Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Animals Are People, Too

Wesley Smith writes an article in The Weekly Standard that describes the ongoing effort to secure human rights for animals, or more specifically to get animals treated under the law as persons. Here are a few excerpts:
For years, animal rights activists have been preparing the intellectual ground to overcome the “animals aren’t persons” legal impediment to their goal of allowing animals to sue their owners—a concept known as “animal standing”—by which they plan to destroy animal industries and eventually end all domestication of animals. They know that no legislature will pass laws elevating even the most intelligent animals to the status of persons. So they plan to file multitudinous lawsuits, hoping judges will bootstrap animals into the moral community.

It has already started. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in 2008 to hear the appeal of an Austrian Supreme Court ruling denying personhood to a chimp. More such cases could soon be filed in the United States. Law professor and animal rights activist Steven Wise was quoted in the New York Times recently promising to file lawsuits starting in 2013 with the goal of using “the latest science to help persuade state court judges that such creatures as whales and chimpanzees should be accorded common law personhood and rights.”

It would be easy to roll one’s eyes and dismiss this as simply what radical lawyers do, to little effect. That would be a mistake. “Animal personhood” has become a respected idea in philosophy, the life sciences, the academy generally, and among some within the highly politicized science establishment.

But animal personhood is a real and present threat. Indeed, as Wise has written, it would only take one judge ambitious to make history to open the floodgates of litigation, first demanding inclusion of ever more animals in legal personhood, and from there, granting those animal persons standing to sue their owners for violations of their fundamental rights.

The lawyers who would take those cases are ready and waiting for the judicial go-ahead, their legal briefs already written. For years, professors have been busily training students in animal law courses and seminars at more than 100 of America’s top law schools, preparing an army of legal minds for the day they can represent whales, dolphins, chimps, elephants, pigs, and other animal “clients” in court.
I couldn't help wondering, as I read this, whether once animals are given the same rights as persons there will be prisons for animals which kill or steal from each other. Will entire species be considered irredeemably vicious and thus either exterminated or imprisoned? Will animals be entitled to health care? Will surrogates be appointed to cast votes on their behalf?

Mostly, though, I wondered why these people are trying so hard to extend personhood to animals but not to unborn humans? Did they file amicus briefs in those states which tried to pass personhood laws that would protect the unborn under the Fifth Amendment?

But set all that aside. The personhood for animals movement makes a certain amount of sense in a post-Christian world. After all, traditionally the only reason human beings had for thinking that they were qualitatively distinct from animals was that human beings were believed to be created in the image of God and animals weren't. There was an ontological chasm between mankind and animals that separated us from each other, but as that view faded in the 19th and 20th century enthusiasm for Darwinian materialism the chasm narrowed to a ditch and then pretty much disappeared altogether.

Perhaps the crucial blow was struck by Desmond Morris in the 1960s with his book titled The Naked Ape. Man, Morris argued, is nothing more than an ape without all the hair. That being the case there's no reason, at least in the minds of the secular elites, for not conferring legal rights upon animals.

Once we embark down the road of a secular, materialist vision of man there's no end to the absurdities we find ourselves logically compelled to accept.

Photo ID

States all across the country are trying to impose voter photo ID laws to protect the integrity of the voting process. The Obama administration in general, and Attorney General Eric Holder in particular, have argued that such laws are unnecessary, that there's no evidence of voter fraud occurring in the U.S., that photo ID laws are a solution in search of a problem.

After this video of a bit of surreptitious investigative journalism by James O'Keefe, I'm not so sure. O'Keefe presents himself to the poll worker and asks if they have a registration under the name of Eric Holder. Watch the rest, his "goodbye" line is clever:
It's ironic, as the video shows at the end, that the Department of Justice is fighting efforts to require photo ID for voters, but they require photo ID to gain admission to their office building.

The Talk

John Derbyshire was until recently a writer for the conservative journal National Review. He is an atheist and a Darwinian (the significance of which I'll explain below) which is unusual among political conservatives, and he was recently fired for writing a racially insensitive column based on "The Talk" that a number of African-Americans are saying that they have at some point with their children.

"The Talk" could be construed to be racially offensive to whites, in my opinion, but few commentators seem to want to say that out loud. Derbyshire was an exception. He satirized "The Talk" by writing down advice he has given to his own children over the years.

Some of what he said was wise, some of it was simply sociological fact, but some of it was seen as unfair, inaccurate, and gratuitously insulting to blacks, and for that he was fired. I'll leave it to you to read his essay and judge it for yourself. For my part, I'd like to focus on an aspect of it that no one else has remarked upon, at least so far as I am aware.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion that Derbyshire was indeed motivated by racial animus and eager to insult blacks qua blacks. Let's suppose that he really is a racist. If one is an atheistic Darwinian like Derbyshire why would one think that there was anything wrong with that? Darwin himself believed that blacks were an inferior race and as we've argued here on numerous occasions atheism entails moral nihilism, the idea that there is no right or wrong.

In other words, there's nothing wrong with racism unless there's an obligation binding each of us to love our neighbor, i.e. to treat him with dignity, respect and kindness, but there can only be such a duty if there's a transcendent moral authority who imposes it. Since, on Derbyshire's metaphysical presuppositions, there is no such authority, neither he nor anyone who shares those presuppositions can say that he was wrong to say what he said, or to think what he thinks. The most that can be said is that he violated some social taboo, but what's wrong with that?

Put simply, unless there is a Divine law-giver who imposes upon us the duty to treat each other the way we want to be treated then there's no basis whatsoever for saying that racism is wrong. One may find racial bigotry distasteful, of course, just as one may find the thought of eating dog food distasteful, but it's not morally wrong.

Thus, when an atheist pontificates about the evils of racism he's just blowing hot air. Only a theist has any grounds for saying that racism is evil.

Whether Derbyshire really is a racist or whether he's just a contrarian who refuses to truckle to the politically correct pieties of our age, I can't say, but it's hard to imagine a black writer being fired for writing similar things about whites, and it's hard to imagine, in any event, why secularist progressives would be outraged at what Derbyshire wrote even if they are racist.