Logical flaw of animal rights movement

Pixabay, cc0

I have been a vegan since 1995. These days, vegans aren’t obscure fringe elements of society. Recent news in both North America and Europe seem to indicate that consumption of meat and dairy is on a sharp decline.

When being vegan was still seen as “weird” or worse, organizations such as EarthSave had chapters in many major cities, providing members with resource guides as well as social outlets.

EarthSave was created by John Robbins (a son of the Baskin-Robbins’ founder) after his publication of a book entitled Diet for a New America. The book has undergone several iterations over time, but in general, veganism was at the time promoted for its positive impacts on health and on the environment.

Lately, however, professed vegans seem to have gone radicalized — and became doctrinaire followers of animal rights movement (to be sure, animal welfare movement did exist even back in the 1990s but not to this extent). To some of these people, palm oil is no longer vegan because it allegedly harms orangutans. At this rate, nearly all plant-based food will no longer be considered vegan. There is no such thing as natural agriculture or natural farming (an oxymoron, in fact) — and every type of agriculture kills some species of animals every day.

At the heart of this debate is an assertion that animals have “rights” like humans do. This claim goes beyond the traditional call for animal welfare and compassionate treatment of animals. Instead, animal rights activists insist that animals have equal rights as humans.

I see several issues with this, but I would like to point out to some of its most egregious logical flaws:

  1. The concept of “rights” in the Western civilization (thus the concept of “rights” in our legal systems) is paired with the concept of responsibilities and duties. As part of social contract, we have human rights and civil rights — at the same time we have responsibilities and duties toward society, toward the nation, and toward those with whom we do business. Since animals are not capable of fulfilling such responsibilities or duties in a meaningful way (nor do we have a means to enforce them) they do not possess rights, either. The idea of animal welfare is noble, but it cannot be articulated in terms of rights and responsibilities.
  2. Maybe the idea of animal rights can be likened to children’s having inalienable human rights — or, if you ask the conservatives, unborn fetuses having the rights of personhood. Like animals, they cannot immediately fulfill their duties to society. But in this case, the rights are predicated also on an assumption that they will grow into adulthood and they will pay back to society by becoming productive citizens, soldiers if necessary, and good members of the community. It cannot be a perfect equivalent of animal rights.
  3. The logical extension of animal rights — as it has been already seen in some countries — is to guarantee rights to inanimate objects such as rivers and mountains. Who will advocate for them? And if they have advocates who would speak on behalf of the rivers and mountains, how can they assume what’s the interest of the rivers and mountains? Likewise, though it’s much easier to advocate for sentient animals such as cats, dogs, and cows, it would be a challenge to do the same for earthworms, mosquitoes, or fleas. What if some of these species (or inanimate objects such as rivers) are about to cause deadly damages to humans? Would there be a lengthy lawsuit (and ensuing circus in courtrooms) between rational people who advocate for public health and self-appointed spokesperson for the bugs that are not even aware that they are the plaintiffs of a major legal battle?
  4. What would stop them from claiming that plants and water and atmosphere have rights?

The cult-like obsession over “animal rights” among some of the most vocal vegans is doing a serious disservice to the more tangible benefits veganism confers to the planet’s well-being.