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Freedom is challenging to define but we know when we lose it or when it has been taken from us. Broadly understood, we are free when not imprisoned or enslaved, not coerced, manipulated, or constrained by others in our choices and actions. We value the freedom to choose our friends and family, to have and raise children, and to work at what fills our hearts. There is no such thing as pure freedom as we are subject to our unconscious impulses, genetics, unspoken social conventions, natural limits, and government rules aimed at ensuring public safety and order. A sense of freedom is the foundation of human happiness and a key to human well-being.
Even though we value freedom, we routinely deny freedom to nonhuman animals. We put them in cages, behind fences and breed them. Breeding aims to take away their self-reliance and make them dependent on humans, thus putting the cage inside their bodies. We control what they do and with whom they interact. We restrict their choices of family and friends, we decide for them when and if and with whom they mate and have children, and frequently take their children away shortly after birth. We control their movements and social interactions. We bend them to our will to satisfy our own desires for cream in our coffee and bacon for breakfast. The justification is that they are not like us, they are less intelligent, and don’t feel pain like we do. We are superior and therefore have the right to use them as means to our ends.
Treating animals with respect means believing that they have the same need for freedom as we do. Like us, they want to have choice about what they eat, where they sleep, and be able to form meaningful relationships with others. This is the golden rule, expanded to include our animal kin. When we grant freedom to others, we free ourselves.
(These thoughts were inspired by the book “The Animals Agenda” by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce)