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CHAPTER 1

Introduction To Animal Rights



 

1. The Broad Setting
More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroad which will determine the future existence of all the earths inhabitants. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

The Big Problem
Humans have been killing animals for millennia and now scientists acknowledge that we are living in a mass extinction of life caused by humanity. Added to this is an animal holocaust in which increasing numbers of people endlessly demand animals to eat, wear, kill for sport, experiment on, and more. In almost anyone's definition this is a man made disaster - a war on animals - undeclared and devastatingly carried out. This war on animals shouts for action. Animals need allies and making active allies for animals is what this online course is about.

Being Active
To be active for animal rights all you need to be is an ordinary person. You do not have to be an 'animal rights terrorist' (see Chapter 5), the stereotype bogeyman of the news media. The media's animal rights archetype is a rare creature because for every bogey animal rights terrorist there is a multitude of concerned people from all walks of life doing their bit for animals. You, too, whether city financier, unemployed anarchist or domestic granny, can make your contribution and be a real ally of animals.

The Best Animal Rights Attitude
As an animal rights activist your attitudes and values will inevitably clash with those of other people. This is where you have to determine what your beliefs are based on. Confused beliefs, inaccurate views and misconceptions fill our minds. The distinguished French writer Francois-Marie Arouet (1694 - 1778), popularly known as Voltaire, is credited with saying, "If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." One of the most disturbing visions in the history of human progress is the specter of the early vivisectors nailing live animals onto dissection boards to cut them open at leisure and see how they worked...before the era of anesthetics. The vivisectors conveniently believed that animals do not feel pain even though animals behave as though they do.

So what is our best attitude for being active for animals? Surely it is always to question what we know, try to understand what we do not know and keep a healthy skepticism about what people tell us. Having the right attitude demands that we constantly question our beliefs, especially when we think we are right, and never be complacent (for more see Chapter 2). This is especially important when we consider the moral place of animals.

The Expanding Circle
Expanding the circle is an evocative metaphor that captures the progress of humanity as a moral species. It is a phrase coined by the Irish historian and philosopher William Lecky (1838 - 1903) and means that humanity is enfolding more beings in its group as worthy of respect and moral consideration. Lecky writes:
"At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world..."

Lecky's statue stands neglected outside the University of Dublin as his reputation gathers dust. Yet the moral circle is expanding. Only a few generations ago slaves were excluded from the core of human society and women were marginalized. Slavery and domestic servitude were accepted as social norms.

So how close are we to accepting animals within the expanding circle? It is apt that the distinguished animal liberation philosopher Peter Singer (see Chapter 6) invoked Lecky's metaphor as the title of his book The Expanding Circle. Singer reasons that indeed the human moral circle is beginning to embrace animals, confirmed by the existence of the numerous and growing number of people fighting for animal lib. Nevertheless, even with Singer's optimism and energy we still have a long way to journey toward the day when humanity finally accepts animals within its moral circle.


The Great Leap
A good reason for allying ourselves with animals and including them in our moral circle is for their sake. Looking beyond that, another good reason is humanity is about to make a great leap into the future. Blasting off into space, deciphering genomes and implanting synthetic parts in our bodies are some of the signs of this impending leap. They signal that we are saying good-bye to our organic roots based on natural selection and are entering a new phase of evolution based on science and technology. We are shaping a transformation of humanity into a super-being that will be unrecognizable to present generations (assuming humanity and science survive the next hundred years). However, we must not allow our future-being to ravage every creature it meets for its own ends, in the present style of humanity. We must instill in it an enlightened and compassionate morality to be a powerful force for good in the universe. To this end we must about to expand our circle of moral consideration to encompass all creatures, whatever and wherever they are.

 

2. Mass Extinction
"Homo sapiens is in the throes of causing a major biological crisis, a mass extinction, the sixth such event, to have occurred in the past half billion years. And we, Homo sapiens, may also be among the living dead."
 ~Richard Leakey & Roger Lewin~

 


 



The Sixth Extinction

We are living in a period of mass extinction of life on Earth. This is the greatest extinction since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In the 3.5 billion year evolution of life on our planet there have been five mass extinctions - when close to all species were nearly wiped out. The most massive of these extinctions was the Permian Extinction some 250 million years ago: seventy percent of land species and ninety percent of marine species went extinct in less than a million years, close to an instant in Earth's 4.5 billion year evolution.

The common name for the present mass extinction is the Sixth Extinction, popularised in the 1995 book of the same name by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin. The unique characteristic of the Sixth Extinction is that it is caused by a single species - us: Homo sapiens. Scientists calculate that within a hundred years half of Earth's fauna and flora could be treading down the road to mass extinction. Earth, home to millions of species, may be losing some 30,000 species a year and the rate is increasing as humanity accelerates its devastation of the biosphere. The problem is especially grim for rain forests because they harbor the vast majority of land-living species and humanity is clear-felling forests fast. As the forests shrink away the animals have no where to go and die out.

