Don't you laugh!

Because of my tendency to satirize things that strike me as ridiculous, I'm sometimes afraid that people might think I'm minimizing the importance of major assaults on freedom, or on our way of life. Far from it. I use satire because I am at a loss to understand how such idiocy prevails, and my resort to ridicule is in all honesty a form of optimism about the human spirit.

What? A cynic like me talking optimistically? Yes. I think ridicule can stop even the worst horrors -- provided the right laughter is aided and abetted in the right places at the right time. Many an historian has pointed out that Hitler could have been stopped had he been laughed off the stage in his early days. But instead of laughing, people took Hitler -- a frustrated artist spouting nonsensical racial theories -- as seriously as he took himself, which was definitely not a good thing.

There's a balance in there somewhere and I think it has something to do with time and place. What might have been funny in the 20s was a crime to laugh at in the 30s.

The radical transformation of our legal system (and way of life) by the abolition of animals as property is still capable of being ridiculed. Most people dismiss it as a "fringe" idea, and they would argue that just because a few cities have declared that certain animals can no longer be owned that this doesn't mean anything. They might even laugh. The problem is, that's not the kind of laughter that will stop a movement organized and led by people who conceal their true fanaticism and utilize the best intentions of millions of well-meaning people.

Leading Animal Rights theorist and law professor Gary Francione, while a fanatic, is refreshingly honest about the agenda and the philosophy.

On veganism:

Veganism is the single most important issue in the movement. Veganism is the abolitionist principle implemented in one's own life. Anyone who maintains that they are an "animal rights" advocate but are not vegan is not to be taken seriously. Many US animal advocates criticize my view that veganism should be the central plank of the animal rights platform. They claim that it is "elitist" to maintain that there are moral baselines, such as veganism. But that is like saying that it is "elitist" to reject rape as a baseline principle of a movement for the rights of women. Perhaps their reaction reflects the unfortunate reality that many so-called "animal rights" advocates are not vegetarians much less vegans. It is clear, however, that if animals have any moral significance at all if they are not merely things then we cannot justify using them for food. Moreover, veganism is the one truly abolitionist goal that we can all achieve and we can achieve it immediately, starting with our next meal. It is simply inconsistent to maintain that you accept an animal rights position but that you are not a vegan.

On animals as property:

I do not believe in a "single stroke" solution. I know that is impossible as a practical matter. What I do promote is incremental change, but change that is predicated explicitly on abolition and not regulation. Our becoming vegan is incremental it happens one at a time but it is abolitionist. Our educating others about the need for abolition is incremental we educate people one at a time but such incremental change is a necessary step toward justice for nonhumans.

Q. Is it true to say that what you are insisting upon is a revolution throughout our entire value system, not just to get the law changed to accommodate some nonhumans, such as the great apes, that humans regard as "rationally" worthy?

A. Yes and no; In one sense, my position that we must abolish and not merely regulate our institutionalized exploitation of animals: seems to be very radical. In another sense, my position is not radical at all and rests on a moral foundation that most of us already except.

The central argument of my book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? is precisely that the abolition of the property status of animals follows from moral beliefs that we already claim to accept. As I explain in the book, most of us already accept that animals have at least some moral value in that most of us agree that we do have moral obligations to animals and we cannot have moral obligations to rocks or plants. But if animals have any moral value at all, then we are no longer justified in treating them as our property and that leads to an abolitionist; conclusion. I am very excited about Introduction to Animal Rights because it takes the reader from a position that most people can accept as a starting point, and shows how ideas we already accept lead to more radical conclusions than we have been willing to recognize.

Francione's radical conclusion is a simple one:
. . . animals should have one right: the right not to be our property. Indeed, I argue that a "person" is any being who is entitled to this one right and all sentient beings should be regarded as "persons", or as holders of this one right not to be property. If we accepted that animals have this one right, we would be committed to abolishing animal exploitation because our use of animals for food, experiments, product testing, entertainment and clothing assumes that animals are nothing but property. If we accepted that animals have this one right, we would stop, completely, bringing domestic animals into existence.

I am not interested in whether a cow should be able to bring a lawsuit against a farmer; I am interested in why we have the cow at all.

And finally, Francione on guardianship:
KK: How should the laws be changed, then?

GF: We have two choices. We either change them completely and we really get rights for animals, which would probably entail massive social dislocation, upheaval and violence. Or we can try to work within the system. What we need to be doing is abolishing certain forms of exploitation, not regulating them. We need to recognize that animals, like humans, have certain interests that can't be traded away. We have got to start chipping away at the world exploitation brick by brick. You abolish exploitative practices, you don't regulate them.

KK: How will animals be able to exercise their legal rights, if some are granted?

GF: You have a ready analogy already existing in law, which is the notion of guardian ad litem. It's a guardian appointed by the court for somebody who can't exercise or claim his or her own rights. Retarded children, insane people, people on life support systems. We have the mechanism already available.

Is this as laughable as it sounds? After all, Francione is one of those radicals, isn't he? Yeah, he's a law professor, but law professors don't really have power over our lives, do they? Private property like your dog or your pet turtle can't just be expropriated on their say so, can it?

