Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wobbly Times number 10

Animal rights is a human concept. Humans are animals too. Humans create contemporary conceptual systems of morality which reflect their own sense of decency and they do this within already constructed systems of morality which have come to them historically through the cultures in which they have been born. Inevitably, there are clashes between people creating new conceptual systems of morality and those for whom the old systems seem quite adequate. Animal rights represent such a clash of moral conceptualisation.

Some in the animal rights movement contend that non-human animals also have the conceptual tools to become moral. They point to an animal's ability to mourn, for instance. But, mourning, I would argue, is more a recognition by an animal of an emotional lack, a hole in one's life left by the death of a significant other. This recognition is not based on a moral system of concepts. Other animals don't write TEN COMMANDMENTS or respect eating codes like those followed and thought up by the Jains in India or vegetarians in general. If a non-human animal is a vegetarian it is not the result of that animal following a moral or culturally based culinary code of conduct.

Most people today are not animal rights advocates. To many of those who are animal rights advocates, it seems that most humans are 'speciesists', a pejorative term aimed at people who are perceived as being not as morally advanced as those in the animal rights movement at best and immoral or evil at worst. This stance leads to a kind of sectarianism which can be observed between peoples of varying religious doctrines. As with all sectarianism, the people of one ideological persuasion see people of another ideological persuasion as inferior and sometimes, outright 'evil'. Evil is a pejorative term which is often used to describe people who are under the influence of another ideological tradition. Of course, 'evil' must be stamped out, condemned and avoided at all costs, lest one become corrupted. Corruption is a term most often used by people who are immersed in an Idealist philosophical perspective. Idealists put form before content. The material world is usually seen as a corruption of the form of perfection, the Ideal. For the most part, animal rights ideologists are Idealists.

Animal rights advocates don't see animals, other than humans, as being evil. Why are other animals not capable of being evil? Many animals kill other animals and eat them. If human animals eat other animals they are considered to be violating the AR code of conduct. The implicit conclusion one must come to is that animal rights advocates really don't believe that non-human animals are capable of creating moral codes to live by. Thus, other animals are exempt from moral condemnation.

The historical evolution of moral codes shows that advances in ethics become possible when advances in the social relations of production come about. Where once, human beings viewed cannibalism as natural, even demanded by their religious moral codes, it is now considered 'evil' and 'backward', practiced by deranged, psycho killers who put ads in Berlin newspapers for masochist volunteers, volunteers to become food. The same is true for chattel slavery. Where once an intellectual, a philosopher, as advanced in his thinking as Aristotle, could argue the case for slavery, it is now considered an 'evil' which is universally condemned by all civilised cultures.

Perhaps, as humans are able to change the mode of production from one based on the exploitation of humans by humans into one which is based on the condition of political equality between humans who administer the means of production for their own use and need, the moral codes which could evolve out of that condition could very well include the notion of not consuming, caging or otherwise exploiting animals. Until then though, the animal rights movement seems condemned to pursue the path which all of their Idealist brethren and sisters have done throughout history, the path of cajoling their 'less morally enlightened' fellows from the monasteries and nunneries of their own moral high ground.


  1. I wouldn't compare religious intolerance to meat eater repugnancy. Humans, in their definition of criminal homicide, have decided that the unjustified & unexcused killing of humans with malice aforethought is morally culpable. To say that only killing humans is bad, but killing animals is an acceptable social custom is basic hypocrisy. Also, what animal rights activists said that animals cannot be or do evil? I disagree with that, however, if I were to look at the most culpable of animals first, the most hypocritical, greedy, & exploitative ones would be staring me straight in the face; the humans.

  2. But hypocrisy is a moral position. To say that men and women are free and that we live in a democratic society is hyocrisy as well. Most of us have to sell our time and skills to the employing class in order to make a living. We are not chattel slaves; but we are wage-slaves. As such, we give up the power to control what we produce in exchange for a handful of dimes. We can make the moral argument that this is hypocritical; but until the time comes when most people become class conscious and act on their class consciousness by organising One Big Union, their moral condemnations concerning hypocrisy will be ineffective. There has to come a time when workers recognise that it is in their interests to organise an OBU. Interest is the key concept there. Interest is based on one's own will to live and be free. Without feeling the necessity to 'dump the bosses off your back' and backing that up with classwide organisational activity, you're still within the realm of Idealism and ineffectiveness. The reason why the State, such as it is, can say that killing humans is illegal AND immoral and make it stick is because the State is synonomous with power, the power to hire armed men and women to put you in jail and/or kill you. Not only that, but most people take this power and the moral convictions which back it up for granted and that has happened over eons of time as humans have developed their consciousness of what is and what is not moral and acceptable behaviour.

    What I'm saying is that this evolution of consciousness among humans and their morality can occur; but to be effective, it has to be tied to generally recognised interests amongst humans. I think that those interests and vegetarianism are now begining to find synchronicity with the growing recognition that we cannot sustain the enviornment with the population which now exists (over six billion) and keep on keepin' on with animal husbandry...that increasingly, it will dawn on people that not only would they enjoy better health by becoming vegetarians, they could also contribute to conserving the environmental health of the Earth along with serving their own interests to survive. Along with that realisation will come the moral positions which include elements of what is now known as Animal Rights.