The other animals humans eat, use in science, hunt, trap, and exploit in a variety of ways, have a life of their own that is of importance to them apart from their utility to us. They are not only in the world, they are aware of it. What happens to them matters to them. Each has a life that fares better or worse for the one whose life it is.
That life includes a variety of biological, individual, and social needs. The satisfaction of these needs is a source of pleasure, their frustration or abuse, a source of pain. In these fundamental ways the nonhuman animals in labs and on farms , for example, are the same as human beings. And so it is that the ethics of our dealings with them, and with one another, must acknowledge the same fundamental moral principles.
At its deepest level, human ethics is based on the independent value of the individual. The moral worth of any human being is not to be measured by how useful that person is in advancing the interests of other human beings. To treat human beings in ways that do not honor their independent value is to violate that most basic of human rights: the right of each person to be treated with respect.
The philosophy of animal rights demands only that logic be respected. For any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings implies that other animals have this same value, and have it equally. And any argument that plausibly explains the right of humans to be treated with respect also implies that these other animals have this same right, and have it equally, too.
It is true, therefore, that women do not exist to serve men, Blacks to serve whites, the poor to serve the rich, or the weak to serve the strong. The philosophy of animal rights not only accepts these truths, it insists upon and justifies them. But this philosophy goes further. By insisting upon and justifying the independent value and rights of animals, it gives scientifically informed and morally impartial reasons for denying that these animals exist to serve us.
Once this truth is acknowledged, it is easy to understand why the philosophy of animal rights is uncompromising in its response to each and every injustice other animals are made to suffer. It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands in the case of animals used in science, for example, but empty cages; not “traditional” animal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals; not “more humane” hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices.
For when an injustice is absolute, one must oppose it absolutely. It was not “reformed” slavery that justice demanded, not “reformed” child labor, not “reformed” subjugation of women. In each of these cases, abolition was the only moral answer. Merely to reform absolute injustice is to prolong injustice.
The philosophy of animal rights demands this same answer — abolition — in response to the unjust exploitation of other animals. It is not the details of unjust exploitation that must be changed. It is the unjust exploitation itself that must be ended, whether on the farm, in the lab, or among the wild, for example. The philosophy of animal rights asks for nothing more, but neither will it be satisfied with anything less.
But how can we achieve our abolitionist goals? One path (the one I favor) invites ARAs to give our time and energy to trying to make incremental abolitionist changes. I listed a few examples in Empty Cages.
- The elimination of elephants and other performing animals from circuses
- The liberation of dolphins currently imprisoned by the captive dolphin industry
- The total cessation of canned hunts
- The total demise of the greyhound racing industry
- An end to seal slaughter
- A ban on compulsory dissection
- No more dog labs, anywhere
- An end to pound seizure
- The total elimination of Class B dealers
- Whaling . . . Going! Going! Gone!
Other examples are given in an essay I co-authored with Gary Francione (Animals Agenda, January/February 1992, p. 42):
- An end to the use of animals in product testing
- An end to the use of animals in maternal deprivation, military, and drug addiction experiments
- An end to the killing of elephants, rhinos, and other “big game”
- An end to the commerce in fur
To my way of thinking, these are achievable goals. I’m not saying they are easy. Not at all. I’m just saying they are achievable. The main thing standing in the way of their realization is a lack of cooperation and collaboration among major national and grass-roots organizations. “Many hands on many oars,” is the way I would put it. That’s what is needed. Personally, I am not a political organizer. I am not someone who can run campaigns. I wish I could but I can’t. What’s clear as a bell to me, as I’ve said, is that these achievable goals will not be realized unless or until ARAs cooperate and collaborate.
Here’s how I picture our situation. Sunlight passes through a window. We feel some warmth. If that same sunlight passes through a magnifying glass, it can start a fire. Today, the Animal Rights Movement is like sunlight passing through a window. It has some effect, certainly. But think about how much more powerful the movement would be if that sunlight was really focused. If there was cooperation and collaboration between major national and grassroots organizations. If our separate efforts passed through a magnifying glass, so to speak.
So, paradoxically, our first, our basic challenge does not involve animals. It involves us.