This node has been moved by the author from Animal Liberation Front because it deals more with the concept of animal rights than the aforementioned militant organization.
The extremist organization ALF derived its name from philosopher Peter Singer's masterpiece on animal rights, Animal Liberation. His basic premise is this: suffering is bad. If suffering can be avoided, it should be. As human beings, we do have the capacity to avoid suffering, and if we don't, we cannot claim to be "good."
The purpose of this writeup is not to justify doing violence against humans for the purpose of supporting animals, but to shed some light on why some people think animals deserve humane, fair treatment. The right to drive a car has a responsibility -- you must avoid hurting others or suffer the penalties. The right for any animal to simply exist without unnecessary pain shouldn't have responsibilities or obligations. If it does, then please allow me to brutalize helpless infants, abuse the mentally retarded or ill, and rob the elderly blind.
I haven't read too much of Singer's work, but I'm guessing in some ways he is a hedonist. I did happen to see him do an interview on Public Television, in which he expressed the idea that raising animals for food, under current cruel conditions (see www.factoryfarming.com) is really another form of tyranny. The Hedonistic Imperative is basically to eliminate all unnecessary pain through technology and tolerance. Pleasure is generally good; pain is bad. I can agree with this. There are of course some exceptions, but when analysed further, they aren't really exceptions. For example, some people suffer pain whenever they go to the dentist, no matter how simple the procedure. Once they move out of the house and are no longer forced by their parents to take care of themselves, they may foolishly choose to avoid the dentist at all costs, in order to avoid pain.
Unfortunately, the end result is often more pain. I hate dentists, and avoid them as much as possible. I also have weird tooth pain often, especially when eating really sugary, chewy foods. I think "Hmm, maybe it's a cavity...oh well!" I know I have to go eventually, but it'll be awhile until I muster up the courage and effort to do so. There are various painful consequences when one avoids the dentist to avoid immediate pain. One can develop disgusting plaque deposits below the gumline that must be sliced out with the functional equivalent of a jackhammer with an exactotm knife on the tip. One can develop such bad tooth decay that the roots must be ripped out, filled with a hard polymer, and capped off with a fake, expensive crown.
Peter Singer is, I believe, an atheist, or at the very least, a doubtful agnostic. His philosophical position on god is this -- there is too much suffering on Earth to justify the existence of some all-powerful, all-good mighty deity. It's the problem of evil -- why does god allow evil to exist? In the case of the Christian god, why did he create evil in the first place (see Isaiah 45:7)?
Singer believes that mother nature is indifferent/ambivalent, and can thus be seen as vicious and cruel, depending on the observer. Nature can be beautiful, creative, and destructive, all at once. Nature is; it doesn't make excuses for itself. It has nobody to answer to. The fact that bad shit happens, to him (and I) justifies the notion that there simply can't be a "good" moral arbiter.
What does this mean? Well, as humans, we acknowledge that suffering usually is bad. Pain has a purpose, but should be avoided by preventing what causes pain in the first place. If one is without physical pain, one is usually in good health. We know, of course, that a lion in the Savannah isn't concerned with the level of pain endured by its prey. It isn't a humanitarian. It's trying to survive, yet even then it kills with a swiftness (they generally go right for the jugular) that is probably about as painless as being ripped apart by a lion can be. Vicious hunting animals usually kill their prey pretty quickly, primarily to save energy by avoiding a long struggle.
But we are human beings. We have the capacity to reason. Despite the American propaganda, we don't need milk or meat to survive, and some argue that their net effect is actually a lowered life expectancy (see America, home of the materialistic suicidal maniac diet). We were not "designed" to eat meat. We evolved in a situation that occasionally provided meat, and have the capacity to digest it, but our entire digestive system is more biologically accustomed to pulverizing raw vegetable matter than anything else. We can make the choice not to eat animals. We can make the choice to end needless suffering; to spare animals from feeling unnecessary pain.
In other words, we are the moral arbiters. We have inherited the Earth, not from a benevolent god, but from our evolutionary heritage. The Earth is "ours" because we have mastered the art of living just about anywhere. In some ways we consider ourselves superior to everything else. In some ways, we are stupid, arrogant, ignorant fools. Every single human being could be annihilated right now, and the ecosystem wouldn't suffer in the slightest, with the exception of the artificially alive animals that we breed and feed ourselves. In fact, it would probably rebound for the better.
What us arrogant, foolish humans fail to realize is that we need the Earth and its life far more than it needs us. The idea of a "circle of life" is not just touchy-feely jibberish. The ecosystem goes through a constant cycle of life and death, and in order to remain stable, all of its life forms must be preserved. We think we are at the top of the food chain, even as we are parasitized by viruses and bacteria on a regular basis. We overpopulate the world with ourselves and our "domesticated" animals. People wonder why all of the sudden, Mad Cow and Foot and Mouth disease are such a big deal. These diseases ALWAYS existed. Mad Cow disease spontaneously occurs in cattle...but it only SPREADS when some idiotic human decides to force cows to eat their fallen brethren. Foot and Mouth disease spreads very easily, especially when cattle populations are sky-high compared to what they would be in a "natural" setting, in a setting where they weren't being cultivated by stupid, selfish humans.
And guess what? Human population is abnormally high as well. In the early 20th century, over 25 million people were wiped out by a bad iteration of the flu. Imagine how heavy the impact would be today, when we are all meshed together in this ever-growing network of biological mass. In 1997, every single chicken in Hong Kong had to be destroyed, because of a strain of Avian flu that had a tendency to kill human beings...with a 33% fatality rate. Huge populations are unnatural, and so infections thrive. I don't quite believe in the Gaia Hypothesis, but I do believe that infectious organisms serve as a population control mechanism by virtue of their routes of infection and reproduction. It's almost as if they were designed to keep us in check...
Humans are stupid in that they think they can change the environment for the better. Rather than lay back and let nature do its thing, we try to manipulate the entire planet as much as possible. We fail to realize that with change comes mass extinction. When you change the rules of natural selection, you essentially wipe out everything that doesn't "fit in" perfectly with your plan. This could include you.
There's my perspective. Animals feel pain, and they express it. They can reason, and I think it's ridiculous to say that because they cannot easily communicate with us, they must not be able to think to themselves, in their own little minds. I'm not going to say that we should stop doing research on animals for medical purposes, although further prolonging the lives of humans isn't really a great idea for our environment either... I'm not going to say we should stop using animals for cancer research, but I do think that vivisecting dogs and cats (for educational purposes) is totally unnecessary in this day and age. It's been done a billion times, it's been taped on video a million times, and there are a thousand computer programs that will simulate the process just as well. Real doctors work with human cadavers eventually, anyway. I do agree that Fox Hunting is incredibly stupid and cowardly. Whoop-de-frickin' doo, let's ride horses and let trained hounds tear apart foxes. Aren't we the big sportsmen! Most hunting is never a sport, no matter how tired the hunter gets from oafishly chasing his prey. The risky hunting usually involves endangered animals like Rhinos or Elephants. In a real sport, there are two sides, equally equipped to compete with eachother. Also, animal testing for non-health products is appalling, in my opinion. I try to buy hair care products that haven't been tested on animals, and strangely enough, I never explode into hives or convulsions.