The case against animals
Six rescued dogs live with us. Except for one dog, born in a shelter for pregnant dogs, all the others came from tragic situations, including severe abuse. These dogs are not-human refugee with whom we share our house. We love these dogs but believe they shouldn’t have been born.
We are against domestication and pet ownership, as they violate the rights of animals.
The term “animal rights” has lost its meaning. The term ‘animal right’ is used by anyone who believes that battery hens should have a little more space in their cages, or that veal calfs should be kept in groups rather than isolated before being dragged away and killed. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975), widely regarded as the “father of the animal right movement”, is largely responsible for this.
This attribution of paternity has a problem because Singer is a practical, who rejects moral right and supports measures that he believes will reduce suffering. The ‘father’ of animal rights rejects animal protection and supports cage-free egg production, crate free pork and other ‘happy-exploitation’ measures promoted by animal welfare charities. Singer doesn’t promote animal right, he promotes welfare. He doesn’t reject animal use by humans in general. He only focuses on their suffering. He said in an interview in The Vegan in 2006 that he could imagine a world where people eat mostly plant foods but occasionally indulge in the luxury of eating free-range eggs or even meat from animals which live a good life under conditions natural to their species and are then killed humanely on the farm.
When it comes to protecting the interests of our species, we use the term “animal rights” similarly. If we say, for example, that a person has a fundamental right to life, then we mean her interest in living will be protected, even if her use as an organ donor without consent would save the lives of ten other people. A right protects an interest, regardless of the consequences. It is possible to lose the protection under certain circumstances. The protection can’t be revoked for only consequential reasons.
Animals other than humans have the right to not be treated exclusively as resources for humans, regardless of whether their treatment is “humane” or if it would result in desirable outcomes if non-humans were only used as resources.
When we discuss animal rights, we are primarily referring to the right to not be property. This is because animals can’t be considered property if they have moral value – and aren’t just objects. If animals are property, then they can be only things. Consider this in a human context. Regardless of their characteristics, all humans are entitled to a fundamental pre-legal right to not be treated as chattel. We reject chattel slavery. It does not mean that it does not exist. It still exists. But no one defends it.
We reject chattel slavery because the slave, who is not a person anymore, is no longer morally important. Human slaves are things that exist outside of the moral community. The owner can value all the interests of the human slave. He may treat him horribly or consider the slave a family member. Fundamental interests of the slave might be ignored.
In the United States of America and Britain, many laws purportedly regulated race-based slavery. These laws failed because they only applied when there was a conflict between the slave and slaveowner. If the slave owner doesn’t win the majority of the time then slavery is not an institution. The owner’s right to property cannot be challenged meaningfully.
Non-humans face the same problems. Animals that are considered property cannot have intrinsic or inherent value. They only have external or extrinsic value. They are things that wevalue. Property owners have the right to value these things. We could choose to value them as zero.
Many laws regulate the use of nonhuman animals. There are more laws like this than laws that regulate human slavery. Like the laws that regulate human slavery, these laws don’t work. These laws only apply when animal and human interests are at odds. Humans have rights too, including the right of ownership and use. Animals are considered property. The law is predetermined when it balances human interests with non-human ones.
Animals are considered chattel, so the standard for animal welfare is always low. Because it costs money to protect the interests of animals, these interests are protected, in most cases, only when there is a financial benefit. Finding an animal welfare measure that doesn’t make animal exploitation more effective is hard. The laws that require stunning large animals before slaughtering reduce carcass damage and worker injuries. Housing calves in small groups rather than large crates will reduce stress and illness. This reduces veterinary costs.
The increase in production costs due to animal welfare measures is typically very small. (For example, moving from the traditional battery cages to “enriched cages” in the EU). This increase rarely impacts the overall demand of the product, given the elasticities of the demand. In any case, even if animals are ‘humanely treated’ for food, they still receive treatment that would be considered torture if humans were involved. It is impossible to have a ‘happy exploitation’.
The right to not be property is not a positive right and does not address the rights of non-humans. However, recognizing this one negative right would require us to reject institutionalised abuse, which assumes animals as things we can use or kill to suit our needs.
This is a brief detour to point out that although our words may sound radical, they are not. In fact, we have a conventional view of animals that leads us to the same conclusion even without considering rights.
The conventional wisdom on animals holds that humans can use and kill animals without causing them unnecessary pain or death. The concept of necessity cannot be interpreted in this context as allowing to suffer or die for frivolous reasons. In certain contexts, we recognize this. Many people have a negative reaction towards the American footballer Michael Vick who was implicated in a dogfighting operation in 2007. Why do we still resent Vick almost a decade later? Answer: We know that Vick’s actions were wrong, because he only had pleasure or amusement in harming the dogs. And pleasure and amusement are not acceptable justifications.