Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Speech to Animal Ag Alliance Covered by Washngton Times

I gave a speech to the Animal Ag Alliance in Arlington yesterday. It was covered by the Washington Times. From the story:
The agriculture industry is under attack from a powerful, popular and well-funded lobby - animal rights groups, which want to see it die completely, said two speakers at the Animal Agriculture Alliance 9th Anual Stakeholders Summit in Arlington, Va., Wednesday. "You are not dealing with people who want to reach acommodation with the agricultural industry about what is proper animal husbandry," Wesley Smith, author of the 2010 book "A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement," told the audience, which comprised primarily members of the animal agriculture industry. "Their intent is that you have no pigs, that you have no chickens ... in fact the agenda is to do away with all animal domesticity, which they see as a multi-generational project."

He noted the irony inherent in veganism, a practice in which one consumes no animal products, because of the large number of rodents and snakes that die in grain silos and in grain fields during harvest. "Nobody on this planet ... eats unless animals die," he said. "Veganism is just as much "murder" as eating meat is."

Smith distinguished between the terms 'animal rights' and 'animal welfare' and said groups that claim to be involved in the former are not concerned about the treatment of animals, but rather in furthering ther agenda of equating animal and human worth via the proponence of legal rights for animals. "They do not believe we should look at the human benefit" of using animals for drug testing, food or clothing, Smith said, adding that foremost on American animal rights' groups agenda at the moment is to allow animals to sue humans directly. He told the story of a Swiss court case in which a lawyer represented a fish that had been caught and consumed in an animal abuse case. The fisherman had been accused of taking too long to reel in the fish.
That part about veganism is murder, too always riles the animal rights activists. But there is no denying that vegan diets also result in the killing of countless animals--with what might be called reckless disregard for their safety--which if done to humans would be just as much murder as intentionally killing specific people. If animal rightists were consistent, they would protest combines and demand hand harvesting to save the field mice and snakes.

Now Animals Have a Right to Privacy?

It all gets to be too much: Animals don't have the same sense of privacy or modesty that we have. But a university professor--of course!--claims that nature documentaries violate animals' putative "right to privacy." From the story:
Dr Brett Mills from the University of East Anglia argues that while wildlife programmes can play a vital role in engaging citizens in environmental debates, in order to 'do good' they must inevitably deny many species the right to privacy. Published in the current issue of Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, Dr Mills' study analyses the 'making of' documentaries that accompanied the BBC wildlife series Nature's Great Events (2009). Exploring the debates on ethics, animal welfare and rights and human rights, Dr Mills suggests that animals have a right to privacy but this is turned into a challenge for the production teams, who use newer forms of technology to overcome species' desire not to be seen.
Right. They're naked! And notice the blatant anthropomorphizing:
Dr Mills said: "It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they'd rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy. "When confronted with such 'secretive' behaviour the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television. The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed: they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all."

A justification could be made for filming animals as they roam plains and deserts and engage in hunting activities because these are 'public' events, which take place in locations which include many other animals, and in which the animal being filmed makes no explicit attempt to not be seen. Yet animal activities which might equate with human notions of the private are treated in a way which suggests the public/private distinction does not hold. For example, many species could be read as desiring not to be seen -- animals in burrows and nests have constructed a living space which equates with the human concept of the home, and commonly do this in locations which are, by their very nature, explicitly hidden, often for practical purposes. "Human notions of privacy which rest on ideas of location or activity are ignored in terms of animals. It doesn't matter what an animal does, or where it does it, it will be deemed fair game for the documentary," said Dr Mills.
Animals aren't people! "Consent" is a foreign concept to them in this context, and there is no such thing as private and public spheres in the natural world. They act secretly because they instinctively are trying to avoid being eaten, not because they want personal privacy. Good grief.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

As I pound the drum against animal rights in my book and on the media--most recently today on Wisconsin Public Radio, Kathleen Dunn, an interview that I found to be interesting and thorough (available by following this link)--I have repeatedly distinguished between animal rights and animal welfare, the latter about improving our treatment of animals, the former about ending all animal domestication. I have also repeatedly noted that animal rights, unlike animal welfare, creates an explicit moral equivalence between the value of human life and that of animals.

