When discussing animal rights, I often find myself battling with this preposterous notion of purpose: some "have it," some "do not." I have never been able to see the world through it's hierarchal pre-disposition, but I am left to question what "purpose" is and why it should ever play to determine the value of one's life.
So, how do we measure purpose and should someone naturally have a greater value because of who or what they are?
Interesting questions ...
Past inequalities would have had us believe that this were true. In days gone by, being Caucasian would have instantly warranted a greater respect and deserving of life within a Western society. Similarly, being a woman or identifying as LGBT would have stripped you from some of the most basic rights. Why? Because the lives of those individuals were seen as inferior to those who were "superior." Thankfully, we have moved beyond the aforementioned injustices (although, obviously, there are exceptions) but the rights of individuals outside our own species continue to be widely disregarded.
Growing up, I was led to believe that I, too, was inferior. My orientation denoted me as one who was "lesser." However, a collective voice for equal treatment has allowed us to slowly break down the barriers of inequality and understand that we are all united by our vision for a world without suffering; a world where we are one.
"I am, because you are."
Ironically, many people will maintain the barrier between animals and humans, proclaiming superiority as their justification.
"Animals are different" ... are they?
To quote Jeremy Bantham:
"The question is not, 'Can they reason?' nor, 'Can they talk?' but 'Can they suffer?'"
One journalist recently stated - and rightly - that "the difference between us and the animals is one of degree, not type." Humans do not have an innate purpose, nor were we ever awarded superior status, rather we claimed it and have since tried to defend this position on the basis of human exceptionalism. However, in the same way we define our "meaning in life" by what we do and how we live, so as does a non-human animal. When all is said and done, the life of a pig (or any animal) is as important to them as our lives are to us.
Moreover, I do not believe intelligence - as the case is often argued - provides any valid reasoning for the right to life; especially a right that is governed by us. Intelligence is simply a manmade gradient to which humanity can measure the capacity of our own comprehension and therefore, it is somewhat arbitrary criteria by which to judge the superiority of another species. We have decoded and structured the world in a way that can be used and applied by ourselves. We cannot use "intelligence" as an interspecies evaluation, however, an anthropocentric ideology is commonplace within our society and this leads us to frequently discount the most basic interests of other species on this basis alone.
Culture, society and sapience have given us reason to believe that our purpose is enshrined and undeniably valuable within the makings of our universe, yet our meaning in life remains relative. Our achievements, our contributions, our successes are only of value within "our circle" (which may extend to ones family, friends, community or society) and it would do us all well to remember that we are just part of something so much greater. All life is inherently valuable and sentience should provide enough reason for compassion.