AR Philosophy > Morality Index

Do creatures have the same rights that we do?
By Joy Williams
(C) 1997 Harpers Magazine. Permission to distribute everywhere.

St. Francis once converted a wolf to reason. The wolf of Gubbio promised to stop terrorizing an Italian town; he made pledges and assurances and pacts, and he kept his part of the bargains. But St. Francis only performed this miracle once, and as miracles go, it didn't seem to capture the public's fancy. Humans don't want to enter into a pact with animals. They don't want animals to reason. It would be an unnerving experience. It would bring about all manner of awkwardness and guilt. It would make our treatment of them seem, well, unreasonable. The fact that animals are voiceless is a relief to us, it frees us from feeling much empathy or sorrow. If animals did have voices, if they could speak with the tongues of angels-at the very least with the tongues of angels-it is unlikely that they could save themselves from mankind. Their mysterious otherness has not saved them, nor have their beautiful songs and coats and skins and shells, nor have their, strengths, their skills, their swiftness, the beauty of their flights. We discover the remarkable intelligence of the whale, the wolf, the elephant - it does not save them, nor does our awareness of the complexity of their lives. It matters not, it seems, whether they nurse their young or brood patiently on eggs. If they eat meat, we decry their viciousness; if they eat grasses and seeds, we dismiss them as weak. We know that they care for their young and teach them, that they play and grieve, that they have memories and a sense of the future for which they sometimes plan. We know about their habits, their migrations, that they have a sense of home, of finding, seeking, returning to home. We know that when they face death, they fear it. We know all these things and it has not saved them from us.

Anything that is animal, that is not us, can be slaughtered as a pest or sucked dry as a memento or reduced to a trophy or eaten, eaten, eaten. For reasons of need - preference or availability. Or it's culture, it's a way to feed the poor, it's different, it's plentiful, it's not plentiful, which makes it more intriguing, it arouses the palate, it amuses the palate, it makes your dick bigger, it's healthy, it's somebody's way of life, it's somebody's livelihood, it's somebody's business.

Agriculture has become agribusiness, after all. So the creatures that have been under our "stewardship" the longest, that have been codified by habit for our use, that have always suffered a special place in our regard - the farm animals - have never been as cruelly kept or confined or slaughtered in all of history. Aldo Leopold, in his naturalist classic A Sand Country Almanac, argues that wild animals and domestic animals have different moral statuses - domestic animals are not free and therefore are unworthy of our regard. Catholic moral textbooks instruct that we have no duties of justice or charity toward animals; our only duties concerning them are the proper use we make of them. But large-scale corporate agribusinesses, enjoying fat federal tax breaks, don't need to have their interests defended by effete ethical rationalizations. Factory farmers are all Cartesians. Animals are no more than machine - milk machines, piglet machines, egg machines - production units converting themselves into profit. They are explicitly excluded from any protection offered by the federal Animal Welfare Act, an act that is casually and lightly enforced, if at all, by the Department of Agriculture: "Normal agricultural operation" precludes "humane" treatment, and anti-cruelty laws do not apply to that which is raised for food.

