While reading an article titled The Illogic of Animal Rights, written by J. Neil Schulman, I was reminded of meat-eaters and the reasons many of them site for their belief that humans should be able to keep exploiting animals. If there would have been a way for me to write a comment to the author I surely would have, however there wasn’t and so I will have to vent my frustration here. Hopefully others with Schulman’s opinion will come across this post and possibly rethink their views on animal rights.
In his article, Schulman argues his point from two standpoints based on what he feels are the core ideas of the animal rights movement. He does this to show how they contradict each other as well as try to prove how, when held apart from each other, each premise still does not equate to animal rights being a “logical” conclusion. These are the basic premises of animal rights, according to Schulman:
- Humans are no different from non-human animals
- Humans have an ethical obligation not to exploit non-human animals
He states that these premises are a fallacy because they contradict each other, and thus cancel each other out. He further argues that even if these premises are true in their own right, animal rights is still illogical because the end result of either premise will always lead to human animals having the right to use non-human animals to our gain.
“If human beings are no different from other animals, then like all other animals it is our nature to kill any other animal which serves the purposes of our survival and well-being, for that is the way of all nature. Therefore … human animals can kill members of other animal species for their usefulness to us.
It is only if we are not just another animal — if our nature is distinctly superior to other animals — that we become subject to ethics at all — and then those ethics must take into account our nature as masters of the lower animals. … ‘Animal rights’ do not exist in either case.”
His first mistake is assuming that animal rights activists believe that human animals and non-human animals are exactly the same. We understand very well the differences between human animals and non-human animals. However, we do not believe the existence of these differences warrants the abuse we inflict on them.
His second mistake is assuming that human animals must exploit non-human animals in order to survive. I will explain more on this later.
His third mistake is concluding that because humans are subject to ethics and are able to make rational decisions based on these ideas, that the logical thing for us to do as the “superior” species would be to demonstrate our superiority by choosing to harm, abuse and exploit those weaker than ourselves, simply because we were endowed by nature with the power to do so. If we are indeed the “masters of the lower animals”, as Schulman says, wouldn’t the ethical thing to do be to treat the “lower” animals with care and respect?
He then goes on to list criteria which he says are necessary to prove a beings intelligence and self-consciousness:
1) Producing technological artifacts unique to that species
2) Able to communicate from one generation to the next by a recorded language unique to that species
3) Basing action on abstract reasoning
4) Engaging in inductive and deductive reasoning processes
5) Engaging in non-utilitarian artistic activity unique to that species
On this point, I must first state that many human animals (by Schulman’s criteria) are not intelligent or self-conscious (ie: those who are mentally and physically impaired, those who are senile, or small children), and are therefore (by Schulman’s logic) fair to be exploited by the remainder of us “higher” beings.
Second, this list proves absolutely nothing about animal rights because both human animals and non-human animals should not need to create technological marvels or use inductive or deductive reasoning to solve problems to have a right to not be exploited for human gain. Intelligence and self-consciousness have little to do with it. What matters is an animal’s sentience – the ability to feel. Sentience and rationality are two separate concepts. Schulman seems to have missed the memo.
“By the “survival of the fittest” which is the law of raw nature, no animal has rights: only the tools to survive as best it can. The chicken has no right not to be eaten by the fox. … If we are merely animals, no other animal has any ethical standing to complain against the human animal for eating them…
But, if we are superior to other animals … then why should we grant rights to species who cannot talk, or compose symphonies, or induce mathematical equations, or build satellites which send back television pictures of other planets? Why shouldn’t we humans simply regard lower animals as things which may become our property? We may be kind to animals if it is pleasing to us to do so, but we should not grant animals an equal stature that nature has not given them. “
On his first point, when non-human animals kill other non-human animals it is not considered exploitation or cruelty by animal rights activists because they must do so for survival. When human animals kill non-human animals it is generally not for survival, but for pleasure — whether we experience this pleasure through “hunting”, food, clothing, etc. Non-human animals don’t have grocery stores, the ability to farm crops, heated and air-conditioned houses, or flushing toilets like many of us humans do. We humans do possess these abilities and luxuries and therefore do not require animal products the way wild animals do. If humans needed animal products to not only survive, but to thrive, then I wouldn’t even be able to write this post because I would be dead — along with millions of other vegans around the world today.
