animal and civil rights
- “I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other, and it’s very important that we have a President who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals.”-- President-Elect Barack Obama, 2008
Animal rights and vegetarianism are a secular moral philosophy, comparable to women's rights or civil rights, but one that could use the inspiration, blessings and support of organized religion. The record of organized religion with regards to animals is mixed: stronger in some religions than in others.
John Stuart Mill wrote: "The reasons for legal intervention in favor of children apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves--the animals."
A rational case exists for the rights of preborn humans. The case for animal rights is stronger and more readily apparent. Animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals actually suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit such "human" behaviors and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group/tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of loved ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation.
Dr. Tom Regan, the foremost intellectual leader of the animal rights movement and author of The Case for Animal Rights, notes that animals "have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; and emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independent of their utility for others and logically independent of their being the object of anyone else's interests."
Abraham Lincoln said: “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog or cat are not the better for it...I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
Supporters of civil rights should be supportive of animal rights. Many of the moral and theological arguments used today to oppress animals were once used to oppress blacks. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself “Ariel,” wrote in 1867, that “the tempter in the Garden of Eden...was a beast, a talking beast...the negro.” Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah’s family, he must have been a beast. Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and “consequently he has no soul to be saved.”
In her preface to Marjorie Spiegel’s The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, agrees with Ms. Spiegel's position, and writes: “The animals of this world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men...”
Ms. Spiegel writes that at a rally in San Francisco protesting the use of animals in medical research, former Alameda County supervisor John George said, “My people were the first laboratory animals in America.” Black Americans suffered at the hands of research scientists just as animals continue to do today.
In 1968, civil rights leader Dick Gregory compared humanity’s treatment of animals to the conditions of America’s inner cities:
“Animals and humans suffer and die alike. If you had to kill your own hog before you ate it, most likely you would not be able to do it. To hear the hog scream, to see the blood spill, to see the baby being taken away from its momma, and to see the look of death in the animal’s eye would turn your stomach. So you get the man at the packing house to do the killing for you.
“In like manner, if the wealthy aristocrats who are perpetuating conditions in the ghetto actually heard the screams of ghetto suffering, or saw the slow death of hungry little kids, or witnessed the strangulation of manhood and dignity, they could not continue the killing. But the wealthy are protected from such horror...If you can justify killing to eat meat, you can justify the conditions of the ghetto. I cannot justify either one.”
Gregory credits the Judeo-Christian ethic and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with having caused him to become a vegetarian. In 1973, he drew a connection between vegetarianism and nonviolent civil disobedience:
"...the philosophy of nonviolence, which I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during my involvement in the civil rights movement was first responsible for my change in diet. I became a vegetarian in 1965. I had been a participant in all of the ‘major’ and most of the ‘minor’ civil rights demonstrations of the early sixties, including the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March.
“Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to nonviolence, and I was convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other—war, lynching, assassination, murder and the like—but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike...Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life.”
In a 1979 interview, Gregory explained: “Because of the civil rights movement, I decided I couldn’t be thoroughly nonviolent and participate in the destruction of animals for my dinner...I didn’t become a vegetarian for health reasons; I became a vegetarian strictly for moral reasons...Vegetarianism will definitely become a people’s movement.”
When asked if humans will ultimately have to answer to a Supreme Being for their exploitation of animals, Gregory replied, “I think we answer for that every time we go to the hospital with cancer and other diseases.”
Gregory has also expressed the opinion that the plight of the poor will improve as humans cease to slaughter animals: “I would say that the treatment of animals has something to do with the treatment of people. The Europeans have always regarded their slaves and the people they have colonized as animals.”Since the 1980s, Dick Gregory has been involved in the anti-drug campaign. Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reported back in the '90s that under Gregory’s influence, Dexter Scott King—head of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolence in Atlanta, and son of the slain civil rights leader—and King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, had both become vegans.
Peter Singer concludes in Animal Liberation that “by ceasing to rear and kill animals for food, we can make extra food available for humans that, properly distributed, would eliminate starvation and malnutrition from this planet. Animal liberation is human liberation, too.” The animal rights movement should be supported by all caring Americans.--Vasu