The Right Not to Remain Silent

On the 6th of November, 67 activists stood in court. A few months ago, they occupied a farm to draw attention to the situation behind the closed doors of the animal agriculture industry. While the activists indeed disobeyed the law, none of them did so out of self-interest. They were there to show an even greater injustice happening in current society: the systematic and cruel exploitation of innocent sentient beings. 

Many activists were arrested that day. They were told they have the right to remain silent. But they already had made their choice. To speak for those who are not heard. 

On the day of the occupation, the activists’ shirts quoted Martin Luther King: 

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

The activists have lived up to the phrase. They have shown moral responsibility by fighting for a right cause that is backed up by science and reason. And they were punished under the unjust laws they disobeyed. 

Like the activists, I wholeheartedly agree with the quote, and with me many others. But for some, this quote may come across as anarchistic. Laws are there to protect us, right? Well, yes. But if ‘us’ unjustly excludes, and thereby harms, other feeling beings, then in my opinion, we should do something to change these laws to include them. In Martin Luther King’s days, his quote referred to the unjust laws that discriminated between people of different ethnicities. Today, it refer to the unjust laws that discriminate between animals of different species

Animal justice

Let us start with reason. There is no denial that we humans have outstanding cognitive abilities, with which we are able to shape the lives of other animals. But that doesn’t mean or justify that we can use them to our own benefit.  

In our human society, we see those who are more vulnerable – children, elderly, disabled – as deserving of empathy, protection, and fair treatment. But for those who do not belong to the human species, our moral rules do not apply. Instead of looking after them, we exploit these equally sentient and vulnerable beings in the most inhumane ways. We treat them as possessions, products and machines. Because we see them as others and its. 

To me this makes no sense. The fact that they belong to another species – a category we humans constructed – is not a legitimate reason to deny them moral rights and -treatment. That’s speciesism, which is morally and logically as wrong as other forms of discrimination, like racism and sexism. Science and common sense shows us that animals can suffer and flourish [1]. Because we have the power to decide their fate, we are morally responsible to consider their interests. 

We should treat the ones who are dependent on us like we treat our children. The ones who live aside us like our neighbours. And the wild ones like our fellow Earthlings. [2]

The moral need for animal rights

There is a very true saying that with great power comes great responsibility. But I would like to add that with greater power comes greater responsibility. The widening of the moral circle is not only a duty of individual people, but also – and in my opinion even more so – of governments, political systems and the law. 

What we need is animals to have legal rights. [3][4]

They should have the right not to be killed. 
They should have the right to be free from exploitation and abuse. 
They should have the right not to be treated for a means to an end. 
They should have the right to a protected home or habitat. 
And they should have the right to be defended in court and protected by law. 

Somewhere in time, and rather sooner than later, this needs to be written down in the Big Book of Justice. Because if that was the case yesterday, the trial would have had a tremendously different ending. 

A final note on activism

While great organizations have the greatest responsibility in realizing animal rights, nothing will happen if individuals stay silent. We have to take action, together. If we join forces to increase awareness, knowledge and compassion through education, activism, art, outreach and lobby, we could create an ethical butterfly effect with revolutionary outcomes.

The activists have lived up to Martin Luther King’s phrase. They have shown moral responsibility by fighting for a right cause. And they were punished under the unjust laws they disobeyed. 

I think we have the right not to remain silent. To speak for those who are not heard. With reason, science and compassion on our side, we can change the world through peaceful activism. For the animals. Until all cages are empty, all nets are ashore, and all chains are unlocked.


[1] Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness
[2] Donaldson, S., & Kymlicka, W. (2011). Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights. Oxford University Press.
[3] Janneke Vink (2019): The Open Society and its Animals. PhD thesis. 
[4] Rose’s Law: Animal Bill of Rights

By Brenda

Ik ben Brenda, wetenschapper en illustrator met een passie voor dieren. Ik onderzoek hoe andere dieren de wereld ervaren, en hoe wij mensen hen zien en beoordelen.

Met mijn visuele kunst en schrijfsels (zoals deze blog!) hoop ik een sentientistische revolutie teweeg te brengen. Daarmee bedoel ik een wereld te bereiken waarin we dieren als gelijkwaardige personen beschouwen, en dat we hun belangen even serieus meewegen in onze besluitvorming als die van de mens.

Ik hou van apen, onderweg zijn 
en alles met pompoen.

7 November 2019


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