Towards a better, floofier world.
“Sancho was led to believe it and say, "Well, and what are we to do, senor?"
"What?" said Don Quixote: "give aid and assistance to the weak and those who need it[.]”
— Don Quixote
People often ask me: “Why rabbits?” Usually my answer is just “They’re floofy.” And that is a perfectly fine and good answer. Rabbits are indeed floofy, and they’re also playful and affectionate and funny. They’re easy to litter train, you can let them run around your house (as long as you protect your power cords), they’re quiet, they don’t smell, and they’re much lower maintenance than a dog. Basically, you can sort of think of them as vegan cats. If you’re looking for a little fluffy friend, rabbits are a great option.
Yesterday I held a funeral ceremony for my first rabbit, Cinnamon (pictured on the left above, snuggling with her companion, Constable Giggles). There’s something special about the relationship you have with the first pet who’s yours and yours alone. I’ve had plenty of dogs, cats, and other animals throughout my life, but Cinnamon was the first who depended on me, and only me, for everything. That felt like a major test. It forced me to ask myself whether I had the power, the consistency, and the dedication required to ensure that another living being lived a good life. It forced me to demand those things of myself.
I first met Cinnamon when I was volunteering at the San Francisco Animal Care and Control center back in early 2017. They had just received a bunch of new rabbits, as part of a massive rescue when an illegal breeder was shut down. Some guy in San Francisco had had the brilliant idea to breed rabbits in his garage and sell them on Craigslist for “pets or meat” (possibly inspired by the famously brutal scene in the Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me). He kept the rabbits in appalling conditions, climbing all over each other in a filthy lightless dungeon. That was where my little Cinnamon spent her early childhood. The sweet little friend that I cared for for 6 years came into existence because someone thought she was a hamburger.
Of course, running that sort of operation in city limits is against the health code, and so he was shut down, and the rabbits were confiscated and sent to rescues and shelters. That’s where I met Cinnamon — living in a tiny metal cage, with no windows and the loud sounds of humans and other animals all around.
Every couple of days she would get to stretch her legs for an hour in a pen with a human volunteer, and every couple of weeks she would get to spend an hour outside on an astroturf lawn. The people at SFACC are lovely and wonderful, but the institution doesn’t have a lot of funding.
By a coincidence, Cinnamon was the first rabbit I ever held. That wasn’t why I chose her to take home; there was just something about her chubby insouciance that made me realize, very quickly, that this was the rabbit for me. I was hesitant about taking on a pet, with all the responsibility that entailed, and the fact that I had never had a rabbit before made me terrified of all the mistakes I might make. But eventually, the thought of Cinnamon spending night after night in that cold little cage was too much for me, and I adopted her and brought her home.
Cinnamon lived out the rest of her life in that apartment. Her life was a tiny one — she had only a couple of rooms and a balcony. Her greatest adventures were exploring the yard for a couple hours or jumping up onto the top platform in my closet. Other than me, she really only had one close relationship with another creature — my second rabbit, Giggles, whom I got a year and a half later at the SaveABunny rabbit rescue. Sometimes when she would ride in a car, she would stand up out of the carrier and look through the window, and I would wonder if she was looking at the huge world passing by, and wondering what was out there.
But most rabbits can’t really discover what’s out there in the world. Some, especially the giant ones, can be safely walked like dogs or taken in a stroller; Cinnamon, sadly, wouldn’t tolerate that. But if you set your rabbit “free”, it will very quickly be dead. The lifespan of a pet rabbit is about 10 years; in the wild, it’s about 1 year. Tons of predators eat rabbits — hawks, foxes, coyotes, even some kinds of weasels. Nature agrees with the illegal San Francisco breeder that a rabbit ought to be a hamburger with legs.
In my house, though, Cinnamon was a fluffy little 9-pound princess. She got pets and cuddles all day, and had all the hay and treats and toys and chews I could find for her. Every day she got to play in the little cardboard jungles I would set up for her, or dig blankets out of a box, or chase a squeaky mouse toy, or run around on the bed, or go out on the balcony and munch the fresh grass I put out. She only lived to be 6.5 — she had chronic digestive problems, to which she eventually succumbed — but I hope that the 6 years she spent with me were as good a life as a rabbit could have.
And that, I think, is the key for me. I wanted to take the world’s most abject creature and exalt it to as high a level as I could. I wanted to invert every hierarchy of power and violence that the natural world and the human world had created. I wanted to turn a hamburger into a princess.
I think this desire is very common among people who keep rabbits as pets. Even more than dogs and cats, rabbits stimulate some deep-seated protective instinct. It’s difficult to get two rabbit enthusiasts together without them arguing over the finer points of rabbit safety and comfort (and this is equally true of the people who run rabbit cafes in Japan). Rabbit-keeping is about turning a cruel world into a gentle one.
A number of my blog readers have been asking me to lay out my broad moral framework. Usually I resist this impulse. As David Hume wrote, humans decide on right and wrong based on a confusing and often mutually contradictory jumble of moral instincts, and attempts to fit those instincts into a rigid, internally consistent moral code are generally an exercise in futility. But if I do have one consistent, bedrock principle about the way the world ought to work, it’s this — the strong should protect and uplift the weak.
Nature endows some people with strength — sharp claws, size and musculature, resistance to disease. Human society endows us with other forms of strength that are often far more potent — guns, money, social status, police forces and armies at our backs. Everywhere there is the temptation for those with power to crush those without it, to enslave them, to extract labor and fealty and fawning flattery. “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must,” wrote Thucydides; this is as concise a statement as you’ll ever find of the law of the jungle, both the real jungle and the artificial jungles humans create for ourselves. A hierarchy of power and brutality is a high-entropy state, an easy equilibrium toward which social interactions naturally flow.
I believe that it is incumbent upon us as thinking, feeling beings — it is our moral purpose and our mission in this world — to resist this natural flow, to stand against it, to reverse it where possible. In addition to our natural endowments of power, we must gather to ourselves what additional power we can, and use it to protect and uplift those who have less of it. To some, that means helping the poor; to others, fighting for democracy or civil rights; to others, it simply means taking good care of their kids, or of a pet rabbit. But always, it means rolling the stone uphill, opposing the natural hierarchies of the world, fighting to reify an imaginary world where the strong exercise no dominion over the weak.
We will never fully realize that world, of course. And my morality is easier to declare than to put into practice; on the way we will make many missteps. We will make mistakes about who is strong and who is weak, punching down when we self-righteously tell ourselves we’re punching up. Like the communists of the 20th century, we will sometimes invert one unjust hierarchy only to put another in its place. And we will be corrupted by the power we gather, mouthing high principle while exploiting some of those we claim to protect; we will tell ourselves that we’re knights while acting like barbarians (just as actually existing knights often did).
All these things will happen, and yet it is incumbent upon us to do the best we can, to keep fighting the good fight for a gentler, more equal world.
This basic principle obviously informs most of the political views you’ve seen me express on this blog. It’s why I support using American power to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian conquest (and if anyone typified the exact opposite of my moral philosophy, the elevation of pure domineering bully-ism to the level of national guiding principle, it’s Putin’s Russia). It’s why I thought the Iraq War was a crime. It’s why I’ll always support trying to uplift the poor and working class — with welfare benefits, of course, but also with education, jobs, job training, better working conditions, and other policies that give them the power to support themselves and their families. It’s why I believe a just society is one where there is no outgroup.
Now, I don’t deceive myself about my ability to produce any of these outcomes. I’m just some guy who writes a blog and hangs out with rabbits. I’m not very powerful by myself, but maybe to some tiny degree I can inspire you to use whatever power you happen to have to protect and uplift the weak. If so, then maybe I’ve done a tiny little smidgen of good with my minuscule allocation of time on this planet.
There are so many tiny lives out there. Look out your window at the city around you — there are so many little rabbits living in those little apartments and houses, and so many people living there too. You will never know more than the barest fraction of them. But somewhere in that wild, infinite jungle, there is someone who needs your help. Somewhere there is a princess that someone else thinks is just a hamburger. It’s on you to find them and do what you can.
I hope I did every last possible thing I could for my little Cinnamon. I’ll never know for sure. But I’m not done yet. There are more rabbits out there…always more, always more.