Human Exceptionalism

Animals May be Property, but They Are Not Stones

I often rag against the animal rights crowd that seek to reduce human moral worth by making it equivalent to that of animals. But sometimes those who oppose animal rights miss a huge point about human exceptionalism, too. Case in point: Ilana Mercer of World Net Daily.

Mercer has written two columns on the Vick case which I think contain gross errors. (My Vick piece ran again the other day in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.) In her first column, Mercer correctly identified a central problem with animal rights/liberation ideology:

Animal-rights activists share a humanity-hating agenda with environmentalists. The first would like ultimately to see the State proceed against anyone who slaughters, markets, experiments on, or even eats and wears animals…

But then she goes off the rails:

Human beings ought to care for and be kind to animals, but a civilized society is one that never threatens a man’s liberty because of the callousness with which he has treated the livestock he owns.

But this misses an essential point of human exceptionalism. We are uniquely in the known universe moral agents, which not only is a basis for rights–but also gives rise to solemn and uniquely human duties. Animals are not stones. We have the obligation to never cause them gratuitous pain or suffering and need to continually challenge ourselves to better methods of animal husbandry and empathetic concern. Moreover, we owe it to ourselves to treat animals in ways that honor their magnificence as living beings and upholds our own humanity.

In Mercer’s view, I could buy puppies for torture and other than potential social shunning, society would have to permit it because the puppies would be my property. Such a society would be a throwback to pagan Rome that routinely engaged in the public torture of animals to satisfy the blood lust of the crowd.

In her second column, Mercer claims:

Vick is being treated like an animal and his dogs like human beings.

To the contrary: He is being held responsible precisely because he is a human being who acted inhumanly by treating his dogs so abominably.

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