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Dr. Roger Yates - An Introduction to the Controversial Idea of Animal Rights

Dr. Roger Yates - An Introduction to the Controversial Idea of Animal Rights

| by Roger Yates

At VegFestUK Bristol, I will be running a short 30-minute “workshop” entitled, “An Introduction to the Controversial Idea of Animal Rights.”

Sunday May 22nd between 3:00 – 3:30 pm in the Activists Workshops area


So, what’s controversial about the idea of animal rights? Claims about animal rights certainly have a long history – in terms of there being an animal rights movement, the work of Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights in 1983 must be cited, and many talk about an earlier newspaper article published in 1965 by Bridget Brophy (“The Rights of Animals,” in the Sunday Times on October 10, 1965) as very significant: indeed, warranting a conference in 2015 marking the article’s 50th year.



What’s controversial is that we have an “animal rights movement” which does just about everything else but embrace rights. In other words, we do not have a rights-based animal rights movement.


The philosopher of choice in the animal movement (to the extent that there is one) is Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation (1975), the book described by Jean Pink, the founder of Animal Aid in 1977, as “the bible of the new animal rights movement,” whereas Singer himself complains that the book has nothing to do with rights, certainly not moral rights.



Most national animal organisations stock Animal Liberation, whereas rights-based books are few and far between. PeTA, the multinational sexist and racist group, blatantly lie about Animal Liberation, claiming it to be an animal rights text. To this day, PeTA USA have a box on the front page of their website, entitled “Why Should Animals Have Rights?” It links directly to Animal Liberation rather than a rights-based text.


So, who cares and why does it matter?


The people who want to make rights a fundamental part of their animal advocacy certainly care. However, there’s a more fundamental reason why a “real” animal rights movement needs to flourish – or be “rebooted” as I said in a recent and related blog entry. For one thing, it would change our claims-making. [1]


The current animal advocacy movement does not make rights-based claims. For example, it is very rare to find references to right-holding, or rights bearing, in the movement’s literature. If that’s found anywhere, it will be in the literature made independently by grassroots groups. Can you remember hearing many movement spokespeople talk about rights violations – saying, for example, that the human use of other animals are rights violations?



An active rights-based movement would also help us understand the important differences between moral and legal rights, and positive and negative rights.


So – I think that lot will keep us busy for half an hour!

[1]. In terms of social movement theory, social movements are seen as claims makers in civil society. They often identify what they see as a problem, or set of problems and then make related claims. For example, the feminist movement saw a problem in the patriarchal structure of society and the systematic discrimination and abuse that flowed from that. Feminists made claims about respecting women’s rights, for example, and advocated legal changes related to employment, pay, and voting rights - and, in some cases, called for a widespread revolutionary shift in gender relations.


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