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May 16, 2006

Comments

Phil

"How, then, can they oppose the violence of some animal rights activists? It can only be because their violence is misdirected or ineffective"

Or, boringly, that they believe in the state's monopoly of violence - something of a myth, perhaps (what's interesting is what happens at the margins, from the special constable's clip round the ear to the anti-social football hooligan) but a myth that's very widely believed in.

dearieme

But surely most slavery in human history didn't involve "they look different from us"? Anyway, the abolition of slavery was preumably based on "they are in essence much like us" - which surely we don't believe, even of our most beloved cats?

Bondwoman

Has slavery really been abolished?

Alex

Blair believes it is morally wrong to experiment upon unwilling humans.

I await persuasive evidence for this contention.

chris

Dearieme - you're right. That was a motive for abolishing slavery.
One reading of the history of civilization is that its progress has consisted in taking a more inclusive view - of extending rights to the poor, blacks, religious dissenters and women. Why stop here and now?

Jack

Why stop here and now?

The question makes it sound like there has been a trend that has only progressed in one direction, that it is clear how it will progress and that getting there sooner is better than later.

Slavery has gone and come and gone again. Not considering black people as fully human was an innovation -- Shakespeare didn't consider Othello to be subhuman -- democracy has given way to the divine right of kings and republics to empires. Who is to say that rats are ahead of robots and computers in the quest for recognition. Even if that is what is to happen and it would be good, at the moment most people can and do distinguish between the rights of humans and the rights of animals. Who would trust someone who upon seeing a wolf fighting with a child would not intervene on behalf of the child?

On a different tack the question is posed as if the recognition of these groups was a noble act of enlightenment and not merely acceptance of market or other forces. Practical British opposition to slavery coincided with developments that made it less useful to the British than to its rivals.

Robert Schwartz

Animals don't have rights because they taste good when barbqued.

dearieme

Robert: on that argument moles might have rights because they taste foul.

Shuggy

We'd be interested to hear how you know that, dearieme.

chris y

Animals don't have rights because they taste good when barbqued.

Do you have any evidence that people don't?

Dearieme is clearly right that the abolition of slavery in the 19th century was substantially motivated by a recognition of human unity. But this required acceptance of the idea of human rights in the first place, which was something of a novelty. In most of history, the main source of slaves was prisoners of war, so they tended to be the neighbours of their enslavers and to look and behave much like them. But if you'd suggested to an ancient Roman that he shouldn't enslave the women and children of the city he's just sacked because they had a right to liberty, his response would have been, "What are you talking about? Vae victis!"

Western opposition to slavery before the enlightenment was mainly based on the Christian idea that people, being made in God's image and had immortal souls, should not be treated like animals. So that distinction is way older than recent debates over specific rights. In fact it was argued by some in the early modern period that black slaves should not be converted to Chritianity, because then you'd have to free them.

Absent the religious argument of course, and it becomes much harder to distinguish between Homo sapiens and other species. Because then we are, after all, simply large brained animals, even if it appears that our cranial enlargement gives rise to qualitatively more complex behaviour. We're left with the suspicion that self evident human rights boil down to the prejudices of a group of persuasive individuals at a particular time and place. Not that I'm unpersuaded, mind, just saying.

cirdan

If rights arise via agreement, then human persons have, uniquely, the ability to grant rights to themselves and to other animals. But in order to have the right to grant rights, one must have the ability to grant rights. So there is at least one right that animals can't have that humans can.

dearieme

Shuggy, I was in the Wolf Cubs.

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