 



The Mega Devastators
Humanity has fashioned three mega-devastators that are causing the Sixth Extinction and their combined influence is reaching a climax:

    1-Global warming - by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    2-Consumption of resources - including habitat change.

    3-Human overpopulation - by which every one of us increases the first two devastators.

The magnitude of what humanity is doing became apparent in the 1970's. But still the mass extinction crisis is invisible to most people, unaware about it or indifferent. Many scientists are so worried by this lack of concern that in 1992 over 1,500 prominent specialists, among them several Nobel Prize Laureates, endorsed the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity. But they have made little progress waking people to the looming cataclysm. Likewise, the Doomsday Clock has similarly fallen short. It was originally started in 1947 during the Cold War by a group of scientists concerned about humanity's potential impending self-destruction and is meant to wake us up to fight for our preservation. Currently the minute hand is set at five minutes to midnight - just five minutes before annihilation.

Biocide?
Biocide, the massive destruction of life on a worldwide scale, is the ultimate of all human practical and moral violations. Skeptics argue that there is not enough data to support the notion of a Sixth Extinction or that this mass extinction is not of human origin so we need do nothing about it. Other people accept the impending catastrophe and argue that humanity can slow the rate of extinction through proper management of human activity and ecosystems. Still other people maintain that time has expired and there is nothing we can do. But one thing is certain. The disaster of mass extinction is so great do we dare not act? We could not have evolved without animals and they gave our species food, clothing, shelter and tools. It is payback time. As Woody Allen says, "More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Learn more: The Sixth Extinction by Niles Eldredge.
 

 

3. The Animal Holocaust
"Their suffering is intense, widespread, expanding, systematic and socially sanctioned. And the victims are unable to organize in defense of their own interests." Henry Spira

Mass extinction is not the only human scourge on animals; animals live in a continuing holocaust. The Animal Holocaust is the mass destruction of animals by humanity and is a direct comparison with Nazi mass murder, particularly of Jews. The animals most often referred to in the Animal Holocaust are domesticated animals that people raise for food. However, more generally, Animal Holocaust victims include any animals and their populations that humans control, systematically abuse or destroy, such as fur-farmed animals, laboratory animals and free-living wild animals.

The Animal Holocaust resembles the Nazi perpetrated Holocaust in the use of business-like mass slaughter, mediated by transports, factory farms (concentration camps) and slaughterhouses (death camps). Other pertinent comparisons are performing experiments on inmates and turning inmates into commodities, such as skin goods and soap. Perhaps the most telling comparison is the contempt for the victims' humane treatment and the widespread disregard for their rights. People today generally do not think of animals as beings who are mutilated, tortured and slain and see them merely as 'animals', there for the purpose of satisfying human needs.

 


 

Every week people kill two million pigs in the US and twelve million pigs in China. The human holocaust is over but the animal holocaust is ongoing and Man's inhumanity continues

No one knows the true figure of how many animals people kill every year, but to get an idea see Chapter 7: Animal Numbers Raised & Killed. Staggering totals include the two million pigs killed every week in the United States, the 12 million pigs killed every week in China and the seventy billion chickens killed worldwide every year. Humanity has killed literally trillions of animals since the Second World War and we are killing them at an accelerating rate as our population increases and the mechanization for the Animal Holocaust picks up speed. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976), shamed for his membership of the Nazi party, is cited as saying in a 1949 lecture: "Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps..." The Animal Holocaust is treated in modern books such as Charles Patterson's Eternal Treblinka.  The book's title comes from a quote attributed to author and Holocaust survivor Isaac Beshevis Singer, "To animals, all people are Nazis. For them it is an eternal Treblinka."


Some animal rights groups juxtapose imagery of the Holocaust and the Animal Holocaust to publicize their campaigns and shock people into admitting the scale and existence of the human abuse of animals. Their message is that animals are not ours to abuse but that we must treat them with respect. However, the juxtaposition of Holocaust and Animal Holocaust has angered many people and organizations who see it as an inappropriate and corrupting comparison, tasteless and trivializing because of humanity's (assumed unique) moral basis. They say that the Holocaust / Animal Holocaust juxtaposition may gain the cause of animal rights some attention but will lose it support in the long-run. Whether or not you agree, the comparison shows that humanity has the attitude and practical capacity to destroy beings on a vast scale. It makes some people stop to consider their role in the slaughter and even act against it.

 


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