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Hopi Smothering of Eaglets

Someone named Ron Reinholdson wrote a letter to the LA Times condemning the Hopi religious practice of smothering eaglets. I wrote the following letter in response:

I trust reader Ron Reinholdson is a vegetarian. How is the Hopis' smothering a few eaglets (reverentially, I might add) crueler than our slaughtering millions of animals for food and clothing?

Rob Schmidt

The debate begins
One correspondent's response to this exchange:

>> The person objecting may well *be* a vegetarian. <<

I figured he was. That's why I phrased it the way I did. But I think his sense of proportion is off if he paints the Hopis as "crueler" than the rest of the world. With their modest take of eaglets, they're actually less cruel than anyone except pure vegetarians.

>> The smothering of a live, conscious being for a reason that isn't even sustenance is beyond bullshit. <<

Even the purest vegetarians swat flies or get vaccinations to kill harmful bacteria. I'm not sure how we prove an eaglet is "conscious" but a fly or bacterium isn't. Many vegetarians also support abortion, and I'm definitely not prepared to say an eaglet is more conscious than a human fetus.

>> The taking of life for any reason other than immediate survival or self-defense is fucking inexcusable in this day <<

The Hopis might say it is for their immediate survival. If they don't enact their ceremonies as mandated by their gods, the rain won't come and they'll perish (or lose everything dear to them).

>> we have all been around long enough to know better. <<

Uncounted generations of indigenous people have killed animals while "honoring" them, in their worldview. One could argue that they were closer to paradise than we are. If you don't buy that, you must admit they survived a lot longer than modern civilization has—at least so far.

I'm not arguing they're right, but I see their point of view. In my point of view, there are gradations of consciousness. Humans come first, then whales and chimps and human fetuses, then cows and chickens and eaglets, then fish and other slimy things, then flies and other creepy crawlers, and finally bacteria and viruses.

Traditional Indians would say plants, rocks, and clouds have spirits, too. And who's to say they're wrong?

The debate grows tense (3/27/00)....
It's that time again. <g>

To address your last points first:

>> In *my* opinion, I have stated to you several times now that my beliefs about the rights of animals to live, regardless of their use to humans so long as they are not actively *threatening* humans, go way beyond the casual. <<

As does my commitment to recognizing other cultures' perspectives as valid rather than imposing our cultural standards on them. As do the Hopis' reasons for smothering eaglets.

I'll argue till my dying breath that all cultural practices have their own validity. As long as they don't violate the universal standard of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, that is. Which, in my opinion, applies to the mutilation of human genitalia but not to the ceremonial killing of eaglets.

>> I seem to be communicating very poorly to you that I *don't* enjoy these discussions (or, if I am communicating this effectively, that you don't care). <<

I "don't care" to the point that I'm not willing to let you contradict me without responding. It takes two to discuss, debate, or whatever you want to call it. If you don't enjoy this activity, I urge you not to respond to this message. Don't blame me when you respond and I respond back.

Let's recap: I originally wrote a letter to the editor about the Hopi, not an attack directed at you. You were free to ignore it. Instead, you challenged my position, not the other way around. So take responsibility for your half of the discussion, please.

>> I don't expect you to *share* my beliefs, but you don't seem to respect that I *have* them. <<

I respect them or I wouldn't be discussing them. As I think I told you, I'm almost a practicing vegetarian, so I have great respect for the vegetarian, pro-animal, pro-PETA position.

But as I recall, you basically implied the Hopi were murderers. As I recall, I disputed that without similarly castigating your views. So who's disrespecting whose views here? Do you respect the Hopi religion, which has been around a lot longer than most vegetarian beliefs and practices? Do you think I respect your views less than you respect theirs?

>> I feel as though you are trying to provoke a response for the sake of provoking a response, not because you have genuine interest in/concern for anything I have to communicate <<

You may feel that, but I don't know why you feel that. I've addressed all your arguments seriously and at length, and my counter-arguments are at least as serious as yours. If I'd wanted to insult or dismiss your beliefs, believe me, I could've. And you'd have known in an instant that I didn't take your views seriously.

