Thursday, 9 May 2013

Azrayel opens a vegan BDSM store! is LIVE!

Vegan-Kink, the new all-vegan e-store for BDSM and fetish, is now open for business! Everything at vegan-kink is 100% free of animal ingredients. Where possible, we source environmentally friendly or recycled alternatives to ‘traditional’ materials.
No more hunting through ingredient lists and scouring online stores for that elusive rubber collar or some faux-leather cuffs!

The site has loads of gorgeous products just itching to make their way into your kit bags, and we have many more products waiting to be uploaded - every day, you’ll find something new! We are working with traders and crafters around the world to bring you a full range of BDSM and fetish items. Some of what we are (or will be selling) includes:
  • Collars
  • Cuffs and restraints
  • Straight-jackets
  • Gags, hoods and masks
  • Rope - natural and dyed
  • Latex, rubber and PVC clothing
  • Floggers
  • Straps and tawse
  • Paddles
  • Crops and canes
  • Whips 
  • Dragon tails and lashes
  • Candles
  • Pinwheels
  • Clamps
  • Med-fet
  • Needles and sharps
  • Condoms, dental dams and lube
  • Lingerie
  • Corsets
  • Starter kits
  • Butt plugs
  • Sex toys
  • Cock rings and harnesses
  • Chastity devices
  • Safety supplies
  • …And more!
We are based in the UK but ship around the world.

Check us out! And please, let us know what you think.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Creator and Created/Owner and Slave

Recently, the question of whether horse riding was vegan came up. I gave my take on it, namely that we have a duty to any animal companion to keep them fit, healthy and mentally stimulated. I explained that while riding might not cause suffering, it was exploitative as it was using a horse for human ends and that if horses can be kept healthy, happy and fit without sitting on their backs and kicking them about, we have a duty to use non-ridden methods.

The question of what would happen to horses if humans stopped using for their own ends came up. The challenge was thus - modern horses are not wild nor fully-natural, like their pony ancestors. They have been created by humans to fulfil certain roles. Does that not then give humans certain rights over them? What role would horses play in society if humans were not allowed to use them? Would they not simply be disposed off and don't humans have a right to do that, if they see fit?

This aroused some interesting questions about our rights and duties towards those beings that we have created or are responsible for.

From our perspective, creation does not afford the creator rights over the created. Do we accept that human parents have rights over their children? No. They have the right to make certain decisions on behalf of their children if their children are not able to do so (perhaps due to age or some relevant disability) and they have the right to share their moral, political and social views with their children, but they do not have rights to enslave their children, harm their children, or kill their children. They also have duties to their children - until the children are able to fend for themselves, they have a duty to provide suitable food, water, shelter, protection and care. It is their responsibility to ensure their child grows up healthy and the rights parents have to educate, restrict and punish their children are ways protecting their children and fulfilling their responsibilities to them. These rights are not ways of using the child as a means to an end, but of developing the child as an end in its own right. Laws and social conventions further extend the rights of the child to medical care, education and recreation, and parents have a duty to provide access to these. Being a creator is not enough to give someone rights over the created.

On the other hand, we can consider an artist who creates a wonderful sculpture or an engineer who creates a powerful computer program. These people clearly have a right to use, display, sell or destroy their creation as long as they are the legal owners of it. Why do they have rights over their creations? It is not simply because they are the creator - indeed, being the creator seems barely relevant. If the sculpture is sold to a collector, the artist's rights over it are removed. His rights are rights of ownership, not creation. By being the creator he is simply (usually) the first owner of the object. What are the differences between these objects and the child that mean we talk about ownership and rights in the former case, but duties and responsibilities in the latter case? In the former case, the subjects are inanimate and not sentient. They cannot be harmed, abused, made to suffer or scared. They can be destroyed but not killed. They have no opinions or feelings, no preferences or interests. They have no minds. Children do. We protect and nurture children and we own objects, using them as we see fit for our benefit.

How does this apply to non-human animals? Humans have legal rights over animals and the right to own animals. In this sense, we treat animals more like objects than children, despite animals having more in common with children than objects. Our power over animals is recognised and protected. Humans use and exploit animals every day, using them as tools, as a means to our ends. In this sense, the owner of a horse has the right to beat it, kick it, hit it, enslave it, harm it or kill it. They have the right to treat it as a property object. Interestingly, there are legal limits on how we may treat animals we own, in recognition of the animals capacity for suffering and it's ability to possess interests. Scientists, law makers and everyday folk understand that animals have minds capable of feelings and preferences, and as a result we are compelled to treat them with a degree of respect (whatever that means).

