Animal Rights

The Shifting Frontiers of Animal Rights

Activists yawn as animals lurch toward a hybrid future.

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Sometime after the 14-year-old retired actor and chimpanzee Travis Herold was shot and beheaded by Stamford, Connecticut, police in connection with an aggravated assault against 55-year-old Charla Nash, but before former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick finished serving a federal prison sentence for conspiring to violate the civil rights of dogs, South Korean scientists announced the birth of a beagle that glows in the dark.

Ruppy the ruby puppy is a transgenic animal whose belly and paws glow under ultraviolet light thanks to genetic code from sea anemones. A team led by Seoul National University scientist Lee Byeong-chun created the animal by using a virus to insert fluorescent genes into the nucleus of a dog fibroblast cell. The researchers then removed the nucleus from another dog's egg cell and implanted the fibroblast's fluorescence-enriched nucleus into it. The new organism began life as an embryo in a Petri dish before being inserted into a surrogate mother. After several false starts, Ruppy and her littermates grew to term and were successfully delivered. The glowing beagles have now reached spawning age.

The most striking thing about Ruppy is how little attention she attracted from animal rights activists. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made no comment. Nor did the Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or such beast-friendly philosophers as Peter Singer and Matthew Scully. What objections did come were infused with sarcastic Weltschmerz rather than outrage. "Now those women who insist on being impregnated even though their bodies clearly do not believe they should be…can potentially become pregnant more easily because of poor glowing puppies," wrote the blogger VeganVerve.

You might attribute the blasé activist reaction to the built-in ethical dilemmas of Ruppy's case. To argue that the scientists have mistreated these dogs you'd need to establish that the beasts would have been better off not existing in the first place. The concept of wrongful life has actually been litigated in the court of human behavior, with mixed results.

In 2000 France's highest court granted malpractice damages to the family of 17-year-old Nicolas Perruche, who was born with mental handicaps related to his mother's having contracted rubella during her pregnancy. Perruche and his family argued that had the mother been correctly diagnosed, she would have aborted the child. Effectively, the question of wrongful birth has been given legal weight not only in France (where suits like Perruche's were subsequently outlawed) but also in the United States. In 2003 a New Jersey obstetrician-gynecologist paid a $1.2 million settlement to a family after failing to diagnose "Fragile X syndrome," a form of mental retardation caused by a defective gene on the X chromosome.

Do animals have any legal recourse against human beings? Elizabeth Hess' wonderful 2008 book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human describes the terrible dislocation of an ape. The title character is a chimp who was raised in a series of foster homes from 1973 to 2000 and taught American Sign Language in a now-forgotten behaviorist effort to discredit the theory advanced by MIT linguist Noam Chomsky that there is a universal, specifically human grammar.

In hindsight, the late-Aquarian experiment was clearly ill-conceived. The chimp's first adopted family combined the human children of two broken homes, headed by a wife who thought of herself (whether literally or transubstantially is not clear) as Nim's mother and a husband who was descended from an ancient Boston Brahmin clan and suffering a vast midlife crisis. Nim bit people, engaged in well-planned vandalism, and disfigured one human companion. After the experiment was abandoned, he did time in an experimental medical facility. He ended up a bitter inmate in a cage at a Texas ranch, poring over old sign language charts and objecting to his confinement.

Hess' achievement is to describe all her characters, human and chimp, in the same expansive terms they seem to prefer for themselves, so that both species take their places in a wider drama. When Nim, freshly moved to an Oklahoma primate colony, breaks open a water pipe on the ceiling of his cage, we learn that his new handler "ran to find his everreliable employee Tiny, known to be a mechanical genius, and the two of them managed to cap the pipe." The reader isn't sure whether Tiny is a large man or a chimp with wrench skills. The literary effect raises a legal question: If Nim's skill at signing abstract phrases had been slightly better, could he have sued somebody for putting him through all this?

The idea is not as far-fetched as it seems. Michael Vick pled guilty to "conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture and conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities," yet he served time in Leavenworth because torturing and killing dogs were considered shocking to the conscience. Animal cruelty legislation presumes that nonhuman creatures are more than inanimate property but less than creatures with full-fledged rights. How broadly should animal welfare law infringe human welfare? I'm not sure a dog's right to life should take precedence even over the right of NFL fans to see a great athlete in his prime. And I'm positive it shouldn't supersede an adult human's right to liberty.

But if we grant that pit bulls have a compelling right not to be tormented for entertainment, what of a beagle's right not to be bred as a chimera in pursuit of nebulous science fiction benefits that may never come to pass? And shouldn't the catalog of rights increase as we move up the scale of intelligence? Primates possess more credible personal dignity than dogs, yet the treatment given Travis the chimp (killed while attacking a police car) and Donge the lowland gorilla (put down by the Calgary zoo after her diverticulitis resisted treatment) shows they don't enjoy anything like due process. The popular understanding of animal rights has evolved since Dr. Moreau commanded, "No spill blood." Is the law evolving with it?

Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh (bigtimcavanaugh@gmail.com) is a member of the hominid family.

