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Animal Rights and Wrongs
A thought-provoking essay on our interaction with animals.
For centuries people have exploited, mutilated and abused animals in countless ways, oblivious of animal's sentience. Today a new movement rising is questioning societies use and abuse of non-human animals. The animal rights movement states that animal have a right to swim if they have fins, fly if they have wings, and run if they have feet. From killing animals for experimentation or for food, using them to do silly tricks, putting them on display, or hunting them for fun and alleged sport, animals bear the brunt of society's violence. If only we can realize the value of all life, and see animals as sentient and necessary in the web of life, the world can then see that when we live in harmony with nature, we can find peace.
Animals have won the affection of millions in America. The media exposes an image of animals as cute, cuddly and furry creatures. However, many people do not know that animals are sentient beings with complex lives and deep emotions. (Montgomery 257) There has been a provocative dialogue between those who use animals for perceived human benefits, and those that are fighting for the freedom of animals from use and abuse by humans. (Nelkin and Jasper 9) This beautiful poem captures the essence of what the animal rights movement is trying to portray (Newkirk 3):
Coat with fur
Hat with feathers,
Lobster broiled alive,
Shoes and bags in sundry leathers
Of animals who've died.
Hunted, trapped, and torn apart
For me to satisfy
And, who am?
And what my rank?
That I may live
And they must die?
Skeptical individuals who do not know much about animal rights often bombard activists with many questions about ethics. A common asked is, "What if a house was burning down, whom would you save, a baby or the dog?" This all or nothing attitude serves neither side. Rights activists can come back and say "Well, if you were in a burning house with Lassie in one room and baby Hitler in another, who would you save?" Rather than playing analytical word games, we can join together to stand up for injustice to all living beings. As Chief Seattle so eloquently put it, "All things are connected... Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." (Robbins 381) So the question is not a dog versus a baby, rather it is humanity versus insanity.
The 'other side' will argue that they are only animals, what do they know. They believe animals are stupid and we as humans are intelligent therefore we are superior. If we look at retarded children, they certainly do not have the same thinking abilities of able-children, but that does not make them any less sentient, or any less able to deal with pain. Since when has intelligence been an excuse for violence? After all we are the only species to ever devise nuclear weapons, the only species to put our own kind in concentration camps.
Research has proven time and time again that animals are able to feel similar emotions to humans. The work of Jane Goodall has opened the eyes of the world to the inner life of our closest relatives- chimpanzees. She found that they could be sad, angry, jealous, playful and most importantly show much compassion to each other (Goodall 249) This fact is often erroneously argued that emotions may apply to primates, but rats and fish don't feel pain. A biologist at Cornell University of said that " The nervous system of a fish is similar to that of any other mammal, hence fish do feel pain." (Save Our Schools) As for rats, well ask anyone who has had a pet rat. They love to be petted and loved, and they can even do little chores for you. Rats, cats and dogs have been known to go into a burning building several times even when they get severe burns, to save their own babies. (Newkirk 45)
Another argument that is used is that animals cannot talk. They can't talk like humans because they do not have human vocal cords. Some animals have learned to communicate through sign language, but can we communicate like animals? Many animals have such sophisticated means of communicated that they would leave us in the dust.
"Dolphins, for example, use echo location, bats use sonar, octopuses and cuttle fish use fantastic color waves and patterns that ripple through their bodies, and bees flap their wings at varying speeds to give complicated directions to flower beds." (Newkirk 12)
Since through the facts we have established some forms of intelligence and emotional abilities in animals, it is reasonable to assume that they are indeed sentient and thinking beings worthy of our respect. Animal rights is based on the philosophy and the belief of the inherent value of all living beings: a value in their own right which is not reducible to their usefulness to human beings. All species should be treated with respect. We must break the barriers that we have built between ourselves and the rest of creation to extend love and compassion to all.
Many philosophical theories imperil animals. The Natural Law Theory is one which states that we should promotes basic human good and never violate it. (Reagan 147) According to this theory an animal can be used by humans if it can somehow promote the good of human beings. Some of the ways that humans use animals for their own benefit are the following:
These are just a few of the ways that humans have used animals. We have exploited animals in every way possible, without ethical justification and feelings of remorse. Humans still have to learn how to live in peace with themselves, as well as all creation.
As Albert Schweitzer puts it, "Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not find peace."(www.peta-online.com) Also, the great philosopher and scholar Pythagoras says, "As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." (Newkirk 57) The future for animals is looking bright now that many people are becoming aware of the suffering of animals, and are joining in a movement of millions raising their voices for peace for all living beings.
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