We are very ready to see them as sentient beings. When we want to views animals as companions, as friends, as comrades and colleagues, we appeal to the fact they are someones we can communicate with, relate to and share experiences with. However, once they become a burden on our finances and time, or when we perceive a greater use for them as commodities, we appeal to their status as somethings to justify treating them in certain ways. We see little contradiction in talking to our horse, patting it, reassuring it and giving it treats one moment, and then selling it, forcibly impregnating it or having it destroyed once it has outstayed it's usefulness to us. And sadly, when we do see the contradiction, we justify it on the basis that the law is on our side, that the animals don't know they're being exploited or that it's natural for animals to eat each other, so it must be fine for us to treat them as a means to our ends.

So what rights might we have over animals? We are physically able to use animals. We are strong and cunning enough to capture them, enslave them, train them and kill them. 'Might-is-right'. Who is going to stop us? We are also legally protected in our use of animals, as long as we abide by certain legal stipulations (usually related to the unspeak 'unnecessary harm' and 'humane') that exist in some jurisdictions. In this sense, we have the right to use them. The third sense is that we have as much right to live and prosper as any other species, and it may be argued that some cases may require the use of animals to prevent humans from suffering ill health or dying. In this sense, we have a right to use animals because we have a right to survive. None of these forms of right seem to capture the essence of a true, natural right. We can do what is right for us, and what no-one can prevent us from doing. However, when we talk of the freedom of speech or the right to defend ourselves, we don't just mean that we have a legal right, or a right by virtue of our power. If a human is treated as property we don't sit back and muse that it's tough luck for them as they were not fortunate to live in a nation with anti-slavery laws or because they were not strong or quick witted enough to elude their captors. We object to what happens to them on the basis that it is morally wrong to treat humans in these ways, even if there are no laws protecting them, even if they are not strong enough to protect themselves and even if their captors would benefit greatly from enslaving them. If a man needs to feed his family, we don't accept his right to capture and sell (or even kill) another human to obtain food. There are just some things that humans don't (or shouldn't) do to each other, even if it is legal, they have the power and they get great benefit from doing so.

But why not? Our use of animals is defended on the basis that we don't owe animals anything, that we can't form contracts with them, that we get great benefit from using them, that it is natural for animals to kill and eat each other. However, when we defend human rights, we're not simply stating the opposite side of those coins. We don't defend human rights because we feel we owe them something, because we can form contracts with them, because we don't get benefit from using them and because it's not natural to kill them. Quite aside from the fact that some of us would (and do) get great benefit from exploiting other humans and that we've killing each other since there was a 'we' to do the killing, these reasons are not only flawed, they're outright irrelevant. Humans have rights because the way they are treated by other humans affects them - because they can be harmed, scared, deprived, stressed or upset. Their sentience is a sufficient reason to give them basic rights. We might not give a child the right to vote or a blind person the right to drive a car, but we still give them the right not to be used as a means to an end. Humans are ends in their own right and belong to no-one other than themselves. Why do we not apply the same argument to animals? Not giving animals the most basic right not to be used as a means to our ends is deeply inconsistent when all the arguments for giving animals rights are the very reasons we have already accepted human rights. It comes down to something very simple - they're not our species. Why does that matter? An African is not from my country, does that mean I can murder him? My next-door neighbour is not from my family, does that mean I can murder her? Species is an easy line to draw but not a line that is morally relevant, any more than nationality, race or ancestry. In defending human rights we are quick to pick up on our similarities to other humans. In rejecting animal rights, we are quick to pick up on our differences to other animals.

Azrayel's Journey to Veganism - Part Two

For the first part, look here.

Becoming a vegetarian had been rather easy. I didn't really find myself craving animal flesh and I didn't feel jealous when I saw others eating it. I still believed it was morally acceptable to kill and eat animals, but I couldn't afford the premium, expensive 'happy meat' from the local farmers' markets. Perhaps the fact that I hadn't 'banned' meat from the menu, just postponed it, made it easier to transition.

Avalanchian, on the other hand, was seeing things rather differently. I remember one early conversation, shortly after we had made the switch to vegetarianism, in which I mused that I might go back to eating meat some day. Avalanchian made that 'I don't agree but I'll pretend that I do' noise and said that he wasn't sure he'd follow suit, although of course I should do whatever I thought was right. When pressed, he admitted that he wasn't sure that welfare and 'kind killing' should be the goal and he thought it proably was immoral for us, living in a nation with varied and suitable non-flesh food options, to ever eat animal meat. I wasn't convinced, still clinging to the hope of bacon sandwiches some time in the distant future, and I was rather surprised that he had become the more radical of the two of us, given that I was the one who had initiated this change.

However, I was still surfing the web, finding vegetarian blogs and upsetting videos about puppy mills and slaughterhouses. I found myself being pulled more and more in Avalanchian's direction. One day I engaged in a rather heated debate online with someone who was convinced that vegetarianism was a strange and irrational choice. I found myself trying to justify not why I was vegetarian, but why I wasn't a vegan. I hedged around the issue, played devil's advocate and generally tried to distract my opponent from ad hominems but was left with a rather pressing question - why wasn't I a vegan? I posted extracts from the arguement on my Livejournal and a friend referred their vegan friend to my page. We chatted and she recommended Vegan Freak to me. I immediately put it on my Christmas list, which probably made my mother raise an eyebrow. Christmas came and the book was under the tree. 

