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 - 17 Jun 2006

Dear Frank & Mary,

<<In our opinion, we don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” We don’t need to start from scratch. We need to build upon each welfare item and change its intent to rights.>>

I think we need to recognize that animal rights is animal rights and animal welfare is animal welfare -- just as human rights is human rights and all other activities purporting to benefit humans are other activities. Human rights came from recognizing that all of the good things people had done for each other for thousands of years could not protect against tyranny and increasingly powerful technologies in the hands of the few that could hurt the many. Animal welfare as a political strategy works against animal rights as a political strategy.

Helping animals is fine, but it doesn't have anything to do with establishing animals' legal rights, the animal rights movement's goal. The intent of welfare items is to perpetuate the animal-exploitation status quo, so those cannot be transformed to a rights agenda.

<< chickens have the God given RIGHT not for be subjected to human inflicted pain and suffering. They have a God given RIGHT to scratch the ground, dust bathe, walk on the earth, and stretch and flap their wings. And they have a God given right to raise their own families. (For secular purposes “God given” could be eliminated). Even if this doesn’t solve the entire problem, it gets people to think of rights rather then welfare. >>

The basic right that all sentient beings need in order for any others to have meaning is the right not to be property or an instrument of another. Those "rights" you assert for the birds are secondary rights, not basic rights. If not preceded by their autonomy as provided by their right not to be property, they have no meaning as rights. Then they can only be welfare regulations even if worded as if they were rights. As long as the animals are property, they can have no meaningful rights. The animal welfare system is dedicated to animals as property, not animals as rights holders. The two are inconsistent with each other. When chickens have meaningful rights, "domestic" ones will be humanely managed to extinction, only free-living ones will exist, and humans will not be permitted to interfere with them.

<< Without the exploitation of animals, neither animal right nor animal welfare would have come into existence; so, in our opinion we need to recognize this fact, and work on restructuring as much as we can towards the rights side. We’re probably not going to change the big animal welfare organizations in the immediate future, as their fund raising efforts are directed toward the doggie and kitty people, >>

I agree animal welfare organizations can't be changed in the immediate future, or probably in the foreseeable future -- not because they're oriented toward dogs and cats, for most are far broader than that, but because they do not promote animal rights and oppose adopting rights as their agenda or strategy. They operate on the current paradigm and do not work for a new paradigm such as animal rights.

<< there are many grass roots organizations in which we have an excellent chance of moving toward the rights side. We need to concentrate our efforts where we can be most effective. These organizations already exist, and we believe it’s easier to utilize their existing structure for the animal rights movement. >>

I hope you're right. I began communicating with small and large years ago and see little change. Others have tried, too. Animal rights organizations really don't need other organizations' structures, though, those of animal welfare organizations any more than those of cancer-research or anti-abortion organizations. Animal rights organizations exist in their own right and have to promote animal rights to be legitimate, responsible, and true to their mission. Their mission is different from that of animal welfare organizations. The latter tilt at windmills by pretending they can significantly reduce the suffering of animals exploited or abused by human beings. Animal rights organizations take the realistic approach of recognizing animal welfare serves human beings, not nonhuman animals, and that, as with human beings, only meaningful, enforceable legal rights will ever be able to provide nonhuman animals with significant protection. The fact that achieving that goal will take a long time -- partly because of confusion of rights with welfare -- does not mean it is unrealistic, just that it's difficult.

<< welfare laws have come on the books, and even though many of them are not being properly enforced, that may actually play into our hands, by showing that welfare doesn’t work, and needs to be changed to rights. >>

Animal welfare laws cannot be changed to rights until the basic right of nonhuman animals to their autonomy, not to be property, etc., is established. Much of what animal welfare pretends to accomplish and cannot possibly accomplish should be achievable under the rights paradigm, but the welfare laws & regulations can't be changed to rights by addition of the word "rights" to existing laws. That would be doublespeak. The Humane Slaughter Act pretends to be humane. A "right" of a nonhuman animal not written by way of manifesting the intent of existing basic rights would pretend to be a right.

<< Even if the welfare laws are working as intended, we can still use them to build upon by showing their shortfalls, and explaining why these animals actually need to have their rights also established in law and in the hearts and souls of the people. >>

The welfare laws operate as intended by the animal-exploiting industries, their representatives in government, and welfare advocates who promote them to appear to protect the animals without actually doing so. They can't be built upon to establish rights, but they can be exposed for their phony nature and their misuse of important words.

One thing I find difficult to accept is how long and hard the fight for animal rights will be. It looks to me like we're further from success now than when I thought I was joining the fight in 1989 -- so much more welfarism to deal with, so many activists mistakenly thinking they're promoting rights when they're in fact reinforcing the status quo. By defining short-term results correctly -- as getting people to understand the meaning of animal rights and what it offers to nonhuman animals and to human beings -- I believe we can make progress and help others to see what needs to be done. By continuing to think people's caring about the animals makes them likely to join in the fight for animal rights and investing a lot of energy in urging them to do so, I think we'll continue to waste time and energy. Very few animal activists I know will even discuss rights strategy, let alone develop such a strategy on which to base their own words and actions.

Best wishes,

David Cantor

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