Some have criticized me for this assertion, accusing me of overstating the case. Oh really? Well hearken to the words of animal rights leader Steven Best, who defined animal rights in a radio interview. From the transcript:
FB: I want to come back to that, but, first of all I wanted both of you to define the term animal rights or animal liberation, depending on which one you prefer, in your own view.

SB: Well, animal rights is saying animals are equal to us, after all, we are animals, we’re just talking about other animals, and that we all have an interest in living a life of freedom and free from pain and torture and death and free to be with members of our family. To be in the natural world. to fulfill our wishes and desires. When you have these interests taken seriously and an equal value, and you have a legal system, such as in capitalist society, that backs those rights as guaranteed, they cannot be for-fitted, they are inalienable rights, they protect these basic freedoms that you have as defined in this society. That is what a right does. So if humans have rights, animals have rights for the same reasons. It’s the exact same reasons. You must be consistent in applying this concept of rights. But liberation takes us a step further because liberation is not waiting for a legal change. It’s not waiting for the legislature to bring these rights to animals. Liberation is more involved with direct action and directly taking a role in freeing animals yourselves from these conditions of oppression and opening up and smashing every damn cage and door that you can that is oppressing an animal. That is animal liberation.
Or to put it another way, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. It doesn't get any more explicit than that.

It's also anti human, often symbiotically connected with misanthropic radical environmentalism. Again, from Best:
We have to actively oppose these and we have to intervene at increasingly radical levels. Why? Because the oppression, the destruction of life and of this earth, is becoming increasingly radical. We need to do more and we need stronger and fiercer tactics to resist this. And so, I found myself also evolving more and always fearing that I wasn’t doing enough. And recognizing that I had to be more involved and I had to get more involved in protests, and then I realized the protests were also a form of control and I had to find other ways of interfering with the systems of power and domination. I started going direct action. And I started recognizing that we have to be more involved not just as individuals, as lifestyle vegans, but as political beings involved in social movements and resistance movements, and actively trying to transform this entire planet, this madhouse that we live in, into something sustainable and sane, and something that we could be proud to call a human creation or a community that we belong to. You see, that’s the key thing, what I call the Moral Copernican Revolution, when we recognize that the world does not belong to us, we belong to the world. And we live in a larger community that we belong to. And if you ask, what roles have we played in this community? And have we been good citizens in this equal community? This planetary community? My God, we’ve been barbarians. We’ve been invaders. We’ve been plunderers. We’ve been evil fascists playing with life on bayonets. We have to pull back from this planet. We have to reduce our numbers, our impact, and we have to allow other species to regain their foothold, and the diversity of this beautiful planet to flourish.
As I detail at greater length in my new book, animal rights is radical. It is anti human (sometimes, as here explicitly, sometimes implicitly or in outcomes), if implemented would be very destructive to human welfare, and for some, is an excuse for violence. Animal rights is subversive and should be rejected outright, as we continue the important work of creating ever improving and rational animal welfare standards.

Monday, April 19, 2010

More Evidence That Humane Society of US is a Stealth Animal Rights Organization

HSUS–no connection with your local humane society–is the richest animal rights organization in the world, with assets north of $200 million. It doesn’t pitch the animal rights dogma, but works assiduously to attack and undermine animal industries. Sometimes HSUS finds genuine abuses, which should be corrected no matter how they are uncovered, and sometimes its charges are specious. But it seems to me that it’s ultimate goal is not “welfare,” e.g. using animals for human benefit of i humanely, but “rights,” e.g. an eventual end to animal domestication. With its head honcho, Wayne Pacelle, and other HSUS leaders coming out of explicitly animal rights backgrounds, its stated opposition to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and its role in putting pregnant pigs into the Florida Constitution, its “animal protection” veneer seems more a tactical approach than an explicit commitment to animal welfare philosophy.

An opinion article in the Des Moines Register provides further evidence to validate my theory. From the column, “It’s not all about saving puppies at the activist Humane Society” by David Mastio:

Humane Society funds People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, according to its most recent IRS disclosure forms posted on the group’s Web site. PETA openly campaigns to stop the consumption of meat. “Meat is Murder,” you know.