The Spring term came around and so did the time to submit a proposal for my 'special subject' module. I wrote an application to my department for an essay exploring the moral dimension of eating meat and was very excited when my proposal was accepted. I ran to the library (well, sort of wandered there a few days later) and scoured the ethics section, pulling books by Tom Regan and Peter Singer off the shelf with gusto. I dived onto Amazon and ordered more books - Francione, Garner, Rowlands... Greatly satisfied with my initial efforts, I curled up on the sofa with and opened Empty Cages. Within a few pages, my life started to change.

The more I read about animal rights, welfare and liberation, the more I realised how incoherent my own views were. It was all very well reading blogs and talking on forums but these discussions followed a kind of intuitive quasi-logic. What seems sensible, what seems reasonable. They were constantly derailed onto irrelevent tangents by intelligent and articulate people who nonetheless couldn't get their heads around the difference between 'I agree with this' and 'this is a logically sound position'. Now I was reading relentlessly consistent, disspassionate, ruthlessly rational arguments that were hammering away at my beliefs and assumptions.

I discussed my findings with Avalanchian and we both knew what needed to happen. However, we hesitated. It was too expensive (was it?). It was too hard (was it?). It would cause too many problems (would it?). Maybe we should give it ago, but not yet. We should wait until I graduated, wait until we had more money and were more settled. Still, I carried on reading my books. The weight of my hypocrisy was crushing. The final straw came when I watched a video on Viva! of male chicks ('by-products of the egg industry') being thrown into a grinder. Alive. I couldn't do it anymore. The emotions had finally caught up with the logic.

The time had come to meet with my tutor to discuss my project. I described a rather different assignment to the one I had originally proposed. I was going to lay out an abolitionist case for animal rights and I was going to become a vegan.

An Essay on Animal Liberation

(This article is an original work of mine, written as part of my degree. Feel free to link to this page, but please do not re-post without my consent.)

The Birth of Animal Liberation

Before the 19th C animals were rarely included in the moral community (Francione, 2000:1). The traditional view of human dominion over the natural world, coupled with doubts about the cognitive abilities of animals, lead to their objectification by humans. The conventional belief in human dominion over animals – broadly speaking the notion that humans have a right to use the natural world and the animals within it as resources – originates from the teleological theories of the ancient world. Aristotle argued that animals are part of a natural order in which every element – both living and inanimate – has a purpose and that the highest earthly purpose is to provide for humanity. Within this teleological account, animals were a resource for humans, to be used for food, clothing and sport as necessary for humans to flourish (Aristotle, translated by Sinclair, 1962:40). This teleology was reflected in the biblical writings, particularly Genesis where it is claimed humanity is granted dominion over all other beings and thus the right to use fear and dread to subdue them for human ends (Genesis 1:28, 9:2). Divine providence cements the position of humans at the head of the natural world. 
More contemporary beliefs have provided myriad justifications for human use of animals. Descartes famously held that animals were ‘living machines’ or automata, incapable of experiences. It was not like something to be an animal. If animals gave the impression of intelligence or awareness, perhaps signified by whimpers to demand attention from their owners or yelps when harmed, Descartes held that these responses were no more than the squeaking of a badly oiled gear or the ticking of a clock. He argued that animals lacked the behaviours necessary to indicate consciousness or reason. They did not behave as people do, responding to problems and challenges in the refined manners that would, Descartes believed, be necessary to indicate a mental life. Descartes believed that humans were the only animals to posses mental lives and subjective experiences because they were granted souls by God and his dualist theory of minds denied that animals had also been gifted with this incorporeal substance. Animals, in this view, were neither capable of having minds nor demonstrated the behaviours, such as language use, required to indicate the presence of a mind. For Descartes, animal behaviour could be adequately described and understood without affording animals minds, and so the simpler explanation should prevail. (See Descartes in Regan and Singer Eds., 1976:60-66).
Other philosophers have denied this mechanistic view of animals and have granted animals both minds and a range of experiences. However, there has been a consistent theme within moral philosophy to continue to deny animals a place in the moral community. Kant claimed that animals are not rational beings and although he did accept animal sentience (Francione, 2000:3), he denied that animals were self-concious (Kant in Regan and Singer Eds., 1976:122). The Kantian position shared Aristotle’s belief that animals are a means to human ends and that humans have no obligations owed directly to animals (Ibid.). Insofar as animals should be treated in a certain way, this was simply to safeguard humans either in terms of protecting their interests (such as property) or preventing humans being hardened toward each other as a result of being cruel to animals (Ibid.). Aside from the biblical dimension to Kant’s position, the reason for denying moral status to animals rests with the belief that animals are not rational and not able to take a role in the moral community as a result of that.

