This essay is intended to offer a stronger alternative argument in accessible language for extending ethical regard and rights to nonhuman life forms than the "speciesism equals racism" and sentience/suffering criteria approach that is widely used in the animal rights debate. It is an examination of what secular and spiritual beliefs motivate human discrimination against non humans, and the arguments employed to defend it. The approach is rooted in a variant of individualist ethical subjectivism, and uses the lack of an absolute, objective certainty in the claim of human supremacists and the reality of human discrimination against and predation upon other humans to force the observer into a choice, either extend rights to non humans, or accept that their belief allows humans to discriminate against anyone, including other humans, thus undermining their desire for an application of universal human rights.
Humans who believe in a moral code of universal human rights but deny extending rights to nonhumans have two problems. The criteria(s) they use to justify this discrimination (faculty of reason, a soul, divine or evolutionary favor, moral reciprocity, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, a bundle of characteristics or vaguely defined ones etc.) cannot be proven to be possessed by all humans or lacking in all nonhumans. Secondly, the importance of such criteria can be doubted– shown not to be objective absolute truth, but subjective arbitrary criteria conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination they wish to justify. Nature(or deities), through environmental phenomenon, weather, earthquakes, etc. cannot be shown to care or favor humans over other lifeforms as an absolute objective fact. This subjectivity means that someone who may discriminate against other humans (which happens despite the laws and philosophy designed to curb such incidents) using criteria that is just as subjective (skin colour, gender, class, religion, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, etc) cannot be effectively condemned by a human rights advocate who denies rights to nonhumans, since both are discriminating according to subjective criteria of value they deem to be important. The only way for a human rights advocate to consistently argue that one ought to have systemic universal human rights and an ethical code based upon this idea is to extend the concept of fairness and justice to nonhumans as much as possible. Because humans develop ethical codes to govern human behavior, and nonhumans do not appear to employ or require such codes in their social interactions, they benefit from the consistency requirement in human concepts of fairness and justice without needing to reciprocate. To expect them to adhere to human moral contracts in order to be eligible for moral regard is like expecting a blind man to be able to read and then punishing him for not doing so. That moral regard may not be possible or practical in all situations due to particular factors (such as scale or absentmindedness or the inability to be perfect), but since the same is true of human on human interactions, it does not invalidate the merits of the argument or provide a loophole for humans to justify systemic exploitation of nonhuman lifeforms (since one could then justify the same for humans). The common argument for animal rights that values sentience as the criteria of moral worth and attempts to define human discrimination against other species as speciesism, analogous to racism and sexism, does not fully address the philosophical nature of human attitudes towards non human lifeforms, or provide sufficient arguments to counter most if not all attempts at refutation as does the formula presented above.
Essay: The Anti-Human Supremacy Animal Rights Argument
Morality is like the sun. Anyone who lives above ground has a word for it. They may be spelled differently but in translation mean the same thing. The principle of showing compassion for others and a concept of justice is universal to many if not most human beings living within a society or family unit, although who and what constitutes the right of being shown compassion and justice has been subject to debate, change, and circumstance.
Systemic discrimination based upon arbitrary or subjective criteria of value that is conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination would commonly be considered unfair. An example of arbitrary criteria is skin hue, gender, height, weight, age, language or the ability to play basketball. Many people prefer certainty, the feeling that right and wrong is based upon some absolute objective impartial unquestionable truth. A criteria of value that is uncertain and dubious leaves the door open for people to decide that the particular criteria is not important to them, and that some other criteria is more so, and may lead to disagreement and social inequality. In order to have a moral code and laws, you need the agreement of as many people as possible about what is right and wrong, fair and unjust.
At one time human slave trade abolitionists were mocked and called misguided, traitors, and enemies to mercy and civilization. James Boswell wrote: "To abolish a status which in all ages GOD has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind."(1)
Historically, racism and sexism were attacked by challenging the perceived inferiority of other races and women, and nCarid superiority of the victimizer. Activists would highlight common traits that were put forth as more important than skin colour or gender, such as the ability to reason, or to worship a deity. They endeavored to widen the circle of compassion and respect by emphasizing the similarities not differences.
Animal rights activists use the same tactic and the most popular argument may be summarized in this way: Humans feel pain, non human animals feel pain, therefore we ought to treat the latter with respect and concern for their well being and not expose them to unnecessary cruelty through systematic industrial exploitation. Sentience and not reason is the true criteria for moral consideration and many species share this attribute (while some humans do not possess it and are yet afforded rights). Therefore, extending at least some rights to non humans is a moral obligation, a duty. Just. Fair. To deny this is to be speciesist, the equivalent of being racist or sexist.
But the popular animal rights argument does not address the full spectrum of philosophical motives of humans who are either ignorant of, or opposed to animal rights. Some might say scientific research needs to be done to be sure a species meets the qualifications of sentience, or they may say sentience does not matter to them, only a specific kind of reason/intelligence, or an "immortal soul," or the fancy of an invisible creator, or, they might say life is full of pain and cruel, and why should we care about reducing suffering when it goes on unabated in the wild? Or they might say that ethics are irrelevant, every species is speciesist and humans have a natural gut instinct to stick together. Often, the animal rights debater requires that the listener accept their own ethical system, even if it requires abandoning a theistic world view for a secular one. George Bernard Shaw observed: "Religion is a great force - the only real motive force in the world; but you must get at a man through his own religion, not through yours."(2)
Lurking behind every single type of argument used to defend human exploitation of Nature and non human lifeforms is what may be called a common religious notion, that humans as a group, are better as an absolute objective unquestionable truth to all other life, according to criteria that is conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the claim and discrimination/exploitation of other life. This belief is often taken for granted as if an axiom, and usually not expressed in precise terms, with good reason, as it leads to the Regress argument. An absolute is the final answer to a question. If you can question it, how can it be absolute? For every why there is a because and for every because another why. A belief in human supremacy is subject to many a why.
