Today’s article will be focusing on the history and overview of the animal rights crusade. Before we go into specifics on the interplay between the different organizations, corruption in their ranks, and threat that they pose to agriculture, it is important to understand how the movement developed and became what it is today.
Humans have always had a unique connection with animals – we use them as tools, for food, and companionship. Throughout history they have been important to our religion, protection, and medical rehabilitation. We have a bond with animals, an appreciation of their purpose and understanding of their needs along with our own. At the same time they highly depend on us as well; we feed and take care of them, manage their populations, give them medical attention and shelter. We have a mutually beneficial relationship that is important to both us and the animals, and yet some wish for this to end.
Under the cloak of ‘animal rights,’ an ideology was formed based on the idea of equality between animals and humans. These radicals hate that domestic animals exist and want the end of selective breeding and companion animals. They think animals should be left alone, we should all convert to veganism, and that utilizing them as a resource is immoral despite natural selection and man’s dominion. They want to end the human-animal relationship; they want to break our bond.
Take a look at this brief history of some major events in the animal rights movement. Keep in mind the patterns and changes in the movement’s popularity as we move to the evaluation of animal rights activists arguments.
One of the first animal rights philosophers and first individual to evaluate animal rights based on utilitarianism was Jeremy Bentham. In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, he states “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…” Another philosopher, Peter Singer, says that “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering—insofar as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being.” For both of these men, suffering is the main and only point of significance to their arguments, and they do little to consider the overall complexity of the situation.
Those who compare ‘speciesism’ to racism and sexism, like Bentham and Singer, are misinterpreting the natural hierarchy of the world. To demonize natural selection is to abandon nature. Is it wrong for owls to eat mice, spiders to catch flies, bears to eat fish, or ants to farm aphids? No, these things are necessary for the survival of owl, spider, bear, or ant, and the natural cycle of life. Like it or not, humans were put on the top of that food chain, and it is only right for us to use that power to ensure that we live fruitful, happy lives. Although Bentham, Singer, and their followers would like to view all things with the capability of suffering as equals, that is just not the case. In no way is speciesism close to racism or sexism; in both of these other forms of discrimination the physiology, intellectual capacity, and ability make all humans equal and thus discrimination and exploitation evil according to nature. With speciesism, you are comparing an animal with little intellectual or physical capability, to a human. When asked to evaluate the importance, the answer is clear.
Does this mean that humans can neglect and abuse animals without regard for their well-being? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that arguments giving animals equal rights of humans are enormously flawed. That is the difference between welfare and rights advocates; those who are champions for animal welfare will attempt to protect animals and lower their suffering within a limited scope and maintain human use, those who want animals to have rights view them as equal to humans and want to eliminate the use of them all together. Keeping this in mind, when we look at the greatest good for the greatest number (utilitarianism), do you humanely use animals as we have for thousands of years or end the use of domestic and farm animals which risks millions to hunger and malnutrition around the globe? Again, the answer is clear.
Although animal welfare advocacy has been around since the 1600s, as you see on the timeline, it was not until very recently that the animal rights movement became popular. Around the world animal protection societies have been forming since the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in England in the early 1800s. The ASPCA was founded in 1866, but their goals and methods then were extremely different from what they are today. Even the Humane Society of the United States was less radical at its formation in 1954. Although animal protection laws were being passed, there was no domestic terrorism in the name of animal rights or nude/vulgar protests as we see today.
Then, Peter Singer released his book Animal Liberation in 1975. Popularizing Bentham’s ideas, Singer (inadvertently or not) convinced a small and naive portion of society to become activists for the animal rights fight to come. In 1976, the violent domestic terrorist group The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was formed. They have destroyed property, stolen animals, and have employed violent methods such as arson to stop animal use. In 1979, the Animal Legal Defense Fund was created to fight the legislative battle for animal rights. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was created in 1980, their radical protest methods are well known, and they have given grants and money to groups like ALF. In 1982, the Farm Animal Reform Movement was formed, an organization best known for their fictitious grassroots campaign. It is easy to see the flood of extremist groups which turned the industry away from animal advocacy and into a lucrative animal rights industry filled with violence and corruption.
These relatively small groups have figured out a way to manipulate society and gain hundreds of millions of dollars in donations through misleading advertising and taking advantage of average Americans. Few of these groups actually do anything to help animals and their concern for rights has left the fight for welfare out to dry. Often after their campaigns, both the animals and people are left worse off than before.
For example, Proposition 2 in California was recently passed to make the modern caged egg production systems illegal. Based on an uninformed image of what the animals should have according to their rights, the people of California were pushed by animal rights extremists to revert back to outdated cage-free or enriched caged methods that put huge strains on producers. Activists never stopped to consider the fact that farmers moved to caged production systems to eliminate disease, threat of predators, and risk of harm. By allowing the laying hens to run free in a cage free system, or giving them more room in an enriched cage, their chance of injury is exponentially higher.
Animal rights supporters advocate for these extreme changes, but rarely do they consider the practical elements. Emotion does not always have to be separate from logic, although they make it seem so. It is possible to care for these animals, yet also care for what these animals provide for us.
The history of animal advocacy is long, but the great split between welfare and rights is evident. It is time to stop animal rights groups from manipulating Americans into thinking that they are protecting animals, when in actuality a more sinister agenda lies beneath.
We will be back with another article in this series next week.