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Animal Rights or Animal Lives?

I have been championing animal rights since organizing the first national animal rights conference in 1981. But how do I explain this concept to my neighbor? And how about the social contract? Is animal rights about them or about us? And what about saving animal lives? 

A Bit of History

In 1965, British novelist, playwright, pacifist, and social reformer, Brigid Brophy penned an editorial entitled The Rights of Animals in the prestigious London Sunday Times. The editorial proposed that recent efforts to expand human rights be extended to sentient animals and is generally credited with launching the concept of animal rights in the Western world.

In the early 1970s, a group at Oxford University became intrigued by Brophy’s editorial. They coined the term “speciesism,” to denote a prejudice toward non-human animals based on morally irrelevant physical differences. And, they compiled 13 essays on the intriguing new concept in the book Animals, Men & Morals.

One of the Oxford group, Australian philosopher Peter Singer, published a review of Animals, Men & Morals in the prestigious New York Review of Books and was invited to teach a course on animal rights at New York University. The lesson plan became the core of Singer’s celebrated – Animal Liberation – published in 1975.

Singer’s book is generally credited with launching a fundamental re-examination of the status of animals. It was largely based on the concept of utilitarianism, which seeks to minimize suffering for the greatest number of sentient beings. However, the concept of animal rights, as we understand it today – that all sentient beings are entitled to equal moral consideration – was actually introduced in Tom Regan’s 1983 book The Case for Animal Rights. 

What Are Animal Rights?

All societies, both human and animal, must maintain certain rules of behavior, or social norms, in order to survive. Among animal societies, these norms are frequently based on physical strength. gender, and age. In human societies, it gets more complicated. Every member of a society is expected to abide by these norms in what sociologists refer to as a “social contract.” Clearly, animals who live in groups are definitely capable of abiding by their own social contracts.

The more pertinent question is whether animals can abide by social contracts with humans. Our family dog certainly knows when it’s time to eat, where to relieve himself, which couch to sleep on, and how to act when we come home. Our cat – perhaps less so. But setting up similar arrangements outside our home and with so many animals living in our midst, including deer, bears, raccoons, rats, and mice, appears extremely unlikely. And so does the prospect of redressing any grievances before human courts.

Then, what is the practical meaning of animal rights, and how do we apply it to our lives? The answer is as simple as it is powerful: it’s not about them – it’s about us. Animal rights is a euphemism for our determination to treat the most vulnerable, and therefore, the most oppressed sentient beings on earth with the same kindness and respect that we would accord to other human beings. The social contract to do so is with ourselves – not with the animals.

The animal rights movement shares the vision of a world where animals are no longer exploited for food, experiments, clothing, amusement, or any other form of human greed. The rights we seek for animals are primarily the right to life, bodily integrity, and freedom of movement. The Declaration of Animal Rights signed by 50 organizations at the 1990 March on Washington says as much.

Animal Rights And Human Rights

Some of us view animal rights as a logical extension of our struggles for human rights. But it’s more complicated.

All recent victories for human rights only asked people to stop oppressing certain members of our society. There was never any question about the victims’ life, bodily integrity, and freedom of movement, and no demand for fundamental lifestyle changes.  Ours is the only social struggle since the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which makes similar demands.  That struggle cost an estimated 600,000 lives.

Moreover, ours is the only case where the victims can not participate in their own redemption. In our eyes, this makes our struggle even more noble. But, other social justice advocates may view our struggle as attempting to compare the moral value of our victims to theirs and take great offense.

Animal Rights Or Animal Lives

Because of these concerns, some animal rights advocates feel that animals are best served at this stage by directly reducing their numbers in the food stream, rather than by promoting the animal rights ideology. This requires nothing less than a massive reform of our national food system to replace animal-based food products with plant-based ones.

Such reforms must address supply, replacement, distribution, and demand sectors of our food system.

  • Supply involves promoting investment in plant-based meat and dairy products that match and surpass the taste, cost, convenience, health, and availability, of animal-based foods
  • Replacement involves getting food processors to replace eggs and other animal ingredients in their products with plant-based ones
  • Distribution involves getting major food services, institutional cafeterias, and restaurant and grocery chains to offer and distribute more plant-based food products
  • Demand involves participation in massive animal food consumption reduction campaigns like Meatless Monday, healthy school lunches, or even reducetarianism; this is the sector where we can all be most helpful.

The conflict with animal rights arises because food reform involves winning over and working with people who have no interest in animal rights, are only motivated by the profit potential, and may even still be engaged  in abusing and slaughtering animals. It’s a bit like working in a slaughterhouse to gather undercover evidence, but on a much larger scale.

In the past couple of years, several outstanding leaders of the animal rights movement have elected to forgo promoting animal rights in order to save animal lives through the food reform process.

A Closing Note

The invention of the telegraph freed hundreds of thousands of messenger pigeons. The production of kerosene eliminated the market for whale oil and the associated slaughter of sperm whales. The development of steam and internal combustion engines spared millions of horses, mules, and other equines from backbreaking labor.

In the next 20 years, development of plant-based meats and dairy products will liberate billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows from factory farms and slaughterhouses. Once people have largely stopped using animals for food, they will be happy to actualize their natural affinity toward animals by supporting our animal rights ideology en masse.

