The Decline of Animal Rights

of us and them
as we meat and greet
our animal companions,
turning moral somersaults
to square the circle
of our consumption.
Double standards
seen through
childish eyes.
for what they are,
for what we are,
and for what they
might become.

Hens in a battery farm (Image Credit: Maqi via Wikimedia Commons).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that children differ dramatically from adults in their moral views on animals.

Speciesism is defined as the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals. Speciesism is so commonplace that most people don’t think to question it except in cases where the type or degree of discrimination is unusual in their culture. As such, many humans exploit nonhuman animals in the course of everyday life in a variety of ways. Across many societies, nonhuman animals are consumed as food, used for clothing, killed for entertainment, and exploited for work. But where do these attitudes come from, and how might they be challenged?

In this new study, researchers surveyed 479 people, all living in England, from across three different age groups: 9-11, 18-21 and 29-59. The two adult groups were found to have relatively similar views with relation to animal rights, thereby suggesting that attitudes to animals typically change between the ages of 11 and 18, i.e. that speciesism is likely learned during adolescence. As well as showing less speciesism, this study also found that children are less likely to categorize farm animals as food than pets, think farm animals ought to be treated better, and consider eating meat and animal products to be less morally acceptable than their adult counterparts. These findings imply that there are key age-related differences in our moral view of animal worth, pointing to socially constructed development. The study also highlights the need for more open dialogue at a younger age to help explore (and learn from) the moral intelligence of children with regards to our treatment of nonhuman animals.


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