Animal "rights" versus human rights
By Edwin A. Locke, Ph.D.
Human life versus animal life. This fundamental conflict of values, which was dramatized a few years ago when AIDS victims marched in support of research on animals, is still raging. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has just launched a campaign against Covance, Inc., a biomedical research lab in Vienna, Va., that uses animals for drug testing.
It is an indisputable fact that many thousands of lives are saved by medical research on animals. But animal rightists don't care. PETA makes this frighteningly clear: "Even if animal tests produced a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it." Such is the "humanitarianism" of animal rights activists.
How do these advocates try to justify their position? As someone who has debated them for years on college campuses and in the media, I know firsthand that the whole movement is based on a single -- invalid -- syllogism, namely: men feel pain and have rights; animals feel pain; therefore, animals have rights. This argument is entirely specious, because man's rights do not depend on his ability to feel pain; they depend on his ability to think.
Rights are ethical principles applicable only to beings capable of reason and choice. There is only one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. To live successfully, man must use his rational faculty -- which is exercised by choice. The choice to think can be negated only by the use of physical force. To survive and prosper, men must be free from the initiation of force by other men -- free to use their own minds to guide their choices and actions. Rights protect men against the use of force by other men.
None of this is relevant to animals. Animals do not survive by rational thought (nor by sign languages allegedly taught to them by psychologists). They survive through sensory-perceptual association and the pleasure-pain mechanism. They cannot reason. They cannot learn a code of ethics. A lion is not immoral for eating a zebra (or even for attacking a man). Predation is their natural and only means of survival; they do not have the capacity to learn any other.
Only man has the power, guided by a code of morality, to deal with other members of his own species by voluntary means: rational persuasion. To claim that man's use of animals is immoral is to claim that we have no right to our own lives and that we must sacrifice our welfare for the sake of creatures who cannot think or grasp the concept of morality. It is to elevate amoral animals to a moral level higher than ourselves -- a flagrant contradiction. Of course, it is proper not to cause animals gratuitous suffering. But this is not the same as inventing a bill of rights for them -- at our expense.
The granting of fictional rights to animals is not an innocent error. We do not have to speculate about the motive, because the animal "rights" advocates have revealed it quite openly. Again from PETA: "Mankind is the biggest blight on the face of the earth"; "I do not believe that a human being has a right to life"; "I would rather have medical experiments done on our children than on animals." These self-styled lovers of life do not love animals; rather, they hate men.
The animal "rights" terrorists are like the Unabomber and Oklahoma City bombers. They are not idealists seeking justice, but nihilists seeking destruction for the sake of destruction. They do not want to uplift mankind, to help him progress from the swamp to the stars. They want mankind's destruction; they want him not just to stay in the swamp but to disappear into its muck.
There is only one proper answer to such people: to declare proudly and defiantly, in the name of morality, a man's right to his life, his liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness.
Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Motivation at the University of Maryland at College Park and is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. The Institute promotes the ideas of Ayn Rand -- best-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy of Objectivism. Copyright © 2005 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.
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