Despite this doubt, it is so accepted that it permeates the language. To be kind is to be humane, to be evil is to be inhumane, or nonhuman. You are a pig, a rat, a dog, a wolf in sheep's clothing. A weasel. A stool pigeon. If you are not human you are subhuman, a monkey, a snake in the grass, a cockroach. A worm. Either wicked, stupid, irrational or useless.
If you are a Theist you call it Dominionism or the Great Chain of Being. If you are a Darwinist you call it evolution, or Top of the Food Chain. Animal welfarists and hunters will claim they are meant to be Stewards or Managers of the natural world. If you are treated like an animal it is bad. Or you behave like an animal it is bad. To compare non human suffering to the Holocaust is called insulting and obscene(although the word holocaust in Hebrew meant "the sacrifice of a male animal on the altar of God" - ironic that it can be used to suggest victimization of humans but not for the originally defined victims). Humans are higher animals, the rest are lower. Animals are an "it." You do not execute them in shelters, you "destroy" them, like furniture.
Some have criticized the concept of human superiority. Jonathan Swift lampooned it in Gulliver's Travels.(3) Mark Twain did the same in the Damned Human Race and satirically noted that it was humans who were inferior to other animals: "Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to."(4) This view is often called misanthropic, which usually carries the definition of hatred. It is very often compared to racism or declared an irrational, anti-social philosophical stance, and rarely defined as a belief that humans cannot be trusted, or as a critical appraisal of human nature (one could ask whether white abolitionists who criticized the actions of their race and class would also be called hateful).
In animal rights language this supremacy belief is sometimes called Specieism but that is an inaccurate and problematic description. Speciesism (like the term Anthropocentrism) invites dubious suggestions that it is unavoidable, other species do the same, and that it is not necessarily negative or connected to an articulated belief in supremacy. As far as we can observe, only humans can engage in it. We have no proof that lions walk around thinking: "Lions are better than everything else. We deserve special rights." This fact will be of importance to the animal rights argument that is to follow.
The concept of supremacy extends beyond humans believing they are better as a species to all others. Despite their promotion of democratic ideals, the ancient Greeks considered those who did not speak their language to be barbarians. Many people, from the Inuit to Jews to the Chinese to Germans to Serbians to the Japanese at one time or another have regarded their group as better or more worthy of special consideration than others, based on race, or language, or religion or a myriad of criteria. Although there are laws in place to discourage discrimination against and predation upon other humans, it still occurs. This fact will become of vital importance to the animal rights argument that is to follow.
The concept of universal human rights did not exist until the 20th century, and even today, despite efforts to promote it as a unifying moral code, many humans continue to think they are better than other humans according to race, or skin colour, or class, religion, appearance, wealth, or ideology, and take actions based upon such thinking. We still have war, crime, injustice, human slavery. All based upon one or more humans who think their interests are more important than another.
Those that champion human rights will agree that being white or Christian or male is trivial and subjective. But, if they oppose non human rights, they still hold to another criteria-some attribute that they deem as being important, just as the pro slavery white Christian male did 200 years ago.
Definitions for this criteria of value include the faculty of reason or some kind of special intelligence, a soul, the blessing of a divine creator(s), essential goodness(as opposed to non human life's alleged essential wickedness), the ability to comprehend moral concepts, or reciprocity in moral conduct, creative ability(even though a tiny minority compose symphonies and some paintings by elephants can be difficult to distinguish from those by abstract expressionists), or a bundle of special qualities, or a faculty x which is never specifically defined beyond A (human) is greater than B (nonhuman).
All of these criteria and any other brought forth to suggest human supremacy have two inherent problems.
One is that often the criteria meant to distinguish humans from non humans cannot be universally applied to humans and/or excluded from non humans. Case in point, some humans are more intelligent than others. Does that mean the ones who are less intelligent deserve fewer rights if "intelligence" is so important? If not, then why? Usually the fall back is to another criteria, which can then be questioned, and another fall back criteria may be highlighted which is again questionable.
Some claim that humans possess a faculty of reason-or cognitive ability to control and govern their behavior that "irrational" non humans do not possess (i.e. the ability to understand rules, duties, obligations, and causality, as well as having a theory of mind). And yet-who starts wars for ideology or non essential resources? Who pollutes rivers? Who overpopulates itself without natural checks? Who will engage in violence for recreation, or commit dangerous even self destructive acts? Gophers? Spider Monkeys? It is always one species-human. The stupidest acts committed on this planet are done by human beings. The cruelest acts are committed by humans. It may be true that some humans will self sacrifice to save another-but other humans will do the opposite, save themselves by putting someone else into harm's way. And non humans have been documented exhibiting altruistic behavior (both within species and beyond). In vicious experiments conducted on rats(4) and Rhesus monkeys(5), the victim would spare themselves from a shock if they performed an act that would harm another of their kind, and yet they refused to do so. However, humans in similar situations such as the Milgram experiment(6), were willing to (simulated without them knowing it) shock another human simply because they were told to by an authority figure. The most violent domestic cat does not erect arenas or stadiums designed so that other cats can watch and take pleasure from the suffering of mice, knowing that they are causing suffering. As Mark Twain observed: "Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it."(7) Humans are capable of mental torment, verbal abuse, and taking pleasure from knowing that they are causing suffering to someone else. This is uniquely human. It is true of a child tormenting flies in a jar, or a scientist with a PHD who gives a rat advanced notice before being shocked in a learned helplessness experiment. The same capacity for "reason" that allows one to do mathematics can be used to design a torture device or urge a suicidal person to jump from a building.
