Letter: Woolly thinking on sheep welfare

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The Independent Online
Sir: Angela Lambert targets people who object to the transportation of live sheep on British Airways planes to the Middle East, for purposes of ritual slaughter ('Barmy bleating about sheep', 17 August). Insofar as a coherent argument can be disentangled from her emotive cliches, it is that the horrific human tragedy of Rwanda renders nugatory any concern for the welfare of sheep.

'How is it possible, in a world that contains the catastrophe of Rwanda, for people to get so steamed up about the plight of sheep?' But you cannot argue for the unimportance of one thing, merely pointing to the great importance of something else.

Citing the Lambert precedent, a barrister might as well say: 'I freely concede that my client drove the wrong way up the M1 while dangerously drunk. But M'lud, how is it possible to get so steamed up about this matter in a world that contains Rwanda?' No doubt Angela Lambert has made a modest financial contribution to Rwandan refugees, but how is it possible for her to give anything less than her entire fortune? By not doing so, she is rightly conceding that her own welfare counts for something 'in a world that contains the catastrophe of Rwanda'.

Nobody said that the sheep were as important as the people of Rwanda. They merely said that they were of greater than zero importance. What is so self-evidently barmy about that?

Angela Lambert assumes that anybody who cares about sheep therefore cannot care about humans. That is illogical. You might as well say that anybody who cares about the Three Graces therefore does not care about Lincoln Cathedral.

Actually, although I'd need to look at the statistical evidence, I suspect that the kind of people who are compassionate enough to care about suffering in sheep are also the kind of people who are most likely to care about suffering in humans.

Yours faithfully,

RICHARD DAWKINS

Oxford

18 August

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