Furthermore, if that were true, then it would be vegans dying of heart disease, diabetes, and complicatons caused by obesity – not the other way around. Animal products are detrimental to our health because our bodies are simply not designed to be consuming them (especially not in the large quantities so many consume today).
On Schulman’s second point, there are many human animals who are unable to compose symphonies or induce mathematical equations, but this doesn’t somehow render them worthy of abuse. By that logic, most of the world’s population shouldn’t be allowed to have rights – quite possibly including Schulman himself! Should I have been tortured, killed, and eaten because I failed to excel in my high school math classes? And even if we are superior, what is the harm in being kind? Why should we feel the need to stomp on those lower than ourselves? If we truly are superior, why should we feel such a need to demonstrate our superiority? This equates to us beating our puffed out chests and roaring from the top of a mountain. What’s the point? We have the incredible ability to choose to be merciful — a choice which no other animal (as far as we know) can make — and yet (as Schulman suggests) we should still choose to kill and destroy life like the wild animals we claim to be so different from? Mercy will always be a far more noble attribute than malice.
“So where do we find ethics here? If we look to nature, we see only that the strong use the weak for their own purposes — and we are obviously the master of all other animals by that standard.
If we look to the center of all human ethics, the Golden Rule, we are told to treat others as we would wish to be treated. But what others? Animals can’t treat us as we wish to be treated because they don’t have the wit to entertain ethics at all.”
In Schulman’s first point, he basically states that he believes in the idea of “might makes right” — the belief that because we are the ones in power, we have the right to use those who are not in power in whichever way we see fit. This is the same logic that has caused many problems for humans throughout the ages who were thought of as inferior to the group in power at that time.
The second point he mentions is that because animals cannot obey the golden rule as we can, that they should not feel the benefits of such treatment. He misses the whole point of the golden rule (aka: the ethic of reciprocity): we must treat others as we would like to be treated regardless of how others may treat us, not because we expect others to reciprocate, but because it is simply the morally correct thing to do.
“Those people among us who would give lower animals human rights do not do it because they love other animals. They do it because they hate humankind.”
While much of his argument is stated rather eloquently, this is where he seems to have let his emotions get the better of his reasoning. There is no rule which states that one must be anti-human rights to be pro-animal rights. In reality, the two are clearly linked.
Animal abuse and domestic violence often go hand in hand. In some cases, animal abuse can lead to other forms of criminal behavior including murder. This is why there is a correlation between slaughterhouses and increased crime rates in many towns where abattoirs are located.
Animal agriculture is also preventing an end to world hunger. In fact, we have more than enough food to feed the entire world’s population, it’s just being fed to livestock rather than humans. In turn, humans from more privileged nations eat these animals, which is not very economical because it takes much more plant foods to feed a cow, for instance, than a human.
Because many livestock animals eat much more in a day than a typical human could, they also have that much more waste. All of the feces and urine seeps into the ground, rivers, and lakes, causing groundwater contamination which renders the water unfit for human consumption. This water is then unintentionally used to water crops, causing E.coli and salmonella outbreaks which harm the humans who consume them.
“‘Animal rights’ activists use the tools of rationality which are uniquely available to the human species in order to deny the distinct nature of their own rational faculties. They raise up animals in an attempt to lower humankind.
They may speak for themselves only, not for me. I know what I am. I know what animals are. And I will name what “animal rights” activists truly are: the Human Defamation League. And making us as oblivious to cruelty as are all other animals, if not the actual agenda of the Human Defamation League, is nonetheless the unintended consequence of their campaign.”
The sad truth is that Schulman — a textbook speciesist — and others like him, are the real Human Defamation League. In his hatred of those weaker than himself he has proven that he has lost his own humanity — his benevolence — and that makes him the lowest of animals.
“The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creatures that cannot.” ~ Mark Twain