MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
“The Witness” is an award-winning documentary about personal transformation and caring for animals. Eddie Lama, a streetwise Brooklyn contractor, takes viewers inside his personal odyssey from animal avoider to animal protector — and then to vegetarian and crusader against the cruelties of the fur industry. It all began when a woman he wanted to date asked him to petsit her cat for the weekend.
Eddie Lama is an articulate narrator who speaks from the heart. He tells his story with self-deprecating humor. Mr. Lama’s love for animals radiates from the screen and envelopes the audience. The final scenes show Mr. Lama driving a van, outfitted with a large screen TV, playing video clips of the abuse of animals in the fur industry. He parks the van in front of high fashion New York City stores that sell fur. The scenes of animal abuse and the compassionate reactions of the bystanders are riveting.
“The Witness” is recommended by the American Library Association and has been favorably reviewed in the Library Journal. It has been recommended by officials of the United Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association. See “The Witness” for Teachers and Librarians. Mr. Lama has received the Courage of Conscience Award for his efforts on behalf of animals.
Mr. Lama’s condemnation of the fur industry is consistent with charges made against the industry by mainstream animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: Best Documentary Award, New Jersey International Film Festival, Outstanding Breakthrough Documentary Award, CineWomen New York; Gold Audience Award, (Best of the Festival), Crested Butte Reel Fest; Gold Documentary Award, Crested Butte Reel Fest, Best Documentary Award, Canyonlands Film Festival; Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature, Brooklyn Film Festival; Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, Brooklyn Film Festival, Best Short Film in Animal Advocacy, Artivist Film Festival, 1st Place, Advocacy/Public Policy and Awareness Category, Latham Foundation Search for Excellence Video Awards Program, Pare Lorentz Award Nominee, International Documentary Association For a complete list, see Film Festivals and Awards for “The Witness”.
Featured Subject: Eddie Lama.
Director: Jenny Stein.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“The Witness” is an engrossing story of the capacity for emotional and moral growth that all people possess. This movie is appropriate for English Language Arts classes for two additional reasons: (1) it will drive writing and other skills-based assignments; and (2) it will facilitate critical thinking and self-awareness.
This film is an excellent vehicle for awakening students to the fact that our actions have implications for animals that we need to take into account. This is a generally held value in society and therefore suitable to be taught in public schools, although most people would not give concerns for animals as high a priority as Mr. Lama. See Possible Problems section below.
“The Witness” is also an excellent introduction to the animal rights movement, which gains adherents daily and which is an increasingly vocal part of society’s current debate about ethics. The fur industry provides a convenient and relatively non-controversial topic through which to acquaint students with the basic arguments for animal rights. See Possible Problems section below.
MODERATE. The movie contains a scene briefly showing a skinned carcass of an animal killed for its fur and a few short scenes of animals being brutally killed. Similar incidents occur daily in fur “farms” and animal markets throughout the world. People need to be well informed if they are to make morally correct choices. In a society in which advertisers spend millions trying to convince consumers to buy a coat made of fur or a jacket trimmed with fur, students need to know the consequences of these purchases.
Mr. Lama’s concern for animals has not only caused him to mount a crusade against the fur industry, he also refrains from eating meat and consuming dairy products. When discussing the animal rights aspects of this film, teachers in public schools should not advocate for Mr. Lama’s ideas, no matter how much they might agree with them. (Note that the authors of this Guide do agree with Mr. Lama’s positions and have themselves adopted a vegan lifestyle based on ethical reasons.) Lessons in ethics and morality in public schools should be confined to those on which society has reached a consensus. Ethical veganism is still a minority position, although it gains adherents each year. Most people eat meat and consume dairy products without a thought to the pain and death inherent in the factory farming system. Most people who purchase furs don’t think about the caged lives and horrific deaths of the animals who will be draped across their backs. Moreover, it is generally accepted that ethical considerations in eating and dress are the province of a child’s family.
This is not to say that the arguments of the animal rights movement should not be discussed in schools, public or private. It is a legitimate function for a teacher to expose students to the world in which they live and the discussions about ethics that are taking place in society. Any discussion of vegan or vegetarian ethics or the ethics of wearing fur or making fur clothing should take place within that context. (Note also that there are several factors inherent in the choice of food which argue for eating less meat or no meat at all and which are appropriate for advocacy in public schools because they are based on generally accepted facts and consensus values. These include: (1) personal and public health; (2) the fact that the meat industry is one of the worst polluters on the planet; and (3) consumption of meat contributes to food shortages and starvation. See websites listed below.)
