Why Progressives Should Care About Animal Rights
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The following is an excerpt from The Animal Activist's Handbookby Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, published by Lantern Books.
How Will We Focus Our Energy?
If we agree that the meaning of life is to make the world a better place by exposing and eliminating as much suffering as possible, then the most critical question of our lives is this: How do we do the most possible good in a world where suffering is so widespread?
Again, a basic understanding of human nature can show us potential prejudices and blind spots that might impede us from being optimally effective. Each of us has a bias of concern toward self-interest, the known and the immediate. This applies to activists just as much as to the general population.
Most people working for a better world concentrate on others who are most like them or who are closest to them, geographically and/or biologically. It's almost too obvious to warrant mention, but most people working on gay rights issues are gay, on women's rights issues are women, on civil rights are African American, on anti-Semitism are Jewish, etc.
These causes are important, but they're also issues of self-interest for many. Even with causes such as child abuse, cancer, domestic violence, and so on, leaders are often individuals with personal experience (e.g., when celebrities experience a disease, either personally or through a loved one, they often become spokespeople). Charities working within the U.S. get much more funding than those that do work overseas. Work on behalf of exploited or suffering human beings receives exponentially more funding and attention than work on behalf of nonhuman animals, and demonstrations for human rights attract more people and more moral outrage than demonstrations on behalf of animals.
Some people point to dogs and cats as an exception. In 2007, when investigators pulled 60 abused animals, dozens of animals' corpses and truckloads of dog-fighting paraphernalia from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's property, there were loud and vigorous demonstrations denouncing his cruelty to animals.
At the same time, though, there were demonstrations supporting Vick, both on the football field and in the community. Many commentators argued that the issue was not worthy of the concern and attention it was getting; others argued he shouldn't be suspended from playing football.
Obviously, no one would have been pro-Vick if dead and battered human beings had been found on his property, or if the rape racks had been for humans, rather than dogs.
Of course, the numbers protesting his actions were still a tiny fraction of the numbers that turn out for an anti-abortion or anti-war rally. Some have expressed surprise or even envy at PETA's multimillion-dollar annual budget. This, too, shows the degree of our species bias -- if we're surprised an animal-protection organization could take in such a "lofty" sum.
Think about it: The largest animal-rights organization in the world has a budget of some tens of millions of dollars per year to work against all of the combined injustices against the more than 10 billion land animals that are killed annually in the United States. Planned Parenthood took in 30 times more for work on women's health; Catholic Charities took well over 100 times more to work on poverty issues. One human disease – cancer -- gets thousands and thousands of times more money devoted to it than is contributed to every single issue related to animal rights. (For a ranking from 2001, see csmonitor.com/2001/1126/csmimg/charitychart.pdf; see GuideStar.org for current budgets of other non-profit organizations.) Indeed, our entire government is focused on human needs, and spends billions each year subsidizing animal agriculture (see ucsusa.org/news/press_release/cafo-costs-report-0113.html).