And let us not forget PETA’s odious Holocaust on Your Plate campaign that equated meat eating with Nazi death camps. PETA is unequivocally an anti human organization (Ingrid Newkirk stated she wishes humans had never appeared on the planet) that promotes animal rights dogma far and wide. Funding PETA, unless based in ignorance, means one is pro animal rights. Pacelle and his crew are not ignorant. Hence, he and HSUS can only be described as pro animal rights.

The group raises money implying it runs pet shelters by showing abused cats and dogs. But as Mastio shows that this is far less than it seems. HSUS doesn’t own a single pet shelter and gives very little of its budget to fund bonafide shelters. Mastio gives this example from Iowa:

Even the money that gets sent to local animal shelters is dubious. For instance, the largest grant from the Humane Society of the United States in Iowa, disclosed in the latest IRS forms, is $9,044 to a shelter in Fairfield. According to the shelter’s Web site, the money was used to give Humane Society-produced propaganda to grade school teachers for use in classrooms. Among other things it asks children to pressure their schools to use only cage-free eggs and write to their congressional representatives. Turning kids into little lobbyists isn’t direct animal care. Paying a local animal shelter to distribute literature encouraging political activism isn’t supporting the shelter. And that’s the Humane Society of the United States – politics hiding behind precious little actual charity.

And that political advocacy is based on ideology, and that ideology is not animal welfare, but animal rights.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Using Less Animal Antibiotics Not a Matter of Animal Rights

There was a thoughtful opionion article in the New York Times Sunday about industrial farming and the potential over use of antibiotics to keep the animals from becoming infected. I found myself in complete agreement with the approach and, as a consequence, very open to the proposed solution. From the column by Stanford professor emeritus Donald Kennedy:

Agribusiness argues — as it has for 30 years — that livestock need to be given antibiotics to help them grow properly and keep them free of disease. But consider what has happened in Denmark since the late 1990s, when that country banned the use of antibiotics in farm animals except for therapeutic purposes. The reservoir of resistant bacteria in Danish livestock shrank considerably, a World Health Organization report found. And although some animals lost weight, and some developed infections that needed to be treated with antimicrobial drugs, the benefits of the rule exceeded those costs.

It’s 30 years late, but Congress should now pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would ban industrial farms from using seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human health unless animals or herds are ill, or pharmaceutical companies can prove the drugs’ use in livestock does not harm human health. The pharmaceutical industry and agribusiness face the difficult challenge of developing antimicrobials that work specifically against animal infections without undermining the fight against bacteria that cause disease in humans. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer to protect those at risk of increasing antibiotic resistance.

I don’t know that it has been proven that antibiotic use in animals helps promote resistant bacteria in humans. But be that as it may, Kennedy’s approach is the right way to debate issues involving the industrial farming of animals–one that deals in evidence rather than rants, and which considers both the important matter of animal welfare–as opposed to rights–as well as the overriding concern of human well-being and thriving. Or to put it another way, more reason, less diatribe: Yup, that’s the ticket.

Bestiality: Besmirching Intrinsic Human Dignity

As the coup de culture progresses, hedonism increases, leading to some decadent behaviors that are destructive to intrinsic human dignity. Bestiality is one such behavior, and in Washington State, a man has been arrested for, in effect, pimping his animals for sex. From the disgusting story:
Douglas Spink, 39, a one-time millionaire, convicted drug smuggler and horse trainer, was quietly living on rural property south of Sumas when he connected with James Tait, who was in a Tennessee jail on a bestiality charge... The two men's communications set in motion an investigation that resulted in Spink's arrest Wednesday at the Sumas farm for suspicion of violating his federal probation for drug smuggling. Federal prosecutors and Whatcom County sheriff's officials say Spink also allowed people to come to the farm and have sex with animals. He was "promoting tourism of this nature for bestiality," Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Friday. When county deputies and federal investigators searched the property they found videotapes that included images of a man, who was visiting the property, having sex with several large-breed dogs.
I bring this up only because whenever bestiality hits the news, some people have trouble defining precisely what is wrong with having sex with animals--and some don't seem to think it is wrong at all. Peter Singer, for example, notoriously defended bestiality in a book review ("Heavy Petting," warning crude language), essentially shrugging off bestiality as merely two animals rubbing body parts. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post's resident bioethicist, Jacob Appel, wrote that he didn't see it as significantly different from tossing a dog a Frisbee, ignoring the powerful intimacy and profound symbolism of sexuality in human culture. This is why rape, even when it doesn't cause physical injury, is a profound personal violation and will be punished far more severely than punching and breaking somebody's nose.

