All too often, animal rights advocates use the talking points dictated by the opponents of animal rights as their foundation, and not ones of their own choosing.
Letting the opposition lead the discussion is a defensive posture and it can lead to a less than persuasive resolution.
An example of this is the desire to find an ethical system for interacting with nonhuman life that is perfect. So entrenched has this hypothetical speculation become that one will entertain scenarios in which people are stranded on lifeboats in the middle of the ocean or the Arctic Circle with various species (what one is doing in the middle of the ocean or the Arctic Circle is left for another debate). The usual outcome of this scenario is to offer a concession to the opposition—if in desperate circumstances one can and should exploit nonhumans for survival purposes (although some might add that if nonhumans are not present then exploiting other humans would also be justifiable).
No such musings exist when discussing human rights concerns.
If the issue is racism, one is not expected to offer a concession that it is acceptable to exploit members of other races if in a desperate situation. It is not even a consideration.
Perfection is not expected when one is talking about curbing homicide. We do not accept that the system be abandoned in favor of anarchy and individual morality when wars, criminal behavior, or accidental deaths happen routinely. And yet the killing a single insect or microbe is enough to upend the entire philosophy behind rights for nonhumans, apparently justifying factory farms, vivisection labs and any other exploitation facility that requires an infinitely more determined effort to maintain than squashing insects by an accidental gesture.
Another example is in discussions of vivisection that center on whether nonhuman research is necessary. This framing of the issue is dictated by the pro-vivisection side. They say research is necessary, and the opponents respond that it is not. The debate then focuses on research data and scientific trivia instead of the basic moral issue: the torture and death of innocent lives for selfish gain that is disguised as altruism. There are many exploitation acts that humans do to victimize nonhumans that have no claim of necessity behind them, from dog sledding to zoos. Why do we assume it would be any different for animal research? Vivisection is a choice, not a necessity. The moon does not fall into the earth and the rain does not become acid because scientists have not gouged out the eyes of a rat or injected a dog with drugs.
The classic example of letting the opposition lead is with the “your child or your dog?” demand. This false dilemma tries to pin the activist into a position where they can be criticized for not choosing in accordance with their belief in rights for nonhumans, or showing disregard for a loved one/human. It is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This can also be presented as a choice between saving a dog/cat/rat or a human in a burning barn or river.
For vivisection we can ignore the most obvious problem with “your child or your dog?” which is that no scientist is able to perform magic and torture a nonhuman animal to death and find a cure for what ails you. Although it demonstrates how closely vivisectionists resemble witch doctors, soothsayers, and practitioners of animal sacrifice who did claim that an act of violence would somehow have magical value. Vivisectors will not protest being compared to magicians and miracle workers especially when waiting to receive taxpayer money.
The important thing for an activist to do when faced with this demand is to turn the tables.
Ask what the opponent of animal rights would do if faced with the choice of saving their child—or their neighbor’s child. For vivisection human research data is far more valuable than that from any nonhuman animal. If one refuses to use a stranger’s child to save your own, does that mean you do not love your child as much as a stranger’s? If you say you would, then should not that mean you believe it is acceptable to use strangers for medical research if one can derive benefits regardless of morality or laws?
What would they do if a burning barn contained members of their family, community, race, religion, gender, language and those who were foreign? If they choose those they feel a closer kinship with, does that mean the loser deserves to be put in a concentration camp or laboratory?
The answers one comes up to these questions are applicable to the situations involving a choice between human and nonhuman.
Animal rights is easy to explain–but animal welfare thinking confuses the issues.
Humans tend to think they are better than others, and use this belief to discriminate, exploit, and abuse, based on race, species, gender, religion, you name it. Whatever criteria or excuse is brought forward to justify this discrimination is subjective bias. Nature and/or invisible deities do not recognize this alleged objective superiority. Gravity, weather, and human on human predation debunks this notion taken as a fact. If humans were superior it would be recognizable in natural phenomenon. It is not. Thus any moral view that tries to exclude a party from ethical consideration invites others to exclude a party based on whatever subjective bias they hold dear. You cannot have human rights without nonhuman rights.
Only humans must follow these codes because they are the ones who need them. You can not punish nonhumans for being unable to follow human laws when you know they cannot—it is as absurd as saying blind people must be able to read road safety signs and short people must be able to jump 8 feet in the air. It is subjective bias. And just because you cannot stop every act of exploitation does not mean you do not try. We cannot stop every accidental human death or homicide yet we still have laws. If the failure to eliminate homicide and child abuse does not justify concentration camps then the accidental killing of an insect does not justify factory farms or vivisection labs. These facilities are not accidental and unavoidable-they require great effort to construct and maintain.
Animal rights advocates are inclined to let the opposition dictate the terms of the debate and that is a mistake. The very first premise you need to debunk is the claim of human supremacy. It is the foundation of the discrimination/exploitation. Nature may be neutral but observation and common sense weigh heavily on the side of justice.