in high school, when we covered Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, i recognized the following passage:
Shylock: I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?
equality advocates have often quoted portions of this sentiment to highlight the sameness of all humans. despite our differences in religion, colour, wealth and education, we are all the same in our need to live with security and dignity. since all humans require freedom from pain, instability, oppression to live productive and positive lives as members of society, equality advocates say society should ensure these needs are met by enshrining them in law and culture as rights.
today on the BBC, i was watching an edition of the series ‘Why Democracy?’. this edition was looking at india’s democracy, and examining the gross inequalities that exist between higher and lower castes (i.e. economic/social classes). Ghandi and his grass-roots movement was of course a key part of the discussion, as his efforts remain dear in the hearts of the lower caste members. some of the elders could even remember Ghandi coming through their villages on his Salt March.
one elder in a very poor village (which was continuously under threat of demolition for new shopping centres for the upper castes) said ‘if you cut me, do i not bleed?’. i’m not sure if this woman would ever have had contact with ‘The Merchant of Venice’ — i wonder if she even had an opportunity to go to school. but her statement certainly demonstrated the universality of the sentiment.
i wondered about the limits of that statement? jews and christians alike bleed, cry, laugh, love, learn, err, kill, birth. same for hindus, muslims, spainards, blacks, buddhists, russians, asians, aboriginals, whites, latinos. same for women and men.
same for animals. uh-oh. animals bleed. they cry. even if they don’t laugh they sure do express pleasure. they learn. they make mistakes. they kill. they birth and raise their children. and yet, we do not say that they deserve equality. some people say they deserve rights, but not to the same extent as humans. in canada, we take some steps to protect household pets from cruelty. but these steps are limited.
the security and dignity of animals ‘owned’ by farms or laboratories is completely unprotected. they are denied freedom of movement, health. they are denied family and community. and for the females on farms, the denial of security and dignity is even greater, as they are methodically raped, milked, and have their babies taken away from them.
i dream of the day when all animals, human and non-human alike, will be provided with the basic rights of personhood.
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