MS: "What would it take for you to
switches sides, to go back to where you were before your
belief of animals having rights?"
of what would have to happen, is that I would have to be
presented with an argument that justifies the human
domination over animals,
the human systematic institutional exploitation of animals. Over the years
there have been quite a few philosophers and others who
have stepped forward to present
such an argument; I've never found them remotely convincing. I've always found
them to be amongst the worst examples of philosophical argument that I've ever
MS: "You clearly have a strong intellectual
foundation for your belief structure, have you integrated
this into other aspects of your being?
TR: "Sure, of course... I'm a strong
advocate of children's rights, the rights of the Indian people...
and of just basic human
rights for human beings throughout the world."
MS: "...but you also have a big heart..."
TR: "...that's the other thing...
I'm highly skeptical, highly doubtful, that anyone could present anything
like a compelling convincing argument for the human domination of our animals.
I just can't imagine what that argument would be and how would be possible
on the basis of what I've seen in the past. So it's like an induction: on the
of past failures, I'm going to assume that all the other arguments are failures,
That would be one thing, but if somebody could present me with an argument that
was rationally compelling, I'd really have to think about things... but I don't
they're going to do it. I think the record shows that it's a record of failure.
On the other hand, too, you'd have to say, too, it have to be a tough presentation
that took my heart out of the picture, some presentation that said those feelings
of apathy, sympathy, and compassion, mercy... those feelings and desire to
want to protect and care for animals against abuse... something that would
me to suck all those feelings out of me, and I just can't imagine how that
could possibly happen. They'd have to convince me that all these feelings are
that they don't belong there. I can't imagine that."
MS: "Some of the reviews of "Empty Cages" are
just amazing. The 2003 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature,
writing that "Tom
Regan delivers a searing indictment of the way we treat animals in the world," Jane
Goodall exclaiming that "everybody needs a copy on their bookshelf," you've
got Jim Motavili, editor, E: The
Environmental Magazine, saying "you'll
think twice about eating meat and watching a circus," and so forth.
The reviews often comment about the simplicity of your writing, which is
not to say
the content is simple. The overall structure I found to be quite solid in
presenting all the primary issues on both sides of the debate, but you unusually
out with a "prologue" about
a cat being picked out in a restaurant to be eaten. This becomes the
basis for subsequent "thought experiments" or "scenarios." It
struck me that you have a predilection, similar to Gandhi and Einstein, towards "thought
experiments." Is this what's helps guide you through your understandings
TR: "When I started the book, I had a friend who read some of the
earlier drafts. The way it originally started was with the first chapter, "animal
rights is a contentious idea, some people believe animals....etc." He said, "Tom,
you need to start with something more dramatic, something that gets the reader's
attention." And I understood him, the way it started was pretty dull.
So I thought about it... this cat episode and video had been in my mind for
years. Actually I'd written some longhand stuff about it years ago. It was
in my brain,
so to speak, and this is what percolated up. Then, once I wrote it, I was
really upset about this.. I pushed back in my seat... "what are you doing??""
MS: "Oh, it's a jaw-dropper to be sure.... I was shocked
when I first read it..."
TR: "... I wrote the Prologue
after the book was pretty far along. I already had quite a lot done, and
I knew where I was going
with the book. That's why, when I wrote the Prologue, I was able to say, "Oh...well,
this is really horrible, but as bad as it is, it might not be as bad as what
we're doing to animals in America." That's where I started thinking about,
well, here's this variation, here's this variation.... and where I was going
Prologue, is that as bad as that cat was treated, she may have been one of
the lucky ones compared to what's being done in America.
And the other thing about it is, that people might say, "oh, well, you're
really being tough on the Koreans, tough on the Chinese," but the point I
try to make very clearly (and the book is coming out in a Chinese translation),
that at least these people are honest. They don't have all this fabrication
Welfare Act" and inspectors going around, and this sort of thing. I
mean, this is the way it is in rural China. It's just the way it is."
