Vegans Rage! Carnivores bite back!
Animal rights activists are recording videos showing animals being abused or mistreated in facilities where they are then later processed in food. Legislators have threatened to outlaw these types of videos in a pushback against animal rights activists throwing the lettuce crowd into conniptions. The legislation proposed would require that activists release the full video to the public, instead of just soundbites edited to gin up controversy. Also it appears to suggest that it would be illegal for activists to take photos or videos inside animal processing facilities. Free speech and legitimate whistleblowing come face to face with the conflict of private property rights for food processors and their ability to defend themselves from spurious charges.
But do animals have rights?
Libertarian polemicist Murray Rothbard wrote an excellent treatise on the ethics of animal rights. In his essay “The “rights” of animals he makes the following arguments:
“It is more than a jest to point out that animals, after all, don’t respect the “rights” of other animals; it is the condition of the world, and of all natural species, that they live by eating other species. Inter-species survival is a matter of tooth and claw. It would surely be absurd to say that the wolf is “evil” because he exists by devouring and “aggressing against” lambs, chickens, etc. The wolf is not an evil being who “aggresses against” other species; he is simply following the natural law of his own survival. Similarly for man. It is just as absurd to say that men “aggress against” cows and wolves as to say that wolves “aggress against” sheep. If, furthermore, a wolf attacks a man and the man kills him, it would be absurd to say either that the wolf was an “evil aggressor” or that the wolf was being “punished” for his “crime.” And yet such would be the implications of extending a natural-rights ethic to animals. Any concept of rights, of criminality, of aggression, can only apply to actions of one man or group of men against other human beings.”
So what we have here is the understanding that humans can’t place human terms on the behavior of animals. A wolf that kills a man is not “evil” it is just behaving in its nature. This is why humanity has been able to conquer the planet, mainly because of our total subjugation of all other life within our biosphere (except for bacteria and viruses and some predators such as sharks). Rothbard goes on to use a more fun example to illustrate this concept.
What of the “Martian” problem? If we should ever discover and make contact with beings from other planets, could they be said to have the rights of human beings? It would depend on their nature. If our hypothetical “Martians” were like human beings—conscious, rational, able to communicate .with us and participate in the division of labor, then presumably they too would possess the rights now confined to “earthbound” humans. But suppose, on the other hand, that the Martians also had the characteristics, the nature, of the legendary vampire, and could only exist by feeding on human blood. In that case, regardless of their intelligence, the Martians would be our deadly enemy and we could not consider that they were entitled to the rights of humanity. Deadly enemy, again, not because they were wicked aggressors, but because of the needs and requirements of their nature, which would clash ineluctably with ours.
There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that “we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them.”
So it would appear that the rights of animals are dependent on their ability to live and interact peacefully with humans. The debate below adds an interesting dynamic to the question. Should the videos be illegal? Should the owners of the factories be able to have the full tapes released if it would exonerate their business practices? Does free speech trump the private property rights of the factory owner? Whose private property rights are being violated? Leave your thoughts below.4 comments