Confining, inflicting pain on or killing animals is unjust and unfair
You wouldn't want these same things happening to you, so don't do it to them.
The Golden Rule
Does this reasoning sound familiar? It sure echoes the Golden rule, as found in Matthew 7:12:
Do to others what you want them to do to you.
It is also found in other traditions, like in the Buddhist text Dhammapada verses 129 (and 130):
All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
Historical differences between Eastern and Western traditions
Now, in "Indian" or Eastern religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, it has been common to include animals in that equation. While most adherents of Buddhism, and maybe also Hinduism, actually eat meat, many do not, and the topic of meat eating and killing of animals has been discussed for thousands of years.
However, although there has been exceptions, in Western culture the separation between human and other animals has mostly been assumed or taken for granted. Humans on the one hand, belong to one category, and animals to another.
Discrimination and prejudice
Often, both in the West and the East, the human category has been split up into a hierarchy with some humans being considered of higher worth than others. The humans considered inferior, curiously, have often been described as animals or given animal-like characteristics. Inferior humans are beast-like, driven by instinct, they are irrational, they are primitive, uncivilized (civilization is a human construct) and so forth. In short, they are given labels associated with non-human animals. Now, these groups of people are of course non-whites, women, sexual minorities, slaves, religious and ethnic minorities as well as people who just don't conform to society's standards.
At its most base level, discrimination of any of these groups, are justified simply by pointing to the group's distinctiveness. The argument is that discrimination, or differential treatment, is justified because the person discriminated against is, as an example, black.
By promoting standards one can easily adapt to oneself, or already shares, one tries to assume privilege, consciously or subconsciously. If white, heterosexual men are considered the best of the best, one gets a lot for free simply by coincidentally being a white, heterosexual man. If one promotes the white, heterosexual man as the ideal being, one is partial and promoting one's own image. If one considers the interests of the human more important than the identitical interests of the non-human animal, just because the human is human, one discriminates in favor of oneself and one's own group.
Philosopher Mark Rowlands writes: "the species to which you belong is not something over which you have any control: it is not, that is, something for which you are in any way responsible. So, therefore, species is morally irrelevant" (from Animals Like Us 2002, page 53). Discrimination based on species membership has a name: Speciesism.
The Contractarian Approach to Animal Ethics
Philosopher Mark Rowlands has carried John Rawls' thought experiment of The veil of Ignorance, or the Impartial Position, further. In his great book, Animals Like Us, Mark Rowlands presents the contractarian approach to animal ethics. I would highly recommend it as one of the best books I've read on the subject. The contractarian approach presented is highly practical and possible to follow. He also presents several examples of the actual exploitation and suppression of animals today. Also, he delivers a great elaboration on the problem of killing and death, in general.
What I present here is based on Rowlands' argument, though I can't possibly do justice to his wonderful book, that you should all be reading instead of this blogpost.
The Impartial Position
Imagine you are not born yet.
You are hovering in space, looking down on earth, waiting to be born.
You don't know who you will be. You only know you will be sentient. You will live, and you will feel pain and pleasure. You could become a human engineer or a teacher. You could be male, or you could be female.
You could become a cat, a pig or even a cow. Actually, nothing stops you from being born as a fish or an insect.
As you contemplate this, an angel appears with a blank book for you to fill in.
Now you are given the chance to choose which rules should apply to this world, how human and non-human animals should behave towards one another. You will write them into the book, and the book shall be law.
Remember, this law shall apply to all who are able to follow and understand the law. Everyone who can understand will, in this thought experiment, do so.
After writing down the law, you will be born into the world. A random animal form will be given to you. Maybe you will become a chicken, a hen or a cow.
Would you choose a world where you might live your whole, but short, life in a cage for then being slaughtered? Would you choose a world where human animals could hold non-human animals captive, if that animal were you? Would you choose a world were animals are used for unnecessary experimentation for new cosmetic products?
Or, would you choose a world in which there was no killing, no captivity and no inflicting of suffering for needless reasons?
Remember what you chose.
A person constructing a system in which he himself could be tortured and killed, would be an irrational, self-defeating person. Now, in this thought experiment, what is irrational in the Impartial Position, is unjust and immoral in real life, as not following one's own rules would be having a double standard.
If you are now human, breaking the rules you made, why do you?
The intention of this blogpost is to present one of many arguments for taking animals' interests into account, as well as to make my readers aware of Rowlands' book Animals Like Us, which was a great inspiration for me. Also, presenting the argument here, I can refer to this blogpost in the future, hopefully making future blogposts shorter. There have been some months since I read this book in entirety, so I apologize if there is any error. I am trying to convey what I take to be the essence of this position, not a summary of the book.
You can buy Mark Rowlands' book on Amazon.com,
For Norwegian readers, you could also get it on the online store Adlibris.no.