I read "Animals Like Us" by Mark Rowlands and it was fun to read but by now I have met many of the topics discussed in this book, so it did not introduce me to any revolutionary ideas. But perhaps Rowlands originated many of the ideas I have read and heard elsewhere. The book's central thesis is that non-human animals are, like humans, conscious, sentient beings, so that exploiting them, and certainly eating them, is wrong. The book talks about vegatarianism, hunting, zoos, and experimentation. The oft repeated argument is that those things we cannot imagine doing to humans, should also be those that we would not perform on other animals. If we believe that performing these actions on animals is allowed, then why not on humans as well. At this point, the argument seems to be that all sentient beings are equal. As we will see, that is not the thrust of the argument here; it is a misleading appetizer.
One of the more interesting questions is that if one were to have to choose between saving a human or an animal from a burning building, one chooses the human first. Does that not prove that animals are not equivalent to humans and thus can be eaten by humans? Rowlands battles this intuition and argument by developing the idea that death is worse for creatures with a "strong sense of future." The star athlete's death on the eve of the Olympics is somehow worse than the couch potato's death. It is more likely, he insists, that humans have "futures in a strong sense" than do dogs. You can see where this is going. It is true that I would probably save a baby from a burning building before I pulled out an eighty year old, and perhaps that reflects the moral intuition that we prefer to save the creature with the stronger future. But I might save a fifty year old Nobel prize winner rather than the baby, and perhaps that is because we expect yet more of the proven Nobel prize winner or because the rescue is a kind of reward for a life well lived. Either way, I am not sure how to measure whether a dog's life was or will be well lived. So perhaps this whole way of thinking is too friendly to humans because we can perceive the futures of our own kind better than we can understand what lies ahead for other animals.
In any event, Rowlands seems ready to agree that humans can be preferred over other animals, and once one takes this step it is not clear how far to go. Some people will say that animals should be killed only if absolutely necessary to save humans, but others will say bring on the butchers. Alternatively, one might agree that animals should be respected - but that humans can be preferred to them - and conclude that animals should not be tortured before being killed! Rowlands argument seems designed to end up where he (and many others) think it ought to go, more than where it logically takes us. In the extreme case, some humans have a stronger future than others but this does not justify killing those with weaker futures, even to guarantee the survival of the stronger ones.