Law in Contemporary Society

The Case for Animals Everyone

-- By RorySkaggs - 25 Feb 2010


"Humans are more important than animals." "We have more important problems to deal with than animals." "Who cares about animals, what's the big deal? You people are crazy." These are some of the most common criticisms levied at animal advocates. Are they true? And more importantly, does it matter? Even if they are true, where does that leave us?

The Cove

The Oscar-winning documentary film The Cove explores the annual dolphin sale/slaughter off the coast of a small Japanese town. Why was it made? First, Ric O'Barry, the film's protagonist and former Flipper dolphin trainer, is trying to repent for (in his mind) creating a destructive industry. Second, as evidenced by the recent incident at SeaWorld, there is debate whether capturing these wild marine mammals for entertainment purposes is appropriate. Third, there are questions of what toll the slaughter will take on dolphin populations, and whether we should be killing such highly intelligent animals in the first place. But there was a different reason why the filmmakers felt the people of Japan should really be concerned. What was it?

The toxic levels of mercury in the dolphin meat being secretly fed to Japanese schoolchildren.

The Human Cost

This is just one of many examples of how animals affect our lives (if you're interested, there are many others here, here, here, here, and here). Some of these are externalities imposed by those who profit from animals on the rest of society, others are individual psychological effects which we only partially understand. The point is that how we as humans interact with the rest of the animal world both shapes our world and shapes us in complicated and complex ways. (For instance, is it surprising that a society which accepts widespread torture of animals could justify torturing humans? Slippery slope?))

Farming, fishing, making clothes, raising pets- how we do these things, and if we should, are questions that we rarely ask, but certainly should. Each interaction with animals has consequences (intended and not) that create an intricate web of causes and effects, and the better we try to understand and manage this interconnectedness between ourselves and the other living things around us, the better chance we have at meeting our own needs along with the needs of our future generations.

Animals and the Law

Why We Have It

So why does law need to live here? The most obvious reason is animals cannot protect themselves or control if and how we use them. The old paradigm was to use resources until nearly or completely extinct (be it dodos or oil), but we've come to realize that this is not sustainable. As we learn, we must ask questions. If factory farming hurts more than it helps, should we do it? If animal abuse leads to human abuse, how can we combat it? Sometimes the law is necessary as a brake to the over-consumption of resources unique to the human species, and sometimes it might be a way to prevent the psychological traumas that lead to violent or anti-social behavior. Either way, it should constantly be adjusted and reevaluated as we learn about the relationships between humans, animals and the earth.

Where it Fits In

This is not to say that 'animal law' is the only means to this end, nor should it be. Most problems on a global scale are exceedingly complex and require strategies from myriad areas, and animal issues are no different. Law can only be a piece of the puzzle- personal choices play at least as big a role- but crafting the rules within which we operate is essential to shaping the road ahead.

But many of the broader questions are the same questions we should be asking in many different conversations. Why do we kill? Why are we ever OK with killing? Why do we let some suffer? Why do we inflict pain? Why are some groups disadvantaged for the sake of others? One can almost certainly come up with an endless list of situations in the world where these questions should be asked, and animals is and should be one of them.


"Humans are more important than animals." Ok, fine. Let's worry about how animals affect us then. See above. "We have more important problems to deal with than animals." That doesn't make it not a problem, and any problem is worth solving. "Who cares about animals, what's the big deal? You people are crazy." The 'crazy' probably comes from disagreeing with some organization's tactics, but strategies to solve a problem are different than the necessity to do so. Not everyone will be convinced that any single animal cruelty case or factory farm is a problem, or indeed has any effect. But en masse, it is hard to deny that our attitudes and actions towards animals shape us as much as we shape them, even if we don't know how. And while we're learning, we should use this knowledge to make informed choices about how we manage these relationships, both for our own individual well-beings and the well-being of everyone and everything on Earth. Our big brains have put a lot of power in our hands-- it is up to us whether or not we use it wisely.



Webs Webs

r18 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:26 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM