Wednesday, 4 December 2019

On animals and rights

 picture of Jeremy Bentham

"Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things. ... The day has been, I grieve it to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated ... upon the same footing as ... animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?...the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?... The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes... "
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation



I suppose that we should ask the question what are animals for? For close on 8,000 years since we have domesticated them we have been troubled on what they are for?  Are they for our entertainment, are they here to feed us or are they here to be part of an interconnection with us for a fragile biosphere to be maintained.  It is no accident that we domesticated animals, created slavery and and subjugated women at the same historical point.  Would we ask slave owners to determine the difference between slave rights and slave welfare?  Would we ask sexists to determine the rights and welfare of women?  I think not.  It's not been long since animals were said by the church to lack souls, in the 16th century many preachers denied that women had souls and in the deep south of the USA 150 years ago many said that slaves were not human. The truth is that we humans are animals be it a very complex one. We are the only species that makes war, organises the slaughter industry into a rational business manner. You may know that in the 1930s the Nazi visited the American Slaughter industry and designed the concentration camps after the manner of the slaughter house.

However if we can use animals in entertainment we deny them anything more than being here for us, to be used to feed us, to entertain us, to be a commodity to be exploited and nothing more. It's not long ago that we had freak shows, that we had gladitorial combat. Around the year 1400 the people of Sumatra, found what they considered to be a white ape washed up on the beach.  It was obvious to them it was just an animal.They put it in a cage and tied it to a post and they found after it had died strange marks scratched on that post. It was clear that they were meaningless.


Some 200 years later the post was examined the scratches turned out to be ancient Greek letters and words in Latin....the white Ape was a well educated European. He had been made to dance and jump to entertain his owners....they did not know what they had in the cage. We are only just beginning to understand the complexity of "animal emotions" of their sophistication.  So I wont be fooled by the Tonna tame tiger show. I don't eat meat, the idea of it sickens me, I abhor hunting, when we say " they are only animals" at best we mock a sophisticated non human person....at worst we open the doors to the gas chambers. Our language is littered with the use of animals as terms of abuse.  David Cameron denigrated the refugees at Calais as a swarm.  So going to see a few tame tigers in a show is like visiting a large mansion in the Confederate South in the 1840s...there are the comic houseslaves, brought up well, fed well all therir needs met and outside in the estate there are the slaves brutally treated, mere "beasts" of burden, no more than the product of their labour, to be sold and used..their humanity and rights denied. The King James 1 Bible translated the Hebrew to read that humans were "masters" of nature, the original Hebrew should have read steward and stewards do not use that role to entertain.......

The Tory Government has outdone itself when it comes to neglecting animal rights this week – by effectively declaring that all animals (apart from humans, of course) have no emotions or feelings, including the ability to feel pain. While debating the Brexit bill, MPs voted not to transfer into UK law the parts of EU legislation which recognise animals have sentience, and can feel pain and emotions.

Remember all that campaigning against the badger cull and May’s attempt to bring back fox-hunting?  It was probably all a waste. As the Government begins to shape the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, it has taken a vote to scrap EU legislation that sees non-human animals as sentient beings. Once we leave the EU in 2019, it’s not only badgers and foxes that will be threatened by this change in law, but all animals that aren’t pets. So basically all animals that it will be profitable to exploit.

This vote comes in contrast to extensive scientific evidence that shows that other animals do have feelings and emotions, some even stronger than ours.

But politicians clearly think that they know better about animal brains than the majority of scientists on the planet. This complete lack of logic leads me to believe that many of our MPs probably have less intelligence than a jellyfish. But unfortunately I don’t have any stake in Parliament to vote through my personal opinions, unlike those MPs.

Realistically though, who would be surprised by this new vote? Despite Michael Gove’s calls to improve animal welfare standards post-Brexit, we all know the Government, and in fact most of the UK public, doesn’t really care about animals unless they’re cute and fluffy.

This is how we have ended up in a society where a cat being thrown in a bin sparks national outrage, but the majority of the population will complain about this while eating a burger from the local fast food chain which has probably come from a chicken that suffered abuse its whole life.


“Animal welfare” in the Government’s (and indeed the public’s) eyes is riddled with double standards. At the moment, 80 per cent of the UK’s animal welfare legislation comes from the EU – if we’re voting out the fact that animals are sentient, why would we even bother with the rest of it? If the Government doesn’t believe that animals can even feel pain, surely none of their rights will be protected at all.

When we leave the EU, pets will be protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. But where does this leave wild animals, those in labs, and those in other forms of captivity? Just a small example of this is cosmetics testing. Under EU law it is illegal to test on animals for cosmetics like body wash and nail varnish. But this could easily be scrapped just like the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been.

We are looking at a very grim future for animals, where hunting is reintroduced, labs are free to test on animals with as much cruelty as they wish (and no pain relief) and farms are less and less regulated.

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