Animal Rights

I eat meat. I use mousetraps. I swat mosquitoes. And I wear leather.

So sue me for being two-faced – but still I believe passionately in animal rights.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, a new film, “Blackfish,” and a recent column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof titled “Can We See Our Hypocrisy to Animals?” both raise with fresh urgency the question of how “good and decent people” in the early 21st century can be oblivious to the unethical treatment of animals.

“Blackfish” is about the wretched effects on whales (specifically orcas) of being kept in captivity. Like the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” about the indecent acquisition of dolphins for use in amusement parks, “Blackfish” questions whether keeping any of these mammals confined for our own amusement is morally defensible. Kristof raises the stakes higher by taking on the bigger issue, certainly numerically, of how we can stand by and do nothing while billions of animals are suffering in factory farms.

Kristof is correct to point out that on animal rights there has been some progress. Since Peter Singer’s seminal volume, “Animal Liberation,” published in 1975, attitudes have changed, which explains why in this country, and in Europe, and even in China are now significant animal rights movements.

This brings me to the second reason I raise this now. The juxtaposition of the film and the column make this a right time to remind readers that whatever the progress that has been made, the bulk of the work remains to be done. Moreover this is the kind of work that gets done not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Public pressure is key – which is why animal rights depend on us. Animal rights – progress toward recognizing that animals have rights – depends on our willingness to put our money where our mouths are. Literally.

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