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Animal Rights Equal Human Rights

Updated on February 20, 2008

The Law of Reciprocity Begins with Decency

Humans, it is well understood, rule the world. Elephants may never forget and Lions may be kings of the jungle, but humanity dominates the planet. There was a time when this was not always so, but today we are so dominant that some scientists are now saying that the Holocene epoch has ended. The new epoch, it has been suggested, should be called the Anthropocene, the age of Man. Yet with this great power that we have to dominate the natural world, the ethical question arises: does might make right? Is it acceptable for humans to have our way with the animal world, to do with animals as we see fit?

The reality is that animal rights must be present in our lives if we are to expect to be treated fairly within the world. This is the law of reciprocity: what comes around goes around. We collect what we sow. Karma.

While this may sound a bit new-age and metaphysical, it really has a basis in basic human psychology. Consider the slaughterhouse worker. If he does the job that is expected of him, and nothing more, it might be said that the universe is left in balance (though many vegetarians would surely disagree, let’s focus on the fundamentals of basic decency, excluding the considerations of killing animals for food as being heinous in of itself). However, when a person who kills animals for food for the masses must resort to torture of the animal, or violent means of coercion (which is more-or-less the same thing, no?), then this begins to weigh on that man’s (or woman’s) mind. A person who must daily whip a cow to make it enter a slaughter pen must either leave that job, or risk allowing himself to become adjusted to torturing a creature weaker than himself. This ignores the general rule of life that all things, all actions must have their limits.

As time goes by, the psyche of the slaughterhouse worker is not merely that of a person trying to earn an honest living, but of one who sees animals as preventing him from making his money in an easier way. Animals such as cows and pigs become an obstacle, a wall, if you will, that precludes the making of money for the humans that want to put food on their tables and to keep a roof over their heads.

In the psychology of the slaughterhouse worker who must use coercion and torture against livestock, the animals are no longer creatures that have feelings or, possibly more importantly, that feel pain. Oftentimes, such workers will give names to these suffering animals, that his own conscience may be alleviated from the realities of his efforts. This is seen in war, when German soldiers were no longer Germans, but “Krauts,” British soldiers fighting Americans became “Limeys,” American soldiers were “Yanks,” and the Viet Cong were called “Gooks,” because after-all, what is a gook? It’s a new, nonsensical word, one replacing that of “Vietnamese,” which equals “Human” in the mind of soldiers. This process, called reification or objectivication, is a means of desensitizing the mind. The ‘soldier’ who must ram a downed cow with a forklift that the cow can be moved into position for slaughter (much as was seen in undercover footage at the Hallmark Meat Packing Plant in southern California in early 2008) has given up basic decency, has crossed the lines of ethics, and obviously excuses herself for doing so.

It is this form of thinking and acting which is transferred to the treatment of human beings. It makes for apathy and even cruelty in our interpersonal relationships and the way we might view the world. It perpetuates violence and intolerance by the initial desensitizing of the “lesser” torture of human beings. This is seen in people who watch the news to learn that 30 people were killed in a bombing in Palestine yet will not consider the pain that this causes 30 families, hundreds of friends, and even those who were witnesses to such carnage. True, the person may say “there is little or nothing that I can do about this,” but by simply taking the time to consider the situation, we re-instill our humanity –that is, our decency. Otherwise, it is as though we are selling our humanity when we treat those that are weaker than us (namely animals and also children) in callous, unconsidered ways.

Note: much of what has been described here are generalizations. It is not to be understood that I am saying that killing animals or fighting in wars or ignoring the atrocities found in the news makes for bad people, per se, only that, when left unchecked, violence will beget further and yet greater violence.

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