Animal Welfare Versus Animal Rights
A reply to Matthew Scully


Animal rights began as an issue, became a movement, and has morphed into an ideology. Usually, animal rights is allied with the Left; but not always. Thus, when I decided to write a book criticizing the animal-rights movement, I expected to be attacked as being somehow indifferent to the suffering of animals and, moreover, that Matthew Scully — the animal-rights movement’s favorite conservative — would lead the charge. What I didn’t expect was for Scully to illustrate my supposed heartlessness with a false anecdote, the by-product of his own furious imagination. And to that, I strenuously object.

In criticizing my explanation of the need for using animals in scientific research, Scully accused me of offering “soothing descriptions of violent experiments (chimps are ‘seated quietly, not struggling’ as their limbs are about to be broken.)” False. I never wrote about a chimp experiment that involved breaking limbs. Indeed, I have never heard of such an experiment. Scully can rail all he wants against my book. But he has no right to resort to cheap demagoguery to score an easy emotional point.

Scully also contended that I consider “animal protection” to be “something strange and pernicious,” a “radical agenda” — and that I don’t object to animals’ suffering “torment.” Of course, that isn’t true. My criticisms are directed not against protecting animals, but against giving them “rights” — a distinction with a crucial difference.

But let us ponder: What would drive a deeply talented writer like Scully to engage in such blatant falsehood? Like Zeus throwing his destructive lightning bolts, radical animal advocates often deploy the rant in order to drive rationality and reason off the field. In the face of such fury, we are tempted to cower under our desks, thereby allowing animal-rights activists to stand alone as righteous “defenders” of those who “can’t speak for themselves.”

That may be an effective advocacy tactic, but in the end, it doesn’t help animals. For example, Scully scathingly castigated my support of elephant culling in Africa’s wild-animal parks. Perhaps because it would interfere with a good diatribe, he notably failed to tell readers why I took that position.

Managing elephant populations is essential to maintaining a proper ecological balance for the benefit of all park animals. Indeed, if elephants were allowed to overpopulate, they would wreak havoc on park habitat, leading to an eventual loss of forage and possibly their own starvation. Moreover — since much of sub-Saharan Africa is destitute — without the bounteous funds raised through charging sport hunters tens of thousands of dollars for each elephant or other wild animal taken in the parks, these magnificent preserves probably couldn’t exist. But such important moral and environmental considerations are lost when the entire discussion is reduced to wailing about the culling of elephant herds.

Scully’s entire review was similarly overwrought and uninformative. For example, he chided me for worrying that “accepting the premises of animal causes” would “humble — nay degrade — the human self-image.” But what were those causes? He doesn’t say. Allow me: I opposed elevating animals to legal personhood and granting them the right to sue.

So what’s the book really about? With A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy, I hope to clear up the confusion in the public mind between promoting “animal welfare” — a noble cause, which I endorse — and “animal rights,” which I oppose. The former acknowledges the ethical propriety of using animals for human benefit, while vigorously insisting on concomitant duties to treat animals humanely. In direct contrast, animal-rights ideology disdains the welfarist approach as “speciesism” — i.e., “discrimination” against animals — and dogmatically insists we have no right to consume meat, to wear leather, to conduct animal research, and, for some, even to own dogs. In other words, the ultimate goal of animal rights — which believers understand to be a multi-generational project — is ending all animal domestication no matter how beneficial to humans.

Thus, rather than a movement dedicated merely to being nicer to animals, as many suppose, animal rights is actually a subversive ideology — for some, a quasi-religion — that establishes both express and implied equivalences between the moral value of human beings and that of animals. Indeed, I took the title of my book from a famous statement by Ingrid Newkirk, leader of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who told Vogue back in 1989, “Animal Liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals.”

March 22, 2010    |     Volume LXII, No. 5

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