“They eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.” Though repugnant in hindsight, these vivid words of 17th century rationalist philosopher Nicolas Malebranche sum up the rationalist view of animals.
Reading Animals in Australia, you get a strong sense of Malcolm Caulfield’s frustration with the widespread cognitive dissonance with which we regard, and treat, animals. In focusing on Australia’s recent developments, he offers profound insight into the political background of animal welfare, contextualising it against the global background with the expertise of a lawyer deeply entrenched in the activist landscape.
But, it’s undeniably hard going at times. Australia lags behind the rest of the world, without much prospect for improvement. While scandals like the live export trade or cruelty in greyhound racing induce a wave of revulsion and outcry for change, the issues are swiftly swept under the rug and off the news agenda. That leaves regulation, law and even animal science in the hands of the only body that is truly invested – the Australian farming lobby, who have the ear of the Nationals, influence the Liberals and intimidate Labor.
Caulfield’s call to action is simply for us to ask more of our politicians. By outlining the pragmatic reasons behind moving towards a balanced welfarist argument – as distinct from the hard-line animal rights position – his book holds appeal for anyone interested in or curious about the situation for animals in Australia.
Malcolm Caulfield is the Principal Solicitor at The Animal Law Institute and an Honorary Research Associate at UTS.