The factory farm today is a crowded, stinking bedlam, filled with suffering animals that are quite literally insane, sprayed with pesticides and fattened on a diet of growth stimulants, antibiotics, and drugs. Two hundred and fifty thousand laying hens are confined within a single building. (The high mortality rate caused by overcrowding is economically acceptable; nothing is more worthless than an individual chicken.) Pigs are raised in bare concrete cages in windowless, metal buildings or tightly restrained in foul pens and gestation boxes. Cows are kept pregnant to produce an abnormal amount of milk, which is further artificially increased with hormone injections. The by-products of the dairy industry, calves, are chained in crates twenty-two inches wide and no longer than their bodies, and raised on a diet of drug-laced liquid feed for a few months until they're slaughtered for the "delicacy" veal. (Yet some people say, Well apparently they're raised in the darkness, in crates or something, but the taste is creamy, sort of refined, a very nice taste ...) People will stop eating veal only if they think they will get a killer disease if they don't. In England, the beef industry had a setback when a link was found between bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal disease of cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal neurological virus in humans. The cows became ill because they were fed the rendered remains of sick sheep. Of course, in this county we are assured that our cows aren't being fed sick sheep and that no BSE-infected cattle have been found here. We do have many "downer" animals, though, about 100,000 of them year, that collapse from stress or something, heaven knows, and end up dead prior to the slaughtering process. They are rendered and ground up and become pet food and animal feed. Cattle do eat cattle here. They are fed the ground offal of those that have succumbed to unknown causes, and this has been the practice for many years. If BSE were ever confirmed in this country, which is not at all unlikely, people would stop eating meat for a while for the same reasons the English did. Not because they'd had a sudden telepathic vision of the horrors of the abattoir or because they'd all been subjected to a reading of James Agee's remarkable fable about a Christlike steer, "A Mother's Tale, " but because they thought that eating steak would make their brains go funny. Once assured by the government that there was no need for alarm they would be back in the spotless supermarkets, making their selections among the sliced, cubed, and shrink-rapped remains, which have borne no resemblance to rising things in our minds for some time now. They are merely some things, in a different department from the toilet-bowl cleanser. The Supermarket has never been a place where one thinks - Animal.

Now genetic manipulation is becoming a commonplace as well. One of the problems in poultry production is that bacteria-laden feces fly all over the carcasses in the slaughtering process. It's just always been a problem. Awaiting government approval is a proposed product called Rectite, a sort of superglue that seals the rectal cavities of poultry so all that salmonella contamination can be avoided. But Rectite already sounds a little old-fashioned. Genetic engineers might want to create a turkey, say, that had no vent at all, possibly no feet, and even a smaller head to save space. This would likely be hailed as quite an advantage over the traditionally constructed bird. Researchers probably dream about this nightly (when they're not dreaming about genetically identical sheep). Researchers are, in fact, creating entire new orders of creatures specifically designed, transgenic, xenograph-ready. Around the world in labs with names such as Genpharm International Inc., Genzyme Corporation, and Pharmaceutical Proteins, biotechnocrats are inserting human genes in live-stock to form, animals that can produce human proteins and hormones: drugstores on the hoof. Pigs, long attractive to the farmer, not because of any Babe- or Miss Piggy-like charm but because they have short pregnancies and big litters, have become a favorite of researchers who are altering them to make the perfect organ donors. Doctors, awaiting the eventual blessing of the FDA, are eagerly anticipating placing genetically altered pig livers in just about everybody. (The drunks will probably get them to start.) Humans are requiring and demanding fresh new organs all the time (employing animals in this way seems so much more sophisticated than merely eating them), and the ethics of raising or breeding animals for body parts to replace our own failing ones seem to give people pause only when combined with warnings of dangers to human health. A person might not want that little monkey's heart, not because he wanted the monkey to keep it but because he'd worry that he might contract the Ebola virus and that his skin would get pulpy, he'd vomit black blood, and his eyeballs would burst.

We distance ourselves more and more from animals as we use them in increasingly bizarre ways. Animals are being subsumed in a weird unnaturalness. Indeed, technology, which is forever pressing to remove animals from nature, to muddy and morph the remaining integrity of the animal kingdom, has rendered the word "natural" obsolete. A side benefit of the new and developing technologies is that soon we won't have to feel guilty about the suffering and denigration of the animals because we will have made them up. (That's not an animal, it's a donor...) Any sentience they possess will have been invented by man or eliminated altogether. An animal will have no more real "life" than a lightbulb.

