Well, there was a time-- during the medieval period and American colonization-- when the idea of animals not having rights was even more absurd, according to Jeffrey St.Clair in the introduction of Fear of the Animal Planet, a book by Jason Hribal. Animals were frequently given trials for breaking the law, yet if anyone violated that animal's rights, they would also end up in court. Convicted animals would end up executed in the exact same way humans were-- and often buried beside human criminals.
For example, in 1575, the weevils who lived in Savoy, France were sent to court (represented by a lawyer) for destroying a famous vineyard. Their lawyer, Pierre Rembaud, cited the Christian Bible to defend the weevils. He said that God had promised the all animals any plants that they needed to eat, so it was the weevils' preordained right to eat the grape leaves. He even swayed the local citizens to set up a weevil reserve!
In another case, a donkey had been attacked by a farmer in 1750. The court needed to decide whether the donkey had provoked the attack or was innocent. So, some top citizens wrote to the court. An abbot described the donkey as "in word and deed and in all her habits of life a most honorable creature." In the end, the donkey was declared innocent and was allowed to go back to her field.
Notice how the abbot describes the young donkey in the same way one might speak of a human being, and using the term "her habits", instead of "its habits". The donkey is considered capable of rational judgement, morality, and the freedom of choice. Compare that to nowadays, and how a donkey is often described as a commodity without innate value.
How did animals become seen as human goods, then?
Well, according to the book that I cited earlier, around 1600, the view began to change. If an animal was inconvenient, "it" would have to go, and there were no more trials that gave animals rights. Take Rene Descartes, for example, who was a scientist, philosopher, and vivisector. He was known to nail dogs to a board to cut open-- while alive-- on the basis that animals were simply atomatons, and that their screams were comparable to the "noise of breaking machinery". Other celebrities of the time were starting to view animals in this way, too. Those who still lived close-up-and-personal to animals challenged this "modern" way of thinking, but gradually it spread like the plague through nearly every city, town, and village in the modern world.
Although this is a truly sad tale, there are still ways that we can reverse this dangerously cruel direction that we have been heading. Luckily, some of the work is already cut out for us, as environmentalists, animal rescuers, and animal rights activists are starting to work towards a compassionate world. But they can't do it unless we all pitch in. Here are some things to do to help:
- Don't buy any product that has come from the animal industry. This includes food, clothing, souvenirs, and cleaning solutions that are made out of an animal product, among other things. Although some products are considered "humane", remember that humane in the 21st century is a great deal different than truly humane.
- Remember to treat animals as individuals, not just cute things. They're different from us in many ways, but not as many as you might think. Follow the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
- Speak of animals in the same way. Although it won't directly affect your neighbour's cat if you describe him as "cute and pathetic" while talking to your friends, it will create a worse case of human superiority-complex in society. So be careful!
- Educate others on how the current typical view of animals is not natural nor compassionate. If you don't want to take the time to explain, send them to my blog, okay?
- Don't support the cruel practices of the pet trade, animal performances, and rides on either wagons drawn by animals or on their backs.