Views in brief

October 29, 2009

Editor's note: The following submissions are in response to Paul D'Amato's article "Socialism and 'animal rights.'"

Animal oppression demeans us

I WASN'T aware that the ability to use language imparted a right to life. Thankfully, I can still speak and write, so I don't have to sleep with one eye open just yet.

An enormous philosophical leap must be made to change an independent creature, with its own interest in living, into an extension of our interests; that leap is taken every time we jail, kill or eat an animal. The concept of "rights" only provides a rationale for our interests taking precedence over other animals; because we (conveniently enough) are the only ones to attach rights to interests, we are (again, conveniently) the only ones who are entitled to those interests. It is a circular argument.

D'Amato is playing the Oppression Olympics here. Addressing the interests of animals, by refusing to eat them or any product of their oppression, takes nothing away from humans. Quite the opposite: in a vegan world, no human would have to work in the dangerous slaughterhouse job he describes, nor would they go hungry for lack of crops because farmland is used to feed livestock rather than people.

All oppressions intersect, including those we feel are somehow magically beneath us.
Paul Gilbreath, from the Internet

End the needless killing of animals

PAUL D'AMATO writes, in his article "Socialism and 'animal rights,'" that "Non-human animals don't possess the biological and physical attributes that would allow them to engage in the activities and behaviors we associate with 'liberation' and 'rights.'"

D'Amato echoes the feelings of other "contractarians" who believe that animals, being incapable of recognizing or subscribing to principles of rights, liberty and justice, are therefore exempt from entering a social contract. Consequently, they're not protected by one.

Well, the severely mentally ill and mentally challenged do not have the capacity to engage in such activities or behaviors either. Nor do young children--yet we value their right to live.

D'Amato's criticism of "speciesism" is well taken, as is his argument that animals cannot truly be liberated, but shouldn't we as human beings choose not to participate in the needless killing of animals for food and medical research?
Doug Burkhart, Lexington, N.C.

Having humility toward nature

I DISAGREE with Paul D'Amato on this issue. I'm a native of the central plains of North America, and our ecosystem was devastated by capitalist exploitation starting with the fur trade, then the bison hide industry (which was part of the expropriation project of seizing Native American lands), and now by corporate agribusiness.

People living in places like western Kansas or eastern Colorado could be making decent livings coordinating an eco-tourism trade. I think many socialists align themselves with industry without thinking about what it does to the planetary system we depend on for survival.

Yes, humans are a different kind of animal, but our self-awareness should be used for the benefit of the planet and not for the short-term gain of humans. Indigenous peoples had this view built into their system, and we need to reincorporate such a view into our system(s). Socialists are too ambiguous and ambivalent about this, with much ideology being rooted in the industrial revolution.

We need to get past this uncritical view of heavy industry and get back to healthy food production, redistribution of land and other issues that people in, say, Latin America, are coming to grips with. Humans need to rediscover reality and a bit of humility towards forces greater than us.
Doug Harvey, Lawrence, Kan.

More theory on animal rights

THIS ARTICLE seems to reveal that the author has not read a single page of animal rights philosophy. Had he done so, he would know that citing Peter Singer and PETA will not wash in an argument about animal rights.

Singer is a utilitarian who rejects moral rights and uses rights as "political shorthand," or simply as a slogan for the modern media-saturated era, while PETA use the word "rights" as "a convenience." To recognize that Singer's work inspired the social movement currently mislabeled "animal rights" is merely to know that this is largely an animal welfare mobilization not founded on philosophical animal rights thinking or claims-making.

If the author had consulted the writing of the animal rights theorists, especially Gary Francione and Tom Regan (these pioneers of animal rights thought are not even mentioned in the piece), he would know that the idea of animal rights is much smaller and markedly more modest than he imagines, and is concerned with negative, not positive, rights. Indeed, Francione often talks about one single fundamental right for nonhuman individuals--the right not to be the property of human beings.

It is true, however, to claim that animal rights is really about human animals' attitudes and behavior to other animals who, as noted in the article, are moral patients rather than moral agents--in the same way many humans are, although we do not routinely violate their basic rights.

Could I ask a small favor? Next time "animal rights" are to be written about, read some animal rights literature first.
Roger Yates, Dublin, Ireland

The worth of animals

I STARTED to read Paul D'Amato's article on "Socialism and 'animal rights.'"

It started off interesting enough, but he began to get on my nerves when he started ranting on about animals not deserving "rights" because they didn't poses the qualities he deemed necessary to qualify--such as that animals don't possess the biological and physical attributes that would allow them to engage in the activities and behaviors we associate with "liberation" and "rights." What on earth is he on about?

Anyone who has had a close relationship with an animal will know that animals experience happiness, fear, pleasure, disappointment, sadness, regret, maybe even hope. In other words, they share some, if not all, of the same emotions as us.

It is well documented that animals can be altruistic. Can you say that all people are altruistic? Animals may or may not have some notion of "their future" but neither do a lot of people--and even if they have, they have little control of it.

He points out that animals cannot liberate themselves or demand rights. Well, neither can the world's poor. Rich human beings are arbiters over other poorer people, who are just as disempowered as animals.

Animals are worthy in their own right. They don't need to "measure up" to your standards. They deserve rights, in just the same way as any other vulnerable group, who can be disenfranchised because of their inability to "engage" in the argument.

The fact that animals are sentient creatures that experience pain and suffering should be enough reason to extend "rights" to them. Not, as Paul would have it, by just giving animals a comfy cushion on which to sit whilst they wait for their throat to be cut.

I consider myself a socialist. But when I read stuff like this, I realize how little I have in common with the socialist movement.

Rights and liberation for all animals.
Den, from the Internet

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