In the laboratory, animals have already been reclassified. They are tools, they're part of the scientific apparatus, they undergo transformations, they are metamorphosed into data. Rats and mice are already excluded from the very definition of "animal" by the Department of Agriculture. The offspring of these un-animals are then genetically reinvented. There are countless variations of mutant "knock-out mice, creatures whose genetic code has been grotesquely altered, who lack particular genes crucial to learning or to instinctual behavior and self-destruct in novel ways, or who develop terrible diseases or deformities. As for the cats and dogs and rabbits and primates other than man in the laboratory, although not deemed un-animals, they are transformed semantically into "research animals." These animals, like "food" animals, qualify for very little protection under the Animal Welfare Act. At present this act does not prohibit any experiment or procedure that might be performed on animals in labs, and makes clear that the government cannot interfere with the conduct or design of any experiment. Blinding has long been a popular procedure in the lab, as are any and all deprivology studies. Of endless interest is the study of an animal's reaction to unrelieved, inescapable pain. The procedures, of course , are never cruelty but science - they may result in data that might be of some use to us sometime. So dogs are decerebrated or mutilated or poisoned or burned to provide grist for a learned thesis; other dogs are tormented into states of trauma, into states of "learned helplessness," into "psychological death," to see if their observed decline can give any insights into human depression. Some experiments merely satisfy scientific "curiosity." (Wow, this stuff took that puppy's skin right down to the bone. I wonder if it will take the rust off the lawn furniture with no mess.) Other experiments serve to confirm prior conclusions-to verify previously known LD (lethal dose) levels, for example. LD tests, said by industry to determine the toxicity of floor waxes and detergents, end when half the animals in a test group die. Animals never leave laboratories. They keep undergoing more and more corrosive tests until they expire, or until their bodies, unable to provide even the most utterly senseless data, are "humanely destroyed."

But dogs and cats and rabbits are as nothing to the researcher when compared with what can be extrapolated from the most desirable lab animal of them all-the chimpanzee. The chimpanzee, humankind's closest relative, has been infected and maimed and killed for over fifty years now, for us, for the possible advantage to us, because they're so much like us; they possess 98 percent of the same DNA, the same genetic material, as humans. That missing 2 percent allows them to be vivisected on our behalf. If it weren't for that lucky- for-us 2, they wouldn't be able to be used as experimental surrogates because they'd be just like us, and medical advancement would come to a standstill. Or at best it would, in the words of a doctor writing in The New Physician, slow to a "snail's pace."

So in our country's finest universities (as well as in some of our just so so ones), researchers, not to be likened to snails, are still making chimpanzees "hot" with deadly diseases and screwing bolts into their heads. They're still removing infants from their mothers and "containerizing" them in solitary so that their psychological and emotional suffering and decline can be observed. They're still performing cataract surgery on healthy chimps, then giving them different rehabilitative treatments, then killing them and dissecting their brains to see which treatment produced the best result within the visual cortex. And they're still trying to give chimps AIDS. Scientists have been frustrated because chimps just won't get this disease, though their own simian immune systems can be destroyed in the lab. Over 100 chimps have been dosed with the human AIDS virus, but none have developed human AIDS. In 1995, researchers from the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta were able to announce that one chimp, infected with the virus ten years earlier, had come down with AIDS, or, rather, had come down with the opportunistic diseases associated with AIDS. Managing to give one chimp the symptom of AIDS was certainly not science's finest hour.

In any case, what is all this "research" for? Artificially induced diseases in animals practically never result in a cure that can be applicable to humans. Even scientists have begun to recognize the ambiguity of their work to the extent that it is common now, after the announcement of any discovery wrung from animal research, for the researchers to caution publicly against using the findings, to draw conclusions about human disease or behavior. Still, researchers work hard at public relations. Parents' terrors of the mysterious sudden infant death syndrome were manipulated shamelessly with the cure dependent upon animal research mantra- until the precipitous recent drop in infant deaths was attributed to the simple act of putting babies to bed on their backs instead of their stomachs. (Prevention maybe worth a pound of cure, but it's not something the drug companies are interested in.) Misleading monkey experiments delayed an effective polio vaccine for decades. (As for insight into the cancer problem, 46 percent of substances deemed carcinogenic in mice are found not to be carcinogenic in rats.) Successes in human kidney transplants, blood transfusions, and heart-bypass surgery all resulted only when doctors ignored the baleful results of experiments on dogs and used human material. Animal tests, in fact, do not predict side effects in humans up to 52 percent of the time. Guinea pigs die when injected with penicillin. Thalidomide was found safe for rodents; so was Opren, an arthritis drug that caused fatal liver toxicity in a number of human patients before it was taken off the market. Animals are sacrificed in laboratories to show the safety of products too; they are not all employed to test the dangerous side effects. The tobacco industry was able to deny a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer for decades because many thousands of dogs, monkeys, rabbits, and rats, fitted with masks and placed in "smoking chambers", immobilzed in stereotaxic chairs with tubes blowing smoke down their windpipes, could not be encouraged to develop carcinomas.

