A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Animalista Untamed

If the interests of animals are properly embedded in the democratic process…the laws adopted by a society are less likely to infringe their fundamental interests.

1822 is a date we lovers of justice and animals should all have tattooed on our hearts. Because 1822 was the year Richard Martin MP won for animals an important protection which was also a right: the right – for their own sake – not to be gratuitously harmed.

A 19th Century Irishman who fought more than 100 duels with sword and pistol – and obviously survived them all! – seems a most improbable man to put forward as father of the modern Animal Rights movement. But the small snowball he set in motion has just kept on rolling and rolling for the last 200 years, and growing into what we hope will soon become an avalanche.

For Martin it was who introduced a new

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2 thoughts on “A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

  1. Pingback: The Animal Movement: Two Centuries of Failure | Armory of the Revolution

  2. Is the “all-affected principle” a reason for hope or merely an overdose of optimism?

    Robert Garner, a professor of political science at Leicester University, UK, has suggested a way to protect animals that moves beyond moral/ethical arguments to “normative democratic” theory to include animals in the “demos” and take their interests into account.

    Examining the history of the species that Richard Martin (AKA “Humanity Dick”) fought for tells us how far we have (or have not) come and why activists are so eager for new ideas.

    Certainly, Richard Martin, MP, should be extolled for his work on behalf of animals at a time when few spoke up for them. His Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle, passed in 1822, punished with fines and imprisonment those who “beat, abused, or ill-treated any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep, or other cattle.” Not noted in the blog is that Mr. Martin also went on to sponsor laws to ban bull baiting, slaughterhouse abuse, and mistreatment of dogs and cats.

    However, Martin was actually not the first person to speak up for animals. In 1800 Sir William Pulteney, a Scottish MP, introduced a bill to outlaw bull baiting, a popular pastime especially among the working classes. The bulls were set upon by men with clubs, beaten, and forced off a bridge into the river before being retrieved to be torn apart by dogs. Unfortunately, Sir William’s bill went down to multiple defeats and was not passed until 1839!

    So fast forward to the 21st century. How far have we come? Well, bullfighting continues, primarily in Spain. After being successfully outlawed in several cities, a number of government officials are attempting to define the fight as part of Spain’s cultural heritage and thus protect it. But the fighting is just one of the horrors inflicted upon bulls in Spain. During one festival, the Toro Jubilo, bulls are subjected to multiple forms of torture, including tying balls of pitch to their horns and setting them on fire. The crowd cheers as the bulls try to escape the flames, all the while being burned and even blinded. During the Toro de la Vega, a bull is chased through the streets as people stab him with spears. Many of the festivals of animal abuse are in honor of saints’ days, all without being condemned by the Catholic Church. So almost two hundred years after the first attempt to protect bulls, they are still being tortured.

    Have the other animals—horses, mares, geldings, mules, cows, heifers—that Richard Martin helped done better in the years since his death?

    Horses have not fared well. In fact, they are suffering in greater numbers and in more forms than In Martin’s day. They are abused, neglected, and abandoned by cruel and irresponsible owners. They are brutalized in events such as rodeos and the Omak Suicide Race, and they are exploited on Premarin farms. Tennessee walking horses have painful blistering agents applied to their legs to encourage the high-stepping gait desired in horse shows. The Bureau of Land Management rounds up thousands of wild horses and burros to satisfy ranchers’ demand for more land. The horses who are survive are supposed to be adopted, but there are not enough homes, and they are often left languishing in holding pens. And according to the ASPCA, over 150,000 horses a year are slaughtered for the foreign meat market. The horses slaughtered include those from the BLM round-ups, the ones injured in rodeos, worn-out carriage horses and other old, sick, and injured equine victims of human greed and irresponsibility.

    What about laws for them? Horse slaughterhouses were closed in the United States during the Bush administration, but the killing was outsourced to Canada and Mexico (where the killing is particularly brutal). The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, is supposed to regulate humane transport of animals, but Animals’ Angels, an organization that monitors auction lots and transport trucks, has documented egregious abuse, including that of injured and sick horses being trucked long distances to the southern and northing borders, with some perishing on the journeys, and foals actually born on the trucks trampled to death before arrival. In 1970 the Horse Protect Act was passed to outlaw using caustic substances on Tennessee walking horses. The law was so ineffective that in 2016–46 years later!–another attempt, the PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics) Act, awaits a vote in Congress. Thus laws are failing horses.

    The other farm animals Martin sought to help are also worse off. Millions of cows, pigs, and sheep are killed for food. Currently farmed animals suffer from birth to death on factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, both from abuse by sadistic people and from the pain of “standard agricultural practices,” such as dehorning and castration, without anesthesia, and general lack of care for illness or injuries.

    And what about laws for them? The Humane Slaughter Act was passed in 1958 to ensure that animals were stunned before they were actually slaughtered. However, undercover studies and reports from slaughterhouse workers tell of noncompliance and of animals having their throats slit and being skinned and dismembered while still conscious. Pigs are particularly brutalized, and there are stories of their being pushed into scalding water while still alive and aware. Workers have been documented beating crippled pigs onto the slaughter line. The quest for faster production and more profits have speeded up the slaughter process, thereby increasing the suffering inflicted. Another law, the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, enforced by the USDA, provides standards of acceptable care, including for transportation. Again, Animals’ Angels documents continued and severe abuses in auction yards and trucks, including ignoring the rules for hours allowed without rest, food, or water. Animals too sick or injured to board the trucks on their own are prodded to get up, have water forced into their noses to make them move, and are pushed into the trucks with fork lifts. The guilty seldom receive punishment for their infractions.

