I have already discussed the nature of rights, and that rights are a moral justification of force in order to deal with some threat to oneself. Can we apply this to the concept of “animal rights”?
If we look at, say, a cow, can we acknowledge that the cow is morally justified in using force in order to deal with threats to itself, including humans? First, we must acknowledge that a cow is not a moral agent or a social agent. A cow is not conscious of its own values or decisions. Also, a cow cannot communicate or otherwise exchange values with human beings: unlike, say, a pet, its only possible value to humans is in being exploited.
The issue of rights is different, of course. Even though they are not moral agents, I have no problem with saying that cows are morally justified in defending themselves with force, for the sake of discussion. Why not? So the concept of “animal rights” is perfectly valid on that basis, but it is also irrelevant, since human beings can exert much more force than any cow could.
One may argue that I am arguing “might makes right,” so let me make this clear: I most definitely do not believe that humans are morally justified in exploiting cows because they can use more force than a cow. It is simply irrelevant: the fact that a being has rights has no bearing on whether we should treat that being on a non-coercive basis. I can conceive of situations where it would be justifiable and desirable for me to hurt a rights-bearing individual (especially since I do not partake of the absurd argument that “criminals surrender their rights”).
At this point, I know that “animal rights” proponents would ask me what good reason I could possibly have to kill a cow, if not for my own selfish eating pleasure, and whether I would consider other human beings as targets for my own selfish pleasure. Since I live in society with other human beings, exploiting them goes against my interests as a member of that society. I recognize their freedom because it is in my interest to do so. So the absurd analogies with the Holocaust or Black Slavery made by Greenies are not only gravely offensive but also plainly false. Those acts had profound negative repercussions on the society where they took place, while meat-eating does not.
On the other hand, it is quite impossible to recognize the freedom of other species. And even “animal rights” activists do not recognize it, because it is obviously absurd. If we wanted to free animals, then we would try to free them from the tyranny of nature. If we wanted to protect animals, we would try to abolish predation altogether. But even a mad scientist from a bad B-movie would not make such demands, because it would seem too absurd. “Animal rights” activists pretend that they want to put other species on par with human beings, but to do so would require to expand our definition of society so much that the fulfillment of human values would be utterly destroyed.
If “animal rights” are trivial and don’t actually mean any change, and no one wants “animal freedom,” what is the point of “animal rights”?
First, we need to understand what “rights” mean in the statist context. Obviously what they mean by “animal rights” is not quite the same as what we mean by it. For statists, a right is something enforced by the State. More specifically, a right is an area of society that should be taken away from the individual and given to the State. In their view, the individual should not use force to defend something (which is the definition of a right from our perspective): that is entirely the role of the State. The individual should not decide what he wants to have defended or not defended: that is entirely a power of the State. In short, statist “rights” are about giving the State total control over one’s life, so that it may “protect” you, which in reality translates in exploiting you. Statist inevitably trot out the old excuse that we “give our rights to the State so we can be better protected,” which is patent nonsense since the ruling class has no interest in protecting any interest but theirs, and no such giving has been voluntarily made.
What do they mean, then, when they say “animal rights”? They mean that we should use force to prevent innocent people from killing other species, and use force to prevent you from trading with them. They mean that we should be actively prevented from doing certain things to other species. All of this, of course, without proving that it is not in our interest, both as moral agents and social agents, to do these things. Their goals have nothing to do with animal welfare or animal freedom. Their goal is statist control. This alone should tell us all we need to know about the “animal rights” movement.