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  1. Obey the bulldog.

  2. Now I get it! The Animal ‘Rights’ people are rally acting out Planet of the Apes fan fiction.

  3. Now I get it! The Animal ‘Rights’ people are raelly acting out Planet of the Apes fan fiction.

    And they probably have better editors too.

  4. Animal cruelty legislation presumes that nonhuman creatures are more than inanimate property but less than creatures with full-fledged rights.

    No, not traditionally it doesn’t. If all legislation were actually based on concepts of rights and liberty as libertarians wished, it might be. But animal cruelty legislation predates such grounding, and needs no such presumption. It can merely presume that “people shouldn’t act that way.”

    The history of animal cruelty laws shows that they were originally grounded in “the moral sense of the community;… its abhorrence of certain practices.” In this sense it was no different from legislation against drunkenness or homosexuality or lewd behavior.

    It is true that modern animal rights theorizing does indeed place animals with rights somewhat above property but below humans, but most animal rights legislation does not require such presumption.

    If we were to steadily require all laws be based on a presumption of liberty, and interpret the Ninth Amendment in the law that scholars like Randy Barnett and others would wish, then what you postulate would be the only basis to maintain such laws. Or, to put it another way, your statement is the way that libertarians can justify those laws. But the law itself does not currently work that way, and does not need justifications that make sense to libertarians.

  5. In a country where zoning laws and registers of historic places and eminent domain can easily prevent people from doing what they wish with their own property, I hardly see how animal cruelty laws presume that animals are “more than inanimate property.”

  6. Animals are property. Show me that a species has human levels of cognition, and I’d be willing to concede that that species should have rights.

  7. If you show Lancelot Link to someone under 25 they refuse to believe it was a real TV show. Maybe a gag on Laugh-in, but surely nobody could get a half-hour show out of monkeys-in-people-clothes.

  8. prolfeed
    They certainly seem different than many forms of property, for example they can move around on their own, they seem to exercise some form of autonomy (my beagle will walk from the sun to the shade when), they certainly seem to feel and react to pain, the can reproduce.

    Why not the middle ground suggested by animal cruelty laws? Treating them the same as your couch seems to require taking a retard pill or something.

  9. Well I will play the troll
    prolefeed?

    What is your baseline for intelligence and cognition. does a dog that understands verbal and hand cues to the age of a 2.5 yr old count as intelligent, and if not by your cognition standards for life, is the baby property, since it has less cognition than most animals of the same age. Is a retarded person property because they can not percive and have no cognition of things. what about TBI patients. what if you are just slow, does that give you less rights than an Einstien. I am no animal righter, but i do think that all things deserve respect.

  10. John’s right that early animal cruelty laws were often advocated on the grounds that animal cruelty was actually harmful to humans (it made them cruel). Of course the original purpose of many of laws are no longer the modern justification. What motivates most people today to support animal cruelty laws is this rather self-evident truth that animals are somewhere between humans and inanimate objects. This is why, unlike humans, we can eat them, but unlike couches we can’t boil them for fun.

  11. Prolefeed
    Does a terminally ill infant have these rights you speak of? They certainly don’t have cognition much over a pig or dog, so can I treat them like my couch?

  12. It’s always a mess to talk about animal “rights.” It’s helpful instead to get specific and say “is it right to boil a beagle for fun?” or “is it right to painlessly clone a beagle” or “is it right to pen a beagle?”.

    When you do it like that the answers start to become obvious for most people (no, yes, yes).

    When you mention animal rights people on both sides go nuts, assuming we are talking about registering dobermans to vote…

  13. I’m a huge animal lover! I find them incredibly delicious.

  14. “I’m a huge animal lover! I find them incredibly delicious.”

    Usually this ziggurat of wit is climbed earlier than this in these discussions.

  15. Sorry MNG, I thought I’d give someone else to talk to other than yourself.

  16. When you mention animal rights people on both sides go nuts, assuming we are talking about registering dobermans to vote…

    Well, the upside to that is that we might end up with a more intelligent electorate.

  17. No pulling wings off living dragonflies.

  18. It is true that the only reason boiling dogs alive is wrong is for what it does to the people involved. The act is morally neutral itself, but it seems wrong because pets are overly personified by humans. You have heard the story of a woman telling a firefighter to save “her baby” from a burning house only to find out she was talking about her cat. That is an extreme example.

    If someone is boiling a dog for fun, it is probably fun because he is personifying the animal, and the act is making him cruel.

  19. And shouldn’t the catalog of animal rights increase as we move up the scale of intelligence?

    Would that apply within a species, so that more intelligent humans had greater rights than less intelligent folks? In some ways, that seems to already be the case–e.g. limited rights of minors–but neither consistently nor explicitly.

  20. I do not find it morally neutral to willfully torture an animal: I find it morally wrong. But moral wrongs and law should have a wall of separation between them, and ne’er the twain should meet.

  21. Of course the original purpose of many of laws are no longer the modern justification. What motivates most people today to support animal cruelty laws is this rather self-evident truth that animals are somewhere between humans and inanimate objects.