The horror! The horror! if I may be so bold as to quote Conrad. Yet most people believe they like animals, are kind to them, and, by accepting any new "uses that can be found for them, have sensible attitudes regarding them. Normal people are fond of animals and disapprove of wanton cruelty, but keep their priorities in order. That is, they seem to want to be kinder to animals even as they continue to use them and eat them and expect them to relocate themselves when it's time to build a vacation home. But they certainly don't want to run the risk of being denigrated as animal people by regarding animals too highly or caring too much.

When a dog was found bound and hanged with electrical cord and set on fire in Miami in April 1996, people contributed money to a reward fund for the apprehension of his killer. A few people contributing a little money would have been normal, but hundreds of people contributed a considerable amount of money, which made them peculiar, which made them animal people. The Miami Herald was puzzled: "[The collected money] exceeds the $11,000 offered by law enforcement agencies for the capture of a serial killer who beats and burns homeless women in Miami."

When a seventeen-year-old with cancer wanted to go to Alaska and kill a Kodiak bear, and was sent to do just that thanks to the generosity of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it set off what the papers referred to as an "animal-rights furor." The extent of that furor caused others to be more "objective" about the situation, saying things like, Hey, it'll make the poor kid happy, and it's something he can do with his dad.

When boys on a high school team in Texas battered a cat with their baseball bats, put it in a bag, and ran over it with their pickup truck, killing it, because it had taken to hanging around and soiling the pitcher's mound, the animal people were outraged and demanded that the players be kicked off the team. Such intense disapproval "bewildered" the youths and caused a backlash. We all did things to cats when we were young. This is just ridiculous . Some people think a cat is more important than a boy. Although such arguments are not up to the debating dazzle, say, of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, a humanist argument in any form defends normal thinking against the misanthropic nuts -- the animal people or, worst of all, the animal rights people who seek to question it.

"A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy," the statement made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) some years ago, has been used with considerable success to discredit the animal-rights movement (though a rat does seem to be a boy when it suits science's purposes). PETA's actual remark was, "When it comes to having a nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Even addressing the statement as intended has resulted in a not so edifying debate about suffering. Do animals suffer or don't they? And if they do (they certainly seem to), does that ability, rather than the ability to speak or reason, give them the rights of life, liberty, and freedom from torture? "Rights" has become practically the only ethical language we speak in this country, and to the animal-rights activist, it means equal consideration of interests. But to normal people, rights for animals is ridiculous, and much merriment is had by placing the, concept in the most ludicrous light possible. What kind of rights exactly? The right to vote? The right to a good education? The right of a doggy not to be nutted at the vet's? Not only are the animal-rights people considered annoying because of their boycotts and protests and extremely politically incorrect use of Holocaust and slavery references regarding the status of animals; they're considered anti-human, even monstrous, in their misguidedness. (Hitler, was a vegetarian, you know, and he adored his German shepherds.) An animal-rights activist is perceived to be the kind of person who would sneak into a school cafeteria and whisper to the innocent, impressionable children there, You know that sandwich Mommy packed for you? Well, I know you love your mommy very much, but you know that substance in your sandwich once had a mommy and a life too, and it wanted to live that life just as much as you want to live yours. The animal-rights people are widely thought to be - well, crazy.

