Re: birding-aus conservation/animal rights

To: <>, <>
Subject: Re: birding-aus conservation/animal rights
From: "Vicki Parslow Stafford" <>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 13:44:18 -0500

I've been following the duck-shooting discussion with great interest, and
don't wish to rehash points that have already been quite ably made. 
However, I would like to comment on just a couple of points from Phil
> I will accept arguments based on animal rights only from vegans. Most 
> of us will not even bat an eyelid when eating a 39 day old chicken 
> that has lead its entire life cooped up in a small cage, yet be 
> outraged when a wild bird has its life cut short. Does this seem not 
> a little hypocritical?

No, not really.  A vegan presumably chooses to be so because of a belief
that "animal rights" include a fundamental "right to life".  Others have
sincere and valid concepts of animal rights which perhaps don't include an
absolute "right to life".  

I think Phil's arguments suffer from a lack of clarity about what he
understands  "animal rights" to be, or what believes other people mean by
"animal rights".  In the absence of any kind of formalised and universally
recognised charter of animal rights, it is necessary to extrapolate these
from the commonly held ethical values of humanity in general, and one's own
society.  Rights of any kind are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 
Ethical dilemmas occur in all aspects of life _because_ different rights,
or the rights of different groups, are in conflict.

I don't believe it's necessary to be vegan, or subscribe to an absolute
right to life for all animals, in order to avoid a charge of hypocrisy in
expressing concern about animal rights.  I think it would be fair to assume
that all of the people who subscribe to this list accept that all animals
have a right to "respect for life".  This is also one of the major ethical
underpinnings of conservation.  (There are undoubtedly many other sound and
valid reasons/arguments for conservation, but the principle of respect for
life is certainly one of them, and it can't be eliminated from any
conservation debate without undermining the fundamental validity of all the
other arguments).
> If Julian B. truly believes that conservation and animal rights 
> are inseparable, then lets be honest about how we prioritise our 
> animals' rights. I'd say a bristlebird ranks a bit higher than a 
> feral cat, so try telling the cat it's being killed in the name of 
> animal rights. All animals are not equal in our minds, so there is no 
> universal 'animal right' that we are upholding. We just like birds a 
> lot.

I totally agree that all rights are not equal;  also that rights may carry
greater or lesser weight in different circumstances.  That doesn't mean
that there is no such thing as a "universal animal right". "Respect for
life" need not necessarily imply that life should never be taken, rather
that killing is ethically justifiable only when necessary to uphold a
greater right.  It does imply that deliberate cruelty, infliction of
needless suffering, and killing for entertainment are not ethcially

To take Phil's example: if I come across a feral cat menacing a
bristlebird, I would feel ethically justified in killing the cat.  I would
NOT feel justified in torturing the cat, inflicting unnecessary pain, or
wounding it and leaving it to die slowly and in pain. I believe that feral
cats should be eliminated using painless and humane methods.  I don't
believe that this makes it OK to declare "open season" on feral cats so
that those people who shoot animals _just because they enjoy it_ can have a
bit more fun.

>try telling the cat it's being killed in the name of  animal rights

Why is this hypocritical?  The traditional spiritual beliefs of many Native
Americans, for instance, require giving thanks to the animal one is about
to kill to eat.  Different _sets_ of competing rights involved, but the
same underlying one -- respect for life.

On a related note, Julian's point is spot-on:
>The point surely is that we expect CIVILASATION  to be
>above this.  I want, therefore I will have, hardly fits the bill.

Wanting something is NOT the same as having a right to it; unfortunately,
this distinction has a tendency to become blurred when the "I wants" have
enough political and economic influence to shout their demands louder and
more publicly than the rest.  Giving a tantrumming 4 year old what he wants
just to shut him up generally isn't considered either a wise or a mature
response -- especially if what he wants is to keep on pulling the cat's
tail because it's fun to hear it yowl.

Vicki PS
Vicki Parslow Stafford                 |  "Even if you can't live up
(Procrastination While U Wait)    |   to your destiny, you can
                         |   at least have one".
Ipswich, Qld.  Australia   

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