Paul McCartney Joins PETA’s Attack on Human Rights: McCartney should fight against, not join, PETA’s fundraising event

by | Sep 19, 1999

At PETA’s fundraising event in Hollywood on September 18, Paul McCartney presented a special award in honor of his late wife, Linda. He should hang his head in shame for supporting the animal rights movement. Is McCartney so ignorant as not to know the facts behind PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and […]

At PETA’s fundraising event in Hollywood on September 18, Paul McCartney presented a special award in honor of his late wife, Linda. He should hang his head in shame for supporting the animal rights movement.

Is McCartney so ignorant as not to know the facts behind PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and its work? For years, PETA has led the assault on man’s happiness by opposing the use of animals for food, medical research, and even pets.

Recently, animal rights activists are moving in a new direction. In addition to trashing laboratories, threatening researchers, and releasing experimental animals into the wild to die, they are now going to court. Gorillas, house pets and other animals, they claim, have constitutional rights and need emancipation just as did human slaves in the 19th century.

Where did such a preposterous idea come from? From a total failure to understand the meaning and basis of the concept of rights. Animals have rights, goes one fallacious argument, because they have the ability to feel pain. Whereas animals certainly can feel pain, pain is not the basis for rights. Consider the illogic of such a view. If pain were the basis for rights, then it would be all right to kill somebody as long as you did it while he was unconscious. At the same time it would be wrong to put people through medical procedures that caused pain, even though they consented to it. And we would have to go to court to stop sharks from causing pain to the minnows they eat.

Animals have rights, goes another argument, because animals possess the same capacity for rational thought as humans. There is no scientific evidence for this claim. Consider the most fundamental fact that contradicts it: chimpanzees, the most advanced of the primates, have been on earth for about four million years. During that entire period they have not produced even the rudiments of a primitive culture. If chimpanzees could reason even at a primitive level, this would give them such a competitive advantage in the struggle for survival that the earth would be overrun with chimpanzees. Attempts to teach sign language to chimpanzees revealed that they did not grasp the actual concepts taught at all, rather they used signs virtually at random to signal for things that they wanted. Here is a simple test that would prove once and for all whether chimps really grasp concepts. Place a pile of objects varying in size, shape and color in front of a chimp and sign: Bring me ten green triangles. Such a test would require that chimps count above seven (seven objects can be directly perceived without counting) and that they abstract the attributes of color and shape, as well as of number, from objects. No chimp has ever come close to such a feat.

If chimps cannot reason, then they cannot grasp moral principles. Since rights are moral principles — principles which define and sanction man’s freedom of action in society’the concept of rights is totally beyond a chimp’s power to grasp and therefore is irrelevant to its life. Animal rights activists claim that even if animals cannot grasp moral principles, and thus cannot respect human rights, that we should protect their alleged rights. What rights?

The real basis of rights is man’s possession of a rational faculty. The capacity to reason includes the choice to deliberately focus one’s mind and to integrate perceptual data into conceptual knowledge. To survive man must think and must be free to act on the basis of his thinking. The concept of rights protects man’s freedom of action in society. It allows him to use to his own rational judgment so as to further his life and well being. The concept of rights says to other men: hands off. It prohibits the initiation of physical force by one man against another and thus protects the freedom of all. Children have rights because they are the developing form of (adult) human beings. Even comatose adults have rights, unless they are totally brain-dead, because they once were fully functioning humans and could become so again.

The concept of rights is meaningless when applied to beings incapable of reason. In fact, the means of survival of many animals is killing and eating other animals — they have no choice about this and no other means of survival unless humans do the killing for them. The real motive of arbitrarily endowing animals with rights is to harm human beings — by preventing the use of animals for food, pets and medical research aimed at curing deadly diseases. As PETA’s co-founder Ingrid Newkirk once put it, “Even if animal experiments did result in a cure for AIDS . . . I’d be against it on moral grounds.”

The proper attitude of humans toward animals should include compassion. Because animals can feel pain, it would be cruel to cause them gratuitous or unnecessary suffering. But there is a difference between compassion and constitutional rights. Using animals for medical research is morally legitimate and has and will help save millions of human lives. As a matter of fact, animal research has helped scientists come closer to finding the genetic and environmental causes of breast cancer, the leading cause of death among middle-aged American women, including Linda McCartney.

Instead of sitting with the likes of PETA and presenting a special award in honor of his late wife, Paul McCartney should use his celebrity status to support and fight for human rights and human health, not destroy them by promoting animal “rights.”

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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