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Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
The so-called "animal rights" movement is relying upon a logical fallacy which is based on mutually exclusive premises.
"Animal rights" premise #1: Human beings are no different from other animals, with no divine or elevated nature which makes us distinct;
"Animal rights" premise #2: Human beings are ethically bound not to use other animals for their own selfish purposes.
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, aside from economic concerns such as making sure we don't kill so quickly that we destroy a species and deprive our descendants of prey, 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. We may seek a balance of nature; but "balance" is a concept that only a species as intelligent as humankind could even contemplate. We may choose to temper the purposes to which we put lower animals with empathy and wisdom; but by virtue of our superior nature, we decide ... and if those decisions include the consumption of animals for human utilitarian or recreational purposes, then the limits on the uses we put the lower beasts are ones we set according to our individual human consciences.
"Animal rights" do not exist in either case.
Even though I personally believe we were created by God, unlike advocates of the Judeo-Christian tradition I do not rely upon the question of whether humans have a "soul" to distinguish humans from animals. Like secular rationalists, I'm content to resolve the issue of the nature of human beings, and the nature of animals, by scientific means -- observation, experiment, and the debate of paradigms. Each of these criteria is simply a proof of intelligence and self-consciousness:
1) Being observed as producing or having produced technological artifacts unique to that species;
2) Being observed as able to communicate from one generation to the next by a recorded language unique to that species;
3) Being observed as basing action on abstract reasoning;
4) Being observed as engaging in inductive and deductive reasoning processes;
5) Being observed as engaging in non-utilitarian artistic activity unique to that species.
I'm sure there are other criteria we could use, but these are obvious ones that come to mind immediately. None of them speculates about the unobservable functioning of a neural network; all of them are based on observable effects of intelligence and self-consciousness.
Conclusively, we are of a different nature than other animals we know. Neither cetaceans nor other higher mammals, including the higher apes, qualify as "human" under these criteria. We do not observe these significations of intelligence and self-consciousness in any other species we know, such criteria being neither necessarily anthropocentric nor even terracentric.
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. The wildebeest has no ethical recourse against the lion. If we are merely animals, no other animal has any ethical standing to complain against the human animal for eating them or wearing their skins.
But, if we are superior to other animals -- if our nature is of a different kind than other animals -- then why should we grant rights to species who can not 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. Respect for nature requires a respect for the nature of what things are ... and we are better, stronger, smarter, than the animals we hunt, ranch, farm, fish, trap, butcher, skin, bone, and eat.
They certainly have no ethics about us, for they are just animals.
Nor are any "animal rights" activists themselves merely animals. There is no organization called Porpoises for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It is People who make those demands of other People.
Those who argue for animal rights argue that since animals are living and feel pain, that therefore nature gives them a right not to be treated cruelly. This is an argument that could only work on a being capable of empathy -- and that requires an elevated consciousness. It is true that animals can feel pain, and that esthetically requires that we not be cruel in our treatment of them. But what is cruelty? Beating a horse that won't pull a wagon? Making animals fight each other for sport?
That's no longer the issue, is it? The issue is ranching minks to skin them for fur; castrating and slaughtering steers to eat them; hunting and shooting deer, ducks, and elks; testing cosmetics on animals; doing medical experiments on animals to advance medical knowledge. Do we have a moral obligation not to use animals for human utilitarian purposes, which is another way of asking whether animals have the right not to be treated as objects to be exploited for their usefulness?
The idea of a right means that which has rights may not be treated as a utilitarian object for the fulfillment of the purposes of others. Animal rights would mean animals would be immune from being used to fulfill any human purpose.
PETA has it exactly correct. If animals have rights, then we may not ethically use them for our own selfish purposes, no matter how necessary we think that use or how humanely we assert we do it to them. This is, in fact, the logical conclusion of "animal rights."
If animals have rights then we need not make any distinction between an unnecessarily cruel use of animals (pick one: cock- fighting, animal testing for beauty products) or eating animals, because if animals have rights then we are not morally entitled to put them to utilitarian use, period.
Let me make it clear: I am not questioning the humaneness or cruelty of any particular practice. My point is that the interests of those who assert that the lower animals have rights is not to protect animals against cruel treatment. That can be done merely by an appeal to our consciences. Those who assert that animals or even "habitats" have rights do so to destroy individual human rights to control what I term the anthroposphere: the human habitat. It is the individual human right to control our private spheres of action -- our individual habitats -- which they oppose.
Some "animal rights" activists, basing their thinking on pantheism, equate humans with the rest of nature by saying that we are all share a divine consciousness. But equating humankind as no more divine than inanimate objects or other animals isn't raising nature but lowering humankind. Pantheists believe that everything is sacred, including the inanimate. Yet, I don't notice them picketing Mount St. Helen's volcano for spewing its lava, burning trees and killing wildlife. It's only human action to which animal rights activists object.
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.
Which leaves us esthetics, which exists only in individual humans. Since lower animals don't have rights, we humans need to make judgments on humane versus cruel treatment of lower animals not by treating animals as if they have rights but instead must rely on our esthetic values -- our consciences. But, after seeing tree-spikers, people throwing paint on fur coats, and Kentucky Fried Chicken being equated with Auschwitz, it's now apparent that the effect of trying to give animals the same ethical immunities as humans is that all esthetic distinction between cock-fighting and eating meat is lost. The effect of "all or nothing" in our uses of animals is to blunt our consciences, which makes us crueler to animals, not less cruel.
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. They hate the fact that their own superior nature as intellectual beings gives them superior challenges which they shrink from by attempting to deny the superiority of their human nature.
"Animal rights" is just one more diabolic scheme for promoting government control over human lives by destroying our right to private property. It is the logical tactic of those who hate the individual creative ability and wish it replaced by the anti-human jackboots of collectivism.
"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.
Interested in what J. Neil Schulman has to say about animal rights five years later? Click through to Fifty Things Animals Can't Do.