Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Animal rights and human duties

One reader has posted an article by Peter Singer onto Bede's dedicated yahoo group and another emailed me on the question of animal suffering. I thought I'd put down some thoughts on the question. Let me say at once that Singer is not someone I would recommend paying much attention to. You can read a huge number of articles by him here, and if they haven't caused your brain to turn to cold custard, you are a stronger person than I.

The basic mistake of the animal rights movement is that animals don't have rights. How could they? Think how silly it would be if the gazelle tried to sue the cheetah for infringement of its right to life. How stupid that the ant might demand to be allowed to form a union with its fellows. The only time that animal rights are invoked is in their relationships with humans. This immediately tells us that it is the human side of the interface that matters, not the animal one. If we do not expect animals to enforce their rights against each other, it is daft to expect us to enforce their rights against ourselves.

Animals have no rights. Speciesism is simply misanthropy spelt differently. Singer is a pretty good case in point - he is in favour of killing the handicapped, the unborn and the old. He is against humans killing animals to eat, which is odd because he doesn't seem to expect lions to become vegetarians. We can dispose of the whole animal rights business.

What we cannot do is treat animals in a way that demeans us. Animals do suffer. They do feel pain and they do not like this. They have no sense of morality but we do. Consequently, as moral people we have a duty to treat animals well, especially the ones who serve us as pets, workers or food. But these duties are a function of our moral stature and nothing to do with the alleged 'rights' of the animal. Most Christians understand this. They know that humans are unique and that we dominate the natural world. But that domination brings with it duties of good husbandry. What we exploit, we must care for. By demanding animal rights, campaigners seek to diminish the value of the human. Don't listen to them, but do buy free range chickens, organically reared meat and local produce that hasn't spent days cramped into a lorry to get to you.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

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