I’ve long since come to grips with my stance on Animal Rights, finding it to be one of the easier subjects in moral philosophy to conclude and move on from. My position, what I obviously deem to be the “correct” position (he says, smugly), is as follows
An animal has only the rights I choose to give it.
While that alone is enough to send most vegans and animal activists (read: my family) into hysterical fits, I am always quick to point out (generally so everyone at the dinner table stops giving me dirty looks) that I choose to give animals quite a bit of rights. I am not cruel to ones I meet, I have kept a few as pets, I donate to multiple charities that work on behalf of animals, I only purchase cosmetic products that do not test on animals, and I eat animals (and animal products like eggs and milk) raised on animal-friendly farms (free-ranging, organically grown, hormone-free and what have you). If you didn’t know me better you might think I was a card-carrying PETA member.
One difference of course is that I do this by choice. I do not suggest or support legislating this behavior. Another difference is that I acknowledge my drawing of an arbitrary line between those animals (hereafter read as “living organisms that aren’t human”) I protect and those I couldn’t care less about. I kill cockroaches when I see them on my floor (which, for what it’s worth, hasn’t happened since I left NYC), I swat flies that enter my apartment, I take antibiotics when a doctor prescribes them, and I donate to charities that fight cancer.
An actual card-carrying PETA member will shout loudly (when not damaging your property or waiting on you at Starbucks) that their line is not arbitrary. PETA’s homepage talks of distinguishing those animals that feel pain and those that do not (actually, they specify plants, so I’m not exactly sure how they feel about eradicating Polio, but I’ll have to assume they use this same rationale). Unfortunately, their line isn’t any less arbitrary than mine and it’s where their entire thesis falls apart. What about fish? Do they feel pain? Squid and mollusks? Can I kill a dog that’s been tranquilized first? How about a paraplegic dog? Etc., etc.
Once we acknowledge that the line separating the living organisms we treat with some care and the living organisms we do not is indeed arbitrary – whether it’s my line, a PETA member’s line, or the line of someone in the middle – we’re right back where we started: An animal has only the rights I (me, we, they) choose to give it. It’s choosing which rights to give them that matters and the great Jan Narveson does a far better job than I’ll ever hope to do covering the subject, so I’ll end here and proudly link you to one of his essays.
I bring all this up because the Washington Post’s On Faith is discussing Animals Rights in their usual, cuckoo’s nest way: bringing “the soul” into it, thereby throwing out any chance for a rational discourse on the subject. It’s good for a laugh though, with guest articles titled
- The Lord God made us all
- God must love dogs
- God’s creation, our responsibility
And my favorite
- God blessed America, that football game I bet on last night, and my cuddly cat Whiskers
Okay, I made that last one up. But you get the idea. It all stems from a sanctimonious sanctity of life/soul concept and who better to belittle that idea than my other favorite philosopher, George Carlin.