This is an excellent film for increasing a child’s empathy and ethical sensitivity. Consider having discussions with your child based on the Quick Discussion Questions and any of the other Discussion Questions contained in this Guide.
LIFE CHANGING REALIZATIONS
A Few Examples of Life Changing Realizations of Notable People
Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a champion of the abolition movement before the Civil War. His influence was important to Abraham Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. In the passage set out below, Mr. Douglass described an incident that occurred when he was still enslaved that changed his life:
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take [a mile]. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty–to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both. -From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself, By Frederick Douglass, 2001, Yale University Press /Yale Nota Bene, New Haven.
Chris Gardner, the man whose story inspired the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, writes about the fact that he was physically abused and constantly demeaned by his stepfather, a man named Freddie Triplett. The abuse began when Chris was four years old and continued until he left home as a teenager. The stepfather would also brutally beat Chris’ mother. In one incident, when Chris was about six, he was awakened by his young stepsister to find his mother on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. His stepfather had hit her so hard with a two-by-four (yes, a piece of wood) that it was stuck to her head. Yet, caught in the psychological whip-saw that traps so many abused women, Chris’ mother stayed with his stepfather. Chris writes that this was the spark for an idea that had been coming on him and which changed his life. He made a vow:
Not only was I going to make sure my children had a daddy, I was never going to be a Freddie Triplett. I was never going to terrorize, threaten, harm or abuse a woman or a child, and I was never going to drink so hard that I couldn’t account for my actions. This plan evolved over time as I studied at the virtual college of how to grow up and not be Freddie. For now, I could only hate him. It was an emotional truth that lived under my skin, close to the bone. The Pursuit of Happyness, By Chris Gardner, 2006, Amistad, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
Many criminals attempt to excuse their crimes based on the fact that they and their mothers were abused by alcoholic fathers or stepfathers. Chris Gardner, however, decided from an early age to “go the other way”. Last we heard, he was still keeping that promise.
Cesar Chavez campaigned for economic justice for farm workers. He was also a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. Like Mr. Lama, Cesar Chavez’ journey began with a pet: “I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do. I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.” Cesar Chávez and Comprehensive Rights at Znet by Dan Brooks.
A childhood fever caused Helen Keller to become blind and deaf as an infant. The first step in showing Helen how to communicate was to teach her the underlying concept of language — that a word, in this case signs pressed into her hand, stood for something. The day that changed Helen Keller’s life is portrayed in the movie The Miracle Worker. It was the day that Helen learned that the sign that her teacher was pressing into her hand, stood for water. Helen soon realized that other signs stood for different physical objects. It was this realization that allowed Helen to master sign language and later graduate, magna cum laude, from Radcliffe College. She wrote poetry, books, and magazine articles. She then learned to speak and gave many lectures. Due to her accomplishments, Helen Keller became one of the most famous people in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century.
THE FUR TRADE IS A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY
Scientists are discovering more and more things about the intelligence, social lives, and familial bonds of animals. See, for example, Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think by Virginia Morell, National Geographic Magazine, March 2008. The animals that we use for fur are primarily mammals. A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that these animals experience pain and pleasure, are concerned about what happens to them, and avoid death and discomfort in ways that are more similar to humans than once believed. Their social behaviors are remarkably sophisticated. They care for and teach their young, and mourn when their young are killed or taken away. Birds, such as chickens and turkeys, long dismissed as having low intelligence, have been shown by contemporary scientists to be otherwise. There is, for example, considerable anecdotal evidence that turkeys are drawn to music.
The fur industry kills millions of animals each year. The global trade in fur was worth 13.49 billion dollars in 2006. China is the leading mink farming nation, producing an estimated 20 million mink pelts. (One mink equals one pelt, so that’s 20 million animals raised in small cages and then killed.) China’s mink production was an estimated 34.7% of the total world production. Other leading major mink pelt producers in 2006 were: Denmark (24.5%), The Netherlands (7.5%), Poland (4.9%), Canada (4.0%) and Russia (3.8%).1
Most fur products in the U.S. are imported from countries such as China. However, the U.S. has its own domestic fur industry, producing about 5.2% of the 2006 world total. (This makes the U.S. the fourth largest mink producing country, just behind The Netherlands.) 2,860,000 minks were raised and “harvested” on U.S. fur farms in 2006. The value of thepelts produced from the skins of these animals was $135,762,000. About one in eight mink farms in the U.S. also raised foxes in cages for their fur. 2
“More than 30 million animals worldwide are raised in cages and killed each year for their fur. Not only are cage-raised animals killed using methods such as gassing and electrocution, they suffer from numerous physical and behavioral abnormalities induced by the stress of caging conditions. . . . Synthetic fabrics that are warmer and lighter than fur have eliminated the need for fur apparel.” 3
Mink is only one of the many fur-bearing mammals killed to make coats for human beings. For example, in Canada, the government sponsors and supports an annual hunt of seal pups who are brutally clubbed and stabbed to death. Below is an estimate of the number of animals that must be killed to make one fur coat.