There are thousands of animal-advocacy organizations in the United States, with millions of members. Feral cats, wild horses, greyhounds, fowls, bats, as well as the more dramatic gorillas, pandas, and dolphins, all have their devoted protectors, and various methods are used to win public sympathy for them. But many advocates - working for the humane treatment of animals would prefer not to argue the rights issue at all. To argue that an animal has the right not to have its arms cut off in an experiment is far different than arguing that a pig, should be treated more kindly before being converted into a Heavenly Ham. It is one thing to show up as a carrot at the country fair, toting a placard that reads "Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends, and quite another to find a convincing language with an irrefutable philosophical base for the concept of animal dignity. It's easier to have a yard sale to benefit your local wildlife rehabilitation center than to wade into real rights talk and tempt flake status. An animal-welfare advocate can feel quietly victorious convincing someone to adopt a pet from the pound rather than buy one from a pet store, but a rights person is always plunging into the eschatological dark. ("You actually believe that animals have souls?" "Yes, I do. I do believe that. Their natures are their souls.")

Welfare groups have been laboring on behalf of the animals for some time-the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti- Vivisection Society are both over a hundred years old but the rights movement took off only in 1973, when The New York Review of Books published an unsolicited re- view of a book about animals, men, and morals. The reviewer was the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who quickly expanded his article into the rights bible, Animal Liberation.

PETA, founded by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco in 1980, is the group that perhaps best personifies the rights movement, because it broke tactical ground in 1981 with a daring legal action that attempted to prosecute a researcher for animal cruelty. Pacheco volunteered as an assistant to a Dr. Edward Taub at the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, with the intention of secretly documenting conditions in an "ordinary" lab. Taub had been surgically crippling primates to monitor the rehabilitation of impaired limbs for many years, apparently suspending his efforts only long enough to write proposals for federal grants that would, and did, allow him to continue his labors. Pacheco and PETA got a precedent-setting search warrant from a circuit judge, and police raided the filthy lab and confiscated seventeen monkeys, as well as Taub's files and a monkey's severed hand that the less than charismatic researcher kept n his desk as a paperweight. Although the rights of the mutilated primates could not be argued, as those rights had never been established, Taub was found guilty by a jury of cruelty to animals. The conviction was overturned on appeal when the court ruled that state statutes did not apply to research conducted under a federal program.

Taub, supported by the animal-experimentation industry, seemed to have unlimited funds for defense at his disposal. Still, PETA's persistence and style brought publicity and respect for animal advocates.

Today, pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness, the National Association for Biomedical Research, and the American Medical Association (all of which have only our best interests at heart) revile as extremists such groups as PETA, Last Chance for Animals, Friends of Animals, and the Animal Liberation Front. These rights groups can argue rights with all solemnity but prefer vivid direct action. After a letter-writing campaign and a tourist boycott led by the Fund for Animals made an impression on the governor of Alaska, the group was assisted by Friends of Animals, which aired, on national television, an undercover video of Alaskan officials tirelessly exterminating wolves. The ALF breaks into labs, damages equipment, and frees animals, all to great notoriety and accusations of terrorism, but its raids often provide irrefutable proof of researchers' barbarism. The ALF stole files from the University of Pennsylvania's head injury lab that showed baboons in vises getting their heads mashed while researchers chortled. The National Institutes of Health had called the Pennsylvania lab "one of the best in the world," but the federal government cut off funding after the improperly acquired film was made public. (What does the Animal Rights Direct Action Coalition do to relax? They drive up to McDonald's in a pickup truck with a dead cow in the back and a sign reading, "Here's Your Lunch.")

Moderates in the movement - the ones who have struggled quietly for reform - are tolerated by society as long as they can be, considered harmless dogooders. Activists, of course, put this toleration at risk. But even moderate groups are taking responsibility for a more meaningful ethic regarding the animals. The Humane Society of the United States, founded in 1954, has five million members and is considered a reasonable group working in a mannerly way within the system, lobbying governments and promoting ballot initiatives on behalf of the animals. Still, although the HSUS studiously avoids using rights language, its position that animals should not be treated more cruelly than humans is a view quite revolutionary in its implications. It is, in fact, a rights position, an animal rights extremist position.

