Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare -- Two (Warring) Sides of the Same Coin


Carriage horse in Central Park. But what is the horse feeling?
Animal Rights and Animal Welfare.
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The two terms are often interchangeable and confused. Sometimes they are even pitted against one another; if you are for one, you are automatically opposed to the other.
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But, difference is mostly in degree, rather than kind.
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Generally, animal welfare refers mostly to domestic animals -- those we "utilize" and/or engage with and own. ("Utilitarian attitude towards well being of animals.")
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Rights refers to legal, ethical and cultural principles of freedom or entitlement to others.
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Goals of the Animal Rights movement are primarily to expand such principles to sentient animals.
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But, it is complicated.
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For one matter, we are learning that sentience is experienced by thousands of species of animals from dolphins, dogs and chimpanzees to lower forms such as insects and fish.
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The question thus arises: Should a flea be entitled to the same rights as a chimpanzee?
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Moreover, since animals cannot speak to us directly and let us know specifically when, if or how they are "suffering," the question can often become subjective.
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As noted in the last blog entry, some people look at a draft horse pulling a carriage for human pleasure as example of animal "suffering and abuse" whereas others perceive the image as positive engagement and working partnership between humans and animals.
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Since the horses cannot personally "talk" to us to communicate their actual feelings, interpretation of those feelings is up to the beholder. Moreover, as horses are (like humans) individual, it's quite possible that some horses enjoy working partnership with humans more so than others and even among those who do, such pleasure or contentment might vary according to the particular day or mood of the animal.
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There are no easy answers to these questions which perhaps explains why numerous books have been written attempting to better define or analyze them.
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I am personally not so learned or read, that I can quote scholars and philosophers off the top of my head or solve these dilemmas in a blog post. But over the years I have familiarized myself with the philosophies behind most Animal Rights theory and for the most part, support them.
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But, I also support the principles of Animal Welfare which sometimes conflicts with the goals of Animal Rights.
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"How can this be?" some might ask. 
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The mantra for Animal Rights is, after all: "Not bigger cages. No cages."
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Put simply, though I support the basic and ideal tenets behind Animal Rights, I don't believe Animal Welfare (i.e. well being of animals) should ever be sacrificed in the pursuit of those goals.
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On the carriage horse issue, for example, (which does unfortunately, pit Animal Welfare against Animal Rights) I support the AW position over the AR position because the "abolitionist" stance actually puts horses' lives in jeopardy (regardless of how some might try to spin or sugarcoat that harsh reality).
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Primary for all animals is the right to continue living as all animals jealously guard and protect their lives.
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Moreover, one can always work to improve conditions and circumstances of a particular issue (i.e. well being) for animals as more is learned about them. But one cannot do that if the animals are dead.
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Dead is forever.  
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In saying this, it should not be interpreted to mean that one should support industries that inflict blatant cruelty and suffering upon animals for purposes of human entertainment, convenience or learning. 
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Quality of life matters, as does quantity.
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Nevertheless, every issue is individual and unique and should be evaluated and judged according to its own merits or faults. No two issues affecting animals are exactly alike anymore than issues impacting humans.
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In essence, there is no "one size fits all" answer or solution to these complex questions and issues. As domestic animals are different from wild animals or a flea is different from a chimpanzee, our treatment and attitudes towards animals should appropriately be geared toward the particular species and its unique characteristics, needs and role on our planet.
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It may, for example, wax poetic to say that, "all animals should be free to pursue their own interests."
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However, carried to its extreme, we would suddenly "liberate" our Poodles, domestic horses and pampered cats to the wild and whims of nature. -- something virtually guaranteed to result in tremendous suffering and death to the animals. (Legally and appropriately considered animal cruelty.)
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Or, we would neuter or "euthanize" all domestic pets (things contrary to their rights "to pursue their own interests") and ban all human ownership of them.
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But such effectively removes animals from our world and severs the bonds of intimate and positive connection to animals. -- Something that actually serves as basis for human understanding, empathy and affection for animals.
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(While generally a positive experience to photograph and naturally observe animals "in the wild," it isn't the same as a cat cuddling up and purring in your lap or your dog joyously catching and returning a Frisbee to you.)
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All of this brings us to the largest issue impacting animals: Our "use" of animals for food and clothing.
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Since virtually the end goal of all of these uses results in both, the exploitation and premature death of billions of animals, they are not uses that are easily and morally justified -- especially since there are wide alternatives to them these days. 

