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.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008 at 6:30 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through this RSS 2.0 feed. You're welcome to leave a response, or a trackback from your own site.

  • Taco

    I don't think we have conclusive evidence that anything is not self-aware. No, not even a rock. What we do have solid evidence of is that a lot of things are not both self aware and able to demonstrate that to us.

    But let's ignore that problem for the moment. Imagine you fall, hurt your head and lose consciousness. An evil clown appears and beats you on the head each time you get close to regaining consciousness, so you spend the rest of your life being unconsciousness even though you still have the potential of consciousness (similar scenarios do occur in practice but they usually don't involve evil clowns). In this situation you clearly are not self aware and will never become self aware again. Do you have rights?

  • admin

    I'd say yes, you have rights, but can't demand them so it's hard to expect someone who doesn't know for sure you're self aware to recognize those rights too. The thing is though, if that scenario involves a human and I had a gun while some bastards were beating the guy I would scare them away because at least for humans both me and them know they're by nature self aware so there's no excuse. The partial loss of consciousness is something we recognize as PARTIAL loss of consciousness.

    But we can't say the same for animals. I agree there's no conclusive evidence, but the inconclusive ones we do have suggests greater likelihood that they aren't self aware than that they are. That combined with the fact that they don't demand in an understandable way that their rights be recognized makes it hard to expect humans to have an obligation to them as they have to other humans.

    So I wont kill a human over an animal, not because I'm a specieist, but because I am more sure about the self awareness and rights of a human than I am of the same for an animal. But if it were year 3000 or so and chimps begun demanding rights and I saw a human torturing a chimp, you bet I'm gonna condemn a human and try to defend a chimp.

    Regards

  • Taco

    That makes sense. So I guess the known potential of having self awareness is good enough to have rights, giving for example a baby that was born with a painful illness and immediately drugged to stop the pain the same rights as a healthy adult. But if the potential of becoming self aware is enough, then some animals that do not appear to have it could maybe be educated…

    Anyway some of the more intelligent species do show some signs of self awareness, such as recognizing the difference between a video showing themselves and a video showing a different individual. Maybe that's a bit different kind of self awareness than what we are talking about, but it certainly does suggest we should be careful.

    And then there's this cultural aspect… Those who believe everything is self-aware (for example because they believe everything is part of their god as well as a thought on the mind of that god) obviously need a different way to decide whose rights to respect.

    I'm not 100% sure if I would put myself in that group (accepting a totally different kind of god and in a totally different way than the ones I do recognize) but it does give an elegant solution to some fundamental questions about the universe… Just not one that can be proven to be true or false.

    A bit less exotic: many if not most humans will respect rights even when they're not being demanded, for example choosing to hurt themselves instead of an animal when they would have to make that choice.

    So I'm not so sure the ability to demand rights is a universal principle in ethics, but trying to avoid doing things that others ask you not to usually is a good idea…

  • admin

    But if the potential of becoming self aware is enough, then some animals that do not appear to have it could maybe be educated…

    Maybe that’s a bit different kind of self awareness than what we are talking about, but it certainly does suggest we should be careful.

    I certainly wouldn't mind. There probably are scientists who keep studying animals and could report on first signs of them having true self-awareness potential which could also start help educate them.. and what happens then we'll see.

    And then there’s this cultural aspect… Those who believe everything is self-aware (for example because they believe everything is part of their god as well as a thought on the mind of that god) obviously need a different way to decide whose rights to respect.

    I would guess they'd simply respect the rights of everything as much as possible. Those would be the last ones I'd expect to disrespect human rights and condone coercion.

    A bit less exotic: many if not most humans will respect rights even when they’re not being demanded, for example choosing to hurt themselves instead of an animal when they would have to make that choice.

    Yes, lack of obligation is just a lack of obligation. If you wish you can still buy a monkey and treat him as a king of kings on your estate. :)

    So I’m not so sure the ability to demand rights is a universal principle in ethics, but trying to avoid doing things that others ask you not to usually is a good idea…

    I'm not sure it even is an ethical principle. It's simply an external fact pertaining to whether ethical principle of some kind can or can't be applied, I'd say. If you don't know something then you can't act as if you do. I believe rights are inalianable, but if I don't care to demand them I can't exactly expect others not to ever violate them, intentionally or not.

    I have inherent rights, but if nobody knows and acknowledges that they will violate them. It's like saying I have a formula for the cure for cancer in my head, but if I tell nobody they can't give me credit for it.

  • Taco

    I would guess they’d simply respect the rights of everything as much as possible.

    They need to eat, though…

    Those would be the last ones I’d expect to disrespect human rights and condone coercion.

    Well, expect whatever you want to expect. I'll point out that "human rights" is a rather speciesist term (heh, I remember Klingons complain about it), and that considering violations of rights a fact of life is not the same thing as approving of unreasonably violent behavior. I've told you before, I respect humans (and other things), not ideas about them.

  • admin

    Well you're bringing it full circle again. I'm not a specieist if I am willing to consider animal rights and respect them when they're demanded.

