For Equal Consideration
Civilization as a Sense of Sympathy
The sense of civilization among humanity expands when people are more considerate of others -- when they are willing to tolerate and accept those who are different from themselves. The local tribe widens its scope of compassion, considering its neighboring villages and counties first, and slowly increasing. This sympathy must overcome barriers of religious belief and racial differences -- language and culture. Even while the borders are increasing towards other people, it took much longer for them to meaningfully increased at home. An absent-minded civilization developed that considered foreigners, but completely subjugated the women and children in their own homes.
Civilization, then, has not been just one single sense that has been continually expanding -- it is a duty that has increased at different rates in different spheres of the social order. In other cases, it has just as well been the case that Feminism developed while equality of race decayed. At points in history, fear and hatred of immigrants will constrict the sense of civilization -- people will be motivated more by excluding others from their sense of sympathy, rather than including everyone. And, at other points, bigotry can rise out of race, religion, or culture.
For a society to give justice to all, it must first widen its thought to the point where it understands, accepts, and values all. Today, this still has not yet been the case. Significant advances have been made in the equal, moral recognition of all, regardless of race, religion, or gender -- but there is still well-deserved criticism in how far these changes have reached. Still, though, in other fields, greater recognition of others is still lacking: those who are different because of sexual orientation receive a significant portion of this bigotry, while there is still some based on difference of language, disability, or political belief.
The general attitude of those who are most progressive in this trend is that there can be no inherent difference between two people to make one less deserving of rights. This is based on inherent difference, such as the composition of a person's ideas or culture, versus their differences of choice. Discrimination is a weakening of the true basis of civilization, since it places value on hair or eye color, pitch or tone of voice, height or weight, and size or shape. It does not place value on the individuals in consideration. But then, one must ask one further question... If we are considering all humans inherently equal, no matter what may be their differences, why do we stop here? Why do we say "regardless of race, creed, or gender," but we do not include "species"?
It is because the sense of compassion is based on human life, and animal life is only considered in regards to the interests of people. Even where the sense of compassion may extend to animals, they are only limited and weak. Parliament or congress will pass an act against cruelty towards animals, but no one ever makes the consideration that killing is cruel. The image of abused animals elicits compassion and sympathy, because we can see their sense of suffering and terror -- just as if we had witnessed an image of similarly abused humans. But there is no logical conclusion that if people should be free from slavery and abuse, then so should all of animal kind.
The entire concept of sympathy is based on understanding the suffering or pain that another conscious being is going through. This is so, because only conscious beings are capable of pain, pleasure, or joy -- only those who are aware have a desire to live and to find happiness. The sense of sympathy that we have for humans is from this origin. Following it to its natural end, we would find that we must value all conscious life. This leads us to valuing all animal life, without placing any particular moral value on plant life. Since it is not aware, it does not desire to live, so there is nothing that can be done to it that would be either moral or immoral.
True morality, then, must be based on considering the interests of all beings that are conscious -- regardless of race, creed, gender, or species. And the greatest respect for another's interests begins with not eating them. Or, at the least, not paying for the product of an industry based on killing animals, as you would not pay for a product of an industry based on human slavery.
The Arguments Against Equality Among All
"It would disrupt our culture and our way of life. There are a thousand different industries that need animals and a million different religious denominations that justify it. To remove animals from industrial and personal consumption would defy the traditional order of society." This is one of the common arguments against including animal kind into our widening net of compassion. But it is the same one used to justify excluding human beings from our consideration.
Slavery was justified on its necessity to the US Southern economy in the 1800's, just as Sexist discrimination was justified since it would bring wages down. But we have thrown those arguments out, because we learned that we ought to value the interests of all equally -- without regard for any gender or race distinction. We accept all of humanity, no matter how "economic" or "cultural" slavery may have been. Likewise, to expand our true sense of compassion, we must abandon all "economic" or "cultural" arguments in the exploitation of animals.
Another argument brings up Natural Selection. "We, as humans, have proven ourselves worthy to consider our interests separately and above those of animals." This argument, too, was used in justifying the slavery of Africans by Europeans, as well as the colonial pillage of South America and Asia. The suggestion that one race was inferior to another was the basis for the entire British Empire, whether in India or China. But no longer do we believe in any superiority, and where there is a particular case of superiority, it is not a justification. If so-called 'differences of ability' cannot justify racism, then it cannot speciesism.
Religion and god often come to the rescue of the doctrine of human domination over animalkind. Such an argument often claims that humanity is divine and that animals have not been given this special distinction. Likewise, this argument, too, has been used to keep women oppressed, to keep races in chains, and to launch wars on "inferior peoples." Some invisible, unknowable, but also speaking being has given orders to humanity to murder and enslave humanity. Why would we ever rely on such a system to give us truth in the matter of the rights of animals? This argument fails to exclude animals from compassion, just as it failed in excluding certain human beings from being treated equally. It is nothing more than the excuse of those who stand to benefit by keeping the majority in ignorance.
It will often be pointed out that animals are not as sophisticated as human beings. But white settlers in America said the same thing of the Native Americans, just as European imperialists said of Africans or Asians. If you cannot use the level of technology as a distinction among humans, then it cannot be used in excluding animals from compassion. Another argument is that animals may kill and eat each other. This, too, was the argument in defense of slavery of other races, since some Africans, Arabs, and Asians enslaved each other.
No matter what argument is brought against Vegetarianism and equality of the rights of animals, it is the same as any argument brought against equality among humanity. True compassion does not incline us towards meaningless distinctions, such as race, creed, gender, or national origin, when determining the value of another being. We should be wise enough to see that this sentiment naturally pushes us towards accepting all who are capable of consciousness and thought. It is not enough to simply oppose racism, sexism, and religious intolerance -- we must oppose an evil that has caused infinitely greater suffering, speciesism.