I’m passionate about a number of causes, but only one motivated me to become an activist. That one, as you may have guessed, is animal rights.
Many people can’t understand why anyone would fight for the rights of animals when there are so many humans in dire need of help. To me, this viewpoint has always seemed a little strange.
The idea that animal rights issues are less important than human rights issues is incredibly human-centric – there’s no good reason why one should be considered more worthy than the other. And as is often stated, caring about animal rights doesn’t imply that you don’t care about human rights.
But why animal rights in particular? I think there are various reasons why it resonates with me so much.
For a start, many wise people have said that a society can be judged by the way it treats its weakest or most vulnerable members. Animals are without doubt the most vulnerable members of our society, and I believe that whilst we routinely abuse and exploit them, we’ll continue to do the same to our fellow humans.
In fact, Tolstoy famously said “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields”. Most vegans recognise that extending compassion to all beings means extending it to other humans too. As a consequence, many vegans are peace activists or fight for social justice. A vegan world wouldn’t be perfect – nothing ever is – but it would be far more peaceful than the one we currently inhabit. Fighting for animal rights may thus indirectly help other causes.
I’m also compelled to advocate for animal rights by the sheer ubiquity of animal exploitation. Great strides have been made in addressing issues like sexism, racism, and homophobia, at least in some parts of the world (though there’s still a lot of work to be done). As a result, blatant prejudice based on gender, race or sexuality is generally frowned upon in the West, though these prejudices continue to exist in more insidious ways.
But it’s virtually impossible to leave your house without encountering animal exploitation. For one thing, there seem to be advertisements for fast food on every corner. In supermarkets, butchered carcasses line the shelves and the majority of packaged foods contain animal ingredients. It’s become fashionable to wear hats with a real fur bobble on top, and almost everyone owns leather shoes.
You may not even have to leave your home. There are probably animal products in your fridge and cupboards, and toiletries tested on animals in your bathroom. Your sofas may be upholstered with leather, and your bedding stuffed with feathers and down.
Imagine if sexism was so prominent that you could hardly turn round without encountering it. And imagine if almost everyone you knew either condoned it or didn’t care. There are places where this isn’t far from the truth, but animal exploitation is rampant everywhere in the world – at least, wherever there are humans. After all we’ve done to animals, I can’t help but feel we ought to help them in any way we can.
Many people aren’t aware of the other consequences of our treatment of animals. The environmental impact alone is devastating; deforestation, oceans which may soon be empty of fish, species extinction and pollution from factory farms are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. The impact on humans should also give us pause. It isn’t just about saving animal lives, as important as that is!
I believe all forms of oppression are linked, and as long as one remains unchallenged, we’ll never fully rid ourselves of the others. The world needs activists for so many causes, and it makes sense to choose the ones we’re most passionate about. My personal focus will remain on animal rights, but I’ll happily help out with other movements too.
What about you? What causes are you most passionate about?