“Animal rights” v “animal freedom”

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.

10 thoughts on ““Animal rights” v “animal freedom”

  1. thusspokebelinsky June 14, 2008 at 22:35

    Your arguments seems to rest on the premise that if a right is not in the self-interest of humans, then it is a useless right.

    I don’t see a reason why we should place human self-interest above the interest of other sentient beings. This is the type of hierarchy that anarchists abhor. What is your justification? Intelligence? Ability to be a moral agent?

    Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you also seem to be saying that unless it is in the self-interest of an individual to acknowledge the rights of others, he or she should not do so. Before I proceed, I want to know if I’m misunderstanding you.

  2. Francois Tremblay June 14, 2008 at 22:56

    “Your arguments seems to rest on the premise that if a right is not in the self-interest of humans, then it is a useless right.”

    No, I don’t believe that. A right is nothing more than an explanation of what coercion is justified. It may not be in my self-interest that someone has the right to defend himself against me when I think he is a criminal, but I accept that he has that right because it is factual.

    “I don’t see a reason why we should place human self-interest above the interest of other sentient beings. This is the type of hierarchy that anarchists abhor. What is your justification? Intelligence? Ability to be a moral agent?”

    I have no idea what you’re referring to here. For myself, my values are most important, for you your values are the most important, and to a cow its values are most important. That’s just a fact.

    “Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you also seem to be saying that unless it is in the self-interest of an individual to acknowledge the rights of others, he or she should not do so.”

    No one does anything that is not in accordance with his values.

  3. thusspokebelinsky June 14, 2008 at 23:28

    “No one does anything that is not in accordance with his values.”

    Values are different from self-interest, though. Are you saying that no one does anything that is not in his or her self-interest as well? If so, how do you account for the atheist mother who sacrifices her life for her child, then? Moreover, how does ought follow from is?

  4. Francois Tremblay June 14, 2008 at 23:38

    “Values are different from self-interest, though. Are you saying that no one does anything that is not in his or her self-interest as well?”

    I am saying that no one does anything that is not in accordance with their values. Nothing more, nothing less.

    “If so, how do you account for the atheist mother who sacrifices her life for her child, then?”

    Since you seem surprised by her action, the rational conclusion is that she must have a different value system than you do. Any attempt to say that she is wrong is absurd without more knowledge about her values.

    “Moreover, how does ought follow from is?”

    Values are “is”, and they entail “ought.”

    I value not being hungry.
    I am hungry.
    I ought to eat something.

    It’s really not complicated at all.

  5. thusspokebelinsky June 15, 2008 at 03:18

    Francois, everything from “if so” onward was operating under the assumption that you were equating values with self-interest, which you were not. I would not be surprised by the mother’s action at all. What confused me was this:

    “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.”

    And then:

    “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.”

    It seemed to me at the time that you were saying that we recognize the rights of other humans because it is in our self-interest to do so, and we should only recognize the rights of animals (which you don’t think exist in the first place, I take it) if it is in our self-interest. Perhaps you could clarify what you meant there?

    Anyway, I think you have misconstrued the views of some animal rights advocates. Although there might be some that would have the state completely block meat consumption, there are plenty of anarchist supporters of animal rights who simply seek to protect animals’ liberty without the state. Perhaps this is impossible on a large scale, but the brutal reality of human power over animals is no reason to justify the exploitation of animals, as you acknowledge.

    Now, you’ve said that animal freedom is 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.” However, I don’t see why we can’t recognize that animal freedom simply means something different from human freedom, but that it still ought to be protected. To animal rights advocates, animal freedom means freedom from human exploitation. Not freedom “from the tyranny of nature” or from natural predators. What is so unreasonable about that concept of animal freedom?

  6. Francois Tremblay June 15, 2008 at 03:41

    “It seemed to me at the time that you were saying that we recognize the rights of other humans because it is in our self-interest to do so, and we should only recognize the rights of animals (which you don’t think exist in the first place, I take it) if it is in our self-interest. Perhaps you could clarify what you meant there?”

    You did not read the part about rights very closely. I do recognize “animal rights.” It does not make any difference if I do so or not, since a world with animal rights and without them is exactly the same. Goats can and will ram people with or without our approval, which is quite irrelevant to them.

    And if you had read what you quoted more carefully, you’d have realized that the quote about exploiting humans is an answer to the specific objection 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.” It was therefore not a general principle, but a specific point.

    I am always willing to answer your questions, but do try to follow everything a bit more closely.

    “Anyway, I think you have misconstrued the views of some animal rights advocates. Although there might be some that would have the state completely block meat consumption, there are plenty of anarchist supporters of animal rights who simply seek to protect animals’ liberty without the state.”

    This of course is strictly impossible, as I pointed out in my entry, therefore irrelevant.

    “However, I don’t see why we can’t recognize that animal freedom simply means something different from human freedom, but that it still ought to be protected.”

    Are you claiming that for other species predation is not our equivalent of murder? And if so, why?

    “To animal rights advocates, animal freedom means freedom from human exploitation.”

    Yes, which, as I pointed out in my conclusion, means control over other human beings.

    “Not freedom “from the tyranny of nature” or from natural predators. What is so unreasonable about that concept of animal freedom?”

    What is unreasonable about it is that it is not freedom, but rather an ideology based on forbidding actions which are justified.

