The divide between “human” rights and “animal rights” is one that exists in our minds. When we carefully consider what rights are, we quickly realise that non-human animals deserve basic freedoms too.
Ultimately, the similarities between our species and others fundamentally outweigh our differences. In reality, human rights are animal rights – we are just one species among many and fellow animals are equally deserving of the most basic human rights. Conversely, if one argues that animals do not have substantial rights, they neither do human beings. If it is your right to consume animals – that is the rights of the animal are trumped by your right to overpower the weak – what stops someone else stronger than you from beating you, killing you or eating you? Why do you deserve freedom from harm, but a cow does not, even though it feels fear and pain just as you do, and it values its own life as much as you do yours?
It is a denial of the shortness of life, that we forget that our lives are ultimately more or less as significant as all beings who have ever lived – all are consigned to the past, all dwarfed by the vast expanse of time in which we all beings are just tiny blips.
Fortune has given human beings great intellectual capacity and with it, the ability to recognise and conceptualise the nature of rights and freedom. Human rights have become a cornerstone of the social contract – our laws safeguard our basic freedoms as we decided that rights are so important that our laws guarantee them to us. We deserve basic freedoms and rights and our laws enshrine this respect into our society – fellow non-human animals also deserve basic freedoms, yet we have not yet recognised this in law, thus our society has no safeguard for our fellow citizens of the world, who, in absence of such legal protection are imprisoned, exploited and killed in the tens of billions every year.
Rights are a recognition that life inherently involves suffering, and that all beings naturally seek to avoid suffering and seek comfort. This is the assumption that all theory of freedom and rights rest upon. The autonomy of the individual – the individual demands respect and liberty as life is inherently suffering – all seek to reduce suffering and increase contentment/comfort and pleasure. this is why we have rights. Rights are a recognition of this universal truth and our attempt at alleviating suffering and making our existence as pleasant as possible, given the existential problems of life. The shortness of life and the bleakness of existence – the existential problem of existing in a universe that is ultimately random and meaningless – these are what rights and freedom exist for. To soften the cold reality of existing within a vast ocean of particles.
Naturally it follows that there are no species requirements for this liberty – no living being is free from the fundamental difficulties of existence – it is for this supreme reason that all beings are deserving of rights. Rights are an automatic given to existence.
Sentience is the ultimate prerequisite for liberty – if you are able to perceive the world around you, feel pain and have a mind able to process emotion, fear and are capable of experience suffering, you have rights. It is as straightforward as that.
If you are alive, no matter what species you belong, you have at the very least, the freedom from unnecessary harm. Necessary harm would include a carnivore killing its prey, such as a lion or a shark. Unless otherwise an absolute necessity for survival, all animals currently utilised by humans fall into the category of unnecessary harm. It is not essential for humans to consume, kill and subjugate billions of animals for which its survival is not directly in threat. We do not need to eat meat; we do not need to enslave animals for our entertainment, in all forms; our civilisation will not collapse if we were to stop experimenting on them.
The true definition of “unnecessary suffering” is far, far more strict than the conventional use of the term in regard to non-human animals and their suffering. Many states possess laws prohibiting the “unnecessary” suffering of animals, however this completely ignores the gross underlying injustice of the animal agriculture system and the oppression inherent within. Prohibiting the excessive use of violence makes little difference to a system that restricts all other freedoms of the individual animals. Legally they might be protected from excessive abuse, however in practice this is rarely detected or enforced. Regardless, flimsy legalities of excessive violence makes very little difference to animals who are already denied all the most important freedoms – freedom from imprisonment, freedom of movement, freedom from being killed, freedom from severe overcrowding, freedom to live out their natural lives, rather than a fraction of their natural lifespan. Our society imprisons and kills sentient, feeling beings by the billion, yet worries about individual acts of cruelty, when the system as a whole perpetuates infinitely more cruelty by its very nature.