The “Good” Slave Owner’s Hypocrisy: Betting on Animal Rights

Will there be a day when the rights of animals are taken as seriously as the rights of humans? Maybe. And if this is the case, what does this say about us?

Am I not a man and a brother

Despite going very slowly, it seems undeniable that human kind is moving towards ever expanding concern for others. Yes, there are parts of the world where this isn’t the case, but it nonetheless seems that, on the whole, we are slowly moving forward.

Just in the short history of the U.S., there was a time when only white, property owning men were recognized as full citizens of the nation. People of color, women, and the disabled had to fight long and hard for legal recognition, and unfortunately, the struggle continues for these groups to secure full and equal freedom.

Only very recently has the gay community been widely accepted into general society, though the fight for equality continues.

Struggles for recognition are ongoing, but when we compare America today with America of 200 years ago, there is an obvious expansion of our concern for our fellow human beings.

It is not only people who we are beginning to be concerned with, though. Animal rights have made slow progress, and at this point it is uncontroversial to condemn the suffering of animals. We love our pets, support organizations like the ASPCA, and react violently when we see animal abuse (although legal punishments for such abuse are still usually mere slaps on the wrist).

If the inevitable progress of time says anything, it seems likely that at some point, vegetarianism (possibly even veganism) will become the norm, and society will look back at us with the same confusion and disgust we have when we look back a time when one person could own another.

This may not be the case, but many of us, even us meat eaters, see this is a distinct possibility, and we are in principle glad of this eventual change. This is why we try our best at little improvements – we don’t buy furs, we treat our pets great and turn in people who don’t, we try to buy grass fed beef, and generally make an effort to treat animals better because we think it is the right thing to do.

But then again, this just looks like history repeating itself.

A popular myth of the past involves the “good” slave master. This sort of person was said to treat his slaves quite well, and condemned the violence with which others treated theirs.

Though surely such people existed, most of us shrug our shoulders – no matter how good natured, those who owned slave were as morally repugnant as any other salve owner. If anything, this individual almost seems worse because, even though they saw slavery as a wrong, they participated nonetheless.

Even the abolitionists – those who wanted slavery driven from the face of the Earth – were appalled at any suggestion that once free, blacks would be given the right to vote. To them, that was absurd.

Looking back at both the slave owner and the prejudiced abolitionist, despite their good intentions, they appear to our modern eyes as mere hypocrites.

If it is true that one day generations will look back at our current practices concerning animals with disgust, what will they think of us? I care about animals, but if I contribute to the 3 billion animals killed for food in the U.S. each year, how much do my intentions actually matter?

Now, if one doesn’t think that vegetarianism, or something like it, will one day be the norm, then there is little to worry about. But, it is also true that the “good” slave owner and the prejudiced abolitionist thought there would never be a time when blacks had the right to vote.  They made their bet, and they lost.

If we truly do care about the suffering of animals, perhaps we need to take our speciesism as seriously as we take sexism and racism.

It seems that the safest bet – as with all the other movements towards equality – is to get on what will likely be the right side of history. That, or risk the eternal label of hypocrite.