Before this blog (blawg?) gets into laws and regulations and such, I want to first touch on a philosophical question common in the animals rights/welfare movement.
Why should we care about animal welfare and/or animal rights?
First, the welfare vs. rights distinction.
Welfare just gives humans a duty to make sure animals are well cared for. It establishes sort of a mutually beneficial relationship that started way back when everyone was a farmer. There is a body of thought that welfare comprises these “Five Freedoms,” and as long as these are checked off, everyone is good.
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
- Freedom to express normal behavior
- Freedom from fear and distress
So, animal welfare still allows humans to use animals for their meat, skins, etc.
Animal rights activists generally disagree with the use of animals for any reason, even if the animal is cared for in a “humane” way. The basis of this belief is that animals possess intrinsic value, and are not just valuable for what benefits they provide to humans.
Note: Beware the groups that demonize animal rights activists. Every social movement has its extremists, and not all animal rights activists want to take your pets away. Don’t believe everything the NAIA tells you. Seriously what is with the graphic at the bottom.
The main difference is that the animal welfare movement stills allows for the use of animals for human benefit, and animals rights movement aims to give animals legal rights and more autonomy.
Elephants & the Law’s position is that animals deserve better legal status, because they are valuable in their own right. Obviously not the same legal status as an adult human, although I do think my cat should be able to vote. She’s Lib-purr-tarian…
Animals are not ours to use freely, but we should be able to coexist with them, and use what they provide for us if our use does not cause harm. We should be smart enough to know where to draw the line.
But still, why do we even care?
Because animals are valuable in their own right.
If you have the time, I would suggest reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or Practical Ethics. Both were published a while ago but the philosophy behind his arguments is timeless.
His argument starts with Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianist view that the test for whether animals matter is whether they can suffer. Peter Singer builds on that test, explaining something that he termed “equal consideration of interests.” Basically, if an animal can experience pain and suffering, then that animal is worthy of consideration. That animal has an interest in not suffering, and that interest should be weighed equally with the interests of humans. Because no one wants to suffer.
Animals exist in their own complex universes, innocently concerned with not hurting, starving, or being eaten. We have no place ranking their importance in our universe.
But, while we’re on Bentham and the question “Why?”…
Because we are compassionate beings.
If you really need a reason to care about animal welfare or rights, this is a pretty good one.
What is compassion? Google says: “Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”
So suffering and misfortune provokes a compassionate response in humans. Well, animals – elephants in particular – are experiencing suffering and misfortune constantly. And we just can’t plead ignorance anymore.
We are compassionate to other humans (hopefully), so why not every living thing?
Because caring about animals makes us better.
“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
Caring for animals makes makes us better in a lot of ways, not just our health. ( I know some people are like ew Huffington Post, but the author of this article is a well-known neurologist and a very reputable animal advocate. Check out Aysha Akhtar on TedX!)
Caring for animals makes us a more compassionate, progressive, sustainable society.
And less violent.
There are a lot of studies about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Studies show that abusing animals during childhood is an indicator of violence later in life. This article suggests that children who do abuse animals have probably witnessed domestic or animals abuse themselves. What a terrible cycle.
So, if we turn this around, then maybe showing animals compassion during childhood is an indicator that one will show animals and humans compassion throughout one’s life. Maybe loving elephants is an indicator that one is not a serial killer? Would this hold up in court? Asking for a friend.
Because a world without elephants would SUCK.
Question: Why is an elephant like an oyster? (credit: IFAW)
Answer: Both are “keystone” species. “This means that if the species were to disappear from the ecosystem, no other species would be able to fill its ecological niche.”
But, most importantly, elephants are valuable in their own right, remember? They are valuable because they exist. They are beautiful, intelligent, friendly, vegetarians, and a world without them would be so, so, sad. Because a world without elephants reflects on our apathy to their suffering. For what? Little ivory statues? One of my friends from law school often says, “Is everyone okay?” Seriously.
Because progress is important.
Because progress on animal rights reflects progress on equality in general.
Equality is about more than race, sex, or whatever humans seem to think. Equality is about an open mind, about consideration, about realizing the world doesn’t revolve around one person or one species. Progress on one front means we’re going in the right direction.
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
– Alice Walker.
YES ALICE. By the way, Alice Walker is an author and civil rights activist – not an animal rights activist. She might not be vegan, and that’s her business. This is a good quote and a sentiment that resonates with me.
There is a common argument against animal activism that says it’s wrong to put time and energy towards animal rights when humans are suffering. But, like I said, progress on one front is progress in general. This article about a human rights activist-turned-animal-rights-activist is another good response.
I just love this:
“Of course this is the dominant mentality, based on a presumed superiority of humans, so much so that the slightest harm to a human is often seen to outweigh a tremendous harm to an animal. Given that the capacity to suffer is in no way limited to human beings, this bias in favor of humans is simple prejudice, favoring those we perceive as similar over those we perceive as different and therefore inferior, the hallmark of all discrimination and oppression.”
Basically, equality is important, and progress towards equality is essential. And that includes animal equality. It doesn’t mean building mansions for mice, it just means letting them live in peace. It’s not that difficult!