Tuesday, September 15, 2009

About Cass Sunstein

There has been so much talk lately about Cass Sunstein that I decided to read a few of his papers; namely, I read The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer and Animal Rights Without Controversy.

My overall assessment is that Sunstein should not be as controversial as he is, and that he is really more of a victim of circumstance than a victim of his own idealogy. Sunstein is correct that virtually everyone subscribes to some form of animal rights. Americans heartily support anti-cruelty laws, and disdain anyone who tortures animals without justification. While many may mock animal rights activists and scoff at the idea of eliminating the status of property for animals, for all practical purposes animals are not really even property now. You cannot do whatever you like with animals, even if you "own" it, and the anti-cruelty laws limiting your freedom over this "property" are very popular. To some degree, Sunstein argues and I concur, we are all animal rightists.

Sunstein does argue that anti-cruelty laws are not enforced as vigorously as he would like, and proposes that citizens should be able to bring forth lawsuits on behalf of animals to facilitate enforcement, but don't we do so already do so with the environment? Is asking that anti-cruetly statutes be enforced, and that the common exceptions to cruelty be eliminated, really all that extremist?

As Sunstein writes he reveals pieces of himself. Some of these pieces better resemble animal rightists and some better resemble regular Americans. He suggests a ban on hunting might be appropriate if hunting is conducted only for fun, which makes him a bit unusual to most men than I know (they would probably describe him as effiminate) but then he seems to have little problem with raising animals for food or animal experimentation in important areas. Sunstein seemingly dismisses those who feel domestic animals and certain livestock should be in control of their own destiny, as that destiny would often be greater suffering than they realize at the hands of humans, but unfortunately "suggests" that rats may not be justifiably expelled from a house. The subject of "animals as property" is raised but then dismissed as largely irrelevant; a point which I readily agree.

In summary, Sunstein is certainly more concerned with the suffering of animals than the average American, but the intensity of this concern is not extreme. His views appear liberal but a liberality consistent the administration that was elected. Unfortunately his open-mindedness is what exposes him to such scrutiny. A professor is supposed to be open-minded, but that leaves you susceptible to ideas that many in society are not ready for; and when you go to serve a President that open-mindnesses becomes a handicap.

Sunstein is liberal but not an extreme liberal. As conservatives and liberals continue their battle they will search for enemies on either side. Sunstein was just open-minded enough to qualify as a valid enemy of conservatives. If you believe Obama to be a true socialist you will probably feel that Sunstein is a true animal rightist who wants to take away your dog. But if you believe Obama to simply be a normal liberal, then you will find Sunstein to be likewise. Attacks on Sunstein may be unfortunate for him, but he was approved by Congress and has now made animal welfare a more prominent issue.