Animal Writes
15 July 2001 Issue
The Dividing Line

by [email protected]

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 rights?

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 granted.

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
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