Exploring animal rights
I sometimes get into heated discussions with my (former) friend regarding my belief that all human action must be voluntary and that therefore we should have no coercive government (instead each individual should govern himself). We rarely agree on any point and never agree on our paradigms. Right now I even doubt whether he has a consistent paradigm due to his apparently absolutist relativist thinking, but I digress (and absolute relativism may be a good topic for some other entry).
One good thing that I take out of the recent debate is my curiosity about the issue of animal rights. Since my last blog entry effectively posits that rights are inherent in being what and who you are rather than something given by others it does not in principle discriminate between species. It applies to every thing and every one in the universe. In that entry my focus was on humans though and here I want to focus on animals.
The basic premise of the previous entry was that if one was capable of something one must have the right to exercise that something so long as it doesn’t deny another to exercise his own capabilities. To deny the existence of this right is to deny the existence of this capability and since it is what makes one what it is, it means to deny its existence as such.
According to this, an animal which is alive has the right to live. If it is capable of marking property as its own it has the right to property. If it is capable of barking, running, crying and doing anything else it can do, it has the right to do all these things. The logical conclusion would seem to be that if a human denies and violates any of these rights, even while professing to be a voluntaryist like me, is not being consistent OR is suffering from what my (former) friend called “specieism” (an equivalent to racism) where I believe only humans can have rights even when I see the evidence that others are capable of having rights too.
Then the only way to keep voluntaryism consistent with itself, without falling into specieism, is to either prove that a given animal is not capable of having a particular right which we habitually deny them.
Driven by that I started a discussion thread on one of the voluntaryist forums and also with a friend on IRC. I posed this as a potential threat to logical consistency of voluntaryism. What we concluded is something that I apparently overlooked. I even hinted at it in an above sentence where I mentioned being “capable of having rights”. It is the issue of demanding rights.
A human may exist as a human only so long as he can exercise what makes him human, including demand. If we look at history only those who cared about rights and demanded and defended them have ever been admitted to them. Otherwise their humanity was suppressed by other humans.
A definition of “demand” could be useful. According to wiktionary it corresponds to a need, desire, claim for something, an urgent request or an order. A demand for rights, that is the recognition and respect of self as such then corresponds to a need, desire, claim, request or order to be recognized as yourself.
Are animals, then, capable of demanding their rights? I think the answer depends on whether they recognize their own rights to begin with, recognizing their own capabilities and what makes them themselves. In other words, it seems to come back to the question of whether they are self-aware? If they are not even aware of themselves as what they are then they don’t even recognize their own rights as part of who they are and are thus incapable of demanding such recognition from others. This is why most animals also willfully aggress on other animals and why humans which fail to recognize their own rights also tend to fail respecting the rights of others. Such lack of recognition results in violence.
It is hard to answer this question with absolute certainty, but given what we can scientifically determine so far is that animals aren’t self aware in which case the capability of demanding rights is not a part of who they are and thus granting them to live or do anything that they are instinctually driven to is up to anyone in their vicinity, whether it is another animal or a human. This is what makes it possible for a human to own an animal and let it do some things while denying it to do others.
This is also consistent with the known and widespread belief (even among non-voluntaryists) that only sentient rights can have rights. I think I understand better now the basis of this claim. The emphasis is on can. Whether they can or can’t depends on whether they are sentient.
This said, every individual decides for himself what sights or acts does he prefers more or less and I would say I don’t like the sight of a human torturing animals. I therefore reserve the right to ostracise everyone who does this. Animals might not be capable of having rights, but I am capable of feeling disgusted when they are being hurt for no good reason and based on this disgust I can make or break my relationships with other humans, at least this way, through non-forceful action, sending a signal to them that I don’t approve.
And like with everything in the free market, the more people demand of others not to do something less people are likely to do it.