Leiden Law Blog

Cast a vote, change this world

Cast a vote, change this world

Are you able to cast a vote on one of the candidates for the European Parliament next week? Congratulations, you are probably among the most wealthiest and happiest people in the world. You are most likely born in Europe and the European treaties grant you the right to life, liberty, security, and even to put a satellite dish on your balcony. How to decide which party to vote for if your most primitive needs, and many more, are already taken care of?

If your biggest frustration on a random day exists in train delays or losing your Wi-Fi signal, this blog is exactly meant for you. Most likely you’re not really looking for a party that makes a case for a human right on uninterrupted Wi-Fi signal. But what other things are left to worry about for European citizens? If we are really being honest, most essential things have already been taken care of by our national governments or the European institutions. Of course, there are still a lot of non-life-threatening frustrations extant, but those are the result of the poor execution or implementation of rights by governments, surely not a result of a shortage of human rights.

The contingency of our luxury position

Let’s take a quick look at our convenient position. European citizens’ basic interests are protected by domestic and European law. How did we end up in this comfortable position? And, most importantly, do we really have a right to be in this position in the most essential sense of the word? Do we owe the comfortable protection of our human rights more than, say, women who were born in Saudi Arabia or gays who were born in Uganda? If it is just sheer coincidence that we, European citizens, were born as free people, and the aforementioned women and gay people as an oppressed minority, what does this tell us about how to establish a just society?

In principle, the inborn circumstances of our life are not indebted to us, or at least no more than to anyone else. Healthy people could just as well have been born as disabled people. Disabled people did not do anything to deserve their inconvenient position, neither did healthy born people do anything to deserve their ability to move without problems. So the form in which we were born does not have anything to do with achievement, nor justice. This radical principle of equality, John Rawls said, ultimately demands that we organize our society in such a way that people are not judged on circumstances they cannot help. Every person deserves the same opportunities when it comes to pursuing our most essential needs. Random, inborn qualities should not make a difference in this regard. Short, long, white, black, disabled, healthy, smart or mentally disabled people; they should all be equally protected by law. The European treaties carry out this principle of equality by equally granting all these people the right to life, liberty, security and much more.

Severe discrimination within present-day Europe

Thus far, the European arrangements today are doing a good job in respecting the principle of equality and protecting people from being unjustly oppressed by others. But it is actually quite disturbing that there is still one group stubbornly discriminated because of a feature that this group cannot help. The members of it are randomly born different from the persons who are protected by the European treaties. They do not deserve this inborn characteristic, it is just a brute fact of nature that they were born this way. They are not granted a right to liberty, security, or even life. And even though they are a majority, they are gravely discriminated and oppressed by the group that had been born with more genetic luck. European citizens are currently taking advantage of the coincidental unfortunate birth position of non-human animals. Most Europeans think it is justified to lock down, exploit, kill and eat animals, simply because non-human animals are born without Holy Human Reason. As if lacking an inborn quality, like having Human Reason, can be a justification for killing someone.

Theoretical problem frustrates society in becoming just

This discriminatory situation is what makes our current society essentially unjust. No one should suffer more than strictly necessary from a characteristic they cannot help. And no society should take advantage of a group that is randomly determined by nature to be different from the group in power. This is why we champion liberal democracy amongst humans, so that all citizens with interests have a right to co-decide what happens in society and so that subordinated groups can be protected by law. This is exactly where a very interesting theoretical problem arises. The oppressed in the current European society – non-human animals – are not able to cast a vote on a politician. This is completely understandable and appropriate, because of the limited mental abilities of animals. Just like human children, they are not able to make considered political decisions. But, unlike children, non-human animals are not protected by law against grave oppression and exploitation by the human adults in power. They are not granted a right to security, liberty, or even life. Without political power nor protection by law, non-human animals are completely helpless. Cows and hens will not penetrate the parliament in order to immediately demand justice. Consequently, humans only can change the current situation of non-human animals. So be grateful with the miraculous right you do have to co-determine what should happen in this world, and use it wisely.

2 Comments

Janneke Vink
Posted on April 17, 2015 at 16:48 by Janneke Vink

Dear Foppe,

Thank you for commenting on this blog post.

Firstly: I used the part of Rawls where I think he’s right. Of course I could have also mentioned Mark Rowlands’ and Floris van den Berg’s account of Rawls’ theory of justice, but I think it’s clear enough I included non-human animals in this blog.

Secondly: I personally think the Dutch Party for the Animals certainly does not endorse animal abuse in agricultural business. In fact, they are doing a good job in trying to accomplish something for non-human animals, or at least as much as possible within the boundaries of the political game. If you think otherwise, the good news is that there is always a possibility to start your own abolitionist party.

Lastly: fortunately you don’t have to choose between voting for the Party for the Animals (or your own abolitionist party in the future) and your vegan advocacy, so there shouldn’t be a problem in that sense!

Foppe
Posted on April 17, 2015 at 11:05 by Foppe

I agree; but I also believe that Rawls specifically excludes (on specious, which is to say speciesist grounds) animals from consideration. Why not point this out, if you want to bring up Rawls at all?
Secondly, while I am certainly grateful that we can cast our (largely meaningless, for various reasons) votes in the elections for the EP, I am having trouble understanding how this relates to ending the property status of animals. If memory serves, the PvdD does not say anything about ending animal agriculture (where the overwhelming majority of the ab/use occurs) in its statement of principles; and they also do not talk about abolitionism generally. All they talk about is about ending—marginal—“cruel practices”, most of which occur elsewhere (e.g. bull fighting, taiji, seal hunt, raising bears for spleen fluid), even though said practices are no more justifiable than using animals for the production of food and clothing. And they talk about meaningless improvements in the plight of said animals, which has the unfortunate consequence of distracting people from the fact that, given that the entire practice of killing animals for the purpose of food is unnecessary, they’re still being raised only in order to be killed, and that all of the suffering they experience is easily avoidable. (More briefly put, it gives them the idea that when animals suffer slightly less than ‘normal’, the practice is justifiable. This idea is of course nonsensical, but it is also the view that the pvdd implicitly endorses.)
So while I certainly vote, I think vegan advocacy does much more for animals than voting does; at the very least until there is a grassroots movement that forces parties like the pvdd to embrace abolitionism.

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