The Case for Animal Rights
I regard myself as an advocate of animal rights — as a part of the animal rights movement. That
movement, as I conceive it, is committed to a number of goals, including:
the total abolition of the use of animals in science;
the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture;
elimination of commercial
hunting and trapping.
There are, I know, people who profess to believe in animal rights but do not avow these goals.
Factory farming, they say, is wrong - it violates animals' rights - but traditional animal
agriculture is all right. Toxicity tests of cosmetics on animals violates their rights, but
important medical research — cancer research, for example — does not. The clubbing of baby
seals is abhorrent, but not the harvesting of adult seals. I used to think I understood this
reasoning. Not any more. You don't change unjust institutions by tidying them up.
What's wrong — fundamentally wrong — with the way animals are treated isn't the details that
vary from case to case. It's the whole system. The forlornness of the veal calf is pathetic, heart
wrenching; the pulsing pain of the chimp with electrodes planted deep in her brain is repulsive;
the slow, tortuous death of the racoon caught in the leg-hold trap is agonizing. But what is
wrong isn't the pain, isn't the suffering, isn't the deprivation. These compound what's wrong.
Sometimes - often - they make it much, much worse. But they are not the fundamental wrong.
The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as
to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept
this view of animals - as our resources - the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable. Why
worry about their loneliness, their pain, their death? Since animals exist for us, to benefit us in
one way or another, what harms them really doesn't matter — or matters only if it starts to
bother us, makes us feel a trifle uneasy when we eat our veal escalope, for example. So, yes,
let us get veal calves out of solitary confinement, give them more space, a little straw, a few
companions. But let us keep our veal escalope.
But a little straw, more space and a few companions won't eliminate - won't even touch - the
basic wrong that attaches to our viewing and treating these animals as our resources. A veal
calf killed to be eaten after living in close confinement is viewed and treated in this way: but
so, too, is another who is raised (as they say) 'more humanely'. To right the wrong of our
treatment of farm animals requires more than making rearing methods 'more humane'; it
requires the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture.
How we do this, whether we do it or, as in the case of animals in science, whether and how we