Big Debate Day II

Big Debate Day II:

It also turns out there is a debate centered on Megan McArdle's Atlantic Monthly blog about animal rights. This falls in so nicely with yesterday's discussion about dogs that I thought I'd move it to the front page.

I've been following with avid interest Jim Henley's attempt to generate a libertarian theory of animal cruelty law, as well as Julian Sanchez's declaration that there isn't one.

Julian takes what I would say is the typical libertarian view, which is that only rights should be enshrined in law. I shouldn't try to steal someone else's husband, but I am legally forbidden from stealing their car, because they have a property right in the car, but not in the husband. That leaves a boundary question: are animals rights-having creatures?

As with abortion, there's no inherently libertarian answer to that question. But Julian and some of Jim's commenters seem to be taking a fairly hard line: rights are binary (you have them or you don't); and animals, which don't have agency, cannot have rights.

I'd say that there are different classes of rights-holders; babies are persons, but they can't vote, and they do have the right to be supported by the state. (Of course, some libertarians would disagree with that latter, but I'm pretty firm that they do.) So it seems plausible to me that animals could have limited rights--a right not to suffer for our pleasure, say--even though none of them will ever master the lute.

Should animals have that right? Obviously, both Julian (who is a vegetarian) and I, who will only eat animals that are not industrially farmed, have both decided that the suffering of animals matters, morally. But should it matter, legally? Creating new rights is a big deal.

Okay, I'll bite the bullet. As a first principle, you shouldn't be able to burn a sheep alive because it's fun.
Oddly, just last night I was writing up a theory of how rights arise and who ought to have them, as applied to animals. Here it is.
it's a question that ought to be reasoned from first principles. The question is, "What does a dog deserve?" And the answer is:

Jeffery: Something like human rights, given the analogies to human slavery;

Daniel: The right to be protected as property, but disposed of by the owner of that property as he sees fit;

Grim: No rights as such, but certain basic protections.

Each of us is approaching the question from a different foundation. Daniel's is deeply aware of the history of how things have been done in the past. He seeks to recreate what seems like a stable society based on the guidelines of what has worked in the past. Jeffrey is looking toward a future, improved society -- by protecting animal rights more vigorously, he argues, we'll protect human rights more vigorously.

I'm not looking toward the future or to the past, but toward the world as it is. Somewhat like Hobbes, I'm arguing from the nature of the world -- that it is a fearsome and destructive place -- and the necessity of building a society and a frith that can withstand those natural forces, including other men, well enough to make a space in which freedom and peace can exist.

I argue that "rights" arise from that precise contract, and all rights stand on it. In the state of nature, you have no rights in any practical sense -- whatever inalienable rights you may hold from the Creator, they have no force on what happens to you in the world. In order to make a space in which those rights can exist practically, we must make the space and defend it.

Society owes nothing to anyone except to those who are engaged in making that space, defending it once it is made, and keeping it clear internally. They are the ones to whom society belongs.

We see in our society as it exists that there are tremendous problems caused by freeloaders, whether they are the ones who wish to live off the welfare system; or the ones who wish to live off the rich economy we have been able to create in this space, but who are not interested in defending it; or the ones who actually prey on it by making a living in criminal enterprise; and so forth.

These are all classes of people we would like to see diminish; a healthy society will have more people who are engaged in defending the space, improving it, keeping it clear. This is also true of all other societies, which is why I say it is not about past or future. There are different ways of going about this, but that is the core problem of society. It's about Natural Law in the real sense of the term: the law that nature imposes on the world.

What does that view say about dogs? That their ancestors were participants in creating and defending the space; and that they themselves continue to defend it and us. The first dog in the story, for example, was hunting for explosives to prevent soldiers from being killed. Even a small dog in the home warns its master when strangers approach.

Society eats cattle, but might have eaten other things; and the cattle don't actually do anything toward the defense of our society. We use them, as we use crops.

Dogs are not like that. They serve. That means they are owed a kind of honor, and it is a duty of the society to see that they get it.
That was originally a comment to a specific post, and not a fully-considered post of its own. I'd like to make clear that I read the human duties that entitle you to rights fairly broadly: a person who gets a job and works at it steadily is doing enough, even if they don't deserve the special praise due to soldiers.

By the same token, ancestry is important in a narrow sense -- because a society is a project across generations, we have to extend loyalty to those who went before, and those who will come after. We have to be loyal to our fathers, and recognize they deserve the benefits of society even though they may no longer be young enough to produce. We recognize that our children are too young yet, but extend them rights in expectation of their performance of their duties when it is their turn. That, in turn, imposes a real duty on them -- one that, if they do not perform it, means that society has a right to be angry. They have profited from our work, and will show no loyalty in return.

Some people, due to injury or for other reasons, have no capacity to do useful work, but because they are wrapped into these family webs, they belong anyway. We take care of them out of respect for what their fathers did for all of us, or their mothers; and what their children may do, if they have children. This is a distinct problem from "those who wish to live off the welfare system," mentioned as freeloaders, above. The question of just who in society cares for them can be debated, but unlike freeloaders, these people have a legitimate place in society.

As for those who have always enjoyed the benefits of our society, but will not defend it and may seek to undermine it, I am thinking of those people Joseph Schumpeter was talking about.
Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes. Capitalism would spawn, he believed, a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class's existence.
Those of you who belong to that class know who you are.

In any event, as for animal rights, this basic theory of society suggests that we owe something to animals that serve the society. Dogs do; cats, to some degree, do; horses don't, at this point, but their ancestors were indispensable (and it's possible that their children may be). Other animals do not, and are not owed anything.

I still believe in the personal virtue of kindness toward animals who are not part of the society, but I think that is a personal rather than a social virtue. If I had a bull, he would be the happiest bull in the world. His sons would not be so happy, because they would be castrated while young and slaughtered when they were old enough to provide meat. I would be as kind to both of them as the situation permitted -- but I would not feel I was doing anything wrong in humanely butchering the steer.

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