Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy Lauded in Review

Well, this is a nice way to start the day. Someone sent me a good review on MercatorNet (Australia) of A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. And how refreshing: The reviewer really got where I am coming from. Here are a few excerpts:

Our society rests upon the unspoken acceptance of a number of truths, like the rule of law, the authority of reason, or solidarity with our neighbours. One of these is so obvious that it used to need no defenders: human exceptionalism, the notion that humans are special and unique amongst living things. But today, animal rights activists are holding a big question mark over this hitherto undisputed truth.

Radical animal rights activists deny that there is anything special about human beings. Their campaign to grant animals rights is ultimately a campaign to revise Shakespeare’s assessment – “in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals” — and disrobe him of any unique significance. That is the argument of this important book. Wesley J. Smith distinguishes between animal welfare and the animal rights movement. The humane treatment of animals is something all of us should support. But animal rights is a worrying development. What looks like a noble and worthwhile crusade is at bottom really an anti-human ideology. It is in fact “a belief system, an ideology, even a quasi religion, which both implicitly and explicitly seeks to create a moral equivalence between the value of human lives and those of animals,” says Smith.

The review discusses some of the ideological bases I report on and notes:

Smith warns us of what sort of world we would live in if these radicals had their way: “Medical research would be materially impeded. There would be no more fishing fleets, cattle ranches, leather shoes, steak barbecues, animal parks, bomb-sniffing or Seeing Eye dogs, wool coats, fish farms, horseback riding, pet stores… Millions of people would be thrown out of work, our enjoyment of life would be substantially diminished. Our welfare and prosperity reduced.” Indeed, all domestication of animals would be taboo. There goes the family pet.

The review discusses some of the examples of animal rights activism in my book, such as Holocaust on Your Plate,” and PETA’s scurilous “comic books” depicting parents as animal killers:

It is not just intellectuals and academics who are pushing all this. Activist groups are targeting children and schools. They seek to convince young children that all domestication of animals is evil, and they must rise up and act now. There are even PETA comics. One produced in 2003 for its anti-fur campaign, “Your Mommy KILLS Animals!”, depicts an evil-looking mother knifing a rabbit to death, with gore splattered all over the page. These fear campaigns and propaganda exercises are found in schools all around North America.

The ultimate point of the book, as SHSers know, is defending human exceptionalism:

Rights can apply only to humans, because only humans possess moral autonomy. Seeking to include animals in the area of rights “would degrade the importance of rights altogether, just as wild inflation devalues money”. Given that Switzerland is now talking about “plant rights” it is time that we started thinking clearly and soberly about what rights really mean, and why humans are unique. At the same time we can and should ensure proper animal welfare. Smith gets this balance right. With so much irrationality and emotion being generated on this issue, his cool logic and common sense come as a welcome relief.

I tried. Thanks very much to Bill Muehlenberg, a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several Melbourne theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University, for his obvious careful reading of my book and his thoughtful analysis.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ban Whaling Based on Animal Welfare, Not Personhood

The anti human exceptionalists are–rather desperately, it seems to me–ever pretending that animals are like “us,” even as they say there is nothing special about being human anyway. And now, the effort to stop whaling has scientists in high anthropomorphic gear about pods of whales being “tribes” and alleged cetacean personhood. Latest example, New York Times science writer Natalie Angier, who argues that we should “Save a Whale, Save a Soul:”

After two years of transcontinental haggling, the commission had been expected to replace today’s hunting ban with limited hunting quotas. Supporters of the policy change had argued that by specifying how many whales of a given species could be sustainably harvested over a 10-year period, and by tightening or eliminating current loopholes through which whaling nations like Japan and Norway kill the marine mammals for “scientific” purposes, the new measure would effectively reduce the number of whales slaughtered each year.