Amid controversies and organizational politicking, the animal people never stop thinking about animals. And they never stop thinking about the ways they can make the rest of us think about animals, for we've grown awfully comfortable with animals' erasure from our lives. (If we don't erase them, we absorb them) The animal people are vegetarians. They'd better be if they don't want to be accused of being hypocritical. (Of course, by not being hypocritical, they can be accused of being self-righteous.) But people don't admire them overmuch for living lightly on the planet, and their "Meat Is Murder" chirping seems to be an irritant right up there with a leaf blower or a jet ski. Their wishful hope that by their example animals will be saved and the slaughterhouses will fall silent is dismissed as absurd, because on an average day in America, 130,000 cattle, 7,000 calves, 360,000 pigs, and 24 million chickens are killed, and you can't just shut down a show like that overnight. Besides, the argument goes, a vegetarian, unless he is a zealot, practically a Jain, is culpable in the death of animals from the moment he wakes up in the morning. Modern slaughterhouses find a use for everything but the squeal, the cluck, and the moo, as the ag spokesmen like to say. As well as being turned into the more obvious sofas, shoes, wallets, and "tough chic" jackets and skirts, animals are transmogrified into anti-aging creams and glue and paint and antifreeze. Gelatin- benign gelatin, formerly known as hooves-constitutes Jello, of course, and is also in ice cream and the increasing number of "fat free" products we consume. Animals are turned into all manner of drugs, mood enhancers, and mood stabilizers. Premarin, an estrogen drug for menopausal women, comes from the urine of pregnant mares. This is a whole new industry that results in the births of approximately 75,000 unwanted foals each year. Off to the slaughterhouse the little ones go, to be turned into ... something else. Animals are everywhere in our lives; we just can't look into their eyes. We'd prefer not to think about their eyes at all, actually.

Vegetarians do their best, but they seem to lack influence. A recent article in The New York Times Magazine marveled over a meeting between environmentalists and ranchers that took place at a steakhouse in Orofino, Idaho, a restaurant described as "a shrine to red meat and raw timber." As the two groups "sparred and joked over steak," they realized they had a great deal in common. They both wanted wolves, grizzlies, and open spaces. They forged a new and potentially powerful bond as they literally chewed the fat. A vegetarian could never come to such an understanding with the Big Dogs. Never! (Particularly if he tried to break the ice with George Bernard Shaw's witticism that "meat eating is cannibalism with the heroic dish omitted." The ranchers and environmentalists together would throw him out on his ass into the parking lot.)

The animal people have never been embraced by the increasingly corporate environmental community. Mainstream enviro groups, with their compromises and retreats, have lost the moral background on the American scene in less than thirty years. They've become ecowimps. Even the far from ecowimpy Earth First! has never entangled itself in the briar patch that is animal rights. To this group, farm animals are the problem. Shoot Cows Not Bears, Earth First! exhorts in its Dada way. As for the environmental philosophers, the Deep Ecologists, they have never fully acknowledged the reality of the animals, preferring to deal in the abstractions of biodiversity and species instead. Although they call for a less human-centered ethic, our ugly and troubled relationship with the nonhuman animal is a problem they do not care to address.

Only the animal people struggle to address this problem, and there is no limit to the horrible things they can worry about or the disappointments they must endure. Public awareness and revulsion at or treatment of animals is often raised only to fade or be circumvented. Two successes for the movement involved the fur and cosmetics industries. The wearing of fur was discredited for a time through the tactic of howling insult. "Corpse Coat!" activists would scream at any opportunity, or they would solicitously ask of some fur wearer, "How did you get the blood off that?" Then they'd go out and paint "Shame" and "Death" all over furriers windows. Most cosmetics companies eliminated animal testing after the word got out to the kids (Mommy, is it true that they blinded hundreds of white bunnies to make this petty soap?) and consumers were organized to boycott. But the fur industry is still around, hoping for government subsidies to boost export sales and counting on a new wave of designers - there's always a new wave - who believe the trend gurus' predictions of a "fur renaissance fueled by a growing interest in luxury investments" and are churning out the beaver capes, the burgundy pony-skin jackets, and the acid-green sable bam jackets. And some of the big names in the beauty industry - Helene Curtis, Cheeseborough, and Pond's - continue to test on animals. Overall, the use of animals in research could very well be increasing - who knows? Corporate monoliths such as Procter & Gamble and Bausch & Lomb never stopped animal testing; the Department of Defense could still be cutting the vocal cords of beagles and testing nerve gas on them. The DOD doesn't have to release any figures at all, and research facilities in general enjoy institutionalized secrecy and seldom have to provide real numbers to the public.

