Parallels Between Human and Animal Slavery (I)

bear-3165_640When we are looking for eloquent, compelling arguments for the abolition of animal slavery, we need look no further than the abolitionists of the 18th century campaigning for the end of the Transatlantic slave trade.

This post includes a selection of quotes from prominent abolitionists and a brief explanation of the relevance to animal emancipation.

Here we see that the arguments against human slavery are practically identical to those against animal domination. The same set of principles underlie the unethical nature of all forms of slavery, be it between different ethic or social groups or different species. The infliction of unnecessary harm on any being – no matter which species they happen to belong to – who is capable of deep sensory perception and rich experiences is a great moral crime. Refusing to grant animal beings basic freedoms dooms them to unending abuse at the hands of their dominant human masters.

“Is it not strange to think, that they who ought to be considered as the most learned and civilized people in the world, that they should carry on a traffic of the most barbarous cruelty and injustice, and that many think slavery, robbery and murder no crime?” Ottobah Cugoano – African abolitionist and natural rights philosopher (1751-91)

As the Holocaust and countless bloody revolutions and genocides attest, culture and civilisation are no guarantee against great social crimes. Animal abuse and enslavement is the greatest social injustice of all time; correspondingly, the level of denial and moral blindness is equally great. Billions of animals are enslaved and murdered every single year – those in the meat industry are robbed of their flesh. This quote is particularly relevant to the field of animal testing and research, with some of the most brilliant academic minds completely oblivious of the grave ethical implications of their imprisonment, abuse and experimentation on highly intelligent and incredibly sensitive animal beings, most of which are irrevocably damaged or simply killed and discarded like spent equipment.

“I can with truth and sincerity declare, that I have found amongst the negroes as great a variety of talents as amongst a like number of whites; and I am bold to assert, that the notion entertained by some, that the blacks are inferior in their capacities, is a vulgar prejudice, founded on the pride of ignorance of their lordly masters, who have kept their slaves at such a distance, as to be unable to form a right judgment of them.” Anthony Benezet, Quaker, Writer and Abolitionist (1713-84)

This quote by Anthony Benezet touches upon several key assumptions made by the oppressive group against the oppressed. Just as proponents of human slavery believed that black people were inferior in their natural physical and mental abilities, proponents of speciesism advocate that other animals are stupid or of low intelligence, when the reality is that other species simply have different talents and skills as humans do. Also, the blind ignorance of the masters of the oppressed is mainly due to keeping animals at such a physical and emotional distance from our lives. Aside from domestic pets, other animals are regarded as wild, savage, brutal creatures. This over-simplistic portrayal of nature only serves to reinforce negative, outdated, ignorant attitudes.

Benezet also noted how short the life expectancy was for slaves on plantations, on many plantations only 7-9 years. The high rate at which slaves had to be replaced was used as evidence by Benezet to counter arguments that slaved actually benefited from their removal from Africa.

Here we are introduced to the argument that the enslaved are better off under human stewardship, as opposed to living by themselves. Obviously, animals used by humans for food do not live close to their natural lifespan, and also their life is only valuable so long as it is economically viable to its human master – they have no inherent value under the current systems and their life is deemed worthless if they have no economic value. From a compassionate standpoint, this view – the predominant world view – is cruel and absurd.

Part II – Parallels Between Human and Animal Slavery: Abolitionism vs Gradualism – Coming soon

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