    What motivates “most people” is IMO an inchoate belief that being cruel to animals is morally wrong. What motivates most academic scholars who support the laws is a little different and closer to what you’re saying.

    What I’m saying is that Tim Cavanaugh’s paradox is only a paradox if you strictly and logically assume that the only basis for animal cruelty laws is the modern philosophical one based on animal rights and liberty.

    Since that isn’t the case for most people and isn’t the sole basis for the laws (nor the sole basis for laws in general, as seen by other laws meant to uphold the moral sense of disgust or indignation, even when applying to others’ treatment of their own property), Tim’s puzzle is explained rather easily.

    If we restrict the argument to libertarians alone, then Tim has done a fine job of demonstrating that people who:
    1) Believe that laws should have as their basis a presumption of liberty, and
    2) Support animal cruelty laws as currently written, should
    3) Support further animal rights on a rational sliding scale of intelligence and importance of the given right.

    But considering it in a legal or national sense, there is no contradiction because premise 1) is not universally held.

  22. Cavanaugh,

    Does Urkobold(praise be his name) know you are doing a Monkey Tuesday style post?

  23. “It is true that the only reason boiling dogs alive is wrong is for what it does to the people involved.”

    What about clams? To make a great clam sauce, you gotta throw live clams into a hot pan. I’m guessing they feel something. Same with crabs and lobsters.

  24. Of course animals are more then simple property.

    MNG touched on this already, but I can smash my computer into a wall, have sex with my furniture, I can incinerate my nightstand, skin potatoes, and boil pasta.
    I can do none of the above to a pet (the latter three I probably could if the animal was already dead.)

    The world is probably better off when animal torturers are imprisoned.. Though, I’m not sure how to deal with the issue from a legal standpoint without invoking morality or the excessively used pre-crime “future public safety” justifications.

    I do think it should be legal to use lethal force to stop someone from harming your animals. Though this just an extension of my thought that you should be able to use lethal force to protect any property.

    (Yes, it’s worth the life of another person to stop them from harming my animal or stealing/destroying an item I value.
    Anyone who doesn’t agree can avoid the whole mess by not bringing harm to my animals or possessions. I value them and that’s what really matters.

    I tend to think that society might be a bit better off if people respected other people’s property under the threat of “or else”.)

    1. You are fucking crazy. Also Manslaughter was created for people like you.

      If you come up with this weak shit again expect to get taken to court. People lie and use excessive force.

  25. Animals don’t have volition. They eat each other whenever they can. They have no choice. If animals had rights, wouldn’t the right not to be eaten be one of them?

  26. I haven’t coldly and rationally thought this one out, because I love my animals, but I think that if you are overly cruel to animals (boiling a dog alive, beating or starving animals, etc), then you are probably a fairly sick fuck. While I know cats and dogs are not the most intelligent creatures on this earth whose behaviour is most often automatic/genetic, it is also quite evident that they can be scared, they feel pain, and the like.

    So while I’m not so sure how the law should apply to animal cruelty, I feel free to say that someone that is cruel to animals is not someone that I would ever choose to associate with. It shows a lack of empathy and compassion, which I believe could also manifest in such an individual’s interactions with people.

  27. MNG touched on this already, but I can smash my computer into a wall, have sex with my furniture, I can incinerate my nightstand, skin potatoes, and boil pasta.
    I can do none of the above to a pet (the latter three I probably could if the animal was already dead.)

    However, if you owned a piece of land that had a historic structure on it, you would not be able to do all those things to the structure.

  28. Show me that a species has human levels of cognition

    …but…..but….. but this isn’t a universal trait among homo sapians. Take Cythia McKinney for example. I’ve had dogs smarter than her.

  29. “I’m not sure a dog’s right to life should take precedence even over the right of NFL fans to see a great athlete in his prime. And I’m positive it shouldn’t supersede an adult human’s right to liberty.”

    I’d like to know what you think the relevant difference is between all humans and all animals. Should a severely retarded adult’s right to life superceed the right of NFL fans to see a great athlete in his prime? Why? What is the revelvant difference between an individual human with no greater capacitities than an animal such that the former should have rights, while the latter should not?

  30. Animals don’t have volition. They eat each other whenever they can.

    This is simply false. Herbivores don’t eat other animals at all. Carnivores don’t eat other animals when they’re not hungry. Most carnivores won’t kill and eat others of their own species even when they are starving.

  31. I’m not sure a dog’s right to life should take precedence even over the right of NFL fans to see a great athlete in his prime.

    I am.

  32. R C Dean – lay out, exactly, what “rights” animals should and should not have, how those rights should be enforced, and how you square them with the predatory nature of most animals and the necessity of animal consumption for human nutrition.

    Belief in animal rights is an absolute paradox and for the intellectually stunted.

  33. If there is any justice in this universe, people will be judged in the afterlife by how they treated animals in this one.

