organic spinach for supper. The vegan so caught out will proclaim the organic nature of his spinach, but the spinach’s background makes no difference here; organic or not, it is still sacrificed on the altar of human need, often with oil and vinegar or some organic ranch dressing, if there is such a thing. The spinach does not care why the vegan eats it; the vegan’s motivation for eating the spinach is not the point here; the spinach, in its death throes, knows only that the vegan is eating it, and so it perishes in the same state of atavistic horror we would feel watching a great white shark devour our best friend, but not our best friend’s annoying little brother; human solidarity stretches only so far. Obviously the care and loving kindness vegans lavish on animals is not extended to fruits and vegetables, which vegans treat with the same utilitarian ruthlessness that the rest of us treat pigs and cattle, although we treat our fellow flesh-eaters without the snotty self-righteousness that marks the vegan’s relationship with others.

There are few groups in American life more smugly annoying than vegans, always excluding the American Library Association and the editorial board of the New York Times, of course, and having to watch vegans on television always, for me, at any rate, makes me wish I could emulate the woman in the Roald Dahl story who clubs her adulterous husband to death with a frozen leg of lamb and then, after cooking it, serves the evidence to the police officers investigating the husband’s death. If you haven’t ever felt that way then you’re a better person than I am. There’s nothing I can do about vegans except wish they could all perish horribly under a ton of cold cuts, I suppose, but I keep these opinions to myself; we live in a democracy and even herbivores have rights, as long as they have two legs.


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