05 July 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 13

There’s a difference between having a right and being able to assert it. I sometimes hear it suggested that, since animals can’t assert rights, they don’t have any. But this is a non sequitur. Babies can’t assert rights, but surely they have them. The senile can’t assert rights, but surely they have them.

Rightholders can be represented by others. This is done every day when people hire attorneys (or when guardians are appointed for the incompetent). An attorney, literally, is someone who works at the turn of—i.e., in behalf of—another. Actually, attorneys both work in behalf of their clients and speak on behalf of their clients. There are plenty of people who are able and willing to work in behalf of and speak on behalf of animals. Thus, animals’ not being able to assert their rights has nothing to do with whether they have rights to be asserted. Don’t confuse the two.

Sometimes I think animals get shafted because they can’t stand up for themselves. It’s a case of might makes right. When humans are abused, they cry “injustice,” “exploitation,” “oppression,” and “unfairness.” This rallies others to their cause. Animals don’t speak this language. But they have interests, like humans; and their interests can be wrongfully set back. The law is changing, albeit gradually. A hundred years from now, the legal status of animals will be very different from what it is today. Wrongs that now go unrecognized and unremedied will be seen for what they are and dealt with accordingly.

If you’re skeptical that this will happen, look at slavery. It took a long time for people to see the evil in human chattel slavery, evil that seems as obvious to us as that there are people. It required a paradigm shift. It’s only a matter of time before people see the evil in treating animals as property.

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