  34. Talk all you will about the hypothetically abhorrent cruelty of boiling cats and dog fights to the death, but it doesn’t get a whole lot worse than preparing live animals to become the food you will eat tonight. There both dead at the end, right? Check out a chicken or beef processing plant sometime, you’ll either come away a newly minted vegan or will have totally rationalized cruelty to animals.

    Oh, and don’t forget, cuteness matters greatly when considering animal rights and acts of cruelty. Beagles and most cats? Can’t touch ’em. Moles, mice, and certain birds? F&$! ’em.

    1. Exactly, the hypocrisy is amazing.

      Pigs are just as smart as dogs.

  35. Dang! “They’re” not “there”.

  36. I can smash my computer into a wall, have sex with my furniture, I can incinerate my nightstand, skin potatoes, and boil pasta.
    I can do none of the above to a pet

    That is begging the question: the real question here is whether you should be allowed (legally) to do all of those things to a pet.

  37. Angry Optimist:

    Animals ought to least have a right not to be killed unjustly, and not to be subject to unecessary pain and suffering

    These rights should be enforced the same way human rights are enforced: if you violate a right that is enshirned in law, you go to court and suffer the consequences.

    We can square these rights with the predatory nature of most animals just as we can square human rights with the violent nature of most humans. A human infant with similar cognitive capacities to an animal does not go to jail if it accidentally picks up a gun and manages to shoot someone. Same thing applies between two animals: animals, like babies, cannot exercise responsibility, though they can exercise moral demands on us.

    There is no human necessity to consume animals for numan nutrition: I am living proof of that. In fact there would be more food to go around if everyone stopped eating meat because the production of meat is a very inefficient use of resources.

    There is nothing remotely paradoxical or illogical about believing animals have durable rights like humans do–it just involves a very big shift in attitides, much like the shift in attitudes necessary to see slaves as people with full human rights.

  38. Did anyone see the story recently about that sick bitch in D.C. who burned a kitten to death in an oven set at 500 degrees? She left the apartment so she wouldn’t have to hear its pathetic screams as it died an incredibly painful death.

    She shows no remorse whatsoever and is a habitual offender. Vile scum like her make me ill.

    As someone said above, the issue gets clouded when discussed in terms of animal “rights.” And morality absolutely plays into it, as it does and always has done with so many laws. There is a moral aspect to much of the criminal code.

    At a certain point, on certain issues, it seems to me there is a degree of legitimacy to a majority view – provided, of course, that the majoritarian will does not intrude on the natural liberties of the individual. I, for one, recognize no individual “right” to torture or abuse animals. If the majority of people in society believe (as most surely do) that it is wrong to abuse animals, and are in favor of legislation criminalizing it, then that legislation should be legitimate.

    And the old saw about animals as nothing more than mere property is nonsense. In certain contexts and for certain purposes animals are regarded as property, yes, but that does not automatically mean you have the right to maim, mutilate or kill your dog just because it’s your “property”.

    There are plenty of people whose existence I value less than many of the animals I have owned. Whose to say that a good and faithful dog doesn’t have more of a right to a happy and peaceful life than the piece of subhuman filth who murdered an entire family, including a four-year-old girl, here in Richmond, VA a couple years ago?

  39. If animals aren’t property then what is the justification for the keeping of animals as pets?

  40. There is no human necessity to consume animals for numan nutrition: I am living proof of that. In fact there would be more food to go around if everyone stopped eating meat because the production of meat is a very inefficient use of resources.

    Gosh, do I tire of these vegan exaggerations and outright distortions. When I speak of human nutrition, first of all, I am not speaking of the lifestyle you choose that is enabled only by human advancement: I am talking about human beings in general. In general, human beings require some measure of meat for sustenance – to argue the counterfactual because you happen in live in an highly-advanced society in 2009 is totally distorting the point.

    Secondly, where do you get your B12? how long have you been a vegan? Do you suffer any grain allergies, and do you ever wonder why it is that so many vegans suffer grain allergies?

    1. I’m another case of “living proof” that we have no need of eating animals. For fifteen years I’ve been a vegetarian and am in perfect health, have no ill effects whatever, slim and fit and completely happy this way. Even if morality means nothing, social responsiblity would compel one to give up meant as it is incredibly inefficient, uses massive amount of resourses and is bad for the environment. And yes, protecting animals is more important than watching you favorite athlete in a stupid football game.

      1. Not if your laws are completely illogical.

        Either make it illegal to eat pigs, or don’t. It makes no sense to put on this facade that Americans believe in animal rights.

  41. Ok let’s round up all those children burning the ants with their magnifying glass! Throw em in jail – they’re torturous sick fucks!

    Or perhaps insects don’t count? Wait, are we talking only mammals? What about birds? Ok to gun em down with bb’s? Fish? Plants?

    You see, they’re all alive. It’s a moral decision about how to treat them. And another one to where you draw the line. It shouldn’t be a legal one. Unless, they belong to someone else. At that point, it doesn’t matter if it’s your pet rock.

