Mr. Kymlicka, you're political philosopher.Six books and numerous articles you wrote about the rights of minorities and migrants. And then you suddenly started talking about - animals?
My wife and I have long been involved in the animal rights movement. For over thirty years, we are vegan. But I always thought that all the arguments for the defense of the animal were raised long ago, in the seventies, by the Australian bioethicist Peter Singer and the American philosopher Tom Regan.Until we realized eight years ago, that some important questions are left open in the early literature.
"The focus of Singer and Regan is almost exclusively given to the evil that we do to animals, and why we need to stop that. But they never really go into the question of how we then indeed should relate to animals. The 'Day after' story. Suppose a day comes when we stop torturing animals and killing, then what? "
Will such a day come, do you think?
"We believe that you, in any case already need to think about. Not least because you immediately encounter some complex issues.The animal rights movement claimed Singer and Regan looks at the rights of all animals, a kind of universal human rights for animals.
"You can not hurt animals, do not kill them, do not enslave them. But in practice, there are huge differences between groups of animals. Take dogs and wolves. Which are closely related, yet our relationship with dogs totally different than with wolves. Wolves you would let live in the wild. But dogs would get civil rights. "
Civil rights, there you have it. It's just getting used to the mindset which Kymlicka and his regular co-author and wife Sue Donaldson five years ago unfolded in their book Zoopolis. The pair paints a wonderful utopia, which we consider animals in the wild as residents of another, but sovereign country, and we made the tame, domesticated animals to full citizen.In between are the "liminal animals," the borderline cases, such as migratory birds, squirrels or deer. But call it 'residents', find Kymlicka and Robertson, compare a little with tourists who are visiting our country.
It provided the spouses reactions in all keys. Ridicule, laughter, but also academic fame and cult status in the natural motion. Hostility, but also political significance for the Party for the Animals from the tiny Netherlands, where it has embraced Kymlicka's ideas.
Civil rights for domestic animals, you say?
'Yes Yes. We have taken these animals from the wild centuries ago, sometimes bred them for thousands of years for us and kept them next to us to live and work. Our society is their society. Their world is truly our world. We need to think about what that means.
"As a political philosopher, I think of membership rights. In human societies the question of which community you are a member decides what rights you have, and whether you have access to things like health care, public goods or the labor market. And in political philosophy is 'citizenship' category that allows you to indicate that this individual is a member of society. As domesticated animals, so. "
But to compare the dog, the cat and the goat with your neighbor?
'The concept has worked well in humans. So I propose: let's see if it works as well for animals.
Upon hearing citizenship, I think of rights, but also obligations. Those animals should soon pay taxes or something?
"On civic duties people do actually pay tax immediately or join the army at war. But I want to see them broader: what makes a good society possible? Before that citizens should learn to control their impulses, are social and not aggressive towards each other.
"I think that domesticated animals do all that. I'm sitting here overlooking a park: all people and dogs interact. There is evidence that pet neighborhoods safer, make people more comfortable. Animals will not pay taxes, but they contribute in a different way. I think they can be good citizens. "
Until they eat their fellow citizens. I think of the cats.
"The case of the cats is indeed difficult. One complication is that the predators. They want to hunt. And citizens have the responsibility not to kill each other in our story.So one challenge is there. we should limit freedom of cats to curb their impulses? There is much discussion in the animal rights movement about this. We have simply no perfect answer. "
And cattle? Run the farm animals freely in Zoopolis?
"The category of domesticated animals definitely includes cattle. So yes. Cattle, pigs, sheep: all citizens in our line of thought. "
But there are a lot.
"You have to realize: that's because we force these animals to reproduce rapidly. In our view, this is a violation of their rights. You can not force citizens to procreate. If we desist, we would after a transitional period of one year or twenty, thirty have much less. "
I try now to imagine a world with around cows, pigs, chickens and sheep in the street. Do not you think that many people would have problems with that?
