Our moral obligation to animals

Over the weekend, I came across this article by Eric Loomis, who is trying to make sense of his complicated relationship with professional football. He raises excellent points, many of which address the correlation between on-field and off-the-field violence.

I liked his article a great deal but I stumbled over this piece:

Michael Vick‘s dog fighting conviction received a ton of media coverage, but I am more concerned with the all too common domestic violence cases. I found it quite interesting that society condemned Vick’s actions far more vociferously than the horrible things that happen to women involved with players.”

I’m not sure why violence toward animals is any more acceptable than violence toward humans, but to take animal cruelty less seriously is not uncommon. The idea that it’s somehow more worthy to advocate for humans than for animals is a perspective I encounter regularly, especially during the holiday season when there’s extra importance placed on helping “those less fortunate.”

But “those less fortunate” is not limited to any one species. Suffering is suffering, whether it’s a dog who’s been beaten and fought or a person without a warm bed for the night. What difference does it make that one can do algebra? Both feel pain and cold. Both experience loneliness, hunger, and terror.

Some simply argue that humans are inherently more deserving. Animals can’t reason, don’t know right from wrong, and can’t conceive of consciousness outside of themselves. Neither does a three-week-old human, yet we don’t deem his life–from a legal or moral standpoint–any less valuable than that of a 25-year-old man.

Just because we’re physically stronger or possess different mental capabilities than those of animals doesn’t mean we have the right to use them for our convenience or to turn a blind eye to their discomfort. My humanness doesn’t justify confining an elephant to a circus cage any more than my physical stature rationalizes chaining a toddler to a tree.

Animals aren’t here for our entertainment or to alleviate our burdens. When humans start using this “inherent superiority” to liberate rather than enslave others–or when animals begin cropping people’s ears because they like the looks of it or whipping people to promote faster running in a footrace–maybe then we can re-evaluate who is inherently more deserving.

My Thanksgiving wish: All humans, everywhere, understand the value of doing something. It’s not about ranking one cause over another. Child welfare advocates aren’t criticized for ignoring world hunger. Breast cancer walkers are not pitted against AIDS awareness cyclists. This is about recognizing that there is enough injustice to go around, and it’s about doing your part to eliminate suffering for all.

A final thought:

I recently attended a fundraiser for a politician running for local office. When asked about her position on punishment for animal cruelty, she responded that she has no tolerance for those who abuse animals. Her reason? Individuals who torture animals are likely to go on to abuse humans. This may be true, but I look forward to the day when politicians denounce animal cruelty, not because of what it leads to, but because of what it is: Wrong.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Leslie Smith