Why Animal Rights?
Or... "Aren't they just a bunch of wimpy, whining animal lovers?"
This page contains a more elaborate discussion about Animal Rights and vegetarianism than I could put on the other pages.
It is both for sympathetic audiences looking for more information as well as the skeptics and hecklers.
Hmm, okay, now that I've got you here, what should I say? I know, why don't you fire away with your questions and doubts and I'll try to answer them as well as I can.
I will answer things to the best of my ability, in my own words. I don't pretend to be a substitute for the myriad of web pages out there which explain things much better and in more detail. I'll try to include links to some of these pages along the way.
Some of this discussion might be pretty weighty and philosophical at times. This is in order to combat the myth that Animal Rightists are a bunch of emotional, irrational animal-lovers with a total disregard for logic and common sense. If you're not interested in a certain topic, skip it. Or if you're in basic agreement with this stuff and just want to kick back and have fun, you can jump straight to some songs and stories.
What do you mean by "Animal Rights"? Do you want to give Animals the right to vote?!
No, but we'd like people to recognize that animals have certain inalienable rights, like humans do, and that these rights should be respected and enforced.
That's ridiculous. You people care more for animals than for people.
Animal Rights has do to with respect, not love. You don't need to love a group to respect it. And although many Animal Rightists "love" animals (a subjective term which varies per individual), some Animal Rightists can't stand them, but nonetheless want to defend their rights. As for your last comment, caring for animals and people is not mutually exclusive. Wanting to combat speciesism doesn't mean that the other -isms aren't as important.
What do you mean by "isms"? What is speciesism?
As our society has evolved, we have identified oppressive tendencies by "isms" as the first step towards combatting them. Terms like "sexism," "racism," "ageism," and more recently "speciesism" are examples of these oppressive "isms". All such "isms" have two common characteristics:
The notion of "love" is irrelevant here. Clearly, our exploitation and oppression of animals is rooted in the above two irrational beliefs, thereby justifying the term "speciesism".
What's the big fuss? We've been doing this for years, so it must be okay.
Slavery, sexism and other forms of oppression existed for years before a small, vocal minority identified these practices as cruel, irrational and unjustified. And beliefs and actions that were once normal and commonplace are now perceived as horrific and atrocious. What is now perceived by the majority as "okay" may not be perceived as such in the future.
So you want to stop killing everything? Shall we pass laws against walking on lawns so no ants will die? Should we pass laws against breathing so we don't inhale any single-celled organisms? Get real.
The scenario you're alluding to is admittedly exteme, but at present, we're living in another extreme. Ours is an extreme in which a line is drawn which separates all human and non-human animals. All human animals (at least in civilized countries) are to be protected and have rights. This has nothing to do with intelligence, for even mentally handicapped people and babies fall under this umbrella of protection. On the other hand, we can do as we please with all other animals. Dogs and cats are our privileged pets, whereas pigs (smarter than dogs) are food animals. People who abuse dogs can be arrested whereas food animals are not protected by any animal abuse laws. As with any system devoid of logic, paradoxes and atrocities abound.
The other Utopian extreme that you alluded to is the total protection of all creatures, which is impractical in the real world. However, we can start by discarding the simple human/non-human partition and adopting a model which at least recognizes the physiological similarities between humans and other complex non-human animals, for example. Intelligence and other issues like a "soul" aside, we can at least admit that we share common neurological and physiological bonds with these animals, such as the ability to feel pain and suffer, and the tendency to panic when cramped in large numbers in small quarters. These experiential observations don't invalidate less complex forms of life, but rather provide a way to apply what we know about ourselves to similar life forms. This newer model, although imperfect, is much better than our current one.
It's okay to kill and eat animals because my religion says I can.
Does it? Most religions have their book (i.e. the Bible or the Koran) in which historical accounts are given of people eating meat, but do they clearly say that meat-eating and other forms of animal exploitation are immutable commandments?
I don't want to delve too deeply on vegetarianism, since that is the topic of the next section, but I'll steal a few topics. We all know that humans are omnivorous, meaning that we can eat both animals and plants. Fortunately, for our species, we are omnivorous, because there were certain periods in history where we couldn't have survived on plants alone. It is only natural that religious accounts validate this fact.
If we agree that at the present time, we can live quite healthily and happily without meat (if you don't, skip ahead to the section on Vegetarianism), the question remains: Given the resources that we have at our disposal at the present time, does our religion justify the (needless) murder and exploitation of animals?
Most religions encourage kindness and good-doing, so it would seem that the needless murder and exploitation of animals would go against these principles. The Bible, for example, says that God gave Man dominion over animals, and many people interpret this to mean that humans can do whatever they want with animals. However, doesn't dominion really mean stewardship? And isn't it befitting of a good steward not to needlessly take a life of an animal that is just as capable of suffering, feeling pain and enjoying a sunny day as a human is? (Note that the issue of whether an animal has a soul or not is irrelevant here.)
You've got some good points, but I've got higher priorities. There's a lot of injustice in the world now, and I prefer to focus on people, not animals.
There is a lot of injustice in the world, and the fight to battle these injustices should never cease. Sadly though, many of these injustices involve distant villains oppressing their hapless groups of people. Combatting these kinds of injustices involves exerting one's influence on these distant villains.
