Thursday, June 9, 2011

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse: Do Animals Deserve Rights?

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." George Washington

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse, America!!

By Nicholas Meyeres

Let’s talk animal rights for a bit, shall we?

Admittedly, this is a tricky one for a plethora of different and varying reasons, and one that I could write entire books about. So, where to begin….?

While it is clear that animals and humans are vastly different on a great many levels, they are also very similar on enough levels to warrant the discussion in the first place. After all, the scientist will say he tests on monkeys because they are like us, and then when asked if it is right to do so, he will say “yes” because they are NOT like us. That type of hypocrisy is not uncommon when we discuss animal rights issues with nearly anyone- not just the vivisectionist.

But first, let’s define what animal rights means to me. In my view it is the right not to be made to die and suffer by humans except in self-defense. Period. However, if you take issue with the concept of a "right" for animals, you can instead think of this position as being equivalent to the following proposition: "It is MORALLY wrong to kill animals UNNESISARILY and make them suffer except in self-defense.”

Now, let’s take this oft-discussed hypothetical conversation as an example of why I am for some form of animal rights:

Opponent of animal rights: How can you say that animals have rights? That’s ridiculous.

Proponent of animal rights: Why is it ridiculous?

Opponent: For one thing, animals can't reason. They can't be held responsible for their actions. To have rights, you must have these capacities first and foremost.

Proponent: Wait a minute. Infants can't reason in the regard you are meaning, either. Does that mean that it's open season to hunt and kill babies?

Opponent: Of course not. Infants will be able to reason someday. We must treat them as prospective rights-holders.

Proponent: But what if the infant is terminally ill and has only six months to live? What about a person who was born with part of his brain missing and has the mental capacity of a pig? What about a senile, old person? Is it OK to kill, eat, and otherwise use these people for our own ends, just as we now use pigs and cows and sheep and monkeys?

It's easy to grasp this fact if you do some introspection and ask yourself why it is morally wrong to inflict suffering on a human who can't reason. Why is it morally wrong to torture an infant? Is it because he or she has the potential to become a moral entity at some point? Now, be honest about this: Isn't it really because the infant can suffer and has an interest in NOT suffering? Isn't it because forcing the infant to suffer against his or her will violates its “rights”? Why is it immoral to use a victim of Alzheimer's for target practice? Is it because he is a member of a species whose more normal members can think conceptually and can be held responsible for their actions? Surely not. It's because he can suffer, and therefore, he has an interest in not suffering. To treat him this way against his will goes against his “rights” I am sure everyone will agree.

In essence, all of this also holds true for the monkey, the dog, the cat, or any other animal we know of for that matter. Like a human, the monkey can suffer, and he has an interest in not suffering. To force him to die and suffer needlessly, except in self-defense, violates his “rights”, as well. It's a simple matter of treating like cases alike with pure categorical logic.

Sometimes skeptics make the following objection to animal rights: “If animals have a right not to be made to suffer, doesn't it follow that we should police the wilderness and prevent predatory animals from attacking their prey?” No, this does not follow. Animals should be allowed to defend themselves, but they do not have the right to protection any more than human beings do. What the “like cases alike” argument proves is that it is immoral for moral creatures like humans to treat animals in ways we would not treat humans like except (again) in self-defense.

In truth, because animals are not moral creatures as we know it, what they do is outside the purview of our ethics system. We might as well ask whether a zebra has a “right” not to be crushed by a falling rock. Therefore, we can only concern ourselves with what WE should do and not do. Animals in the wild are on their own for all intents and purposes. At least an animal who is preyed upon in the wild has a fighting chance. It is not locked in a cage or hunted with tools he has no privy to.

Another popular objection is “animals kill and eat each other in nature, so why shouldn't we be able to do the same thing?” In other words: “If animals do it, then we can do it, too.” But that would mean that we are like the animals, and surely it would be illogical to base our moral principles on the actions of animals who can't even engage in simple moral reasoning, correct? Some animals eat their offspring. Does that mean I am morally entitled to eat my offspring, as well? This is one of the many reasons I am a vegan; we are not at the top of the proverbial food chain- we are far, far BEYOND it.

