Nihilism: “If animals don’t have animal rights, why do humans have human rights?”

Hey guys, this video is to some extent about veganism, vegan politics, animal rights, human rights, those concepts and how we use them in vegan politics, but it’s also with the issue of belief itself.

I got some intelligent questions, responses and reactions to my recent video saying that I do not believe in animal rights and some of them may or may not have gotten the message that in a more recent video, I think I uploaded a day or two later, I also clarified in the very real sense I do not believe in human rights, if we’re talking as a matter of belief, no that’s not something I believe in, doesn’t mean the concept is completely meaningless and I put in some caveats and counter examples in that self-same video explaining my position on human rights.

But I’ll show this intersects with practical everyday questions of how we organize vegan activism.

I had a message in response to me, sent back saying more or less, this is a paraphrase, more or less quoting; “if humans have human rights, why would animals not have rights?” Thus saying I’m using a double standard or perhaps guilty of speciesism or what have you.

Now my perspective that question is just as observer is saying if humans have poetry, why do animals not have poetry, so my claim here is not that human rights don’t exist, in some absolute ontological sense, I also would not claim that poetry doesn’t exist. However clearly when we’re talking about poetry, we’re talking about something creative and abstract and something that’s you know deeply couched in cultural and aesthetic considerations.

Whether or not something is poetry, I mean I can show you a poem translated from medieval Japanese into English, modern English, and you may ask yourself; Is this poetry? And I can show you Sanskrit poetry translated into English and you may wonder; Is this poetry? And I can show you even poetry of twentieth century poetry written in English in California in the 1960s and you may ask yourself; Is this poetry?

Whether or not something is poetry, whether or not you can recognize it as poetry, whether or not you can appreciate or enjoy it as poetry gets into a lot of tricky questions that are not based in a strict and simple sense on belief, right?

But if you ask me do animals have poetry? My answer is no. Poetry is part of human society and we may write poems for or about animals, we may project poetic qualities unto animals in our works of art, we may you know depict them in a poetic way, we may in a sense have animal poetry within human culture, but this is so to speak a set of abstract and largely aesthetic values human beings have created.

And likewise when we talk about rights, human rights, partly what we’re talking about is a very simple legal idea, I mentioned that in an earlier video, do you or do you not have the right to drink alcohol in a public park, in some countries you do and some you don’t, so that’s the difference between England and Canada, you know do you or do you not have the right to drive a car under these circumstances, those circumstances, it’s different.

And partly it’s a very simple cut-and-dry legal issue, but we all know to a large extent, the reason why people get so emotional about, the reason why people get so passionate about human rights is that it also gets into this realm of aesthetic, poetic and indeed ultimately ethical issues, this is why people you know become so animated about rights and why some people find it convincing or moving to state the case for veganism in terms of animal rights or in terms of human rights, trying to say this this is an extension of the anti-slavery crusade at least.

There’s a quotation from Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, and it comes to mind, Hobbes says Laconically and in passing that these social conventions, things like human rights, he is not, human rights at this point didn’t really exist during his lifetime, but these barriers that define you know society, they remain in place due to the danger, though not the difficulty of bringing them.

And that’s the other brutal reality of human rights, animal rights, or what have you. To a large extent you know peace exists in the shadow of war and on discourse in polite society is to some extent created, dictated and backed up by the threat of violence, it’s by enforcement ultimately that questions of human rights become so important.

You know are you or are you not going to go to a local city park and prevent someone from drinking alcohol there, if there’s no enforcement, well if you have the law, either the people can drink alcohol on a public park that it’s a civil right, it’s a human right, or that they cannot, one way or another this comes down to matters of enforcement.

And there also I have to say, if you ask the question this way; do animals “have” animal rights? In the same sense that human rights, no they don’t because animals cannot enforce animal rights, animals are precisely reliant on humans to imagine and project these values, project them on to animals and for humans to then enforce these rights against one another.

