A) We share the planet with an inconceivable number of other life forms, from the tiny dust mites that live in our eyelashes and the microscopic bacteria in our guts to the enormous blue whales and giant squid that inhabit the depths of the ocean. In the last several decades, environmentalism has come to the forefront of the American consciousness: how we treat the creatures with which we share the planet has also become a topic of increasing concern. Whether or not we think that animals are entitled to the same respect as people, it is imperative that we seek to inform ourselves and make careful decisions about the topic of animal rights.
B) Although the popular image of animal rights advocates often involves stereotypes of hippies and protests, there are many distinct and well-articulated approaches to the idea that animals should not suffer or be used for human purposes. The philosopher Peter Singer has advocated for what his supporters call "animal liberation." He argues for a complete end to the use of animals as food and clothing, since there is no moral or ethical reason not to cease. Other thinkers involved in animal rights include Tom Regan, who sees animals as subjects of their own lives, and Gary Francione, who thinks that animal rights advocates should seek to immediately abolish all consumption of animal products as well as animal testing-indeed all production of any kind that involves animals. This is called "ethical veganism."
C) Positions against the animal rights movement-and against any one of the institutions or philosophies that identify as pro-animal rights-are equally many and as widespread in American culture. Prominent among these positions is the idea that animals have no legal, social, or ethical duties and therefore can have no rights. The destruction of private property, including labs and farms, in the name of animal liberation or the prevention of cruelty to animals has drawn scorn from citizens and legislators across the country. Laws have been established at the national and state level to work against violence and sabotage performed by organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
D) However a person might incline on the question of animal rights, plenty of opportunities exist to educate oneself about the topic. There are hundreds of large, multi-cause animal rights organizations in the United States, from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)-in addition to innumerable local associations in most cities and towns. Finding an organization to join or support with donations and volunteer work-or merely finding an expert to answer your questions-is as easy as an Internet search. Learning about animal rights is an extremely important part of living responsibly on the planet we share.