Blueback Seal 5-7
There is a clandestine trade in cat and dog fur, mislabeled as the fur of other animals.
WHY DO PEOPLE REFUSE TO WEAR FUR AND BECOME VEGANS AND VEGETARIANS?
Throughout history, a few people have contended that humanity needs to change the way we treat animals. The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, the Roman biographer Plutarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Cesar Chavez and many more have called for mankind to stop killing animals for food, fur, or entertainment. In modern times, people have reduced their consumption of animal products or stopped using animal products entirely for both human-centered reasons and because of concerns for the animals.
There is now a worldwide mass movement, consisting of millions of people in the United States and tens of millions worldwide, who call for reform in the way we treat animals. What exactly are these people saying and why have millions of people stopped wearing fur or leather and no longer eat meat or milk-based products?
People become vegetarian or vegan and don’t wear fur or leather because they have decided that it’s good for them and for the world; that it will help them feel happier and live a better life. There are four basic reasons that vegans and vegetarians cite for their actions. Usually, it’s a combination of these reasons. Often, it’s all four together. The reasons are:
- they live healthier lives and they feel better; see for example The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Diet and Health from FARM USA;
- they feel good about contributing less to the destruction of the environment (animal agriculture uses phenomenal amounts of resources, for example, more than half the water in the U.S.; cow belching releases amazing amounts of methane estimated to be about 19% of total greenhouse gasses emissions worldwide); see Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Diet and the Environment from FARM USA;
- they are happy that they are helping to combat the worldwide shortage of food; see, for example, Stanford University – Department of Earth Science (“it takes between 7 and 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef”) and Diet and World Hunger from FARM USA; and
- they feel good that they do not participate in a system that causes the suffering and death of billions of helpless animals each year.
In this Guide, we will explore the fourth reason people become vegan or vegetarian. Ethics and compassion are what motivated Mr. Lama to change his life.
People concerned for animals (we’ll call them PCAs) point out that animals can feel pain and fear and that scientists have recently discovered that many animals have levels of intelligence, complex social lives, and strong family bonds that were not suspected a few years ago. Mammals mourn the loss of their young, their family members, and their friends; this has been particularly noted in cows and elephants. (See for example, Farm Animals – from the Humane Society of the United States and Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think, Ibid.) Based on the fact that animals have the capacity to suffer and that often human beings cause animals to suffer, PCAs contend that animals should be within the sphere of moral consideration and that their interests should be taken into account when people make decisions which affect them. Other PCAs go further and contend that animals have an absolute right to be left alone, similar to our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, trial by jury, etc.
Most people agree that some interests of some animals should be considered when we make decisions that affect them. For example, most people agree that beating, starving, or killing an animal (especially a pet) is wrong. We feed our pets everyday because they would suffer if we let them go hungry. We walk our dogs, even when we’d rather do something else, because they need exercise and a place to relieve themselves. In making the decision to do these things, we are considering the interests of these animals. In addition, wanton cruelty to animals customarily held as pets, such as dogs and cats, is a crime. Therefore, to some extent, the vast majority of people have admitted some animals into the sphere of moral concern.
Most PCAs extend the sphere of moral concern to fur bearing mammals like mink and chinchilla, to farm animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys, and also to fish. This list includes almost all of the billions of animals who are “processed” through the fur industry and the factory farming industry every year. Many PCAs extend the sphere of moral concern, not only to our close genetic cousins: gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, but also to other wild animals such as dolphins, whales, deer, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, etc.
Every decision we make that affects other beings is an ethical decision. This is especially true of decisions which could cause pain, injury, or death. These decisions require us to balance the interests of those who might be affected by the decision. (They are called “stakeholders”. See Making Effective and Principled Decisions.) Once beings are admitted to the sphere of moral concern, we have to consider how our decisions will affect them and balance our interests against theirs.
