Why Humans Don’t Want Other Animals To Have Rights

As I’ve noted before, Steve Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project is just about the most powerful campaign out there that is trying to change the way humans relate to animals.

Wise really gets it, and has started a series of video interviews exploring the issues at the heart of humanity’s immoral treatment of nonhuman animals.

First topic: the degree to which humanity is deeply involved in the exploitation of animals (and therefore resists giving animals rights that would change that relationship).

As Wise points out, it is almost, or simply flat-out, impossible for a modern human not to be involved in the exploitation of animals.

That is probably true, and something I am acutely aware of in my own life. But there are degrees of complicity, and the biggest step anyone can take to greatly reduce their complicity is to go vegan. After that, you need to pay attention to details like: products which use animal testing, or medicines which are developed with animal testing (a very complicated issue).

Beyond direct exploitation, there is the vast question of all the many ways in which humans indirectly exploit animals by lifestyles and choices which destroy habitat.

How far can you go to balance your life with the lives of nonhuman animals? What is the most difficult form of exploitation, direct or indirect, to reduce or eradicate from your lifestyle?

(Thanks to JV for tipping me to this video series).

Another Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

..courtesy of Professor Tom White, author of In Defense Of Dolphins, who gets Andrew Revkin of the New York Times to look at the Taiji slaughter from a nonhuman rights point of view:

After I wrote over the weekend about new research on the killing methodemployed in the dolphin roundups undertaken in Taiji, Japan, a fascinating comment on the rights of “nonhuman persons” was posted by Thomas I. White, who is the Conrad N. Hilton Professor in Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles…[snip]

…An issue that quickly comes to mind in considering such questions is where one draws the line in determining how we treat the animals we come across in the wild or rely on — from horses and dogs and cats to the cattle, poultry, pigs and other creatures we grow in order to consume. [11:07 a.m. | Insert | Make sure to look back at Don McNeil’s 2008 piece, “When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans,” for more.]

Here’s the comment White made, which got Revkin interested in exploring this further:

One of the most important features of science is that major discoveries regularly raise important ethical questions. This is especially true with research about cetaceans, because the discoveries of marine mammal scientists over the last 50 years have made it clear that whales and dolphins share traits once believed to be unique to humans: self-awareness, abstract thought, the ability to solve problems by planning ahead, understanding such linguistically sophisticated concepts as syntax, and the formation of cultural communities. The scientific evidence is so strong for the intellectual and emotional sophistication of dolphins that there simply is no question that they are ‘nonhuman persons’ who deserve respect as individuals.

Anyone who doubts this either is unfamiliar with the data or doesn’t understand the ethical significance of it. Both the killing and captivity of dolphins are ethically indefensible. This is not an emotional claim. It is based on hard science, and distinguished scientists like Lori Marino, Denise Herzing and Hal Whitehead recognize this. It’s important to recognize that facts that we now consider obvious–the Earth moves around the Sun, matter consists of invisible subatomic particles, men and women are equal, to name just three–were all considered ridiculous. Science moves forward by being open to the idea that radical ideas–in this instance, that dolphins ‘count’ as individuals and should be neither killed nor held captive–might just be true.

For a brief explanation of this perspective, see my “Primer on Nonhuman Personhood, Cetacean Rights and ‘Flourishing.’

It’s always refreshing to see such a clear declaration of the moral and scientific case for nonhuman rights. Whatever you might think of the Taiji report, it has generated a lot of worthwhile attention and discussion to the issues of cruelty in the drive hunt, and dolphin rights.

To truly grasp where White and others in this field are coming from, here is a story I did about Denise Herzing and The Wild Dolphin Project. And here is a video about her work with dolphins.

Film Interlude: The Circular Glance

I believe in the power of film, and “The Circular Glance” is an award-winning short film that makes the powerful and important connection between how we live, and the implications for animals. It turns a perfect day into a perfect nightmare and will make you think.

Using Animals: Of Factory Monkeys And Anti-Tank Dogs

Via The Daily Dish comes this fascinating, but depressing, review of some of the ways in which humans have put animals to work:

On November 11, 1960, a worker named Bobby clocked in at the Houston-area factory of the Superior Furniture Manufacturing Co., pressed a button on a bedding machine, and set about wrapping the legs of the company’s new Abba Dabba Lounge Chair before placing it in a shipping box. After a while he knocked off to take a break for a favorite snack: bananas.

But that was to be expected—because Bobby was a chimpanzee…[snip]

…Disney and Superior Furniture Manufacturing alike had tapped into a long mythology of monkey labor, one that stretched back to at least 1772. It was then that John Coakley Lettsome—a British physician, abolitionist, and friend of Benjamin Franklin—claimed that Chinese tea harvesters had “monkeys to assist them.” The Chinese, another account claimed, “mock, and irritate [the monkeys], till the animals, to revenge themselves, break off the branches, and shower them down on their insulters.” Enraged monkeys splintering tea-bushes is not exactly sustainable farming, but the explanation circulated widely for the next century, receiving an incalculable boost when it was quoted under the Encyclopedia Britannica’s 1797 entry for “Tea.”