The damage and destruction that wide scale "intensive farming" of domestic cows, pigs, chickens and billions of other defenseless creatures does to the planet and environment (not to mention the animals themselves) is not something that can be ethically defended and rationalized. It is also demoralizing to those humans working in intensive farming and high speed slaughtering operations. A recent news article reported that Canada is experiencing much difficulty attracting and keeping workers in slaughterhouses. They are hoping Syrian refugees will be willing to take the jobs. 
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Deliberately breeding and bringing animals into this world only to subject them to short lives of deprivation and thwarting of their natural instincts and then brutally slaughtering them represents human tyranny at its worst towards our animal brethren. It is also emotionally (and sometimes physically) damaging to those humans expected to do the " dirty work" that no one else is willing to do. Essentially, we are asking them to turn off all emotional response and natural feelings of empathy. 
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However, I believe that as humans further evolve (and superior alternatives are developed for meat, dairy and clothing products) our dependence upon animal flesh will greatly diminish to an eventual point of near-nothingness. Such has already occurred with what once was a national addiction to cigarettes. 
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But, what will that mean for the cows, pigs and chickens of our world? Will they all disappear?  What does it mean for "animal rights?"
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Hopefully, it means these animals will only exist according to people's actual desire for their company and presence on a small family farm or private property (the way many domestic horses live now).  If the chickens produce some eggs or the cows some milk for the people to occasionally enjoy, so be it. It would be a little like horses providing pleasant rides for people now. A give and take, mutually benefiting relationship for all.
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But until the day we hopefully and eventually arrive at such ideal state in our human to animal relationships (i.e. recognition and gradual implementation of animal rights) I believe we always have to be conscious of and work to improve Animal Welfare.  
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In reality, Animal Welfare and Animal Rights are not mutually exclusive, but rather, two sides of the same coin.
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Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin (with indifference being the true opposite to both), advocates of animal welfare and animal rights often find themselves warring with each other and hurling insults; each claiming to know what is "best" for animals. (This has been especially evident in the carriage horse controversy.)
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But just as a child of warring parents suffers, I also believe the animals ultimately lose in these particular wars.
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Whether one is on one side of the coin or the other (or like me, trying to balance on the coin's edge), it is important to recognize that indifference is the real enemy to any progress for animals or people.
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We thus have to find ways to communicate with those we don't necessarily fall on the same side of the coin with. We have to seek the common ground even if we don't necessarily feel it all the time or share the same, precise and immediate goals.

Instead of "feeling sad" (or insulting a horse carriage driver) when seeing carriage horses on the street, it is far more productive to offer a carrot to the horse and engage the driver in respectful conversation. Ask questions. Learn about the profession. Learn about horses. Seek the common ground with those working with and (like us), caring about animals -- even if not necessarily to the same degree or same way as us. 

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

During the year or so of being engaged in the carriage horse debate, I have witnessed intense polarization, vitriol, condescension, endless accusations and even hate being hurled from both sides of the animal welfare vs animal rights coin.
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It's very unfortunate because I believe we all care for the horses, but have different and subjective interpretation of what the horses themselves actually want and need. 
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The only thing I am confident of in this conflict is that the horses don't want to die.
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(I also believe carriage horses are leading relatively decent lives now -- even if they, like millions of humans have to "work."  Their "payment" is safety, nutritious food, vet care and shelter -- the things that most animals seek in the wild, though vet care is obviously lacking.)
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Last Friday, there was a hearing on the "compromise" carriage horse bill that Mayor deBlasio is attempting to push through the city council.
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(It's difficult to support because it "removes" roughly 145 horses from their relatively secure life and sends them to unknown and precarious fate. There are also the legal and practical complications to the supposed "stable in Central Park." Something highly unlikely to occur in two years, if indeed it ever occurs.)
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But, for real, meaningful and equitable progress to actually occur that ultimately benefits animals and humans, (regardless of the particular issue) warring sides of the same coin have to find ways of respectful communication, commiseration and support with each other.  (Small wonder city council members are so confused and frustrated with this issue when self-proclaimed animal lovers cannot agree.)
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Differences between animal welfare and animal rights are in degree, not kind.

We need to recognize that the real "enemy" to justice and life for animals is social apathy and eventual removal of animals from our world. -- PCA
                                            
                                                          



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3 comments:

Mary Castrovilla said...

well written - helped me to understand a bit why there is sometimes conflicts among animal advocates...A while back,I was engaged in on online debate: should we -or shouldn't we feed canada geese/ One person said that 'feeding them' pushed back geese/human relationships back 100 years/

I didn't understand YOUR stance on the carriage horses...STILL am uncertain about where i stand on this one.

send this blog to the DailY News it has much food for thought.

PCA said...

Thank you, Mary for your thoughtful comment.

I do support keeping the carriage horses in NYC, mostly for reasons describe.

I also spent a good deal of time carefully observing them. Without exception, the horses appeared relaxed and content. They enjoy people and getting attention. They are also stimulated by the "work" and seem to be happiest when actually leading people around the park.

Even Peter Singer described this as "not a main issue." I personally don't see it as an issue at all.

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