Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Animal Rights & Human Rights: Different Sides of the Same Coin

Last year, Gary Francione wrote a powerful essay comparing struggles for Human Rights to the fight for Animal Rights. It appeared on his terrific Website/Blog called The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. Even though he wrote this piece more than a year ago (on May 8, 2009), I'm drawing attention to it because his Facebook group, Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights mentions it (if you're on Facebook and you haven't joined the group, please do). At one point in his essay, Francione writes that
it is a mistake to see issues of human and animal exploitation as mutually exclusive. On the contrary, all exploitation is inextricably intertwined. All exploitation is a manifestation of violence. All discrimination is a manifestation of violence. As long as we tolerate violence of any sort, there will be violence of every sort.
He goes on to argue, very persuasively, that the same violent tendencies and ways of thinking that perpetuate human rights abuses are also behind violence against animals. It's a terrific response to those people who attack animal rights advocates for not focusing sufficiently on human rights.

On Francione's Facebook page, I posted the following follow-up message:

This is yet another superb commentary by Gary Francione. I might add the slightly less charitable fact that most of the critics who accuse animal rights activists of being indifferent to the suffering of human beings are not themselves human rights activists. Most of the committed human rights activists I know have no problem with animal rights activism. In this case, the accusers are rarely the kind of people you would find supporting Human Rights Watch or protesting against human rights abuses at home and abroad.

By contrast, a number of animal rights advocates (and I count myself in this category) have also worked in the human rights movement. I think it's important to assess the accusers and their background. Most of them are simply anti-vegan, anti-animal rights, and the whole "you care more about animal rights than human rights" argument turns out to be an intellectually lazy way of bashing those of us who advocate on behalf of veganism and animal rights.

Human rights and animal rights, as Francione points out, cannot be separated. They are part of the same struggle. It is interesting that those parts of the world where the worst human rights abuses occur, you are much more likely to find terrible and widespread instances of animal abuse happening too. Countries that treat people horribly usually lack laws or regulations to protect their animal population. The end result is that people and animals are abused. By contrast, those parts of the world where people prize human rights and have good track records also often treat their animals more respectfully.

Without doubt, you'll inevitably run into a few malcontents in the animal rights movement who feel intense loathing toward the human race. This isn't terribly surprising when you begin to survey the lengthy and tragic panorama of humans abusing, exploiting and carrying out violence against animals. Even a brief exposure to the shocking treatment of animals by the human race is enough to make one feel ashamed of our species.

But antipathy toward the human race is not the way to go. Just as there are violent people who exploit and brutalize and murder animals, there are also kind and compassionate souls - like Gary Francione and countless others - who care very deeply for animals. We would do well to remember all of our brothers and sisters who are out there making a difference, using the tools of creative nonviolence and veganism to build a better world. Sadly, the moment we forget that animal rights and human rights are inseparable, our ability to feel an empathic rapport with all living beings starts to diminish.


  1. I am invariably stimulated to comment on your posts but for some reason my firefox browser will not allow me to comment if the blog has the comment feature set to "full page" or "embedded below post" ....if the comment feature is set to "pop-up window" then the comment thingee works fine in my browser....go figure.

    Anyway, saying all that to say I have to go to my opera browser to be able to comment and my natural inertia often comment. That doesn't mean the posts aren't great, it means I'm lazy.

    Now, my question is: Would it be too pedestrian to condense the arguments about rights to not use force (or threat of force) in any interaction with a sentient being?...(except maybe in self-defense).

    The reason I ask is that I tend to get lost in complexity fairly easily and too, I often am curious whether the definition I understand a word to have is the same as the definition that the writer or speaker understands for a word. Even words that sound sort of mundane like violence or exploitation can have different meanings depending on the person's private definition.

    I look forward to your help. Thanks and thanks for your great writing.

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  3. Sorry... I'm revising my previous comment slightly. Here it is:

    Thank you for your kind comments, Veganelder! That means a lot to me. The term Human Rights, like Animal Rights, is not always easy to define. And I won't attempt to do so here, other than to say that I think your starting point of not using violence in any case (except perhaps self-defense) is a very compelling one. There are others. I like to use the 30 Articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as a laudable list of rights for all people from all walks of life around the world (see We need a document that speaks this eloquently to the issue of Animal Rights. There have been noble attempts by animal rights advocates to fashion such a document. But you do raise an excellent issue, Veganelder. It is a matter we should carefully consider if terms such as "animal rights" are going to have any meaning.