Just what is the difference that makes a difference when
it comes to rights? AWs [animal welfarists] will always tell us that
being human is the dividing line, offering no justification as to why
this is so, and assuming that the answer in itself is so compelling that
no further clarification is needed.
But if you look back in history, being human never has
been and never will be the reason for granting rights. When ARAs argue
that the current state of animal use is akin to slavery, we're told that
it's different, because slaves were human. Slaves, of course, were
ALWAYS human -- not just looking back in retrospect. In more recent
times (and still today), women, minorities, the disabled, gays, etc.,
were and still are in many cases denied some basic human rights. How can
this be so? Aren't they all human? Haven't women, minorities, the
disabled, and gays ALWAYS been human? So why don't they STILL have full
If you don't believe it's true today, ask blacks in New
Jersey (and elsewhere, I'm sure) about racial profiling. Ask a disabled
person about their problems in getting decent housing. Ask gays whether
they can live in a committed relationship and share the benefits of the
tax code, marriage, or even health insurance coverage. Aren't all THESE
people human and entitled to the same rights as all other humans? One
would think so. Yet discrimination exists today as it always has, albeit
in more subtle and sometimes more insidious forms.
If being human meant equal rights, then all the
discriminatory laws, regulations, and societal mores oppressing people
should have disappeared long ago. They have not. Nor is it likely they
will disappear in the foreseeable future.
Rights have been granted -- throughout history and today
-- for one reason and one reason only, and it isn't because of species
membership. Rights are granted only when enough people to make a
difference care enough to eliminate the wrongs being done. We grant them
when we, as a society, recognize that the beings discriminated against
are suffering wrongly because of meaningless perceived DIFFERENCES
between "us" and "them."
If you doubt this, ask yourself why gays can't share
health insurance and why blacks get stopped by police more often than
whites. Aren't gays and blacks human? Shouldn't they then already have
the same rights?
We, as a society, have only recognized rights when we
understood that the similarities between us all were more compelling
than the differences -- that is, that we had no business allowing beings
to suffer simply because there was some difference between them and us.
We recognized that the suffering of slaves was more morally important
than the monetary benefit of exploiting those humans. We recognized that
the right of women to vote was more morally important than whatever
benefit was derived from their oppression.
If this could be applied only to humans, then AR would
be doomed to failure. But it can't be applied only to humans. If it
could, then all humans would already have the rights that some humans
have, and clearly, they do not. Humanity is not the dividing line, and
more importantly, it never has been nor can it ever be.
If you've followed this far, you've probably already
figured out that rights aren't granted -- they are withheld -- based
upon differences that a majority of people see as significant enough to
deny them. Slaves ALWAYS had the right not to be enslaved, but that
right was denied them. Women had the right to vote as soon as men, but
that right was denied them. And animals have the right not to be made to
suffer, and that right is being denied them.
What reason have we for saying that animals don't
deserve the most basic right not to be harmed? Because they're different
than we are? Isn't that the exact same justification always used to
oppress other humans? Blacks, women, children, gays, the disabled -- all
have suffered and still suffer today because of the same faulty
reasoning -- that it's OK to let them suffer because they are different
and therefore aren't entitled to the rights the rest of us take for
You can argue that the difference between animals and
humans is so great that they should never be granted rights -- but this
is nothing more than a mask for the same old argument -- that they're
not HUMAN. But again, species membership has not been nor is it today
they dividing line we use to determine who gets rights. The dividing
line is, always has been, and always will be justice. Where there is
injustice, we grant rights to eliminate that injustice, insofar as we
recognize that injustice exists. When it was decided that slavery was
unjust, it was eliminated. When it was decided that preventing women
from voting was unjust, the constitution was changed. But it had nothing
to do with species membership, or the injustice never would have existed
in the first place.
So the question is, in my mind, is the treatment of
animals today UNJUST? I believe it is. And when enough people decide
that it is unjust, animals will be granted their just rights.
Go on to Victory For
Animals: Minnesota Passes Felony Animal Cruelty Law
Return to 15 July 2001 Issue
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