When it comes to animals and people, conventional wisdom suggests that human beings are exceptional by comparison. After all, we invented coffee and iPads, right? But this human exceptionalism is founded on some underlying assumptions. These include the notion that humans have the capacity for moral reasoning and that they have a heightened level of self-awareness. However, increasingly, these notions are being challenged, and the animal rights movement has gained increasing support. And science appears to be providing some basis that offers support for animal rights.
While attitudes that support both the rights of animals and people have advanced, debates still exist. A sizable portion of the world population is unable to meet their own survival needs. Thus, questions about the importance of animal rights are being raised when human needs aren’t being addressed well. When these types of situations exist, it seems priorities are being misplaced. It’s therefore not surprising that issues surrounding the animal rights movement are increasingly coming to the forefront.
The Rise in the Animal Rights Movement
Throughout history, humankind has enjoyed significant advantages of power over animals of all types. Some animals are well-recognized today as pets, while others represent vital sources of our food supply. But particularly in the last century, advances in industry and technology have allowed us even greater dominion over the animal world. And as the global food industry is increasingly recognized as detrimental to ecosystems, social attitudes are shifting. Sustainable practices are being demanded. This detail includes not only a rise in veganism but also the increasing support for the animal rights movement.
Recent polls in America have shown that many now support equal rights for animals and people. To some extent, discoveries related to animal abilities have encouraged this shift. Many animals are now acknowledged to have not only complex cognitive capacities but also social and moral abilities as well. Specifically, chimpanzees and elephants have shown such abilities. But even more powerful has been the heightened awareness of mass animal suffering among global food supply chains. All these have been major factors that have attributed to today’s current animal rights movement.
Shifts in Politics and Law Toward Equal Animal and People Rights
The increased support for the animal rights movement is not simply being validated by public surveys. This same level of support for the rights of animals and people are being noted in political actions and the study of law. In terms of political action, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. The PACT states that any intentional injury to an animal is a federal crime, and it aims to work in conjunction with local laws. This act is a major advance in legislation that animal rights movement supporters applaud.
Politics is not the only area where increased support for the animal rights movement exists. Yale Law School recently added several courses that will address how to advocate for animal rights. The courses cite that current perspectives regarding animals and people are outdated. As a result, new laws and litigation efforts fighting for animal rights are needed. In fact, some attorneys are actively seeking to ascribe human rights to some animal species. Cases in both New York and Connecticut have heard arguments that some animals should not be held against their will in captivity. While none of these cases have succeeded yet, Yale Law School hopes to evoke future changes in animals’ favor.
An Argument Against Equal Rights for Animals and People
Indeed, support for the animal rights movement is grounded in science, ethics and morality. But from a practical standpoint, equal rights for animals and people may not be feasible. As the global population continues to hike, food supply shortages become a real issue. Implementing greater animal protections for livestock may pose a practical impossibility. We should note that the most vocal animal rights movement groups tend to arise from areas with high standards of living. Notably, advocating for animal rights when one is in a position of comfort offers a privileged position. Those who are less fortunate may not share similar views.
In this regard, no one is suggesting that animal cruelty should be allowed. However, deterring animal cruelty is a far cry from pushing for equal rights for animals and people. Resources are limited, and human beings must ensure they care for themselves and their families first. Guaranteeing animals and people the same rights may undermine that. And if one is not able to care for oneself, then the ability to care for animals as well will be lacking. While the animal rights movement supports equal rights for animals and people, such a case is simply not believed to be a possibility by many.
Can Bold Businesses Provide Solutions Supporting Animal Rights?
Most of the practical arguments against the animal rights movement involve shortages of various resources, particularly food supplies. But increasingly, bold businesses are developing food opportunities that do not require livestock and animals. For example, Impossible Foods and other plant-based foods are becoming increasingly popular. Likewise, CRISPR technologies also offer some promise in this regard to lab-based food production. Thus, while technology has increased dominance over animals, it may also provide an answer for the future.
The core issue is whether one believes animals are intelligent, sentient and thoughtful creatures worthy of personhood status or not. If so, then animals and people should share basic rights that respect them as living beings. In this regard, science clearly supports this mentality, and social and legal-political shifts do as well. Therefore, it is up to humankind to find solutions that are not only practical but also ethical in nature. And that includes not only supporting the animal rights movement but also their environment and ecosystem as well.