Human Exceptionalism

Why Humanists Should Oppose Animal Rights

A column by Damon Linker in The World hits the nail in opposing animal personhood as antithetical to humanism. From, “No, Animals Don’t Have Rights:”

Let me be clear: I’m all in favor of treating animals decently, with special sensitivity to their pain and suffering.

Let me interrupt for a moment. I often make the same disclaimer. That shows how successful the animal rights activists have been in mendaciously depicting their intellectual opponents as somehow cruel or uncaring about animal suffering. 

Back to Linker:

By all means, let’s pass stricter regulation of factory farming and laboratory experimentation. But the basis of these reforms should not be any quality we presume the animals themselves possess. It should grow out of an expansion of the sphere of human concern and sympathy, along the lines of the old aristocratic ideal of noblesse oblige — the notion that one’s superiority obliges one to act nobly toward commoners. In other words, we should treat animals decently not because they’re just like human beings, but rather because they’re not.

Exactly! The issue is really about human duty, not animal rights.

That duty flows directly out of human exceptionalism. And it is going to be based on the animal in question, hence we will treat chimps differently than rodents because we take into account their particular capacities and standards of proper care.

His next point is right out of my playbook, as particularly expressed in my book: A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement:

The animal rights movement, by contrast, invariably takes the opposite tack — either reducing us to the level of animals or attempting to raise them up to ours. Both should be resisted…

Once the dividing line between humans and animals has been erased, it’s hard to uphold any fundamental ethical distinction between them.

Precisely! To claim that animals are equal to humans is actually anti-humanism, and is based on a woeful misunderstanding of what makes us unique. These are differences that create a moral distinction rather than being wholly biological in nature (such as quality of eyesight, etc.):

Human dignity is inextricably linked to these moral qualities, which grow out of and reside in a shared public world defined by distinctively human ideas of virtue and vice, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong. That’s why I concluded my essay by insisting that to demonstrate that it possesses inviolable rights, a chimp or bonobo would need to do nothing less than “stand up and, led by a love of justice and a sense of self-worth, insist that the world recognize and respect its dignity.” That’s what it would take to prove that the members of an animal species possess the same intrinsic moral worth as human beings.

Anything short of that is an expression of human self-deception. And blindness about all that we are. Losing sight of that reality and truth in an act of advocacy-driven conceptual obfuscation is simply too high a price to pay, even for the promise of alleviating the suffering of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom.

More, it is an expression of human self-loathing, a deep misanthrope that would ultimately subvert human rights and be inimicable to human thriving.