By Craig Cline
When we were just youngsters, our parents helped most of us learn the difference between right and wrong.
We learned that what was “right” was generally in accord with morality, justice, law, propriety, and the common good, for example.
On the other hand, our parents taught us that what was “wrong” was generally about immorality, injustice, illegality, impropriety, and the common bad (to coin a new phrase).
As we were growing up, our thought processes were maturing, and we became better able to understand what the word “wrong” meant, by dictionary definition: “That which is wrong morally or socially; an unjust, injurious, or immoral act or circumstance; an invasion or violation of another’s legal rights.”
In short, we learned as kids that we should be mindful not to do what we knew to be wrong, but instead to do what we knew to be right.
The words right and wrong lead us further, to the very subjects of rights and wrongs.
As adults, we are typically concerned with what we call “human rights.” We consider ourselves to be humanitarians because we willingly deal with the needs of mankind in general and the alleviation of human suffering in particular.
Interestingly, the word “humane” is derived from the root word human. When we act humanely, we are seen as having the good qualities of humans, such as compassion, kindness, benevolence, and mercy.
In an ideal world, each of us humans is humane — and collectively, all of humanity exhibits the qualities that flow out of the word humane.
The universally known and respected moral and ethical precept many of us call “The Golden Rule” comes to mind, whereby we are taught that we should behave towards others as we would have others behave towards us.
Notice that the word “others” is commonly taken to mean other humans — other people — regardless of their color, creed, religion, national origin, and so on.
In examining that word, we note that others are likely to be of a different character or quality from ourselves. However, their difference from us does not mean that we are entitled to treat them differently from how we ourselves expect to be treated, in accordance with The Golden Rule.
Now let’s take a big step forward, as “humane humans,” and see that the word “others,” as contained in The Golden Rule, can and should include all members of what we call the animal kingdom, scientifically known as Animalia, and not just the human component of that kingdom.
We humans should readily discern that, in many ways, the non-human beings we call animals have desires that are fundamentally similar to those of the human beings we call people.
Animals are both similar to us and different from us; just as people are similar to each other, yet different in race, ethnicity, and other ways.
Common sense alone holds that animals would — if they only could — ask us not to make them the victims of human-imposed cruelty, abuse, pain, and suffering.
It makes logical sense that, just as The Golden Rule should apply to groups of human beings who have both similarities and differences, it should also apply to non-human beings.
We humans would not ourselves willingly suffer any man-made or woman-made abuses, and we therefore ought not impose them upon non-humans. If we do, whether we abuse animals directly or indirectly, we are violating the very spirit of The Golden Rule.
So let’s expand the application of The Golden Rule to all sentient beings — both humans and non-humans alike. I propose a revised version of the rule: “Do for others, either directly or indirectly, what you would want done for you.” And, “Don’t do to others, either directly or indirectly, what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
In applying this expanded application of The Golden Rule, we appropriately
acknowledge both human rights and (other) animal rights. It’s also important to see that these two sets of rights are compatible and essentially one and the same.
For far too long in our history, there has been a disconnect between human rights and animal rights, and that disconnect has caused discord between people who are “for” human rights (but not necessarily for animal rights) and people who are “for” animal rights (and typically for human rights as well).
At its essence, there should be no conflict between these sets of rights. In fact, there should be amicable cooperation between human rights adherents and animal rights adherents.
Why? Because both groups want to do the right thing — they want to eliminate wrongs.
We clearly see that the issues associated with both sets of rights are not mutually exclusive, but rather are mutually inclusive.
It is not “us versus them,” i.e. human rights versus animal rights. These rights should be accorded to all of the animals in the animal kingdom. Just because humans are intellectually superior to many animals in many respects does not give us license to inflict needless pain, suffering, and death — by the billions in numbers — upon them.
We also learned as children that “might does not make right.” We should realize, most obviously in the lives of animals that are sentient like we are, that humans do not have the right to treat them in any way other than that by which we ourselves intend to be treated.
That way is set forth by The Golden Rule, the name commonly given by practitioners of the Christian faith. Regardless of what people around the entire world may call it, it’s a moral and ethical rule that has virtually universal acceptance.
For Christians, this rule springs from Matthew 7:12 in the Bible. Variations of the rule appear in other religions as well; hence, the suggestion that some form of The Golden Rule is widely known to people almost everywhere on earth. For example, the philosopher and physician, Maimonides Moses, is quoted as saying, “Do not do to others what is hateful to you.” If you think about it, this phrase adds even an extra dimension to The Golden Rule.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, then, if these morally appropriate and almost universally accepted words were applied for benefit of earth’s non-human animals just as they are for its human ones?
Instead, so far in human history at least, even religious people have leaned on the presumption that “Man” has dominion over the animals — that we can control them, and by extension, treat them however we choose, no matter how much we besmirch the Golden Rule in so doing.
A fine book on this subject, The Dominion of Love, has been written by Norman Phelps, and it ought to be “required reading” for adults, especially if they are religious.
On the cover of the book appears a quote by Reverend Andrew Linzey, who said: “After decades of neglect, churches are beginning to take the issue of justice to animals seriously. Many books have influenced this change, and The Dominion of Love is an insightful, judicious, and inspiring contribution to this growing library.”
To quote Mr. Phelps directly: “The ‘dominion’ or ‘stewardship’ that the Bible tells us God has given us over the other living beings in the world is simply an opportunity to love God concretely by protecting and nurturing God’s creation.”
To grow the library of influential books and quotes like these is one thing, but it is even more important for us to dramatically grow the numbers of people who are against “animal wrongs” — and thereby for animal rights.
People know that there are billions upon billions of animals that are enslaved and subjugated by “Man” and made to endure living hell in the ghastly process.
We “humane humans” ought not be a part of that process, either directly or indirectly. The fact is, we do not have to be part of it; we can instead choose to reject it. We can follow the essence of our own conscience and apply The Golden Rule to all creatures great and small in our human interactions with them.
Peter Singer has suggested that we expand our moral horizons, “so that practices that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable are now seen as intolerable.”
Among the people who have most broadly expanded their moral horizons are those who have become vegetarians, and better yet, vegans. These humane humans live by the Golden Rule every day.
They have chosen not to eat dead animal flesh (euphemistically called “meat”), nor to eat, in the case of vegans, any other animal-based products. These choices are part of their daily lifestyle; typically for health, environmental, and, especially, moral and ethical reasons.
The world-renowned genius Albert Einstein said: “Nothing will benefit health and increase chances for survival on Earth so much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Today, he would no doubt change the word vegetarian to vegan.
It is easier now than ever before in history to evolve in this way, especially given the tremendous array of vegan food choices — tasty and healthy alternatives to the horrific cruelty and suffering that underlies the production of “meat” and other animal-based products.
Think about it. Would YOU like to be a so-called “food animal”? Because your answer is doubtless an emphatic “NO,” I ask that we all reflect on a mightily meaningful quote by Henry Spira: “If you see something that’s wrong, you’ve got to do something about it.”
It’s indisputably right for humans to not only stand up against wrongs, but to also take personal action to end them. Heaven forbid that we participate in wrongs, either directly or indirectly.
We humans are the most powerful members of the animal kingdom. Let’s unite in seeing “animal wrongs” and acting to DO SOMETHING about them. For humane humans, that’s The Golden Rule thing to do.
Craig Cline is a self-described ardent animal advocacy activist and proponent of the vegan lifestyle.