Recently, I sat down over a delicious vegan Ethiopian lunch with Scott Harris, a local animal rights activist, and owner of Everybody Reads, a downtown bookstore at 2019 E. Michigan Avenue in Lansing, nestled in with The Avenue Café.
Scott wears many hats, as he also has a day job selling insurance. But today we sat down to talk about his main passion, doing his part to eliminate the miserable conditions we have made for our non-human brethren on this planet. Scott runs the Michigan Animal Rights Network, a go-to source for information about animal-rights related events in Michigan.
Over the course of his experiences, Scott has developed a philosophy about animal rights, and indeed all ethical advances: “Social movements have always tried to show the similarities between groups and ignore superficial differences.” He claims that in the last 200 years we have made great progress with racial and gender equality, and even children’s welfare. But “animals are the last social group we need to recognize.”
But what does it mean to recognize the similarities animals share with us, and by extension, recognize their rights?
Most pet owners are quite sensitive to the needs of their dogs or cats, but fail (or simply refuse) to understand that cows, pigs, sheep and others undergo horrific mistreatment just so they can eat the kind of food they enjoy or wear a particular type of clothing. They are willfully unaware that mice, cats, dogs and so many others, including some of our closest primate relatives such as chimpanzees, are painfully vivisected in laboratories for experiments that are all but unnecessary today given the development of more effective and far more instructive simulators.
Many of us have heard the rhetorical question about animals: “Why do we call some of them pets and some of them dinner?” There’s an interesting story about the great 20th century poet T.S. Eliot. He was, unfortunately, a notorious anti-Semite. Nonetheless, he wrote gushing fan letters to Groucho Marx about how much he enjoyed Groucho's brand of comedy. When questioned about this inconsistency in his sentiments, Eliot said something to the effect of, “Well, Groucho’s one of the good ones.”
Scott says “For too many people, different always means inferior. And in the case of animals, people believe that different means we can do what we like to them.”
In part 2 of this article we will explore the two primary reasons that Scott identifies for why we mistreat animals.