Then there is the claim that humans are meant to be custodians or managers of Nature. Basic observation proves otherwise. A common worm is more of a steward of Nature than a human being. Insects are called low and worthless yet they help pollinate flowers (occasionally they might get acknowledged for their usefulness to humans, but not to themselves). The majority of so-called stewardship that humans do is actually damage control, cleaning up rivers polluted by other humans, restoring habitats destroyed by other humans, helping wildlife or domestic animals left homeless by other humans, and that does not include efforts that backfire, like the World Wildlife Fund attempting to curb the hunting of rhinos for traditional Chinese medicine by encouraging the hunting of the Saiga instead(8), which led to a 90 percent decline in the latter.
Damage control is not stewardship. Worms and bees are stewards - even a wild bison urinating on grass is more of a steward of Nature than a human being. Some "mainstream" environmental groups like the WWF actively encourage the killing of so-called invasive species (i.e. the broadtail possum in New Zealand(9), introduced by the Australian fur industry, and in case of the Nature Conservancy, hire hunters to kill them (the pigs and goats that were abandoned on the California Channel Islands by farmers)(10). Once again there is a double standard. Supposedly protecting native species is so important that it requires lethal means, and yet when it comes to the most destructive of all species, lethal means of protecting the environment is no longer an imperative. Even the use of the term "protecting the environment" is imbued with human arrogance-first the idea that Nature is fragile and needs governing from humans, and secondly that humans exist apart from the environment. Sometimes the notion that humans live in Nature is used to claim that humans should be able to exploit and kill as they see fit…excluding other humans of course.
The second problem is that like the value placed on skin colour or maleness or the ability to juggle, it is subjective-determined by humans who conveniently stand to benefit from the claim of superiority.(14,15) The universe or Nature or an invisible deity cannot be shown to acknowledge such criteria as important or favor humans above all other life by direct evidence (instructions written in allegedly divine-inspired books dictated by humans who stand to benefit from the claims in those books also are dubious). Erupting volcanos do not disperse their lava flows in ways that spare humans. Man-eating sharks do not get paralysis if they attempt to bite a human swimmer. Earthquakes and hurricanes do not make special alterations to spare humans-and ironically, non humans are often aware of approaching disasters before humans are. They have their own unique abilities, but since humans lack them, you do not see "the ability to predict earthquakes and avoid destructive weather" highlighted as a valuable quality in determining the criteria for moral value.
Any criteria of value humans use to suggest their superiority can be questioned. Why is it important? If it is so important, why doesn't the universe and Nature acknowledge it with easily perceived actions or rewards? If it can be questioned - it cannot be absolute.
If it is not absolute, if it is not impartial objective truth, then it cannot stop other humans from deciding to base a criteria of value on something else that they deem more important that discriminates against fellow humans - which they have been doing since the beginning of recorded history and continue to do despite the laws designed to curb such actions. This fact is extremely important because often the notion that humans have a right to freedom from discrimination and exploitation is accepted as an unquestionable truth and taken for granted, by both sides in the animal rights issue. It, like human supremacy itself, is treated as an axiom. Humans do not have a demonstrable "right" to life. If they did, Nature would surely exhibit some evidence of this truth. Those that argue that Nature does not recognize a non human right to life conveniently overlook the full picture. If you want universal human rights in your moral code, you need nonhuman rights, at the very least, for the sake of consistency and self-interest if not actual concern for the well being of non humans. You can not say you oppose discrimination based upon arbitrary subjective criteria by shunning it in one example, but encouraging it in another. And most people who adhere to a belief in ethics and compassion will want some consistency and fairness, a sense that they are adhering to something that is as close to being as absolute and impartial as possible.
The spiritual humanist will say a deity gives them special regard according to a belief in specific revelatory theism. But how do you prove that beyond a book written down by those who stand to benefit from it? And if one person can say "my Deity says this"-another can say the opposite. And if caring about nonhuman life is wrong, who came up with surplus compassion, the Devil? If an immortal soul can not be detected in a corpse of a man, how can it be denied in the corpse of a dog? Supposedly man is created in the image of God, and yet traditionally woman was seen as a secondary creation, and other nations inferior to the Chosen people. If biblically sanctioned discrimination such as dominion over women or human slavery(17) can be revisited, there is no absolute, unquestionable or practical reason to stop there. Secular humanists will say that humans are better than non humans, and this is assumed(without proof) to be objective truth, but if Nature is non judgmental, and has no human-like mind, then why are they assuming it can make a judgement (through ideologically driven biology) about one species being better than another? That is the equivalent of saying a chair has no mind, and then declaring that an apple is superior in value to an orange according to the chair. It is Specific Revelatory Secularism. Secularists have housekeeping to do with their beliefs if they want to distinguish themselves from Specific Revelatory Theists.
