February 25, 2011


“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” – Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the U.S.
On a Facebook thread a man commented, “Isn’t it good that you have the right to be vegan and I have the right to be a meat-eater?” I told him I was working so that he didn’t have the right to do wrong. Why should people have the legal right to do what is morally wrong? Why should people be legally allowed to oppress innocent animals, both human and nonhuman? Why should one species – humans – be legally allowed to devastate a planet that is home to many species? The laws that comprise our legal systems are uncivilised and archaic.

Years ago, I was sitting on a plateau in a national forest befriending wild deer, harming no one. A hunter invaded my personal spot in the forest and began shooting at my deer friends. He was perfectly within the confines of the law. I decided right then and there that something was deeply wrong with the entire legal system and that I should not necessarily follow human-made laws, but the laws of Truth.

A comical example of the invalidity of legal systems is that it’s illegal to have oral sex in some states of the US. Although these laws are rarely enforced, there have been cases of people charged for performing oral sex. In Washington DC and Florida, any sexual position beyond standard missionary is illegal. Having sexual relations with a porcupine is illegal in Florida. Comical and appalling is the Washington state law that sex with animals is legal for men, as long as the animal weighs less than 40 pounds. There are many laws, especially sex laws, in the United States that are outdated and out-and-out ridiculous.

The following examples, sadly, are not funny at all. Fundamental rights that should be granted to all persons are not a part of the legal systems of the world. There are places in the world today where homosexuality, especially between men, is illegal and even punishable by the death penalty. Gay people are not legally allowed to marry in most of the world.

In Saudi Arabia women are under the guardianship system in which every woman (no matter how old she is) has to have a male guardian everywhere she goes. There is also an absence of laws and regulations to prevent child marriages and prosecute those who take part in them, which makes child marriage a legal form of pedophilia. Not only are there unjust laws but there are no laws when laws are obviously required. Globally our legal systems need an extreme makeover, as they reflect a morality of a certain culture or time and not the universal timeless virtues at the core of humanity.

Sometimes laws make it into the legal system but are not enforced. Animal welfare laws are a good example of laws that are not enforced and don’t even apply to “farmed” animals, which is peculiar because they are, in fact, animals. To varying degrees cruelty to animals is illegal in most countries, but these laws have really done nothing to prevent cruelty to animals. Factory farming, which involves various evidently cruel practices, has remained largely exempt from legal scrutiny. The financial interests of humans are apparently more important than stopping the lawful practices that inflict cruelty on those who can suffer.

A recent specific example of the U.S. legal system’s failure to defend innocent victims is when Conklin Dairy Farms owner Gary Conklin in Ohio walked away from charges of horrific sadistic abuse caught on undercover footage and shown to the world in May 2010. Conklin was caught kicking a downed cow; vets testified that this was standard practice. It was reported that he knew what was going on and he walked completely free. One employee, Billy Joe Gregg, was fired and arrested. He was documented breaking cows’ tails, body slamming young calves, jabbing cows with pitchforks and beating them with crowbars – and bragging about it. He got off with misdemeanor charges. No matter what you do to farmed animals in Ohio you cannot be charged with a felony. Farmed animals are routinely subjected to appalling cruelty, even bestiality. There are no laws to protect them against sadistic treatment. This is quite aside from the fact that they are purpose-bred into existence to be exploited and needlessly killed for human perverted pleasure. Conklin and his wallet were more legally protected than innocent infant calves. Conklin Dairy Farms is representative of a legal system that is unconcerned about justice or compassion.

Here in New Zealand I’ve heard stories of people’s cruel treatment of dogs, the species that has created the closest bond with humans. When people try to call authorities such as the SPCA to report dogs kept in cages for most of their lives, they find out that it is not illegal to be cruel. Common practices like dragging newborn infant calves by their hind legs away from their mothers seem to be acceptable by the many people who consume dairy and cheese. Hollywood filmmakers have harmed and killed animals to make a movie. What kind of person would want to eat “leg of lamb”, the leg of an innocent child? The answer is normal, law-abiding people. Cruelty is normal and socially acceptable - because it is legal.

To powerfully exemplify the fact that cruelty is normal and legal, here is an excerpt from a 2009 essay by Elizabeth DeCoux, associate professor of law. “After 143 years of advocacy and legislation purporting to help animals, not only does cruelty to companion animals persist but acts of cruelty against farm animals are literally standard practice. Pigs and cows feel their tails being cut off with hot pinchers. ‘Beef’ cows have their uterus removed without anaesthesia. Thousands and thousands of animals who are alive and awake feel their skin being wrenched from their bodies in slaughterhouses. Dogs in toxicity tests are poisoned with overdoses of drugs even though toxicity in humans has already been established. Other dogs are hung from the laboratory ceiling in slings and shocked until they convulse. Researchers apply corrosive substances to the eyes of rabbits to determine what damage will result. Newborn chicks, unwanted because they are male, are suffocated in plastic bags. Scientists inject acid into a dog’s abdomen and count the number of times she writhes. Workers shock injured cows with cattle prods on their eyeballs in an effort to force them to walk to the slaughter line in spite of their injuries. Commercial and hobby fishers watch as flailing fish suffocate on the decks of their boats. “Nine billion animals are killed to be food in the United States each year. These actions continue, year after year, in spite of all the animal-welfare organisations and all the animal-welfare laws. Welfarists use some of these images and narratives, and sometimes the result is that legislators enact new welfare laws, but little actually changes in the places where animals live and die. This is so because animals remain our property, for our use, our stomachs, and our latest shade of nail polish.”