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33 thoughts on “The Vegan Blog”

  1. We have learned nothing, but I see a glimmer of hope in this next generation. There’s more love and willingness to care… Maybe I’m dreaming; naive; or surrounded by ‘nice’ young people, but it’s heartening. Thank you for everything you have done to keep those souls safe and loved 💚💚💚💚✌️💕
    Alison,
    Co, Antrim
    N. Ireland

  2. Amazing post. Some people are shocked at the comparison between the Holocaust and what humans do to animals, but this is just speciesism. They feel that comparing human and animal suffering somehow discredits or diminishes human suffering, because they believe animals are lower than humans. Thank you Alex Herscaft for making this important point and hopefully the no vegan majority will see the truth soon. Peace and Love
    Emily

  3. Thank you. I often reference the holocaust in my animal activism and now here are your world changing words to back me up. Thank you thank you. Blessings.

  4. Dear Alex,

    I am moved and humbled by your experience as a young child and the journey it has taken you on. I am finding it hard to put in to words my gratitude that you have been able to find a positive trajectory for the suffering, pain and loss of life among your loved ones, not to mention countless others.

    I am only months in to living a more compassionate life. Vegan eating has been an easy conversion for me and my only regret is having not done it sooner. I have often been saddened by peoples’ lack of empathy towards fellow humans and found it hard as a child to understand racism. Little did I know I was implicitly being taught that oppression (in its’ many forms) was ok. I guess it has never sat well with me, but until only recently the connection between eating animals, animal cruelty and our oppression of people, has eluded me.

    Thank you for giving voice to such a big topic and sharing your experience. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Sincerely, Cyntra

  5. I was never in a camp. But I recognized oppression, and resolved to stop eating meat many years ago. Interestingly enough my own mother tried to guilt me about my decision. And she was raised on a farm.
    So thank you. I firmly believe that you cannot say you love animals and continue to eat meat…it’s more appropriate to say you love certain animals and hate the rest.
    And if you eat meat, you are harming the climate. That’s a proven fact. So thank you sir for your convictions. They are entirely correct.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been a vegetarian since I was a child and a vegan for ten years.
    It is so refreshing to read that others see how this evil, everyday like slaughter, slavery and torture is acceptable if someone else does it for you

  7. Thank you very much for this website, for this clear message.
    I am from Slovakia, and I woul like to make translations of your blog posts, so people, who do not speak English, can read your important thoughts, if it is ok with you.
    I never heard thoughts about our beloved animal toys in our childhood opposing the teaching, that animals are food. I is very strong image of our internal incoherency.
    Thank you. I is honor to read your kind words!

  8. It’s awesome to become acquainted with a four-decade Vegan. I will keenly anticipate your periodic sharing of wisdom and advice

  9. Thank you. Sir for your incredible insight…
    World must start to understand that
    Savagery is. Savagery… no matter the species 🙏

  10. This Text was verry emotional and show the same Violence to animals in high level how the Violence to jewish people before many years ago. Changes was only the Spezies,the cruelty ist the same and so unnessesary!!! Love all beeings is our learning Prozess! I fight for every Animal!💪💪💪✌️I’m a vegan.❣️

  11. Thank you very, very much for calling on your family’s tragic experience, and that suffered by so many others, to advocate for fairness and compassion for all sentient beings. When will the world learn? “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards ALL.”

  12. This was the first time I heard of you. I’m already vegan , 3 years only unfortunately.
    I wish you can reach more and more people , your words are so powerful. I wish you health and happiness and that many people will hear you out

  13. Alex, I’m so grateful that you are still so active in fighting for the animals! Keep it up as there is still too much work to do. We are fighting against our own government which subsidizes the animal industry!

  14. What an excellent piece of writing to defend animal farming industry 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 I’ve just shared it in Facebook

  15. Dear Alex, dear, dear man! I have for many years referred to the killing of these precious beings we share our Earth with as another holocaust! It has always saddened & sickened me. I am forever grateful for the work you do to try and bring awareness, awakening to the human species about what is REALLY going on!!! There are many times I cannot even leave my home for fear of what I might see! I pray and oh I do so hope one day this horrifically heinous treatment of these beloved beings, the innocents indeed will end! …. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for your kind comments.
    Additional information and lessons from the Holocaust about our oppression of animals are available on our website at https://never-again.org.
    The video of a speech I delivered before 2,000 vegan activists in England on August 31st may be viewed on the FARM Facebook page or YouTube channel.

  17. Thank you for the content of this piece, nicely written with lots of great historical information. (I wanted to re post it but I’m an aesthete and cant bring myself to post the cartoon pig logo)

  18. Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I am not aware of anything comparable. That’s why I was motivated to start this blog.

  19. Good question. Much of what I write about is material that I have given a lot of thought to or actually written about. Beyond that, when a thought strikes me, I put it down, name the topic, and file it. So, a lot of my writing is more a matter of rescuing these files, organizing the content in some meaningful fashion, and filling in the gaps, rather than generating new ideas.

    1. I hope to eventually, once the blog has become more established and assuming that the author is someone whose expertise and opinion I respect.

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