Nicholas D. Kristof has the vanity of the absolutely righteous. The New York Times advertises a contest in which the winners accompany its preachy op-ed columnist to the sights of his moral witness. There are never ambiguities in his case studies. But what always falls short are practical remedies. In fact, his remedies are never practical.
Take Darfur. Yes, we know about the genocide. It was he -- I should admit -- and our own Eric Reeves and Richard Just who brought this calamity to our attention. Just and Reeves do not believe the the United Nations is able or, for that matter, willing to do what needs to do be done to stop the killing. After all, China and Russia are structurally empowered to block any constructive moves on the matter by virtue of their veto rights on the Security Council. The Security Council is the graveyard of good intentions in international affairs. What's more: since the Arab states are at best indifferent to (and at worst supportive of) the ongoing racialist assaults on the black people of Sudan, both Muslim and Christian, there is other embedded resistance to concrete action against the genocide. I can't recall whether Kristof has ever noted the overwhelming Arab backing for these heinous deeds. Or, for that matter, and not just by abstention, South Africa's decisive non-involvement in the issue.
And take Kristof's unambiguous siding with the Palestinians against Israel, with the Hamas Palestinians, at that. He relies on the good intentions of the most extreme Palestinians -- who only this past weekend -- started a war against Fatah men in Gaza during which Hamas murdered nine men and injured and maimed roughly 120. Now, Kristof also wants Israel to support Mohammad Abbas and his Fatah flank. But how will Israel negotiating with Hamas strengthen the so-called "moderate" camp among the Arabs of Palestine?
The Times does not require Kristof to make his moral ends meet.
So you can imagine my relief when on Thursday last I noticed in the first sentence of his column, "A Farm Boy Reflects," the phrase "animal rights." Surely, here was a matter that required no high politics to resolve. It is something -- at least at the root -- personal. If you object to the killing of animals you can, as a first step, opt out eating them. If you can't stomach how foie gras is (cruelly) produced you can stop eating...well, foie gras, even if you still eat "a good hamburger," as Kristof admits he does.
But he also eats foie gras. I don't really judge him. He can eat or not eat whatever he wants. But after having written a lurid and wrenching story about the mistreatment of animals by raisers of farm stock you would think he'd take the next logical step. Count himself out of the market.
Very touching his vignette of geese as truly "admirable creatures" in their protection of mates. He believes that pigs are his intellectual equal. So why his indulgence of what he asserts are terrible ways of treating animals?
After all, it's not a matter of protecting the authority of (corrupt and degraded) international institutions. Or not offending the Arabs. Let's admit it: these are strong animating convictions with Kristof.
But animal rights are very different. They don't affect me all that much -- I worry more for live human beings. But apparently they do effect Kristof. An old pal and colleague, a scholar of genocide, doesn't eat any meat. A younger friend, an ethical philosopher, is a vegan My daughter-in-law doesn't even eat eggs. Chacun