by Bruce Poon
Derived from a presentation to the Isocracy Network on May 28, 2016
We here are interested in how best to organise society. But society involves not just humans. For better and worse, society also involves non-human animals.
Although it has been written about for millennia, the rights of animals is, I believe, going to be the great social justice movement of this century.
The arguments that have been rolled out to explain and argue against racism, sexism, and other ‘isms’ are equally useful to argue against species-ism, the automatic discrimination towards an animal because of its species.
Only in a world where humans are made in the image of god, with souls, and animals are automata placed on earth for our survival and use, would speciesism be acceptable. I don’t accept that worldview.
With 24 million humans in Australia, but over 500 million land animals slaughtered each year for our pleasure, the interests of non-humans should be the most important issue to be discussed.
Animals are like us. They feel, they dream, they worry, they quiver before the blade. They love, they hate, they have a sense of justice. A fear of anthropomorphising is illogical. Science, at every turn, confirms that we are animals, and animals are like us. They don’t do rocket science. But neither do many humans. My respect for your basic rights does not correspond to your capabilities, but your basic sentience.
The rise and rise of the animal protection movement.
Great thinkers through the ages have been supporters of animal protection.
In ancient India, Parshva, the earliest leader of the Jain religion, argued for nonviolence towards all, including non-human animals. There are many who argue that Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism, and his community of monks were vegetarian on the principle of refraining from the taking of life. The Buddhist emperor Ashoka who ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 268 BCE established laws which aimed to protect non-human animals, including the abolition of animal sacrifice.
In ancient Greece, Pythagoras was the most famous, considering humans and non-human animals to be fundamentally equals in psyche. Theophrastus, the successor to Aristotle, argued against his teacher and said that animals also have a logos, or reason, and therefore deserved just treatment, as did Xenocrates, the head of Plato's Academy. In the Roman era Plutarch and Porphyry of Tyre wrote thorough arguments for vegetarianism from an animal right's perspective.
In the Middle Ages, Francis of Assisi spoke of the duty of people to protect nature and non-human animals. The famous polymath Leonardo di Vinci, expressed abhorrence at inflicting pain to animals.
In the modern era many great thinkers have deeply considered the protection of animals with great importance. Voltaire noted the capacity of animals to express emotion, and argued angrily against the Mechanists who argued that animals had only reactions, not awareness. Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that animals, on the basis of their sentience, deserved protections under natural law, and encouraged vegetarianism. Whilst rejecting "natural law" Jeremy Bentham also took a similar concern on the capacity of animals to suffer.
The list could go on, to include such people as Gustave Struve, Arthur Schopenhauer, Charles Darwin, Frances Power Cobbe, Henry Salt, and Albert Einstein. But the point is made.
The big change in the last 2,500 years however is happening now. The connection of people through social media means that communicating good arguments is easier than ever.
Politics is about power and where it sits in society. How power and rights are distributed within the realm. There have always been entrenched powers, for example, it used to be ‘Land owning, rich, white, males of the dominant country of the empire’. I say, “used to be”…. because I think some progress has been made. Not necessarily all that is required.
Then there was an anti-slavery movement, and a pro slavery establishment. “It will cost too much”, “It will ruin the economy”. There was a suffrage movement, and anti-suffrage movement. “It will cost too much”. “It will run the economy”. “Beware: Petticoat rule!”. Familiar words are said today.
Animal Protection and Power
The premise of the party is quite simple. Humans (the only ones allowed to run for parliament) representing the interests of non-human animals. Non-human animals must have power seized on their behalf, at least some share of power. Because not having any power leaves them unable to avoid suffering and death at the hands of the powerful.
Animal Justice Parties
There are over 14 parties around the world dedicated to animal protection, four with representation. The Party for the Animals in the Netherlands has two seats in the House of Representatives (out of 150) and 1 in the Senate (out of 75). They also have 18 representatives in Provincial parliaments (out of 570).
The Animal Justice Party (of which I am a member) was formed in 2011. We have a committee, a bigger working group, 8 regional groups with devolved responsibilities, specialist groups like marketing, etc. We meet to discuss policies, politics and practical action. We are a very ‘activist’ heavy party.
We stood in its first election at the September 2013 Federal poll. We received nearly 100,000 votes across the country, and, since then have contested a number of other state elections, doubling or tripling the vote from the same voters in each area. In 2015, our first MP was elected into the NSW state parliament, in the upper house.
At this election, we are running in 26 Lower House seats and 2 candidates for the Senate in Victoria. There are 54 candidates nationally. We run in marginal seats, to win issues. We run in the Senate, to win seats.
We have seen more movement on key animal issues in the last 3 years, than in the last 3 decades. We look forward to more movement in the coming two weeks, and for years to come.
As an example of our activism, consider our campaign on cosmetics. How to change a politicians mind?
To appeal to a Minister, or any politician, although you must make the ‘moral case’ for change, that is not sufficient. You must do more. You must also address the politics of change, and make a ‘political case’.
The ‘political case’ is that set of facts pertaining to how making a change in law will affect the support of the MP and Party who makes the change. Will the public support it? Will it translate into votes? Even how will it affect donations to their campaign funds! A politician cannot make decisions “because they are right” without consideration of how they can sell the ideas to the party, the parliament and the public.
When we approached senior members of the opposition before the last Victorian state election, we were able to parley known community opposition to the Breed Specific Legislation and dog-breeding practices that exist into specific commitments to action if they were elected to government. All of these promises have been honoured, which will result in significantly reduced animal suffering in the future.
Values: Kindness, Non-Violence, Equality, Rationality
For the Animal Justice Party, the key campaigns at this election will be Live Exports, Factory Farming, Wildlife Slaughter and the establishment of an Independent Office of Animal Welfare.
Bruce Poon is the Convenor of the Animal Justice Party in Victoria. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and the AJP websites are animaljusticeparty.org (national) or ajpvic.org.au (for Victoria).
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