  42. I’m guessing that most of the commenters and posters at this site are atheists. If I’m right, I don’t understand how most of those same posters/commenters somehow feel that humans are fundamentally different from other animals. Without the explanation that God made us in his own image, what basis is there to distinguish our actions and decisions from those of animals? We’re really not a whole lot different from chimps in that regard.

    By the way, I’m not saying that there’s no basis upon which to grant “rights” to humans and not to other animals. It’s perfectly logical to me that humans would decide that other animals don’t have “rights.”

  43. Same thing applies between two animals: animals, like babies, cannot exercise responsibility, though they can exercise moral demands on us.

    In other words, human activity has to be proscribed because you say so.

  44. Cruelty to animals should mak you a social pariah not a criminal.

  45. The question of how do we draw the line between all humans and all animals is a good one and difficult to answer. There certainly are humans who have less cognitive capacity than some animals. But few would deny that such people have rights. So how do we make the distinction? As far as I can see, the only really rational distinction is that other humans are the same kind of thing as we are and other animals are not.

    Perhaps a better question is why do humans have rights? Why is it so definitely not OK to boil a person alive (or for that matter to put a person down when he gets hit by a car and seems unlikely to recover)?

  46. I’m not sure a dog’s right to life should take precedence even over the right of NFL fans to see a great athlete in his prime.

    However, I have no problem with putting Mr. Vick in a pit with a dozen frenzied dogs.

    I understand Mr. Vick is quite quick on his feet; he’ll need to be.

  47. “Secondly, where do you get your B12? how long have you been a vegan? Do you suffer any grain allergies, and do you ever wonder why it is that so many vegans suffer grain allergies?”

    You raise good points. I was a strict Vegan for 8 years. B12 was a concern. But what worried me most was just how flimsy my nails became. I am a guitarist and had always been greatful to be born with super-strong nails. Seeing those nails turn flimsy caoused me to wonder about bone strength.

    I stared eating meat again five years ago (it’s so fucking tasty!) and my nails are back to normal.

  48. “Did anyone see the story recently about that sick bitch in D.C. who burned a kitten to death in an oven set at 500 degrees?”

    I did. She should be executed.

  49. “It’s perfectly logical to me that humans would decide that other animals don’t have “rights.'”

    Is it also logical to you that whites should decide that blacks don’t have rights? Why is it o.k. for one group to decide that only its members should have rights?

    “Same thing applies between two animals: animals, like babies, cannot exercise responsibility, though they can exercise moral demands on us.
    In other words, human activity has to be proscribed because you say so.”

    No, human activity should be proscribed when it violates others’ rights. I am arguing that animals have rights like babies have rights, because babies and animals do not differ in their capacities or awareness. If a human baby has a right not to be killed unjustly, I don’t see why a dog should not have the same right.

    “Gosh, do I tire of these vegan exaggerations and outright distortions. When I speak of human nutrition, first of all, I am not speaking of the lifestyle you choose that is enabled only by human advancement: I am talking about human beings in general. In general, human beings require some measure of meat for sustenance – to argue the counterfactual because you happen in live in an highly-advanced society in 2009 is totally distorting the point.
    Secondly, where do you get your B12? how long have you been a vegan? Do you suffer any grain allergies, and do you ever wonder why it is that so many vegans suffer grain allergies?”

    To answer your first point, vegetarians have existed for thousands of years. Several of the Greek Philosophical schools practiced vegetarianism, as did several Eastern religions like Buddhism and Jainism. If they could do it thousands of years ago, surely it must be much easier today.

    As to your second point, I must confess I am still a vegetarian rather than a vegan, so I still consume milk and eggs. But I understand that B12 can be easily supplemented in soymilk or in pill form. Admittedly, veganism is not as practical as vegetarianism, which is why I haven’t become a vegan yet.

  50. I am arguing that animals have rights like babies have rights, because babies and animals do not differ in their capacities or awareness. If a human baby has a right not to be killed unjustly, I don’t see why a dog should not have the same right.

    Do we routinely slaughter babies for meat? For fur? And under what moral rubric (other than human shields/wartime) could you justly kill a baby, anyway?

    Like it or not, but to extend the same rights to animals as you would humans elides the differences between the potentiality and actuality of the consciousness between the two. Human babies may not be able to communicate the activity of their brains, but the human brain is, at all times, more complex and processes more information than animals, even at a rudimentary, beginning-of-life level.

  51. Kevin — Take it easy. I said that it was “logical,” in the sense that there is logic in making such a distinction. For what it’s worth, I suppose that there’s also “logic” in distinguishing between various races.

    But that doesn’t necessarily make either of them “okay.” I’m definitely not “okay” with rights being distributed based on race. I don’t have a similar problem when it comes to animals, but I haven’t really thought seriously about it.

    And I agree with other commenters who wrote that an absence of animal “rights” shouldn’t mean that animals can be treated however one wishes. I don’t think that anyone is advocating that trees have rights, but I don’t think that it’s lawful for me to go into a public forest and cut them down indiscriminately.

