On October 16, 2014, Amnesty International is launching its Blog Action Day on the topic of inequality. I want to take this opportunity to talk about human rights here on this vegan blog, because, in fact, animal rights are a human rights issue.
This may seem odd at first, especially since vegans sometimes are accused of caring about animals more than about people and other speciesist nonsense. But the truth is that animal rights are a human rights issue, far beyond the simple fact that humans are animals themselves. Patterns of exploitation, of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination are very similar to those of speciesism*.
We accept human rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. In the universal declaration of human rights, it is stated that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.” The idea is that respecting human rights prevents us from barbarism, from becoming brutalized. But how can we then continue the barbarism in factory farms, in slaughterhouses, and believe this leaves no traces in humanity? If we can justify oppressing and exploiting one group of sensible, intelligent beings, does this not open the door to justify any oppression?
Colonial slavery, as much as modern slavery, is possible only because of what Slater labelled ‘The Toilet Assumption’ – the notion that all issues will disappear once they’re removed from our field of vision:
“The result of our social efforts has been to remove the underlying problems of our society farther and farther from daily experiences and daily consciousness, and hence to decrease in the mass of the population, the knowledge, skill, and motivation necessary to deal with them”.
And does this not remind us of the slaughter houses and factory farms outside of the towns, guarded against the eyes of the public? Is it not the same pattern that applies to the children and women forced to work under devastating conditions with minimal or no salary in the sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere? It is not that we do not know about these things – we are blinded about them, and do we not prefer to be blinded? And do we not all feel overwhelmed by the system of exploitation which we feel powerless to overcome as an individual?
Are we not unable to grasp why it is necessary to accept forced labor, vivisection, torture and factory farming? Why it is possible, we know: power, money, and the silent complicity of all of us. But why can we not stop it? What is the grand system that offers everyone the excuse: I cannot change anything. I cannot blame myself.
There are many more points to be made, but I do not mean to tell the whole story. Instead, I hope to inspire some thinking, and strongly recommend reading Spiegel and Adams (in the sources). I believe that eventually, a much stronger cooperation between animal and human rights advocates will be of mutual benefit. After all, we are fighting for the same goals: freedom, justice and peace. We’re not so different.
*Speciecism: the assignment of particular values, rights, or special consideration to individuals of one’s own species over those of another.
Marjorie Spiegel (1996). The Dreaded Comparison. Human and Animal Slavery. New York: Mirror Books/ I.D.E.A.
Carol J. Adams (2010). The Sexual Politics of Meat. A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Philip Slater (1970). The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point. Boston: Beacon Press. 21-22.