Monkey-harvesters soon even acquired the appearance of an ancient lineage. Among the waves of discoveries of Egyptian artifacts in Beni Hasan in the nineteenth century, one wall painting in the c. 1900 B.C. tomb of Khnumhotep showed a fig harvest where, as Sir John Gardner Wilkinson put it in 1837, “Monkies appear to have been trained to assist in gathering the fruit.” It’s a charming explanation that some books repeat even today, and only slightly spoiled when one closely examines the tomb-painting: the monkeys aren’t handing over the fruit at all; they’re greedily stuffing figs into their own mouths.

The author doesn’t get much into animals and entertainment, but does dip into a discussion of animal intelligence and cognition, which includes dolphins (though, in my view, he gets it totally wrong).

That aside, one especially poignant discussion involves the use by the Soviets in World War II of explosive-carrying anti-tank dogs:

Animals are deeply and immediately practical. If an illogical series of actions produces a reward, a chimpanzee will stick with that. It knows what works, but perhaps not why. It is unlikely and perhaps even incapable of thinking through the motives behind that reward, or what the activity may lead to in time. It is intelligent, but it does not cogitate much.

And cognition is an advantage that humans can ruthlessly exploit. During the Second World War, the Soviet Union resorted to training dogs to wear explosives that would detonate when they ran up to German tanks. It is unclear whether the “anti-tank dog” program succeeded, except perhaps at being horrifying. But that disgust is instructive: animals are killed all the time in war, yet we cringe at sending one to obliterate itself, oblivious to any understanding or possibility of consent. We cannot help but view it as creatures who dounderstand the motive and causation of a suicide vest.

It’s chilling, even shameful, stuff. You’d like to think our understanding of animal awareness and intelligence, and human empathy and compassion for animals, has progressed since the days of factory monkeys and suicide dogs. I think the science definitely has. But our broader culture still has a long way to go.

Wild Orca Euthanization


This is a case study in the misguided human need to interfere and control nature.

Orca strands in Norway. Authorities decide it is in a bad way. Orca is dispatched with two rifle shots.

Why? That is not clear.

What would be the problem with just letting nature take its course, whatever the outcome?

PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk Sits For A Profile

And explains what she is all about:

My favourite story about Ingrid Newkirk, the founder and head of Peta, the animal-rights organisation, involves her storming the dining room of the Four Seasons hotel in New York, depositing a dead raccoon onAnna Wintour‘s dinner plate and calling the veteran editor of American Vogue a “fur hag”. Wintour, a long-time Peta hate figure for her support of the fur industry, calmly covered it with a napkin and then ordered coffee…[snip]

Is it Peta’s strategy to upset everyone, I ask Newkirk. “No,” she says. “Our mission is to provoke thought. People have been taught to disregard what happens to pigs or chickens, to not think about the suffering they go through. Our job is to make them think. We’re not out to be popular.”

No matter what you think of PETA and its tactics, they have helped supercharge animal rights, and done some good undercover work:

Why The Nonhuman Rights Project Could Be Huge

We all have animals we care about, and we all do what we can to defend them. That is important, and makes a difference. But the single most important obstacle to more humane treatment of animals globally is that they have no legal rights. None. Change that, and you put the fight to defend and protect animals onto an entirely new playing field.

That’s exactly what the Nonhuman Rights Project is trying to achieve, and that’s why it is potentially the single most powerful campaign for animals there is. It can sometimes be hard to understand what the NhRP is all about and what their approach is. But recently, in a series of brief  posts on their website, they have perfectly captured what  they are up to and why it could be such a breakthrough for animals.

First, NhRP explains the hard fact that, despite what you may think, animals have no rights at all in the eyes of human law:

Hundreds of organizations say they work for “animal rights.” But the only animal with legal rights is the human animal. No other animal has any rights at all. None.

How come?

To have a legal right, one must have the “legal capacity” for a right. If one has this capacity for a legal right, one is a legal “person.” No nonhuman animal has been recognized as a legal “person,” This means that no animals, other than humans, have legal rights.

Statutes provide some protection for some nonhuman animals. It may be illegal to starve a circus elephant or withhold medical care from a chimpanzee in a zoo. But the elephant and the chimpanzee have no legal right to that kind of care. (Similarly, statutes may prevent you from stealing someone’s car, but the car has no legal rights, as the car is not a legal person with the capacity for any legal right.)

Second, they explain how they hope to bestow legal rights on animals in the same way that civil law, thanks to Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of Court of King’s Bench, first granted legal standing to slaves in the case of James Somerset:

In Western law, every nonhuman animal has always been regarded as a legal “thing.” We buy, sell, eat, hunt, ride, trap, vivisect, and kill them almost at whim. The reason is that legal “things” don’t exist in law for their own sakes. They exist for the sakes of legal “persons,” which we humans all are.

