The Problem of Animal Rights
The standard objection to animal rights is that animals don't have reason, or an inner life, or a soul, or some other missing quality. Neurologically, this is being discovered to be false, at least among many mammals and birds. Non-human animals may not have the same degree of inner life (reason, emotion, suffering, etc.) as adult humans do, but so what? Where's the threshold? If one can't convincingly give me a threshold, then they need to find another reason.
Except they don't... because I already know the reason and it has nothing to do with the inner life of conscious creatures, it requires nothing more than an examination of raw power.
My Problems with the Inner Life Argument
- Why does having an inner life or using reason matter? Why should it be valued? How does one cross the is/ought bridge there?
- What about young human children and the mentally handicapped? If a chimpanzee has at least as much "reason" and "consciousness" as a 3 year old human child then shouldn't it get the same amount of rights?
Why does Reason, etc. Matter?
When confronted about animal rights, the default position appears to be that humans are special. When pressed further, the case is made that animal rights aren't practical because animals are not willing or able to take responsibility for their actions and thus cannot be afforded any concomitant rights; if granted rights they would just crap all over things and steal food and then not go to court when summoned. While lack of responsibility would make granting animals all rights currently enjoyed by humans into an impossible chore, it doesn't really touch on why animals should be made to die and suffer by humans in non-self-defense scenarios in cases where they're not messing with humans - why animals can't have a default right to life.
The Argument from Marginal Cases
How can you say that animals have rights? It's impossible.
For one thing, animals can't reason. They can't be held responsible for their actions. To have rights, you must have these capacities.
Wait a minute. Infants can't reason. Does that mean it's open season on babies?
Of course not. Infants will be able to reason someday. We must treat them as prospective rights-holders.
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 person? Is it OK to kill, eat, and otherwise use these people for our own ends, just as we now use pigs?
Well . . . let me think about that.
Welcome to the Argument from Marginal Cases.- David Graham
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 she has the 'potential to become a moral agent'? 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 will violates the nonaggression principle? Why is it immoral to use a victim of Alzheimer's for target practice? It is because he is 'a member of a species whose normal members can think conceptually and can be held responsible for their actions'? Surely not. It's because he can suffer, he has an interest in not suffering, and to treat him this way against his will goes against the nonaggression principle.
But all of this also holds true for a monkey. Like a 'marginal' human, the monkey can suffer. He has an interest in not suffering. To force him to die and suffer, except in self-defense, violates the nonaggression principle. It's a simple matter of treating like cases alike. Pure categorical logic.
You don't have to come up with bullshit to sell yourself (or others) on your actions. Just admit them, and stop apologizing for them. If you want humans to have special rights solely because they're human, just say that. If you care more about steak than animal suffering, just admit it and move on. No one can logically prove or disprove that it's not pertinent because it's your preference.
And thus we get close to the heart of the real dynamic of the animal rights issue.
There are, of course, biological proclivities towards caring about members of one's own species which alone may explain why humans grant rights to other humans but not non-human animals. However, as a matter of operation, this rights outlook doesn't care where one's reasons for action come from, just that they exist. But what about the people who don't intrinsically care about others? Hell, that's the problem for most moral systems. If there's no way to tie the desires of others to your desires, then you cannot and will not have a reason for respecting another's desires.
In the case of marginal humans, such a reason does exist beyond a simple empathic bond humans tend to have with other humans: it has to do with the power advocates for marginal case humans can bring to bear on other humans.
Powerful Advocates - The Primary Reason Animals don't Have Rights
People have reasons for action including reasons for action to promote or weaken the reasons for action of others. Social tools of praise, blame, shame, shunning, punishment, or reward, are used. Morality only works when others can bring socially corrective forces to bear against defectors.
Non-human animals don't organize very well. They don't make logical or emotional appeals to humans to not eat or mistreat them. They don't rally, or strike, or organize and fight. Namely, animals don't modify the beliefs, desires, or opportunities of humans. If none of those things change, action will not change because those three things completely determine all actions by agents. Ultimately, humans don't need to care what animals think or feel. If a human has a reason to eat steak, in that he enjoys the flavor, no animal-initated countervailing force causes him to weigh his other values against that.
If someone were to eat a baby, despite it being arguably "less bad" from the stance of a conscious creature suffering, the baby's parents or others in society would probably bring reprobation against such a person. At the very least they might dissociate from you. You'll miss getting your coffee as an outcast from the local human-run coffee house, but eating steak isn't going to get you banned from some non-existent cow-run coffee house. In both cases the person is made to "care" about babies because babies have effective advocates that non-human animals don't. Enough humans care about the treatment of other humans, even if those humans don't have as much consciousness or reason as other non-human animals, to bring force to defectors to make them care.
Until animals get their shit together and strike or until the human-initated taboo against eating or mistreating non-human animals becomes strong enough, animals won't have rights relative to the general population.