Friday, July 1, 2022


Sometimes, the news just makes me chuckle. Earlier last month, New York’s highest court ruled that an elephant named Happy living in the Bronx Zoo is in fact an elephant — not a person. Why did the Court of Appeals consider such a bizarre claim? Maybe the judges wanted to put an end to the Nonhuman Rights Project’s various attempts to establish “legal personhood” for “great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.” 

After all, without some adult supervision you can count on their list expanding to cover your cat, dog and every barnyard animal. As Ingrid Newkirk, the CEO of PETA has expressed, “[a] rat is a pig is a boy.” Translation: We are all the same.

It’s reminiscent of a 2010 case brought against an amateur fisherman in Switzerland for, wait for it, fishing. And no, the crime wasn’t anything to do with lacking the proper paperwork. Animal lawyer Antoine Goetschel alleged animal cruelty because it took 10 minutes for a 22-pound pike to be reeled in. The fish, which had already been eaten prior to having his/her day in court, lost its case. 

You may find all of this hard to believe. But, as the Red Queen said to Alice, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Apparently life does imitate art.

And those impossible beliefs are now running through our nation’s law schools. In 2000, the Animal Legal Defense Fund — a group with the mission of “filing high-impact lawsuits to protect animals” — had 12 student chapters. Today, there are nearly 200. These aspiring lawyers will need clients who can’t adequately defend themselves. Expect new petitions and cases seeking to empty local zoos and aquariums. A future may embrace “support fish” on airplanes.

This irrational thinking is not limited to campaigns for animal personhood. Narratives are continuously woven to manipulate perceptions that translate to concrete policy changes — many times without any evidence to back it up. And if we just shrug our shoulders every time the goalposts move, eventually we’ll wake up in a society where up and down have been flipped.

Our national obsession with alcohol policy is a current example of proffered narratives disconnected from reality. Everyone agrees that drunk driving is a selfish behavior. It’s a sentiment that current laws mirror. 

But, the narrative is changing. It’s no longer “drunk driving” that’s bad, but the conveniently undefined behavior of “impaired driving.” And that has been translated into as little as one drink.

State legislators are being hounded to pass laws that will put many in jail for consuming little more than a glass of wine prior to driving. While you reflect on that, consider that talking on a hands-free cell phone has been found to create far more impairment for most people than a drink or two. Other studies suggest driving while over the age of 65 is more dangerous. It’s another slow creep towards an insidious change that is allowed to happen when the alcohol policy termites are quietly undermining norms without any more support than their own emotion-driven agendas.

Labor unions provide more fodder to consider.

Labor unions regularly go to bat for general election reforms that empower people at the voting booth. The secret ballot is “Exhibit A” for our democratic process, which is alien in the many corrupt regimes around the world. When convenient, labor unions — along with the current crop of House and Senate Democrats — agree with the sanctity of the private vote. That is until it doesn’t fit their private agenda.

Encapsulated in the misnamed Protecting the Right to Organize Act, labor unions and their allies are nearly 100% aligned with trashing a worker’s right to a secret ballot vote when a workplace is being unionized. Instead, the paragons of virtue and friends of the “working man” support replacing a secret ballot with a voting system more likely found in North Korea or Cuba.

The target list for agenda-driven interest groups appears limitless. The grievance lobby has made a business out of declaring mini-wars over the many aspects of our lives we take for granted. And it’s hard to win a permanent victory against an opponent that despite occasional losses optimistically believes they just haven’t won yet. If you’ve never been formally introduced to this dynamic, welcome to endless war.    

• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington.

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