Dumbo

May 24, 2011
By

The picture to the left is a screenshot from Pat Lynch’s Facebook page on May 17. In response to Pat’s Democrat-Gazette column from May 16, entitled “Arrows Are Flying,” the commenter “Grizz Lee Bear” wrote:

Pat, I was very disappointed to read your column today where you trashed In Defense of Animals. For a minister you showed very little sensitivity to your readers and to the well-justified argument that IDA is making. Your position is uninformed by the current state of knowledge of the intelligence of large mammals like elephants and their highly evolved social structure. IDA’s position is grounded in science; your argument is grounded in a certain selfishness that assumes that animals are placed here on Earth for the entertainment of humans. I’m sure you’re familiar with “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” The great creature deserves to live out its life with its own kind, no longer called on daily to wander around in a tiny space. these are migratory animals! I actually felt embarrassed to read your column. Please educate yourself more on this issue, and please consider apologizing to IDA and your readers for your careless
and callous comments.

As internet disagreements go, this one was far more logical and far less vitriolic than what you might find in 99.99999999% of situations.

It was certainly not the type of thing that most people would use as inspiration for a lede for a follow-up D-G column. But, then, most people are not J. Pat Lynch.

ROLL TAPE!

LITTLE ROCK — Dear anonymous animal rights activist, it was wholly a pleasure to receive your somewhat agitated note concerning my opposition to a group doing business under the name “In Defense of Animals.” This organization is seeking to evict Ellen, the Little Rock Zoo’s elephant.

“Evict”? Really? Here is the letter from IDA to Bruce Moore. In it, IDA suggests two alternate courses of action: If the Little Rock Zoo continues to keep elephants, IDA asks that they develop “a solid plan” and procure “the enormous resources necessary to realize it.” Otherwise, IDA urges the Zoo to “consider phasing out the elephant exhibit, as other zoos have
done, and sending Ellen to a sanctuary.”

I cannot conceive of a definition of “evict” that is, at its heart, as plea that you either drastically improve the life of the tenant in a way that matches what she would see in the wild or, alternatively, you send her some place that would.

Are you always so angry and condescending? All that thunder and lightning poured out on my little Facebook wall can be quite intimidating, especially for those of us not blessed with your superior education and advanced familiarity with the latest scientific principles.

Paragraph 1: Pat calls the comment “somewhat agitated.”
Paragraph 2: Same comment, now “angry” and “condescending.”
Predicted Paragraph 3: Same comment, now “most vile and disgusting thing to ever grace the internet.”

[***]

Now I know how David must have felt before going out to meet Goliath. My goodness, facing somebody who writes in such crisp and well-formed phrases sends shivers up the spine. By the way, dearest critic, do you have a name? That small detail seems to have somehow been omitted from your Facebook profile. Surely one possessed of your advanced credentials must savor lively interaction with academic authorities.

Two things. First, I am guessing that Pat meant to imply (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) that he was nervous or scared of the “advanced credentials.” Except David felt incredibly confident and not the least bit worried when he faced Goliath. You know, what with declining to accept Saul’s armor and taunting ol’ Goliath with “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head.” Making Pat’s reference either some kind of meta trash-talking or simply stupid.

Second, yes, “Grizz Lee Bear” has a name. It is David Orr. Mr. Orr was “anonymous” only to the extent that Pat didn’t click on the profile and see his name. That profile also would have led Pat to Orr’s “real” profile at facebook.com/david.z.orr. Not even checking the profile before you start a smarmy and sarcastic screed based on the statements? That’s top-flight journalism, baby! (Of course, I suppose it’s much easier to tilt against windmills if one doesn’t give the windmills names.)

You must be very famous, and I am certain your true identity is splattered across the bibliographies of many
graduate-level papers. It is an honor to be reprimanded by such an outstanding intellectual.

Had Pat looked at the profile and found David Orr’s name, another 90 seconds on Google would have told Pat that Mr. Orr is a board member for the OMNI Center in Fayetteville and is chair of the Ozark Headwaters Group for the Sierra Club (Arkansas). I can’t say whether Mr. Orr’s name is “splattered across the bibliographies of many graudate-level papers,” but I can say that he’s probably a guy who knows a thing or two about nature and animals and stuff like that.

Here, presented with trembling hands, is the case for Ellen. First, your premise appears to be, in some respects, defective and abusive. You prejudice the discussion by positioning IDA as the possessor of scientific wisdom, while casting my argument as uninformed “selfishness.”

Orr said that IDA’s position was “grounded in science,” which it was, as anyone who reads IDA’s above-linked letter can see.

Orr said that, in contract, Pat’s position was grounded in “certain selfishness that assumes that animals are placed here on Earth for the entertainment of humans.” Considering Pat’s original D-G column, which prompted Orr’s comment, referred to IDA as “vultures, disguised as do-gooders doing business under the name ‘In Defense of Animals,’ [who] came swooping down on our bereaved town with a preposterous proposal that the surviving elephant be relocated to a venue that could only benefit the perpetrators of this scheme,” I think Orr was being charitable.

You freely reference the supposed “highly evolved social structure” of elephants. While one must certainly respect legitimate research, the very nature of the query raises issues concerning how one is to quantify animal intelligence and socialization.

Without making light of your brief statement, it is possible to observe that the supposed scientific measurements of complex human social interaction are subject to various interpretations and alteration over time. That is the essence of making and continuously testing a scientific proposition.

Oh, how very nice of Pat to reference the scientific method. I assume he’ll point us to some scientific studies that support his position now.

[Spoiler alert: He will not.]

