Friday, June 23, 2006

Animal rights #1

I’ve just finished reading a persuasive extract from Peter Singer’s book titled Animal Liberation. Singer spoke at Melbourne University recently – promoting his new book – but I couldn’t find time to hear what he was on about due to exams. The chapter is titled ‘All Animals Are Equal…or why the ethical principle on which human equality rests requires us to extend equal consideration to animals too.’

Surprisingly, I agree with most of what he says in this chapter. We should extend consideration, and indeed compassion, to animals wherever possible. Animals do experience pain. In Victoria basic dignity and protection from harm is afforded to certain animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

The real potential for divergence of opinion comes when Singer says stuff like this:
Nor can we pretend that we have nothing to do with these practices. One of them – experimentation on animals – is promoted by the government we elect and is largely paid for out of the taxes we pay. The other – rearing animals for food – is possible only because most people buy and eat the products of this practice. That is why I have chosen to discuss these particular forms of speciesism. They are at its heart. They cause more suffering to a greater number of animals than anything else that human beings do. To stop them we must change the policies of our government, and we must change our own lives, to the extent of changing our diet.
Well I suppose we could all become vegan Jain monks and walk half-naked through the streets while simultaneously sweeping away the insects that might inadvertently be crushed by our feet.

But I’m not convinced animals should be afforded greater protection than they are presently. I enjoy eating meat. I like the taste. I have no problem with being the superior species on planet Earth. At the same time I encourage people to boycott whatever companies they feel are treating animals badly, just as they would boycott and protest against companies that are ‘exploiting’ third-world workers.

In the future maybe we won’t want to eat meat anymore. Maybe we’ll just pop a pill and get our nutritional and taste wants satisfied. For now though, if you’re feeling bad about the way animals are treated and want to make a difference then go adopt a pet from the shelter. And pamper it.

I did that. I used to have a dog. But then it got eaten.

More on that story next time!


At June 24, 2006 11:12 am, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

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At June 24, 2006 11:16 am, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

I'm not hugely au fait with Peter Singer's philosophical position, but my legal work tells me there is something in what he says.

Anyone who's dealt with victims and perpetrators of certain violent and sexual crimes learns pretty quickly that there's a correlation between men who abuse women and children as adults and abuse of animals when those same men were boys.

The correlation is so marked that expert health workers - psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses - are often united in their demand that a register of animal abusers be kept, much as is done with certain sexual offenders. This usually comes out in expert testimony, although can turn up elsewhere - of which more later.

Unfortunately, many people don't want to see the link, including members of the judiciary. Magistrates are regularly castigated in the press for imposing non-custodial sentences and not recording convictions for animal cruelty, which prevents the sort of documentation expert witnesses seek.

Even allowing for media tendencies to sensationalize, this is something that needs to be addressed, if not for the reasons Singer advances but for reasons of crime prevention. This American Humane Society site contains basic information on the link between animal cruelty and later violence directed at humans.

It's a bit alarmist in spots, so for those with access to Lexis, I recommend looking at the articles highlighted in yellow in this Google Book Search. The article from the American Bar Association is especially worth a look.

With respect to Singer's philosophical position, I accept that animals do have interests, if not rights. I'm not sure that those interests are equal to human 'interests' (or rights), however. This is probably because - like Sukrit - I eat meat and like the taste.

As someone who has coached a lot of sport, I've also seen the negative effects on female athletes when they 'go vegetarian'. Vegetarianism may be a reasonable option for men, who do not have such significant iron needs. It's generally not good for women, especially when those women exercise regularly - in itself surely a good thing.

At June 30, 2006 4:46 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit to neglecting to read any of that apart from the line 'i once had a dog but it got eaten' which has left me marginally alarmed but im in too much of a hurry to make an issue of it. GET ON LINE!

At June 30, 2006 4:46 am, Anonymous sarah_soggybiscuit said...


At June 30, 2006 7:48 am, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

Hi there,

Sukrit is on holidays in Wollongong just now - he left on June 25. AFAIK he'll be back this Saturday or Sunday and will post a follow-up then. I'm curious about the eaten dog as well.

At June 30, 2006 9:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah! Just got back Friday night. Pretty tired, will get some things done and get on MSN soon. Should be able to start posting again tomorrow or the day after. Thanks for keeping things going while I was gone Rafe & Skepticlawyer.


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