PCAs contend that a human being’s interest in wearing fur is not very important because plant based and synthetic products give us many other ways to keep warm. Thus, the only interest people have in wearing fur is that they may like the way it feels or the way it looks. Compared to the torture and premature death that must be endured by animals caught up in the fur industry our interest in wearing fur is quite trivial. As Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University said that it’s the most trivial of our interests (taste) against the most vital of theirs.
Pretty much the same analysis holds for eating meat. Since plant-based diets are adequate for human nutrition (and by the way, they can be quite delicious), the only reason to eat meat is because we like the way it tastes and because we, and most of the people around us, have eaten meat in the past. That’s a pretty unimportant reason when balanced against what happens to an animal raised on a factor farm. For billions of animals a year, this is usually a life in small cages or in feed lots filled with excrement, separation from offspring and family, and a painful, gruesome death.
Different PCAs reach different conclusions about how far our concern for animals should go. Some believe that animal interests in avoiding suffering are equal to a human being’s interest in avoiding suffering. This is the utilitarian analysis made famous by Peter Singer in his book Animal Liberation. Professor Singer points out that:
The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. Equal consideration for different beings may lead different treatment . . . . Animal Liberation, p. 3
The best life for a human being requires schooling, but dogs, pigs, and cows are different and would not benefit from schooling. Pigs, for example, need a nice field or forest, and a moderate amount of food to live a fulfilled life.
Other PCAs believe that when balancing interests, there is some extra weight that should be added to the human side of the scale, but they still keep animals within the sphere of moral concern. However, all PCAs believe that even when human interests are favored, the pleasure that people derive from the feel and look of fur or the taste of meat, can never justify lives of misery and awful deaths for animals.
PCAs who advocate “animal rights” in the exact meaning of those words believe that it’s not a matter of weighing interests but that animals have a right to live uncaged lives until their natural deaths, just as people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of the main proponents of this belief is Professor Tom Regan of North Carolina State University.
In addition, some people believe that we should treat animals better because abusing animals has a terrible effect on human beings and increases violence in our own society. In addition, many people who become vegan and separate themselves entirely from industries which cause pain to animals and kill them for food or for clothing, unexpectedly feel a wonderful new relationship of union with the principle of life in the Universe and with all creatures in it. For these people, becoming a vegan turns into a religious experience, similar to a religious conversion.
Finally, there are those who find the calling to become a PCA from the teachings of traditional religions and systems of ethics. Some of these are set out below:
Christianity: “Our dominion over God’s Creation should be patterned on God’s loving, compassionate dominion over us. If we fail to show love for God’s Creation or mercy for God’s creatures, should we expect God to protect us from the consequences of our own heartlessness and self-indulgence?” — The Christian Vegetarian Association
PCAs contend that if Jesus Christ, the most compassionate of beings, walked the earth today, he would be horrified at the fur industry and at factory farming. He would not wear fur and he would be a vegan. If God takes note of the fall of a sparrow, what anguish must this God feel when people kill millions of animals every day because they like the taste of flesh or the feel of fur?
Judaism: “The Torah is full of commandments demanding humane treatment of animals . . . ” — Judaism and Vegetarianism Isaac Bashevis Singer, the great Jewish writer and vegetarian, wrote that for farm animals, “all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.”
Ethical Humanism: “Humanism is an approach to life based on humanity and reason; humanists recognize that moral values are properly founded on human nature, reason and experience. . . . Vegetarianism in its ethical form is an approach to life-based on compassion for all animals. The Humanist Vegetarian Group understands that humans are merely animals and that the capacities which evolution has bestowed upon us for survival give rise to compassion, fairness, and morality, which we apply as well as we are able to all animals.” — Humanist Vegetarian Group.
Islam: “All creatures on earth are sentient beings. ‘There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings – but they are communities like you.’ (The Quran, 6:38)'” — Texts from the Koran relating to the treatment of animals from the International Vegetarian Union.
Note also that the Golden Rule, which applies to Christianity, Judaism, Ethical Humanism, and Islam, requires that we treat others as we would like to be treated. Once animals come within the sphere of moral concern, the Golden Rule commands us to treat them in the same manner that we would like to be treated by them.
Buddhism: The teachings of the Buddha underscore our obligation to treat all sentient beings with compassion. Buddhists believe that both humans and nonhuman animals have “Buddha nature,” and as such, are viewed as sacred beings worthy of care and respect. While in ancient times, some sects of Buddhism ate meat and some did not, in recent decades there has been a strong debate amongst Buddhists about the morality of eating animal products. Increasing numbers of Buddhist monks and nuns are adopting a lifestyle that does not entail harming animals in any way. — Vegetarianism from Buddhist Studies.