If we continue to reevaluate the social transactions of human beings, it is likely that the knowledge of animal social structures is also susceptible to occasional adjustment. How exactly does one reliably measure animal preference and interaction? [***]

While studies of animal behavior can be valuable, and must not be entirely dismissed, it might be useful to take into account the inherent limitations of such inquiries. Furthermore, it is observable that elephants readily interact with one another and humans, but we should be cautious about drawing conclusions filtered by human presumptions.

So … wait. The guy who said just last year that “Marriage is a privileged status for couples who plan to raise children” and “Marriage should be restricted to opposite-gender individuals recognizing the larger purpose of bringing children into this world” now wants to talk about “reevaluat[ing] the social transactions of human beings”? Seriously?

As for the rest, animal preferences are pretty easily measured through observable experimentation (i.e. in situation X, animal Y prefers object/condition Z, N% of the time). Animal interaction can be measured by observation over time, accounting for environmental variables. Are the results of both of these filtered through our human understanding of animals? Sure. But, through “continuously testing [our] scientific proposition,” we can refine our understanding and toss-out hypotheses that no longer fit.

Not to mention, Orr specifically refers to “the current state of knowledge of the intelligence of large mammals like elephants;” he is not talking about a single recent study, but the sum total of what is currently known — through “continuously testing [the] scientific proposition” — about these animals. Point being, Pat has offered nothing that would contradict current scientific knowledge about elephants.

Elephants are to be respected for their unique physical qualities and their willingness to cooperate with people. Nonetheless, any suggestion that Ellen will benefit by being moved to a so-called “sanctuary,” demands close scrutiny.

Indeed. Thankfully, the scientific method, which Pat so helpfully referenced earlier, provides this scrutiny and allows us to apply scientifically-gained knowledge to the instant situation.

In Defense of Animals presumes that there will be no emotional harm caused by removing a 60-year-old animal from a home it has enjoyed for the past 57 years. This seems to conflict with any presumed concern for the creature’s well being.

OH, I see: Pat meant that any claim by people who understand animals that Ellen would be better off “demands close scrutiny” from Pat Lynch. Because, heck, basing the suggestions about Ellen’s well-being on what scientists know about elephants as a whole is far less instructive than asking ourselves what an old newspaper writer thinks about the proposal.

While we should generally resist the tendency to humanize animal behaviors and motivations, it may be appropriate to ask how you would feel about being wrenched from a familiar environment, and trusted companions, after more than five decades.

No, it would not be even slightly appropriate or relevant. This is akin to saying “fish would probably like to be rescued from the water because I know that I would like to be rescued from the water if I was down there that long” or “I don’t think I would feel good hanging upside down in a cave for hours, so we should probably keep bats from doing that.” I seriously hope Pat knows that he is making a strawman here and that he does not honestly believe this.

The IDA position seems to presume that there is no physical or psychological risk in loading up this giant animal in the back of a truck and hauling it along the highways. One may logically wonder what exactly motivates IDA.

Question 1: If we assume that, were the LR Zoo to keep Ellen, it would have to bring in a second elephant, how does Pat think that these new elephants would arrive at the LR Zoo?

Question 2: Why is trucking elephants TO the Zoo, where they will live in a space that is less-than-ideal for them, acceptable, while trucking them away from the zoo to a better (for the elephant) locale unacceptable?

A quick check of Google will show you that this international not-for-profit corporation is against just about every zoo. Their procedure is to go after any facility which has lost an elephant by death, as is the case in Little Rock, or any place where there has been an incident. The immediate goal of IDA seems to be gaining a monopoly on elephants and locating all of them in a limited number of so-called “sanctuaries.”

Pat is willing to Google IDA, but he was not willing to click on Orr’s profile and Google Orr’s name? That seems … odd.

Even more odd, however, is why Pat felt the need to pervert what he’d found in his “quick check of Google” and make IDA seem like some sort of Cruella De Vil-led enterprise. From their website: “Our mission is to end animal exploitation, cruelty, and abuse by protecting and advocating for the rights, welfare, and habitats of animals, as well as to raise their status beyond mere property, commodities, or things.” So, yeah, they are probably going to be anti-zoo, and, yeah, zoos that have had deaths (which tend to raise public awareness of the zoo) or incidents are probably going to be big on IDA’s radar. That doesn’t make them evil, nor does it mean that they are trying to create a “monopoly on elephants.”

Hell, even Jane Goodall thinks IDA is doing something positive, writing: Congratulations on the long years of hard work that have led to the closing of the infamous Coulston labs and the liberation of the chimpanzees and monkeys who have suffered so horribly.

Human history is full of inspiring stores of those who achieved the impossible. Those of us who believe in the intrinsic worth of each chimpanzee, each monkey, can take heart as we celebrate the inspiring victory of IDA.

(Also, just an observation, but putting “so-called” in front of “sanctuaries” does not change whether they actually are sanctuaries. As a so-called journalist, Pat should know this.)

[***]

There is nothing “selfish” in the suggestion that Ellen should remain in her home, where she takes daily walks and is joyfully observed by awestruck children and adults. If that is “entertainment,” then so be it.

Self-ish, adj,: Lacking consideration for others.

I’m pretty sure that keeping an animal in a captive state that is far less conducive to her health and well-being than a life on a sanctuary would be so that people can look at her shows a lack of consideration for the elephant. Rather than demonstrating some sort of altruism in his position, the ham-fisted statement about “awestruck children and adults” is little more than an appeal to emotion, a logical fallacy that in no way justifies the claim it seeks to support.

For those keeping score at home, the entire argument between Pat and IDA/David Orr comes down to this:

On the one hand, you have a well-respected international animal rights group who is basing their entire argument for moving the elephant on the current state of knowledge about elephants, based on years of scientific study performed by myriad scientists.

On the other, you have an old newspaper man, with no background in zoology or biology or anything else possibly related to elephants, offering up irrelevant, anecdotal arguments and logically flawed assertions.

It’s your call which side you care to believe.

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