At the end of the 18th C, Jeremy Bentham advanced a view of the moral status of animals that dramatically deviated from the traditional thinking of his time. He drew away from view that animals should be denied moral status for teleological or biblical reasons, and rejected the thinking of Kant and Descartes that animals needed some higher cognitive characteristic (such as rationality or language use) to be included in the moral community. In a now famous passage, he wrote that:

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? (Bentham in Regan and Singer Eds., 1976:130)

For Bentham, possessing sentience – the capacity for suffering/pleasure – is enough for inclusion in the moral community. Animals have moral value, of some form, simply on the basis of the fact that what happens to them matters to them. Animals became 'someones' who had preferences and experiences and not 'somethings'. Crucially, Bentham denied that it was necessary to stop using animals or to afford them a right not to be treated as property, due to the belief that animals had no on-going sense of themselves in time. Bentham believed they lived in an eternal present, so death was not a harm for them. Thus, it was not necessary to stop killing them for human purposes, as long as they were not made to suffer (Ibid. 129). What Bentham was advanced was a humane treatment principle, based on a principle of equal consideration.

Equal consideration

In order for any moral view to be consistent, it must have a system or mechanism to prevent arbitrary judgements and to promote relevant forms of equality within the system. A principle of equal consideration does this. According to the principle, all similar cases must be judged in a similar manner, and if cases are sufficiently similar in relevant ways, they get equal consideration (Francione, 2000:82-85). Combining the principle of equal consideration with a theory about which characteristics are relevant and which are not is the foundation for a moral theory. 
Bentham put forward the idea that the relevant characteristic a being must posses in order to be afforded moral consideration was the ability to suffer (Bentham in Regan and Singer Eds., 1976:130). It doesn't matter what other characteristics the beings has - if a being can suffer then that is reason for taking that being into account when we make decisions that could affect that being. If are considering whether to train a dog or teach a parrot to swear, then other factors like the ability to learn and the ability to make vocalisations are relevant.

In order to suffer, a being must have some kind of experiences. Experiences, especially those that indicate whether things are going well or badly for a being, are a necessary pre-condition for having interests (Singer, 1995:7). If a being doesn't have experiences, it is not aware of what happens to it and does not have the information with which to form preferences about the kind of experiences it has. If a being doesn't have preferences or interests – if nothing that happens to the being makes a jot of difference to its welfare – then we don't need to take into account the impact of our actions on that being (Ibid. 7-8). By taking into account the suffering or enjoyment experienced by a being, we are not making an arbitrary judgement about which interests are relevant or not, we are ensuring that all interests are taken into account because the capacity for having interests is taken into account. The principle of equal consideration means that animal suffering must be taken into account alongside human suffering, and animal interests must be taken into account alongside human interests (Ibid. 8).

Attempts may be made to draw other lines to distinguish those beings who are included in the moral community from those who are not, but all face one major question; why is this characteristic or that relevant, and why should we draw the line here (or there). Attempts to draw the line at language, rationality, emotions, relationship forming and even species membership seems arbitrary (Singer, 1995:9). Why would these characteristics, or any other, make it acceptable to leave a being to the caprice of a tormentor” (Bentham in Regan and Singer Eds., 1976:130)
Any other line we might draw would likely be an expression of anthropocentrism, which puts non-humans at a distinct disadvantage (Francione, 2008:137-140). Why is my ability to (for example) think further into the future than my cats more important than the fact that my cats can see, hear and smell far better than I can? Human self-interest taints the process, drawing lines further away and higher up so that we may continue to view at least some animals as outside of the moral community and thus objects we may view as resources (Ibid. 137-141). The inherent problem with self-interest – the notion that we only protect and afford rights to beings like us and include beings like us in the moral community – is the question of where it stops. Species membership seems like convenient lines that distinguishes us from them, but why not draw the line further up? Why not include only citizens of a certain race or nation, or gender or sexuality? It seems rather implausible to suppose that humans should or do care about other humans simply because they share sufficiently similar DNA. The entire history of warfare and human rights abuses would seem to support this implausibility. 
It is sentience, the capacity for suffering and enjoyment and thus interests, that is the baseline for moral consideration (Singer, 1995:8).

