THE PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY has long resisted a profound commitment to other beings, holding this would be a distortion of priority and proportion. I find myself captivated by their contorted defense of the indefensible, but then entertainment is at a premium here at the asylum. There is a touch of Ionesco at play, as humans engage in nonsensical debates while nonhumans continue to perish by the billions. It is a telling depiction of our species, celebrating our self-importance from the labyrinth.
I migrated to the animal rights cause in the 1970s, drawn by the belief that never had so many been exploited for so long. No matter how ingrained the cultural denial, a slaughter by any other name is still a slaughter. Many of us who heard the call were veterans of other social justice struggles, but we were unprepared for the vexing path ahead. Yes, there has been progress at the margins, but systemic relief remains elusive.
As with all forms of oppression, the underlying dynamics are many and varied. What distinguishes this front, however, is crossing the species line. This unleashes a stream of baseless assumptions, flowing from the human propensity to confuse myopia with wisdom. Value is assigned to other beings on qualities deemed significant to us, as though worth is a derivative of our narcissism. This virulent form of ethnocentrism makes a mockery of ethical and intellectual integrity, and yet activists of all stripes contribute to the travesty.
This is not a debate over quality of life, as presuming to know the inner world of other beings borders on the surreal. We have little understanding of our own species in this regard, and extrapolating to other life forms is anthropomorphic folly. So it is with the amorphous concept of animal “rights,” as we have yet to develop an accepted construct of human rights. What can be said is that all animals possess interests vital to their well-being, and such interests constitute a moral barrier not to be crossed unless the ethical bar of necessity is met. Few argue that our egregious violations meet this standard, but still we defile decency in the name of entitlement.
The cow. Perhaps one of the most viciously exploited creatures on earth, classified from ancestral times to the rank of “food animal” —hence anything goes.
Irrespective of personal belief vis-à-vis other beings, some truths defy argument: Earth is not flat, and one species does not have moral license to ravage another to indulge its appetites. Many labor against reason to sanitize the barbarity, but not even a contortionist can twist drivel into justification. Some seek cover under secular humanism and others cite Marx, but most simply dismiss the notion of nonhumans as their equals. I stress again that equality is not the issue, as each species inhabits a reality that we cannot know—just as we are ignorant of the world occupied by an autistic child or my fellow residents at the asylum. Judging them as unworthy is holding a mirror to our own insufferable hubris.
The salient question is whether the interwoven principles of justice are bound by a common thread, or limited in application to accommodate the powerful? Exclusionary constructs have been used throughout time as a rationale for atrocities against humans, with the blood-filled caverns of oppression serving as a repository for this madness. When applied to other beings, however, the same depravity is embraced by people of all ideological persuasions. This is theater of the absurd at its most grotesque, and many of the actors don the clothing of progressives. It can be said with certainty that Diogenes is not among them.
Bentham held that the preeminent consideration is whether animals can suffer, but I beg to differ with his emphasis on sentience. I perceive the issue in more fundamental terms: Who ordained humans with license to decimate other beings, driven not by compelling need, but desire to have what can be taken. Those who fail to reach across the species divide invite complicity in the carnage, as tortured screams carry no less weight because our culture elects not to hear them. Standing with the enslaved is an inviolable strand in the larger liberation ethos, and ignoring that imperative reveals a moral compass attuned only to one’s likeness. Injustice honors no boundaries, as it is one monster with many heads.— E.D.
Ed Duvin, is Cyrano’s Journal’s Editor-at-Large and head of CJO’s editorials section. He is our organization’s top consigliere. For decades, his writings and example—at times inevitably controversial but always uncompromising— on politics, philosophy, civil rights, and questions relating to the morality of human interactions with animals and nature have inspired generations of activists in the US and abroad. His characteristically low-key contributions to the humane movement, in particular, are enormous. In 1989, Ed wrote a landmark article that ignited the “no-kill” movement among humane societies. Until then, most shelters just gave the animals a few days’ reprieve for adoption and after that, it was the final injection. Today many shelters and humane societies—not just in the US and developed nations— have banned automatic euthanasia from their normal procedures. Eddie lives in Ann Arbor, with his muse and devoted companion, Donna.