No, there's little cause for real happiness among the animal people and scant opportunity for self-congratulation. Commercial whaling has never really been outlawed, trade in exotic species is brisk, trophy hunting is back. Whenever a victory is claimed for the animals, it doesn't stay a victory for long: it's either not definitive or it's superseded by something worse. Cases continue to be won only to be lost on appeal, and the cases that remain won involve animal cruelty or welfare, never the rights of an animal to an equal consideration of interests, for an animal has no standing in a court of law. Injuries to a person's "aesthetic interests" can be judicially recognized (I am offended by seeing spotted owls mounted on the hoods of logging trucks), but an animal's interest in continuing to exist cannot.

The animal people need their day in court on the rights issue, and groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund are seeking to find, try, and win the perfect case - the case that will take animals out of the realm of property and grant them legal status of their own. The plaintiff will undoubtedly be a chimp. The chimpanzees' ability to be trained in sign language, and their further ability to use that language to express their fears and needs, could provide the scientific basis for the argument that they deserve the same freedom from enslavement that humans now enjoy. Peter Singer's latest philosophical effort is the Great Ape Project, a rhetorical demand for the extension of the "community of equals" to include all the great apes: human beings and "our disquieting doubles" - chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. The rights of life and freedom from torture and imprisonment would be granted to these animals, and then, possibly, would trickle down to those that are less our disquieting doubles.

Sometimes a number of the animal people gather together, as they did last year for a "World Congress" at the cavernous USAir Arena in Landover, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. The arena can hold 18,000 people and it was far from full. There were no lovely animals there, of course. Animals can never be called upon to do a star turn on the movement's behalf that would be using the animals. So only people were there, and only about 3,000 of them. The arena itself, so vast and impersonal, so disconcertingly inert, seemed to emphasize the gargantuan task the little group had taken on, and the gaunt specter of hopeless helplessness appeared more than once. Unspeakably wretched images were projected on immense screens: gruesome videos of steel leg-hold traps going off and nailing a remarkable array of creatures, videos of moribund lab animals and terrified stockyard animals, videos of berserk zoo and circus animals being shot. The animal people sat silently watching, watching simian horror, avian and equine horror, hunting and puppy-mill and pound horror - witnessing things a normal person would never want to know about. There were three days of speeches. The speakers were impassioned but calm, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-prepared; they politely restricted themselves to the time allotted. Nobody screamed, "We've got to stop dressing up as carrots!" or, "Whose idea was it to petition the town of Fishkill to change its name. It made us took like morons!" The importance of unity was stressed, the importance of being perceived as a single-interest political group that could effect change. Between speeches, people would wander out to the encircling satellite area and line up for the beyond-veggie, no-dairy vegan food that the arena's concessionaires were serving up with a certain amount of puzzlement. The Franks A Lot stand was sensibly shuttered. On the fourth day there was a March for Animals, from the Ellipse up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol. It was a nice march, orderly. Bystanders seemed a little baffled by it. Perhaps because there were no animals.

After the march, the animal people went home-to continue to work, work, work for the animals so that they might be saved from our barbarism. Has any primarily middle-class group in this country ever had such an extremist agenda, based utterly on non-self- fulfillment and non-self-interest? The animal people are calling for a moral attitude toward a great and mysterious and mute nation, which can't, by our stem reckoning, act morally back. Their quest is quixotic; their reasoning, assailable; their intentions, almost inarticulable. The implementation of their vision would seem madness. But the future world is not this one. Our treatment of animals and our attitude toward them is crucial not only to any pretensions we have to ethical behavior but to humankind's intellectual and moral evolution. Which is how the human animal is meant to evolve, isn't it?