Yet there remain a few members of this species who, unlike the majority of their fellow sapiens who have cast off their bothersome critical thinking capacities in favor of a sonambulistic approach to life, can see quite clearly that this particular 'highly advanced civilization' is in fact a society where, to paraphrase hypnotist Michel Ellner, "Everything is backwards, everything is upside down; doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom."
The illusion of the 'great advancement in civilization' aside, if we really take a look at what's going on in the world around us these days, it becomes difficult to make any sense of inter-human relationships, to say nothing about our relationships with the other species with which we share this planet. Official science routinely stretches credulity in the obtuse and often deceitful way that it dismisses the many bizarre and 'out of place' anthropological and archeological artifacts and remains that have been discovered all over the planet in recent decades. If mainstream science refuses to take all the available evidence into account in its attempt to come up with a theory of humanity's origins, how can we expect to ever understand the true position of our species within the larger animal kingdom on Earth?
Underlings, brethren or other nation?
American naturalist and writer Henry Beston once said:
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals...This quote is very often used by animal rights activists who profess to have greater love for animals than their fellow human beings.
We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by man.
In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.
They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
~ The Outermost House
I'll admit that it's tempting to fall into this trap. I receive more companionship from my dogs than most people I encounter. Just looking at the state of our planet, which we've pillaged and plundered beyond hope of repair, and really taking stock of the dire state of our 'advanced society' and then looking back into the past and realising that we've been spinning for eons in this same predictable loop, like anthropoid hamsters on the wheel of time... then yes, I know it's very easy to feel this way about animals.
Confronted on all sides by the rampant narcissism that passes as 'normal' human interactions these days, in a society that has seemingly reached the 'pinnacle' of devolution rather than evolution, it's understandable that those of us who struggle to at least try to care would proclaim a sort of disdain for our own species and look instead towards innocent animals for honest and sincere relationships.
But is it really time to consign humanity and human relationships to the trash heap of history, as one more failed experiment of the living system? What about brilliant human minds, real-life heroes, a child's smile, the kindness of a complete stranger, and the joy of unconditional sharing and networking?
As a species we may have strayed far from our path from the swamp to the stars, but can we still hope for a happy and successful ending to the human drama on this planet? Hope, after all, is one of the things that defines our humanity and appears to set us apart from animals.
In our 'advanced civilzation' the fate of animals is closely interwoven with ours. Animals feed us and clothe us; they give us unconditional companionship and joy. Indeed, our attitude and behavior towards animals is another important key in defining our humanity.
This inevitably leads to a seemingly insoluble problem - the concept of animal rights versus human rights and, equally important, versus animal welfare.
Animal Rights versus Human Rights versus Animal Welfare
Some great human minds have been trying to solve this problem since the beginning of civilization.
During the classical period, philosophers such as Pythagoras urged respect for animals, believing that humans and non-humans have the same kind of soul, one spirit that pervades the universe and makes us one with animals. As a solution, Pythagoras advocated vegetarianism and was the first recorded animal 'liberationist', buying animals from the market in order to set them free.
In contrast, Aristotle argued that non-human animals had no interests of their own because of their alleged 'irrationality'. Aristotle believed that human dominance over animals was part of a natural order defined by humankind's rational powers.
With the arrival and advance of Christian religious dogma, the predominant Old Testament notion of animals being merely placed on this planet by a divine deity - to be utilized by us in any way or fashion we deem appropriate - pervaded Western civilization.
The Age of Reason in post-French Revolution Europe brought more nuanced discussions on the concept of animal rights, such that today we have several dominant perspectives regarding our relationship with animals. These are Contractarian, Utalitarian, Relational, Animal Rights and Respect for Nature.
Each of these views has its own merits, so perhaps the key to a meaningful definition of our relationship with animals lies in some moderate combination of all of these views.
However, most radically, a defender of Animal Rights believes that animals have rights just like our human rights. Obviously, this view would exclude uniquely human rights, such as the right to freedom of speech. Still, it would include the right not to be killed for human benefit (except in self-defense).
And this is where we have to draw the line if we want to objectively define reality and the natural world in which we find ourselves.
