1 – When we use the term ‘right’ like many terms, we conflate it with moral, legal, just, and a host of other terms that are reducible to “I just want it this way”.
2 – For a right to exist, two or more parties must enter into a contract of some sort whether private (written or verbal), commercial (written), social (norms), or political (laws). A contract consists of an exchange of rights and obligations, and both parties must benefit from it.
3 – That contract must be ‘insured’ (enforced) by a third party. In most cases a headman, a leader, or a judge in a government.
4 – When a breach occurs, one must appeal to the third party, to enforce the rights and obligations under the contract. This is where the term ‘right’ comes from. One enforces a right under contract.
5 – In any contract we must have some set of reciprocal rights and obligations, or it is not rational that the contract was voluntary rather than coerced.
6 – In order to enter into a contract one must be able to understand, consent to it, and perform it.
7 – Animals, children, the elderly, the infirmed, and the incompetent – and aliens if there are any for that matter – cannot necessarily enter into a contract voluntarily, nor perform it, nor be rationally held liable for performance under it.
8 – In fact, some primitive peoples could not, and some still cannot do so. Many if not all people, especially those people with IQ’s in the average range (2/3 of europeans) between 90-110, and almost anyone above 110, can do so. Animals cannot conceive of such things.
9) – Animals – especially complex mammals – are valuable to us. So we extend protections to those animals to prevent people from destroying that value.
10 – We are no longer in a position were we are economically dependent upon preying upon animals for our survival.
11 – We are no longer ignorant of the emotional indifference between ourselves and at least complex animals.
12 – But – and this is the real reason – we are no longer in a position where we desire to, need to, and in many cases, can afford to, tolerate people who treat animals badly. For the simple reason that we do not want such people among us: they have many other nasty habits. And because we have worked hard to extirpate hatred and abuse from the human heart, and we do not want bad behavior imitated. In other words, punishing animal cruelty tends to expose psychopaths in particular.
13 – So animals cannot have rights, but we can extend them protections, as insurers, just as we do other incompetents, not only to rid ourselves of people who behave badly, and not only to continue to train one another to remove hatred and abuse from the human heart, and not only because they are an asset we want to preserve and enhance, and not only because happy animals make the world a better place for us, but because at this point in our development, at least under western conditions, we no longer have the economic need to do otherwise.
14 – However, we must also understand that there is a not insignificant portion of the population – particularly female – that is no longer reproducing or caring for children, and is biochemically directing those energies to animals in lieu of that outlet.
Moreover, there is a not insignificant portion of the populace that feels powerless and lacking status, and finds defense of animals or nature as a means of obtaining control (meaning.).
There is a not insignificant portion of the populace that is not otherwise productive, is not competent and competition, and seeks meaning through political order instead of economic competition.
And there is a not insignificant portion of the populace that finds group participation in rallying politically a means of status seeking and membership seeking.
And those are just another set of psychological problems we have not solved in modernity, now that women have control of their reproduction, and legal, and economic independence from their biology.
15 – In other words, we can establish (institutionalize) common property rights (animals are members of the commons) over animals for whatever reason we choose to, and therefore insure them for present and future. We do the same to territory and to arts, and to many things: “You can use this productively but you may not cause negative externality”. Or, You may enjoy its beauty but not destroy it. These are just means of establishing limited property rights over anything we choose to limit property rights. In fact, we rarely grant rights to destroy scarce or valued assets for other than the purpose of consumption or transformation.
16 – But it is impossible for animals to possess rights. It is only possible for us to grant them protections. The fact that the law is ‘imprecise’ in the use of this language is simply yet another problem of vocabulary lagging behind our rate of development.