Since you noted my commitment to PEACE PARTY, please note that I probably have more pages devoted to one comic book than anyone else in existence. I may have more pages devoted to my theme, the need for a multicultural perspective, than anyone else, too. The point is that my commitment is dead serious, judging by the time and effort I've put into the site. I'm not expending all that energy just to get my jollies "provoking" people.

>> Being abused does not mean that one does not then turn around and commit abuse (indeed, the opposite is all too often the case). <<

We can agree there. But your claim that killing animals for a reason is "abuse" is an emotional label, not a logical argument. In my opinion, of course.

>> Do I think the Hopis have been fucked by the Europeans? Yup. Do I think that the meat/leather/biomedical industry engages in horrendous practices? <<

We can agree there too.

>> Do I think this entitles the Hopis to then go out and take life? No, no more than I believe the religious believes of some African and Arabic people entitle them to practice female genital mutilation. <<

Short answer: Eaglets aren't people. (And bacteria aren't eaglets...and trees aren't bacteria....)

>> Presumably, the Hopis have noticed that (a) the weather tends to eventually get around to doing what it's going to do with or without blood sacrifice <<

Christians the world over may have noticed that things eventually happen whether they pray to God or not. Not too many people are calling for an end to Christianity on that basis.

You're basically saying the Hopis' religious values should play second-fiddle to the values of PETA and like-minded people. My point is that both value systems are arbitrary. Unfortunately for PETA, the First Amendment puts religion ahead of other arbitrary value systems, at least in America. As long as religion doesn't hurt people.

Swatting a fly = self-defense?
>> A fly or a bacterium getting onto your skin actually *is* assaulting you, even if unintentionally; there is a reasonable chance that it will affect your health if left unaddressed. <<

So if they're on your skin or inside you, it's okay to kill them in self-defense. What if they're minding their own business in mid-air or on a wall nearby? That would rule out a lot of fly-swatting, air-freshening, and food-refrigerating, I think—all of which are cases of our killing living creatures while they mind their own business.

In fact, every time you breathe or take a step, you're probably killing millions of innocent bacteria, all with their own little consciousnesses. If you consider this a facetious argument, I assure you it isn't.

Everyone ranks living species by some criteria, whether they recognize it or not. In particular, it's implicit in every human life that one person is better than an infinite number of bacteria. If people didn't feel this way, they'd commit suicide rather than kill countless millions so they could live.

>> This is rather different than going after a wild creature which is simply ignoring you and having no impact whatsoever on you by its continued existence <<

It's not that different, as the above examples show.

>> I also get rather aggravated by the continued presumption by both individuals and journalists (I have moments of wanting to throw the Times across the room) that anyone who has concerns for animals is a hypocrite on some level. <<

Yes, I've noticed that the Times, or at least certain Times columnists, have been tough on PETA recently. While I obviously don't agree with the "all living creatures are equal" position, I also don't agree with the "PETA can be obnoxious, therefore let's wear fur" position. Talk about your morally challenged arguments.

>> Anybody who has *any* sort of moral standards generally doesn't always live up to them — does this mean nobody should even bother trying to live by any sort of ethical standard? <<

No, of course not. But I think we're talking about telling others what ethical standards to live by. In that case...yes, I'd say you'd better not have any flaws or loopholes in your belief system before you go recommending it to others.

>> An eaglet is less conscious than a human fetus at what stage of development? <<

Are you sure you don't want to debate this? It sure looks like you do. <g>

I don't know that much about eaglet and fetus consciousness. I'm guessing the eaglet starts off more conscious but, at some point, the fetus surpasses it. I'm also guessing that abortion remains legal long past the point where the fetus surpasses the eaglet. (We're not talking about full-grown eagles, mind you, which might be more conscious than a fetus or even a new-born infant.)

>> Before 10 weeks, there is no brain activity in a human fetus. <<

And after 10 weeks? That still leaves some 26-27 weeks until birth. Abortion remains legal for all or most of that period.

If you don't want to debate this subject anymore, please don't. I'm not forcing you to. But I'm curious what your position on abortion is. Judging from the above, you'd support abortion only in the first 10 weeks, when the fetus supposedly has no consciousness. Is that right?


More on killing eagles
Debating eagle permits
Let Indians kill eagles?

Related links
Uncivilized Indians
"Primitive" Indian religion
Dennis Prager and The Ecological Indian

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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