Legal “things” are invisible to civil law judges. They possess no legal rights and have no hope of ever having them.

A court confronted by a claim to any legal right need begin by determining the plaintiff’s species. If the plaintiff is human, the answer is “It is possible. She is a legal person.” If the plaintiff is a nonhuman animal, the answer is “Impossible. He is a legal thing.” [snip]

…A similar [to James Somerset] common law transformation of a nonhuman animal from legal “thing” to legal “person” is a primary objective of the Nonhuman Rights Project which seeks, through litigation and education, to persuade American state high courts to transform a nonhuman animal plaintiff the way Lord Mansfield transformed James Somerset: by declaring she is a legal “person” capable of possessing legal rights.

Once a court recognizes this, its next legal question will appropriately shift from the irrational, biased and overly simplistic question, “What species is the plaintiff?”, to the rational, nuanced, value-laden and policy-enriched question, “What qualities does the plaintiff possess that are relevant to the issue of whether she is entitled to the legal right she claims?”

And if any court were to ask that question, NhRP knows exactly the initial rights it will try to pursue:

We begin by seeking two kinds of fundamental rights for our nonhuman plaintiffs: bodily liberty and bodily integrity.

Bodily liberty means not being held in captivity. For a chimpanzee, it means not spending life in a laboratory; for an elephant, it means not being chained in a circus; for a whale it means not being imprisoned in a park.

Bodily integrity means not being touched without consent or in one’s best interests. For a chimpanzee, it means not being subjected to biomedical research. For an elephant it means not being beaten at a circus. For a whale it means not being forcibly inseminated to make her pregnant.

Do not confuse these fundamental rights of nonhuman animals with so-called “human rights.” Human rights are for humans. Chimpanzee rights are for chimpanzees. Dolphin rights are for dolphins. Elephant rights are for elephants.

To get there, NhRP is looking for the right animal, in the right state (Lolita is a potential candidate), to try and achieve the same breakthrough achieved with the James Somerset case. They are planning to file the first lawsuits by the end of this year, and be litigating them in state courts in 2014.

This could be huge, and NhRP is well worth keeping a close eye on (and supporting).



It Gets Better: Elephant Edition

This is nice to see. Michael Mountain, at Earth In Transition, takes note of the journey two three elephants are making from the Toronto Zoo to the PAWS Sanctuary:

The three elephants at the Toronto Zoo have been cleared for take-off, and will soon be on their way to a new life at the PAWS sanctuary in California.

How are they getting there? They’re being flown door-to-door by the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Yes, that would be aboard one of their jumbo jets …..)

How much will it cost? More than $500,000, but less than the $850,000 that Bob Barker has already pledged to the effort. (Yes, the price is right ….)

Why are they flying, not driving? Four or five days on the road, shaking around in a truck would be too stressful on these senior citizens who already have foot troubles from standing around in a zoo for so many years.

Would love to see a lot more of this sort of retirement from zoo service,including for orcas and other species. In fact, it should be required past a certain age, or a certain number of years of service. That would be the right thing to do. And the cost of retirement should be paid for by whatever entity the animal has served all those years, as part of the life cycle cost of using the animal (sort of like a pension system). Yes, that would increase the costs of ownership. And, yes, that would reduce the number of businesses and facilities that decide to use an animal. Which would be a good thing.

Graphic Interlude: The Life Of “Fox Guy”

The story of an animal activist (via Our Hen House), or an ode to the virtues of “radicalism.” Inspired, and oddly inspiring (side note: why didn’t “tool libraries” take off? Great idea).

Here’s the first panel (read on from there):


Vegan vs. Factory Farm Industry Smackdown



Emily Meredith, a meat industry flack, tries to put a positive spin on factory farming (note to Meredith and industry: if you want to get your spin out there, don’t hide it behind a registration requirement), via a field trip to a sow breeding facility. Robert Grillo of Free From Harm, is having none of it.

Here’s the setup to the takedown that follows:

As I was browsing the meat industry news site, MeatingPlace.com, I came across an article called “My Week on a “Fact”ory Farm: Part I” by Emily Meredith who is the communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance and who also writes a column called “Activist Watch” on the same site. Meredith defends the practices of the industrial pig farms she recently visited in her attempt to bring out the facts and debunk what she sees as distortions from the activist community. In the following article, I responded to various excerpts of Meredith’s original post.

Here’s a sample of the cutting that is done:

Meredith: “No matter the industry practices I observed that first day—from tail docking to castration to artificial insemination—that theme of respect carried through.”

What a disturbing oxymoron. How is it possible to “respect” someone that you are dismembering, amputating, impregnating and ultimately breeding for the sole purpose of slaughtering them against their will?

There’s lots more where that came from. This is the kind of ultimate fighting that is worth supporting.