Animal welfare and advocacy can be polarizing topics – and the mercurial viewpoints on “animal rights” are no more apparent than in the comments section of animal articles. An article written earlier this month in the Star Tribune exposed the false dichotomy of animals vs. people – and the propensity for some to question why animals are receiving any attention when there are still people in need. In that article, author Megan Crosby highlighted how illogical it is to complain about efforts to help animals by using “needy people” as a rationale.
Why are efforts to help animals so often met by this argument? The comments section of animal rescue, welfare, and advocacy articles are often inhabited by comments questioning the validity of these efforts when humans are still suffering and “abortion is still legal.” Entire articles are even dedicated to this topic, stating, “Women can’t wear fur, chimpanzees should have rights similar to that of humans, PETA gets a great deal of Hollywood support, but the lowly unborn baby – 1.5 million each year – is [dispatched] in the name of ‘choice.'”
The LA Times pointed out that many political candidates, including Marco Rubio, bemoaned the disproportionate coverage of Cecil the Lion vs. Planned Parenthood. Rush Limbaugh stated that some would “cry over Cecil the lion but shrug off Planned Parenthood.” But is this even a valid comparison?
In a recent discussion on the false dichotomy of animal welfare vs. abortion, Seattle Pets Examiner expressed frustration about animal articles being hijacked by those who want to discuss abortion – whether they’re pro-life or pro-choice. The animals vs. people debate is logically unsound, but it’s also highly emotionally charged.
Reader Jason W. stated that those who question animal welfare efforts when abortion is still legal are “the same mindset of people who ask why we might support charitable work in sub-Saharan Africa, when there are so many Americans suffering here at home. (Of course, generally this comes from people who couldn’t really give a damn about the oppressed and disenfranchised here, but who are intent on demeaning the charitable spirit of others.) It’s as if one is expected to do absolutely nothing to better the state of the world, until we can find that one perfectly miserable organism, that one lost soul who has suffered more than any other. Only that individual is worthy of our attention – and no other cause can see any amelioration until that worst case is improved.”
Reader Charlie K. responded: “Both matters are important. The people who oppose snuffing babies have been frustrated for a long time in the protections for that practice. And yes, I agree, they are not the same situation to present in an either/or proposition. The question, though, does ask a fundamental comparison of since when did babies become less important than non human animals? It was since January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, just to answer my own question. I understand the dissatisfaction of people who value these lost human lives, but each issue deserves its own respective attention.”
In her article that addressed the animals vs. people debate, Crosby wrote: “Why is it always about the comparison between how we care for animals vs. how we care for people? Why not instead consider the comparison between how we care about all of the other materialistic, privileged, pointless things that we do all day every day vs. how we care about people and animals?”
Reader Kat P. stated: “What does one issue have to do with the other? They’re mutually exclusive! There are millions of different problems in the world. You can’t compare clean drinking water to people going sport hunting or abortion.”
Reader Debbie M. agreed, stating, “Just because you care about animal welfare does not mean you don’t care about other social issues. They are not mutually exclusive.”
Seattle Pets Examiner responded: “Typically, people who give a damn about ONE issue tend to give many damns about many issues. Because I choose to spend my time researching and writing about animal welfare, advocacy, and rescue doesn’t mean that I don’t also care about people who are suffering from ebola.”
Reader Tamara B. stated: “The truth is that some people advocate for humans, some people advocate for animals. I’m on the team for the animals. Frankly, there are way too many humans, and we are the source of so many problems on the earth.”
Irrespective of one’s take on the rights of living beings – whether they’re human rights, animal rights, or both – many continue to point out that advocacy is not either/or. Many care for both nonhuman animals and for people – and feel that there are appropriate forums and ways to address each issue. Animal advocates will continue to focus their work on animal advocacy, but not to the detriment of human issues.
Reader Deb. D. stated: “I’m an animal behaviorist. Is it really a surprise I write about animals?”
In his op/ed piece in the LA Times, author Charles Camosy chose to break away from dichotomous comparisons, instead calling the moral dispositions of animal rights activists and anti-abortion activists “similar.” He wrote: “This is not to say that the two issues are morally equivalent. They aren’t. But the moral dispositions and motivations of animal rights and anti-abortion activists are actually quite similar. The lazy liberal/conservative binary currently coloring hyper-polarized American politics simply doesn’t work.”
Camosy added: “Everyone loses in the culture wars—especially the vulnerable and voiceless.” So while these topics are highly polarizing, perhaps the energy spent decrying the preference of one form of activism over another would be more appropriately used to help those who are ‘vulnerable and voiceless.'”
Crosby, like so many other animal lovers, addressed an important question when she asked, “Why is it always about the comparison between how we care for animals vs. how we care for people?” Does caring about animal-related issues somehow imply a lack of compassion for other issues, or is this simply a tired argument – a logical fallacy used to distract and divide, rather than focus our collective energies on helping the vulnerable and the voiceless? Please share your thoughts below.