Is the Animal Rights Movement Civil Rights 2.0?

Posted by Carter Dillard, ALDF's Director of Litigation on July 23, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


4 thoughts on “Is the Animal Rights Movement Civil Rights 2.0?

  1. James says:

    “The exploiter uses violence to remain on top.”

    Those who remain on top soon learn that violence alone is one of the worst methods of controlling animal behaviour; the biggest influence on westerners today is the corporation that uses reinforcement not the police force that uses punishment. Resorting to violence is then a sign of the desperation and frustration that comes when power is faltering; totalitarian regimes commit their worst atrocities when they’re already sliding downwards not when their position is comfortable and secure. The workers that abuse the animals do so not because they’re on top already but because they’ve never learnt how to control animal behaviour effectively and are frustrated with the fact that they aren’t as in control as they’d like.

  2. Vivek Upadhya says:

    While I agree that the two are similar on a conceptual level, the animal rights movement is impeded, as a practical matter, by two important differences: one, any movement to change the situation of others is primarily based on empathy, which will presumably always be stronger for humans than for animals (harking back to old speciesism argument); and two, the benefits to the general population of this particular system of exploitation is a lot more entrenched and widespread than was probably the case with slavery. Although slavery allowed for much lower costs to consumers and various other indirect benefits, the present animal industry constitutes an important or, some would say, vital part of American lifestyle and culture. The combination of reduced empathy (which, recent studies suggest, might indeed be neurologically explained) with self-sacrifice presents a much bigger obstacle to overcome.

    That said, the two aren’t necessarily mutually incompatible, and at least those pursuing animal welfare as opposed to animal rights can envision a middle ground where the interests of those who matter (the animals and the people, not the industry) are balanced.

    As to James, above, I disagree: the present system is more a direct manifestation of economics and cost-effectiveness than an abstract need to preserve power over animals that, in any case, present little threat by themselves.

  3. Dr. H. Hail says:

    When you get the rest of the animal world to not eat other animals then this might make sense. But to single out one species and say NO you may not eat meat, but your dog can is ridiculous at best. Also the myth that meat kills written by two vegans has been debunked. This movement is against the human species because it requires the removal from our diets a necessary vitamin that we cannot live without along with other essential nutrients. That is Active VB12 which only comes from meat products. Inactive VB12 is found in plants and cannot be used instead of the active kind. 12 million children die each year from lack of meat protein. This is not a movement so much as it is a cult based upon the insane belief that one as a human being can live without active VB12. To do so makes the brain irrational and overly emotional which we have all seen in strict vegan animal rights cult members. We all know that the first thing a cult does is to remove meat from your diet because it makes you more pliable and overly emotional. Do their actions live up to their own stated ethical principle, that animals have the right not to be treated as property? Do their actions really result in zero animal use? The parallel in human terms would be slavery, which no rational person thinks is ethically acceptable. Slaves are the property of masters; they live and die at their owner’s sufferance.
    Do ethical vegans live up to this stated standard that they don’t kill or harm animals? Unfortunately for the ethical vegan, the production of their food alone reduces their claim to impossibility. Animals are killed in untold millions, in the course of plant agriculture. Some are killed accidentally in the course of mechanized farming; some are killed deliberately in the course of pest control. Animals are killed, every day. Every potato, every stick of celery, every cup of rice, and every carrot has a blood trail leading from field to plate.
    In 1999, while researching and writing Misplaced Compassion, I ran into a rice farmer who posted the following first-hand account on a Usenet forum:

    [A] conservative annualized estimate of vertebrate deaths in organic rice farming is ~20 pound. … [T]his works out a bit less than two vertebrate deaths per square foot, and, again, is conservative. For conventionally grown rice, the gross body-count is at least several times that figure. … [W]hen cutting the rice, there is a (visual) green waterfall of frogs and anoles moving in front of the combine. Sometimes the “waterfall” is just a gentle trickle (± 10,000 frogs per acre) crossing the header, total for both cuttings, other times it is a deluge (+50,000 acre).Pheasants and rabbits are routinely killed in planting and harvesting, and rodents are killed by the thousands using traps and pesticides at every step: production, storage, and transportation.
    Rational people know this and don’t worry about it. It’s an inevitable consequence of modern, high-production agriculture. The ethical vegan, when confronted with these undeniable facts, collapses. Their reaction, in almost every case, is to do a rhetorical lateral arabesque into a new claim, that their vegan diet somehow causes “less death and suffering” than a non-vegan diet, a ridiculous and unsupportable argument. A pound of wild venison (net cost in animal death: about 1/120th of one animal) almost certainly causes less “death and suffering” than a pound of rice (net cost in animal death: including rodents, insect, reptiles and amphibians, number of deaths may range into the hundreds).
    But the numbers don’t really matter. Not if there is a real ethical principle involved. What is at the heart of this fall-back argument is this claim: That a vegan diet has a lower cost in animal death and suffering than any non-vegan diet.
    If any ethical vegan has crunched the numbers to prove this, I have yet to see the results. However, the numbers have been crunched elsewhere, and it turns out that a non-vegan diet may well cause less environmental impact than a vegan diet, for one reason: Food for livestock can be grown on land that is too poor for growing crops for human consumption.
    If there was an actual ethical principle involved, the ethical vegan would be required to do one of two things:
    • To analyze each of his or her sources of vegetable food and eat only those which are found to cause the least amount of animals to die.
    • Move off the grid and grow all of their own food, scrupulously using no insecticides, no rodent control measures, and no mechanized equipment.
    Note that it is only the second path that has a chance of actually accomplishing zero animal deaths.
    In reality, ethical vegans do none of these things. In the real world, the ethical vegan has no idea — none at all — whether their diet causes more animals to die, the same number, or fewer, than a diet which includes meat. Even when they engage in a completely irrational search for micrograms of animal material in their diet (I know of one vegan who refuses to eat black olives because squid ink is used in part to color them) their actions are purely symbolic; they have no idea what their real impact is. Instead, they obsess over micrograms of animal products in their food while ignoring the metric tons of animal life destroyed to bring that food to the table.
    Ethical vegans claim that taking the life of non-human animals is wrong, but their actions do not live up to the claim; indeed, they don’t even try. The ethical vegan follows no ethical principle. Instead, they follow a simple, easy, results-neutral, and ethically indifferent rule: Do not put animal parts in your mouth. It allows them a pretense of moral and ethical superiority with no real effort; it is a cheap and easy pose, nothing more.
    In fact, ethical vegans exhibit a stunning and savage hypocrisy. Ethical vegans, as a class, fail utterly to put any of their professed ethics into action. They claim to not cause harm to animals, but they do; when confronted, they claim to cause less harm to animals than the non-vegan, but they are utterly unable to show that to be true, and are willing to take no real effort to even quantify their impact. They are intimately involved, every day, in an activity that causes the deaths of millions of animals, and they do nothing about it.
    This is indeed a very irrational cult that is a danger to the entire human species as they intend to cut of a very necessary food supply. In fact they are so irrational that they do not recognize that there is not enough land to grow crops to feed the world. Indeed that so hate humans that Peter Singer the leader of the so called movement expressed the desire that all human beings should spay and neuter themselves and then just party down while watching the entire human race become extinct. This was the premise in his article for the New York Times “Should this be the last Generation?’ Examples of their irrational thinking abound, but money is behind this continued movement or irrational behavior for most especially HSUS and PeTA. Just money and greed.

