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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 24 February 2003 Issue

Animals Deserve Compassion, Not Rights

That was the headline in the February 6, 2003 National Review editorial, written by Jonah Goldberg. [email protected]  

In reviewing a new book by Matthew Scully, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy," Mr. Goldberg praises the author's literary effort while taking every opportunity to ridicule all things vegan. He writes:

"Veganism is a hardcore version of vegetarianism. Think of the difference between, say, socialism and Maoism."

Since vegans eat no animal products, not even honey, Goldberg editorializes:

"Now, I'm not exactly ready to 'take back the night' for bees quite yet. I think equating insects and human rape victims is a bit offensive. But as a general proposition, I do care a great deal about (non-bug) animals. I don't believe in 'animal rights,' however, because, well, animals don't have any."

In promulgating his opinion of why animals merely deserve our compassion and not their own set of rights, Goldberg argues:

"It's simply not true that rats and pigs have the same feelings as people. Animals have nowhere near the emotional range of humans. Pigs do not feel empathy. Dogs may know joy, but I doubt they're often happy for other people or experience moral outrage. My dog Cosmo is scandalized by many things - lack of tennis balls, for example - but he has no passion about famine or poverty or Joe Millionaire."

In a perfect world, there is no need for regulations or laws. In a place where the simplest rule is observed, "do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you," what could be simpler than applying that tenet to all living creatures?

Throughout the early history of humankind, when a man or woman hurt another, whether it was by rape, or murder, or theft, that unsociable and aberrant action violated the stability of an entire community. At first, unwritten rules were established for all to follow. Ultimately, rules became regulations, then laws. Formal governing bodies were established to preserve rights. Such is the primary function of any government. Ultimately, to preserve and protect these rights, those in power created a series of new rules to penalize and rehabilitate those who practiced anti-social behavior.

In a utopia, there would be no need for rules or laws. There would be a universal practice of extending common decency to all creatures.

Recognizing that abuses of all kinds exist, laws have been passed to protect humans and non-human animals.

In our world, there now exist compassionate slaughter laws, compassionate animal research laws, and laws protecting animals from human abuse.

The defining line separating compassion and rights is the passage of laws. Once a law is passed, a society recognizes and confirms its obligation to protect an inalienable right. Rights and laws now extend to humans and animals. People who torture and abuse animals now go to jail. That is the law.

Animals have gained the right not to be abused.

So, can a dog express moral outrage? Mine does, each evening when her companion humans sit around our dinner table. She runs from one to another, asking quite nicely for food from our own plates. When none is offered, she barks her outrage. She may have already eaten, but in her mind, the injustice of our not sharing is adequately communicated. Does she have a right to our dinner? Of course not. Does that mean that I have compassion for her? Of course. Do we detect her outrage, or ignore it?

Even when snacking on popcorn, she must get her token kernel, or she will let all within earshot know that the world is not perfect, and that she will not tolerate the indignity of being treated like, er, like an individual with no rights. You see? It's not the food, it's the principle.

Many animals of the human-kind often lack the ability to sense an indignity and react with moral outrage. Non-human animals always communicate when something is wrong.

Immediately ceasing a destructive behavior makes things right. A kick or a knife is an invasion of that right to live free of pain. Having no compassion for pain, and continuing to rationalize the need to give pain, is a wrong, not a right.

My dog may not have the ability to understand Joe Millionaire.

Neither do I, for that matter. However, she does have receptors for sounds that I cannot hear, and she possesses the innate ability to smell moods, and predict human behaviors by auditory and olfactory senses more developed than mine. She knows, for example, who walks through our backyard, and what that creature has been doing, and with whom. She assesses more information, while naked, than I do fully clothed while reading my newspaper or surfing the Internet. In a sense, by human definition, she may be a simpler creature than I, but in perspective, by nature's laws, she is infinitely more advanced, by her given skills. Her world is in balance. The world of humans is not. I have the ability to make the rules for her, and enact those rules into laws. That is my obligation. To do any less would represent the most irrational form of injustice.

My concluding thoughts...Do animals deserve rights? Of course they do. Some humans on the other hand...hmm...

Robert Cohen  

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