Some have said that if humans have to recognize rights for lions, then lions have to recognize rights for humans-but this concept of reciprocal moral regard or contractualism is another subjective criteria. There are humans (children, mentally handicapped, criminals) who receive rights even though they cannot reciprocate (or refuse to in the case of criminals). One would not expect a blind man to be able to read road signs, so why would one expect a lion to be able to understand human concepts of morality? It is a double standard, and if anyone thinks they can get lions and spiders to follow human concepts of morality, best of luck in trying.
It is dubious to assume that humans have moral codes because they understand the importance of morality or lofty concepts of good vs evil. The universe can not be shown to care about human morality, but humans need moral codes because they can be irrational, unruly, prone to acts of violence and stupidity that risk their survival-behavior which a fair number of individuals think should be discouraged through laws. Non humans observed in their natural habitats do not behave the same way. Lions do not appear to need codes, but they happen to benefit from the consistency problem inherent in human concepts of moral rights that requires they be considered as beneficiaries of moral concern as a matter of consistency, fairness and justice (and in order to avoid giving an excuse to humans who do not care about human rights to discriminate as they see fit).
Faced with such threats to a human belief in supremacy, some will deny it or say they are motivated by survival of the fittest and that it is a "dog eat dog" world. And yet, if you say that such a belief means people would have the right to prey on each other (as they always have despite laws designed to curb such behavior), usually they will protest.
They want to have their cake and eat it. They are unwilling to be consistent. They always have the double standard and the fall back to a subjective belief in supremacy without absolute justification. There are tribes, dictators, and classes who have done quite well without caring about the rights of all humans. Does a family man living in the Appalachian mountains need to care about the rights of a villager in Lebanon? Why should he? In practical terms most people go about their lives with little contact with humans in the rest of the world, and could well be a dictator in their own house without ever facing justice for it. And that is another contradiction-some will say the reason we should respect other human beings is strictly for self interest-the Golden Rule: "do under others as you would have them do unto you," not out of a concern for the species.
You cannot claim you are against injustice or unfair discrimination based upon arbitrary subjective partial standards or criteria of value committed against one when you are condoning it against another.
Or they will say humans have an emotional bonding or moral intuition or tenacious moral instinct for taking care of their own-but if that were so then surely we would not be discussing it. Animal groups would not exist. We would not have crime, wars, injustice against humans, and we would not need laws to stop humans from violating this alleged instinct or intuition. Anyone who believes humans have an instinct to watch out for other humans are free to wander through a dangerous part of town with a $1000 in their hand and see how well an instinctual drive to care for other humans comes into play. One does not usually lock their doors at night to keep out pit bulls. And if one claims there is a moral intuition to rescue a human before a dog, essentially "familiarity," then a claim of instinct or emotional bonding can apply to human relations. One could have a closer intuitive bond to a drowning person who speaks the same language, or has the same appearance. Familiarity by humans is not restricted to a species line.
Humans do not even have an instinct for self-preservation that cannot be overridden. Humans have been known to risk their lives for non humans, ideology, or even inanimate objects (money, religious symbols etc).
Another tactic is to say that one cannot be perfectly moral when it comes to dealings with non human life, thus we should not even try. The issue is not moral perfection, but trying the best one can (and certainly factory farms, zoos, research labs and other massively organized and complicated structural entities for exploitation and discrimination are not as difficult to avoid as scratching your arm and killing a microbe or accidentally stepping on an insect). No ethical view can take into account the interests of everyone at all times. And one can certainly argue the line of moral regard is not drawn at animals-that it is wrong to exploit trees and other plants. Sentience is as much a subjective criteria as any other. If there are problems in implementing an ethical policy that includes non-animals, then it is true of all potential beneficiaries of moral conduct (i.e. you may live on land that was once occupied by others who were driven off or killed due to colonial aggression; or pay taxes to a government that uses the money to finance wars, or use drugs that were tested on unwilling human patients in Africa etc.). No one can be perfect, either in compassion or cruelty, but the failure to be morally perfect does not then mean one has to fall back to some line like species to focus one's discrimination. If you argue for that-then there is no reason why someone else cannot draw the line at race, or religion, or intelligence instead of, or, in addition to species (which many people do already). In fact, if one attempts to argue from convenience, then committing a homicide is much more practical than establishing a factory farm or stalking through a forest with a rifle in search of an elusive animal. No matter how one looks at it, the reality of human predation hangs on the neck of the anti- animal rights position like an albatross.
Recently, there has been a movement that romanticizes early agriculture and subsistence hunting. They focus on cruelty not rights, and think the solution is to replace factory farming with more traditional agriculture or a return to subsistence hunting. Never mind that factory farming grew out of small farming (and if it can happen once, could happen again). Never mind that small farms and pasture grazed animals contribute to ecological problems like global warming and the wasting of crops and water (a very old human rights-centered argument for being vegetarian) and the killing of wildlife (i.e. wolves, as natural predators, dare to intervene with the production of human dietary choices by attacking herds). The "happy meat" movement as it has been called is somewhat akin to saying that you are 100 percent against cockfighting, but thinking the only possible way to deal with it is to promote groups that use dull spurs on their birds, and actively telling people to patronize "dull spur" events instead of telling them to avoid cockfighting altogether.
