Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Human Exceptionalism: Stopping Ivory Poaching and Culling Elephant Herds Part of the Same Project

Animal rights advocates and their emotionalist allies often wail, "They're killing the elephants!" when castigating needed culling in the African wild animal parks. They are wrong about that. Failing to cull would result in destroyed environments and possible elephant starvation, not to mention harm to other species.

But there is a form of elephant hunting that is wrong--ivory poaching. And that needs to be prevented--which was the laudable purpose of the legally enforceable international ivory trade ban.

Tanzania and Zambia tried to weaken the existing ban--for understandable reasons--but the UN decided to maintain existing law. From the story:

Conservationists scored a rare victory at a U.N. wildlife meeting Monday when governments voted to reject contentious proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to weaken the 21-year-old ban on ivory sales over concerns it would further contribute to poaching. The heated debate over the proposed sale of the two countries' ivory stocks divided Africa, as it has in years past, at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Nearly two dozen central and east African countries came out against the proposals on the grounds that they would hurt already declining African elephant populations. Southern African countries, in contrast, argued the two nations should be rewarded for the conservation efforts undertaken and should have to right to manage their herds as they see fit. "People born in 100 years, they should be able to see an elephant," said Kenya's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife Noah Wekesa, whose country opposed the sales and had called at one point for a 20-year moratorium on such auctions.
Elephants don't have a "right" not to be killed. Only human beings possess such rights. But with our unique rights come concomitant duties, such as properly managing the environment--we are the only species so capable--and protecting endangered or threatened species, as we also promote human thriving. It's all a huge balancing act, which as the story illustrates, is rarely easy.

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, with regard to African elephants, both culls--which kill some--and poaching bans--which save some--serve the same overarching purpose.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ex Vegan Hit With Pie–Says Others Should be Attacked Instead

Animal rights activists would never stop screaming if the actions they take were directed against them. They demand the right to free speech–which some activists expand beyond recognition to include threats, intimidation, and even bombings–but have little problem with denying it to those with whom they disagree. Thus PETA refuses to condemn ALF, even when it plants pipe bombs under animal researchers’ cars–equating the terrorists with the Underground Railroad and the French Resistance on its Web site. This is particularly true of the “direct action” types, the ALFs, SHACs, who are closely allied with anarchists. I call this the “tear down” arm of the animal rights movement, because it certainly is not interested in building up.

A good illustration of the double standard happened here in San Francisco when an ex vegan was pied at an anarchist book store reading of her book. From the story:

An ex-vegan who was hit with chili pepper-laced pies at an anarchist event in San Francisco said Tuesday that her assailants were cowards who should direct their herbivorous rage at the powerful – not at a fellow radical for writing a book denouncing animal-free diets. Lierre Keith, a 45-year-old Arcata resident, was attacked at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at the 15th annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair while discussing her 2009 book, “The Vegetarian Myth.” A 20-year vegan, Keith now argues that the diet is unhealthy and that agriculture is destroying the world. As Keith stood at a lectern at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, three people in masks and black hooded sweatshirts ran from backstage, shouted, “Go vegan!” and threw pies in her face. While they fled, some in the audience cheered or handed out leaflets.

That was an assault and battery. Alas, being victimized did not teach Keith that it is wrong to engage in lawlessness against people with whom one disagrees:

Keith said her values are similar in most ways to those of her attackers. She believes in militant action, even property destruction, if it can lead to change. In her book, she said, she railed against factory farming and promoted the restoration of prairies and forests. “It’s insane. My entire book is about how the world is being destroyed,” Keith said. She said the first pie hit her just after she uttered the sentence, “You should not eat factory-farmed meat.” Among those rejoicing in the pie attack was the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often prints communiques from activists taking credit for attacks on animal researchers. The group said Keith was wrong about veganism, referred to her as an “animal holocaust denier,” and scolded her for calling the “agents of state oppression” – the police.

This is as much the face of animal rights as pretty models posing nude to protest fur. Rather than being distinct, I am convinced that the movement is one organism, like an octopus, with PETA’s edginess one arm, ALF’s violence another arm, and HSUS’s lawsuits and legitimate political advocacy, a third arm, etc.. That point aside, Keith’s nihilism is so thick that even after becoming a victim, she doesn’t have it in her to condemn lawless tactics against people based on differences of opinion. She just wants these tactics directed at someone else. Typical.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hunters to Kill Amoral Human-Killing Wolves

An Alaskan wolf pack apparently hunted and killed a jogger. Hunters are now out to kill the pack. From the story:

Alaska authorities have dispatched teams of hunters to the Chignik Lake area of the Alaska Peninsular to hunt down the wolves they have concluded stalked and killed a special education teacher who apparently was taking a left afternoon run. Candice Berner, 32, appeared to have been killed Monday evening during a run along a remote road outside the Alaska Peninsula community, according to troopers.