Animal Sentience

Animal sentience is both widely accepted and conforms to our common sense view of the world. As Tom Regan says, “what could be more obvious than that cats like stroking, dogs feel hungry, elks sense danger and eagles spy their prey?(Regan, 2004:2). Our everyday interactions with animals reflect this common sense idea that animals share at least some of the experiences that we do. When we play 'fetch' with a dog, whisper to calm a startled pony or reprimand a nippy kitten, we act as though the animal is aware of itself and us, and able to be amused, soothed or trained by our actions. Our language also reflects this common sense view – when we comment on the desires or wants of an animal, this isn't met with the surprise that we would expect if we had made a statement such as “the Washington Monument is thirsty(Regan, 2004:2). Nonetheless, there is a great deal of skepticism about animal sentience, in part due to the difficulties with getting animals to report the presence and content of their private experiences (if they have any). In order to establish whether animals are members of the moral community, it is essential to establish whether there is sufficient evidence for animal sentience. Accounts of animal sentience tend to consider three approaches; behaviour, physiology and evolution. All three come from an understanding of human experiences and attempt to tease out the relevant similarities between humans and other animals.1
Peter Harrison (1991) takes these three approaches to animal sentience and attempts to show how each presents a weak case. In response to the claim that animals behave in a manner consistent with suffering and sentience, he highlights the conceptual possibility of a machine that totally lacks sentience but that nonetheless exhibits convincing 'pain behaviours'. He also mentions instances where animals exhibit 'pain behaviours' when they have not received 'pain stimuli', using these as further examples of the gulf between actual pain and the kind of behaviours we might associate with it. He claims that 'pain behaviours' are a sign of environmental adaptation in animals and not “primarily and expression of some internal state(27). 
However, surely if machines could in theory mimic animal behaviours, they could also conceivably mimic humans if adequately programmed? Do we doubt the mentation of other humans on the basis that human behaviour, even language use, could be convincingly copied? A second reply to to Harrison is that humans are capable of faking reactions to pain and even intentionally lying about whether they are in pain. To doubt all animal pain on the basis of faked pain is to doubt all human pain on the basis that we can lie about pain. Thirdly, that 'pain behaviours' are often adaptive does not entail that pain is not felt. Alan Carter (2005) takes the case for adaptive 'pain behaviour' and argues that instances where 'pain behaviour' is counter-productive to survival (i.e. is maladaptive) actually demonstrate that it is not the behaviour which is adaptive but the cause – pain. The ability to feel pain is, according to Carter, a positive adaptation that occasionally and unfortunately produces maladaptive responses. 
Harrison turns his attention to the physiological argument. He makes two important claims; that instances of non-concious experiences in humans open up the possibility that animal experiences are non-concious and that many animals do not in fact have sufficiently similar physiology to humans for us to reliably afford them similar mental lives. To defend his view he discusses cases in which brain damaged humans nonetheless show relatively normal mental functioning, including one individual who lacked a visual cortex and yet reported good visual perception. Such cases do indeed show that the mind-body link is complex and still confounds us, but he then goes on to say that it is unlikely that birds have similar visual experiences to us due to their lack of a visual cortex. Surely what this demonstrates is that no one brain structure has a monopoly on certain mental functions. Like brain structures may yet indicate like mental states and it does not follow from that that certain mental states require specific brain structures that do not vary significantly between species. 
In response to the view that non-concious mental states in humans indicate the possibility of non-conscious mental states in animals, we must agree. This is indeed a possibility. However, humans acting in response to non-concious states (such as 'blindsight') are rather hap-hazard and less precise in their actions (Griffin, 2001:161). Given accuracy and sureness of animal interactions with their world, it seems unlikely that they are like the 'blindsight' patient. Griffin also reports that monkeys have been trained to perform 'blindsight' trials by teaching them to reach to stimuli and then surgically impairing part of their field of vision. They learned to report the stimuli in the impaired field, albeit as long as the stimuli was more powerful than when they had full vision. Most importantly, they were then taught to make a 'no stimuli' sign and would consistently do so when presented with stimuli in their impaired field, making an effective contrast between their different experiences and giving us at least some cause to think they must have concious experiences if they reported 'no stimuli' when previously they had reacted to the 'hidden' stimuli (Ibid.). If anything, this case shows that animals can also have 'blindsight' and not that normal animal functioning is similar to 'blindsight'.

