Human Exceptionalism

A Rat is a Pig Etc. Lauded in Good 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.

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