The state medical examiner concluded, following an autopsy Thursday morning, that the cause of death was “multiple injuries due to animal mauling.” Based on interviews with biologists and villagers in Chignik Lake, troopers concluded wolves were the animals most likely responsible, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in a statement. The state Department of Fish and Game still wants to conduct DNA testing to help study the incident, but troopers are convinced it was a wolf attack, troopers director Col. Audie Holloway said. “We are as close to 100 percent certain as you can be,” Holloway said. Troopers investigating the scene found many wolf paw prints around the body, which had been partially eaten, and bloody drag marks in the snow, he said. Investigators were able to conclude after the autopsy that the animal injuries caused the death and were not inflicted post-mortem, he said.

The wolved did nothing “wrong” in killing this poor woman. They are incapable of right and wrong, which is to say, they are amoral beings. Hence, hunting them down isn’t punishment. Rather, the lethal action is being taken to protect public safety.

If history is any guide, expect some howling from animal rights activists and others to save the wolves, despite the lethal threat they pose to people. On the other hand, Alaskans are closer to the land. Urbanites usually are the ones who object to killing cougars, wolves, and other animals that pose a risk to the public safety. Those who see nature as it really is generally understand that it isn’t really Eden.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How PETA Gets its Dough

I am frequently asked in interviews how a radical and misanthropic organization like PETA gets so much money. The answer is simple. Many average people think the group is about just being nicer to animals, when it is actually about ending all animal domestication.

Then there are the shallow celebrities, who provide a cornucopia of cash. Take Paul McCartney. After his wife Linda died of breast cancer, he gave millions to cancer research (applause), but then counter-donated with millions to PETA–even though PETA’s hostility to animal research serves to impede cancer research. Moreover, PETA loathes horseback riding, and yet, Linda was a great horse woman. Talk about clueless!

Now, Bob Barker has forked over $2.5 million. From the story:

Former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker is lending his name, and a considerable amount of his cash, to the construction of a new Los Angeles home for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Barker and a bevy of game show caliber beauties joined PETA President Ingrid Newkirk Wednesday for a groundbreaking at what will become the new PETA office on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. The 86 year old daytime TV legend donated $2.5 million to make the project happen. It’s no coincidence that the office will be named The Bob Barker Building. Barker was a longtime advocate for spaying and neutering, as well as other animal rights issues, during his Price is Right tenure.

No, PETA isn’t about spaying. It is about ending all uses of animals: Another example of the media conflating animal welfare and animal rights. But with celebrities with money to burn like Bob Barker and Paul McCartney, the price for PETA is always right.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Defense of A Rat, is a Pig, etc., Part 2

As posted about previously, the National Review gave me an opportunity to respond to Matthew Scully’s diatribe against my book. (Scully, who is a conservative speech writer, is–to understate the matter–extremely emotional about animal issues). In part 1, I responded to his continuing canard that I supported breaking the limbs of chimps in experiments. In this post, I will excerpt some of my more general comments, which describe the book in a nutshell.

First, I remarked on the hyper emotionality of Scully’s review (here’s a link):

But let us ponder: What would drive a deeply talented writer like Scully to engage in such blatant falsehood? Like Zeus throwing his destructive lightning bolts, radical animal advocates often deploy the rant in order to drive rationality and reason off the field. In the face of such fury, we are tempted to cower under our desks, thereby allowing animal-rights activists to stand alone as righteous “defenders” of those who “can’t speak for themselves.”

Such demagoguery stifles our deeply pondering this important moral issue. Thus, I hope the book will help restore balance to the discussion of these matters.

