Before my six-year-long encounter with the wild parrots, if someone had asked me “Do animals have rights?” I would have immediately responded: “Of course they do.” I wouldn’t have been able to argue the point, though. The best I could have come up with is that it’s one of those things that just seems obvious. And it is. But I’ve been through the issue many, many times now and am happy to argue it ’till the cows come home.
A lot of people give you funny looks when you suggest that animals have rights. “Come on,” they say. “Animals can’t vote,” which is a horribly shallow view of what rights are. It assumes that rights are arbitrary, that they’re something you seize, are conferred upon you by a government, or are decided through debate and a piece of paper. But rights are inherent. It is not the government’s function to assign us rights, but to protect our rights. Everything that lives has the right to fulfill itself, to live the life that is natural to it. Who can deny that? It’s only the egotism of human beings that says otherwise. At this time in history, we human beings have become extraordinarily greedy—obsessed with money and power: ego. Our egoistic drives destroy our interest in the fundamental questions. Anything that stands in our way “loses its rights,” which is absurd. It won’t be easy to create a world where all the animals can exist side by side with us and thrive. But we’re supposed to be the smart ones. If we really applied ourselves to the issue, we could manage it. I will never accept a way of life that compromises on this. Even those of us who know it often forget that animals fear death, injury, and loneliness. If you ever get the chance to actually see that, it changes you. The big problem is that so many of us are so alienated from the natural world that we don’t have any idea.