Animal Rights is a fascinating cause, however, because the immediate perpetrators of these injustices are ourselves. We are the ones that pay for the slaughterhouse workers to massacre cows and saw chickens' heads off with a chainsaw. We are the ones that allow companies like McDonalds to pay South American farmers to raze tropical rainforests and make grazing fields for beef cows. To cite a verse from Let's Not Forget, one of the poems you'll find elsewhere:
Sure, some of us choose to go further, but this is by no means necessary. Unlike most causes, Animal Rights starts with the individual. This is a scary notion, because most of us find it easier to point the finger at others rather than question our own actions and beliefs. But it also presents the opportunity to find the wholeness you can only get by casting off illogical, mind-numbing paradoxes and irrational beliefs.
I like animals, but going vegetarian seems a bit extreme.
Going vegetarian is a logical consequence of love or respect for animals. Our "modern"-day factory farming conditions make a compelling case for renouncing meat: cows transported great distances without food and water to be ultimately stunned and killed by a bolt in the head. Chickens transported under equally hideous conditions and then suspended upside down to have their heads sawed off. Female pigs being immobilized in "rape racks" so that the boars can "service" them, and then immobilized throughout the lactation process so that they don't accidentally roll on top of their young in their cramped quarters. Freshly hatched male chicks tossed alive into a garbage disposal or a garbage bag filled with writhing bodies because they are less suitable than their female counterparts. Veal calves being confined to a wooden crate so narrow that they can't even turn around. The list goes on and on. And if you add the insensitivity of the slaughterhouse workers and the consumer, you've got a recipe for cruelty and horror.
Factory farmed animals account for the majority of store-bought animal products. More enlightened consumers might opt for "free range" or "organic" products in health food stores. While the cruelty behind the production of such products is sometimes less than their factory-farmed analogs, the underlying Animal Rights issue still remains. ("What gives us the right to take the life of another living creature if it is not necessary?")
We are meant to eat meat. We're omnivores. We've got canine teeth.
Fortunately for the human species, we can eat meat. Certain groups needed to eat meat or perish at crucial points in their history. But is meat necessary or an inadequate, makeshift tool for survival?
Consider the following diagram, taken from What's wrong with eating meat? by Vistara Parham, (c) 1979 by Amanda Marga Publications and Barbara Parham, pp. 10-11
PCAP Publications 97-38, 42nd Avenue Corona, NY 11368 MEAT EATER LEAF-GRASS FRUIT EATER HUMAN BEINGS EATER has claws no claws no claws no claws no pores on perspires perspires perspires skin; perspires through mil- through mil- through mil- through tongue lions of pores lions of pores lions of pores to cool body on skin on skin on skin sharp, pointed no sharp, poin- no sharp, poin- no sharp, poin- teeth to tear ted front teeth ted front teeth ted front teeth flesh small salivary well-developed well-developed well-developed glands in the salivary glands, salivary glands, salivary glands, mouth (not needed to pre- needed to pre- needed to pre- needed to pre- digest grains digest grains digest grains digest grains and fruits and fruits and fruits and fruits) acid saliva; alkaline saliva; alkaline saliva; alkaline saliva; no enzyme pty- much ptyalin to much ptyalin to much ptyalin to alin to pre- pre-digest pre-digest pre-digest digest grains grains grains grains no flat back flat, back molar flat, back molar flat, back molar molar teeth to teeth to grind teeth to grind teeth to grind grind food food food food much strong stomach acid 20 stomach acid 20 stomach acid 20 hydrochloric times less times less times less acid in stom- strong than strong than strong than ach to digest meat eaters meat eaters meat eaters tough animal muscle, bone, etc. intestinal intestinal intestinal intestinal tract only tract 10 times tract 12 times tract 12 times 3 times body body length, body length, body length, lenght so ra- leaves and grains leaves and grains leaves and grains pidly decay- do not decay as do not decay as do not decay as ing meat can quickly so can quickly so can quickly so can pass out of pass more slowly pass more slowly pass more slowly body quickly through the body through the body through the body
Going without meat is impractical and difficult. It's like rocket science: you've got to combine all sorts of foods and eat weird things like tofu.
The notion of protein complementarity (combining beans and grains) was first put forth by Francis Moore Lappé in her landmark book Diet for a Small Planet in 1972. She set out to prove that from purely vegetable sources, it is possible to achieve a dietary intake of the same proportions of amino acids present in meat-based diets. She devoted more than 200 pages in her first book explaining and expounding this theory.
More than 23 years later, we now know that the high amounts of protein in a meat-based diet are not only unnecessary, but can also be harmful. Even Lappé recanted her theory in more recent editions of her book. In a nutshell, protein deficiency is impossible given a diet with an adequate amount of non-empty calories. You don't even have to try to get enough protein.
As it turns out, it is surprisingly easy to obtain all other necessary nutrients from plant-based sources as well.
John McDougall, M.D., has put together a nice factsheet on the foremost myths concerning vegetarian nutrition.
If I stop eating meat, I'll have a difficult time going out and having fun with friends.
Those who are concerned about this probably care little for responses like "If they're really your friends, they'll understand," etc.
Fortunately, in our society, restaurants offer a variety of vegetarian choices, even though they are not explicitly labeled as such. If you're afraid of standing out, nothing prevents you from discretely ordering a salad or a plate of pasta without announcing that you're vegetarian.
Vegetarianism doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing matter. If a thousand people cut down on one hamburger a week, countless cows and rainforest trees will be saved (plus the people will be that much healthier). Nevertheless, many vegetarians' convictions are so strong that they give up meat and animal products completely.
Comments? Suggestions? Did I leave anything out?
Copyright © 1995-2001 by Mohan Embar. All Rights Reserved