The Rights of Living Beings

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.

16 Responses to “The Rights of Living Beings”

  1. Thoma Lile Says:

    I’ve been preaching the inherent value of living creatures all of my life–literally since I was about five years old! I am weary of feeling like I’m the only one who recognizes this. What a relief it was to see your post. Thank you for posting.

    • markbittner Says:

      I know how you feel. One of the reasons I started doing this blog is that I seldom see anybody expressing the views that I believe to be true. I think humanity has gone way off the tracks.

  2. Rob Says:

    Very well said, and I agree.

  3. Aurelle Says:

    Such an essential truth, so beautifully stated. I too believe we could create that harmonious place where no living being would ever need to fear us. Thank you so much for sharing (and continuing to share) that powerful vision!

  4. Tim Mueller Says:

    1) To be alive on this planet, by definition, should arouse a sense of wonder and awe each and every day about every living thing, every mountain, every pebble. 2) In Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, Roderick Usher discusses the “sentience” of the stones used to construct his home. Is that going too far? 3) Has Science and Technology removed our respect for the natural world? Is everything we encounter just one more butterfly to be pinned in a case? 4) We exalt our individual “rights” while denigrating our own humanity, human-ness, connectedness, whatever. How can we think clearly about the world around us when we demand respect from others but cannot respect ourselves? This is one screwed-up nation. And another theater becomes a “theater” for the on-going tragedy of our love affair with guns.

    • markbittner Says:

      I often feel that the loss of the sense of wonder is the first problem, that all the other problems follow from it. How did that go?…”If the salt should lose its savor…”?

  5. John Shepherd Says:

    I see this absence of empathy in people and it is disturbing. Your letter and the responses here are good reminders that we should not accept the status quo and that we can all make a difference. There are universal rights for all living creatures to exist and thrive. That there are those who push their own agendas which do not recognize this does not make it right. Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to say what many of us are thinking. It is a confirmation in humanity.

    • markbittner Says:

      My assumption is that we get one more chance to make things right. We have to make the most of it when it does finally arrive. If we don’t, if we’re lazy, or arrogant, or treat it like it’s a party (which is what happened a lot in the 60s), then we are doomed.

  6. Lynn Says:

    I have long thought that everything is life: we humans, all animals, rocks on the ground…everything. Like you, Mark, I rarely discuss my beliefs with others. I like to think that I have more in common with the Native American belief system than I do with modern Americans. All life is important and deserves to be allowed to exist unmolested. I keep this view to myself, as people will typically look at you as if you have 3 heads if you talk about it. You have a lot of company here, it’s just that we are afraid to go around talking about it. We who hold these kinds of beliefs generally fly under the radar and don’t make a big deal about them, and we tend to be people who don’t get very involved in politics and can be a bit introverted and not inclined to socialize that much. Perhaps we ought to find a way to band together. There might be more of us than we realize.

    • markbittner Says:

      What you’re saying here is absolutely true. One of the things I loved about going on a book tour was that I was allowed, even expected, to say what I thought. When you have that kind of a forum, it’s okay to say things that even your friends often don’t want to hear.

  7. Tai Says:

    “The big problem is that so many of us are so alienated from the natural world that we don’t have any idea.”

    That is so true. If only there was a way more people could understand this fundamental thing: that animals are more like us than they are different. Animals want some of the same things that humans want—they want to live and thrive; they want the chance to mate and to raise their young in safety and security; they want to live free from pain and fear and confinement. In these most basic of ways, all living beings are the same.

  8. William Gordon Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I enjoyed the movie very much and hope you continue to write even though it can be difficult, it is valuable and needed. Just the aesthetic joy and meaning and beauty of the natural world is part of us since we are part of it. To try to destroy or ignore it means our own demise. It took billions of years to create our being and the Earth and the Cosmos, and that cannot be erased without our own destruction. We have to find our way back to live with nature.
    Your writing addresses these issues and I hope your new book is published soon and the blog also continues.

    • markbittner Says:

      Somehow this comment got hung up in some kind of filter. I appreciate your kind words. I’m going to continue with the blog. The book slows me down some, though.

  9. Jared Burton Says:

    Mark, thanks for this gem. It slices through the thick fog of the debate, coming from your experience.

  10. Troy Lark Says:

    most of us here in Washington state (Spokane) do not tolerate animal abuse.. YOU WILL GO TO JAIL… or get your ass kick….birds, cats, dogs, horses, fish… they have God given rights to be here just like us

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