    Your considering violations of rights a fact of life does in my view lead you to the justifications of unreasonably violent behavior. Your mere acceptance of legitimized coercion is enough. You can't respect humans and not respect their rights just as you can't respect other things and respect their rights too.

    The problem seems to be that you reject the distinction between situations where rights exist and situations where they don't on the basis of this exotic belief that has little weight in terms of logical consistency and evidence. It's almost like some sort of religious fundamentalism that makes you believe in violations of rights when they do exist.

    Quite messed up IMHO.

  • Taco

    You're welcome to your own opinion.

    Because there is some risk of a third party taking things said in this debate out of context ("Evil Taco is against human rights"…), and the context is not quite clear anyway since a lot of the discussion happened in private email, I'd like to point out that:

    As far as the word "rights" is meaningful, and even beyond that, I strongly support human rights as in the universal declaration of human rights.

    Also, I consider articles 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15.1, 16.3, 21, 22, 23.1, 23.2, 24, 25, 26.1, 26.2, 27, 29.1 and 29.2 to be incompatible with anarcho-capitalism aka voluntaryism (in quite a few it's a matter of language ("law"), but there are more serious issues as well), but I'm not enough of a jerk to say Danijel doesn't respect human rights. Or maybe I am, because in a sense I just did.

    If you wonder what those "more serious issues" are… well apart from the mentions of democracy there's for example the problem that one cannot be certain that free elementary/fundamental education will be provided to everyone if this is task is left to a charity.

  • Taco

    (those "articles" are parts of the universal declaration of human rights, of course)

  • admin

    Hiding behind the declaration which wasn't signed by the vast majority of human individuals wont help you. Third parties you're referring to should think for themselves instead of letting their rights be defined by a declaration adopted by an organization that is de facto acting like an <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2634703139474212867&q=un+deception+site%3Avideo.google.com&total=18&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0&quot; rel="nofollow">international government of governments and has itself been responsible for many human rights violations.

    Some of the "rights" it purpots to be "universal" make the declaration as a whole in fact self contradictory. If legitimized coercion in form of theft ("taxes") is a part of the "law" and so required for some of these "rights" to be exercised, property rights are denied yet they are a part of the declaration.

    The question is and has always been simple. People just rarely think about it. The question is: "Do you believe you have a right to initiate violence on other people or that other people have a right to initiate violence on you?" In a nutshell, do you believe in violence?

    If the answer is no you can wipe your ass with the declaration of "human rights" because it does not represent them. Only you can represent your rights.

    Of course, you Taco believe you and others have the right to decide instead of me what rights I have and find the use of violence to impose your belief on me acceptable.

    There is simply no way you can win an argument with that here, claiming you're consistently pro-human-rights.

  • admin

    If you wonder what those “more serious issues” are… well apart from the mentions of democracy there’s for example the problem that one cannot be certain that free elementary/fundamental education will be provided to everyone if this is task is left to a charity.

    What you call "free" elementary education actually is not free unless you're gonna just nonchalantly ignore all of the money being stolen by the government from those same people who are supposedly getting it "free", not to mention additional costs associated with basic schooling that government doesn't cover (depending on country this may involve anything from books to basic equipment etc.).

    You speak of certainty. It is certain that you're not getting elementary education for free today. You're getting it more expensively in fact (state monopoly means less competition meaning less quality for more money which is stolen meaning an additional cost of maintaining force and propaganda which itself gets into schools in form of history lessons that prop up nationalism, allegiance to law and authority which helps perpetuate the whole vicious circle and keep decreasing the chances of a free market ever resolving the problem).

  • Taco

    I'm not hiding behind anything. My point is that there are different definitions of the term "human rights", and what I believe most people mean by it is what is in that declaration.

    You're of course free to use a different definition, I just wanted it to be clear that I have some problems with human rights the way you define them and not with the more common definition that I actually support with a passion.

    May I suggest that you blog a comparison between the declaration and what you think about human rights?

  • admin

    My point is that there are different definitions of the term “human rights”, and what I believe most people mean by it is what is in that declaration.

    I wouldn't be so sure most people have a formed opinion on that. They might be accepting the declaration of human rights simply because it has "human rights" in the name and is often referred to by politicians – as a default.

    You’re of course free to use a different definition, I just wanted it to be clear that I have some problems with human rights the way you define them and not with the more common definition that I actually support with a passion.

    Yeah, you have a problem with human right not to be coerced. I know, I know, rhetorics, but I'm just flabbergasted that we're even questioning something so basic. I wonder if anyone else but you wouldn't see this as a sign of mere avoidance of admission that would rock your little world more than you're comfortable.

    Your passionate support for your definition makes you feel justified in forcing it on others. My "definition" on the other hand makes it impossible for me to force it on others while being consistent with it. Let the "third party" decide which makes more sense.

    May I suggest that you blog a comparison between the

    declaration and what you think about human rights?

    Not a bad idea.

    Thanks

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