Two Rutgers University professors have written a new essay calling for an end to animal ownership. Gary Francione and Anna Charlton, the authors of Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, argue that current forms of animal protection are not nearly enough. As long as animals are treated as property, they say, they can never have the lives they were meant to have.
“Non-human animals have a moral right not to be used exclusively as human resources, irrespective of whether the treatment is ‘humane’, and even if humans would enjoy desirable consequences if they treated non-humans exclusively as replaceable resources,” the professors write in the Aeon essay.
To that end, the authors call for the end of “pets” as a concept, the end of humans eating meat, the end of hunting, the end of fishing, the end of zoos and aquariums, and the end of using animals for research or any other human endeavors.
The academics, anticipating a pushback from loving pet owners who consider their dogs and cats members of the family, say that those pet owners – including themselves – are actually slave owners.
“We treat our six dogs as valued members of our family,” they write. “The law will protect that decision because we may choose to value our property as we like. We could, however, choose instead to use them as guard dogs and have them live outside with virtually no affectionate contact from us. We could put them in a car right now and take them to a shelter where they will be killed if they are not adopted, or we could have them killed by a veterinarian. The law will protect those decisions as well. We are property owners. They are property. We own them.”
As a consequence of their beliefs, the professors say that not only must people stop owning pets, they must stop breeding them.
“To say that an animal has a right not to be used as property is simply to say that we have a moral obligation to not use animals as things, even if it would benefit us to do so,” they write. “With respect to domesticated animals, that means that we stop bringing them into existence altogether. We have a moral obligation to care for those right-holders we have here presently. But we have an obligation not to bring any more into existence.”
It’s an interesting point of view. It’s at once more extreme a position than we’re used to hearing from the animal-rights crowd and less clouded with utter nonsense. Whatever you might think of their position, you can’t argue that they haven’t thought it through.
For all we know about our animal companions, we actually know almost nothing. No matter how many studies we conduct, we can never actually experience life through the eyes of a dog or a monkey or a fish or a beetle. We have virtually no concept of their world whatsoever, regardless of how much we might pretend to.
But while we can safely assume that animals feel physical pain, we have no reason to suspect they suffer emotionally in the same way that humans do. This is because the vast majority of human suffering comes from the mind. It comes from us comparing our situation to an imaginary “ideal” situation. Animals spare themselves from this cycle of pain.
The cheetah at the zoo is not forlornly dreaming of the African plain. A bird in a cage is not longing for freedom. Your dog is not spending his days resenting his lot in life. Humans, unable to separate themselves from their self-inflicted suffering, unconsciously transfer that suffering to animals. We see a gorilla in an enclosure and we say, “Oh, he should be free, the poor thing.” But the gorilla has no such thoughts.
For this reason, comparing animals to humans is an exercise in futility. Worse, proposals like the one offered by these professors simply puts more suffering into the human world. Hey, here’s another thing for us to feel needlessly guilty about! Here’s another dimension of pain that we have invented out of nothing – enjoy!
If we’re to make laws regarding pets, we would probably be better off requiring every American to own one. Our dogs and cats and lizards and parrots have a very important lesson to teach us. It’s the ultimate lesson of life: Be here right now. Be present. Be ALIVE. For just a moment, shut off your regrets, shut off your cravings, and shut off all of your petty resentments. Just…be. If you can tap into that, your life will improve instantly.
This…this takes us further away from that ideal. It won’t make life “better” for animals. It will only make life worse for humans. We have enough of that already.