Friday, December 14, 2007

Deconstructing Gary Francione's FAQ's #2

I'm going to move on to question #2 of Gary Francione's animal rights FAQs in this series that I introduced a couple of weeks ago. That post and my analysis of question #1 can be found here. Francione's FAQ's can be read here.

"Question #2: Rights were devised by humans. How can they be applicable to animals?"

The critical question we need to ask ourselves here is "what is the ultimate purpose of rights?". In other words, why do we even have this concept that we call rights? The idea of rights, and I'm speaking specifically of basic rights here, such as the right to life, as opposed to non-basic or political rights, such as the right to vote, is a human created legal construction that protects the individual person's most basic interests. The purpose of rights, however, goes far beyond simply protecting the interest of the individual person. It ultimately extends to protecting the interests of the whole of human society. We grant rights to individual persons because it is ultimately in the best interest of the well being of our species to do so. If we did not do this, chaos within the human community would run rampant. For example, if the right to life, the most basic right of all, did not exist and was not enforceable by the power of law, we could kill each other at any whim with impunity. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to figure out that if this was allowed to happen, complete chaos and disorder would run rampant, human civilization would grind to a halt, and the survival of our species would be very much in doubt. From a completely logical, realistic, and rational standpoint, the ultimate purpose of rights seems clear: to protect the well being of our species from our own actions.

How does all this apply to animals? Well, the answer is, it really doesn't. Animals operate in an amoral plane of existence where the only law is the law of natural selection. There are no rights to anything in the existence of the non-human animal. Animals do not have rights that protect them from being used as resources or exploited by other animals. Since that is the case, by what purely rational grounds should they have rights that protect them from being used or exploited by humans, which are animals as well and are just as much a part of the natural biosphere as are non-humans? There really is no logical or rational grounds, and to single out Homo sapiens as the only species that shouldn't be allowed to "exploit" other species is arbitrary and irrational. If a rabbit does not have an inherent right to not be killed and eaten by a hawk, then by what rational grounds should that very same rabbit have a right to not be killed and eaten by a human? The answer is none in reality. A right is a human-created moral or legal claim against another person or persons. Since animals operate in a state of existence where such moral or legal claims do not even exist, let alone are enforceable, it is nonsensical and illogical to suggest that the human created construction of rights is, or should be, applicable to them.

I think it should also be noted here, that in his answer, Francione makes a statement that is really a half-truth in a disingenuous, cynical attempt to defend his weak position. Francione makes the following statement in his answer: "Rights concepts as we currently understand them were actually devised as a way of protecting the interests of wealthy white male land owners; indeed, most moral concepts were historically devised by privileged males to benefit other privileged males.". This is a half-truth that's very misleading and it's highly insulting to the intelligence of his readers. While this statement is certainly true in regards to many political or non-basic rights, it is not true in regards to basic rights, which are, of course the rights we are talking about when we are discussing animal rights. The idea of basic rights can be traced to ancient civilizations. Though none of these codes specifically contain the term "rights", which is a fairly modern term, they certainly contain the concept of it. One of the most famous of these is the Code of Hammurabi from ancient Mesopotamia, circa 1780 b.c.e.. Hammurabi's code laid out laws, and punishments for breaking those laws. Among the issues addressed in Hammurabi's Code were the rights of woman, children, and slaves. The Cyrus Cylinder, considered by some to be the world's oldest true human rights document, was written by the Persian king Cyrus. Among the decrees in this document were the abolishment of slavery and allowing religious freedom in the empire. Another example is ancient Hebrew law, which is the first five books of the Old Testament. One need only read through these books to see that there certainly is a conceptual form of rights, though the term is not explicitly used. And of course, the Greeks and Romans also had rights concepts in their laws as well. An excellent timeline on the history of what we call human rights can be found here. Francione is a law professor. He ought to know exactly what the history of rights is. He is either incredibly ignorant and uneducated on this subject, or he is intentionally trying to mislead the reader; I don't see much other judgment one could make. Neither one is acceptable for someone in his position. Furthermore, in my opinion, his gratuitous use of racial, class, and gender demagoguery is seriously embarrassing to his credibility and only detracts from his argument. I think it speaks volumes about him and the nature of his agenda, but once again, you can make your own call.

1 comment:

padraig said...

I've found that it's helpful to think of a system of rights as a contract, a social contract technically. And to have a valid contract, you have to have:

1) A meeting of the minds: that is, both parties have to agree what the contract is about.

2) Consideration: something of value has to change hands in both directions.

"Animal rights," of course, fails both criteria. There's no meeting of the minds between humans and other animals, at least beyond the simplest level, like territoriality or brute force. And the rights the AR's want us to grant to animals would be granted unilaterally, without any consideration on their part.