When the rulers of To the Source saw my piece “Homo Sapiens, Get Lost” in NRO about the the growing anti-humanism that is infecting the environmental movement, it gave them an idea. They asked me to write a piece for TTS, using the same Brave New World analogy as a launching pad that I used in NRO, but to take the thrust of the piece in a different direction. Using the principles of human exceptionalism, they asked me to distinguish the instrumental use of nascent human life in biotechnology and contrast it to an upcoming animal welfare event known as “Be Kind to Animals Week.” That seemed like a nice challenge and so I hit the old keyboard, resulting in “Keep the Human in Humane.”
First, I describe the ongoing threat of brave new world biotechnology. From the piece:
Looking around, can there be any doubt of Huxley’s prescience across the board? Look at what is happening in the field of biotechnology as just one example. Despite breakthroughs in ethical stem cell research—such as the induced pluripotent stem cell that is made from normal skin or other cells—scientists continue to insist that they need to clone human beings for use in experiments and to develop medical treatments…
Meanwhile, some bioethicists promote creating fetuses through cloning and gestating them in artificial wombs from which to harvest body parts–a proposal that would be explicitly legal under New Jersey law. Fertility doctors have already announced that they are striving to bring cloned babies to birth (although at this time it is almost certainly not technically feasible).
The brave new world agenda marks a Rubicon in human morality. Not only does it–as in the bad old days of slavery–redefine some human beings as mere natural resources, but for the first time in history human beings are being created with the explicit purpose of destroying and harvesting them like a corn crop.
I listed some examples of the ongoing coup de culture that this is part of and then segued into the animal issue:
But human exceptionalism isn’t just about our rights. Equally important, the principle also promotes human duties–to each other, to our posterity, and to the natural world. Indeed, in the known universe we are the only species that can be held morally accountable if we fail to do the right thing.
Which brings us to a seemingly unconnected event: American Humane’s annual “Be Kind to Animals Week,” sponsored by the group every year since 1915 to “commemorate the role animals play in our lives, promote ways to treat them humanely, and encourage others, especially children, to do the same.”…How does “Be Kind to Animals Week” differ from the Great Ape Project and other animal rights advocacy? It supports human exceptionalism by encouraging us to fulfill our human duties to animals, without undermining our unique moral status by according “rights” to animals. And that is a distinction with a huge difference. After all, if being human–in and of itself–is not what gives us the sacred obligation to treat animals properly, what does?
Those who seek to knock us off the pedestal of exceptionalism believe that once we see ourselves merely as one of infinite parts of nature, we will improve our care for flora and fauna. But the truth is the mirror opposite. If we ever come to see ourselves as merely another animal in the forest, that is precisely how we will act–both to nature and toward each other. The ongoing objectification of vulnerable human life–also justified by its proponents by denying human exceptionalism–is a warning of this truth that we dare not ignore.
Human exceptionalism is a magnificent two-edged sword if we will only grasp it: It protects universal human rights by embracing intrinsic human dignity and moral worth, while at the same time, it requires us to treat the environment and animals properly and humanely as a sacred human duty. I just don’t get why the concept upsets so many people.