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We live in a human-made mass extinction of wildlife and a man-made animal holocaust of domesticated animals. Therefore, more than ever, humanity must expand its circle of moral consideration to include all creatures. Animals need allies and making active allies for animals is what this free online book is about.
The Big Problem
||"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." Woody Allen (1)
Humans have been killing animals for millennia and now scientists acknowledge that we are living in a mass extinction of life caused by humanity (2). Added to this is an animal holocaust in which increasing numbers of people endlessly demand animals to eat, wear, kill for sport, experiment on, and more. In almost anyone's definition this is a man-made disaster - a war on animals - undeclared and devastatingly carried out. Animals need allies and making active allies for animals is what this online book is about.
To be active for animal rights all you need to be is an ordinary person. You do not have to be an 'animal rights terrorist' (see entry Terrorism), the stereotype bogeyman of the news media. The media's animal rights archetype is a rare creature because for every bogey animal rights terrorist there is a multitude of concerned people from all walks of life doing their bit for animals. You, too, whether granny, city financier or unemployed anarchist, can make your contribution and be a real ally of animals.
The Best Animal Rights Attitude
As an animal rights activist your attitudes and values will inevitably clash with those of other people. This is where you have to determine what your beliefs are based on. Confused beliefs, inaccurate views and misconceptions fill our minds. The distinguished French writer Francois-Marie Arouet (1694 - 1778), popularly known as Voltaire, is credited with saying, "If we believe absurdities we shall commit atrocities." (3) One of the most disturbing visions in the history of human progress is the spectre of the early vivisectors nailing live animals onto dissection boards and cutting them open at leisure to see how they worked...before the era of anaesthetics. The vivisectors conveniently believed that animals do not feel pain, even though animals behave as though they do feel pain.
So what is our best attitude for being active for animals? Surely it is always to question what we know, try to understand what we do not know and keep a healthy scepticism about what people tell us. Having the right attitude demands that we constantly question our beliefs, especially when we think we are right, and never be complacent. This is especially important when we consider the moral place of animals.
The Expanding Circle
Expanding the circle is an evocative metaphor that captures the progress of humanity as a moral species. It is a phrase coined by the Irish historian and philosopher William Lecky (1838 - 1903) and means that humanity is enfolding more beings into its moral group as worthy of respect and moral consideration. Lecky's reputation gathers dust (see the entry Expanding the Circle), yet the moral circle is expanding. Only a few generations ago slaves were excluded from the heart of society and women were devalued chattel. Slavery and woman's repression were once accepted as social norms. Animals are at a much greater disadvantage in the struggle for moral equality because, unlike slaves and women, they are not of our species and cannot fight for their own cause.
The philosopher Peter Singer puts Lecky's metaphor to use as the title of his book The Expanding Circle: ethics and sociobiology
(Clarendon Press: Oxford. 1981).
The Great Leap
Animals gain when we include them in our moral circle. Looking beyond that, there is another good reason that is more human-oriented for granting rights to animals. Humanity is about to make a great leap into the future; blasting off into space, deciphering genomes and implanting synthetic parts in our bodies are some of the signs of this impending leap. These signs signal that we are saying good-bye to our organic roots based on natural selection and are entering a new phase of evolution based on science and technology. We are shaping a transformation of humanity into a powerful super-being that one day (assuming humanity and science survive the next hundred years) will be unrecognisable to the present generation. However, we must not allow any future-being to ravage every creature it meets for its own ends, in the present style of humanity. We must instil in it, as far as we can, an enlightened and compassionate morality as a force for good. To this end we must labour to expand our circle of moral consideration to encompass all creatures, whatever and wherever they are in the universe.
(1) Allen, Woody. My Speech to the Graduates
. In Complete Prose
. Picador: London. 1997.
(2) Leakey, Richard & Lewin, Roger. The Sixth Extinction: biodiversity and its survival
. Weidenfield and Nicolson: London. 1996.
(3) Possibly paraphrased from a speech in 1767.
Learn more: The Sixth Extinction
by Niles Eldredge.
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