What about the mainstream legal thinkers? The big guys?

Would Laurence Tribe qualify? He's been on the Democrats' "short list" for the Supreme Court for years now, and had Kerry won the last election, there's a good chance he'd be sitting where Roberts and Alito are right now.

Tribe not only likes the guardian ad litem approach, he's "ready to roll":

It's not just serendipity that they've selected "guardian" as their term of choice. The word guardian already claims definitive legal meaning in state and local statutes. Guardian is equivalent to "caregiver." When the government diminishes a German Shepherd's owner to caregiver status, it simultaneously elevates its own standing and makes the dog a ward of the state.

Sounds bizarre. These are just crack-pot fringe lunatics, right?

No exactly. Which leads us to our second example.

A Harvard Man

Professor Lawrence Tribe is a respected member of the Harvard Law School faculty. He argued in the Supreme Court for Vice President Gore during the Florida election case. He's been on the Democrat's short list, himself, for a spot on the High Court.


Professor Tribe believes chimpanzees (and other non-human animals) have rights as "persons" under the Constitution. According to the Wall Street Journal:

"More and more legal reformers think animals deserve Constitutional protection. They are pressing to give chimpanzees legal standing -- specifically, the ability to have suits filed in their names and to ask courts to protect their interests. Chimpanzees couldn't take such action on their own, of course, but animal-rights activists say judges would appoint a human guardian ad litem, or guardian at law, to represent a chimp, much as judges now appoint such guardians to represent children in abuse cases or mentally incompetent adults."

The University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein advises us to look out because:

"The lawsuits are just beginning."


Professor Tribe is ready to roll:

"The leap isn't as great as it might appear. Courts," he said, "recognize corporations as juristic, or legal, persons. That is, they enjoy and are subject to legal rights and duties.

"The whole status of animals as things is what needs to be rethought," said Tribe. "Non-human animals certainly can be given (legal) standing."

Tribe, who has a creative legal mind, doesn't stop with the guardianship idea. According to the Wall Street Journal, he's also big on his interpretation of the 13th Amendment:
. . . the case of Jerom, a 13-year-old chimpanzee who he says died alone in 1996 in a windowless box at a research facility in Atlanta after being infected with several strains of HIV virus. In a speech in Boston and a later law-review article, Mr. Tribe agreed, "Clearly, Jerom was enslaved."

But Mr. Tribe says there's no need for constitutional protections on that score. The 13th Amendment already forbids slavery. Mr. Tribe notes that nowhere does it state that only humans are covered; the status itself is forbidden, he argues. Likewise, the 8th Amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment. Legal standing for chimpanzees could make it easier, not harder, for courts to balance conflicting interests, he says.

Look, I'm totally against mistreating apes, and I share the view that the higher an animal is on the evolutionary chain, the better we as humans should treat it. I have no problem with the idea that cruelty to an ape should be a worse crime than cruelty to a rat (and so on). But to argue that the word "slavery" is intended to apply to animals is, simply, insane. That has never been the meaning of the word (which derives from "Slavs," a traditional slave source). The very basis of the anti-slavery movement was the recognition that because people are not animals, they should not be treated like them. To argue that the 13th Amendment includes animals reverts to a primitivistic idea that people are like animals.

I think that unless more people laugh at this idiocy, our civilization might be at stake.

And then Laurence Tribe would no longer be as funny as he is now.

posted by Eric on 03.11.06 at 06:41 AM


Eric: I am sure you must be familiar with John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, in which he urges us to listen to opposing points of view presented in their most forceful and persuasive form. In this spirit, you might want to read some or all of the following: The Case for Animal Rights, by Tom Regan; Beyond Prejudice, by Evelyn Pluhar; Animal Rights: A Philosophical Defence, by Mark Rowlands; Animals Like Us, by Mark Rowlands; Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction, by David DeGrazia; Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate, by Angus Taylor. And right now you could check out this piece by Martha Nussbaum:

A main concern of yours seems to be pets or "companion" animals. Animal rights as a concept is not necessarily opposed to people keeping domestic animals. There are many points of view within the animal-rights or animal-liberation movement, sometimes conflicting. PETA certainly doesn't speak for everyone. Peter Singer, author of the influential book Animal Liberation, is a utilitarian and therefore, strictly speaking, rejects the notion of moral rights for animals (or humans). So if you read, say, the book by Tom Regan, then when you meet Singer sometime and he tells you that animals don't have moral rights, you'll be able to argue against him, if only for the sake of testing his ideas.

mijnheer   ·  March 11, 2006 1:16 PM

And there is no shortage of corporations dumber than chimps, believe me.

CGHill   ·  March 11, 2006 4:12 PM

Is this really about animal rights, or is it reducing the rights of most humans, the majority not in positions of authority, to that of animals? Literal "Animal Farm" is a chilling thought.
If this system had been law most of human life today would not exist, and most of the technology that supports our society would also not exist.

hugh   ·  March 12, 2006 5:17 AM

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