After my last post, I went searching for radical writing on Animal Liberation, and while I found a few good things in a veritable desert, I also found this, by Paul D’Amato from the often awful Socialist Worker. While struggling to finish reading it without gnashing my teeth into powder, I was reminded of this from my last post:
This is, I guess, another way of politely asking people who want to argue morality with animal rights people, and accuse them of racism, antisemitism or some other character defect, to be instantly recognizable as someone who has at least a few minutes acquaintance with the appropriate wikipedia page.
Since D’Amato seems to pull every last sentence in his essay from his ass, he is exceptionally useful as an example of how not to critique Animal Rights. He also provides an opportunity to demonstrate how a “few minutes acquaintance with the appropriate wikipedia page” can make a difference in getting Animal Rights supporters to see you as something other than a self-satisified ignoramus.
Below I’m simply going to pull out the main points in D’Amato’s essay and see if the Wikipedia entries on Animal Rights and Speciesism have anything to address them with. In cases where the answer may not be stated outright but can be easily deduced or inferred from what Wikipedia does say, I’ll explain why.
While the form this will take is something akin to a rebuttal, the main point is to show how D’Amato, like so many other people who offer this kind of “critique” hasn’t done the most basic self-educating before mouthing off. There are many different approaches to animal rights covered in the Wikipedia entry and I don’t endorse all of them. This is simply to show that D’Amato’s questions have answers that he is not obviously aware of, which makes his article entirely unresponsive to the basics of Animal Rights theory.
Does a mountain lion that kills a deer have a right to a trial by a jury of its peers? Should cows have freedom of assembly, speech and religion?
Wikipedia, Animal Rights:
[In summarizing Peter Singer, the most influential Animal Liberation scholar]:
Equality does not require identical treatment. A mouse and a man both have an interest in not being kicked, and there are no moral or logical grounds for failing to accord those interests equal weight. Interests are predicated on the ability to suffer, nothing more, and once it is established that a being has interests, those interests must be given equal consideration.[
Since there is no evidence of non-human interest in, nor capacity for, jurisprudence, D’Amato’s questions are simply irrelevant to every argument made for animal rights. Anyone with even casual familiarity with Animal Rights philosophy knows this.
Would my cat be liberated if I tossed him out of the house and stopped feeding him?
The word “tossed” here strongly suggests that the cat’s interests are not being considered at all, and so D’Amato again betrays a lack of serious engagement with the basics. The easy answer, based on nothing more than Wikipedia, is no, the cat would not be liberated by being banished to the street against her will. Even if the cat weren’t “tossed”, but simply released, humans have created conditions for the cat that make it impossible for her to pursue her interests without becoming property or a target of abuse. So a voluntary departure from which she can’t return wouldn’t be liberating either.
D’Amato, quoting a critique at length of an animal rights video entitled Maxine’s Dash for Freedom:
“Maxine” is described in this Farm Sanctuary video…as having “escaped” from a New York City slaughterhouse. She was then “rescued” by police and firefighters, who found her wandering the streets, taken to an animal shelter, and then taken by the Farm Sanctuary to greener pastures.
In reality, we don’t know whether “Maxine” escaped, got lost, was let go by a human, or fell off the truck, because she can’t tell us. All she does in the video is sit in her cage and chew straw. It is the humans from the Farm Sanctuary who have imparted to “Maxine” a human name, a “will to live,” and an ability to “escape” from the slaughterhouse, which she does not have.
What is clear in the video is that “Maxine” demonstrates a “will” not to get onto the truck that will take her to the farm sanctuary. Here, because it is a human who always has and always will decide what is best for Maxine, her “will” is ignored. She–like all cows–must be pulled by ropes, prodded and enticed with food to go where the humans want her to be, whether that is the slaughterhouse or the Farm Sanctuary.
This is a mind-bogglingly laborious way of claiming that we can’t possibly know whether or not Maxine would prefer the slaughterhouse — where she will be painfully attached upside down to a conveyor, on which she will “die piece by piece,” being bludgeoned, stabbed and dismembered, remaining sentient through much of her ordeal — or a sanctuary created by people dedicated to the proposition that her right to be free of suffering is equal to theirs. The scare quote “will to live,” as if even that is a matter of pure anthropomorphizing speculation, is a neon light announcing how deep the stupid goes.
