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Sentient Like Me: Ape Rights and the Myth of Intelligence amongst Speciesists
Friday, 18 July 2008 11:48
by Jason Miller

Blatant speciesist and self-described “liberal Republican” William Saletan recently penned a predictably narrow-minded and weakly argued anti-animal rights editorial for Slate Magazine.

Originally bowing to the will of Microsoft, Slate is now economically beholden to the Washington Post. Billed as “liberal” (which simply means they’re sycophants to the filthy status quo as they call for “reform” to a hopelessly degenerate system), naturally Slate was more than happy to provide Saletan a forum for his unbridled arrogance and bigotry. (Saletan’s inane musings, Animal-Rights Farm: Ape Rights and the Myth of Animal Equality, can be found here).

It is readily apparent that both Saletan and Wesley Smith, his “favorite anti-animal rights blogger,” are deeply insecure individuals who maintain their illusion of power by fighting tooth and nail to sustain the anachronistic and morally reprehensible notion that that it is “man’s” birthright to subjugate, exploit, and commodify our non-human animal brethren.

Let’s examine Saletan and Smith’s arguments to perpetuate barbarism:

Saletan began by baiting the reader with a straw-man argument.

Should apes be treated like people?

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Animal liberationists have never suggested that we human animals treat non-human animals like people. Such a notion is riddled with idiocies. For instance, as Peter Singer pointed out in his seminal work, Animal Liberation, animals obviously lack the capacity to engage in an activity such as voting, so agitating for a porcine suffrage would be nonsense.

Animal liberationists are seeking an end to the abject torture the human species inflicts on billions upon billions of non-human animals simply to achieve goals and to satisfy needs that could be attained and reached by other means. There is no push for “equality” in the sense that fear-driven speciesists like Saletan and Smith assert. Animal liberation seeks to assign basic, reasonable rights to sentient non-human animals to prevent them from enduring the horrifying unnecessary suffering we humans inflict upon them for our personal gain, amusement and satisfaction.

In his editorial, Saletan wrote:

The resolution, approved last week by a parliamentary committee with broad support, urges the government to implement the agenda of the Great Ape Project, an organization whose founding declaration says apes “may not be killed” or “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.” No more routine confinement. According to Reuters, the proposal would commit the government to ending involuntary use of apes in circuses, TV ads, and dangerous experiments.

Treating apes like people? Here is the “burdensome and expansive ape bill of rights” (from the Great Ape Project’s website) that has Saletan in a froth:

1. The Right to Life

The lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined circumstances, for example, self-defense.

2. The Protection of Individual Liberty

Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the right to immediate release. The detention of those who have not been convicted of any crime, or of those who are not criminally liable, should be allowed only where it can be shown to be for their own good, or necessary to protect the public from a member of the community who would clearly be a danger to others if at liberty. In such cases, members of the community of equals must have the right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.

3. The Prohibition of Torture

The deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and is wrong.

Let’s see. Saletan has a problem with apes having a legally enforceable right to life, freedom, and protection from torture? That does sound threatening to humanity. Imagine if we lost OUR “inalienable right” to act with virtual impunity as we kill, enslave, and torture gorillas, chimps, and the like. Horror of horrors! What will be next, prison time for roasting kittens alive or breaking puppies’ necks?

Saletan did get at least one thing right, though:

Proponents hail the resolution as the first crack in the “species barrier.” Peter Singer, the philosopher who co-founded GAP, puts it this way: “There is no sound moral reason why possession of basic rights should be limited to members of a particular species.”

Like the Abolition Movement, Animal Liberation has met with great resistance from the myriad people and business entities benefiting richly from the status quo. But this landmark precedent will create a significant chink in their armor.

But Saletan wasn’t done sounding alarms. He’s frantically determined to protect “humanity’s special status:”

If the idea of treating chimps like people freaks you out, join the club. Creationists have been fighting this battle for a long time. They realized long ago that evolution threatened humanity’s special status. Maybe you thought all this evolution stuff was just about the past. Surprise! Once you’ve admitted chimps are your relatives, you have to think about treating them that way. That’s why, when the Spanish proposal won approval last week, GAP’s leader in Spain called it a victory for “our evolutionary comrades.”

More red meat for the mean-spirited mob, a mob comprised of people who have been conditioned from birth to be obscenely human-centric and terrified that they might stop “being special.” No one is suggesting that we begin treating chimpanzees exactly the same as we do humans. Animal liberationists are simply calling for humanity to enlighten itself and draw our non-human animals into the moral community, thereby extending sentient, intelligent beings protection from murder, subjugation and torture. Consequences for cruelty to other living creatures…..what a heinous concept!

Further, GAP’s victory nothing to do with supplanting Creationism with Evolution. Ultimately, who gives a damn about that silly argument? Whether an anthropomorphic God created us or we evolved from a primordial soup, the issue here is that we human animals are inflicting unimaginable pain on countless non-human animals every day, and it is a moral abomination!

Wesley Smith chimed in to stoke the ire of the pitch-fork toting villagers:

Given that animal rights activists believe a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy, one would think the GAP would be denigrated by them as speciesist because it values apes higher than other sentient or “painient” animals. But of course, they understand the game that is afoot. They know that the GAP is a spear between the ribs of the old order because it explicitly supplants human beings as the premier species. This is a disaster for universal human rights and human exceptionalism.

