Animal “Rights”

“Under the law, animals are treated as property. They have no rights, their value being determined solely by their usefulness for humans.”

What, may I ask, is wrong with this? The writer, who specializes in something called “animal law”, suggests that this is a major weakness in our legal system. I beg to differ. But then again, I also don’t believe that animals have any rights. Nor that they ever can.

Mr. Blatte states that “The civil rights movement overcame oppression based on a difference in skin color. The women’s rights movement overcame oppression based on a difference in gender. With animals, by focusing on species, a difference with no moral significance, we are committing the exact same type of oppression.”

What utter bullshit. Rights are a specifically human innovation. Humans, as a species, have the intellectual capacity to have created them and to understand the implications. And humans are uniquely and exclusively eligible to possess rights. Yes, in this case the ability to express and assert them is required in order to have them.

To suggest that the call for animal rights and equality is on an equivalent moral level to the struggle for women’s right or the civil rights movement is to completely trivialize those important developments in our history. Animals are not the equal of human beings, whether male, female, black, white, brown, heterosexual, or homosexual. Given the slow pace of evolution, it’s highly unlikely that they will be for the next million or so years.

Animals cannot feel oppressed. They can feel pain and hunger and perhaps some level of emotion. But they cannot experience hurt feelings if their human companions consider themselves “pet owners” rather than “animal guardians”. They do not suffer from reduced self-esteem when the legal system is biased against them based on species.

Dogs are no more entitled to jury trials than to job protection nor marriage benefits. Cats have no need nor desire for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing them full and equal protection under the law. While animals can indeed suffer, they cannot suffer discrimination nor injustice; to do so requires the capacity to understand what discrimination and injustice are.

Animals also do not have the specific “right” to be in any specific space (and this also applies to public spaces where their owners may decide to take them), nor to cause any sort of discomfort, physical harm, or fear to human beings. Owners have certain rights, and are subject to certain limitations and responsibilities. People who don’t want to be around animals also have rights, limitations, and responsibilities. Animals have none of the above and are subject to the exercise of rights by the humans around them.

Again, human beings have rights. And the attendant responsibilities. Animals have neither. The very idea that they would is laughable.

Even animal rights activists agree, although they are reluctant to admit it, that humans are firmly in charge by virtue of evolution, and that animals are subject to our will. Who, after all would be conferring these “rights”? The only real point of contention is how the animals will be TREATED. The idea that animals have “rights” is more about semantics and catchy jargon than any real moral or philosophical issue.

This is not to say that I think it’s open season on our furry little friends. It could be argued that humans have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect animals from undue pain and suffering, just as we have a responsibility not to destroy public property nor to do significant damage to the environment. If we, as human beings, decide that the humane treatment of animals (and even the occasional preference in their favor) is a benefit to society, so much the better.

But none of this is due to any “rights” instrinsically held by animals. Animals have whatever privileges we choose to allow them. Including the right to life. And if there is a conflict between the needs of animals and the needs of humans, humans come first. In all cases. And without the slightest hesitation or resevation.