What a Conservative Columnist’s Tweet Tells Us About Our Approach To Animal Rights

By Arpit Chauhan

Quite a while ago, I was reading a scathing piece on the celebration of Labor Day by NRO’s Kevin Williamson. After making it amply clear that he’s no fan of unions, he went on to take a swipe at animal rights activists, calling them “animal-rights nuts.”

Being someone who supports animal rights myself, I contacted Kevin on Twitter to register my objection and share with him an excellent pro-animal rights piece by a conservative Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for George Bush and Paul Ryan.

His immediate response was to denounce Scully’s views, but what he said upon being prodded further was especially revealing.

Now, what does his shooting animals for fun have anything to do with them having rights? (Leave aside the ludicrous proposition that one can’t be cruel to non-human sentient beings.) If animals do, in fact, have rights, it would just mean that he’d been grossly violating them, not that they can’t possibly exist! After all, humans have been brutalized and subjected to all kinds of horror throughout history. That is not used as evidence against the existence of human rights (rightly so). Possessing rights does not automatically protect someone from violence.

There’s a reason I am highlighting and showing the problem with this particular bit of reasoning. What he said so openly is one reason people are so reluctant to accept the fact that animals, like humans, have rights. This is a typical response of a non-vegan:

“How could a pig have rights? I ate bacon just this morning. In fact, almost everyone eats bacon.”

Even if many don’t articulate it explicitly, this is how they seem to think. Now, it’s not as if animal rights have not been established enough by moral philosophers. Consider the very powerful Argument from Marginal Cases expressed by David Graham in the form of a dialogue between an opponent and a proponent of animal rights:

Opponent of animal rights: How can you say that animals have rights? It’s impossible.

Proponent of animal rights: Why?

Opponent: For one thing, animals can’t reason. They can’t be held responsible for their actions. To have rights, you must have these capacities.

Proponent: Wait a minute. Infants can’t reason. Does that mean it’s open season on babies?

Opponent: Of course not. Infants will be able to reason someday. We must treat them as prospective rights-holders.

Proponent: But what if the infant is terminally ill and has only six months to live? What about a person who was born with part of his brain missing and has the mental capacity of a pig? What about a senile person? Is it OK to kill, eat, and otherwise use these people for our own ends, just as we now use pigs?

Opponent: Well . . . let me think about that.

Welcome to the Argument from Marginal Cases.

So, in short, if you want to deny animals rights on the (very popular) basis that they can’t and will never be able to reason, you’d have to also deny any rights to a terminally ill infant. Same is the case with a mentally deficient adult. This shows that setting the bar at rationality yields nonsensical outcomes. The only way out is to accept that rights depend on sentience, the ability to feel pain or experience sensations.

Then, there is this non-objection objection repeated endlessly: “humans evolved to eat other animals, just as lions evolved to eat deer.” There’s a name for this kind of faulty reasoning: “appeal to nature” or “naturalistic fallacy.” The thing is the way humans or other species evolved tells us nothing about what we ought to do. It does not tell us what behavior is moral and what is not.

Many people steal, lie, rape and murder. Many species engage in infanticide and cannibalism. Notice how that is never invoked to derive a system of morality. No one ever says in these cases, “it’s natural, so it must be morally okay.” We realize that we have all sorts of tendencies; being ethical involves realizing which of our actions harm others and curbing them.

So, it’s not as if there is any intellectual objection to the concept of animal rights that keeps a large number of people from accepting its validity. Instead, it’s the more mundane fact that seeing so many animals used, tortured and killed for human convenience somehow makes it harder to accept that they could have rights. (Also, isn’t it just plain convenient?)

This isn’t a unique situation: when blacks were owned as slaves, anyone saying that they possess the same rights as whites would be laughed at. It would be just as obvious that blacks are meant to be owned and used, like it is now to own and use animals. It is baffling that many fail to see the obvious parallel here. (If you are saying, “but blacks are humans, these are animals,” you are falling prey to the same kind of essentialism that the racists employed; sentience matters, not attributes such as species and race.)