As for hunting, a long standing fable has been that humans are natural predators like a wolf or tiger, but humans are not naturally born predators and this is easy to prove. Humans are not born with the tools to chase down, rip apart, and devour prey. They require spears, stones, and projectile weapons. The idea that a man who aims a device at a deer and presses a button is the same as a cheetah chasing a gazelle is part of the delusional contradictory attitude that humans have about Nature. On one hand they will say that Nature is evil (in traditional Judeo-Christianity the domain of Satan, Lord of Nature) and that non human life is essentially cruel, savage, mean, uncivilized. And yet, they will glamorize and worship predator animals like the wolf and tiger. But humans are weaklings, and real predators face a difficult lifestyle. They have to chase their food, risk injury which can be lethal, deal with competitors, and occasionally be thwarted by the prey themselves. If someone says tools are the equivalent of fangs and claws then there is a little problem, the same tool-making ability that is used for hunting non human animals, can also be used for tilling the soil to plant seeds or to kill other human beings. You do not often hear about tigers and wolves planting gardens or killing other tigers and wolves, and they do not get sophisticated in how they "play with their food" the way humans do. Decorative masks or malanggans of New Ireland(12) used boar teeth which required forcing a domestic animal's tusks to grow in spirals, causing much distress to the animal. Another ritual by a tribe in the same region involves inserting long thin sticks into the hearts of pigs(13), which causes them to experience a slow, excruciatingly painful death. Nonhuman carnivorous predator animals do not have time or interest to engage in such calculated cruelty.
And this reality is true for both the city dweller and the aboriginal, who often get a pass from ecological groups due to some sort of politically correct colonial guilt or romance with pre-industrial cultures and the concept of the natural man or "noble savage" which can be taken as derogatory and placing some humans on a different level. This overlooks that so-called subsistence hunters like the Inuit have access to electricity, firearms, and other industrial inventions at the same time they want to pick and choose their traditional lifestyle choices. If the Inuit are meant to live in the Arctic like a polar bear or seal, why are they not born with all they need to survive in the climate? Since humans do not need to live in these climates (biologically, their bodies are not equipped for it), they do not need to hunt or fish. If an Inuit is naturally meant to hunt in the Arctic, as is frequently claimed by defenders of exploitation industries that use First Nations communities for supplies or propaganda (i.e. whaling, sealing and trapping), then its factual validity can be tested by simply having one brave Inuit hunter jump naked into the Arctic sea and try to bite a seal to death with only his teeth and bare hands. The outcome would speak for itself on the issue of whether First Nations people or any humans should, by biological design and necessity, hunt and fish.
As for the argument that killing is acceptable if you eat what you kill - it is the same as saying it is acceptable to murder someone if you rob them at the same time.
This is not to say that subsistence hunting is as systematically cruel as factory farming (being burned alive may not be as bad as being skinned alive either), but it is not ethical or non destructive. The term "buffalo jump" refers to the practice of stampeding herds of buffalo off cliffs so that tribal hunters of the American plains could take what they want and leave the rest to rot. Lions are not so ecologically wasteful and unfriendly. The Makah tribe of the Pacific Northwest had two traditions-human slavery and whaling. They wanted to revive one but not the other. Is it not forcing Western values on them to say they do not have a right to keep slaves like they did prior to colonial times? Furthermore, you often hear that subsistence hunters regard non humans as their brothers - and yet in the case of the Makah, the word phrase for Grey whale means "big backs are bad," or devilfish. It is a strange endearment for your brother (not to mention firing a harpoon into him).
If one regards non colonial societies as human, then they should be subject to the same rights and obligations as any other humans, according to basic principles of fairness and justice. If a human group, whether in the Sahara, a coastal Japanese fishing community, the Arctic, or some isolated island can hold to a moral view that they deserve special regard at the same time they declare themselves to have a right to systematically kill for sustenance, then they can be criticized for adhering to an unfair moral system, according to their own understanding of right and wrong. The concept of being fair and compassionate to others is universal, and the most basic animal rights argument is merely a logical extension of that principle. If it is ethically wrong for human groups to engage in human slavery, cannibalism, oppression of women and children, then the same should be true for their interaction with other species, to be fair and consistent in ethical policy. No human group in the 21st century needs to kill other animals for food-period. If we can put a man on the Moon, and design a computer that can play chess, then we can provide daily sustenance for all humans without resorting to harpoon, hook, and gun. The issue of practicality or implementation is a separate affair. Loss of traditional independence is a trivia disagreement. It can be assumed that many would agree that life should trump lifestyle.
Sometimes animal rights activists are accused of anthropomorphizing Nature - i.e. they want to paint non humans as essentially good and humans as essentially wicked. Given the fact that the definition of the word humane is to be good, and the word inhumane (or non human) is to be evil, it is about time we shifted the bias in the other direction. The fact is that humans anthropomorphize Nature even when they claim they do not, it is just a matter of how one perceives it. For the human supremacist, they will regard Nature as wicked, cruel, savage, and downplay those qualities in human beings, suggesting that they arise from our primitive heritage, not as a result of our brain capacity as it is. Mental cruelty is a human trait. Taking pleasure from the suffering you know to be causing to others is a human trait. As mentioned earlier, only humans have arenas for blood sport. Only humans will mock their victims, or laugh at the suffering of others, or be fascinated by road accidents. Only humans have been known to get sexual pleasure from violence, or deliberately having intercourse with corpses. A male lion or grizzly may be known to kill the offspring of a rival male-but do they rape them as well as humans have done? Have they set their own offspring on fire out of spite, or injected them with AIDS to get out of alimony payments? If one says some human-like cruel behavior has been observed in chimpanzees-then what does that prove given that we are told that they are our closest relatives?