Maxine’s resistance to getting on the truck that will bear her to safety only demonstrates that she is provisionally in a human-created situation in which being free to pursue her own interests in any meaningful sense is not an option, she has no idea what the other options are, and her life as a commodity until then has given her no reason to trust humans at all. Therefore, the humans using coercion to restore her to a location where she will have more freedom to pursue her interests are acting in consistency with the principles of animal rights quoted above. Those who would commodify her, torture her and kill her are not. Animal Liberation is an interventionist politics. There is no obligation to act against the animal’s clear interests, simply because the animal cannot be informed of what the options are, and is therefore reluctant to cooperate
the only reason we can have this discussion about animals is because we have something they don’t have–language. The fact is that dogs cannot domesticate us. By extension, they cannot “liberate” themselves or demand “rights” from us, either; they can’t even formulate what a right or a demand is, Chicken Run notwithstanding.
Hence, realistically, when anyone speaks of rights or liberation for other animals, what they are really talking about is how humans behave toward animals. Human beings are, to a large extent, arbiters of the fate of other animals (for good or ill), a fact that sets us sharply apart from them.
The mutuality of dogs and humans is not solely a human accomplishment; nor is it entirely true that non-human animals don’t have language. But that’s all entirely beside the point that D’Amato keeps missing: the irrelevance of human qualities to moral consideration. None of the animal liberation scholars mentioned in either Wikipedia article used here say anything to contradict the rest, perhaps because it too is entirely irrelevant to animal rights, which makes no pretense of being something other than a human-created philosophy to inform human treatment of non-human animals, precisely because they do not have the means to defend themselves. Almost every scholar quoted in the Wikipedia entry — including critics — take as self-evident that humans can infer animal preferences from observable suffering and their demonstrable sentience, and that humans are uniquely suited to both abusing and defending them.
D’Amato on Speciesism:
All living things are “speciesist.” The web of life on our planet consists of different species struggling to survive, many by eating other species. The fact that human beings have the capacity, unlike any other species, to create a hierarchy of being, and make decisions about what living thing is legitimate or not legitimate to eat, is itself proof that there is a qualitative divide between human beings and other animals.
Speciesism involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership.
…Singer argued from a preference-utilitarian perspective, writing that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests.
D’Amato once again ignores that Animal Rights is human moral philosophy intended for humans, and as with most other moral philosophy, it does not seek guidance from wild carnivores, nor does it seek to guide them.
However, if for fun we apply “Equal consideration of interests” to a predator animal and its prey, we would conclude that as the predator can’t live without meat, and is instinctually driven to hunt for it, its interest in killing the prey is equal to the prey’s interest in escape. It is not at all analogous to an assessment of human meat consumption, where the interest on the human side is simply a matter of enjoyment and habit, and on the animal’s side freedom from acute suffering and death.
Not a single theorist cited in the Wikipedia Animal Rights entry erases the “qualitative divide” between humans and non-human animals, so no denial of that divide is required. Yes non-humans are different from humans. That’s what makes them non-humans! But as stated again and again, it is the thing that non-humans have in common with humans — the ability to suffer — that makes them worthy of moral consideration. The “capacity to create a hierarchy of being”, like all other uniquely human qualities, isn’t relevant to moral consideration, and it’s speciesist to insist that it is.
The equation of racism and sexism with the treatment of animals is to trivialize the former.
This is the last attempted “argument” in D’Amato’s article, which he tries to substantiate with various anecdotes about misanthropic PETA staff, Earth Firsters and Nazis who believed in animal rights. Since this is just a hamfisted claim of guilt by association, I’m under no obligation to find something in Wikpedia to refute it with, except to say that he is basing this trivialization on a premise that the scholars summarized in Wikipedia reject: that human suffering is more morally consequential than animal suffering.
All forms of unequal treatment differ from each other and it is imprudent even among humans to compare them in any way but one: a uniquely vulnerable population is dominated, exploited and abused based on an arbitrary characteristic. Observing the indisputable fact that this is certainly true of commodity animals trivializes nothing, since it implies no other similarity.
In reviewing this piece — which is, from a technical standpoint, just blindingly inept as rhetoric — and placing it against so many inane arguments I’ve heard, it becomes increasingly hard to regard most arguments made against animal rights as being in good faith. Considering that what’s at stake in these discussions is demonstrably unnecessary abuse and suffering, one wonders what on earth the point is of these insultingly stupid attempts to defend it, in place of serious consideration.
Caged and Commodified, Still by Nancy Heitzeg