Home > News and politics > Animal Rights Movement Gets it Wrong — Again!

Animal Rights Movement Gets it Wrong — Again!

27-May-09 12:00 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

y intro Philosophy Professor – one Dr. Arthur Schafer – challenged me following one of his lectures when I was enrolled as a Philosophy major at the University of Manitoba.  I’d just finished remarking how I couldn’t find any logic in the arguments of those who claimed carnivores (meat-eaters) were guilty of anything morally objectionable.  With very little skill he made mincemeat of my novice questioning of vegetarian doctrine by establishing doubt about what kinds of life are sentient, like human beings, and therefore one could quite conceivably be committing murder by raising animals for mere consumption.  Of course, it didn’t negate any of his arguments that I pointed out other examples of how all life feeds off death in one form another; because sentient life (like humans) can make a moral choice.

Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean samples her way into the sights of the international animal-rights movement by taking a bite of seal meat during a visit to Rankin Inlet, NU today.

In the end, I decided to cut down my meat consumption (“minimizing harm” like a good little utilitarian) and completely avoid consumption of animal products that exhibited signs of self-awareness or intelligence.  Admittedly, this is sentience as I judge it and one could ask: who am I to judge?  But there’s the price of having a moral choice, I suppose.

I have argued (with some success, I think) and continue to believe that arguing that all animal life is automatically deserving or even collectively better off being given the same right to life awarded human beings.  Certainly, I believe most animals are to some extent self-aware, and many have evolved nervous systems capable of performing tasks that are interesting – even remarkable.  Some few, including whales, dolphins, most species of primate and certain domesticated species are even, I would argue, conscious – and deserve both legal protections rivalling human beings and being spared cullings for mass human consumption.  But these species are more the exception rather than the rule.

Under no circumstances does this mean that my view justifies (in my mind) just any treatment for animals that don’t quite reach the same bar as dolphins or the like.  Take seals for example; cute, cuddly creatures – certainly possessing a talent for tugging on the heartstrings of carnivores and vegetarians alike.  But they aren’t necessarily sentient and there are people who survive on seal products for their own sustenance.  We would all agree that seals deserve humane termination and over the years much has been done to ensure that seal hunts meet with certain standards, although one obviously can’t claim every kill is humane – for a variety of reasons.  Yet despite such measures, undertaken to specifically address the concerns of those who might shy away from products obtained “inhumanely” otherwise, groups ideologically opposed to the consumption of animals have turned seals into their poster-child.  The objection of these groups is not grounded in concern for the seals specifically – rather in a more general objection about humans consuming animal products.  But you won’t see any cute, cuddly cows in the literature these folks can often be found handing out on street-corners in cities around the world.

What bugs me most about such so-called animal advocacy groups isn’t the massive hypocrisy inherent in a decades-old campaign that leverages the pleasing aesthetics of one creature to disguise a much larger agenda they know the majority of human beings would never agree with.  It’s the dogma upon which their membership seems to thrive lacking not only an even cursory examination of the moral questions involved, but the more practical realities of the wonton economic damage and repeated tales of hardship caused by their manipulation of the public using images of furry creatures, spare cash donated by rich celebrity do-gooders seeking to maintain a youthful, positive image, and virtually unchecked disinformation.  So you can imagine my reaction to the news today about Canada’s Governor General being embroiled in a supposed scandal over eating seal heart meat!

Their latest attack as a result of this innocent indulgence on her part: Canada’s Maple Syrup industry.  Because, as we all know, those who harvest maple syrup from trees are launching fleets of ships to hunt every seal on Earth to extinction…  These animaniacs ought to be ashamed of themselves, not that the typically sanctimonious lot that leads this rabble could spare a collective clue what the word ‘shame’ means!  And just to clarify this point – I’m talking here about a movement that is unrepentantly intolerant of the rights of individuals to decide what they consume and any notions of national sovereignty, international law, and last – but far from least – aboriginal culture.  (In the above-cited story, the spokesperson for the Human Society International Canada cited the decision of Europeans to ban seal products as somehow binding on Canadians.  The EU is certainly at liberty to take such action – and Canada is equally at liberty not to, last I checked.)

The proverbial icing on the cake where the Governor-General is concerned came from across the pond.  It seems her Majesty, the Queen’s agents are concerned about how her Canadian representative is behaving.  And here I’d thought the confusion about Canada’s status as an independent nation (versus a British colony) was resolved some time ago.  Maybe news about that hasn’t yet circulated through the British education system (renowned for its efficiency) to all her Majesty’s subjects – or at least to her personal staff.  But ya know, I think all that need be said here is that if the Queen can sport objectionable clothing in support of Britain’s tenuous grasp of fashion, Canada’s Governor-General can eat seal meat in support of Canada’s legitimate, legal and quite ethical seal hunt.

And I defy the animal rights movement to produce a coherent argument showing how the Governor-General, maple syrup or I have got it all wrong.  I don’t invite comment ignorant of what those arguments might be — quite the contrary.  But I’ll wager their membership – even those who’ve had the fortitude to read my rant through to the end – are.

P.S. A special note here about Dr. Schafer.  As his bio on Wikipedia indicates, he’s an extremely accomplished scholar with few peers and it was a genuine privilege and highlight in my college experience to be counted among his students.  As the man singularly responsible for sparking my interest in Philosophy (studies in logic and legal philosophy in particular), I’ll be ever-grateful. That said, the views I’ve expressed herein are entirely my own and should not be assumed to be those of Dr. Schafer or anyone else.  Admittedly, there are a number of places where I’m confident he’d disagree with me vigorously.  And that too would do credit to the debate at hand since little has been offered by those who are otherwise ready to damage livelihoods, economies and even the cause of animal rights without apparent, rational principle to stand upon.

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Terry Glavin


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