Broad Setting for Animal Rights
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. Now scientists recognise we are living in a mass extinction
of life caused by humans endlessly demanding resources for themselves. (2) On top of this is climate change, also human made, that is wiping out populations and species. (3) This is why animals need practical friends to help them survive and why this book is written. Rights for animals is a counter to global man-made destruction.
To be active for animal rights all you need to be is an ordinary person. You are unlikely be an animal rights 'terrorist' (see Extremism and Terrorism
), the stereotype bogeyman of the media. The media's animal rights archetype is a rare creature because for every bogey there is a multitude of concerned people being justifiably active for animals and we can all make an impact big or small.
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. Voltaire (1694 - 1778) is credited with saying, "If we believe absurdities we shall commit atrocities." (4) One of the most disturbing visions in the history of human progress is the spectre of early vivisectors (before the era of anaesthetics) nailing live animals onto dissection boards and cutting them open at leisure to see how they worked. The vivisectors conveniently believed animals do not feel pain even though animals react like they do.
So what is our best attitude for being active for animals? 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 we never be complacent and constantly question our beliefs, especially when we think we are right! This is especially important when we consider the moral place of animals.
The Expanding Circle
Expanding the circle is an expressive image that captures the progress of humanity as a moral species, drawing more beings into our moral circle of respect and consideration. It is an expression coined by the Irish historian and philosopher William Lecky (1838 - 1903). Lecky wrote:
"At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world..." (5)
Not long ago society marginalised women and excluded slaves; they were outside the circle, morally excluded. Animals for many people are still outside the circle. They are at a much greater disadvantage than slaves and women because they are not of our species and cannot fight for their own cause. The renowned philosopher Peter Singer used Lecky's Expanding Circle
metaphor as the title of his book on ethics (6). Yet even with his optimism we still have a long trek to the day when humanity finally accepts animals within its moral circle. To that day we must labour to expand our circle of moral consideration to encompass all creatures, whatever and wherever they are.
(1) Allen, Woody (1997): My Speech to the Graduates.
In Complete Prose.
(2) Leakey, Richard & Lewin, Roger (1996): The Sixth Extinction: biodiversity and its survival.
Weidenfield and Nicolson: London.
(3) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(4) Possibly paraphrased from a speech in 1767.
(5) Lecky, William Edward Hartpole (1869): History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne.
Vol 1. 100 - 101.
(6) Singer, Peter (1998): The Expanding Circle: ethics and sociobiology.
Clarendon Press: Oxford.
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