Yet many biologists who study whales and dolphins view such a compromise as deeply flawed, and instead urge that negotiators redouble efforts to abolish commercial whaling and dolphin hunting entirely. As these scientists see it, the evidence is high and mounting that the cetacean order includes species second only to humans in mental, social and behavioral complexity, and that maybe we shouldn’t talk about what we’re harvesting or harpooning, but whom.

To show you where Angier is coming from, I blogged about her writing over at Secondhand Smoke after she ridiculously opined that plants are the most ethical life form on the planet because they live without killing. I guess she forgot that ethics requires rational analysis and the intentional creation of moral codes, activities in which only humans are capable of engaging. Oh, and what about those cruel venus flytraps? They digest their prey alive!

Here’s the thing: We don’t need to go through the mental contortion of making whales people too in order to support an international treaty banning commercial whaling. Human exceptionalism supports it based on our duty not to treat animals cruelly or cause animal suffering for little human benefit. The need for whale meat is very low and the cruelty of the killing method very high. That being so, it doesn’t matter that a pod of killer whales once seemed to play with dead salmon (discussed in Angier’s piece). As a matter of applying basic animal welfare principles, the arguments in favor of a commercial ban are clear and convincing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Creating Sick Pigs to Help Make Humans Well

Animal research is crucial to the quest to find treatments for the worst human illnesses. Toward this end, UK scientists are genetically altering pigs so that they will be born with currently incurable human diseases so that they can be used in drug research looking for effective treatments. From the story:

SCOTTISH scientists are creating pigs that are genetically modified to suffer from incurable human diseases – so they can be used by drug companies to test new therapies. The team of researchers is trying to produce pigs which are diseased with the lethal lung condition cystic fibrosis and an eye disease that leads to blindness in humans, The Scotsman has learned. The highly controversial research is being carried out at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, famous for creating Dolly the cloned sheep. If the team is successful, the diseased animals would be used by drug companies to test potential new gene therapies for the conditions…In a frank interview with The Scotsman, Dr Bruce Whitelaw, head of developmental biology at the Roslin Institute, admitted he had struggled with the idea of creating diseased animals purely to try to benefit humans. “We are saying we will make these animals sick purely for our benefit,” he admitted. However, he believes his team has a “moral right” to give the technique a try.

It might even rise to the level of a duty. This is potentially important work that could–not will, but could–tremendously benefit humankind. But animal rights activists think it is immoral and, indeed, evil. And note the nuanced ethical analysis that went into the decision to create the sick pigs:

“I don’t think we should use this technology for something we can currently treat just so we can make the treatment slightly better, but we should use it for diseases that we don’t have treatments for,” he said…He continued to justify the work by adding: “If we believe we need to have therapies for these diseases – and currently society en masse believes that – then we surely have to have that tested in the best way we can before it goes into that patient. “Then the better the animal model – the more likely it’s going to tell you something about going into a human patient – the better. “And basically mice are mediocre at best and the majority of studies are done on mice.”

That seems the right approach to me, and I say it without joy or relish. But the potential benefit to find ways to treat incurable human diseases justifies the harm caused by manufacturing sick pigs–which would never be justified doing to human beings because of our higher moral value than animals and the mutually equal moral worth to each other.

I’ll let you read the usual animal rights nonsense spouted by opponents about how animal research is pointless because animals and humans would not react identically to the experimental treatments, for yourselves. That isn’t the point of basic research, which needs living human organisms for testing, and as the story points out, in this situation the pigs are closer to us than mice.

Here is the conundrum: New medicines at some point have to be tested on a living organism. That can be dangerous and, indeed, may fail. But if we don’t do it, medical advancements will slow to a crawl, at best. Thus, it is either risk mice–or as in this case, pigs–or endanger humans. So which matters more, us or animals? I vote, us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Animal Rights Protestors Meet Their Match

This undoubtedly isn’t true, nor do I really want it to be because it would involve assault. But still, the premise has definite appeal. From the “story:”

Johnstown, PA (GlossyNews) – Local and state police scoured the hills outside rural Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after reports of three animal rights activists going missing after attempting to protest the wearing of leather at a large motorcycle gang rally this weekend. Two others, previously reported missing, were discovered by fast food workers “duct taped inside several fast food restaurant dumpsters,” according to police officials.

