Our main story for this week deals with the ongoing controversy surrounding the East London Zoo – this time seeing political parties enter the fray.
Now whichever side of the debate you find yourself on, there’s no denying that it has helped kickstart a valuable discussion in our community about animal rights and how we treat our non-human friends.
If you’ve been paying attention to these columns, it will come as little surprise to you to learn that animal rights are something I care deeply about. Sure, it tends to get lumped in with other “environmentalist” causes, but for me it goes a lot deeper than that.
As a species, humanity has had a pretty poor track record of treating other sentient beings all that well. Whether it’s enslaving them to perform hard labour, perform cheap tricks for our entertainment, or even straight-up hunting them into extinction, animals have always borne the brunt of some of the cruellest practices humans could come up with. (when we’re not busy using those same practices on each other).
Some of these practices are truly gut-wrenching and should offend anyone with even a shred of a conscience. Ever wondered where that meat or eggs you buy come from? Most likely it’s sourced from a factory farm where animals are housed in terrible conditions and subjected to unimaginable cruelty.
If you think you have the stomach for it, look up factory farming and the methods used to breed your steak. It’s enough to make you go vegan on the spot.
The only thing more impressive than our cruelty is the way we’ve tried to justify it throughout history. Some people use religious justification, saying humanity was given dominion over all of Earth and its creatures by their particular deity. Some take more philosophical approaches, such as the popular 17th Century belief that animals were “automata” with no capability for real thought or emotion.
Regardless, humanity is always ready with an excuse to explain why their actions are okay.
This is strange because we also like drawing arbitrary lines at which animals it’s okay to treat like this. The same people who are okay with the cruelty inflicted on livestock, for example, would balk at the idea of those same methods being used on their cat or dog.
There’s a popular (and very racist) joke about China and their supposed consumption of dogs made by people who would happily chomp down on a burger without a second thought.
Now this isn’t to say that everyone who eats meat, is a bad person or that all animal rights activists are morally superior (looking at you, PETA). That side of the debate is incredibly complex and we could spend days debating it back and forth without reaching a meaningful conclusion.
What isn’t up for debate, however, is the fact that the current way of doing things is completely broken and in need of a total overhaul. The way a society treats its animals says a lot, so maybe it’s time to think about what it says about ours.