Hinduism: Hindus have five reasons for not eating meat: (1) Dharma: “Ahinsa, the law of noninjury, is the Hindu’s first duty in fulfilling religious obligations to God and God’s creation as defined by Vedic scripture.” (2) Karma: “All of our actions, including our choice of food, have Karmic consequences. By involving oneself in the cycle of inflicting injury, pain and death, even indirectly by eating other creatures, one must in the future experience in equal measure the suffering caused.” [In other words, what goes around, comes around.] (3) Spiritual: “. . . [W]hat we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of the butchered creatures. For these reasons, vegetarians live in higher consciousness and meat-eaters abide in lower consciousness.” (4) Health: “Medical studies prove that a vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider ranger of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body. Vegetarians are less susceptible to all the major diseases that afflict contemporary humanity, and thus live longer, healthier, more productive lives. They have fewer physical complaints, less frequent visits to the doctor, fewer dental problems and smaller medical bills. Their immune system is stronger, their bodies are purer, more refined and skin more beautiful.” (5) Ecology: “Planet Earth is suffering. In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rain forests to create pasture lands for live stock, loss of topsoils and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet. No decision that we can make as individuals or as a race can have such a dramatic effect on the improvement of our planetary ecology as the decision not to eat meat.” — Why Hindus Don’t Eat Meat.
There are, of course, many adherents to the religions and ethical systems described above who believe that wearing fur and eating meat are entirely consistent with their beliefs.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS RELATING TO LIFE CHANGING REALIZATIONS
2. Eddie Lama said that he believes that a miracle is a change in perception. What was his change of perception?
3. What human capacity did Mr. Lama demonstrate in this movie?
4. While millions of people have taken care of an animal for a friend, it has been a life changing experience for only a very few. Why did taking care of a kitten for a weekend lead Mr. Lama to change his life in very important ways?
5. Has your life ever been changed by an event or a realization that you had?
6. Mr. Lama lives his life differently than most people. He spends much of his free time advocating for animals and he is a vegetarian. Do you know anyone who has beliefs that cause that person to act in ways that are different than most of the people around them? What are those beliefs?
7. When he accepted the Courage of Conscience Award Mr. Lama said, “In my lifetime I have been both the oppressor and the oppressed, both the fomenter of discord and the advocate for peace. Both the perpetrator and the victim. But most significantly, I have been both the silence and the voice. It is the human voice that is the primary tool for change.” Have you, like Mr. Lama, been both the oppressor and the oppressed, the fomenter of discord and the advocate of peace, or both the silence and the voice? Describe two situations in which you have been one or the other.
CARING FOR ANIMALS
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE BELIEFS OF PERSONS CONCERNED FOR ANIMALS
1. In relation to wearing fur, what do PCAs mean when they say that: “It’s the most trivial of our interests vs. the most vital of theirs”.
2. In the modern age, when fibers from plants and synthetic materials are available to keep us warm, should people wear fur? What are the arguments against wearing fur and the arguments for wearing fur?
3. What are three major reasons why, for their own good, people should stop eating meat or at least reduce their consumption of meat? (None of these reasons relate to the ethical arguments made by PCAs.)
4. Describe at least two of the ethical arguments made by PCAs against eating meat and using dairy products.
5. Someone proposed that the government should impose a pain tax on all furs and use the money collected for animal welfare. What do you think of this idea?
6. Do you agree with Mahatma Gandhi’s statement that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”?
7. The history of Western Civilization since the Middle Ages has seen an expansion in the groups to whom rights have been granted: aristocrats ⇒ white men with property ⇒ all white men ⇒ all men regardless of race ⇒ women. Some view the effort to expand rights to animals as the newest ethical frontier of our era, seeing themselves as the standard bearers for a new cause for social justice. Do you agree or disagree?
8. Mr. Lama says to think globally and act locally. What does this mean?
See discussion questions relating to Life-Changing Realizations.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. The Golden Rule is the basic standard for ethics in Judeo/Christian/Muslim religions. In fact, a form of the Golden Rule can be found in almost every major religion on Earth. Does it apply to animals?
2. Have you ever been in a position in which your cries for help have gone unheeded? What happened? What did you feel?
See Social Emotional Learning Question #1.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See Social Emotional Learning Question #1.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
2. Have students research and write an essay responding to any of the Discussion Questions in this Guide.
LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES
3. Teachers can ask students to write a personal narrative of an experience that changed their lives. This can substitute for the last assignment or for one of the preparatory assignments in TWM’s lesson plan for Writing a Personal Narrative.
