If Animals Had Rights, It Would Be Incumbent Upon Us To Protect The Rights Of The Mouse And The Impala

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My friend John Nash explains animal rights.

Here are a few of my thoughts on animal rights…


As Darwin and Wallace discovered, nature has neither rules nor plan.  If a creature survives in its time and place, it lives long enough to reproduce and carry on but if not, it loses the competition and disappears. Evolution doesn’t take prisoners.

What appears to be a green and pleasant land to many people is, in fact, a vast and silent war, where even the nodding daffodils, beautiful as they are, are involved in a grim struggle for light, water and resources.  As Tennyson observed, nature is indeed red in tooth and claw.  Mother Nature is less like kindly Gaia and more like a homicidal old biddy with an abiding interest in scything down the very old, the very young, the sick and the disabled.

To protect ourselves from the competition of nature, we made use of caves and other physical and social arrangements inside which to nurture our kind and reproduce, safe from the violence and dangers outside.  Outside, in nature, there were no rules, but inside the cave, we had to have rules – “the rule of nurture”.  They are simply stated as, “sharing and fair exchange without violence”.

To compete “outside” in nature required very different characteristics to co-operate “inside” and nurture.  Evolution and biology conspired to leave men with statistically more objectivity (the ability to see a living creature as a “thing”, necessary to do the killing and gutting necessary to win and defend resources in nature) and leave women with statistically more subjectivity with which to nurture our kind.  This dichotomy is the source of all the caveman jokes, but it served us well and today there are more that seven billion of us.

Looking at it rather mechanically, men put resources into one side of the cave and women released children out of the other.  The two functions are entirely different, equal and complimentary, like the two halves of a wheel.

Our cave is still with us.  Today it is an intellectual cave of amazing complexity that we call civilisation.  And the rules of the cave, the rules of nurture, are still with us too, now evolved in complexity and today called our morals and ethics.  We use those morals and ethics as a standard against which to make judgements like “good” and “bad” or “kindness” and “cruelty”, and we use them to underpin our human rights.

But they are still the “indoor” rules of the human cave.   Outside, in nature, there are no rules.  That is why a cat can spend half an hour torturing a mouse to death in interesting ways, but it is not cruel – it is merely nature.  A hyena can pull the innards out of a living impala while the poor creature stands shivering in agony until death releases it, but it is not immoral – it is merely nature.  Nature doesn’t have rules.  It doesn’t have “good” or “bad”, or “kind” or “cruel”.  These are things of the human cave.  Nature doesn’t work that way.  Nature doesn’t care.

It shows why “animal rights” have no foundation.  Nature neither needs nor wants the rules of the human cave.  If animals had rights, it would be incumbent upon us to protect the rights of the mouse and the impala, and intervene to prevent the cat and the hyena from taking away their right to life.  But in doing so, we would take away the rights of the cat and the hyena to live and eat.  So we give the cat and the hyena back their rights, but in doing so, we would take them away from the mouse and the impala.  It is clearly nonsense.  The whole concept is  the intellectual equivalent of a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest – amusing but a waste of time.   Animals don’t have rights.

So why are animal rights such a prominent argument?  Well, apart from bank robber Willie’s famous retort, “Cos that’s where the money is”, there is a more fundamental reason.  To continue the caveman analogy, we could say that nature is “male” or objective (without human emotion) in principle, while civilisation is “female” or subjective (incorporates human emotion).   The more civilised societies become, the more “female” societies become.  In conditions of shortage or threat, societies tend to drift more towards the right “objective” side, but after prolonged  periods of peace and plenty, they tend to drift more to the left “subjective” side.  You don’t hear people discussing animal rights during a war or a famine.  Only well-fed, well-protected people talk this way.

Western nations have enjoyed peace and prosperity for three generations, so an inevitable drift to the subjective left is evident.  “Male” interests – discipline, science, hunting, military and competition – are all losing favour, while “female” nurturing interests of relationships, attractiveness, popularity, the arts and automatic rights are gaining.  We have been so cosseted and well-fed in our civilised caves for so long that many people are completely unaware how nature operates.

To extend human rights, the “indoor” rules of human civilisation, over the wild animals of “outdoor” nature would be an act of anthropocentric colonialism that would destroy nature faster than any bulldozer in the forests of the Amazon or Indonesia.


John Nash




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