In the rest of my response, I describe the book (since Scully didn’t), beginning with making a crucial distinction between animal rights and animal welfare:

So what’s the book really about? With A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy, I hope to clear up the confusion in the public mind between promoting “animal welfare”—a noble cause, which I endorse—and “animal rights,” which I oppose. The former acknowledges the ethical propriety of using animals for human benefit, while vigorously insisting on concomitant duties to treat animals humanely. In direct contrast, animal-rights ideology disdains the welfarist approach as “speciesism”—i.e., “discrimination” against animals—and dogmatically insists we have no right to consume meat, to wear leather, to conduct animal research, and, for some, even to own dogs. In other words, the ultimate goal of animal rights—which believers understand to be a multi-generational project—is ending all animal domestication no matter how beneficial to humans.

I describe the various ideological assertions of animal rights dogma, and then describe the consequences of such belief:

Regardless of the approach, to the animal-rights true believer, that which is done to an animal is judged as if the same action were done to a human being. Hence, many animal rightists believe cattle ranching is as odious as slavery and research on lab rats an equivalent evil to Mengele’s experiments in the camps.

This leads some to engage in violence and terrorism, which I won’t belabor here. I then describe the second purpose of my book:

The hyperemotionality of animal-rights campaigners too often hides the tremendous benefits we receive from the proper and humane use of animals. For this reason, I devote an entire section of the book to a judicious discussion of animal research, the use of animals as food, and the more volatile issues of fur and hunting. I don’t pretend to identify proper husbandry techniques in every case. But I believe it is important both to expose the false assertions made by animal rightists—for example, that humans do not benefit from animal research and that fur trappers still use archaic metal traps that break animals’ legs—and to allow people engaged in these industries a forum to express their usually drowned-out perspectives.

And, of course, human exceptionalism is the core component:

The ideal I wish to advance—indeed, to conserve—is “human exceptionalism,” that is, the unique moral status of human life. It is remarkable that our exceptional natures require defense. After all, what other species in the known history of life has attained the wondrous capacities of human beings? What other species has transcended the tooth-and-claw world of naked natural selection to the point that, at least to some degree, we now control nature instead of being controlled by it? What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion? What other species rescues injured animals instead of ignoring or eating them? What other species has true freedom? Perhaps most crucially, what other species can be held to moral account?

Human exceptionalism increasingly is criticized as arrogant and hubristic, spurring us to mistreat animals and despoil the planet. I believe the contrary is true. Indeed, if being human isn’t what gives us the duty to treat animals properly, what in the world does?

It is worth noting that Scully has now failed twice to mention–as ethics would seem to require–that I criticized (and complimented) his book Dominion in A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. Moreover, it would have been nice if he had actually dealt substantially with what I wrote, rather than just venting his anger about the uses to which animals are put. But in an era in which feelings count more than thoughts, I am not surprised.

In Defense of A Rat, is a Pig, etc., Part 1

After Matthew Scully's screed against A Rat is a Pig, etc., discussed here, National Review gave me the opportunity to write an extended reply. Let me deal with his continuing mendacity first, and then I will write a second post excerpting some of my more general comments.

In his review, Scully claimed falsely that I supported an experiment that broke chimps' arms. Here's is my comment to that point, and then his response (no link):
ANIMAL RIGHTS began as an issue, became a movement, and has morphed into an ideology. Usually, animal rights is allied with the Left; but not always. Thus, when I decided to write a book criticizing the animal-rights movement, I expected to be attacked as being somehow indifferent to the suffering of animals and, moreover, that Matthew Scully—the animal-rights movement’s favorite conservative—would lead the charge. What I didn’t expect was for Scully to illustrate my supposed heartlessness with a false anecdote, the by-product of his own furious imagination. And to that, I strenuously object. In criticizing my explanation of the need for using animals in scientific research, Scully accused me of offering “soothing descriptions of violent experiments (chimps are ‘seated quietly, not struggling’ as their limbs are about to be broken.)” False. I never wrote about a chimp experiment that involved breaking limbs. Indeed, I have never heard of such an experiment. Scully can rail all he wants against my book. But he has no right to resort to cheap demagoguery to score an easy emotional point.
Scully doesn't back off:
The experiment Smith has “never heard of” is described on pages 74 and 75 of his own book, and his words are just as I quoted them in my review. The chimpanzees were strapped down (“held motionless,” as he puts it), and as experimenters prepared to slice their limbs and sever their nerves, Smith insists that they were still “seated quietly, not struggling.” The violence of the scene, until the primates were finally killed and discarded, is quickly passed over, with Smith’s usual assurances that humanity was served and the details are no concern of ours.
This is jaw dropping: The experiment he is referencing did not involve chimps. The now notorious "Silver Spring Monkey Case--infamous because of what an animal rights activist did to an ethical researcher, not because of his experiments--involved monkeys--a different animal entirely. Second, I wrote about the particular experiment because Alex Pacheco, PETA's co founder, attempted to destroy the life of the celebrated researcher, Dr. Edward Taub, by creating a materially false image of what was happening in the lab and the quality of the animals' care, while Taub was on vacation. (Described fully at NRO in February 2004.) Third, the experiment did not involve "breaking limbs" but a surgical procedure performed under proper anesthesia. Fourth, Taub was engaged in NIH-approved research that led to a tremendous breakthrough in the rehabilitation of stroke patients--Constrained Induced Movement Therapy--now benefiting tens of thousands of stroke patients around the world, and most recently, children with cerebral palsy.

