Is the Animal Rights Movement Civil Rights 2.0?Posted by Carter Dillard, ALDF's Director of Litigation on July 23rd, 2012
No. The two are unique social movements that each deserve to be distinguished and understood for what they are. The civil rights movement is generally understood to refer specifically to the worldwide movement for racial equality under the law that occurred in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. The animal rights movement, by comparison, seems amorphous. But that does not mean there are no similarities between the two; exploring those similarities is controversial but may help us understand both better.
Here are four similarities:
- They are true movements, referring to changes in the fundamental cultural, political, and legal rules by which we all operate, rules about whom one can own, who has rights, what those rights are, etc. They are not like “’movements,” in relatively unimportant things like fashion, food, and music. Fashionistas, like all humans, care a lot more about whether they will be forced to do heavy manual labor than they do about clothes.
- Both refer to groups of powerful individuals exploiting weaker individuals. This should be painfully obvious. Generally speaking, white people in the United States have and continue to exploit the fact that black people have less resources in order to obtain their labor. The farmer exploits the facts that the pig cannot escape, and when fed grows profitable at slaughter, to exploit the value of the pig’s body. Of course there are differences, but also similarities: in both, the stronger exploits the weaker. The word “movement” refers to the struggle to change that imbalance.
- During these movements most people sit on the sidelines. They are unaware the changes are occurring, and if made aware most stand apart and remain uninvolved, other than continuing to take the benefits of the status quo they are accustomed to: cheap labor, degrading forms of entertainment, forced companionship, meat, etc. When older persons seem apathetic about or criticize the notion of animal rights I often ask them what they were doing at the height of the civil rights movement. The answer is predictable—very little if anything.
- The stronger use systematic violence to suppress the weaker. White violence upon black people is, today, well known. It has been used to publicly demonstrate the disparity of power between the two races, and to terrorize. Anyone who has seen one of the dozens of undercover videos revealing how factory farm and slaughterhouse workers systematically kick, punch, and otherwise abuse animals to force compliance might see something at least comparable to this. The exploiter uses violence to remain on top.
The standard objection to comparing civil rights and animal rights is that it requires comparing black people to animals. There is none of that here. Civil rights and animal rights both involve the move away from violent exploitation—a move we all should feel obliged to support.