The Paradox of "Animal Rights," or, Please Pass the Hamburgers

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According to some, it is immoral to eat animals. Instead, animal rights advocates contend that animals must be treated ethically, by which it is meant that animals should be treated as if they are human beings.

There is, of course, one large problem with such a view: animals are not human beings.

In the process of proposing such silliness, animal rights advocates destroy the rational distinction between man and the rest of the animal kingdom. In doing so, they not only abuse reason, but dullen the moral senses which protect human beings from abuse.

First, consider the idea that human beings must act ethically toward animals. Although this might sound unobjectionable at first — who, after all, condones the pointless torture of animals? — the Devil is in the details. What the animal rights crowd means is not that one should not be cruel to animals, but rather than animals should be treated like your mother, i.e., like fellow human beings.

By way of rebuttal, consider the following anecdote from the life of Ben Franklin. As Jeffrey Smith notes in Franklin and Bache: Envisioning the Enlightened Republic, Franklin was a vegetarian in his youth, “believing that killing animals was ‘a kind of unprovok’d Murder.’ Later, however, Franklin “was tempted by the smell of fish being fried. Having seen small fish in the stomachs of fish being prepared, he decided he could eat them if they ate each other.”

This anecdote gets to the heart of the silliness of “animal rights.” Animals do not treat each other as if they had rights, i.e., they do not conform themselves to human moral conduct. Were a man to eat another man, in the way in which a large fish eats a smaller fish, this would be the crime of murder. And yet no one seriously contends that a fish commits a crime by eating another fish. Animals eat other animals. So long as they do so, there is no rational justification for human beings not to eat animals as well. Humanity faces a moral decision: imprison all predators, or pass the hamburgers.

Similarly, if animals are to be treated ethically, then human beings are entitled (in the strong sense of the term) to expect ethical treatment in return. For that matter, animals should be required to serve on juries like other citizens, and pay their taxes. They can earn a living, rather than simply take, take, take all the time. We should expect them to go to church, rather than laying around at home or running around the yard all weekend.

Bears eat other animals. Bears also eat fish. That being said, there is no reason why I cannot eat the same type of animals eaten by the bear, or the same fish. There is similarly no reason why I cannot morally kill and eat the bear. Fair is fair.

More importantly, in seeking to have human beings treat animals as if they are human beings, the animal rights movement defeats its own arguments. In other words, the animal rights sophists demonstrate their own lack of understanding of morality by arguing that morality should extend to non-moral beings, namely, animals.

One of my friends, who is an avid hunter, has a ready reply when anti-hunting types ask if he shoots “innocent” animals. “No,” he replies, “only the guilty ones.”

The point is that the concepts of guilt and innocence do not apply to animals.

The net effect of the animal rights movement, then, is not to do the impossible, i.e., to raise animals to the level of the human, but to lower humans to the level of the merely animal. The result of Peter Singer’s claim that “a dog is a rat is a pig is a boy” is that children are now exterminated as if they were rats. Abortion on demand, anyone?

One of the strangest cases that I read in law school was Taylor v. Johnston, 15 Cal.3d 130, 123 Cal. Rptr. 641, 539 P.2d 425 (1975). Although it is a breach of contract case, it stands out in my memory because it was a case concerning horse abortions. Yes, horses get aborted. In particular, horses are aborted in the case of twinning. As the court wrote,

Shortly after their breeding, it was discovered that both mares were pregnant with twins. In thoroughbred racing twins are considered undesirable since they endanger the mare and are themselves seldom valuable for racing. Both mares were therefore aborted. However, plaintiff was not required to pay the $20,000 stud fees for Chateaugay’s services because neither mare delivered a live foal.

Where does the animal rights crowd come down on horse abortion? One wonders.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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