Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Animal rights & joys of libertarian dismissal of such

This Inside-Out China blog posting pours scorn on the notion of animal rights much to the delight of Jason Soon at Catallaxy. The Chinese sometimes have an insensitive way of dealing with animals but I am not surprised that libertarians oppose criticisms of people's rights to do with non-human life what they like. It accords with their 'anything goes' philosophy - to do otherwise would be interfering with their precious individual rights and to offer what are essentially paternalistically imposed moral restrictions on such rights. Libertarians see themselves as having the right to bear arms and to kill and maim provided they do not offend Pigou - who only considered human suffering in his analysis of external costs. Who could criticise?

But yes obviously I do criticise. I am not a vegetarian but a carnivore. However I resolutely oppose cruelty to animals and find despicable the killing of sentient beings for sport and the casual disregard of animal suffering and death. I assert the almost universally agreed on proposition that animals do have rights. That this is the case is obvious – even libertarians will dislike the callous cruelty displayed in the Chinese clip. Thus by consensus animals do have rights – the question is where to draw the line on such rights. My line is somewhere short of giving animals the same rights as humans but certainly to give them more rights than displayed by the Chinese sadists in the clip or those assigned by the nitwits at the Inside-out China blog.

When we kill animals for their food or other products it should be a painless death and animal lives should not be a monotone stream of suffering. In fact, for me, things go well beyond this – to the extent that animals derive pleasure from their existence – evidence convinces me they are capable of such enjoyment – I am happier, so as an economist I am interested in promoting as far as it is possible a joyous life for animals as well as humans. Animal utilities enter into my social welfare function.

In my view there is value to the notion of animal rights. The libertarian opponents of animal rights are 'barking out' an ideology that reflects their defective reason, their callous disregard for non-human suffering and their posturing to defend foolish values that promotes laissez faire in clearly inappropriate situations.

BTW look at the discussion that follows the post mentioned at Catallaxy. This site was once one of the better blogs in Australia. What has happened?

Update: For those of you too lazy to read the Inside-Out China blog article I refer to I excerpt some bits:
'Western folk, to a greater or lesser degree, believe animals have rights. ....They empathize with animals. They value animals as contributing something to our environment greater than their immediate utility to humans. I don't. I feel the same way about gorillas as most Westerners feel about chickens. Dolphins? Yum. Dogs? Can't eat my fill. And don't even get me started on minke whales, the cockroaches of the ocean.
...... there was far too much human suffering going on for me to give up any of my concern or empathy for animals...... Who cares about cattle when real people, human beings, are dying like cattle?

....If Western people want non-Westerners to be nicer to animals, they should support things that create and spread wealth—for example, free trade and globalization. .... Once China's per-capita GDP gets high enough, Chinese, like WASPS, may love animals, too'. (my bold)
In short who cares about animals - they have no legitimate rights once it is acknowledged that 'we' humans are suffering. If you want us to stop being cruel improve our well-being. This is the article that commenter libertarian Jason Soon says he recommended because it was 'well-written'. Note the view of minke whales and animals generally. This argument is not the reason libertarians defend the right to have guns and to hunt and kill animals for sport. That's just good old-fashioned 'doin' your own thing' and who could be paternalistic enough to want to deny that? Me, for one.


Anonymous said...

Agreed on all counts Harry.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to distinguish between farm and non-farm animals. For the second of these, as far as I'm concerned, the difference between China and the West superficial -- the biggest problem for most non-farm animals is deforestation and environmental destruction.

If you care about this, then you probably want to keep farming as intensive as you can -- if this happens to be cruel on farm animals it trades off with non-farm animals.

Given this problem, I'm not sure how different Chinese/Western animals rights are -- especially in countries like Australia and the US where we eat huge amounts of eat, which basically has the effect of killing native animals.

Anonymous said...

"This site was once one of the better blogs in Australia. What has happened?"

Libertarians aren't grown ups. That's what happened. It's an infantile philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Catallaxy's open-policy on invective and bile seems to attract an array of people, from all sorts of philosophies, for whom the personal is political, and the political is personal.

Anonymous said...


You're over egging it and you're defaming libertarians:-)

People become more sensitive to these issues once they reach higher living standards. That's what Soon said.

You seem to forget, people were pretty callous about animals 30 years ago.

Anonymous said...

PS that previous comment was by me


Anonymous said...

PPS neither of the 2 people causing the ruckus on that comment thread - Melaleuca and Currency - are libertarians but that won't stop Spiros from landing in a cheap shot. Actually Melaleuca the lefty started the whole mess. So I presume you agree with me deleting anymore of your derailing comments Mel?

Anonymous said...

I assert the almost universally agreed on proposition that animals do have rights.

It's hardly universally agreed Harry. You don't even agree with it yourself. If animals have rights then surely they have the most basic of all rights - the right to exist.

You eat meat so by definition you do not recognise the right of animals to live.

Being opposed to unnecessary cruelty hardly makes you a believer in animal rights. People who really believe in Animal rights like Singer believe in them strongly enough to maintain that when those rights clash with the needs of humans, that the animals should win out because they were there first.

