Perspective: The Animal Rights Movement
by Brenda Shoss
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As an animal rights (AR) activist I've endured my share of harsh critics, from the smart-alecky to the magnificently peeved. Mainly, I've survived really bad one-liners: "Vegetable have feelings too you know," or "So you think insects should have the right to vote?"
"Get a life," the uninformed inform me as they inspect my no-animal attire for the hypocritical leather shoe or belt. Skeptics often suggest that I save babies instead of animals. Why not both? If every couch-potatoed critic would grab a sign or write a letter, we'd create one powerful voice for the innocent.
Ringside cynics don't concern me. But the new wave of anti-AR propaganda does. In "The Evil of Animal Rights," authors Alex Epstein and Yaron Brook of The Ayn Rand Institute typify history's paranoid reaction to change. They represent a growing contingent who berate animal rights activists. "To attribute rights to animals is to ignore the purpose and justification of rights-to protect the interests of man," the writers contend. "Animal Śrights'-which demand man's destruction-are the antithesis of rights. This is pure man-hatred."
Man-hatred? Sounds more like philosophical poppycock to me. Nonetheless, fear propels prejudice and animal-rights haters are justifiably nervous. Society's infrastructure relies upon animals. If we were to spontaneously erect retirement sanctuaries for all animals used in food, research, entertainment or clothing, our animal-dependent civilization might collapse.
Animal liberty is the right of each species to live freely among its own kind. AR-haters envision an overnight revolution in which unshackled beasts overrun the planet and, according to Epstein and Brook, "destroy our property, eat our food, even kill our children." Such sinister forecasts are buried in intellectual reverie. All significant reforms-industrial, technological, political or social-span decades or centuries, as society is able to integrate them. Slow-trickle evolution occurs as entire generations gain consciousness and shift values.
In fact, the idea of inherent rights for non-human animals has been around for awhile. Abraham Lincoln said: "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." Leonard Da Vinci prophetized the day "when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as now they look upon the murder of men." Thomas Edison, another famous vegetarian, declared: "Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savage."
In any age, iconoclasts who rock the mainstream boat instill hatred and fear. Abolitionists, the 19th century edition of animal-rights "wackos," wouldn't accept the institutionalized domination of sentient beings. Slaveowners, however, dubbed Africans and their descendants a soulless species incapable of comprehending bondage. Slavery's proponents could not visualize human progress without the master-slave hierarchy.
Gary Yourofsky, founder of the animal advocacy group ADAPTT, compares the AR movement to numerous other moral uprisings. Whether the aggrieved fought to end slavery, religious persecution, women's suffrage or civil injustice the oppressed always outnumbered the oppressors. "That is how all revolutions happen, for humans and nonhumans," he says.
Even as Epstein and Brook dub animal-rights ethics a "formula for human extinction," and fellow Ayn Rand Institute author Michael S. Berliner warns that "a more malevolent, man-hating philosophy is unimaginable," the AR movement stubbornly advances.
PETA is now a household word. Hundreds of other watchdog groups expose suffering inside factory farms, fur ranches, research labs, circuses, zoos, rodeos, and puppy mills. Ten years ago, litigators didn't convict animal abusers with felony penalties. Supermarkets weren't stocked with soy substitutes for meat and dairy items. Today's no-animal circuses were unheard of. And the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods wasn't around to develop and validate non-animal research alternatives.
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