Why Rights Are So Important

Without Rights, No Meaningful Protection; Without Rights Advocacy, No Chance for Rights

The first wave of the “animal rights movement” does not promote rights but a variety of ways to help nonhuman animals who would not be suffering if nonhuman animals had rights. Most animals whom advocates try to help would not even exist if nonhuman animals had rights: Not being owned by another is a basic right; being someone’s property places one beyond help, leaving one at the owner’s whim.

Responsible Policies for Animals founder David Cantor’s review of The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights, at amazon.com, provides one of the best explanations of the crucial difference between helping others and working to establish equal rights of all.

What Rights Do and Don’t Do

Rights are designed to eliminate circumstances that nurture injustice and tyranny – mainly unjust intrusions into individual human being’s lives. Rights are not designed to fight atrocities or violent crimes. When equal human rights became the basis of governance under the U.S. Constitution, laws against murder, assault, and rape had existed for thousands of years. They continue as before.

Rights established in Amendments I through X, XIII, XIV, XV, and XIX prohibit various conditions for tyranny, oppression, and the undermining of democracy. The Bill of Rights’ cruel-and-unusual-punishment ban is not an anticruelty law like those that outlaw a small portion of animal abuse. Rather, it is intended to safeguard human dignity, build respect for government, and promote political engagement.

Rights and the Limits of Human Kindness

The vast scope of animal abuse that defines and informs civilization, ideologies like humanism that rationalize it, and the near-total human indifference toward it reflect the invisibility of most animal abuse to most humans at any given moment and humans’ innate predisposition – shared with other animals – toward their family members and friends. Humans’ biophilia – their innate concern for other animals and the living world – in itself cannot in itself overcome kin altruism.

That is why nonhuman animals are in such dire need of something like RPA’s Draft Bill To Establish Equal Rights of All Animals. Human rights make it unconstitutional and unlawful for government employees to violate certain natural boundaries of humans whom they do not strongly care about because they do not know them. Few officers, prosecutors, judges, or bureaucrats are saints.

Likewise, equal autonomy, ecology, and dignity rights of all animals will institutionalize justice for nonhuman animals, eliminating the pervasive injustice that amounts to a biocaust throughout civilization and the living world today. Not because we all care intensely about them – because of the need for human societies to operate as if we do.

From RPA’s newsletter Persons, spring 2014.