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Agenda for a New America
The Politics of Vegetarianism
By: Vasu Murti
Chapter 1 - Liberation
"The reasons for legal intervention in favor of children apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves--the animals."
---John Stuart Mill
A rational case exists for the rights of preborn humans. The case for animal rights is stronger and more readily apparent. Animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals actually suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit such "human" behaviors and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group/tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of loved ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation.
Dr. Tom Regan, the foremost intellectual leader of the animal rights movement and author of The Case for Animal Rights, notes that animals "have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; and emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independent of their utility for others and logically independent of their being the object of anyone else's interests."
A liberation movement is a demand for an end to prejudice and discrimination based on an arbitrary characteristic like race or sex. The classic instance is the Black Liberation movement. The immediate appeal of this movement, and its initial, if limited, success, made it a model for other oppressed groups. We soon became familiar with Gay Liberation and movements on behalf of American Indians and Spanish-speaking Americans.
When a majority group--women--began their campaign some thought we had come to the end of the road. Discrimination on the basis of sex, it was said, was the last form of discrimination to be universally accepted and practiced without secrecy or pretense, even in those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from prejudice against racial minorities.
We should always be wary of talking of "the last remaining form of discrimination." If we have learned anything from the liberation movements we should have learned how difficult it is to be aware of latent prejudices in our attitudes to particular groups until these prejudices are forcefully pointed out to us.
A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons. Practices that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the result of an unjustifiable prejudice. In comparison with other liberation movements, Animal Liberation has a lot of handicaps. First and most obvious is the fact that the exploited group cannot themselves make an organized protest against the treatment they receive (though they can and do protest to the best of their abilities individually).
We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. You can appreciate how serious this handicap is by asking yourself how long blacks would have had to wait for equal rights if they had not been able to stand up for themselves and demand it. The less able a group is to stand up and organize against oppression, the more easily it is oppressed.
Go on to Chapter 2 - Equality
Return to The Politics of Vegetarianism Table of Contents
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