Prerequisite for animal rights, according to Kymlicka is veganism. "If we were to change our diet radically, we should also be more open to face the idea that we can live with animals in other ways."Currently, an estimated one in 25 Dutch vegetarian.Of them live less than one in ten vegan (completely animal product free).
"An interesting question is indeed what to do with their mobility and access to public space.But I think you do, just like people, would see a mix of schemes. In some cases, you might get a situation where a neighborhood has a few cows, pigs, sheep and chickens around. In other cases it is a family with some animals in the backyard. Or think of schools, colleges, nursing homes or prisons: they can all have an animal guest.
"And why not? It always amazes me that people do accept that you can have mutually satisfying relationships with dogs and cats, but they make have the same trouble for pigs or cows. They are individuals. If you spend time with them, they have their charms and personalities. "
I also think of the Oostvaardersplassen. The country was turned upside down when footage came from emaciated heck cattle and drowning deer.
"The case of nature as the Oostvaardersplassen is complicated. The difficulty is that it is an attempt to rewilding until reintroduction of wild nature including animals for many generations have spent in our society. In our view, this livestock is turned off now. Exiled and forced to live in isolation. I do not think we are entitled to do so.
"On the other hand, we have the responsibility to find out what animals want to spend our relationships - and whether they would like to."
What do you mean?
"Take horses. If you give horses the choice to stay with us or go wild to a kind of wandering horse herds, my guess would be that horses would choose to leave us. That would be the same for livestock, and certainly not for dogs. We are in favor of nature, where domesticated animals in a safe, gradual way to explore the potential for wild life. With more and more time on themselves and less time among the people. "
But then they go there and might die, as in the Oostvaarders-plas. That's not the deal.
"Let me put it this way: the safest life is not always the best life. The safest life for an animal would be locking it in a zoo. But that is not an acceptable life, just like you can not keep a man safely locked in a prison cell. A good life has risks. This applies to us, but also for animals. And when you see such an image of a starving animal ... Well, that then makes it clear what the risk. But what we do not have a clear picture of the blessings who also belong to that life. Maybe freedom is to live a life with their peers as they wish the risks acceptable to them. "
Should you want to feed starving animals? Or protect against wolves?
"In our view, we turn over a road that inevitably leads to captivity. We would change nature into a zoo. If you would do that more and more animals would need us to protect them, which in turn is not sustainable, so the call to action is bigger again. And the only way to protect them from predators is to put some kind of barrier between the predator and the prey. That quickly becomes a zoo. And our suspicion is that wild animals prefer the risks of the food cycle and predation over the safety of the zoo. "
You paint a kind of paradise, with all that harmony with the animals. How should we treat your ideas if action or inspiration?
"Our story has indeed some similarities with certain spiritual ideas. But I think we set a political fundamental philosophical question: what makes it legitimate to exercise power over animals?
"My answer would be: a legitimate government must serve the interests of the governed. Otherwise it is a tyranny. I see our thoughts so as logical consequence of the basic liberal philosophy of legitimate governance. "
But its all a little crazy, isnt it?.
"If you look from a certain angle, it's crazy and radical and utopian and revolutionary. On the other hand, what amazes me is how to apply mental gymnastics philosophers to have basic ideas about legitimate governance or justice do not apply to animals. I always marvel about it.The resistance of my colleagues to take their ideas one step through. "
Do you have the feeling that we are heading in the right direction?
"Sometimes I'm optimistic about it, sometimes pessimistic. When I look around me I see people everywhere with ties to pets that they find important and satisfying. They see animals as part of the family, recognize that individuals with a personality. I think those people can experience more open to the possibility that, for example pigs beings with personality, feelings and so on. "
" If you look at how we think about children, ethnic minorities and disabled people ... The last few centuries, we have a kind concern developed about the inner experience of those people. We push them aside as not inferior or harmful, we are as a society become more sensitive to that too could suffer another subgroups. That ability to be aware of the suffering of others is not limited to the type of border. When we talk once we are almost obliged to be aware of the suffering of animals. "