Animal Rights and Our Willful Ignorance

The concept of “animal rights” is used quite convincingly with respect to dogs and cats; clearly, it’s a message that resonates with most folks. Yet more often than not the sentimentality ends there. As a society we are highly selective in terms of the animals that we deem worthy of respect and humane treatment. We are appalled by the mere mention of a dog or a cat being neglected or abused – in many instances it will make national headlines and at times international headlines. This was certainly evident with the venomous reaction that the Michael Vick case generated a few years back. Or, most recently, with the killing (and public dissection) of a young giraffe at a Copenhagen zoo.

These actions were deplorable and the collective sense of outrage that emerged was certainly warranted. Yet it is also glaringly evident that the CEOs of Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, etc. are held to a vastly different moral standard. The dichotomy at play highlights a cultural hypocrisy that is beyond staggering. It’s a widely known fact that the chickens, pigs, and cows held captive on industrialized farms are forced to live under heinous conditions and are slaughtered in a particularly cruel and violent manner. One can simply watch a YouTube video to witness their business practices firsthand. Incidentally, the industry is now attempting to pass sweeping laws to ban such videos in an attempt to protect their cleverly crafted images as benevolent “old fashioned” farmers and stay ahead of the curve as the number of socially / environmentally minded consumers increases in size (take note of how McDonald’s is currently marketing itself on mainstream media outlets.) These so called “AG GAG” laws have been proposed in a number of states and have passed in Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Utah with the clear intent to criminalize investigative journalism.

Simply stated, we are all God’s creatures and we live within an ecological system that was designed to be symbiotic. The one who put the breath of life in man did so to each and all. In turn, the impetus falls upon us – the purportedly higher-minded creature – to always remain cognizant of this truth. Taking a vigilant stand for the wellbeing of a dog or a cat; yet, blindly supporting an abhorrent industry, as a consumer, creates a conflict that will inevitably reach a tipping point. More than likely, it will come in the form of an environmental crisis. Which is a reasonable assumption due to the environmental degradation that results from the obscene amounts of methane and C02 that are emitted into the environment through their business practices. Inevitably a question arises – how did we reach this point?

The origins of this predicament can be traced back to the early nineteenth century and the rise of the Industrial Revolution. The technological advances that began to emerge profoundly impacted the course of human history. Since that point in time, our quality of life has risen to levels of comfort and convenience that would have been utterly unfathomable to our ancestors. Conversely with the rise of industry has come the steady urbanization of humanity – into the cities and out of the country. This occurred first in the West and is now taking shape in the East. Therein lies the problem, with each passing generation, humanity as a whole has been cut off from the land, animals, and vegetation that our ancestors understood so well. Farming in the historic sense of the word is simply a relic of the past. This disconnect has created an ambivalence regarding the animals that are exploited in such a ghastly fashion on industrialized farms – out of sight, out of mind.

In sum, it is my hope that these words will resonate with the reader and trigger some introspective thought regarding the nuanced nature of animal rights. Would we be as ambivalent to massive industrialized farms that raised and slaughtered dogs as opposed to chickens? No – we would be utterly outraged and would more than likely take to the streets in protest. So what can be done to correct the gross injustice that chickens, pigs, and cows are subjected to? It begins with the manner in which we choose to spend our money. The marketplace has always been predicated upon the demands of the consumer. With that clear financial understanding coupled with our innate desire for a higher purpose there is a distinct likelihood that our ambivalence may begin to shift away from this current state of blind consumption; and, a transformative social movement will take hold. A movement that cultivates a greater sense of awareness and in due time enables each of us to become a financial voice for the voiceless.