Sunday, October 12, 2014

Animal Rights -- What Does it Mean? (Guest Commentary)




Photo: A cormorant stretching wings atop the North Gate House in Central Park.
The following was submitted in email from "Doug from California." I am running it as a Guest Commentary as it raises interesting questions regarding some current directions in the Animal Rights movement. Please note that the views expressed solely represent those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect upon nor represent wholly or accurately, the positions of the blog holder. Personal thoughts and/or responses to this essay will be reserved for later blog postings and/or comment.  -- PCA 
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Animal Rights -- What Does it Mean?
by, Doug from California
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I once regarded myself as an Animal Rights person. Now I'm not sure. I'm now aware that "Animal Rights" should be placed within quotation marks and, as a cause, embraced with caution.  The term means wildly different things to different persons, even though many self-describe that way. 
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Such should not surprise. One supposes many catch-phrases for many causes or beliefs attract a diverse and sometimes contradictory constituency who all identify under the same metaphorical umbrella. Think for example, gun rights enthusiasts (support the 2nd amendment but agree with some regulation; for others there is no quarter) or my personal favorite, "Do you believe in God?"  Yes, but I don't know what you mean by that.  Many examples.
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It has become problematic to identify with "Animal Rights" as the term is being recast. The connotations are too numerous and increasingly negative. The cause seems to be in some escalating fashion moving toward the view that relationships between animals and humans are, by themselves, wrong.   Law Professor Gary L. Francione and formidable Animal Rights presences evidently ascribe to this or similar view. 
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Apparently the concept of "abuse," that I oppose and what allowed me to be in favor of Animal Rights, is becoming or has been already morphed into an emphasis on "use" as an equivalent wrong.  Under this view, an animal that is domesticated for any reason (could be pulling a cart, cutting herd animals, guarding a home, sniffing out drugs or bombs, or simply providing companionship) should not exist.  They would be better off never to have been here in the first place. I readily agree that some exploitation of domesticated animals is flat wrong (dog and cock fighting leap to mind) primarily because in addition to being cruel is either purposeless or, worse, designed to inflict pain; in other words it's "abusive." 
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Respectfully though, it is ridiculous to conflate, as has been done, an event like some psychopathic punk luring and then kicking a cat across a parking lot with eating meat on principle, or working with a horse or a dog.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyiSsEzyWWQ&sns=fb
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A premise of this emerging view is the observation that domesticated animals are virtually of human creation; and could not survive independently in the natural world.
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The latter is likely true; the life expectancy of an outdoor cat in my neighborhood, for example, is about two nights (owls, coyotes, foxes).  I doubt, as well however, that an urban human being would do well in the natural world either. (Begs the question "what 'natural world' is in mind here"?  Some pre-human condition?)  It is probably also true that domesticated animals are "virtually of human creation".  Well, so is modern corn and probably almost every plant material we eat and that vegans prefer. Does human involvement in its development make corn an inappropriate element of the ecosystem?  NativeTech: Native American History of Corn  
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It seems this "virtual creation" is better described as evolution rather than something nefarious.  These constituencies have converted an Animal Rights cause into something that when laid bare, seems not at root to be primarily concerned with abuse (although it's opposed on principle) or on animal rights at all; indeed, the apparent end game is the elimination of any semblance of rights (or, in other nomenclature, need for human responsibility) in favor of extinction by attrition.  These animals, apparently, have zero intrinsic worth as creatures of this planet, have outlived their purpose and have no expectation even in survival.  The better view is that animals do have value and worth and so do we humans that are evolved and involved with them.
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What about these observations that also has lost me is that antagonists suppose that the involvement of human beings in the planet's ecosystem constitutes a wrong. That view ignores human/animal history and denies that the two are connected and form relationships. Like it or not, human beings are part of the natural world with all the rights and responsible stewardship that goes with it. 
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Venture to suppose that when early man tossed a slab of deer carcass out of the cave to a wolf, it's doubtful there was an instantaneous domestication event.  And there certainly wasn't servitude. The evolution of wolf to dog took awhile. The wolf obviously kept coming back; later it stayed, and the dog that eventually evolved from those encounters works in one manner or another, maybe sleeps on the couch, but protects the property out of connection, not servitude.
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These relationships are reciprocal, not servile. I'm not arguing this is true of all animals and it's surely not true of all animal owners; but it's evidently true of properly cared-for dogs, horses, maybe cats; and that's whether they are "working" or not.  (Granting that the history of the modern horse probably is less romantic and more brutish, they are here now and when properly cared for, exhibit similar affection and connection to their humans as do dogs. That reality cannot reasonably be described as "morally wrong" in my humble opinion).

The Animal Rights cause appears to be presently dominated by a view that human beings involvement with animals is morally wrong, other than on a level of what, photography? The problem this creates for me and I imagine others is how to pursue actually achievable reforms where necessary or desirable (e.g eating less meat, as opposed necessarily to none; support small scale farming, as opposed to factory practices); legal remedies in cases of actual abuse (e.g. regulate against abuse of, say, carriage horses, as opposed to banning the activity entirely) without being painted with an "Animal Rights" brush that in some cases, lacks credibility. 

So, yes I believe in God, but before running with that admission in either extreme direction, a dialogue is in order to ensure we understand each other. 

It seems serious dialogue is also needed on the precise meaning and definition of Animal Rights. 

-- Doug from the Gold Country, California
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5 comments:

portwashguy said...

The bond between people and our animals is reciprocal and something to be cherished. When our cat on her own, initiates a search for her favorite toy, drags it across the house, places it at my feet and then sits quietly trying to catch my eye, how can it be said that she is not also enjoying our relationship - after all there is no treat or food awaiting her other than just the mutual act of playing. I can only guess that the radical fringe element that see something wrong in this relationship, is probably very unhappy in their own life.

PCA said...

Portwashguy: Very good point.

While I personally would not care to venture to the phychological condition of those who subscribe to "abolisitionist" theory on AR, one does wonder if they ever give credit to animals for often initiating animal/human contact and interaction as you describe with your cat? :)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate portwashguy comment. I'm not a cat person, at all, but I was adopted by a cat once. Long story. Seriously, I threw it out twice; she kept coming back. So, I caved of course and there was food, water, a vet check, all that. Anyway, further to portwashguy point, one morning she shows up at my work desk with a bird in her mouth. Not gonna lie: I was not real thrilled with her having killed a bird but how do you explain this little animal bringing me a present? Doug from the Gold Country, CA

portwashguy said...

This little cat really opened my eyes about the mutuality of people - animal relationships. I've always had a variety of animals in my life, but never a cat until last year. Of all the animals, she is the only one who actually initiates contact this way, just to play. Of course our dogs love to fetch and horses love to be stroked and the like. But this darn little cat is so persistent and determined and self initiating, that I am moved every day by her simple act of wanting to engage in mutual play.

PCA said...

Like so many other animals(especially, Canada geese), cats often get a bad rap in life. Those who "don't like cats" in most cases, have never had one nor interacted with them. But cats can be amazingly affectionate, interactive and yes, even generous in term of bringing "gifts" to the people they love. Feral cats particularly get a bad rap even though, (particularly in urban enviornments)they are a natural deterrant against rodents. Thanks guys, for sharing your special stories about the generally unappreciated uniqueness of cats. :)