Women in the U.S. and elsewhere were once regarded as the property of their husbands or fathers. Human slaves were once legally the property of other members of the human race and were not granted legal personhood. They were regarded as property just like nonhuman animals are regarded today. Other species of animals are not considered “persons” under the law. That makes them objects, commodities, slaves owned by humans. In a book I've just read about dogs, the dog caregivers were literally referred to as the dog’s “master”.

To treat animals as property is species discrimination, and it is reflected in every country’s legal systems. Humans can harm other animals in ways that are unthinkable if applied to humans. Like women and certain races that were enslaved and held no legal rights, other animals need legal personhood extended to them and must stop being the property of humans. This is what we're working towards: that all sentient animals are regarded as legitimate holders of legal rights. Until that happens, legal systems lack credibility.

Non-vegans tell me that veganism is extreme. It’s an enigma to me that everyone doesn’t see that kidnapping, raping, enslaving, oppressing and murdering other animals is what is really extreme – extremely unjust – and that defending these innocent victims is extremely necessary.

So I reply to the man on the Facebook thread that he might not want legal systems or anyone else telling him “what to eat”, but it becomes a matter of justice when “what you eat” is actually “who you eat”.


Unknown said...

It should not be as surprising, seen what has happened in many, many other occasions in many, many other countries. Everything is so "normal" that people do not even stop thinking about it. We do not SEE animals suffering, we only see their dismembered bodies on a plastic tablet refrigerated and ready to buy in our supermarkets. We all know that, if we had to kill our meat ourselves, many more of us would be vegetarian or vegan. "Normal" German citizens did not see the horrors going on inside the concentration camps. We, "normal" today-world citizens, do not see people starving to death in many countries around the world. Is it realistic comparing "human" suffering with "animal" suffering? Only one century ago it was socially accepted and even financially sought after to purchase and sell human slaves, now at least we morally and legally condemn it. My hope is that, eventually, all forms of animal exploitation will be equally condemned, down to the purchase of any living being, not to mention what is listed above. Let's work hard to get there as soon as possible.
laura@activanet.es you find me on Facebook

Unknown said...

The last thing people want to talk about is where there food comes from...let alone how it is treated. After working in the agriculture sector for about 30 years, I know what you say is true. I've tried to convince people to a transition;eat only organic livestock and poultry; organic farmers have a conscience a treat and kill their animals humanely. People argue that organic costs more; I give them reasons why (including many of which you have listed)they should eat less meat and poultry. Thank you for you kind attention to helping those of us who can not help themselves! I will re-post this on FB and Twitter!

Rick Hamelin said...

People should be encouraged to eat NO meat or poultry, not less, and not just organic. It's all murder. The animals are still slaughtered, regardless of the "humanity" or "conscience" that is shown while doing so.

Vegan Chef said...

Legal Arguments not to be vegan

Anonymous said...

Eating meat is not morally wrong. I see no harm in it at all... I have seen the videos like the stupid glass walls video and still choose to eat meat.

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Anonymous - I hope you are there! Animals are sentient, unlike plants or rocks or things. They are fully conscious, have many similarities to us, since we are all a part of the animal kingdom. You may not see that it is morally wrong, but you are not seeing correctly. You are not seeing through your conscience, your soul, your reasoning mind, your sense of justice, your sense of decency and respect. You are seeing through society's status quo..but that is going to change, just as surely as women's rights and African American rights and all other oppression will move forward. We are moving towards a more civilized humanity, and since we can live perfectly fine without using other animals, we are heading towards leaving that social injustice out of our humanity.

You know the song Amazing Grace, it was about a slaveholder who saw the light of his actions and changed his ways....we need to see through different eyes that we are used to seeing through now.

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Anonymous, you said you see "no harm" in it all...it's hard to believe taht someone can say that. If you look through the eyes of the nonhuman animals...there is so much "harm"...it's appalling.

Brenda Greer said...

when I first started reading this, I thought you were being way too harsh when you told the man you were working to get his rights taken away. but the more I read, you reminded me of the reasons I became vegan. and reminded me of all the sensless cruelty without consiquences. I completely agree with you and I hope one day eating another person, whether human or non-human is illegal

ManifestEvolution said...

I think this essay should be sent to every single politician and animal enterprise owner and worker - just so they know that WE know.

Good read, M.

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Dear Unknown - thanks for the nice complement.