In other worse, starving people should just continue to starve, rather than eat animals. Do you believe that Harry?

Anonymous said...

Singer is not opposed to others eating animals. He wants animals lives and killing to be as free from cruelty as possible.

I can remember the day long ago when me and my father (my father and I?)decided to stop shooting 'roos for sport. They weren't any real threat where we were farming.

Anonymous said...

It is pretty racist and contradictory Harry.

I'm pretty sure you could film animal cruelty in the West too.

Some Chinese are not all Chinese especially when there's 1.4 billion.

If you eat meat you demonstrate a pretty selective vision of animal rights.

hc said...

Yobbo, If you reject the notion that animals can be treated with cruelty you are asserting they do have rights. The question that arises is the line that draw in relation to these rights. I made my position clear.

hc said...

I deleted Jason Soon's comment which was irrelevant and offensive.

Anonymous said...

Irrelevant and offence when you're the one defaming me and misrepresenting my opinion eh Harry? Alright let me try again.

1) The article I linked to doesn't endorse cruelty to animals. If it did I wouldn't have linked to it. Rather it was making the point that regard for these things is a function of socioeconomic development.

2) I didn't link to it with 'delight' that it was pouring scorn on animal rights. The only comment about it which I made was in the title of the post called 'Good linkage'.

3) You made an obvious racial innuendo against me since the writer I linked to is a *white Australian* who happened to live in China so why the gratutious reference to Chinese being cruel to animals right after the link to me? My mentioning that I put my money where my mouth is and actually buy free range eggs in order to defend myself against your smear is 'irrelevant'?

4) The writer doesn't make any obvious linkage to libertarianism other than an aside about free trade which presumably you support too so why the grautious smear against 'libertarians' being for animal cruelty other than the fact that I linked to it because I thought it was well written?


Anonymous said...

Harry says:

BTW look at the discussion that follows the post mentioned at Catallaxy. This site was once one of the better blogs in Australia. What has happened?

yea, the thread is pretty bad......by two non libertarians. One incidentally agrees with you. (Mel)

But why is that bad and others aren’t, Harry.

Quiggin has a thread that is positively pro-soviet in the current war. Here go read the comments:


Notice how anti-American they are, which borders on racism.

Then go take look at Lambert’s hate site where one of his frequent commentors was compared to the Unabomber was actually pleased with the comparison. (I’ll drag out the comment in question if you need proof).

So libertarians get a clip over the head from you because of the behavior of two non-libertarians and the these two extreme leftist blogs get a pass.

hc said...


If animals have no rights then cruelty is irrelevant. My point was that even gun-loving libertarians do dislike cruelty to animals hence animals do have rights. The question then is where you draw such rights.

Libertarians are always on about the right to kill animals for sport and the tone in the article I refer to suggests no compassion at all for animals or respect for their rights. It was in my view an ugly post and your recommendation cannot be excused by saying you thought it was 'well-written'.

I didn't know (and couldn't care less) about the ethnicity of the writer on the other blog and quite frankly your ethnicity was also irrelevant to the point being made and disd not occur to me. Apparently you take the criticism of a horrendous treatment of animals in China as a personal affront.

The link to Chinese cruelty was supported by a YouTube link and did not refer to you.

Suggest you stop trying to label those who oppose your views with insulting and inaccurate language. It does not advance the argument.

Every time anyone criticises your views you become bad-tempered and offensive with ageist and other claims. You can do that at Catallaxy but not here.

Anonymous said...

"So I presume you agree with me deleting anymore of your derailing comments Mel?"

I told you almost on day one that I only crap in your nest because you let me. You should introduce and enforce a Club Troppo like comments policy IMO. But its your pad, so do what you like.

I agree animals have rights but it annoys me enormously when animal rights are allowed to trump more important environmental concerns. The song-and-dance routine every time their is a kangaroo cull is a case in point. With the end of aboriginal hunting the little devils can cause erosion etc when they exceed carrying capacity. And don't get me started on greenies who oppose 1080 fox-baiting.

Anonymous said...

u are right, Harry. The article looks like a rather sloppy and half-baked year 9 essay.

Anonymous said...

Yobbo, If you reject the notion that animals can be treated with cruelty you are asserting they do have rights.

Maybe I'm weird but I can't think of many crueller things than being killed and eaten. I guess I find the whole "animal cruelty" thing a bit of a laugh when it comes to discussing the best ways of slaughtering animals for food.

I personally don't see much difference between being shot in the head, having your throat cut and being bled or having your skull crushed by a blunt object. All would hurt a bit but the "cruellest" part about any of them would be the whole "dying" part, IMO.

What I don't like is people who needlessly torture animals for their own amusement. And there are people around who do such things. Those who starve animals to death aren't much better.

I don't feel the same way about poisoned baits because I feel they are a necessary evil. Avoiding a slow, agonising death for the animal concerned would be preferable, but there really isn't any better way to go about it at present.

ng2000 said...

Another resource for you: http://www.ng2000.com/fw.php?tp=animal-rights