In 2002, while the whole world was fanatic about the World Cup in South Korea, Brigitte Bardot, a French actress who is also a firm animal rights activist, condemned South Koreans, calling them “barbaric” for their custom of eating Dog Meat Soup. Touching upon the national sentiments of humiliation, this has ignited a hot debate over eating Dog Meat Soup in South Korea. On one side, this eating custom was condemned as a “barbaric and corrupted old tradition” which intrudes the “life dignity of the animal” that should be fixed by any means. On the other side, people claimed that Dog Meat Soup is a peculiar diet culture in Korea, and that cultural relativism should be justified in the sense that the dog- human relationship in Korea is historically and culturally different from that of the West. Thus, the Dog Meat Soup diet is something that should not be attacked accordingly to Western perspective. In fact, in Korea, Dog Meat Soup is consumed during a particular season, as a healthy diet in scorching summers. And all those so-called animal rights activists were in the forefront looking for public interest as an opportunity to expand the perception of animal rights. And upon looking at this hot debate, disregarding the cultural aspects, I raked my brain to come up with something more fundamental: that is the question whether animals are the subjects of rights.
People who are opposed of Dog Meat Soup assert the following claims:
A) Eating animals is morally wrong. Thus, Eating Dog Meat Soup is morally wrong.
B) The dog has a particularity that is different from the other edible animals such as cows and pigs. But the dog is different.
C) The Dog Meat Soup is a wrong cultural practice that encourages and reproduces despicable butchery and ill-rearing methods.
These claims are, at least to me, very unsatisfactory. These claims only give evaluations on the action or the practice of eating dog rather than questioning the fundamentals. If the dog eating practice is wrong, why is it wrong? Why is it immoral? Is it wrong because humans are violating animal rights? But here we should ask, do the animals have rights in the first place?
Entering the 20th century, the world experienced an expansion of rights. Rights have been extended to children, women, and now, some people have applied the concept of rights into the realm of animals. However, the question I want to raise is, is it indeed meaningful to discuss about the “rights of the animals”? These questions are raised when people consider the “given destiny” of dogs who will soon be slaughtered. The most extreme attitude would be to claim, “let’s give animals the right to live”. If this happens, humans will all inevitably become vegetarians who are prohibited to kill any animal life. Even the people who think that sacrificing animals for the betterment of mankind is plausible might ask to alleviate a little bit of suffering for these animals. Simply put, humans are not subject to punishment albeit animals’ suffering and mistreatment. Therefore, what is prescribed under the name of animal is to not be mistreated fundamentally, not the “right to live.”
Also, it is obvious that the animals’ demonstrating of any signs of pain does a despicable effect on our eyes, and we are touched. We become sentimental. We feel pity toward them. And animal rights activists use this to assert that these people should be punished. I consider, however, that punishing bad conduct toward the animals is not necessarily compatible with the rights of the animals. Also, I don’t think the human duty of avoiding unnecessary suffering necessarily corresponds to the actual rights of the animal. At last, here, I want to say not all animals are in the same line; for example, the suffering of a mosquito is far from our interests, unlike the pain of dogs and cats. Therefore, will there have to be universal rights for all the animals? What is the rationale that give certain animals privileges, and not others? This is not to claim that I agree or disagree with practice of Dog Meat Soup. Rather, this is a tiny effort to explore the fundamental questions behind the scene. And as far as I am concerned, humans are only humans to the extent they are differ from animals.