On the rights of animals

013 December 1, 2013 -- (cogitatio)

Ante scriptum: In the last twenty years there have been numerous brief yet heated debates on the stray dogs living in Romanian towns. NGOs argue that euthanasia, a now traditional practice for the "humane" ending of animal life in the so-called "civilized" countries, is not to be used on dogs which they claim to be owned by the community, as they have as much a right to live as anyone; not to mention other rights. There's nothing peculiar about that, as Romania is a young democracy and has a lot to learn on a variety of matters. Such a recent event has led me to write this article on the more general subject of animal rights, although I believe that the subject is or should have been exhausted decades ago by thinkers.

That being said, there is a clarification to be made: it is clear that humans are animals. However, for the purpose of succinctness, in this post I will refer to the set of animals as that of animals excepting humans, since human rights are a whole different story.

Thus it has been, and thus it is, and thus it shall be: the rules governing life on Earth are set by evolution. It is not entirely clear what evolution means, or rather it's perfectly clear that it is, and we can see it happening even though we can't, only we have little to no idea what its rules, or its algorithm, or its mathematical equation is. We -- that is we, humans -- however have a grasp of its nature, and it is this: life flows through nature, therefore life exists and grows by consuming life, which in itself also implies death. Thus it has been, and thus it is, and thus it shall be.

From this, a variety of concepts emerge, of which those of competition and fitness are more relevant to us. It is clear that, given finite resources, life competes with other life for the propagation through time, or survival, as they call it1. It is also clear that in an event or series of events that we describe as a competition, there are always one winner and one or more losers; by comparing the winner and the loser(s), we say that the winner is "more fit" than the loser(s), therefore we can start by establishing something such as a preorder relation on the set of competitors and go as far as describing fitness as a mathematical function.

Beasts, humans and the food chain

Thus life's (natural) history on Earth has been fraught with killings. Animals killed plants by eating them2; animals killed other animals by eating them; microbes killed other life forms by infecting them, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, and at the same time fortunately, life could not exist without such consumption. They could not just live together as one big, happy family.

From all this, the so-called food chain was established. It is improperly called a chain, since this is a circular structure which can be represented in many dimensions.

At some point in time, somewhere in this food chain arose humans; an atypical species, since their brains amassed so much complexity that they began focusing less on adapting themselves to nature and more on adapting nature to their own liking, and by nature I mean both living and non-living things. We became so efficient that, for example, we managed to cut entire woods so that we could build a village, or took a wild plant and genetically engineered it3 to make it edible.

What's more interesting is that we managed to change more "superior" life too. We exploited the habits of other animals and, by using our own superior intelligence and resources, made them non-violent, to use them either for defending ourselves or for food. And this only helped us pursue our quest for comfort and intelligence further. I doubt that we ever knew exactly where we were going; fortunately, we arrived somewhere.

Dogs can be found among all these domesticated animals. Some human cultures used them as food, yet most of them used them for defense against other animals such as dogs' evolutionary ancestors, the wolves. I will take this example further in the following section, however without sacrificing the generalness of my argument.

Dogs, nowadays

Nowadays, dogs maintain their status of home defense animals within human communities, just as cats maintain their status of mouse killers, just as pigs, cows and chickens maintain their status of good food4. In urban environments, dogs and cats are also used as "company" animals, which is kind of natural, since dogs have developed a good sense of empathy towards humans.

Simple-minded humans have also developed a monstrous sense of empathy towards their company animals, most probably due to a lack of purely human emotional intelligence. Of course, there's nothing wrong with empathizing with other beings, since that's one of the things that makes humans "superior"; however, it's unethical, immoral, counterproductive and call-it-what-you-like to empathize with other beings in the detriment of your own. Surely, we like to own dogs, but we usually put them down when they get old and sick, whether or not we like it; it is, after all, the "humane" thing to do.

Thus dogs are, like they have always been, nothing but tools, serving humans like they always have. To claim otherwise denotes either hypocrisy, or what Americans like to call a "personality disorder", which automagically disqualifies the arguing person as an informed debater on the subject.

Thus dogs have no rights. By extension, animals have no rights.

Post scriptum

It's absurd, no, in fact it's outrageous to claim that "it was the child's own fault" or "the old lady's fault" for him being killed by stray dogs. I don't think I'd be able to say such things while on LSD, let alone on a normal day. In a sane world, the NGOs defending that statement should be expelled from society.

Stray dogs are an inconvenience to any so-called "civilized" society. Romanian folks tolerate them more out of laziness and their own self-imposed inability to do something5 rather than out of their love for these animals. Whether dead or alive, stray dogs shouldn't exist, for everyone's (including their own) sake. If euthanasia is a more efficient solution, then I, as a Romanian citizen, am for it.

  1. And by "life", I mean "life forms" or "living things". The only purpose of this shortening is to make it easier for me to express myself, not necessarily for you to understand. But you will, if you take the time and patience.

  2. That is, fundamentally, why the Buddhist conception of "respecting all life" doesn't work. They refer in fact to animal life, when plants and fungi and bacteria and other domains and kingdoms of life deserve as much respect as any other, right? But they can't get as much respect, because such is the nature of life and it cannot be changed, lest that change brought by extinction of all life.

  3. Cross-breeding is a kind of genetic engineering, why wouldn't it be?

  4. Although the "non-civilized" Chinese do eat food made out of dogs, not to mention the high-quality gloves they can make out of dog skin. Note that if we look at it from a purely democratic point of view, the Chinese are superior in numbers to all the countries on the globe. Good thing they're not living in a democracy, eh?

  5. It's a communist thing. It's hard to understand the phenomenon if you haven't lived through it.