Wednesday, November 10, 2004

30. Conscience creates rights

On the surface, many regard me as an animal rights activist. And although I might fit the common profile, I think this to be a misnomer. I think "rights activist" to be the wrong words, for I believe more than anything or anyone having "rights," they should have a fair chance. In a way, that is what "rights" is about as, for example, civil rights are the duty to give others a fair chance in life- whether it is employment or freedom from oppression. I haggle at the definition, both as it applies to animals and how it should be applied to humans- but maintain that there is a difference.

Population genetics as it applies to nature is the understanding that more things will be born than can possibly survive. Nature's state of equilibrium requires that a balance be created between prey, predator and environment. Populations test these parameters by, in most cases, producing more offspring than will survive (to reproductive age), based on the resources available, such as water, food, and breeding grounds. Understanding population genetics allows a certain degree of tolerance to nature's seemingly cruel system of survival of the fittest. By that I mean, even though the death of any animal is tough for me to deal with, I understand that is just the way it is. I note this because every time I mention my affection for animals, people immediately ask me if I am a vegetarian- and I am not. However, with that comes a bit of an asterisk because there are some foods I cannot eat, or have trouble eating. Furthermore, I would have an exceedingly difficult time hunting my own food, because even though I grew up on a small farm, I would have to be very hungry before I killed anything.

Noting as I have that animals living and dying as part of life, essentially being the energy transfer required for all life, I return to the issue of animal rights. As I said I believe this to be an issue of equal chance more than any ordained series of rights. So the question then becomes two: 1) As current titleholder of evolutionary design, do we owe anything to our conquered earthly co-inhabitants and, 2) What is to be considered an equal chance?

One could argue that since the evolutionary game is of the most adapt species "calling the shots" that we owe no pity on other species. Consider other species, does a wolf feel pity on a sheep; does it care for any other species than its own and perhaps that of its pack? Nature's rules are such that all individuals are destined to live, attempt to reproduce and die. For nearly all species, the game is passing on one's genes, not compassion. In this manner, we can argue that we are entitled to do whatever it takes to whomever- to best ensure our survival. Thus the raising of animals acts to best enhance our survival as a consistent food source, as does testing human cures on animals. With this understanding, what obligation do we own, if any, to other species? Should we say if one is born a cow, chicken or lab rat - too bad, sorry about your luck?

The problem with this argument is that humans have the ability to ask why the world is the way it is, to feel compassion, and to understand pain and death. And we can ask, for what human cause are we entitled to strip an animal of its chance to live, reproduce and die like every other living thing on this planet? I believe that animals, even those destined for human consumption, should have a life. They should be able to do whatever it is they do and live to a decent age before "humanly" suffering their fate. Often this does not happen. These animals often live and die in the most profitable manner, without regard for quality of life.

On the other hand, those animals fortunate enough to be born in the wild face numerous adversities. Without humans, their life is tough enough always having to look over their shoulders for a possible predator. Have you ever watched a deer eat in an open field? It's almost painful to watch as they react to the slightest environmental activity. Beyond their natural dangers, many animals live in the human world, in a habitat designed for human convenience. Granted, some species have adapted to thrive in this environment, but, for most, humans are but another obstacle in the quest to reproduce. Humans have thoroughly engaged in not only habitat destruction, but also resource depletion. Species are becoming extinct at a rate such that one-fifth of all species will be extinct in 30 years, and there is nothing worse than witnessing animals suffer as a result of human greed or development. How fitting is it that the new development on Oak Point is named Deerfield, perhaps mockingly after the habitat it destroyed. This is not giving animals a fair chance.

Neither is, by definition, lab rats, zoo animals or feeder mice. Humans have adapted a hierarchy for animals- deciding which are desirable and which are not. We have decided which lives we value such as dogs, cats, horses and those that we do not such as mice and rats. Animal abuse is illegal, but hunting is permitted? The issue is across a spectrum of values such animal testing for human cosmetics and killing for profit like furs and tusks. With our understanding of fear, pain and death, what right do we have to abuse an animal for fun or profit?

The compassion for animals that many others and I suffer from is a curse. As much as my wife and I would like to save every animal, we know we can't and we know it is not meant to be. As to the question of animal rights, I believe animals are to have a fair chance to live a decent life, to have the opportunity to compete against nature, and be free from human greed, development and cruelty.

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