MS: "You talk about four variations
to the story, what if the cat had a
bigger cage?, or what if it was anethesized? (two of the early variations) and
at the very end of the book, a fifth variation. I realized later
in the book that the "Animal
Welfare Act" applies to cats and
dogs, but not to the other animals that we consume, and it raises so many
issues as to why there
are different standards for one mammal versus another. I think later in
the book you talk about "is there any fundamental difference between
a cow and a cat?""
TR: "Sure... you've got 9 billion animals not covered
by the "Animal Welfare Act" that are killed every year for food,
you've got well over 100 million animals that are used in laboratories, that
covered by the Act. It's a charade. The legislation is industry-produced, obviously.
Why is it like this? It's not because of any biological difference between
this animal or that animal. It because of the special interest lobbies. The
industry, the research industry..."
AS A TRUMP CARD:
MS: "Your writing is just great...
after the cat story and variations, you say up front, "what
are the common misconceptions about animal rights advocates?"
(which we talked about in Part
1 of this interview), and
you discuss "what
are human rights, and what do they entail?" It's been awhile since
I thought about the Tuskegee
Experiment. You used a great example,
it was a horrendous
experiment, and you cleverly used this to frame the issue of individual
rights being a "trump card.""
TR: "I think that's actually
the most important feature that has to be brought out when we're talking
human rights or animal rights.
protection that rights affords individuals really are very strong. It basically
means the promotion of the good of others, of social welfare, of the public
good, is never to go forward at the expense of violating the rights of
individuals. That why are rights are so important.
As you're aware, I'm sure, there are philosophers that don't think humans
have moral rights, I understand that, and I've addressed that in considerable
in "The Case for Animal Rights." But, what's clear to me, is
that within representative democracies in the world, there is the belief
those democracies that individuals have rights that provide them these
kinds of protections.
So therefore, it was wrong to do what was done to the sharecroppers in
the Tuskegee Experiment, it was wrong to do what was done to the children
Research Study. I mean, if you look at the history of research and human
vivisection, the individuals who end up being the "guinea pigs" are
not from the wealthy and the powerful race, they're front the vulnerable:
the insane, the impaired, the elderly, military personnel, prisoners...
those that lack power that end up on the table of the vivisector. It's
just a spill-over from what they do with the animals."
MS: "...it's a clean connection, and then you
go on to list the reasons that people use to justify why humans have
rights, and then demonstrate
why each is not a valid reason. You then circle into the concept of
what makes sense is that we are "subjects-of-a-life" and
that forms the major foundation for your views on animal rights."
is... the crucial point is, that if we're going to claim rights for the
extended human family, then we have to find something about us
that that we all share, that makes us all the same, makes us all equal,
that's not arbitrary. It can't be that we are moral agents and can act
because tons of human beings that can't do that. It can't be that we're
members of the same species, although that's true, that's not a relevant
MS: "I loved that one, because you brought
up the fact that women didn't have rights for a long time, and blacks
so being members
of the same species isn't the issue."
TR: "So, you look around, and look around... and I try to make it
clear in the book, for me, that when the day dawned that I thought, "Omigod,
this is it!" it was like something is being revealed to me. I wasn't
like something I'd deduced. It wasn't like the conclusion of an elaborate
it was like an awakening. We're all in the world, aware of the world, aware
happens, and what happens matters to us."
