Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness

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Establishing the Rights of Animals in Law and Human Consciousness

Comments by David Cantor - 7 Jun 2006

In a message dated 6/7/2006 1:02:20 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, [email protected] writes:

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the population seems to be willing to think for themselves and listen to reason.

I sure see that wherever I go! A book I mentioned on 5/23, New World New Mind by Robert Ornstein & Paul Ehrlich, explains it in a helpful way, I think: Humans' minds have not evolved biologically since the species first came to exist, but threats have changed dramatically since then. Reason wasn't originally required to understand threats, recognize injustice, etc. -- just perceiving the branch breaking overhead, the shadow appearing at the entrance to the cave, or the alpha male cheating others out of food sufficed.

<< The vast majority of people need to shocked into action, which can happen by something that deeply disturbs them emotionally such as witnessing the horrors of factory farming, or the fear of a real time pending disaster. >>

That's been the thinking for a quarter-century or so. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked. I believe there are basic reasons why it won't. It works for change within the existing paradigm, but not for instituting a new paradigm. It took a very long time to get as far as establishing a nation under a Bill of Rights (and that almost wasn't included in the Constitution) after the rights concept came into existence. Animal rights is a far tougher new paradigm to push because to most minds it violates human rights rather than advance them -- people currently have property rights in nonhuman animals, for example. There's much more to it, but need to keep it nutshell size.

I was in the exposing-cruelty machine for 13 years before starting Responsible Policies for Animals. You've probably noticed that neither RPA's website nor its literature emphasizes horrors of factory farming or the many others that could easily be invoked. That's because I believe the reasons those methods don't work are intractable. Partly because oppositionists have far greater skill and budgets for stirring emotions the other way. Humans' consuming of flesh, milk & eggs wasn't based on empirical knowledge in the first place, and people have developed something of an emotional belief in basing what they do on knowledge and being indignant when they learn they've been lied to -- and resistant when first told they're basing their practices on lies or misinformation.

I think that is the part of the emotions that needs to be stirred -- hence RPA's emphasis on humans' true nature as prey, not predator, herbivore not omnivore, serious harm to humans from animal exploitation, and more. This approach won't get the quick action we would prefer to see, but I think the shock approach (maybe RPA's should be called de-illusioning rather than shocking? I call it education) will not bring the desired change either sooner or later because it isn't how people and societies adopt new paradigms.

Thinking in that light about the UPC-conference discussion you told me about, I think it's impossible for welfarism ever to lead to rights -- that pursuing welfare so as to bring about abolition is futile. The exposing-cruelty approach has always been part of new welfarism (and of just plain animal welfare originally). I think it's set back animal rights very seriously. The core problem is that demanding improvements to the treatment of animal property implicitly accepts treating animals as property. So it's inherently an anti-rights dynamic.

I find all of this difficult to understand -- I've had to examine my previous approach very closely and do a lot of reading, listening, and discussing to arrive at my current approach. There is no guarantee, particularly with something that's woven into every aspect of human existence and depended upon by some people (and socially sanctioned), but I'm confident that RPA's approach is an advance beyond past approaches, not a misunderstanding of them.

Do you think that's possible? See if the RPA interview at might help.

Best wishes,

David Cantor

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