4. Design a bumper sticker that Eddie Lama would like or one that he would hate.
WHY DO PEOPLE REFUSE TO WEAR FUR AND BECOME VEGANS AND VEGETARIANS
5. Have students research and write essays on the following topics:
(A) Utilitarianism is a philosophy that states that ethical conduct is that which produces the most good for the most beings. Once animals are included in that equation, the concept of wearing fur, as opposed to other types of clothing, is subject to the following argument: “People should not wear fur because when they do they are satisfying the most trivial of their needs (they like the way it looks and the way it feels) while the animals whose fur is taken to make the piece of clothing have been required to give up their most fundamental interests, the need to live a life free from torture and premature death.” Have students write an essay on whether this an accurate or inaccurate way of looking at wearing fur.
(B) Support or criticize the statement that: “As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.” Isaac Bashevis Singer — Nobel Prize Winning Author
(C) Support or criticize the statement that: “In relation to [the animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” Isaac Bashevis Singer — Nobel Prize Winning Author
6. Scientists are discovering more and more things about the intelligence, social lives, and familial bonds of animals. Have students prepare a research paper and report to the class. They should start their research with Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think by Virginia Morell, National Geographic Magazine, March 2008.
7. Students can follow breaking stories in the media about the Chinese dog fur business, and analyze the relationships between China’s exports and the U.S. and European fashion industry.
8. Have each student select an animal from the fur-bearing animals listed in the table in the Helpful Background section. Have students research the characteristics of the animal, its size, its natural range, the food that it likes, etc. They should print out a picture of the animal from the Internet and estimate how many pelts would be required for a full-length coat. Have students write a short report on what they have found and share their picture with the class. Compare the results of their estimate to the table and give a prize to the three students whose guesses are closest to the estimates in the Handout.
9. Students can be asked to write a story about what would happen to their favorite pet (or a friend’s pet) if it was confined in a cage 1.5 times its body length and less than its height if it were standing up on its hind legs.
10. Check newspapers and magazines for any animal rights stories, have them read the stories to the class.
11. Have students write an essay or a journal entry about a situation in which their cries went unheeded or when they were unable to help a person or an animal who was in distress.
12. Students can be asked to research the different philosophical bases of concern for animals focusing on the differences between those who believe that animals have inalienable rights (for example the professor Tom Regan) and those who believe in animal welfare from a Utilitarian approach (for example, professor Peter Singer).
13. The class can be divided into teams to debate various positions with respect to wearing fur or eating meat.
BRIDGES TO READING
- Empty Cages: Facing The Challenge of Animal Rights by Tom Regan. Many reviewers believe that this is the best introduction to animals rights ever written. Mr. Regan is one of the leading proponents of the view that animals have rights that humans must respect.
- Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. This is one of the first books to popularize a utilitarian rationale behind a concern for animal welfare. It is a classic.
- Dominion by Matthew Scully. For persons on the political right with a Christian perspective, this is a book by one of their own explaining why he has embraced a concern for animals in his own life.
- The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle.
- The Food Revolution by John Robbins.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Tribe of Heart is the website for the producers of “The Witness”;
- Review of “The Witness” in the Los Angeles Times;
Other Animal Rights Organization Websites
- Humane Society of the United States;
- In Defense of Animals;
- Farm Sanctuary;
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA);
Here are a few of the PETA pages on Fur, Leather, and Wool: Note that this changes frequently; consult the PETA home page for the latest web pages;
- Animals Are Not Ours to Wear;
- The State of the Fur Industry from FurIsDead.com;
- Peta Videos about Fur, Leather, and Wool includes celebrity statements and also videos showing the inhumane slaughter of these industries; many people will find some of these videos disturbing;
- PETA Fur Donation Program;
The Proponents of Fur
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Animal Liberation by Peter Singer;
- Dominion by Matthew Scully;
- Empty Cages: Facing The Challenge of Animal Rights by Tom Regan; and
- Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think by Virginia Morell, National Geographic Magazine, March 2008.
This Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden. It was last updated on May 31, 2013. James Frieden is an ethical vegan who refrains from eating animal-based products based on the fact that people don’t need to kill another being in order to get adequate nutrition; desiring the taste and texture of the meat is not a sufficient justification for killing or causing discomfort to another animal. See Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.