A Discussion on Animal Rights
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; The Declaration of Independence holds these rights to be self evident and unalienable. In the eighteenth century when these words were written they were called natural rights, today we call them human rights" (McShea 34). The issue of whether or not to grant animal rights such as those that humans retain, is a greatly disputed issue. Philosophers, clergyman, and politicians have argued the point of animal rights for years, but without success. Animal right is an extremely intricate issue that involves the question of animal intelligence, animal activist groups, and the pros and cons of granting animals their rights.
Psychologists around the world, who have studied nonhuman primates, argue that these animals possess the capacity to communicate. They go on to explain that a communication barrier is all that separates humans from animals. If they bridged that barrier, then humans could talk with animals. Beatrice and Robert Gardner, two psychologists of the University of Nevada, realized that the pharynx and larynx of the chimpanzee are not suited for human speech. Since chimpanzees are far superior to humans in manual dexterity, the Garners decided to try to teach chimpanzees American Sign Language or Ameslan. The Gardners and others studied these chimpanzees, Washoe, Lucy, and Lana. These three chimpanzees learned to use and could display a working vocabulary of 100 to 200 words. They also distinguished between different grammatical patterns and syntaxes (Sagan 615). Besides distinguishing, the chimpanzees also inventively constructed new words and phrases. For example, when Washoe first saw a duck land on water, she gestured "water bird," which is the same phrase used in English. Washoe invented that gesture for the occasion (Sagan 615). Lucy also displayed her creative mind by signing "candy drink" after tasting a watermelon. The description "candy drink" is essentially the same word form as the English "water melon" (Sagan 615).
Another method of bridging the communication gap between humans and animals is by computer. At the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, researchers teach chimpanzees like Lana a specific computer language called "Yerkish" (Sagan 616). "Yerkish" allows the chimpanzees to talk with the computer by keyboarding in messages. The computer in turn responds appropriately. While Lana types, she monitors her sentences on a computer display and erases those sentences with grammatical errors. At one point while Lana typed an intricate sentence, her trainer mischievously and repeatedly interfered with her typing from a separate console. Lana, who had become aggravated by this, typed, "Please, Tim, leave room." (Sagan 616).
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is a nonviolent animal rights organization. They enforce the ideals that any exploitation of animals by humans is wrong and should be abolished. PETA, formed by Alex Pacheo and Ingrid Newkirk in 1984, has grown from a handful of members to an organization with more than 35,000 members and a yearly income of over five million dollars (Dejar 70). They quote Ingrid Newkirk as saying, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." (Tapply 71). This quotation of Newkirk's states her purpose in organizing PETA and it also provides a platform of ideals for PETA.
They call another pro-animals group the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF. ALF commits violent and illegal acts to make sure that their point is apparent to all. Like PETA, ALF also seeks to end all human exploitation of animals, but unlike PETA, ALF will use any means possible to achieve their goal. ALF originated in England in 1974 by a man named Ronnie Lee. An anonymous woman who goes by the pseudonym "Valerie," organized the American branch of the ALF after training in terrorist techniques in England. The American ALF made their American debut on Christmas Eve in 1982. She and two other members broke into a lab at Howard University in Washington, D.C. They liberated thirty cats used in research to study the effects of drugs on nerve transmissions (Reed 38). The activists found the cats in poor condition. Deep incisions scarred some cats' backs and they were dragging their hind legs (Reed 38). While in the lab, the ALF members photographed the cats and later turned the cats over to sympathetic veterinarians who treated and put the cats up for adoption. In June 1991, ALF claimed credit for $800,000 worth of damage caused by arson at the Northwest Farm Cooperative in Edmonds, Washington, a supplier of feed to mink ranches. Totally opposed to any kind of animal exploitation, ALF does not indulge in eating eggs, honey, or dairy products.
On the other side of the coin is Putting People First (PPF). A grass roots organization made up of men and women who advocate the eating of meat, the wearing of furs and using animals in biomedical research. PPF takes the human side if the animal rights issue. As PPF is the only pro-human group, it is also the only nationwide organization attempting to merge interests of hunters with all the other interest groups that stand to lose to the animal rights extremists groups (Tapply 98). This human rights group promotes the age-old view that human rights are above animal rights. PPF began in 1990 with Kathleen Marquardt as the director and founder of the human rights organization. By tracking legislative proposals and lobbying against animal rights bills at state and local levels, PPF maintains a high public image. Marquardt's organization also files public interest lawsuits in courts and with the federal regulatory agencies to expose the radicalism of the animal rights message (Tapply 98).
The granting of rights to animals such as the abolition of medical research, the dissolution of commercial animal agriculture, sport hunting, and trapping would in effect have both positive and negative consequences. Positive consequences to the granting of animal rights would include lessened cruelty to animals, a greater appreciation of animals, and even a probable decline in the rate at which endangered species decline in number. These positive consequences would have an immense impact on the ecological system of the world and in the end, may even benefit society. Negative consequences to the granting of rights to animals would include not being able to test potential cures of life threatening diseases, not having pets in homes, and the entire population becoming vegetarians. Both choices would incorporate many difficulties in the way of enforcement, but both contain valid consequences worth considering.
Granting animals their rights would stimulate a large amount of controversy. The question of whether or not animals are intelligent becomes one key argument for animal rights activists in their fight for animal liberation. Observing the pros and cons to this situation also brings the large amount of difficulty in making one concrete decision into perspective.
Cohen, Carl. "The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research." The Norton Reader. Ed. Arthur M. Eastman, et al. New York:Norton 1992, 691-701.
Dajer, Tony. "Monkeying With the Brain." Discover. January 1992: 70-1.
McShea, Daniel W. "On the Rights of an Ape." Discover. February 1994: 35-7.
Reed, Susan. "Animal Passion." People Weekly. January 18, 1993: 35-9.
Regan, Tom. "The Case for Animal Rights." The Norton Reader. Ed. Arthur M. Eastman, et al. New York: Norton 1992, 680-691.
Sagan, Carl. "The Abstraction of Beasts." The Norton Reader. Ed. Arthur M. Eastman, et al. New York: Norton, 613-620.
Tapply, William. "Who Spaeks for People?" Feild and Stream. June 1991: 48-49, 98.
II Animal Intelligience
2. Trainer incident
III Animal activists groups
1. Formed when and by whom
1. Formed when and by whom
1. Formed when and by whom
IV Pros and cons of animal rights
A. Positive effects
B. Negative effects