Five million years ago, our ancestors branched off from
ancient apes; within the next two million years, the hominid line of
evolution underwent tremendous changes in the transition to evolve into
a species that was bipedal, big-brained, and in command of language and
In the last hundred thousand years, human beings changed
very little in their biology, but they evolved rapidly in their social
and technological capacities.
Unfortunately, our technological evolution has greatly
outdistanced our moral evolution. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther
King, "We live in a world where misguided men use guided missiles."
Human beings have made moral progress, but slowly. In
Western culture, it took over two thousand years to dismantle the
ignorance, prejudice, and biases informing the myths that legitimated
inequality, hierarchy, and inferiority as rooted somehow in human nature
or the natural scheme of things.
Western society has made rapid moral progress since the
1960s. The student, black, brown, feminist, and gay and lesbian
movements advanced the universalization of rights process, overcame
major barriers of prejudice, and deepened human freedom.
During this turbulent period of social strife, riots,
mass demonstrations against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and worsening
problems with poverty, homelessness, and class inequality, Dr. Martin
Luther King formulated a vision of a "world house." In this cosmopolitan
utopia, all peoples around the globe would live in peace and harmony,
with both their spiritual and material needs met by the fecundity of the
But to whatever degree this dream might be realized,
King's world house is still a slaughterhouse, because humanism doesn't
challenge the needless confinement, torture, and killing of billions of
animals. The humanist non-violent utopia will always remain a
hypocritical lie until so-called "enlightened" and "progressive" human
beings extend nonviolence, equality, and rights to the millions of other
species with whom we share this planet.
The next logical step in human moral evolution is to
embrace animal rights and accept its profound implications. Animal
rights builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances
human beings have made in the last two hundred years. Simply put, the
argument for animal rights states that if humans have rights, animals
have rights for the same reasons. Moral significance lies not in our
differences as species but rather our commonalities as subjects of a
This is the challenge of animal rights: can human beings
become truly enlightened and overcome the last remaining prejudice
enshrined in law? Can they reorganize their economic systems, retool
their technologies, and transform their cultural traditions? Above all,
can they construct new sensibilities, values, worldviews, and
The animal rights movement poses a fundamental
evolutionary challenge to human beings in the midst of severe crises in
the social and natural worlds. Can we recognize that the animal question
is central to the human question? Can we grasp how the exploitation of
animals is implicated in every aspect of the crisis in our relation to
one another and the natural world?
Animal rights is an assault on human species identity.
It smashes the compass of speciesism and calls into question the
cosmological maps whereby humans define their place in the world. Animal
rights demands that human beings give up their sense of superiority over
other animals. It challenges people to realize that power demands
responsibility, that might is not right, and that an enlarged neocortex
is no excuse to rape and plunder the natural world.
These profound changes in worldview demand
revolutionizing one's daily life and recognizing just how personal the
political is. I teach many radical philosophies, but only animal rights
has the radical power to upset and transform daily rituals and social
relations. "Radical" philosophies such as anarchism or Marxism reproduce
speciesism uncritically. After the Marxist seminar, students can talk at
the dinner table about revolution while dining on the bodies of murdered
farmed animals. After the animal rights seminar, they often find
themselves staring at their plates, questioning their most basic
behaviors, and feeling alienated from their carping friends and family.
The message rings true and stirs the soul.
Let's be clear: we are fighting for a revolution, not
for reforms, for the end of slavery, not for humane slave masters.
Animal rights advances the most radical idea to ever land on human ears:
animals are not food, clothing, resources, or objects of entertainment.
Our goal is nothing less than to change entrenched
attitudes, sedimented practices, and powerful institutions that profit
from animal exploitation. Indeed, the state has demonized us as
"eco-terrorists" and is criminalizing our fight for what is right.
Our task is especially difficult because we must
transcend the comfortable boundaries of humanism and urge a qualitative
leap in moral consideration. We are insisting that people not only
change their views of one another within the species they share, but
rather realize that species boundaries are as arbitrary as those of race
and sex. Our task is to provoke humanity to move the moral bar from
reason and language to sentience and subjectivity.
We must not only educate, we must become a social
movement. The "challenge of animal rights" also is our challenge, for
animal rights must not only be an idea but a social movement for the
liberation of the world's most oppressed beings, both in numbers and in
the severity of their pain. As with all revolutions, animals will not
gain rights because oppressors suddenly see the light, but rather enough
people become enlightened and learn how rock the structures of power, to
shake them until new social arrangements emerge.
Are we asking for too much? Justice requires only what
is right, and is never excessive. Is the revolution remotely possible?
In a thousand ways, the revolution is gaining ground.
One can see the battle between old and new identities in
the struggle to ban bullfighting in Spain, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Bullfighting is a critical issue to consider because for tens of
thousands of years the bull has been embedded in the "traditions" and
cultural identities of Mediterranean peoples. Apologists for
bullfighting see it as an art form and not as cruelty, and they develop
their species identities through the old contest of "man vs. animal."
Although bullfighting is still popular, its appeal is rapidly plummeting
as ever more people find animal abuse unacceptable. Polls by the World
Society for the Protection of Animals show that 90% of people in Spain,
Europe, and Mexico oppose bullfighting.
Here we see the profound challenge of animal rights:
millions of people are confronting the wrongs of their ancient
traditions as they modernize their personal, cultural, and species
identities and become more psychologically mature. Without their ties to
animal cruelty, bullfighting aficionados feel bereft and forlorn. They
simply will have to reinvent their identities and find ways to define
humanity and culture apart from cruelty.
Whether people realize it or not, this is not a burden
but a liberation. One no longer has to live the lie of separation; the
opening of the heart and emotional channels brings a profound healing;
one can awaken to the true power, that of animals and the earth.
Increasing worldwide opposition to bullfighting is a
strong marker of moral progress and the ground the animal rights
movement is gaining. Animal rights is the next stage in the development
of the highest values modern humanity has devised - those of equality,
democracy, and rights.
Our distorted conceptions of ourselves as demigods who
command the planet must be replaced with the far more humble and
holistic notion that we belong to and are dependent upon vast networks
of living relationships. Dominionist and speciesist identities are
steering us down the path of disaster. If humanity and the living world
as a whole is to have a future, human beings must embrace universal
ethics that respects all life.
Growth is difficult and painful, but the human species
is morally immature and psychologically crippled. Human beings need to
learn that they are citizens in the biocommunity, and not conquerors; as
citizens, they have distinct responsibilities to the entire biocommunity.
The meaning of Enlightenment is changing. In the
eighteenth century it meant overcoming religious dogma and tyranny; in
the late twentieth century, it meant overcoming racism, sexism,
homophobia, and other prejudices; now, in the twenty-first century, it
means overcoming speciesism and embracing universal ethics that honors
We can change; we must. The message of nature is evolve or die.
To see more from Dr. Best, check out the following website:
Dr. Steven Best
Go on to #A066766 Name Unknown
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