Finally, Harrison suggests we might appeal to parsimony on the basis that we may be able to account for animal reactions to harmful stimuli without proposing the ontological burden of sentience onto the theory. However, the same appeal to parsimony can surely be used to deny mentation in other humans, much like the behaviour mimicking machine example could also be applied to humans. It is rather simpler to assume that other humans are either figments of the imagination or at best biological machines that run according to an elaborate program. Any appeal to ontological simplicity must surely extend to our own species, for it is conceivable that even the most refined and elaborate human behaviours such as language use can be replicated by carefully programmed computers (Regan, 2004:9-10). The appeal to parsimony also suffers when it is used to require two different theories for how the behavioural, physiological and evolutionary facts apply to humans and animals. It is far simpler to produce one theory to cover both situations, assuming they are genuinely relevantly similar. 
While Harrison has shown that cases for animal sentience are not water-tight, these cases still seem to provide us with reasons to recognise mentation in animals, especially in light of our constantly developing understanding of animal science (see Rollin, 1989 and Griffin, 2001). It would seem rather odd if humans and animals exhibited relevantly similar behaviour (aversive reactions to harmful stimuli), shared relevantly similar physiological traits (central nervous systems comprised of brains, nerves and sensory organs), had relevantly similar chemical reactions to physiological events (release of hormones and chemicals in the brain that calm or reduce the effects of pain) and came to be through the same process of mutation and adaptation (evolution), and yet humans were the only species to have developed sentience.
In fact, the consequences of failing to attribute animals sentience if they do indeed have it are rather dire. If mistakenly excluded from the moral community on this basis, animals may be wilfully harmed and abused with no consideration for their welfare. Given the remaining problems with proving animal sentience one way or the other, we are left to make a choice based on what is most reasonable to believe and what the consequences of each view would be. Even skeptics about animal sentience such as Harrison recognise that the most prudent course of action may be to give animals the benefit of the doubt and to be cautious in our dealings with them.

Intrinsic Value and Basic Rights

We seem to have good reasons to think that animals are not mere things but instead 'someones', with their own minds, preferences and needs. When we directly and indirectly interact with animals, we have a duty to actively extend the principle of equal consideration to them and not simply treat in a manner that suits us, as a means to our ends. 

How then, do we go about taking their interests into account? The first step is to recognise their intrinsic value as sentient beings. The reason they have value is because of who and what they are, because of qualities intrinsic to them. If we afford animals only instrumental value, that is to say value by virtue of their usefulness and value to others, we make a categorical error. We would be saying that animals only have the value that we give them, which would be to reject that the principle of equal consideration applies to them. Once we realise that animals have more than instrumental value, we are compelled to consider the interests of animals when we act. Our concerns are not simply for the consequences of our actions for ourselves and other humans, but also for the impact of our actions on animals, a concern that is owed directly to them. The practical upshot of correctly categorising animals as 'someones' and not 'somethings' is that we must cease to view them as resources for our exploitation.

One way of protecting animal interests is to give them rights. By stating a right to something, be that a right to vote or a right to not be treated as a thing, we are saying that the interest in question is ring-fenced and that we must have a very good reason indeed for overriding it. Rights compel us not to ignore the interests they protect and are only overridden in situations where there is a very genuine conflict of rights, such as Regan's 'Dog in the Lifeboat' (1985) or Francione's 'Burning House' (2000:151-160). When we say that sentient beings should not be viewed exclusively as a means to an end and that their interests require us to apply the principle of equal consideration to them, we are saying that they have a basic right to have their interests taken into account and not to be valued exclusively as a thing (Francione, 2000:92-98). 
Animal Ownership 
Gary Francione argues that if we are to properly afford animals intrinsic value and a basic right not to be treated as things, we must cease to see them as legitimate subjects of ownership. Francione argues that as property, animals are afforded no value other than that which their owner gives them (Francione, 2000:54). Their value largely is commercial or sentimental – instrumental – and not intrinsic. Owners are generally permitted to use the animal in a variety of ways – for personal or economic gain, as part of a contract, as collateral for a loan, etc. (Ibid.). For some animals, their use and death for profit or pleasure is part and parcel of being owned and their interests are very minimally defended in law, to the extent that the legitimacy of inflicting of great pain and suffering onto the animals is both socially and legally considered necessary and expedient (Francione, 2000:58-63). Francione argues ownership of animals enables their exploitation and that if we are going to stop exploiting them, we must cease to view them as property. Animal ownership is not compatible with affording them the right to not be treated as a thing. 
A possible counter to this view is to claim that abuse and exploitation are contingent but not necessary aspects of ownership. It is possible, one might argue, to own something and yet be required by morality or law to give it equal consideration of interests, to be the 'perfect owner' that recognises the intrinsic value of animals and rejects the idea that their value is instrumental. Such a 'perfect owner' would not only treat the property animal well, but would reject all rights over the animal, instead acting for the benefit of the animal. Where the animal is restrained, has pain inflicted or otherwise treated in a manner that it is uncomfortable with, this is perhaps because tying it up or caging it prevents it from coming to harm or perhaps because an uncomfortable or painful medical treatment is necessary to ensure its health or recovery from sickness. Treating an animal in a way that violates some of its interests is only acceptable where other, more fundamental interests of the animal are safeguarded by that action, and not acceptable where the animals interests are being forfeited for the pleasure or profit of the owner. For a discussion of emergency situations, see Chapter 7 of Francione's Introduction to Animal Rights (2000:151-166). 
If the concept of the 'perfect owner' is coherent, it validates the claim that exploitation is a contingent rather than necessary aspect of ownership. However, such a claim leaves a number of concerns. If the owner is 'perfect' (i.e. totally fulfilling their a moral duties to the animal including the duty not to view them as a means to an end), then it is by virtue of waiving certain rights over the animal that categorise ownership. If someone is an owner, they have the right to use the animal in certain ways, such as for economic gain. Their rights may be tempered by law (e.g. they may be legally required not to be cruel to the animal) but they nonetheless have some kind of rights over the animal. If they didn't, they would not be an owner. Duties owed to animals, to give them equal consideration and to not view them exclusively as a means to an end, are not tied up in the nature of ownership, coming instead from additional moral imperatives. If we say that the 'perfect owner' is on moral ground only if they reject rights over the animal, then we have a position where rights over animals are defended by defending the ownership relation, but the owner is compelled to reject them. In effect, the owner has 'immoral rights' that they must not 'cash in'.

