John Stuart Mill said that to every great movement—and in spite of the voices of its detractors, the animal rights movement I believe has proved its greatness—there are three stages:
- discussion, and
There is some adoption of the animal rights ethic, but it is scattered at best. There is more discussion. A lot more discussion—since animal ethics pioneers such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan came on the scene and helped history to unfold in such a way as to see this great movement come to birth. And it is not just any movement, out of “left field” (although in fact a leaning towards taking care of all vulnerable members of society is, I think, a logical implication of any sound animal rights ethic!). The animal rights movement is a further step in traditional anti-oppression—or expressed more positively, pro-liberation—movements such as black liberation and women’s liberation. Indeed, I hold that one cannot fully or successfully justify human rights without nonspeciesist thinking, as I will further explain in my book, and have hinted at, with some reasoning, in "The Rights of Animal Persons" (on my website; originally published in The Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal 4 (1) (2006): 1-37). (I add that Singer does not support animal rights, although he does favor animal liberation; in Ibid. I argue that he would not liberate all animals, that is, from vivisection. It is problematic to say that he is part of the same movement as animal rights people. In truth, it only overlaps to a large extent.)
However, we are not fully over the ridicule phase of the movement. Some people still ask: “What about insects?” Trouble is, although these people are often dismissed like “bugs” themselves, they have a legitimate point. Think about it logically: if animals have rights, even equal rights in some sense, and insects are animals, do not insects have equal rights too? If that does not seem right, and insects are not due benefits or protections as much as humans, does that not refute the animal rights ethic by implication? My forthcoming book will be the first to try systematically to account for such a preference without compromising strong rights for sentient beings, including a careful and respectful consideration of beings such as insects and other invertebrates.
I called the animal rights movement a great movement. Is it great in terms of numbers? In terms of numbers of adherents, yes. Millions of souls are enough to boggle anyone’s mind, although I am not aware of any formal tally. In terms of percentage of the population, it does not yet compare to historically great movements such as biblically based religion. Is it great in terms of its ideals? Yes: it advocates that spectacularly more good be done in the world, and greatly more bad avoided, and that what is truly best be affirmed—at least in my version of animal rights ethics. There is nothing greater, indeed, than what is best. And this is best in a distinctively non-utilitarian sense (see “The Rights of Animal Persons” ).
But this greatness is not just in the abstract: it is great to behold animals in largely idyllic settings of animal sanctuaries, and great to meet fellow animal rights supporters who are really wonderful people. They are the ones in my experience who most embody the things that people most admire: compassion, rationality, morality, doing good and avoiding bad, human excellence, a concern for truth, and non-violence. They embody the Golden Rule, basic to all the great religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Zorastrianism. That rule (in one of its more prominent versions) states: Treat others as you would be treated. I am not “getting religious” here but making a point about human greatness in general. Non-religious people try for the same great ideals I have listed—at least the ones I find most truly inspiring.
I firmly believe that we need to move from discussion towards adoption, but that is a gradual process, and frankly I do not expect non-animal-liberationists automatically to agree with me. They need convincing reasons to agree or disagree. In the process of the twenty-years I have been doing animal rights philosophy, however, I have laboured to provide reasons for agreement not just with animal rights, but whatever seems to me most right and good.
This first entry is a welcome message, and you do indeed come to greater wellness the more you come to animal rights: not just more wellness for yourself because veganism, sensibly practiced, is demonstrably healthier. This is a topic widely discussed in many places since meat-eating leads to more cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, senile dementia, arthritis, kidney and gall stones, impotence obesity, osteoporosis, and many other degenerative diseases. I encourage people to pick up Diet for a New America by John Robbins.
I also know that animal liberation is associated with greater wellness because animal agriculture is perhaps the greatest environmental disaster of our time. Animal agriculture is the number one contributor—even considerably greater than cars—of greenhouse gases, believe it or not, due to farm animals farting and thus emitting carbon dioxide; the factory farms have large pools of excrement that contaminate delicate water tables and local rivers, streams and lakes; such practices use enormous amounts of water and raw materials; more than half of North America’s antibiotics to unbelievably stressed-out and ill intensively “farmed” animals; and eating animals creates ever-more pesticides directly by raining them down on animal feed crops, and indirectly when we absorb pesticides stored in the fatty cells of dead animals. Indeed, most crops go to feed animals rather than, say starving people, e.g., about 90% of soybeans are grown for animal feed, thus depleting our topsoil…and so the list goes on.
It is well to come to the place of animal liberation for these reasons, but also because, not least of all, it goes well or at least better for animals if one does. People who practice traditional “kindness” towards animals say they practice “animal welfare,” and that sounds well enough, does it not? However, in “The Rights of Animal Persons” I argue that in nonspeciesist terms (and speciesisim is a lot like racism and sexism in its morally arbitrary and harmful discrimination) killing animals for food, experiments, hunting, clothing, and exploiting them for entertainment is more like an ill fate for these animals rather than ensuring their “wellness” or good as “animal welfare” above all seems to imply. At least we would not say humans were treated “well” if they were exploited in these ways. “Animal welfare” truly practiced would indeed try to do good and avoid bad whenever possible, for all beings to whom good and bad are significant: sentient beings. Speciesist animal welfare issues something of a false welcome to its adherents in the sense I am developing here, since as indicated above traditional animal usage undermines both human and especially nonhuman animal wellness. If I am right that animal rights is a great movement then my welcome is even more in earnest, as something great is even better than what is merely “well,” or is exemplary in its goodness.
Peace be with you and hope to be in communication with you next week!
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