Should animals be endowed with rights that protect them from being tortured for profit?

Answer by Colin Wright:

There is no such thing as endowing animals with rights. Rights are not something that can be endowed. Either they exist, or they don't. Animals already have rights. We choose to violate those rights. That doesn't mean we have the ability to give them rights, it just means that we ignore the fact that they have rights and commit atrocities on them anyway.

Here is an explanation of why we commonly violate the rightsof animals, both human and non:

The single most overlooked, and at the same time most foundational error in logic whenever a non-Vegan tries to justify human animals exploiting nonhuman animals is the irrational idea that humans in general are morally superior to nonhumans. This idea can be easily disproved, and yet most people do not even question it. It is assumed to be indisputable when it's not based on, as some would have us believe, objective fact.

Unless we can explain how human animals are morally superior to nonhuman animals, whenever we try to justify humans exploiting nonhuman animals in the ways that we do, we can't rule out humans exploiting human animals in the exact same ways and for the exact same reasons (our mere pleasure, amusement or convenience).

All other forms of moral supremacy, from ethnic, to religious, to gender-based, etc. all stem from this one basic idea; that it's acceptable to refuse the same moral consideration to a being merely because of morally irrelevant criteria like the color of their skin, which genitalia they have, or their species membership.

The belief that humans are morally superior to nonhumans is not based on instinct. If it was, then we would not be questioning it, and therefore you would not even be reading this. And yet, it's the reason why we believe it's just fine to torture a nonhuman, who is fully capable of desiring to not suffer or die as much as a human, in ways that we wouldn't torture the worst human criminals.

The myth of human moral supremacy is almost never even examined. But when it is, it's obvious that, just like the arguments we use to justify racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, or any other irrational form of oppression, it's based on nothing more than arbitrary, subjective personal opinion (and biased, self-serving opinion at that).

The idea that humans are superior to nonhuman animals is based on the misconception that all humans have some characteristic or set of characteristics that all nonhumans lack. These characteristics are commonly proposed to include:

1. Intelligence, including abstract thought or the capability of understanding and following moral codes.
2. Creativity, including the ability to invent tools, technology, or art.
3. Some sort of physical ability or physical adaptation, like an opposable thumb.
4. The capability of surviving in conditions of environments that others can't.
5. Proliferation, or the idea that merely having more members of your species makes one special.
6. A "soul" or some other form of divine endowment.

Since we can't prove that any of these criteria are both possessed by all humans and that they are lacked by all nonhumans, they are obviously as arbitrary as gender, ethnic membership, or religious belief when it comes to moral superiority.

Although human animals created a concept of morality, many humans commonly break the moral codes imposed by society. This is why we have human slavery, rape, torture, murder, and all the other atrocities that civilized humans abhor. Nonhuman animals, who cannot be proven to understand the concept of a human moral code, almost always follow our moral codes better than we do.  They do not enslave us, create concentration camps, weapons of mass destruction, torture chambers, or pollute or otherwise destroy our habitats. Nor do they wage war on humans, or any of the other atrocities that humans are guilty of. They merely wish to be left alone to live and die on their own terms. To claim that they should have to follow our moral codes to benefit from them would be like claiming that we should punish a severely mentally handicapped human for failing to pass the S.A.T.s.

On the other side of the coin, humans enslave, rape, torture and murder nonhumans by the hundreds of billions each year, merely because we enjoy the taste of their dead bodies and secretions and the conveniences that it affords us. And we also are intentionally destroying every wild habitat that we can. We regularly treat nonhumans worse than we would treat the worst human criminals. So who is morally superior to whom again?

The idea that we should be able to do these things because say, a lion eats a zebra is ridiculous in the extreme. A male lion often will kill a rival male and their offspring before copulating, in public no less, with the mother. If a mother lioness gives birth to a severely ill or deformed baby, she will usually cannibalize them. When applied to human contexts, do we think these are morally justifiable ways to behave?

This is where the Human Supremacist says "Either we ARE morally superior to animals, in which case exploiting them is fine, or we aren't morally superior to them, in which case we can kill them merely because we want to consume them, just like any other animal does."

However, this completely fails to recognize that claiming one is "morally superior" means that one adheres to a code of fairness and justice more than the other does, not that one can merely understand human concepts of morality. If a human can understand the concept of the injustice of slavery, rape, torture or murder, but does not adhere to the code that such things are wrong, where is the moral superiority in that?

As I mentioned, we very rarely hold completely to our optimal code of conduct. We claim, as a society, to believe in the Golden Rule, but we routinely inflict massive unnecessary suffering and death on innocent beings merely for our pleasure, amusement, or convenience. We enslave, rape, torture and murder upwards of a trillion nonhuman animals EACH YEAR merely so we can unnecessarily eat their flesh and secretions and use their body parts for clothing (among other things), which not only causes massive suffering for them, but massive amounts of chronic disease for us and massive ecological devastation as well.

We should realize that if we don't follow this system of justice regarding EVERY innocent animal, human or nonhuman, then the same arguments we use to attempt to justify inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on them ("that animal isn't as smart as I am", "they don't have souls", "it's how I make a living", "meat/fish/dairy/eggs/honey tastes good", etc.) can also be used by other humans to justify inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on US ("that person isn't as smart as I am", "I'm one of the chosen people and that person isn't", "I wanted their stuff", "rape feels good", etc.).

There is no way to morally justify the intentional, unnecessary exploitation of nonhumans by humans without also morally justifying the intentional, unnecessary exploitation of humans by other humans. This means that if we personally are against nonhumans having the right to be completely safe from being enslaved, raped, tortured, slaughtered or in any way used as replaceable resources, then we have no claim that we ourselves should be safe from having those same things done to us by other humans. Any argument we try to use to justify harming nonhumans can also be used successfully by humans to justify harming us in those same ways.

This also means that until we as a species evolve past our irrational belief in intentionally exploiting nonhumans merely for our trivial interests, we will continue to endure racism, genderism, homophobia, ableism, tyranny, mass murder, and all the other human rights atrocities we commonly abhor.

Furthermore, claiming that because we can't be perfect and not cause harm to any living being whatsoever is a reason to not try to refrain from causing easily avoidable harms is like saying that just because we know that some people will die in traffic accidents is a good reason never to post any warning signs. The fact that we can't prevent all homicides does not justify mass-murder, just as the fact that we can't survive without killing plants does not justify intentionally breeding nonhuman animals merely to kill them when we can thrive on a much less harmful plants-only diet. The reasonable thing would be to work to decrease the number of all living beings we harm in all cases, not to try to justify increasing them in some cases while claiming to decrease them in others.

To learn the answers to every question you have on why it's wrong to exploit nonhuman animals, go here:

Should animals be endowed with rights that protect them from being tortured for profit?