In order to maintain that it is morally acceptable to own animals, we must describe an owner who is an owner only in name, but not in nature. The nature of the relationship between the 'perfect owner' and the animal is in fact the nature of a guardian-ward relationship, where the duties owed to the animal are part and parcel of the relation, and not additional to it. In fact, ownership of animals is the only kind of ownership where duties are owed to the property, because they are the only property objects that have interests. The only way to properly deal with the residual 'ownership rights' to exploit animal property is to not require that individual owners consistently waive their rights over animals, but to reject the rights themselves and with them the ownership relation. In accepting guardian-ward relationships as the proper way for humans to relate to animals they are responsible for, we are simply giving the proper name to the so-called 'perfect owner'. An owner that is compelled to consistently recognise the rights of their property and in doing so compelled not to treat the property as property is not a coherent concept. 
It may be objected that ownership of animals is a way of entrenching responsibilities towards them into the law and ensuring that societies recognise which humans are responsible for which animals. However, this is adequately fulfilled by legalised guardianship of animals. The only complication left is when the owner/guardian can best serve the interests of both themselves and the animal by passing on responsibility, but this is no more of a problem for animals than it is for children or other human dependants. There are ways and means of ensuring that guardians or parents of children do not come to grief and do not cause suffering to their wards without requiring that we legitimise the sale or trade of humans. There are also ways of obtaining human wards without buying or trading for them, for example via foster schemes or adoption. This kind of relationship is best suited to fulfilling our duties to the animals we are responsible for because it is not only adequate, it avoids the incoherence of requiring owners to waive rights of ownership. 
Food for Thought

What does this view about the inclusion of animals in the moral community mean for the real-world relationship between humans and animals?

According to the UN statistics for Food and Agriculture (FAO, 2007), nearly 56 billion animals are slaughtered around the world in order to produce meat and other animal products for food, every year. These are just the recorded numbers and do not take into account the aquatic animals killed annually for food or as by-catch from the fishing industry. The numbers of fish and other aquatic animals that are wild-caught and bred in fisheries annually is over 140 million tons a year, around the world, according to the FAO (2008). The number of individual aquatic animals killed is unrecorded. These animals are farmed, harvested and used for human benefit. It would be absurd to claim that by treating animals in this manner we were not using them instrumentally. These animals not only die to fulfil human interests, but tens of billions of them are intentionally created by humans so that they may be used as resources. 
It is increasingly accepted by the medical community that humans are capable of thriving on a diet that totally omits animal products (see Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and American Dietetic Association). In light of the fact that we don't need to eat animals or farm them for their products, we cannot claim a legitimate conflict of interest between animals and humans when we consider whether or not to use them for food. Any situation in which animal products and flesh are required to live healthfully is covered by emergency considerations but we must be careful to avoid applying 'emergency' situations too liberally, and especially to situations where we inconvenienced by the task of planning an appropriate diet or sourcing appropriate non-animal alternatives. In refusing to take into account the right of animals not to be treated as things, we not only value them instrumentally in the way that we might value dentists and fire-fighters but we also deny them their intrinsic value. 
The imperative to avoid harm to animals and to treat them as members of the moral community also applies to our use of animals for clothing, research, product testing and entertainment. It also calls upon us to cautious when we consider environmental interventions such as culls and other forms of population control. By affording animals a basic right not to be treated as a thing or a resource, we are developing an abolitionist view of animal liberation – a view that says we must work to abolish the instrumental use of animals by humans.


