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HUMAN SUPREMACISM: Why are animal rights activists still the ‘orphans of the left’?

At work, in the Left’s resistance to embrace animal rights, is that it would challenge not only people’s identities and lifestyles, but also a central philosophical pillar of Left politics: 'Humanism'.

WILL KYMLIKA: ‘Proponents of various social justice movements routinely express support for each other – feminist organisations often show support for Black Lives Matter, or for immigrant rights, or gay rights – but animal rights groups remain outside this circle of progressive solidarity… This indifference has been a source of frustration and puzzlement to many animal rights activists. Part of the explanation is simple self-interest and inertia. The instrumentalisation of animals in our society makes possible a steady flow of pleasures – often very intimate pleasures relating to what we eat and wear – that are central to people’s identity. So even when people realise that the treatment of animals in our society is morally suspect, they employ various techniques of “moral disengagement” to look away from the issue.

There is, however, something deeper than self-interest and moral disengagement at work in the left’s resistance to animal rights. Embracing animal rights would challenge not only people’s identities and lifestyles, but also a central philosophical pillar of left politics: its “humanism”. Humanism here is the idea that the value of humanity consists precisely in its difference from animality. It is because we are different from, and superior to, animals that we have inherent worth and are owed basic rights. What makes human lives valuable is not anything we share with other animals. Rather, it lies in our “distinctly human” qualities such as rationality, morality, or autonomy.

On this humanist account, respect for human dignity consists precisely in treating humans better than animals. Conversely, violating human dignity is defined as treating someone “like an animal”. In this sense, humanism is tied to species hierarchy: it is about elevating the human above the animal. A more accurate term therefore might be “human supremacism”… This is why animal rights activists have remained orphans of the left. The paradigmatic argument for animal rights depends on emphasising continuities between humans and animals; the paradigmatic argument to defend the rights of dehumanised groups depends on emphasising radical discontinuity between humans and animals’. SOURCE…


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