Newspaper article, socio-cultural

Animal rights or animal welfare?

Republic Act 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act was the culmination of Nita Hontiveros-Lichauco’s long years of active campaigning and lobbying for the protection of animals in the Philippines. Ms. Hontiveros-Lichauco  is the President and guiding light of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). President Fidel V. Ramos signed that law on February 11, 1998

I joined PAWS a few months later. In July 1998, we published the very first issue of the PAWS newsletter where I was the Editorial Consultant. For that issue, I wrote the article “Animal Rights or Animal Welfare?” since I thought that Filipinos should be aware of the difference between the two. In the US, it seemed that the two camps were at each other’s throats.

A year later, on June 26, 1999, it was re-published as a full-page feature in the The Philippine Post. The mainstream media in the country has been increasingly interested in animal affairs since the promulgation of the animal welfare law.

The fight between animal rights organizations and animal welfare groups are getting nastier in the US, esp. with impending laws on animal rights and welfare. In the Philippines, the people and the mass media don’t seem to know the difference. At any rate, it seems like my article still holds true and relevant, even though it has been more than twenty years since I wrote it. Here is is:

Animal rights or animal welfare? Is there a difference? Apparently, in the US, there is an intense battle between animal rights activists and animal welfare enthusiasts.

The animal rights movement declares that all (animal) species are equal; therefore, “non-human animals” have the same rights as “human animals.” That “to discriminate against beings solely on account of their species is a form of prejudice – immoral and indefensible.”

For the animal welfare enthusiasts, there is an inherent difference between man(kind) and animals. Thus, man must treat animals as humanely as possible. Animal welfare groups seek to improve treatment and well-being of animals.

Animal rights group include the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), the Humane Society of the US and Earth First!. They are powerful and well-funded. On the other hand, animal welfare organizations are composed mostly of small community groups – your friendly dog-and-cat lovers association, the neighborhood animal shelter, etc.

Animal rights activists demand an end to ALL animal use or ownership. They demand an end to hunting, fishing, livestock farming, ranching, and use of animals in scientific experiments. They want people to stop eating meat, fish, and eggs. They seek to halt the use of leather shoes and bags, wool sweaters and even silk handkerchiefs. There would be no zoos, no aquariums, rodeos, horse racing, and no animal actors in films. There would be no cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. And of course, there would be NO PETS.

In Animal Liberation, the Animal Rights movement’s bible, author Peter Singer says the tyranny of human over non-human animals has caused and is still causing much pain and suffering that can only be compared with the tyranny by white humans over black humans that was practiced for centuries.

Mr. Singer coined the word SPECIECISM, which would mean a prejudice or attitude of bias towards the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species. He believes that there is a parallel between racism and speciecism – whites vs. Blacks, man vs. animals.

Kathleen Marquardt of Putting People First says her group believes in animal welfare and human rights. But for them, there is no such thing as animal rights.

She said that rights come with responsibilities so only humans “have rights because we are able to understand right from wrong and can choose between them.” Therefore, “only humans have the ability to make moral choices. Animals do not.” She concludes that “because animals lack responsibility, it is meaningless and absurd to claim they have rights.

Peter D. Wilson, in his essay “Rational Ethics and Animal Rights”, proposes a secular ethics to be based on “scientific sympathy” that would require the same treatment for all with similar biological structures or capacity for feeling. He says that man does not occupy a special place in nature that separates him from all other animals. “All terrestrial life, from the smallest bacterium to the largest whale, share the same genetic language,” he said.

Actually, the scientific explanation of this molecular unity (that DNA is the genetic language of ALL living things) is that all are – trees, people, molds, bacteria – descended from a single and common instance of the origin of life on earth (Carl Sagan). This is a great argument for the evolution theory, not for the notion of equality of all species.

Animal rights adherents insist that man is just an animal species, nothing else. On the contrary, animal welfare proponents believe that man is different from animals. The welfarists would probably agree with Aldous Huxley that the difference between man and beasts is that “beasts abstract not.”

Perhaps the best answer can be found in the BRAIN – man’s and animal’s. The human brain shows clearly its evolutionary past; i.e., man’s connection to animals. American physician and neuroscientist  Paul MacLean describes man’s brain as consisting of three parts: the reptilian brain, the paleo (old) mammalian brain and the neomammalian brain.

The reptilian brain or the R-complex, which evolved hundreds of millions of years ago in our reptilian ancestors, is the seat of aggression, territoriality and hierarchy. Surrounding the R-complex is the limbic system or the paleomammalian brain, which evolved tens of millions of years ago in our mammalian ancestors. It is the seat of moods and emotions, of our care and concern for the young.

And finally, the cerebral cortex or the neomammalian brain, which evolved millions of years ago in our primate ancestors. This is where matter is transformed into consciousness, It comprises more than two-thirds (2/3) of the brain mass and is the realm of intuition and critical analysis, ideas and inspiration.

Says Carl Sagan: “The cortex regulates our conscious lives. It is the distinction of our species, the seat of humanity. Civilization is the product of the cerebral cortex.”

So there it is, the answer to what man is lies in his brain. He is an animal – part reptile, part mammal, but mostly, MAN.

In his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan wrote: “What distinguishes  our species is thought. The cerebral cortex is a liberation.”

The animal groups assert that animals and humans should not be distinguished from each other because animals are sentient beings and, like humans, communicate with one another, care passionately for their young, exhibit desires and preferences, etc. Man indeed shares the same characteristics as animals as indicated by his reptilian and paleomammalian brains.

But that is as far as it goes. Two-thirds of man’s brain is the cerebral cortex. This cortex, which produces thought, distinguishes the homo sapiens species from all the rest in the animal and plant kingdoms.

There is no need for the animal right activists to condemn man and humanity. Yet Paul Watson of Greenpeace said: “We, the human species, have become a viral epidemic to the earth.” David Foreman of Earth First! Insists: “We see AIDS not as a problem, but as a necessary solution.’ Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA wrote: “We humans have grown like a cancer. We’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth.” Michael Fox of Humane Society said that “human nature is the problem.”

Condemning humanity is truly uncalled for. After all, the only species capable of protecting all the rest is the human species.

Man can sometimes be egotistic. But his greatness is there for all to see and experience – the great pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Eiffel Tower, the giant skyscrapers; the music of Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart; the poems of Milton, Dryden, and Dylan Thomas; the plays of Shakespeare and Molière; the stories of Dostoievsky, Pushkin, and Mailer; the films of Fellini, Truffaut, and Buñuel; the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti; and the voyages to the moon and to the stars.

As Mr. Sagan wrote, because of the cerebral cortex, we can change ourselves. If man’s behavior towards other animal species has not been impeccable, there is time to learn and change our ways. Animal welfare proponents and animal rights activists must join forces for the good of all, both humans. And non-humans.

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