One of the oldest tenets in human civilization is the Golden Rule; it is expressed in virtually all religions, and is seen as one of the most fundamental truths. That is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- or, in simpler terms -- treat others as you would like to be treated. While the vast majority of people would agree with this sentiment, when it comes to the treatment of animals, only some find themselves able to extend this circle of compassion.
As a result, the animal rights movement has been an important step in ensuring that this sense of compassion is given to animals. So what are animal rights and why should animals have them? Quite simply, animal rights refers to the idea that all animals deserve to have control over their own lives, and that they should be able to live their lives free of human cruelty and exploitation. Every day, innocent creatures are subjected to unspeakable horrors at the hands of humans, often because there is something to be gained economically. Because animals are unable to advocate for themselves, it is up to humans to stand up for their protection. This is the basis of the animal rights movement.
The animal rights movement is a social movement that seeks to eliminate the use of animals as property, and that questions the distinctions between humans and animals. It asks, are animals truly all that different from humans? Are they not simply other living creatures coexisting on this planet? And do they not deserve the right to thrive, just as we do? These are important philosophical questions that fuel the animal rights movement. Through activism and consciousness-raising, animal rights advocates fight for animal liberation in the political, economic, social, and even ideological realm.
Animals are sentient and conscious creatures that demonstrate striking similarities to humans. Although they may not express them identically to humans, any pet owner can easily tell that each animal is unique, precious in its own identity, and its life should be cherished and protected. Many people believe that certain animals cannot feel pain, or because humans express higher intelligence than certain animals they should not be concerned about animal welfare, but these notions are easily refuted when we consider the cognitive and paradigmatic biases from which they arise.
Speciesism is the discriminatory practice of giving certain rights and privileges to individuals based solely on the species group to which they belong. Like sexism, racism, or ageism, it is a flawed system of belief that does not take into account the basic rights to life that all animals deserve. Anthropocentrism is a similar term that denotes a set of beliefs that places humans above all other animals; again, it makes a moral distinction between humans and animals. Finally, sentiocentrism is the belief that if an animal cannot feel, sense, or experience the same things that a human can, then that animal should not be awarded the same status as a human. All of these belief systems are borne of a false sense of righteousness and entitlement. Once these cognitive biases are overcome, the reality that all animals do have rights becomes salient.
Another right of animals that must be respected is the right to thrive in a clean, safe, and sustainable environment. It has grown increasingly clear that human behaviour has wreaked unprecedented havoc on some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world, turning what used to be lush rainforests into flat plains, and bustling coral reefs into ocean wastelands. By destroying the environment for human gain, we are also destroying some of the only places our animal relatives can call home. Thus, the environmental or 'green' movement is also closely linked with the animal rights movement. Because the two are inextricably connected, it is clear that in order to protect and ensure animal rights, we also have to become stewards of the earth and fight for environmental sustainability.
The use of animals for products is perhaps one of the most disconcerting displays of human greed that has grown in popularity. When there is an economic incentive, many people disregard morality altogether. For example, poachers, shark finners, and black market participants often view animals solely as commodities. Quite disturbingly, the basic rights of a life are discarded and replaced with a dollar sign. Given that animals have the right to live free of suffering at the hands of humans, it is crucial that we consider the many viable alternatives to animal products. By voting with our dollars, so to speak, we can make an impact on the global animal trade. We must also hold those who manufacture animal products or conduct animal testing publicly accountable.
Ultimately, animal rights activists have a strong sense of core beliefs guided by an unwavering morality. Some of the primary things that animal rights advocates believe are:
- non-human animals are conscious beings, not machines or objects
- non-human animals have interests of their own
- human beings should respect the interests of non-human animals
- human beings should not exploit non-human animals
- human beings should not treat non-human animals as objects
- human beings should not kill non-human animals