Any line that we draw regarding animal rights, if it is not applied to all life universally, will be arbitrary. Life feeds on life. We can not sustain ourselves at present without destroying life to do so. There is no rational argument for completely avoiding the consumption of all life. And there is no moral argument. The universe does not care whether people eat chickens, lions, or automobiles. We can however come up with cogent arguments for why we would not want to deplete another species to the point of extinction. Many species are vital to our continued health. Those of us who wish for our species to continue would do well to focus on sustainability.
But not all arguments bear close scrutiny. Take for example PETA's recent declaration that a man "ought to hang" for killing a lion. This is prima facie ludicrous. What purpose would it serve? To appease the lion's immaterial spirit? How would it benefit us to adopt such a policy? And would even the killing of insects and plants deserve such heavy-handed retributive justice?
How many lions, elephants, and other animals are slaughtered every year that don't get the same attention? What made this particular lion more important than its fellow animals? Zimbabwe's president recently had an elephant slaughtered for his birthday. What is an elephant's life worth? After the lion incident made the media, Zimbabwe banned lion hunting for approximately one week before lifting the ban and allowing hunting again. Where is the consistency in how we treat these issues? And how much is any animal's life worth? Why do we place more value on a lion than a cow, sheep, or pig? We kill millions of animals every year for food, clothing, medicine, and sport without hesitation or trepidation. How many deer do hunters kill for sport? How many meat products do we consume? How many insects, plants, and bacteria do we kill consciously or unconsciously? How can we presume to say that a lion is worth more than a colony of bacteria or a field of plant life? By what criteria do we judge? Any criteria we choose will be arbitrary, subjective. There is no cosmic arbiter in the sky who tells us which animals rank higher in his divine plan. And apparently different people assign value differently.
I am fond of dogs, but the Chinese held a dog meat festival this year, wherein dogs were cruelly treated and slaughtered daily. I object to this practice, but the Chinese may point out that we eat chicken and pigs. What makes one more valuable than the other? It depends largely on where one grows up. There is no universal standard, so how then do we decide an animal's relative worth?
I question the logical consistency of certain of the arguments that have been put forth. I value consistency as much as I despise hypocrisy. People will weep when one animal dies but fail to register anything when an entire species goes extinct. This is I suppose not unlike how people will deplore the killing of one of their countrymen but fail to respond to the bombing of a children's hospital in a country in which their country is engaged militarily. Perhaps it is failure of imagination. The inconsistency is I suppose one more way in which we humans are irrational.