Columnist Jim Amrhein defines the crux of this matter:
No rights of ANY TYPE exist naturally, by virtue of birth alone. In the natural world, all that any creature - man included - has a "right" to are those things it can take by force or forcibly defend from being taken.French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) begins The Social Contract with the most famous words he ever wrote: "Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains." Rousseau then goes on to describe the myriad ways in which the "chains" of civil society suppress the natural birthright of man to physical freedom. He states that civil society does nothing to enforce the equality and individual liberty that were promised to man when he entered into that society. For Rousseau, the only legitimate political authority is the authority consented to by all the people, who have agreed to such government by entering into a social contract for the sake of their mutual preservation.
In his essay Animal Rights vs. Human Rights, Amrhein elaborates on this problem:
Now, before you dismiss me as a heartless barbarian, know this: I have always believed that relationships between people and animals - whether based on companionship, work, or simple nutrition - are some of life's most rewarding and character-building interactions. I also believe that pet ownership is a wonderful institution for both man and beast...Amrhein is here outlining some undeniable facts of our reality. Unfortunately, for some people this is not so simple to understand.
But for anyone to believe that animals have inherent rights is to show an alarming degree of ignorance as to what that term really means.
Being accustomed to the concept of "unalienable rights" so artfully articulated in our own Declaration of Independence, a lot of Americans are programmed to believe that simply because we're of the genus and species Homo sapiens, we're issued rights as original equipment. Sadly, this is not true. Despots and tyrants through the ages have crushed the notion of "human rights" under chariot wheel, mace, and tank tread time and again. One needs only to look at Rwanda, China, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other places for vivid modern-day proof of this.
Clearly though, some human beings have rights. Americans and the citizens of other Western democracies enjoy them in abundance. How did we get these rights if they aren't naturally ours? Via a simple contract - one we never signed, yet are automatically both bound to and protected by as part of our citizenship (read Rousseau's Social Contract). This contract is the root of all laws protecting you from harm and protecting others from harm at your hands. In other words, rights.
The price of these rights under this "contract" is certain types of freedom. Basically, we forfeit our natural freedom to kill or pillage our weaker neighbors in exchange for a guarantee against similar brutality at the hands of our stronger ones. To whom do we forfeit our most basic freedoms and under whose protection do we languish? A sovereign state - in our case, the U.S. of A. I say again: It is our citizenship, not simply our humanity, that guarantees rights. That's why most of them stay at the border when we enter other countries.
But what does this have to do with animals? Bear with me (no pun intended)...
Regardless of what PETA and the rest of the animal rights crowd say (more on this in a minute), no critter, from aardvark to zebra, is capable of understanding and honouring contracts like the ones that guarantee citizens of democratic republics their rights. Even the intricate societies of some apes, as advanced and social as they can be, are fundamentally based on the only natural law there is: The law of force and dominance.
The only true "rights" enjoyed by any animals are those extended to them by people. Pets, work beasts, zoo creatures, and the like are granted protections by humans from the perils of nature (the elements, predation, starvation, disease) in exchange for their ability and willingness to be trained to serve our needs. This is a rudimentary contract. Such is the case even for livestock, which are bred, fed, medicated, and cared for until such time as we, the grantors of their rights, decide the contract has expired.
If militant animal rights activists like 'People for Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) or terrorist groups like Animal Liberation Front had things their way, the following privileges would be removed from the realm of human rights:
- Eating meat of any kind
- Keeping pets of any species
- Hunting, fishing, and falconry
- Animal testing and experimentation
- Removal or extermination of pest animals
- Zoos and wildlife theme parks
- Killing or relocation of dangerous/nuisance animals
- Horseback riding, racing, rodeos, polo, and other equine sports
- Using animals for work or service - including Seeing Eye dogs.
The main concern of Animal Welfare groups is to alleviate animal suffering, provide food, shelter and medication. Animal Rights on the other hand, is an extremist fundamentalist movement with an agenda to change laws and drastically change human society.
The Animal Rights movement gained momentum shortly after the New Age movement, also known as the 'human potential movement', arrived on the scene in the 1970s. This probably isn't coincidental since the whole philosophy of Animal Rights is based on the principle 'You Create Your Own Reality' (YCYOR), that New Age notion which would have us believe that objective reality is 'whatever I wish it to be'.
