Animals, Equality and Democracy (the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series)
O'Sullivan, Dr Siobhan
Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, Basingstoke
Where animals and equality are discussed, be it in sociology, philosophy or history, the debate usually comes down to the inequality between humans and non-human animals. Not so in Animals, Equality and Democracy. Instead of focusing on the inequality between humans and animals - termed 'external inconsistency' - the book concentrates on the so-called 'internal inconsistency': the inconsistency in the way we treat some non-human animals in relation to other non-human animals. This is a welcome breath of fresh air, as the debate on animal rights, sparked in the 1970s by Peter Singer's classic Animal Liberation, had become rather stale over the years.
After starting with a concise overview of the main arguments found in the literature on external inconsistency, easily accessible to readers with little background knowledge of the subject, Siobhan O'Sullivan turns her attention to internal inconsistency and unfolds her arguments in the following chapters. By drawing on interviews with animal advocates and document analyses, the author shows that in modern liberal democracies the same species of animals receive entirely different levels of protection. This is an interesting new point of view. While it has long been acknowledged that economic concerns play a major role in dictating which species of animals are best protected, O'Sullivan demonstrates that in addition to economic factors, visibility levels affect which animals are well protected or poorly protected against harm. Some animals are more visible to the community than others and legislation tends to afford those animals enhanced protection against harm. Or, as the author puts it: "The community needs to know and like an animal for that animal to have a chance of receiving effective legal protection" (p. 158).
O'Sullivan convincingly links this internal inconsistency to the current state of modern society in which most people 'hardly ever see animals at all' except at their local supermarket where they are 'wrapped in plastic, sitting under fluorescent lights, ready for purchase' (p. 1). Moreover, her argument, that this internal consistency contradicts the basic liberal principle of equal consideration upon which liberal democracies are built, is highly interesting. Unfortunately, even though the author states that by not applying the value of equal consideration on animals 'we undermine our political system by creating laws that are decidedly un-liberal democratic' (p. 4), she does not draw any further conclusions from this. ,p> The main body of the book is devoted to explaining the internal inconsistency, starting with a focus on politics (chapter 2), subsequently on visibility (chapter 3) and, finally, on the 'out of sight, out of mind' idea (chapter 4). Unfortunately, this results in some repetition in the arguments presented in the three chapters. Had the author avoided this repetition, the book may have contained a few pages less than the current 213. Another critique is that the author supports her arguments in these chapters mainly with a media analysis, by monitoring four widely circulated Sydney newspapers for animal related stories, and by studying the jurisdiction in the Australian state New South Wales. This means that most analyses in the book remain restricted to Australia and are based on a small number of cases. The book would have benefited from a more thorough and internationally oriented analysis.
In the final chapter of the book, O'Sullivan outlines the policy implications of her theory. She argues that if the liberal democratic equity principle were applied to animals, at least some of the hardships some animals face - in part due to the invisible way in which many animals labour - would be addressed. Because if a minimum set of standards would be established and adhered to across the entire captive animal spectrum, "It would mean that egg-laying birds would only be permitted to be housed three to a cage if members of the publics were willing to see birds housed that way in pet shops" (p. 167). While this is an interesting theoretical exploration, the final chapter lacks practical applicability. Nonetheless, it offers, just as the rest of the book, a new perspective on the position of animals in modern societies.
All in all, O'Sullivan has written an interesting and accessible book-a welcome addition to the literature on animals and society.
NIVEL- Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research