Animal Rights: Philosophy, Reading, and Art
Untitled (The Barn Next Door). Sue Coe
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The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights
We claim to take non-human animals seriously.
We all agree that it is morally wrong to inflict ‘unnecessary’ suffering or death on non-human animals. But what do we mean by that?
Whatever else it means, it must mean that it is wrong to inflict suffering or death on non-human animals merely because we derive pleasure or amusement from doing so, or because it is convenient to do so, or because it is just plain habit.
But the overwhelming portion of our non-human animal use—just about all of it—cannot be justified by anything other than pleasure, amusement, convenience, or habit.
Most non-human animals are killed for food. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, humans kill approximately 54 billion non-human animals—that’s 54,000,000,000-for food per year not including fish and other sea animals. And this number is rising and will double in the second part of this century.
How can we justify this slaughter?
We cannot justify it on the ground that we need to eat non-human animals for reasons of health. We clearly do not need to do so. In fact, the evidence increasingly shows that animal products are detrimental to human health.
We cannot justify it on the ground that it is ‘natural’ because humans have been eating non-human animals for thousands of years. The fact that we have been doing something for a long time does not make it morally right. Humans have been racist and sexist and heterosexist for centuries and we now recognize that heterosexism, racism, and sexism are morally wrong.
We cannot justify it as necessary for the global ecology. There is a growing consensus that non-human animal agriculture is an environmental disaster.
Because non-human animals consume much more protein than they produce, grains that should be consumed by humans are consumed by non-human animals instead. Thus, along with other factors, non-human animal agriculture condemns many human beings to starvation.
The only justification we have for inflicting suffering and death on 54 billion non-human animals per year is that we get pleasure from eating them; that it is convenient for us to eat them; that it is a habit.
In other words, we have no good justification at all.
Our thinking about nonhuman animals is very confused. Many of us live, or have lived, with nonhuman animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. We love these nonhuman animals. They are important members of our families. We grieve when they die.
But we stick forks into other nonhuman animals no different from the ones we love. That makes no sense.
Our Treatment of Nonhuman Animals
We not only use non-human animals for all sorts of purposes that cannot be considered as ‘necessary,’ but we treat them in way that would be considered as torture if humans were involved.
There are non-human animal welfare laws that require us to treat non-human animals ‘humanely,’ but these laws are largely meaningless because non-human animals are property: they are economic commodities that have no value other than what we accord them. As far as the law is concerned, non-human animals are no different from cars, furniture, or any other property that we own.
Because non-human animals are property, we generally allow people to use non-human animals for whatever purpose they want and to inflict horrible suffering on them in the process.
Why Not Get Better Laws and Industry Standards?
Most non-human animal protection organizations, such as the US Humane Society (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) maintain that the solution to the problem of animal exploitation is to improve animal welfare laws or to pressure industry to improve standards of treatment. These organizations campaign for more ‘humane’ systems of confinement, such as larger cages, etc. Some of these organizations maintain that by improving treatment, non-human animal use will one day be ended altogether or will at least be reduced significantly.
But is this the solution? No, it is not.
The economic realities are such that welfare reforms provide little, if any, improvements. A ‘cage-fee’ egg involves as much suffering as a conventional egg.
Moreover, there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that animal welfare reforms will lead to the end of non-human animal use or significantly reduced non-human animal use. We have had non-human animal standards and laws for more than 200 years now and we are exploiting more animals in more horrible ways than at any time in human history.
And, most important, reforming exploitation ignores the fundamental question: how can we justify using non-human animals at all as our resources—however ‘humanely’ we treat them?
What is the Solution?
The solution is to abolish the exploitation of non-human animals, not just to regulate it. The solution is to recognize that just as we recognize that every human, irrespective of her particular characteristics, has the fundamental rights not to be treated as the property of another, we must recognize that every sentient non-human has that right as well.
What Does That Mean As A Practical Matter?
You are probably asking how you can do anything to abolish non-human animal exploitation.
There is something you can do.
You can go vegan. Now. Veganism means that you no longer eat or otherwise consume non-human animal products.
Veganism is not merely a matter of diet; it is a moral and political commitment to abolition on the individual level and extends not only to matter of food, but to clothing, other products, and other personal actions and choices.
Veganism is the one thing that we can all do today—right now—to help non-human animals. It does not require an expensive campaign, the involvement of a large organization, legislation, or anything other than our recognition that if “animal rights’ means anything, it means that we cannot justify killing and eating non-human animals.
Veganism reduces non-human animal suffering and death by decreasing demand. It represents a rejection of the commodity status of non-humans and recognition of their inherent value.
Veganism is also a commitment to nonviolence. The animal rights movement should be a movement of peace and should reject violence against all animals.
Vegan is the most important form of political activism that we can undertake on behalf of non-human animals.
And once you go vegan, start to educate your family, friends and others in your community to go vegan.
If we want to abolish animal exploitation, a vegan movement is a necessary prerequisite. And that movement begins with the decision of the individual.
But What’s Wrong With Eating Non-human Animal Products Other Than ‘Meat?’
There is no meaningful distinction between eating flesh and eating dairy or other non-human animal products. Non-human animals exploited for dairy, eggs, or other products are treated as badly if not worse than ‘meat’ non-human animals, and they end up in the same slaughterhouse after which we consume their flesh anyway.
To maintain that there is a moral distinction between eating flesh and eating dairy, eggs, or other non-human products is as silly as maintaining that there is a moral distinction between eating large cows and eating small cows.
As long as more than 99% of people think that it is acceptable to consume non-human animal products, nothing will ever change for the non-human animals.
The decision is yours. No one can make it for you. But if you believe that the lives of non-humans have moral value, then stop participating in the killing of non-human animals, however ‘humanely’ they are treated.
Go vegan. Today. It is easy to go vegan. And it’s the right thing to do.
Gary Francione & Anna Charlton (2008)
The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics, Carol Adams
Pirate for the Sea, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, 2010
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Eating Animals, Book