Regan, T. (2004) The Case for Animal Rights. California: University of California Press

Francione, G. (2000) Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Singer, P. (1995) Animal Liberation. London: Pimlico

Francione, G. (2008) Animals as Persons. New York: Columbia University Press

Regan, T. and Singer, P. Eds. (1976) Animal Rights and Human Obligations. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

Griffin, D. (2001) Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Conciousness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Harrison, P. (1991) Do Animals Feel Pain? Philosophy 66 (255)

Rollin, B (1989) The Undeeded Cry. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Carter, A. (2005) Animals, Pain and Morality. Journal of Applied Philosophy 22 (1)

American Dietetic Association. (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (7)

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (2008) Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics. [Accessed 27/05/11]

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (2007) Global Livestock Production and Health Atlas. [Accessed 27/05/11]

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Information on Vegetarian and Vegan Diets. [Accessed on 27/05/11]

Regan, T. (1985) The Dog in the Lifeboat. [Accessed on 27/05/11]

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Petition Bump

We posted this back in April but it deserves a bump now that it's fallen off the front page:

Say No to Cruel Cosmetics

This is a campaign from the BUAV to get the EU to adhear to it's 2013 deadline for outlawing the use of animals in cosmetics testing within the EU. The EU is not confident that suitable alternatives to animal testing will be ready by 2013 but we say that safeguarding the cosmetics market in this manner is deeply unjust given the cost to the animals. Please join us in saying that we, as a society, do not need yet another shampoo or make-up brand and we reject the use of animals in developing these unnecessary products. There has been too much injustice in the past, lets move on and move away from it.

Please remember that whatever happens, your choices as a consumer are the most powerful. Sign the petition but please vote with your wallet as well. Choose cruelty free brands such as Lush and those that are BUAV approved (look out for the bunny logo!). There are so many gorgeous, vegan, cruelty free cosmetics and toiletries avaliable in stores and online.

Monday, 23 May 2011


My comment on an article about neglected pets on The Guardian website:
I'm dissapointed at the number of "who cares?" style comments. This story is about avoidable abuse, exploitation and neglect that is caused by apathy, misinformation and a lack of proper research. It doesn't matter whether the victim is a goldfish, a rabbit or a child - it is avoidable and inexcusable. Why does it matter that you don't care about a rabbit? I don't particulary care about footballers but if it transpired that they were often abused or exploited by their managers, I'd be concerned. This story isn't really about rabbits - it's about how selfish, blinkered or ignorant people make decisions that cause harm to others.

There are many problems in the world, as a number of commenters have pointed out. So what? Why do we have to 'ration our compassion'? A concern for plight of abused children (for example) doesn't give anyone an excuse to neglect their companion animals. If you can't look after an animal properly and don't have the sense or decency to do some serious research into the creature you wish to keep, then don't get it. Simple as.

All my companion animals live well. The first thing I do when adopting a new animal is research, research, research. I have the feeling I am in the minority, however. I worked for a major UK pet retailer for a number of months. The sheer number of customers who come in and either refuse to take advice or do research into the animals is shocking. Many just want the smallest, cheapest enclosure and want to feed the cheapest food. They want a fun toy and are totally unprepared to look after a living, sentient being. This is so prevalent that the actual advice that you get in pet shops is affected. The upper management know that most customers don't want a big committment or to spend a lot of money. They encourage staff to make the whole process seem easier than it really is, offering substandard advice and stocking cheap, tacky and inadequate equipment for the animals so that ignorant, selfish customers are not put off by the higher prices associated with large, good quality enclosures or properly formulated feeds. Sometimes the staff are not aware of how much the advice they are giving is 'dumbed down', especially if the staff are not experienced with animals or inclined to do their own research. I remember joining the company as a keen aquarist - I was very quickly told to shut up and toe the company line, or I could lose my job. I was repeatedly discouraged from giving proper advice and every day I had to make decisions that I knew put animals into abusive situations. Unless I wanted to lose my job, I had to enable animal abuse. It's as simple as that and the sad thing is that most of the other staff just nodded along with it. Most believed that the company was right because their advice was 'expert approved' and refused to take on board infomation to the contrary. My manager even believed a number of factual falsehoods and refused to listen when I explained that (for example) ammonia is not a kind of bacteria (very relevant to fishkeeping!). I eventually left in disgust.

Caring about humans doesn't mean you shouldn't care about animals. If you get a companion animal, please research widely into its needs and please adopt from a shelter or rescue. The pet industry is a horrible thing; animals churned out like cheap toys, the conditions are cramped and often unclean, the animals are taken away from their mothers far too early, often given a terrible diet and many will never see a vet if they are sick. All of this before the animal reaches the pet shop. We have no right to do this to sentient beings just because we want a living toy or an 'unusual' gift for someone. Pet overpopulation is completely our fault, as a society. We are the reason so many animals languish in shelters or get destroyed because they are unwanted, abused and badly trained. We are the reason that so many 'owners' don't know or don't care about the animals they keep. Please help those who are already in 'the system' and don't pay breeders and shops to produce more. This goes for all animals, from goldfish to geckos to cats to dogs.

If you don't have time for an animal or have 'better things to worry about', then that's fine. Don't get the animal. Neglect doesn't show that you have important things to do in your life, it doesn't show that you have your prioreties straight. It doesn't show that you have common sense, or don't get worked up about the little things. It shows that you're selfish and irresponsible.