  52. “Do we routinely slaughter babies for meat? For fur? And under what moral rubric (other than human shields/wartime) could you justly kill a baby, anyway?
    Like it or not, but to extend the same rights to animals as you would humans elides the differences between the potentiality and actuality of the consciousness between the two. Human babies may not be able to communicate the activity of their brains, but the human brain is, at all times, more complex and processes more information than animals, even at a rudimentary, beginning-of-life level.”

    The Nazis routinely slaugtered Jews. It was easy enough for them to justfy that atrocity.

    And I don’t see why an individual’s potential should matter. I have the potential to be the President one day, but I do not have all the rights the President has right now. But even putting that aside, some humans will NEVER be as smart as some animals (like severely retarded people). So even if we were to concede that potentiality matters, your arguemnt would still result in some humans haveing no more rigths than animals have now.
    And I think you are just wrong that a human brain even at birth is always more complicated than an animal’s–even and adult chimp. An adult chimp can learn a language. No infant can do that.

  53. uh yes, infants can learn language. They do it routinely.

    It’s apparent that you haven’t even considered the short-, medium- or long-term ramifications for your standard of “unjust killing”, hence the Godwinning. First it was “beings that have the same consciousness should not be killed ‘unjustly'” (whatever that means), and when I pointed out that that might have undesirable consequences of Baby Oscar Mayer, you shifted.

  54. R C Dean – lay out, exactly, what “rights” animals should and should not have, how those rights should be enforced, and how you square them with the predatory nature of most animals and the necessity of animal consumption for human nutrition.

    Right off, you’re running down a rabbit trail. What we are talking about here isn’t really animal rights, its human behavior and human rights. I don’t think its a human right to be cruel to animals. Ergo, it is not a violation of anyone’s rights to outlaw cruelty to animals.

    There can, of course, be lots of arguments about what should count as cruelty to animals, but we can leave that for later. I’m actually fairly comfortable with laws against cruelty to animals in a minimalist state – cruelty being the use of force, and even night watchman states can police the use of force or fraud.

    I also don’t think that this creates any insoluble problems with property rights. Property rights are hedged about with all kinds of restrictions, anyway, so adding a restriction that says you can’t be cruel to animals that are your property doesn’t particularly bother me.

  55. There can, of course, be lots of arguments about what should count as cruelty to animals, but we can leave that for later. I’m actually fairly comfortable with laws against cruelty to animals in a minimalist state – cruelty being the use of force, and even night watchman states can police the use of force or fraud.

    If this were a paper, you would get an F. The exact question is, “What along the continuum of our treatment of animals constitutes cruelty, and where do we draw that line?” is exactly the question in play. The fact that you’re willing to turn over that broad kind of power to the State is pretty telling.

    Property rights are hedged about with all kinds of restrictions, anyway, so adding a restriction that says you can’t be cruel to animals that are your property doesn’t particularly bother me.

    In other words, two wrongs make a right. Hey, people pay taxes, RC, so what’s one more tax? There are environmental regulations, so what’s the big deal with cap-and-trade?

  56. Mike – Considering that the neural system of an ant is probably quite underdeveloped compared to a mammal, I would say there is some distinction there.

    At the same time, I have never thought it was “fun” to burn ants with a magnifying glass or pour salt on a slug, no matter how little “feelings” I may or may not think a creature has. And most of the kids I knew (when I was a kid) who did that kind of thing bothered me, too.

    But then, I didn’t advocate any particular legal action…I admitted that I was probably not the most rational judge on the matter.

    I will say that I get a little pissed at one of my cats if it catches a bird and “tortures” it instead of killing it, but that’s probably because my stupid cats do not need to catch birds for sustenance, but only do it out of instinct. However, since no one showed them how to kill, either, they are stunted in that way, I suppose.

    Anyway, tricky subject…

  57. Like it or not, but to extend the same rights to animals as you would humans elides the differences between the potentiality and actuality of the consciousness between the two.

    And to extend the same lack of rights to animals as you would inanimate objects elides the differences between the potentiality and actuality of the consciousness between the two.

    I don’t see that extending some very limited rights to the higher animals (eg, the right not to be wantonly killed or be subjected to needless pain by humans) is a threat to libertarian philosophy at all. In children, we already tolerate a class of entities that don’t have full rights but can’t be treated as property.

  58. “If there is any justice in this universe….” – Bill

    There isn’t.

  59. What’s the opposite extreme of sociopath?

  60. “uh yes, infants can learn language. They do it routinely.”

    …?

    “It’s apparent that you haven’t even considered the short-, medium- or long-term ramifications for your standard of “unjust killing”, hence the Godwinning. First it was “beings that have the same consciousness should not be killed ‘unjustly'” (whatever that means), and when I pointed out that that might have undesirable consequences of Baby Oscar Mayer, you shifted.”

    No, I’m arguing that there ought to be no difference in how we treat humans an animals without some relevant reason for it. People suggested cognitive capacity is the difference between humans and animals, and I tried to show that there is no difference between humans and animals with respect to cognitive capacity (or indeed with respect to any capacity you can name) because not all humans are smart enough (or have the same capacities).

    The real reason I think animals should have rights is the same reason I think humans should have rights: because they can suffer, and hence they have biologically-based interests that ought to be protected. I think humans generally have more rights than animals because we are generally more complicated creatures: we have a right to free speech (which animals do not have) because we have an interest in speaking our minds and living in a free society, and we would suffer if it were otherwise. Animals only have basic rights because they have more basic needs.

  61. The exact question is, “What along the continuum of our treatment of animals constitutes cruelty, and where do we draw that line?” is exactly the question in play.

    Now this is disingenuous. You’re denying the very possibility of animal rights and then telling him he has to provide exact details of how those rights would be protected.

    It’s like a person who opposed any laws against adults having sex with minors demanding that their opponents make a compelling argument why the age of consent should be 16 vs. 17. We let the state draw lines on the details all the time when it comes to questions of what protections minors get at what ages.

  62. You shouldn’t toture animals, because you never know whose grandmother is working her way back up the ladder after a bout of building up a little bad karma.

  63. Tulpa – the problem is is that the principle of “adults should not have sex with minors” is morally clear, whereas the “human activity should be proscribed because I feel icky about it” is the source of all statism. So, yeah, I put the bar a little higher.

  64. How is having sex with “minors” morally clear?

    Is a 16yo clearly not able to have sex with another 16yo? What about an 18yo having sex with a 16yo?

  65. again, playing with the margins does not a principle unmake. On the other hand, use and consumption (and yes, abuse) of animals is not some alien concept to society; it’s deeply ingrained into it.

    If you’re having difficulty telling the difference between having sex with a four-year-old and having a steak, I don’t think I can help you.

  66. I definitely don’t, I was just playing devil’s advocate.

    I would submit that I think a person’s self-awareness is more important than some arbitrary age. I have known people that were fairly “adult” by the time they turned 18, while I have tried to maintain my childhood well into my 30’s. 🙂

  67. If you’re having difficulty telling the difference between having sex with a four-year-old and having a steak, . . .

    So is having sex with a werewolf in human form acceptable, but in wolf form not?

  68. oh, sorry. I’m cranky lately.

    self-awareness is certainly more important than an arbitrary number, but when we’re talking about “line-drawing” at 16 and 17, we’re talking about the convenience of administration, not necessarily individual (in)justices that are visited upon those who might qualify for the things where we draw the line.

    When we talk about animal “rights”, that analysis needs to turn on its head: it’s not that we have to decide when to grant animal rights for justice, but we have to realize that the sheer impossibility of administering an animal-rights justice system is just anathema to liberty and stupid to boot.

  69. “What’s the opposite extreme of sociopath?”

    The Common Ass Kisser?

  70. Didn’t sex with young boys and young people in general used to be ingrained in and accepted by some of the largest societies in history?

    That’s not to say that I’m arguing FOR sex with minors. It is simply the idea of something being so accepted as wrong or right based off of societies current conventions is kind of silly in the end, because I’m sure toooons of people loved sex with little kids. Certainly doesn’t make it okay at even a base level.

    This of course can be extended to slavery, child labor, women’s rights or even current affairs in Darfur and the middle east. I certainly don’t want these things to happen – but plenty of people DO.. so does that mean that I should just shut my mouth because of an opposing party who may have a few people with great vocabularies or simply the choice to disagree with me?

    Also, I am vegan. It’s not impractical – nor do I suffer any sort of deficiency. It does however require me to think about what I’m eating, but I certainly would love to hear someone argue that having to think about what you eat is a bad thing. On top of that, I enjoy knowing that heart disease is pretty much a 0% chance for me, and cancer is also greatly reduced.

    It definitely doesn’t suck that I don’t have to make excuses about being the only species of animal that has to cook meat in order to digest it. Nor do I have to argue any “exaggerative” vegan claims about how we create our own cholesterol, and that ancient man got most of his b12 from his colon (like many a species of ape do now) and being slightly less cleanly.

    Anyway, I’m all over the place.

  71. Enough About Palin,

    No, I’m thinking along the lines of someone with a pathological level of empathy.

  72. R C Dean – lay out, exactly, what “rights” animals should and should not have, how those rights should be enforced, and how you square them with the predatory nature of most animals and the necessity of animal consumption for human nutrition.

    Belief in animal rights is an absolute paradox and for the intellectually stunted.

    I’ll tilt at this.

    Animals ought to have exactly the rights they currently have. There is great wisdom in most evolved moral / legal codes, at least to the society that evolved them.

    This is not to say that the current state of animal rights is optimum, and needs evolve no further.

    In other words, human activity has to be proscribed because you say so.

    No, because we say so. TAO, you can whine all you want about the state of animal rights, I suspect society will respond with a hearty “fuck you”. No offense intended.

  73. When animal rights activists start to give a shit about human rights, maybe I’ll pay attention to them. My liberty is worth more to me than all the chimpanzees in the world. When my rights are secure, a discussion of what rights animals have will have some traction.

  74. Part of the reason for animal rights is not really because the animals have rights, but because we understand something is wrong with the person who enjoys being cruel to animals.