Of course, most people still object to bestiality, but many seem to have a difficult time expressing why they believe it is wrong. Some speak of the animals not consenting, for example. But that isn't it. After all, steers don't consent to become steak and sheep don't consent to let us have their wool for clothing.

Rather, by definition, bestiality is abuse. Animals did not evolve, were not created, and/or were not intelligently designed--take your pick--to be mere outlets for our lust, and using them in this way denigrates the respect we owe them as living beings with intrinsic value. And yes, it is not disrespectful to eat a food animal--food chains, after all, being part of the normal cycle of life--but it would be to use it as a sexual vessel or outlet.

Connected to this, but even more importantly, bestiality undermines and besmirches human exceptionalism. As I wrote in the wake of a man who died after sexual intercourse with a stallion, and in the wake of resistance in some quarters in Washington to legislation to outlaw the practice, bestiality is a frontal assault against human dignity. From my Weekly Standard article on the issue, "Horse Sense:"

Bestiality is so very wrong not only because using animals sexually is abusive, but because such behavior is profoundly degrading and utterly subversive to the crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe--a concept known as "human exceptionalism."...

Nothing would more graphically demonstrate our unexceptionalism than countenancing human/animal sex. Thus, when Roach's legislation[to criminalize bestiality] passes [it eventually did], the law's preamble should explicitly state that one of the reasons bestiality is condemned through law is that such degrading conduct unacceptably subverts standards of basic human dignity and is an affront to humankind's inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth.

Some things are not defensible. It seems to me that abusing animals sexually, which simultaneously debasing one's own humanity, comes within that category.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wesley J. Smith on C-Span About A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy

About a month ago, I traveled to Seattle to give a speech at the Discovery Institute about my new book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. The event was covered by C-Span and is now available for viewing by hitting this link.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Trying to Turn Whales Into "Persons"

Paloa Cavalieri is the co-editor and author, with Peter Singer, of The Great Ape Project, which seeks to create a “moral community of equals” among human beings, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos. The point is to “break the species barrier” and bring the entire animal kingdom into the moral community based on “quality of life” utilitarianism of the kind pitched ubiquitously by singer.

Cavalieri is opposed to whaling, and claims their “personhood” justifies a ban. From his article:

We have discovered that whales “sing.” Scientists have explained that whale societies display complex and stable vocal and behavioral cultures previously suggested only for humans. More impressively still, research into whale behavior points to an ability to look to the past, present and future — functions on which consciousness of oneself as a distinct entity existing in time are mounted.

A relevant backward-looking attitude is revealed, for instance, when hordes of whales, returning to their original territory after long-distance trips, first sing the old songs of the previous year, and then the new songs; the existence of a conscious self in the present, with the attendant ability to attribute mental states to others, is apparent in cases of whales doing acrobatic maneuvers to warn approaching vessels of their presence; and female killer whales’ tutoring of their offspring in the dangerous activity of ­shallow-water hunting offers evidence of the capacity for formulating and carrying out plans.

Since, according to current ethical reflection, the concept of being a person is the concept not of belonging to a certain species but of being endowed with certain mental properties — particularly, self-consciousness — whales turn out to be nonhuman persons, thus confirming the moral soundness of both the trend in international law and the intuitive popular view.

No. Whales are not persons. They may be intelligent, but they are not moral beings as humans are, and hence as a species, none have rights or duties–whether toward and from each other, us, or any species with which they come into contact.

