May 22, 2009
Chad Love: Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights
By Chad Love
Chances are you've never heard of Peter Singer. He doesn't throw red paint on fur-wearing celebrities, he doesn't dress up in animal costumes and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to be eaten with a side of cole slaw after he dies
But in 1975 Singer, a philosopher and bioethics professor at Princeton University, published Animal Liberation, which despite its title is a book I highly recommend every thinking hunter read.
Why? Because hunting is more than a sport. It is a belief system, and the best way to strengthen your belief system is to constantly and rigorously challenge it with opposing ideas. Singer's ideas on animal rights are reasoned and thought-provoking arguments worthy of debate.
Here's a New York Times Nicholas Kristof column in which Singer is asked about the recent passage of factory-farm animal rights legislation in California.
From the story:
In recent years, the issue has entered the mainstream, but even for those who accept that we should try to reduce the suffering of animals, the question remains where to draw lines. I eagerly pushed Mr. Singer to find his boundaries. “Do you have any compunctions about swatting a cockroach?” I asked him. “Not much,” he replied, citing reasons to doubt that insects are capable of much suffering. Mr. Singer is somewhat unsure about shellfish, although he mostly gives them the benefit of the doubt and tends to avoid eating them. Free-range eggs don’t seem offensive to him, but there is the awkwardness that even wholesome egg-laying operations depend on the slaughtering of males, since a male chick is executed for every female allowed to survive and lay eggs.
The key phrase in that story, and the issue that separates Singer from the knee-jerk morality of many animal-rights believers, is the question of where to draw the line. Singer's philosophy isn't rooted in absolutes. There is a nuance absent in the ranting of kooks like Ingrid Newkirk. As an example, here's his response (in a different interview) to a question about hunting.
Basketball player Stephon Marbury was widely criticized for telling reporters, "We don't say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dog fighting is a sport." Do you think his comparison was valid?
(Singer) Well, the aim of a hunter is to kill the animal with as little pain as possible--or it should be. That's the ethic that you get in sport hunting, at least. I'm not condoning or supporting sport hunting but there is a distinction in that the good hunter will shoot the animal in a vital place where it will drop dead immediately. It won't suffer. It seems pretty clear that the dogs that didn't fight well that Michael Vick and his associates killed were not killed instantly at all. They were drowned, for example. Drowning is obviously a much more distressing death than being shot with a bullet through the brain or in the heart.
So my question is this: Where do you as a hunter draw the line between animal welfare and animal rights?