Nature can not be shown to play favorites. An elephant does not have to worry about being stepped on like an ant-but if both fell off a cliff the disadvantage can be for the elephant. Nature may be called cruel, yet it gives bulls and elephants a tail with hair to brush away flies and not a fly swatter as many humans would surely prefer, given their indifference to insect life.
And once again you have contradictions. Zoo keepers will say that animal activists do not recognize the harshness of Nature-and yet they treat whales and seals in marine parks like Disney mascot performers, training them to nod their heads and do tricks for the crowd. If an elephant or whale attacks a trainer, the circus officials will feign shock-and claim it is not possible that the happy, human-loving animal captive was capable of acting like a wild (non Disney-like) animal.
Some (usually white men) have attempted to attack animal rights philosophy by claiming it is mainly a white upper middle class interest, and that other races are too busy fighting off discrimination themselves to care about non human life. And yet many animal activists are women, who do know something about discrimination. Animal groups exist in many non European countries, including ones with internal strife like China and Mexico, so the idea that one cannot be concerned about discrimination against someone else if you are a victim of it yourself says more about a pundit's lack of desire to help others if he was a victim of discrimination than how the majority of others behave.
But the idea that we need to deal with human problems first suggests that compassion and social activism must follow a hierarchy - if that is true, then which is a greater priority-racism or discrimination against the homeless? Discrimination against gays and lesbians or discrimination against handicapped people? In practical terms people do not follow a road map for compassion. It only gets highlighted by supremacists in the discussion of non human rights. Utilitarian attempts to calculate precise figures for who suffers and who gains are academic exercises which have little practical value given that it cannot be demonstrated that the moral system is the correct one. The same is true for Ethical Egoism, especially when it denies that by following its logic, discrimination against other humans should be permissible.
Sometimes one will get the question, but if you had to choose between saving the life of a drowning man or a rat/dog/pig, who would you save? The most practical answer would be whoever you can save. If it was a choice between two humans no one would ask who do you save first (unless one was a racial supremacist). Once again it is the double standard based upon an assumption of human superiority. If you chose to save an individual human that you had more familiarity with-does it mean that the loser deserves being enslaved in a factory farm or a laboratory?
Nowhere is the contradictory logic demonstrated more plainly than in how humans defend research on non human animals. Someone will say: but if you had to save the life of your child, would you not sacrifice a rat? The answer to this should be no less controversial than if you had a choice between your child and a neighbor's. If you chose your child, does it mean you want the neighbor's child to be tortured in a lab? If you refuse to choose, does that mean you do not love your child as much as your neighbor's? This type of question is not raised, even when we know that the best research model for human disease is another human. To suggest that a rat is the best model for human illness would be like saying you can cure diseases in elephants by using giraffes. It is not as if scientists can torture a few rats and find a cure (if that was the case cancer would have been cured in the 19th century). Scientists take advantage of a publicly accepted quasi Darwinian/Great Chain of Being/Food Chain myth-that life can be broken down into components and a rat is a simpler version of a human, as opposed to being a separate species with no hierarchy beyond the subjective one created by humans. Additionally, there is a problem with treating innocent non human animals in a way that would be considered an atrocity if done to the most despised criminals. If finding cures for diseases was of such importance, and not partly motivated by financial interests (few drugs are offered for free), then why not use criminals or volunteers in medical research? It is strange that people will be sent off to be maimed and killed in wars for natural resources, religion or political ideology and yet the war against cancer is only considered of dire importance when it comes to abolishing non human animals in research.
Scientists in animal research also benefit from public faith in science, and salvation through technology (while ignoring such unsavory realities as Thalidomide or the over the counter cough syrup turned narcotic plagues Heroin and Cocaine). The worst of them will cut or burn victims, inject them with chemicals that cause painful birth defects, deliberately drive subjects insane (even when they claim they have no minds), and many other atrocities for monetary and career reasons since they know that cures for Death do not fall off the tree like apples, but promises of a "breakthrough" guarantee grant money. However, those that engage in such actions with the heartfelt claim that they only want to heal show a twisted sense of morality. Animal researchers tend to have an extremely poor grasp on ethics and will attempt to justify their actions by citing benefits (with such logic a thief might cite the benefits to his family by stealing from someone). Animal research is a perversion of common sense altruism, attempting to help one by causing misery to another. Imagine trying to alleviate a homeless man's plight by kicking a family out of their house and calling it an act of compassion. And if you criticize them, they may either accuse you of wanting to plunge humanity into the Dark Ages (they share some similarities with Voodoo witch doctors and ancient priests of augury-making money by cutting open and reading the entrails of animals and using fear as a persuasion tactic) or call you a hypocrite if you benefited from any sort of drug that had also involved non human research. Never mind that drug companies continue to do experiments on humans in Africa (since they know that they need human test subjects), or that the medical research done by J Marion Sims (the former head of the American Medical Association honored with a statue in New York's Central Park who helped find human treatments through experiments on human slaves ) and Josef Mengele, was kept and used (in the late 1980s camp survivors tried to have Nazi research destroyed but were told it could be useful to human health). Apparently one can be against human experimentation and still benefit from it, but not so with nonhuman animal research. The double standard is in full display.