That Scully can't identify the right animal--twice--refused to accurately describe what was done, and utterly ignored the tremendous human benefit that resulted from the research is both disturbing and telling.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Animals Not to Have Constitutional Right to Lawyers in Switzerland

As I have noted on more than one occasion, animal rights activists want animals to be granted "standing" to bring lawsuits. This radical change would serve two convergent purposes: It would allow liberationists to bring case after case against animal industries--since they would be the real litigants--as it powerfully promoted animal "personhood," obliterating human exceptionalism by creating a moral human/animal legal equivalence.

Today, in good news on the animal lawyers front, Switzerland rejected granting animals the constitutional right to legal representation when animal abuse is charged. From the story:
The result was emphatic: Swiss voters don't think abused animals need to have their own lawyers. It's a proposal that would never even come near a referendum in other countries, but the measure's defeat Sunday disappointed animal rights advocates, who say Switzerland's elaborate animal welfare laws aren't being enforced. Opponents of the proposal, including key farmers' groups and the government, had argued that existing laws are sufficient and appointing special lawyers to act on behalf of animals would be unnecessarily expensive for taxpayers. "The Swiss people have clearly said our animal protection laws are so good we don't need animal lawyers," Jakob Buechler, a lawmaker for the centrist Christian People's Party, told Swiss television SF1. Official results showed that 70.5 percent of voters cast their ballot against the proposal to extend nationwide a system that has been in place in Zurich since 1992. Some 29.5 percent of voters backed the proposal, with turnout at just over 45 percent.
It's alarming that nearly 30% voted for the notion. Animals shouldn't have lawyers or be granted constitutional rights under any circumstances. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal did a report on Switzerland's only animal lawyer recently, and it tells a warning tale. From the story:
Last month, Antoine Goetschel went to court here in defense of an unusual client: a 22-pound pike that had fought a fisherman for 10 minutes before surrendering. Mr. Goetschel is the official animal lawyer for the Swiss canton of Zurich, a sort of public defender who represents the interests of pets, farm animals and wildlife. He wound up with the pike as a client when animal-welfare groups filed a complaint alleging animal cruelty in the fish's epic battle with an amateur angler...

The majority of Mr. Goetschel's cases relate to abuse of household pets. He secured a 1,050-franc fine for a woman who abandoned two kittens in the street soon after buying them. In one 2008 case, he represented some fish that had been placed in a pool during a game show during which contestants tried to catch them by hand, allegedly violating Swiss law requiring that animals be treated with dignity. "If you treat fish like objects in a computer game, their dignity is hurt," Mr. Goetschel argued. A court, however, ruled that Zurich was the wrong jurisdiction for the case, and the defendants were subsequently cleared.

But opponents have seized on another fish tale—Mr. Goetschel's defense of the big pike— to argue that a mandatory public defender could make for absurd results. The case revolved around the idea that the pike suffered excessively because of how long it took for the angler to reel it in. Mr. Goetschel lost the case last month, but is considering an appeal. Any further court action would come too late for the pike, which has been eaten.
It would be much worse here than representing dead fish. "Animal standing" would give liberationists the right to sue directly. And with that power, they would wreak havoc on all animal industries, as I pointed out in this article at NRO.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nice Review of A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy

About a month ago, I did an extended interview with Colleen Carroll Campbell for EWTN about my book. It will air in a few months. But what a nice surprise today that she devoted her column to a review. And she gets it. From her column:

Wesley J. Smith is a speciesist. And he thinks you should be, too. An attorney and author of a new expose on the animal-rights movement, Smith promotes what was once an uncontroversial idea: the belief that “human beings stand at the pinnacle of the moral hierarchy of life.” He thinks humans have a duty to treat animals humanely. He also thinks we have a right to use animals to promote human flourishing and alleviate human suffering. In short, Smith loves animals but values humans more.

