Questionable Rituals Involving Chickens
There are two lessons to be learned here. On the one hand, if you’re observing someone else’s ritual, be respectful of what seems strange and don't be too quick to judge. On the other hand, if you’ve become too close to your own ritual to be able to evaluate it objectively, bear in mind the words of Peter Singer: "It's easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold."
Last month, Kansas State fans threw three chickens onto a basketball court at a game against archrival Kansas. The ritual is supposedly a way of poking fun at Kansas' "Jayhawk" mascot. I'm sure the chicken throwers didn't think much about the animals' welfare and were just out to have fun, but that's the problem: They didn't consider the chickens' interests. Kansas State has taken an admirable stance condemning the "likely illegal" throwing of chickens.
Every year leading up to Yom Kippur, some Jews participate in the custom of kapparot by waving around chickens in the air. The ritual is supposedly a way of transferring their sins to the birds. I'm sure the chicken wavers don't think much about the animals' welfare and are just looking to follow a Jewish tradition, but that's the problem: They don't adequately consider the chickens' interests. The local SPCA in New York has taken an admirable stand cracking down on the likely illegal conditions in which the chickens are kept, and a complaint was filed after one recent episode left three dozen abandoned chickens dead.
Both of these rituals probably seem quite harmless and worthwhile to their participants. But to outsiders, they seem like unnecessary animal exploitation and, in some cases, abuse. We shouldn't form judgments about these rituals based on whether they're longstanding traditions for us or whether they seem foreign. We should distance ourselves from our own views and objectively evaluate these rituals' use of animals. Only then can we reach a fair conclusion that takes the best interests of everyone—both the practitioners and the victims—into account.