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Liberté, égalité, étrangeté
Teya Brooks Pribac and Jason Grossman

So this is a paper about liberation and egalitarianism applied to nonhuman animals.

Our initial question is: is a cow equal to a human?

We're not going to define a completely specific meaning for "equal" here, but there's at least a rough shared basis of egalitarianism that's common to all thinking about liberation movements.

First of all, we note that this distinction --- between nonhuman animals being considered equal to humans, or not --- is different from the better-known distinction between abolitionism and welfarism. There can be advocates involved in the abolition movement who don’t really perceive nonhuman animals as fully equal; and, conversely, someone working on campaigns labelled as welfarist could be an egalitarian at heart, and just doing what they consider to be in their capacity to help the immediate situation.

In the animal rights movement, is the cow truly equal or is she only sort of equal? There is no general answer. Each advocate needs to try to answer this question for themselves. But the answer may tell us whether we're part of a movement that's a LIBERATION movement.

You may know the saying "Nihil de nobis sine nobis": Nothing about us without us.
The saying has its roots in politics, ‘popularised’ to some extent by the disability movement, but it's pretty much a baseline for all human liberation movements.

An obvious difference when advocating for nonhuman animals is that they can’t participate in decision-making in the way that oppressed humans at least potentially can, since nonhuman animals’ voices and messages are always dependent on humans’ interpretations. This means that everything we say and do has an impact on them, and how they're represented may depend substantially on whether deep inside we perceive them as equal or not.

Another common idea in modern liberation movements is that someone who hasn't had some particular type of experience shouldn't talk about what it's like when other people have it. This idea falls flat on its face when we need to talk about non-human animals' experiences.

In our opinion, it's not very hard to imagine how some of the things that are routinely done to nonhuman animals would hurt; so although the representation of this pain on behalf of an animal is always an interpretation, we believe it's a relatively safe and productive interpretation.

So, in conclusion, the ideas we want to connect are empathy and equality. For us, at least some aspects of empathy are relatively easy.

Equality, on the other hand, may be difficult to think about, especially when we have rescued animals who are, necessarily, held in captivity. We interact with them every day in a non-equal environment, but we can think of them as equals anyway.