What we share with animals

November 18, 2009

A DIFFICULT test of one's moral character is to always look beyond difference and prejudice, and recognize the value of another. It is always easier to show kindness to one is who similar and to one who is like you, but the real test is to stand up to the rest of society and stick up for those who relate to you the least--those who you understand minimally.

This is true not with just humans, but with all. No matter how challenging it may be or how ridiculous others may like to make it appear, we must bring ourselves to a point where we can widen our circle of compassion to encompass all who are deserving of it, regardless of their biological species.

Paul D'Amato (whose work I have tremendous respect for) makes the argument in his article "Socialism and 'animal rights'" that no nonhuman animal is worthy of rights on the sole basis that they don't have the capacity to comprehend the meaning of rights, or solely because they are unable to fight for their own rights themselves.

He states, "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.'" Though all this is true, he fails to mention that neither do infants, children or many mentally disabled human beings.

Many nonhuman animals that are tortured, slaughtered and killed in our society are equal to or even surpass these groups of humans, mentally and intellectually. Yet we would never even consider arguing that we should butcher and eat children for food or mutilate and poison them in testing labs in the ways we do today to non-human animals.

Most of D'Amato's article focused on what differentiates non-humans from humans. However, like any other struggle that has occurred in human history, the key is not to focus on how the oppressed are different from their oppressors, but how are they similar.

Sure they may not have a developed culture or language. But does that really justify their exploitation? Like us, animals have a life. They are conscious of that life, and value that life no less than we value ours. Like us, they feel, they express, they have thought. Like that other wacky vegetarian advocate, Charles Darwin, once said, "The other animals differ from humans only in degree, not in kind."

Most importantly, though, animals have the capacity to feel pain and suffer in the same ways we do. If they suffer, then why is their suffering justifiable, and ours isn't? Why does their suffering hold less value than ours? Violence is violence; exploitation is exploitation, regardless of the species.

This is exactly how Peter Singer coined the concept of "speciesism." We treat one group one way and another group another way, all because we fail to look beyond the being's species to recognize the important similarities they share that make them deserving of basic protections. This is, indeed, a prejudice.

I furthermore believe there is a strong correlation between how a society treats non-human animals and how a society decides to treat other humans. "Murderers very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids," according to law enforcement expert Robert K. Ressler. Studies have now convinced sociologists, lawmakers and law enforcement officials that individuals who disregard the lives of animals often don't stop there. They then continue to disregard the lives of other humans.

If this is true on an individual basis, then there is strong inclination for one to believe this is also true on a societal basis. As the Jewish writer Theodor Adorno once said "Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals." A society that exploits animals is a society that is doomed to exploit other humans. For animal liberation is indeed human liberation.
Ryne Poelker, Chicago

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