This author is of the opinion that if one is serious about advocating for the improvement of circumstances for non human life forms that come into contact with human beings, and supporting a concept of fairness and justice for them that cannot be easily denied, then a new approach to animal rights argument is required to address important areas of the discussion that are omnipresent and left unanswered by the cruelty/sentience criteria and "speciesism equals racism" position. Specifically, it requires an approach that directly challenges the human belief in supremacy, and highlights the fact of human predation upon other humans as a natural phenomenon. At the very least, it can be a plainly spoken alternative that does not require that one adhere to a specific traditional ethical system, religion or subjective criteria of value for determining moral worth (i.e. Utilitarianism, secularism, sentience/reason), but uses the beliefs of the listener as well as the reality of human nature in order to make the case for expanding moral regard to nonhuman life forms as a matter of common sense ethical consistency. While the argument facilitates the extension of moral regard beyond animals, a failure to practically or consistently implement such an ethical policy to all possible beneficiaries does not negate the validity of the approach, since the lack of moral perfection already exists in human conduct towards other humans, and any effort to draw the line at humans as a matter of practicality or convenience does not stop another from arguing that race, gender, or any other subjective non species criteria is even more practical/convenient. The freedom of human behavior to be as discriminatory as possible to other humans as a matter of observable fact and history is the ultimate thorn in the side of those who argue for exclusively human-centered rights. The fact that it utilizes a harsh observation of human existence and behavior in Nature against those who use a similarly harsh view of Natural phenomenon to dismiss claims of nonhuman rights makes it especially potent. It is hoped that among animal rights debaters, those who may be disturbed by a lack of absolute certainty or possibility of attaining moral perfection in the ethical system, or cling to some concept of human supremacy as a personal comfort, would not outnumber those who can embrace it. Numerous field tests of the approach against hard line opponents of animal rights has shown that it succeeds in frustrating their efforts to go on the offensive and often removes a desire to continue the debate.
(1) Boswell, J., Life of Johnson (N.Y.: Modern Library Edition, 1965) p. 365.
The wild and dangerous attempt which has for some time been persisted in order to obtain an act of our legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary branch of commercial interest, must have been crus(h)ed at once, had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites my wonder and indignation; and though some men of superior abilities have supported it, whether from a love of temporary popularity, when prosperous; or a love of general mischief, when desperate, my opinion is unshaken. To abolish a status which in all ages GOD has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to shut the gates of mercy on mankind. Christians Organise Slave-Trade
(2) Shaw, G.B. Getting Married, 1908
(3) Swift, J Gulliver's Travels Book 4, A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms. Chapter XII
My Reconcilement to the Yahoo-kind in general might not be so difficult if they would be content with those Vices and Follies only, which Nature has entitled them to. I am not in the least provoked at the Sight of a Lawyer, a Pick-pocket, a Colonel, a Fool, a Lord, a Gamester, a Politician, a Whore-Master, a Physician, an Evidence, a Suborner, an Attorney, a Traitor, or the like: This is all according to the due Course of Things: But when I behold a Lump of Deformity, and Diseases both in Body and Mind, smitten with Pride, it immediately breaks all the Measures of my Patience; neither shall I be ever able to comprehend how such an Animal and such a Vice could tally together. The wise and virtuous Houyhnhnms, who abound in all Excellencies that can adorn a Rational Creature, have no Name for this Vice in their Language, which has no Terms to express anything that is Evil, except those whereby they describe the detestable Qualities of their Yahoos, among which they were not able to distinguish this of Pride, for want of thoroughly understanding Human Nature, as it sheweth itself in other Countries, where that Animal presides. But I, who had more Experience, could plainly observe some Rudiments of it among the wild Yahoos.
(4) Twain, M. Following the Equator
(5) Altruism in rats using shock experiment: Animals Can Tell Right From Wrong, by Richard Gray, Science Correspondent. May 23, 2009.
(6) Rhesus Monkeys altruism using shock experiment, Jules Masserman 1964:
(8) Twain, M. The Lowest Animal
(9) Rare antelope driven to edge of extinction
A well-meant but misguided decision by conservationists is driving a central Asian antelope to the brink of extinction, a report claims today. Poachers who were encouraged to hunt the saiga, an antelope of the steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan, to ease the pressure on rhino in Africa and Asia, have brought about a catastrophic 97 per cent fall in the animal's numbers in a decade, according to this week's New Scientist magazine. The decline from more than a million to fewer than 30,000 is through to be the most sudden and severe population crash of a large mammal. The saiga has been hunted, says the report by Fred Pearce, a science writer, because in the early 1990s the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other conservation groups actively promoted the saiga horn as an alternative to the horn of endangered rhinos, which is used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine…..The plains used to be black with these antelopes, but now you can go out there and not see any at all, says Dr Abigail Entwistle, director of the Eurasia programme of the conservation charity Fauna and Flora International. This is the most sudden change in fortune for a large mammal species recorded in recent times….According to the report, WWF began a campaign in 1991 in Hong Kong to publicise saiga horn as an alternative to rhino horn, which when ground up is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy. Rhinoceros populations in Africa and Asia have also been devastated by poachers hunting them for their horns….According to Eleanor Milner-Gulland, of Imperial College London, the leading Western expert on the saiga, there is no known case in biology where the sex ratio has gone so wrong that fecundity has disappeared in this way. Dr Milner-Gulland says that between 1993 and 1998, saiga numbers across central Asia almost halved, to around 600,000. Then, with most of the males gone, the population crash began in earnest, with numbers halving each year since, until last year's census recorded just 30,000 individuals….Hunters are unlikely to drive the saiga to total extinction but without an unexpected reversal in its fortunes it will soon be confined to zoos and a few small reserves.
