I have been studying libertarian theory for the better part of two years now, and last year I read Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable with much alacrity. Afterwards, I wondered if there were any "lost chapters" that he could have written, especially now that over 30 years have passed since it was first published. Inspired by recent events, I have taken an opportunity to write about someone who clearly needs to be defended.
Two years ago, when professional football player Michael Vick was arrested for financing and organizing dog fights in his backyard, he didn’t have a single friend. When a person leaves a dog in his car without rolling down the windows, we look upon the owner as an irresponsible felon, so you can imagine the outrage when people learned that Michael Vick had trained dogs and put them in harm’s way for the sake of sport.
Now that Michael Vick is out of prison, perhaps we can have a conversation as to why he was arrested in the first place. I take the position that animals are private property and that as long as Michael Vick peaceably acquired the dogs, it’s nobody’s right to tell him what he can and cannot do with his possessions.
Though some may find dogfighting to be barbaric and uncivilized, that is no reason why the practice should be outlawed. Currently, there are thousands of businesses whose purpose is to raise animals, slaughter them, cut them into manageable pieces, package them, and ship them worldwide. There are advertising and marketing operations that aim to increase our consumption of animals. Television networks regularly feature people who demonstrate their ability to cook animals in novel ways so that we do not grow bored of their taste. These people learn their techniques from schools built for this purpose and some of the graduates write books about the art of cooking and eating of animals.
So if one believes that fighting animals is barbaric, then certainly eating them is just as barbaric if not worse. Some people believe it’s inhumane to use animals for any purpose, whether it be for food, clothing, shelter, milking, sport, burden, service, companionship, exhibition, or experimentation. If we were to take the position that animals have equal rights, then no human has more rights than any other animal. We couldn’t make any distinction between an elephant and a nematode for if we did, we’d quickly revert to a system where humans are more equal than cows, and cows are more equal than chickens. For a system of animal rights to work, humans could only do what they wanted to do so long as they weren’t infringing on the rights on any other animal.
If an absolute system of animal rights were adopted, then we’d have no choice but for all of us to go vegan. However, even if we all unanimously decided to refrain from consuming meat and dairy, it wouldn’t be enough to save us from having to violate the rights of animals on a regular basis. If we were to dig up a parcel of land to plant crops, we are disrupting the ecosystem of whatever animals reside there. Even if we were to forgo cultivation and revert to the gathering of nuts and berries, we are again encroaching on the private property of animals such as bears and squirrels who acquired homesteading rights to the nut trees and berry bushes long before humans arrived there.
Though we may personally feel it’s immoral to eat animals or milk them, keep them as pets or beasts of burden, it’s equally immoral to throw someone in a cage and take their property for not adequately following someone else’s arbitrary rules on the proper treatment of animals. Declaring animals as private property is the only moral and consistent way to deal with the topic of animal cruelty. It is your right to do what you will with the animals you own just as it’s your neighbor’s right to tell you how much better your life would be if you’d minimize your animal consumption.
Greater than the cruelty of animals is the cruelty of hypocrisy. The day Michael Vick was charged with the crime of endangering animals, how many of the arresting FBI agents had bacon with their breakfast?
Todd Steinberg [send him mail] works with his family at a wholesale teddy bear company in Dallas. In his spare time he is furiously working on his cartoon, "Don’t Tell My Wife I’m a Cult Leader," which he plans to unleash on the Internet and beyond in 2009.