The issue of human morality has always been widely controversial and vitally important; it is our anchor that we use to define the humane yet we cannot agree on its dimensions. Morality seems to be all that separates us from the unfeeling universe, which is filled with morally horific natural laws such as "survival of the fittest." Or, at least, such "callous" impartiality seems unjust to our modern societies. Behind the screens of prosperity and enlightentment we have the luxory of moral scrutiny -- a luxory that should be fully explored and developed as our only wall against the apparent moral abyss of the rest of the universe. With enough investigation, we will realize that animals must be considered as we decide who deserves rights -- and what they are.
There is a fundamental system for establishing rights in others of recognizable consciousness that is (nearly) universal to human beings. Yet, there is significant evidence of varying interpretations of those fundamentals that give rise to many different morals in different cultures. Some believe, perhaps in a cruelly impartial stance, that morality is merely a set of learned rules that varies between cultures. Babies certainly do (eventually) develop morally -- kindergarten is as much a time for learning not to take toys from others as the alphabet. Still, this claim should not be taken too far -- even across huge cultural gaps there are similarities in philosophy and morality. The golden rule shows up in various forms, composed independently by many cultures. It may be safe to assume that simply being a society encourages such togetherness and morality, but as we are social creatures such a concession only furthers the point for animal rights as we are not the only social creatures. In fact, there are many examples of basic social functions in animal groups that remind us of human families: "Tamarin mothers in the Amazon Basin rely on aunts and grandmothers to tend the young while the mothers forage for food [...] [m]oms and dads among Brazil's titi monkeys take turns minding the kids and bringing home the bacon, just as in any well-adjusted two-income human family [...] [i]n all manner of animals, including bees, elephants, lions, lemurs, bats and birds, creatures with no parental investment in offspring routinely expend enormous amounts of energy caring for their relatives' young" (Kluger et al). They face the same challenges like poverty and proper upbringing that we face, and "work out surprisingly similar solutions" (Kluger et al). We must recognize that many creatures have some kind of social structure.
The other extreme includes the concept of innate morality: we are born with knowledge of right and wrong. This idea goes completely against the belief in innocent birth -- and in fact anyone watching the moral development of a child knows that there is a significant amount of simply learning the rules in a child's changing behavior.
If morality is learned or even just...