MS: "It's also a concept that's not necessarily
religious, or physical, or something easy to assail in any way I'm
hope that's the case. It provides a basic thinking about why we are
equal, whether we are animals or people. We not only have a biology,
we have a biography. I was writing some stuff today, in a sense,
what it is to
be an animal rights advocate, is to be the "storyteller." I'm
here to be the storyteller to those who can't tell the story themselves,
and I don't
mean storyteller in some sort of less than important way ---- these
are true stories, what has happened to animal's lives are just tragedies.
tell their own story, our role is tell their story and to do it in
a way that people hear it. There's no point in telling it in a way
it'd be like speaking in a foreign language. This is why I say to
activists over and over again, that people can't hear you when you're
them. You have
to love people into the movement, rather than hate people into the
MS: "So, you establish
the wonderful concept of "subjects-of-a
life." and then having established a justification for human
rights, you then approach the same issue with animals. It's stunning
in demonstrating, quite clearly, that animals, too, are "subjects-of-a-life."
was another realization, that the tunnel I was looking to crawl through,
so to speak, was this notion of being "subjects-of-a-life." Not
simply just what happens in a life, but that there's someone who's
a subject of that life. That's what crucial from a rights perspective,
because the rights
are the rights of the individual who is the subject of the life,
not the rights of the individual or what happens to that individual....
it's the "somebody" who
is the main character in a drama, as it were."
MS: "I was very intrigued how you used the idea of humans with limited
intellectual capabilities, say children or those with mental disorders, to essentially
ask the question: "if a child doesn't know it has rights, does
it have rights?"
TR: "Sure, and nobody's going to say: "No! Of
so we can grind them up and make mincemeat of them."
MS: "It was a very clever approach, and I'm
new to some of these concepts, so I don't know if anyone else has
used this tactic. It reminded me
of how some scientists say, in recent studies, that dogs and pigs
have the intelligence of a 3 to 5 year old human child. Several times
you slip this concept back in,
say, if a person is "mentally challenged" or is a child,
do they have lesser rights?"
think that is very important for us to understand when we're presenting
our case for animal rights to people, but also when we're thinking
about what we're committed to, and we're committed to as animal rights
advocates is really a strong commitment to children, a very strong commitment
mentally impaired, a strong commitment to vulnerable humans who lack power
reason. They don't have position, or they're in the wrong race, the wrong
gender, the wrong class... whatever... the point is, you cannot make sense
rights unless can you also and perhaps first make sense of human rights."
MS: "I enjoyed how you deal with the issue
of vegetable rights. I remember all too well some 25 years ago
in Dallas, Texas, when I went vegetarian,
I was constantly challenged, "well, what about plants, you
kill them all the time to eat." In your book, you point out
how "rhubarb rights" makes
no sense, if you look at their nervous system."
isn't anybody there, in a stalk of rhubarb, as far as we know.
Another point I'd like to make, is to say that you don't have know
in order to know something. So here's an area where we really don't
know, and we're really not sure. It's possible they sense everything;
admit all that, I'm willing to be open minded, and that in a 100
years we find out
that there's somebody in that rhubarb. But the point is, that we
shouldn't be paralyzed to act on the basis of what we do know because
there are things
don't know. There's always this question trying to not accept impossible
standards for enfranchising animals.
When people bring up this well, "what about plants" or "where
to draw the line," if the people who say "what about plants" if
they distinguish themselves as being special protectors of plants in the
world, if they went out, working day in and out, for the protection of
they'd have some kind of credibility to me. But these are people who spend
most of their time working on their Bridge game or interior decorating.
no interest in plants. The question is disingenuous, I think, 99.9% of
MS: "I take that question as more of a sarcastic
insult than anything else."
a symptom of not wanting to face the issue."
MS: "Is there a particular misconception
people have about animal having rights that is most common or stands
in your mind?"
it's what about plants..."
MS: "Comes up a lot then?"
TR: "It's one of the first things that people say. I have this image
of Tom Regan in Hell, a really bad place to be, and it's going to be a very hard
place to get any rest. What's going to happen, is that just as I'm dozing off
and actually getting some rest in Hell, there's going to be somebody next to
me who pokes me in the ribs and says, "hey, yeah, but what about plants?" It's
like the myth
of Sysiphus.... pushing the rock... that's what going to happen...
every time I doze off, somebody pokes me in the ribs, "hey, yeah,
but what about plants?"