So, do animals deserve “rights” afforded to them? Perhaps not in the context of the same equal rights we are afforded in our United States Constitution, but some basic rights should indeed be in order. Perhaps the same rights infants are allowed and afforded, but not the same rights adult humans are given. Besides, in theory all suffering is immoral when inflicted upon the innocent. After all, animals have no proper voice to speak out, but that doesn’t mean we still cannot hear them cry.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse: To Cut, or Not To Cut.... What Was the Question?

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." George Washington
Welcome to the Slaughterhouse, America!!

By Nicholas Meyeres

A proposal to ban the circumcision of all male children in San Francisco has been cleared to appear on the November 2011 ballot, setting the stage for the nation's first public vote on what has long been considered a very private family matter. In fact, if the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18, and the practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. And finally, there would be no religious exemptions whatsoever.

Supporters of the ban say male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that is unnecessary, extremely painful and dangerous or even sometimes deadly. They go one step further and say parents should not be able to force the decision on a young child who cannot speak out for themselves what their wishes may or may not be.

But, don't parents do that already with a score of other issues including baptization, the foods they choose to feed their children, the places they allow them to play and with whom, etc.? After all, while I may agree with the assessment of anti-circumcision folks out there who say the practice is outdated and fairly archaic, I also have a personal aversion to banning much of anything at all myself.

Besides, State and Federal governments should not ban something that is supported by one's religion or parent's beliefs, right? Doesn't this border on (if not step right into) a war about the constitutionality of the issue at worst, and an unnecessary if not costly battle for tax payers at best that really only effect a small percentage of people in the long run?

Ironically, circumcision is promoted in only two world wide religions, (Judaism and Islam). Most other churches and religions- like the Catholic church for instance- keep a completely neutral stance on the issue altogether. After all, only about 30% of males over the age of 15 in the world are circumcised. In fact, of that 30%- roughly 68% of these circumcised men are Muslims alone. So, is this a matter of religious discrimination?

It seems to come very close to violating one's individual rights as stated in the 1st amendment of the Constitution to me: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

Still, the other side says this is a matter of keeping one safe from harm. But if that were true, then what about anti-smoking laws, or the war on drugs? Or the Patriot Act, for that matter? Those hurt (or "protect" as is the case for the Patriot Act), and even kill many more innocents than circumcision ever will.

And what about abortion? Should that be banned too, for similar reasons? What about parents who choose to get little Sally Sue's ears pierced at a young age without her consent? Is that "mutilation", as well? And what about baptization, the unhealthy foods that kids tend to eat, the dangerous places they tend to play in, and the bad influences they choose to play with as I already said above? Where does it all end? And who is to be the final authority as far as mutilation even goes, or the right of the parent to parent as they see fit for that matter?

At the end of the day this seems to me to be nothing shy of retaliation in San Francisco against extreme religious groups because of their aversion to gay marriage. After all, San Francisco is well known as the battle front for gay equality in the United States, and gay marriage is a hot button issue for many people including myself. Is this a "rainbow conspiracy" of sorts that will eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court just like the issue of gay marriage eventually will? Could this be nothing more than a clever attack on religion in the only way they seem to know how- by creating even more laws to ban things that are as close to irrelevant as possible to everyone BUT theists?

Just keep in mind, while I have a personal aversion to religion, in this case I will choose to do what Voltaire said he would do in such similar instances: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Or as is the case here: "... I will defend to the death your right to DO what you choose to do based on your constitutional right to not have the law or Congress supersede your personal religious beliefs."

Besides, like I already said, I have a problem with banning anything that (for the most part) doesn't harm another person or worse. After all, the medical benefits of circumcision are so evident that they can easily be accessed by simply Googling them. Abortion and smoking, however, don't seem to offer much in the way of a benefit to anyone at all- physically, or otherwise- and they kill many more people than a simple medical procedure ever will. So, which is it? Do we steer clear of making new laws to ban things unnecessarily, or do we ban them ALL? I suspect I know which side most people will fall on including myself.

Agree or not, this is a step in the wrong direction for this issue to take. If one truly wanted to change anything including people's minds, they should start off first by spreading the word in as many ways as possible, including petitioning doctors and hospitals to provide information to patients about the pros and cons of the procedure without looking as if they are trying to sway the argument one way or the other. The answer is never to make a new law first, and worry about the consequences later.

Frankly, the answer lies in getting rid of many of the laws we already have!

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