There certainly are cogent and important animal welfare principles that could justify a ban on whaling. Unlike a few hundred years ago, the human need to harvest whales is quite low, and moreover, the method of killing is painful and cruel. But whales are not persons, and if they are ever so deemed, human exceptionalism will destroyed. But of course, that’s the point.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: Setting the Table, Part 2

This is the third post devoted to the content of my new book. In the first post, I quoted from novelist Dean Koontz's preface, and about six weeks ago, I excerpted the opening section of the Introduction. Today, we conclude our look at the Introduction, in which I wrote:
Perhaps we should not be surprised at the growth of the animal rights movement. Americans love animals. We coo over and coddle our cats and dogs as if they were human children. We paste “Save the Whales” bumper stickers on our cars. We flock to national parks to catch fleeting glimpses of bear, elk, and antelope, remnants of the wild America that once was and yet, still is. We fictionalize and anthropomorphize the animal world with movies like Bambi and Babe. We want our cheese to come from “happy cows.” At the same time, as primarily urbanites, we disassociate ourselves emotionally from the fact that meat comes from killing animals and that our stylish leather jackets were first worn by cows or sheep as their skin.

This love affair with animals can often be charming, if a bit loopy. It is also a potent indicator of our prosperity and cultural success. Most in the West have become so removed from the struggle for daily survival that we now have the luxury of caring deeply about animals and their suffering—which is a good thing. Moreover, our care for animals reflects our empathy, one of the great human virtues.
I then discuss an incident that I think illustrates how we project our own emotional attributes onto animals:
Our deep affinity with animals begins very early in life. I was reminded of this a few years ago whilst on a family vacation to Ireland. In the west coastal town of Dingle there is a unique tourist attraction: “Fungi” the lone dolphin. Tourist boats advertise trips into the harbor to see Fungi, with no fee charged unless he makes an appearance. Liking dolphins and wanting to see one up close, my wife Debra, niece Jennifer, and I eagerly bought tickets, and along with about 20 other tourists, were soon on a boat slowly cruising toward the mouth of Dingle’s small picturesque harbor.

As if on cue, Fungi arrived, swimming almost within reach on the starboard side. We all pressed eagerly up against the railing to get a good look. I was standing behind a very excited little boy—who couldn’t have been older than four—ecstatic at being so close to the magnificent animal. Suddenly, he sighed in ecstasy, held his arms out as wide as he could, and with all of the love in his innocent heart, crooned, “Ah, Fungi!”

It was a touching moment. Fungi was utterly indifferent to the child, no doubt swimming alongside the boat knowing he would be fed by a deck hand as his usual cut of the day’s profits for making an “appearance.” But to the little boy, Fungi epitomized the joy and hope of life itself.
I segue from there to Debra, during the same vacation, reading an awful passage to us from a biography of the French novelist Alexandre Dumas, in which he killed a dolphin--simply because he never had:
“Why did you read us that?” Jennifer and I moaned in unison, our splendid moods of the moment ruined at the thought of such gratuitous cruelty against an innocent animal. The fact that the incident had occurred more than one hundred years previously did nothing to diminish our upset.

And yet: Killing animals has always been and remains inextricably bound with human thriving. We do so for food and leather, in medical research, in sport, and when necessary, to ensure a proper environmental balance. More to the point, there is a lot at stake in this debate. Indeed, pause a moment and consider the impact if we were prevented—as animal rights/liberationists advocate—from domesticating animals. Medical research would be materially impeded. There would be no more fishing fleets, cattle ranches, leather shoes, steak barbecues, animal parks, bomb-sniffing and Seeing-Eye dogs, wool coats, fish farms, horseback riding, pet stores, Indeed, in the end, perhaps not even attractions like Fungi. Millions would be thrown out of work, our enjoyment of life would be profoundly diminished, our welfare and prosperity materially reduced.
From there, I lay out the structure of the book, and then bring the Introduction to a close:
The stakes in the animal rights are larger than the sum of its parts. It is my hope that after reading this book, readers will agree that it is a distinctly human and noble calling to continually implement ever-improving methods for raising and caring for animals. But this must not and cannot include granting rights to animals as if they were people. Indeed, I hope this book will convincingly demonstrate that the very concept of animal rights should be rejected because by seeking to destroy the principle of human exceptionalism the movement subverts human rights as it undermines our ability to promote human health, prosperity, and well-being.
In coming weeks, I will be doing some well known nationally syndicated radio programs about all this, both in a debate format and as a sole guest. Once the final details are set, I will let y'all know in case you want to tune in.