(Rare antelope driven to edge of extinction by well-meaning conservationists - Michael McCarthy Thursday 13 February 2003)
(10) The broadtail possum in New Zealand - introduced by the Australian fur industry
(11) Nature Conservancy and the hunting of pigs: Island Pig Eradication Spurs Wild Controversy, Clodfelter, L. March 2 2005.
(12) Tusk decorated masks or malanggans of New Ireland: (New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Crescent ISBN: 0517004046. 1987. Page 437 ).
(13) Tribal pig ritual: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse 1991.
(14) Washington, H.A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Knopf Doubleday, 2006
(15) Big Pharma Tries Out First World Drugs on Unsuspecting Third World Patient
By the end of July a US district court will decide whether drug giant Pfizer should stand trial in the United States for presiding over a coercive, botched 1996 experiment on Nigerian children with meningitis. In a class- action suit filed last August, thirty Nigerian families say the company violated the Nuremberg Code by forcing an unapproved, risky experiment on unwitting subjects who suffered brain damage, loss of hearing, paralysis and death as a result…….Globalizing clinical research solves the pharmaceutical paradox that while the average American brings home more than ten prescriptions a year, just one in 350 is willing to play guinea pig for new drug testing. An abundance of poor, undertreated and doctor-trusting patients in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia renders the quick, positive results corporate sponsors need to get new drugs approved fast. According to one review, a whopping 99 percent of controlled trials published in China bestowed positive results upon the treatment under investigation…..Even if Americans were willing to participate in trials, they take so many medications that they make poor lab rats anyway, clinical researchers say. To prove a new drug safe and effective, "you want patients with no other disease states and no other treatments. Then you can say relatively clearly that whatever happens to those patients is from the drug," says MDS Pharma's Simon Yaxley, whose company sells what industry PR folks call "patient recruitment solutions" in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Latin America and China. In developing countries, many people, because they are poor and don't have access to clinicians and hospitals, aren't taking any medicines for their illnesses…Conveniently, many of the FDA's ponderous regulations stop at the border. For example, the FDA's requirement that companies prove that their experimental drugs are safe on animals before starting tests on humans doesn't apply for tests conducted outside the United States. And experiments on Americans must undergo painstaking, lengthy reviews by government-regulated "institutional review boards" (IRBs)…The FDA simply requires that foreign trials conform to the World Medical Association's Declaration of Helsinki, a series of ethical recommendations that critics call rudimentary, nonbinding and ambiguous. Scientists routinely ignore Helsinki directives to publish negative results and make study designs public, and they liken Helsinki-required ethics committees in developing countries to rubber stamps. "No ethical questions are raised at all," one investigator admitted to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC)…..What results is one set of acceptable risks for patients at home and quite another for patients abroad, a double standard that has left hundreds of preventable deaths in its wake. Most notoriously, in the mid- and late 1990s, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control funded and defended studies in which Western scientists withheld treatment from HIV-infected pregnant women in developing countries, even though they knew antiretroviral drugs would reduce the rate of HIV infection in their infants by two-thirds. Hundreds of infants "needlessly contracted HIV infection" while Western doctors presided over their care, according to an incendiary New England Journal of Medicine paper by Public Citizen's Dr. Peter Lurie and Dr. Sidney Wolfe.." Published in the July 1, 2002 issue of The Nation. Globalizing Clinical Research: Big Pharma Tries Out First World Drugs on Unsuspecting Third World Patients by Sonia Shaw.
(16) Example of government agencies breeding wildlife for hunting:
New Jersey offers sportsmen and women more than 500,000 acres of state-owned public open space providing a diversity of habitats from hardwood ridges and rolling hills to pine forests and salt marsh. This total includes more than 276,000 acres in 118 Wildlife Management Areas, specifically managed to enhance wildlife populations and provide for wildlife-oriented recreation."…New Jersey offers more than a hundred days of deer hunting, including seasons for bow, shotgun and muzzleloading rifle. Multiple bag limits are the rule in most zones. The 2001-02 deer harvest was 68,669. In addition, some of the best waterfowl hunting on the East coast is found in the Garden State. Snow geese, brant, black duck, mallard, bufflehead and a variety of other waterfowl species provide extensive hunting opportunities, especially on the coastal marshes. The Rockport Pheasant Farm produces 55,000 pheasants annually for release on selected wildlife management areas. The wild turkey, reestablished in the late 1970s, continues to increase throughout the state with the population now estimated at 18,000 - 20,000 with an annual harvest of more than 2,000.
New Jersey Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website
(17) Biblical attitudes disavowed today:
Ephesians 6:5-8 5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.*Colossians 3:22 22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:"
Indifference to Poverty:
Matthew 26:6-11 6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
Beating and Killing Slaves:
An owner could beat a male or female slave but would have to avoid serious injury to eyes or teeth and beating the slave to death unless they died a day or so later: Exodus 21:20-21 "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money [property]."