“Something just went wrong,” said a still visibly shaken organizer of the protest. “Something just went horribly, horribly, wrong.” The organizer said a group of concerned animal rights activist groups, “growing tired of throwing fake blood and shouting profanities at older women wearing leather or fur coats,” decided to protest the annual motorcycle club event “in a hope to show them our outrage at their wanton use of leather in their clothing and motor bike seats.” “In fact,” said the organizer, “motorcycle gangs are one of the biggest abusers of wearing leather, and we decided it was high time that we let them know that we disagree with them using it…ergo, they should stop.”

Right. Fat chance.

This is clearly a satire. Not even animal rights activists are dumb enough to harass a motorcycle gang! But protesters who throw paint and engage in other such activities are bullies, so who can blame people for smiling at such a revenge fantasy?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Seal Sues

One of the biggest–yet little known–agenda items of the animal rights movement is what is known as animal standing, that is, granting animals the right to bring lawsuits (discussed in detail in my book and in this article on NRO). (Of course, the real litigants would be animal rights and environmental extremists looking to shut down human enterprise and animal industries in support of their ideology.)

It keeps being tried by animal rights and environmental radical lawyers, and keeps being turned down. But there is no downside. Bringers of these claims are never punished or sanctioned, and moreover, they know that all they need is one court, and these days, anything is possible in court.

There is now another of these animal standing cases now pending seeking a ruling that would grant a seal the right to sue. From the column by Christopher Stone, who claims to “represent” the seal:

It is not uncommon for a law professor to have a client on death row. Mine is a sea lion. He goes by C657, an identity branded into his flesh by the Army Corps of Engineers. C657 got onto the wrong side of the law by, allegedly, eating salmon at the base of the Bonneville Dam spillway in the Pacific Northwest. That, the National Marine Fisheries Service says, is a federal offense, punishable by rifle fire. We lost in the lower court, which ruled that sea lions had no standing. His case is before an Oregon appeals court. C657’s case involves much more than the fate of a single sea lion, and not merely because six similarly situated sea lions were shot in March when a stay of execution expired. The larger principle is the right of nonhumans to sue in their own names, with lawyers as their guardians. I believe the facts of C657’s case illustrate the merits of permitting some such suits.

The words we use matter. The seals weren’t “executed.” Execution under color of law is punishment for a crime. The seals did not commit a crime, and indeed are incapable of such because they are amoral. They were destroyed–that’s the proper term–to save the salmon run as part of ecological management. To state otherwise is to try to turn seals into persons and the equivalent of humans. Of course, that’s the reason Stone used the term.

Stone next tries to downplay the importance of the whole thing by stating that lawsuits brought by animals and nature–which he also supports–will rarely happen, so no big deal:

Granted, the idea of rights for nature invites many objections. Among them I would not the include that: The courts, besieged on every hand. Will crowd with suits by chunks of land. Lawyers value their time, and brooks have shallow pockets. Lawsuits on behalf of nonhumans are therefore unlikely to be frivolous.

Who is he kidding? HSUS has more than $200 million in assets and is chewing at the bit (pardon the pun) to bring animal lawsuits. PETA is rolling in dough. Rich bank rollers like Paul McCartney will happily donate to animal lawsuits. Such suits could quickly become an easy way of raising big money from regular donors and could become a racket with animal industries paying protection settlement money to keep out of court. Then there is the pro bono bar at the big corporate firms that induce liberal young lawyers to work for big corporations, in part by agreeing to let them assuage their consciences by bringing “cause” lawsuits. No, with more than 100 law schools churning out lawyers trained in animal law, there would be an atomic explosion of such cases, and with, it the destruction of many animal industries.

