Two paths, A and B, will get me to point C. Both A and B have the same physical obstructions I will have to navigate past. A has one additional obstruction, however: a small pig. The pig isn’t a threat, but only by stepping on her head, thus causing terrible pain and distress, can I get to point C.
Most would argue it is unethical to choose path A instead of B because by doing so, I am causing unnecessary harm. And that is wrong.
Michael Vick, for instance, liked dog fighting. And he was roundly criticized. Whatever the entertainment value or tradition, the harm (including death) caused when training and fighting dogs is completely unnecessary given all the other forms of entertainment and traditional activities that don’t hurt anyone.
Now consider our diets. According to the American Dietetic Association, a vegan diet is nutritionally sound at all stages of the life cycle. We eat animals for many reasons (taste, habit) but not nutritional need. Given that non-animal-based sources of food are abundant in most areas in the United States, like Vick’s actions, most people cannot justify their choice of diet because eating animals causes unnecessary harm.
And here we have the crux of the argument for animal rights: We cause unnecessary harm every day even though on principle we believe it is wrong to do so because we are speciesists.
Speciesism is an unthinking assumption against seriously taking the interests (importantly, the interest in not being harmed) of animals. To see this, consider how most people pre-reflectively believe hurting human beings is more significant than doing the same to animals even though many other species are capable of being harmed – physically and psychologically – to the same level of intensity as you and me. This is because, the argument goes, animals aren’t human beings. But what’s so special about us?
Moral agency, language-use, intelligence? Many human beings, the mentally disabled and babies, for example, lack this or that characteristic. So does hurting them matter? I certainly think it does.
No doubt people will agree with me, because they will urge me to remember, they’re still human beings. But that is just a prejudice in favor of members of our own group. My species, like my race and sex, is not ethically relevant.
Being harmed is horrible, no matter the race or sex or species of the individual experiencing that harm. And that’s reason enough not to hurt someone.
In the U.S. alone, literally billions of birds live in chronic pain brought on by their genetic-manipulation-induced bulk, cows are asphyxiated by their own blood when their throats are sliced open and tracheas ripped out while fully conscious, millions of pigs, as intelligent and loving as dogs, go insane after spending years in cages so small they can barely move. And millions of other animals are experimented upon and harmed for sport, fashion and entertainment.
Not only is this suffering and death easily comparable with the amount of suffering and death we have caused members of our own species throughout history, but 99 percent of it is unnecessary by any reasonable definition of the word.
Now to be clear, animal rights aren’t about literal equality between human beings and animals, or about extending all rights and obligations to animals. Animal rights are part of a liberation movement, demanding the end to an unjustifiable prejudice that results in the unnecessary harm to billions of animals every single year.
Go vegan. It will make your actions consistent with your ethics. Most people will find this conclusion hard to accept because we believe animals somehow just exist for our use.
It may even seem laughable to suggest otherwise, just like it was once laughable to suggest women do not exist for men’s use, or that blacks do not exist for whites’ use. This is because speciesism has been drilled into us since we were too young to think for ourselves.
Well now you can think for yourself.