The YCYOR paradigm presupposes that we can change our reality by ignoring what we don't like about it, whilst engaged in navel-gazing and thinking positive thoughts all day long. Well, when we look at the state our planet is in today, we can see where that particular schtick has gotten us: it's precisely the ignoring of objective reality that led us to where we are now - a global totalitarian police state.
We can all agree that the industrial farming system 'civilization' relies on often treats animals abominably. In an ideal world where psychopaths were not in power and treating their human 'cattle' just as abominably, something would be done to alleviate animals' suffering and redirect society towards one that respects the original, natural and symbiotic relationships of all creatures.
But the solutions extremist Animal Rights' proponents advocate are insane. When you get right down to it, Animal Rights groups want us to ignore the basic fact that animals do not grant rights to each other. By engaging in the wishful thinking that they do, and that we humans should intervene to give them such rights on their behalf, the activists want to re-write the basic rules of nature in a vision that sees all of us becoming vegans, to hell with free will and natural dietary needs of other humans.
Worse still, the terms 'Animal Protection' and 'Animal Welfare' don't quite capture the essence of the Animal Rights agenda as the Vegan Movement does. The leaders of major Animal Rights groups are all vegans, so let's use that as a starting point to assess the threat their philosophy poses to the health and freedom of people as well as to animal welfare itself. We have to wonder of course, if Animal Rights Activists had their way, would all the liberated animals be forced to become vegan too? I wonder what my very healthy and happy raw meat fed dog would think of that...
Of course, any adult individual has a right to become vegan or vegetarian if he or she wishes. The threat lies in the tactics these groups have used to impose their philosophy on the rest of us.
The vegan movement is a worldwide effort. It seems to be carefully organized and well-financed. The question is why and to what ultimate purpose? They seem to want the establishment of a petless, meatless society in which all creatures from insects to whales have equal rights with human beings. But again, there's an obvious problem in the administration of such a draconian system. For example, how would the Vegan movement deal with the rights of the newly freed dogs or cats to eat rabbits and mice? What about the rights of the rabbits and mice? And then, on down the line, what about the rights of the plants and tubers vis a vis the rabbits' voracious appetite for carrots and lettuce?
Vegetarianism is a choice; veganism is a political statement. Vegetarians represent less then 5% of population of any country (with the exception of India), while vegans account for 0.5 % of the population. But because they appear to champion animal welfare issues, they claim majority support everywhere.
Of course, who wouldn't support animal welfare? Unfortunately, instead of building animal shelters, most of the money they collect from donors goes to sponsoring legislation that advances Animal Rights.
If all domestic animals were "freed" from human interference tomorrow, a wave of suffering, illness and death would result, but apparently Animal Rights theorists aren't too concerned about that. They also couldn't care less that some properly managed zoos and wildlife parks play a significant role in the preservation of many endangered species.
In 2003, in over 15 U.S. states, PETA handed out a graphic comic titled "Your Mommy Kills Animals" to children accompanying women wearing fur outside holiday performances of The Nutcracker and other theatrical shows.
PETA's 'Teachkind' teaching aids have involved themes that draw connections between African-American slaves and livestock animals. They have asked students to "compare the progression of the civil rights movement in the U.S. to the current animal rights movement."
And here is the scary part: this targeting of children is part of a well thought-out long-term strategy, something Animal Rights groups make no secret about. An impressionable, scared child today may become a vegan tomorrow. Most of today 's vegans were recruited twenty years ago. In the meantime, the influence of animal rights groups has spread and we can expect more and more vegans in the near future.
This is not to say that 'vegans are evil'. The majority of them are well-intentioned people who were suckered, and whose health suffers because they believe in their ill-conceived cause.
Perhaps if we spent more time educating children on the reality of fundamental differences between wild animals and domestic animals, they would have a more rounded understanding of the problem, without in any way dulling their natural conscience towards the suffering of all Earthlings.
Instead of 'animal rights', society should be committed to Animal Welfare, which is based on scientific research and habitat management - with sincere concern for animal well-being - and which emphasizes responsibility towards animals to ensure that we humans behave humanely (that is, as humans ought to behave) towards them, without any form of abuse.
Only with the understanding that animals are essential to a decent and balanced quality of life - both mentally, emotionally and physically - can we honor nature and the world we live in.