According to animal-rights activists, that makes him guilty of “speciesism:” a form of discrimination as arbitrary and pernicious as racism, and one that some believe must be eradicated by any means necessary. After all, “animals are people and people are animals,” as self-described “eco-anarcha-feminist animal” Pattrice Jones puts it. Or, to quote People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals.”

She points out one of my major themes:

Even more troubling, animal-rights activists have succeeded in confusing the public about the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. The latter is a noble cause supported by the vast majority of Americans who want to protect animals from cruelty, even though they do not consider animals their moral equals — a caveat that runs counter to animal-rights ideology. Despite this distinction, “animal rights” has “become the catchall term for virtually any effort to protect animals,” Smith says, and the resulting confusion has allowed the animal-rights movement to gain legitimacy it does not deserve.

And she hits on a crucial distinction between humans and animals:

Animals do not have rights or the moral responsibilities that accompany rights. That’s why we prosecuted Michael Vick, not his pit bulls, for dog-fighting. That’s why executives at Sea World, not its orcas, are facing public scrutiny for a whale trainer’s death last week. And that’s why we ponder our moral obligations to animals — who are, after all, the ultimate speciesists — even though animals do not do the same for us. We do so because we are human, endowed with exceptional dignity that deserves singular defense.

It sure is pleasing that after years of hard work to receive a good review by someone who understands exactly what I am saying. Thanks Colleen. Your support is very appreciated.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

When Animals Sue

I have a piece in today's NRO that tees off on Switzerland's upcoming vote to give animals a legal right to a lawyer in abuse cases. But as I point out in A Rat is a Pig,etc., granting animals standing may be the most desired goal of the animal rights movement. From my column:

But animals suing? For most people, the very idea is a surreal fantasy out of a Far Side cartoon. But from the viewpoint of animal-rights ideologues, nothing could be more logical. The dogma of animal liberation demands the obliteration of all animal industries and, eventually, the eradication by attrition of all domesticated animals...

What could further the eradication goal more dramatically than allowing domesticated animals to sue their owners in court? The real litigants, of course, would be animal-rights activists — committed true believers who would use the raw power of litigation to force animal industries to their knees. Imagine the chaos: hundreds of animal lawyers, filing thousands of lawsuits, leading to hundreds of thousands of depositions, forcing industries to spend tens of millions of dollars on lawyers and legal costs defending their husbandry. No animal industry would be safe, and many would not survive.

Beyond the chaos that animal standing would cause, lies an ideological purpose:
Animal standing also has a philosophical purpose. The ultimate goal of animal rights is not merely the improved treatment of animals; that effort is properly called animal welfare. Animal-rights dogma holds that there is no moral One way to achieve societal acquiescence in this view would be to transform at least some animals into legal “persons.” As animal-rights-crusading law professor Stephen Wise wrote in Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, convincing the courts to grant “practical personhood” to chimps and other higher mammals would open the courtroom door to animals, a move he described as “the first and most crucial step toward unlocking the cage” to all animals generally distinction to be made between animals and humans, and therefore what is done to an animal should be viewed as if it were done to a human.
I point out the friends in high places this cause enjoys--Cass Sunstein, Laurence Tribe, etc.--meaning it could happen. I conclude:
Of all the ubiquitous advocacy thrusts by animal-rights advocates, successfully obtaining legal standing for animals could prove the most significant. First, it would accomplish a major animal-rights goal of profoundly undermining the status of animals as property. Second, it would create utter chaos in animal industries, which would also badly damage the general economy, much of which depends on the use of animals and animal byproducts. Most significantly, on an existential level, the perceived exceptional nature of human life would suffer a body blow through the erasure of one of the clear definitional lines that distinguish people from animals — the belief in human exceptionalism.

This is the future for which animal liberationists devoutly yearn. Considering our crazy cultural history of the last 50 years, and given the energetic commitment of animal-rights activists, their abundant resources, and the intellectual support they have received already from some of society’s most influential thinkers, it would be complacent folly to blithely assume, “It can’t happen here.”
Animal rights advocates are intensely committed to making this happen. Those of us who think animals should not be deemed akin to people have to be just as committed to making sure it doesn't ever happen.