But the real purpose of the suit isn’t just to save the seal, but to destroy human exceptionalism. Stone concludes:

C657 (currently reprieved in a Texas aquarium) wants his day in court. More than that, C657 wants to contest humankind’s self-appointed place atop the planet.

Please. C657 wants to do no such things. It is oblivious. No, Christopher Stone wants his ilk wish to “contest humankind’s self-appointed place atop the planet.” The seal is just the front for the real agenda.

When you think about it, this is all very odd. We dominate all other life forms. We manage species and environments. We are unquestionably atop the planet, to the point we are accused by the radical environmentalist crowd that we must sacrifice ourselves to save the planet from ourselves.

Stone may wish to pretend otherwise, but in his very attempt to destroy human exceptionalism, ironically, he is engaging in it. By urging self sacrifice for the sake of other species as a moral imperative, he seeks to force us to adopt a radical forbearance of which humans are uniquely capable. I mean our salmon industry is in real trouble, and one cause is the seals who eat countless millions of the fish before we can catch them. If we were like other species, we would try to kill our competitors or drive them away. But we protect them. Name one other known creature in the known universe that has ever done that but us.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Animal Rights Terrorists--Not Religion--to Blame for Outsourcing Animal Research

I don’t mean for this to be pick on Peter Singer week, but blame him for being so wrong at every opportunity. Singer has a piece in the Guardian decrying the outsourcing of animal research to countries with weak welfare rules. Great! We are, for once, on the same page.

But Singer isn’t really after the outsourcing, but religion. From his piece:

Last week, the chief minister of Malacca, Mohamad Ali Rustam, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that God created monkeys and rats for experiments to benefit humans. Activists had been protesting against his approval of an Indian company’s proposal to build an animal research laboratory in his state. They said that Malaysia has no regulations to protect animals in laboratories. His answer was the reference to God’s purpose in creating animals. If it were not for the dire consequences for the animals who will suffer in the laboratory, the chief minister’s remark would be hilarious. Here is the head of a Malaysian state justifying the establishment of a scientific enterprise with a comment that flies in the face of everything science tells us. The belief that the animals exist because God created them – and that he created them so we can better meet our needs – is contrary to our scientific understanding of evolution and, of course, to the fossil record, which shows the existence of non-human primates and other animals millions of years before there were any human beings at all.

Okay, but what about animal welfare? Not yet:

The chief minister’s comment is yet another illustration of the generally regressive influence that religion has on ethical issues – whether they are concerned with the status of women, with sexuality, with end-of-life decisions in medicine, with the environment, or with animals. Although religions do change, they change slowly, and tend to preserve attitudes that have become obsolete and often are positively harmful.

Yada, yada, yada. But what about the animals? Finally, at the very end:

Independently of the problems of reactionary religious belief, the trend to establish animal testing facilities in countries with weak or no regulations is an extremely worrying one. As regulations improve in Europe, North America, Australia and other countries, it seems that unscrupulous entrepreneurs are engaged in a race to the bottom. If we are concerned about the exploitation of human workers in countries with low standards of worker protection, we should also be concerned about the treatment of even more defenceless non-human animals. At present, the only hope of reversing this trend seems to be pressure on companies not to test their products in countries without good animal welfare regulations, and pressure on research institutions not to have links with such countries. But to unravel the connections and make them clear to consumers is, unfortunately, going to be a difficult task.

I agree with him on that, but what he fails to mention is one of the most important causes of this outsourcing of ethics (in Bill Hurlbut’s provocative turn of phrase) is the fear generated by animal rights terrorism. Singer has spoken against violence in the past, but not very robustly. This piece would have been a good time to bring that crucial point up with ringing clarity. Too bad he preferred instead to use most of his column as a jeremiad against religion. Indeed, I think it tells us clearly where is priorities lie.A