  4. Vivek Upadhya says:

    Dr. Hail,

    I’m a little surprised at your apparently intense scorn and hatred for what is, truly, more appropriately called a “movement” rather than a “cult”. Understand, first, that the “animal rights movement” is a very broad and vague term that encompasses a variety of divergent and, indeed, conflicting beliefs about our use of animals. Many people don’t eat meat because they don’t want animals to be treated the way they currently are; many people don’t eat meat because they believe it’s inherently wrong; and many don’t eat meat (or animal-based products) because of health reasons. With that in mind, it’s a generalization to attack one particular subset of people as representative of the overall movement, and indicative of how apparently stupid, irrational, and cruel the movement is.

    I was impressed by your point about incidental animal deaths occurring from ordinary food production. Truthfully, I’m sure that many people hadn’t ever thought of that, myself included, so you are to be applauded for bringing that up. It’s also certainly true that focusing on “micrograms” of animal products in your canned tomatoes might pale in comparison to the broader effect that you speak of. That said, I think it is unfair to levy such harsh judgment on vegans who a) might adopt their position without that knowledge or b) are vegan for reasons other than opposition to the outright use or killing of animals. Many meat-eaters eat meat today without knowing the extraordinary suffering that that production has entailed, and most people, I think, refrain from attacking meat-eaters as cruel when they aren’t aware of current production practices (or, indeed, even if they are and choose to eat meat anyway).

    I don’t understand why we would have to force all animals to stop eating meat in order for us to advocate that humans not eat meat. We, as a species, are intellectually and morally capable of more than most other species, and I’m inclined to think that we would be at a far worse place right now if we held ourselves to the standards that other species follow. A particular practice can be considered wrong even if it appears to be natural in other species, and vice versa.

    There are several aspects to the meat industry that you haven’t addressed. First, I’m not convinced by your argument about that particular vitamin, because a range of authorities, including the FDA, has endorsed a vegetarian diet as nutritionally sufficient for all ages. Your claim that deficiency of this vitamin causes “over-emotion” and “irrationality” and that the animal rights movement exploits this to gain members makes me somewhat skeptical about what you say, but that aside. Second, I believe that the general input”output ratio is about 40 pounds of grain for one pound of meat. Again, I was impressed by your point that some grains used for meat production can be grown on land unfit for crops for direct human consumption, but does that overcome that ratio? Third, and part of the previous point, the meat production industry is responsible for a highly significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, so is ordinary agriculture and just about any human activity, but my reading suggests that the proportion of emissions are quite high in comparison to the output-benefits of production. Fourth, while eating red meat may not have the dramatic health effects that some studies suggest, I think it is true that red meat, at least on the scale it is eaten today, does have substantially detrimental health effects and is responsible for a number of serious health problems. Fifth, much of the dairy, eggs, and meat that we eat today is pumped full of a huge amount of hormones and antibiotics that none of us would choose to imbibe if given the choice.

    Surpassing all of those arguments, however, is the simple fact (I call it a fact because I believe it’s a universally accepted principle) that unnecessary suffering is wrong. You can use your vitamin as an argument for necessity, but there needs to be, at the very least, some balance in what we put animals through in order to enjoy our steaks and hamburgers. Forcing a living, sentient creature fully capable of feeling pain and suffering just like we do to live in a tiny cage crammed with others of its kind, with no exposure to fresh light or air, fed synthetic food that grows the animal to an unnatural size in an unnaturally short time, and to cut off parts of its body without anesthesia is cruelty. It is unnecessary cruelty, and it is far, far, far below than what we would even conceive of allowing a human being to endure.

    I do not understand your scathing hatred for a diverse movement that, at its most basic core, advocates for what is a good, humane, and eminently achievable goal. I agree that many vegans might be considered irrational or contradictory in their practices. But that is not a reason for such vitriolic scorn, and quite frankly, you only undermine everything you say when you allege that this silly vegan “cult” exploits a vitamin deficiency that makes its “members” irrational and overemotional.

    More than anything, I wish you would put forward your views, facts and information in a more civil and objective manner. We can all agree that our current use of animals is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed in one way or another. You get no one anywhere by punctuating your comments with silly claims about a cult based entirely on money that wants to lead the human species to extinction.