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What is Animal Rights?

Animal Rights: The concept of rights for animals is simple. The most basic right of a sentient being, whether they are human or any other animal, is the right to not be someone else's property.

Being the property of another means that you are treated as a resource; your only value is that which your owner places on you.

When it comes to other animals, being the property of humans means that they can be tortured and killed in the name of profit – whether it is being imprisoned and mutilated on farms, exploited in zoos, circuses and rodeos or poisoned for a new detergent or mascara.

The economic interests of the property owner always outweigh the interests of the property, even when this interest is to avoid suffering, to be free from exploitation or even, simply, to live.

As long as other animals are considered property both in law and mainstream opinion they will never be free from exploitation. Just as we oppose the exploitation of humans, Animal Rights Advocates Inc. opposes the exploitation of other animals. Whilst there is suffering and injustice in the world we will never be at peace.


What's the difference between 'animal rights' and 'animal welfare'?

Animal rights and animal welfare are profoundly different movements and ideas. Animal welfare seeks to regulate the exploitation of animals. Animal rights seeks to end it.

On the frontiers of animal abuse - such as genetic engineering - and in more traditional settings like vivisection and meat production, animal welfare’s task is to minimise unnecessary suffering where possible. The greater good of humanity is always the primary concern, and will almost always justify “necessary” suffering. The greater good may include an improved washing detergent or lipstick; food that takes more energy, more land and more water to produce; or an amusing pastime, like hunting.

Animal rights does not believe in addressing ‘symptoms’ through monitoring and regulating animal abuse. Animal rights instead addresses the fundamental root of animal suffering, which lies in the supremacist belief that animals, as part of the non-human environment, exist only for human purposes. This belief results in the trivialisation of the lives of animals because they are viewed merely as expendable, replaceable property of a worth measured only by human standards of money or utility. However, non-human animals, like humans, do not exist for other’s sakes. They exist for their own.

The case for animal rights does not come from an animal’s ability to conceive of rights. The most common excuse for animal exploitation is that the rule against causing suffering does not apply to animals because they are amoral. Yet human babies and the severely disabled, who are justly assigned rights, are also amoral in the sense that they can neither comprehend nor reciprocate rights. The extension of moral consideration to humans who are incapable of moral judgement rests on empathy, on imagining ourselves in their place such that we desire to treat them in ways that will not cause them suffering. These double standards towards humans and non-human animals are applied because for centuries it has been a useful ideology for rationalising the exploitation and infliction of harm on non-human animals for human benefit, an ideology known as speciesism.

In animal welfare, there are glimmers of recognition that animals have interests of their own. But these are unfailingly beaten back by human interests, however trifling. Animal rights suggests that these interests should be balanced properly.

It is an empty answer to simply insist that we’re human and they’re not. Humans remain unique. But all species, by very definition, are unique. Uniqueness does not create a coherent moral argument for treating animals in whatever way we please. Animal rights does not try to invent a non-existent equality between humans and animals. Species have different needs and cannot, and should not, be measured according to a single arbitrary standard. We recognise different rights and responsibilities among humans, so it is both absurd and discriminatory to suggest that recognising animal rights means giving them the same rights as us (such as “voting rights”). Instead, animal rights means equal consideration of animals’ interests, rather than our current delusion that they have none at all.


This article originally appeared on the Animal Rights Advocates website. Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (ARA) is a volunteer-run not for profit animal rights organisation based in Perth, Western Australia that campaigns for the abolition of animal exploitation.

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