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 - 1 Aug 2006

Below is my attempt to contribute to the 12-point program you outlined based on our recent discussions. I give proposed revisions in blue. Where I just change a few words or just add to what you wrote, my proposed changes or additions are in blue. What I say in parenthesis in black is explanation of my proposed revision where I think it might help.

Thanks very much, and I look forward to reading your further thoughts.

Best wishes,

David Cantor
[email protected]

1.     In order to give animals the rights they deserve and to eliminate their exploitation and suffering, humans must change their lifestyle and their way of looking at animals as property.


In order to ensure equal consideration of equal interests among all sentient beings, humanity must establish and enforce basic legal rights for nonhuman animals, paramount among them being their autonomy, freedom from human interference, and freedom from exploitation and being defined as human property.


(AR doesn't purport to eliminate animal suffering -- free-living nonhumans (like humans) adjust behavior in response to pain and suffering; it's an important part of animal life. Rather than changing lifestyle and way of looking at animals as property, AR seeks to eliminate nonhuman animals' property status. This slightly elaborate way of putting it covers preferences some people express when objecting that just eliminating property status is too narrow.)


2.     Insist on basic legal rights (not secondary rights without basic ones already in place) as the primary goal, with secondary rights and enforcement mechanisms to follow achievement of that goal.


(I'd isolate "not ... place" with commas or dashes instead of parenthesis, since it's a crucial aspect of the point.)


3.     In order to achieve these basic rights, we may have to use some of these secondary goals as stepping stones to the basic goal of legal rights.


Where animals are known to be suffering due to the failure of the animal-welfare system to protect them from human beings, demand that authorities act to remedy the situation and educate about the inherent inability of the welfare system to protect the animals.


(Secondary rights cannot be stepping stones to basic rights; it has to be the other way round.  Welfarists rhetorically substitute meaningless secondary rights for an abolitionist position and strategy, as in, As long as people use animals for food, we must grant them the right to enough space to make postural adjustments.  We shouldn’t evade the problem of what to do about the horrendous suffering taking place now.  But basic rights are the only way to meaningful secondary rights and the only hope for an eventual now with nonhumans not deemed human property.)


4.     Direct campaigns at publicly funded entities: U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services, federal school lunch and breakfast programs, public school curricula and activities, agricultural extensions (these are linked to the land-grant universities).


Campaign to change practices, policies, regulations, and laws regarding institutions that promote and/or support animal exploitation with public funds and/or contradicting their purported service to the public interest (as opposed to the popular interest).  Current examples include efforts to reform the School Lunch Program; to end the teaching of “animal science” at our land-grant universities; and to end public funding of animal experimentation.  Additional possibilities: work to end subsidies to the feed-crop, flesh, milk & egg industries; to end county extensions’ direct service to the flesh, milk & egg industries; to remove promotions of flesh, milk & eggs from county extension home-economics presentations; to end local, county, state & federal government purchases of and reimbursements for flesh, milk & eggs and cleaning products tested on animals; and more.


5.     Eliminate these entities’ public-relations operations and private-property rights laws that ultimately put other animals beyond the movement's reach, because these entities’ activities are consistent with the existing human-supremacist and speciesist paradigm that many people want to perpetuate if they can rationalize doing so.


Work to eliminate government agencies’ and other publicly funded & subsidized entities’ public-relations efforts (usually on behalf of private industry at public expense) to maintain the human-supremacist / speciesist / animal-exploitation status quo through subordination of up-to-date knowledge to popular false beliefs (social fictions), as when they promote false notions that human beings are natural omnivores, that Homo sapiens evolved as hunters, that flesh, milk & eggs are needed in the human diet or are “naturally” consumed by humans.


(Private-property laws and property rights logically belong somewhere else since government can change them but itself owns public property rather than private property.  A key purpose to focus campaigns on public entities is that current property laws are a major reason animal rights has made so little progress (despite so many victories) by targeting private businesses.  Example: In a campaign I managed for a couple of years in the mid-90s, most of the biggest oil companies provided letters of assurance that they would modify many thousands of small production units so they would no longer kill birds and bats.  That probably spared many thousands of lives – temporarily, from that one human-created source of destruction – but made no difference in the legal right of humans, including oil companies, to continue destroying the same birds & bats by many other means.  It gave no rights, didn’t change the human-animal relationship because it was voluntary, not a matter of public policy; didn’t change the entire industry for all of time; and so on.)


6.     Public entities should be held to Constitutional, legal, and political principles such as equal consideration for equal interests, due process, open records, open meetings, and reliance on evidence for decision-making.


Demand in all circumstances that public entities adhere to the principle of equal consideration of equal interests by strictly enforcing Constitutional guarantees, open-records and open-meetings laws and by relying on substantive empirical evidence for decision-making when such evidence conflicts with what is popular or what is demanded by elites.  (Since equal consideration of equal interests is basic to animal rights and to the rule of law by which the United States purports to govern itself but has remained subordinate to might-makes-right in the economic, political and legal systems, making equal consideration of equal interests a top priority in all matters will help direct society toward equal consideration of all sentient beings’ interests and away from the current human-nonhuman relationship guided by might-makes-right.)


7.  Do not confuse "helping animals," "improving conditions" for exploited animals, or other animal-welfare measures with animal rights objectives or goals, since animal rights by definition means getting to where nonhuman animals don't need human help because human beings are not using or interfering with them.


8.     Define as victories, meaningful interim results, and achievable objectives education as to what animal rights is and animal rights' enormous benefits to human beings.


9.     Educate in part by debunking claims that animal rights is anti-human and by demonstrating that animal rights is what humans need most, just as women's rights benefit men and civil rights benefit dominant as well as oppressed groups.  (Invidious distinctions and domination over some human groups by others most likely originated in prehistoric times with some of the most aggressive and power-oriented humans or hominids organizing killings of carnivores, since humans evolved as prey and doing a lot to eliminate predators – the primary tangible fear – ostensibly conferred significant benefits, as inventing an effective vaccine or capturing murderers (often called predators) does today.)


10. Communicate that humans are deserving of animal rights that do not currently exist or are not enforced, and that animal exploitation, oppression and abuse are original sources of similar mistreatment of humans.  Animal rights should help expand, not diminish, human rights, except that human beings will no longer see themselves as having the right to use or interfere with other animals.


11. Educate people about the way capitalism and politics work, to emphasize that animal rights is a matter of justice rather than personal traits such as compassion, caring, or empathy.  This is not to dismiss those traits as unimportant -- they're crucial to all interactions among human beings and between humans and other sentient beings -- but to heighten understanding of the important difference between the personal and the political, the incidental and the systemic, feelings and principles.  Compassion is natural except in a very small percentage of people.  Merely acting on compassion is insufficient to change institutions, laws, and societies.  Injustice isn’t due to individual people’s lack of compassion or empathy; it is due to strong incentives to overcome those positive traits.


12. Have faith that small numbers of people can bring about fundamental change; do not be overly concerned with popularity or the early lack of popularity of the animal rights message.  Too much emphasis on popularity and support early on was a key factor in the declared animal rights movement’s reverting to animal welfare, where its strategies, tactics, and language remain for the most part today.

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