Ayn Rand & Animal Rights

I tried unsuccessfully to get this article published last year, so am posting it here.

The article uses the term nanimals, which i coined to mean non-human animals or animals that are not human.

Ayn Rand was a champion of freedom and rights, opposed to the unwarranted use of force.

Yet despite her dedication to these ideals, she didn’t promote the freedom and rights of animals other than humans.

Even so, Ayn was fond of cats.

In fact, in 1966 she wrote a letter to Cat Fancy magazine saying, “I love cats in general and own two in particular.”

Still, according to an interview with Henry Mark Holzer, who acted as her lawyer in the 60s and 70s, as did his wife, Ayn ate flesh and wore fur.

Yet Henry came to see something more in animals.

He began legal work on their behalf in the 1970s, and the introduction to the interview maintains that, “Holzer is a vegan who taught at the Brooklyn Law School until his retirement in 1995. Much of his work on behalf of animals has been conducted on a legal level.”

A little later, Henry himself tells us that, “In the early 1980s, together with the International Society for Animal Rights I organized the first conference ever held of lawyers who were interested in the subject of animal rights.”

Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist and Ayn’s former associate and lover, said that she wrestled with the issue of animal mistreatment, but was unable to resolve it.

She once mentioned to Henry Holzer in passing that if he could find a theoretical basis for animal rights, “he would be doing the world a great service.

But this basis already exists in Ayn’s writing.

The standard of value

It begins as soon as she tells us, in The Objectivist Ethics, from The Virtue of Selfishness, that life is the “ultimate value.

An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.

Ayn explains further:

Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible… “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

(The quote within the quote comes from Ayn’s novel, Atlas Shrugged.)

Given, “It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil,” it follows that things can also be good or bad for other animals ie events can harm them or threaten their existence.

In “Man’s Rights”, an essay in the book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn states:

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

Ayn only applied the right to “man” here, even though what she implies about nanimals is telling: that the animal who produces—that is, it’s own flesh, milk, eggs, skin and so on—while humans consume these products, is a slave.

This is not only true in a descriptive sense, but legal sense as well: other nanimals, like slaves of the past, are property, owned by humans.

Ayn says that, “Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.” (Man’s Rights, The Virtue of Selfishness).

Yet the exact same is true nanimals: they have to sustain their lives by their own efforts, and those who have no rights to their own lives, let alone the products of their own efforts, have no means to sustain them.

Various statements Ayn makes in “Man’s Rights,” can be applied to nanimals as well as humans in a similar way.

For instance, Ayn says that, “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment.”

The same is true for nanimals. Rights, if applied the same way, are conditions of existence required by their nature as animals for their proper survival. If animals are to live on earth, it’s right for them to use their minds, to act on their own free judgement.

Barring serious conflicts of interest, nanimals should be allowed the basic conditions of life: their lives, property in their bodies, and freedom from the initial use of force.

Ayn addresses the use of force in Man’s Rights:

To violate man’s rights means to compel him to act against his own judgment, or to expropriate his values. Basically, there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force.

Yet this is exactly how humans deal with the animals they use: by physical force. How can it be right to use physical force against other animals, yet enjoin humans to not to use it against each other?

This contradiction between proscribing force against humans while allowing it against other animals, smacks not of the enlightened self-interest Ayn praises, but the self-interest of those who realise they can use force with impunity.

Further, Ayn maintained that contradiction is a conflict with reality, since something can’t be both true—violence is an attack on life—and false —violence is not an attack on life (where other animals are concerned)— at the same time.

One final example.

Ayn tells us that, “No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.””

Yet this is precisely the right that humans grant each other over animals: the right to enslave them.

Given these examples of how what Ayn says can apply to animals generally, rather just humans, what reasoning does she provide to restrict rights to “man”?

Society VX

My book, Society VX, explains that this seems to be because Ayn didn’t think other animals were “volitional” or possess the same level of intelligence.

Yet the book refers to a 2013 edition of the journal Experimental Brain Research, where authors state that other animals, including invertebrates, do possess volition: the ability to act by choice (rather than automatic response).

With regard to intelligence, the book describes how pigeons were trained to identify malignant breast cancer tumours on mammograms at a standard comparable to humans.

This is not to say nanimals have the same intelligence as humans, but that they do possess intelligence, and asserting the right to use force because of our ‘superior’ intelligence is asserting the right of the ‘more intelligent’ to subordinate the ‘less intelligent.’

Of the right for the most intelligent to assume the role of the Master Race.

My book also points out research that bees have conceptual ability.

Society VX presents Ayn’s view of social structure, along with related concepts, but differs on her view of other animals.

Even so, it uses her own concepts to argue that animal use is unjustified.

Animal food required?

Clearly, harming and killing animals is bad for them. But is it necessary for humans to sustain life?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest body of nutrition professionals in the world, no.

They say that vegan diets (which exclude all animal foods) “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

That a vegan diet can be healthy, is echoed by nutrition, health and advisory bodies in different part of the world—such as the Dietitians Association of Australia, the UK National Health Service, and Nordic Council of Ministers.

In fact, eating animal products can increase health risks.

Given it’s not necessary to eat them, then based on Ayn’s own arguments, there appear to be no reasons—other than habit and lack of will to change—to continue using them.

You can find out how to become vegan here.

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