    Thus we do not outlaw research on animals, yet do outlaw forcing them to fight for entertainment. A researcher can experiment and put an animal through pain, but if your neighbor does it in his basement then we make him see a doctor and don’t let him around our kids because something is not wrong with his brain.

  75. I meant something IS wrong. sigh

  76. Animal cruelty is the base of all societies problems.

    The idea that having the ability to overpower and exploit someone somehow makes it a right. Throughout history that has been proven to be the way humans in a social setting are. Not to bring up the rights movements of the past again, but it holds true.

    Animals are the most glaring and clear example of creatures that are capable for fear, and loneliness but don’t possess the strength to oppose us. Mistreatment and general exploitation of animals for nothing more than enjoyment and it’s complete justification are just proof of the fact that we as a species are historically incapable of compassion unless it’s convenient or profitable.

  77. Being a fluorescent dog doesn’t hurt, so I don’t understand why that example was even given.

  78. If this were a paper, you would get an F. The exact question is, “What along the continuum of our treatment of animals constitutes cruelty, and where do we draw that line?” is exactly the question in play. The fact that you’re willing to turn over that broad kind of power to the State is pretty telling.

    Puh-lease. What color is the sky on that libertopian planet you live on?

    We have laws against cruelty, to both animals and humans, because there are teenagers and sociopaths (but I repeat myself) in this world. We cede that power to the state because it’s a bit impractical for each citizen to have his own laws and police force.

    The fact that you don’t understand this is pretty telling.

  79. If you’re having difficulty telling the difference between having sex with a four-year-old and having a steak, I don’t think I can help you.

    Now you choose the most innocuous example of the thing you want to be legal, and the most egregious example of the thing you want to be illegal, and berate me for not seeing the obvious distance. More disingenuity.

    How about dousing a cat with gasoline and lighting it on fire vs. an 18 year old girl having sex with a 16 year old boy? I’d say there’s a big difference between those too, but it goes the other way.

  80. Animal rights and property rights were settled in Chapter 1 of Genesis.
    God’s power to name night and day was conferred to Adam to name all creatures and have dominion over them. Some animals and people didn’t get the message and cause all kinds of mischief, objecting to slavery and cruelty and all manner of beliefs in privacy and equality that are an affront to any committed fanatic.
    Dominion has been translated as domination when it is meant to mean responsibility for the garden. We can pollute the air, the earth, the waters and our libido without blame or liability as long as we hold God’s promise up to His face.

  81. “Belief in animal rights is an absolute paradox and for the intellectually stunted.”

    Oh TAO, would that I were not busy at work this afternoon!

    Did you even try to address my disolving of the stupidly semantic “animal rights” debate @12:48? No, I suspect there is a reason why…

    “elides the differences between the potentiality and actuality of the consciousness between the two. Human babies may not be able to communicate the activity of their brains, but the human brain is, at all times, more complex and processes more information than animals, even at a rudimentary, beginning-of-life level.”

    This is just astoundingly, and stupidly, false. The human brain at age one day is more complex and processes more information than, say, the brain of an adult chimp? Prove it buddy.

    It’s intersting, you like things black and white more than most. Then put your black and white principles into play here TAO: humans have rights, and animals don’t because _______.

  82. Tulpa
    TAO looks for rational justifications (apologia) to justify the traditionalist beliefs he’s imbibed. Don’t look for them to be totally honest…He’s doing the best he can with the stuff authorities in his life have given him…

  83. ‘It’s always a mess to talk about animal “rights.” It’s helpful instead to get specific and say “is it right to boil a beagle for fun?” or “is it right to painlessly clone a beagle” or “is it right to pen a beagle?”.’

    Is it right to force other people to do or not do things against their will?

    In and of itself (that is, without consideration of what you’re forcing them to do or not to do) no — at least, that’s the default position on a libertarian board. Autonomy is a (limited) human right (related to dignity, privacy, etc.)

    When we talk about law and punishment (and animal ‘rights’ are as much a legal concept as a moral one), we are bringing the second question into play, so we have to weigh the two.

    Even then, which consideration wins out is not just subjective but situational. Surely pain research would have to be cruel to work, yet it could spare pain to many humans. And does anyone but the saddest hippie give a crap about what people do to invertebrates [octopi excluded]?

  84. Fuck Michael Vick.

  85. What’s wrong with the idea that an animal has the right not to be tortured, but not the right not to be killed?

  86. Good Article.
    It does however miss that animal activists are very much aware of animal abuse in pretend science. (which a vast majority of labs engage in – they are profit centers that endorse torture and waste money to the extreme) There are a myriad of organizations that have and do speak out against such pseudo science. But the people who truly care are so few, and are up against a too slowly evolving populous. Though glowing puppies are beyond words, compared to the obscene torture most animals go through, these pups are on cloud 9. That’s why animal welfare/rights energies are wisely directed. I hope one day, we have fixed more issues globally, where glowing pups would cause a world outcry! Thank you for your article. It does remind us that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.

  87. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  88. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp.

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