So again this is a unique asymmetry – and many people including Tobias Leonardo in his new book, which I’m going to do another review on, maybe talk to Tobias also, invite them to do a conversation or debate with me about it – these are issues that other people in the animal rights movement or vegan movement recognize also, that this is fundamentally different from a situation like the liberation of slaves, where we can ask the slaves themselves to determine our own rights and interests to take on these responsibilities. Or instead we’re talking about a situation of perpetual dependency, perpetual inequality, even if you want to declare that all animals are equal to humans, which some vegans want to do, there’s a perpetual inequality because their rights are in fact our rights projected onto them, created, imagined and enforced by human beings and human values.

So, for me a profoundly related issue here comes up, from by watching a new video from vegan gains, I think it is very easy for people to imagine that if only we had a society in which everyone mouthed these principles, in which everyone either believed or recited these pious hallowed principles we’d have a profoundly more compassionate society, a profoundly less violent society, so my point here is, I do not believe in animal rights, I do not believe in human rights and I think some of the people who support and propel these notions, they themselves also do not believe them and yet they believe that the world would be a better place, our society would be a better society if only everyone around them would pretend, would recite and pretend they believed in these principles. That we would have a less and less violent society, less and less of violence of man against man, of the human beings against animals and so on.

I describe my philosophy as nihilism, but specifically as historical nihilism, I’m really interested in learning the lessons of history and what that means to me is different than what it means to someone who’s an ideologue.

If you believe this, I would urge you to spend some time studying the historical reality of Theravada Buddhist societies, whether you’re looking at medieval Sri Lanka or medieval Thailand, these are societies, historically that are many ways more appealing than a medieval Christian society or a medieval Muslim society, it is no doubt true that in many, many ways, living in medieval Sri Lanka, medieval Thailand would be more pleasant than living in medieval Saudi Arabia or even medieval Germany, medieval France, right? I don’t, let’s set that aside.

However, it is very significant that in a society, in a traditional Theravada Buddhist society, where people would literally mouth the words of non-violence and compassion, day after day, year after year, in which chanting these principles and believing in these principles was a daily feature of society, it was a cornerstone and bedrock of the religion, public religion, popular religion and also the religion of state.

Nevertheless, these were societies based on torture, torture of human beings, exploitation of animals and slavery. They had a very real slave trade, now it was very different from the history of slavery in the United States of America, but nevertheless, slavery is slavery, and involved also the torturing of slaves.

But you know these are societies that preached compassion to such a remarkable extent and yet I mean in Sri Lanka for example, crowds were delighted by watching someone being tortured to death, you know with an elephant, having a human being riding on an elephant, you know crushing a human being death and that elephant tearing the person apart and so on, this was not only form of torture of execution but indeed the public entertainment in the midst of a society.

Medieval Cambodia, or pre-modern Cambodia, again profoundly Buddhist society and yet they had their equivalent of gladiator games, of men killing each other in public, martial arts combat, fighting each other and crowds would show up and cheer, and the parents of the young men who would be seriously, they even sometimes killed, you know seriously injured and sometimes killed, in these you know public martial arts displays, seeing no problem with it.

And again needless to say, all of these societies, the whole society ate meat, including the Buddhist monks who preached these virtues of non-violence of compassion, so I do not believe in animal rights, I do not believe in human rights, I do not believe in the efficacy of belief itself, ultimately that’s the point of nihilism in my perspective is the critique of belief, as such, the rejection of belief and I think we can learn a lot from looking analytically, sympathetically, but analytically, at the real differences between historical societies that have preached these beliefs.

And please, I mean within living memory, you had communist societies that piously preached, that piously believed in so many virtues about human rights, I mean has there ever been another society more fanatically devout in its belief and espousal of human rights than the Soviet Union, than Russia, the whole Soviet and Russian block. And yet what really were human rights in that society? Has there ever been another society more devoutly and more fanatically obsessed with the rights of workers? Of labor unions? And yet we all know in a very real sense, the Soviet Union workers had no rights, especially not the right to unionize, neither do they have those rights in communist China, even smaller communist countries scattered here and there around the world okay.

There is a profound lesson for us to learn, that’s directly applicable to vegan politics in those cases, and there’s a profound lesson for us to learn about belief itself and ideology.