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Animal Rights 101: Liberating, Not Eliminating, the Nonhuman World
The eradication of the nonhuman world hardly registers on the animal rights radar, and it should. The short movie the Meatrix plays upon the idea of going back to the basics, a sort of “Animal Rights 101.” The film shows Leo the pig learning that the bucolic family farm he believed existed was hiding the sickening reality of the factory farm where Leo really lived. When Leo backs out of the illusion the lesson becomes clear: people who care about animals should treat them well, both directly and indirectly through their purchases.
We live with the illusion that the animal rights movement is gaining ground because there are more vegans, more alternatives to animals in research, better laws, more no-kill shelters, etc. Yet the truth is, our planet is undergoing the Holocene or Sixth Extinction—the mass extinction of nonhuman species caused by human population growth as well as increased consumption and pollution, where the rate of extinction is estimated to be 100-1000 times higher than without human influence. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson predicts that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) go extinct—at the current rate, one-half of what he terms Earth’s higher life forms will be extinct by 2100. It is a Meatrix-style delusion to say there is a mounting “animal rights movement” while we wipe other species from the planet. If we dispel our illusion the way Leo did our lesson will be clear: we must liberate, rather than eliminate, the nonhuman world.
One recent study of 114 nations found that human population density predicted with 88-percent accuracy the number of endangered birds and mammals. Current trends indicate that the number of threatened and endangered species will increase as human population skyrockets to 8 billion by 2020, and 9 to 15 billion by 2050. And yet few if any animal organizations truly address human population growth or consumption, leaving these issues instead to environmentalists for whom population is also a taboo word. Peter Singer is considered by many to be the father of the modern animal rights movement but he himself had three children roughly at a time when projections showed that having three children on average would increase the world population to 256 billion humans in a mere 150 years.
Animal Rights 101 has to mean escaping the matrix or illusion that humans are doing right by animals by treating only a few species well. Instead, we must imagine the nonhuman world as it would have been had humanity’s numbers not begun to explode exponentially around 200 years ago. Working from that baseline could give us a new concept of animal rights; one that would mean looking at the growth and consumption habits of our species as a whole—because those habits are obliterating the nonhumans we claim to want to protect. The end of animal rights and the way out of the matrix actually means going back to the beginning, and giving animals back their world as best we can.
But what can actually be done? Our movement confronts factory farming by focusing on the worst of the worst, the Tysons of the world, rather than the family farmer down the street. Similarly those interested in confronting population growth and consumption can target those loudly promoting growth, like Jonathan Last, whose writings promote state policies like cutting back on higher education (which is inconveniently timed during prime reproductive years) in order to achieve higher fertility rates. Those promoting human growth are necessarily promoting the extinction of nonhumans, which is something that—cruelty aside—an animal rights movement focused on its 101 has to care about.
Posted by Carter Dillard, ALDF Litigation Director on March 8, 2014