    Thus two hundred years after William Pulteney’s and Richard Martin’s humane laws, farm animal lives have worsened, not improved.

    Along with introducing bills against animal cruelty, Martin also helped found the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals), which became the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). In the latter half of the 20th century, animal organizations have proliferated. Some, such as the HSUS, are a largely welfare groups, while others, such as PETA, promote animal rights. There are other organizations that were inconceivable in Martin’s time, such as Mercy For Animals and Compassion Over Killing, which use the modern technology of hidden cameras and the Internet to document and disseminate instances of horrendous farm animal abuse. Unfortunately, that documentation does not often result in significant punishment or compliance with laws. Bright spots new to our time are the sanctuaries, such as Farm Sanctuary, Animal Place, VINE, and Peaceful Prairie, where lucky farm animal survivors of abuse and escape from slaughter safely live out their lives.

    The interest in animal abuse has resulted in more academic attention. There are over 150 law schools that have at least one course on animals and the legal system. Philosophers have also published books on the status of animals. As noted in the blog, scholars have presented different views and advice but have not contributed to changing their status.

    Utilitarian Peter Singer believes that nonhuman animals must be included in considerations of obtaining the greatest good for the greatest number, but that does not exclude harming animals if it produces a greater good for a greater number of people.

    Tom Regan believes that if nonhuman animals meets a list of criteria, including “beliefs, memory, feelings, etc., they have inherent value, are “subject-of-a-life,” and have a right to be more than resources for human use. Some adult farm animals may fulfil Regan’s criteria, but their offspring would probably not qualify as subjects of their own small lives. Thus the infants of animals that Richard Martin fought for would be excluded from protection.

    Attorney Gary Francione’s abolitionism is the strongest rights position of all and would require veganism as a lifestyle. And while it would help the most animals for those who complied, abolitionism cannot overcome the fact that animals are still be regarded as property that few people are inclined to become vegan.

    One group, as noted, the Nonhuman rights group, is trying to gain personhood status for four animals: whales, dolphins, elephants, and great apes. That still leaves the huge majority of animals unprotected.

    Thus the intervention by attorneys cannot change the fact that animals are defined as property. The rhetorical arguments of philosophers must combat speciesism and animals’ traditional lack of moral standing based on religion and its promulgation of human superiority.

    So more than 200 years after the English humane groups tried to protect animals through enacting anti-cruelty laws, billions of animals are treated brutally and killed for human profit and pleasure. More animals are suffering in more ways today than in the early 19th century.

    Now a scholar suggests that political theory can help animals more than arguments from morality or ethics, which have not been very effective.

    Professor Garner suggests that the all-affected theory of democracy would protect animals by changing their status: “A democratic polity should take account of animal interests, not because a substantial number of people wish to see a greater protection afforded to animals, but rather that animals themselves have a democratic right to have their interests represented in the political process.”

    He continues, “In making the case for enfranchisement of animals, this article seeks to avoid utilizing contentious non-political ethical theory, relying, as a limiting device, only on the noncontentious claim that animals, by virtue of their sentience, have moral standing.”

    The all-affected” theory would be put into practice by electing people to represent the interests of “animals, with sentience being the main criterion guiding decisions.

    The idea is intriguing but raises many questions:

    1. Is granting animals “enfranchisement” constitutional?

    2. Would enfranchisement mean personhood status for animals?

    3. If the demos are be inclusive enough to contain animals as well as people, will the concept of sentience
    be inclusive enough to cover all animals—gorillas to garden slugs—rather than leaving some species out.

    4. Would all species have the same basic rights or would animals be granted species-specific rights?

    5. If sentience is the only criterion, does that mean abolitionism/veganism is the only result? Would sentience include the right to life? Or could “sentience” just consider the intensity of pain and limit human-inflicted pain to “acceptable” limits? Would the elected representatives make all those decisions?

    6. The author notes that “liminal” animals who live in human areas but are not domesticated must be treated according to moral guidelines (which, according to Garner, are contingent and fail if enough people do not approve).

    7. What about the fate of wild animals? According to Garner, “Finally, genuine wild animals are equivalent to sovereign communities–shades of Henry Beston!–which ought to be regulated by norms of international justice.” Would fish and wildlife services view wilderness as a sovereign community with its moose, bear and wolf inhabitants, then adhere to international norms for their protection?

    8. Finally, the main question: For centuries treatment of animals has been based on speciesism, with Law assigning animals to property status to be used as commodities and resources, and with Religion upholding human supremacy in all decisions over animal lives and suffering. Would any society tolerate a system that changed the status of animals to require drastic lifestyle changes and economic upheaval?

    The paper is an interesting discussion of a proposed political theory granting animals rights from completely different foundations than those utilized in the past. Obviously details on organization and operationalization remain in the future.

    Even Professor Garner is somewhat tentative, but still optimistic, in his assessment of the theory: “. . . If the all-affected principle is correct—and whilst this paper is not the place to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the all-affected principle since there are strong grounds for regarding it as correct—then there is little to prevent the inclusion of animals within the demos.”

    So will the “all-affected theory of democracy be a potential source of hope for animals after two centuries of little progress and increasing suffering and death?

    Or is it merely grist for the academic mills and their scholarly journals?


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