  7. thusspokebelinsky June 15, 2008 at 14:45

    I guess I’m just an illiterate idiot, then. Excuse this illiterate idiot for having another question.

    You say:

    “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 reread the rest of your post a few times, and I’m still not sure what your justification for exploiting animals is. I’m not trying to make any analogies to the Holocaust or anything like that. I completely understand your point about those who seek to actively use coercion to prevent humans from exploiting animals, but that’s a separate point. What I want to know is what justifies exploiting animals in the first place. “…what good reason I could possibly have to kill a cow, if not for my own selfish eating pleasure”?

    “Are you claiming that for other species predation is not our equivalent of murder? And if so, why?”

    I would not say that other species’ predation, for instance the cheetah’s predation of the gazelle, is the equivalent of murder. Animals are not sapient beings with the ability to understand their actions as more than just a means to survival; they are not, as you point out, moral agents, so they cannot be held to human standards of morality. And perhaps more importantly, even if animals were able to understand their actions in the way that we do, many animals would not be able to survive without eating other animals. Predation is a natural and immutable aspect of animal life, whereas while it may be natural for humans as well, it is not immutable. As sapient beings, we have both the capability to transcend our brute nature, abstaining from inflicting harm on other sentient beings except when absolutely necessary, and the capability to actually survive without eating other animals.

    And let’s not talk about statist animal rights advocates’ views on animal rights, please. I’m more interested in anarchist views of animal rights and in the actual ethics of meat consumption…not what statists believe the state should do in regard to animal rights.

  8. Francois Tremblay June 15, 2008 at 15:10

    “I guess I’m just an illiterate idiot, then.”

    Stop playing the victim, you know very well that’s not what I said. If I really did think you were an idiot, I wouldn’t be answering your questions at all. So far I think we’re getting along just fine.

    “I reread the rest of your post a few times, and I’m still not sure what your justification for exploiting animals is.”

    Why exactly would you expect an entry on “animal rights” to give one’s personal attitude towards exploiting animals? I don’t really feel that’s relevant, since everyone has different reasons to exploit animals, veg*ns and meat-eaters alike.

    My personal reason is because good food is a very important value in my life, and buying animal products helps fulfill that value. Like most people, I do not exploit other animals directly (except for a few bugs), but I use the fruits of the exploitation.

    “I would not say that other species’ predation, for instance the cheetah’s predation of the gazelle, is the equivalent of murder. Animals are not sapient beings with the ability to understand their actions as more than just a means to survival;”

    Yes, fine, you can refute an analogy by pointing out that it breaks down. I was already aware that the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do. But that doesn’t address the point that “animal freedom” would imply a lack of predation.

    “Predation is a natural and immutable aspect of animal life”

    Making any attempt at “freeing animals” to be quite futile.

    “As sapient beings, we have both the capability to transcend our brute nature, abstaining from inflicting harm on other sentient beings except when absolutely necessary, and the capability to actually survive without eating other animals.”

    Yes, we do. And it’s probably too bad that no one does. My only problem is with people who claim they do, and are lying, so they can claim the moral high ground.

    “I’m more interested in anarchist views of animal rights and in the actual ethics of meat consumption…not what statists believe the state should do in regard to animal rights.”

    My own view on “animal rights,” I have already given in the entry. As for the actual ethics, I have not discussed them in the entry because that wasn’t the topic, but we can also discuss it.

  9. vegan anarchist February 11, 2009 at 15:26

    Presumably, having rights means that others can also use force to defend your rights. If I see someone being assaulted in an alley, I can use force to defend them, no?

    It seems to me that animal rights ought to be similar to children’s rights. A child is not capable of personally using force to defend herself, but an advocate could do so on her behalf. Similarly, an advocate of children (or animals) could press tort claims in a private court.

    In this sense, animal rights in no more a tool of statist control then the prohibition of child abuse is.

    Imagine your last paragraph with children replacing animals:

    What do they mean, then, when they say “children’s rights”? They mean that we should use force to prevent innocent people from killing children, and use force to prevent you from trading children. They mean that we should be actively prevented from doing certain things to younger people. 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 child welfare or child freedom. Their goal is statist control. This alone should tell us all we need to know about the “children’s rights” movement.

    At any rate, the position that we should only treat others non-coercively if it is in our self-interest to do so doesn’t strike me as a particularly anarchist position. Do you think that “no rulers” should be changed to “only rule others when it benefits you.”?

  10. Francois Tremblay February 11, 2009 at 23:48

    “Presumably, having rights means that others can also use force to defend your rights. If I see someone being assaulted in an alley, I can use force to defend them, no?”

    Yes.

    “It seems to me that animal rights ought to be similar to children’s rights. A child is not capable of personally using force to defend herself, but an advocate could do so on her behalf. Similarly, an advocate of children (or animals) could press tort claims in a private court.”

    You’re assuming that cows have rights, though. I have no problem with agreeing with you if it’s true, but I don’t think it’s true.

    “At any rate, the position that we should only treat others non-coercively if it is in our self-interest to do so doesn’t strike me as a particularly anarchist position. Do you think that “no rulers” should be changed to “only rule others when it benefits you.”?”

    No. It means no rulers, period. If you are stating that animal slaughtering is hierarchical in the same sense than parenting is, then make your case, otherwise the comparison fails.

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