In a world where most of the meat and dairy products come from extremely cruel factory farms, the only moral thing to do is to expand our circle of empathy: to recognize that it’s wrong to use animals for our selfish ends, to go vegan and thus stop participating in and funding this violence.

It’s not even difficult once you see a pig or a chicken the way you see your dog:

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Want to know more about how animals are treated in farms? Watch this 60-second video of treatment of pigs, or this award-winning documentary Earthlings. You can also read this informative post at What I Vegan.

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Filed under Philosophy, Politics

On the Left’s favorite catchphrase “Money Isn’t Speech”

By Arpit Chauhan

Since the Supreme Court dealt a blow to laws restricting money in politics in Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC, it’s easy to spot a liberal conveying her displeasure by regurgitating a trite one-liner:

“Money isn’t speech.”

Well, take that Chief Justice Roberts – your court would certainly have decided otherwise, if only this piece of irrefutable insight were shared with it!

It would be easier to ignore such posturing, if a host of Democrats were not determined in undermining the First Amendment by rallying their base behind this slogan. Not kidding – forty-one Democrat Senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that will override the free speech protections afforded by the Bill of Rights!†

So, let me explain why the proposition “money isn’t speech,” even though superficially true, does not at all serve the purpose liberals want it to.

Of course, money isn’t speech, in a literal sense. But, that does not mean Congress can limit the money one can spend on furthering her speech while not affecting her right to free speech. Communicating speech may involve distributing pamphlets, books and movies; and writing articles on websites, all of which require money. Speech isn’t sui generis, in this sense. Money is an inextricable part of our lives and plays an important role in helping achieve our interests.

Consider this: money isn’t abortion, either. But you cannot expect liberals to stay mum if Congress were to propose passing laws limiting expenditure on abortion, can you? Would they not go up in arms about the supposed right to abortion being infringed? The plain truth is: it is impossible to limit expenditure on something and not affect the right to it!

Some counter that speech does not necessarily require money – one can, after all, simply choose to talk face-to-face with others. This rejoinder is misleading on multiple levels. First, you can only talk to so many people that way. Yes, you could recruit others to do the job, but guess what: they may ask to be paid! Or, you might find a group of people ready to volunteer for your cause, if there is one. That brings me to the crucial second point: even if there is a way that permits you to disseminate your ideas in a cost-free or less costly manner (in relation to the way you chose), the government has no business mandating that you use it.

It might not appear to be self-evident that this is the case: but, the alternative is to allow the government to regulate which channels of communication people can employ in various situations or limit the reach of your message, a clear affront to the First Amendment’s letter and spirit. The abortion analogy can come handy again: would liberals find it okay if the government decreed that a person must use a cheap healthcare facility, or limited the amount of money she could spend getting abortions? No!

The other common argument – that you can use “free” services like Twitter or YouTube similarly falls under minimal scrutiny. Leave aside, for a minute, the plain but overlooked fact that the continued operation of these services requires private funding: the government simply cannot be trusted with the power to tell which media are “acceptable.” If you want to launch your own website, write your own book, or create your own movie, you should be absolutely free to do so. The availability of “free” services, which by the way are and should be under no obligation to carry your views, is no excuse to restrict you.

The right to free speech is one of the most essential and cherished rights the citizenry has. Any proposal to diminish it under the pretense of “leveling the playing field” or “curtailing money in politics” is an outrage. As always, the solution lies in having more speech, not less.

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Read Senator Ted Cruz’s insightful op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and Charles Cooke’s piece, both castigating Democrats for their assault on the First Amendment.

The Senate Joint Resolution 19 proposes an amendment to the Constitution that says “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on…the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.” A book or movie may endorse a candidate, and thus would be subject to being banned or its distribution curtailed by the government. The Citizens United case was literally about FEC trying to limit the distribution of a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton.

 

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