Why are these very small men so terrified that they might lose their “special status” and “exceptionalism?” Let’s hope that GAP’s spear pierces the ribs and plunges deep into speciesism’s heart of darkness.

Animals can’t comprehend the concept of rights, so why grant them such entitlements?

Human infants and toddlers can’t comprehend the concept of rights either, so we better get busy rescinding their rights. And since when is it an “entitlement” to grant a living, sentient being life, freedom and protection from torture?

Take, as just one example, the purported right against torture. This seems reasonable until one reads the project’s definition of torture as “the deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others.” Clearly, the primary aim here isn’t to stop beatings or punish neglect, but when combined with the putative right to personal liberty, is clearly intended to prevent apes from being used in medical research.

Ah, medical research. The sacrosanct justification for our sadistic treatment of non-human animals. As David Irving illustrates in The Day of the Bullies, medical research involving animals is a nightmare. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine makes a convincing case that many viable alternatives to animal research exist, and that it is ethically imperative that we continue to develop and implement them.

The loss of chimps as crucial medical research aids would be sufficient cause to reject the project. But there is an even more important, if esoteric, reason for refusing to grant rights to apes. The fundamental purpose of the project is to undermine our belief in human exceptionalism — the principle that human life has unique moral value simply because it is human. Animal liberationists abhor human exceptionalism as bigotry against animals. Thus, by persuading us to include apes in the so-called community of equals, supporters hope to slowly erode society’s belief in the unique importance of human life.

At one time–and to this day in some cultures–male life was “uniquely important” and valued over that of women and children. Similar examples abound throughout history, including Caucasians over Blacks and Native Americans, adults over children, Israelis over Palestinians, Germans over Jews, Turks over Armenians, Hutus over Tutsis, and on and on….

Placing “unique importance” on one group of sentient beings over another has repeatedly resulted in drastically tragic consequences. Why, then, would we cling so tenaciously to such a malignant way of thinking?

These misguided efforts overlook a crucial point: The way we act is based substantially on the nature of beings we perceive ourselves to be. In this regard, our self-concept as the world’s most important species is extremely beneficial, because it is both the stimulus for promoting universal human rights as well as the grounding for our distinctly human duty to treat animals humanely.

What a telling paragraph from Wesley Smith. His conclusion is that we humans have to believe we are the master species in order to embrace and implement the concept of universal human rights. And apparently his self-image is so fragile that he needs to feel superior to non-human animals to feel good enough about himself to perform his “distinctly human duty to treat animals humanely.”

Incidentally, Wesley Smith is a senior fellow for the Discovery Institute, a “think tank” that works strenuously to maintain and advance the money worshipping, war-mongering brand of Calvinistic Christianity and the reactionary socioeconomic values that riddle our Right Wing nation and culture of death. For more on Discovery, click here.

But the arguments GAP has deployed in Spain don’t advance the idea of equality among animals. They destroy it.

GAP is scientifically honest. And science doesn’t show mental parity between great apes and human adults. What it shows, as the group’s president acknowledges, is that great apes “experience an emotional and intellectual conscience similar to that of human children.” Accordingly, the Spanish proposal doesn’t treat apes like you or me. It treats them like “humans of limited capacity, such as children or those who are mentally incompetent and are afforded guardians or caretakers to represent their interests.”

And that’s just the top rung of the inequality ladder. GAP’s mission statement says great apes are entitled to rights based on their “morally significant characteristics.” It says they

enjoy a rich emotional and cultural existence in which they experience emotions such as fear, anxiety and happiness. They share the intellectual capacity to create and use tools, learn and teach other languages. They remember their past and plan for their future. It is in recognition of these and other morally significant qualities that the Great Ape Project was founded.

Morally significant qualities. Morally significant characteristics. These are appeals to discrimination, not universal equality. Most animals don’t have a rich cultural life. They can’t make tools. They don’t teach languages. Singer even points out that “chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have long-term relationships, not only between mothers and children, but also between unrelated apes.” Special rights for animals in committed relationships! It sounds like a Moral Majority for vegans.

Opening your mind to science-based animal rights doesn’t eliminate inequality. It just makes the inequality more scientific. A rat can’t match a pig, much less a boy. In fact, as a GAP board member points out, “We are closer genetically to a chimp than a mouse is to a rat.”

George Orwell wrote the cruel finale to this tale 63 years ago in Animal Farm: “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” That wasn’t how the egalitarian uprising in the book was supposed to turn out. It wasn’t how the animal rights movement was supposed to turn out, either.

How tremendous was that leap? Suddenly Saletan, who previously expressed his emphatic opposition to GAP’s significant blow for animal liberation, started citing the reasons why this step forward for animal rights will result in a “Four legs good, two legs better” scenario for the “lesser” species. If this legal precedent is such an abysmal failure for the animal rights movement and for the voiceless victims they defend (both of which Saletan obviously fears and despises), why isn’t he celebrating?

If this is the best Saletan and Smith can muster in support of their morally primitive position, they need to head home and get back to their drawing boards. And they’d better move quickly, because if their panic is justified, those “damn dirty apes” might just acquire property rights and displace Saletan and Smith from their precious abodes!

Jason Miller is Cyrano’s Journal’s associate editor.
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Comments (2)add comment

Eric said:

Confusing reasoning
Listen, Saletan pointed out a very valid criticism of GAP and this new law. It perpetuates hierarchy based on criteria such as higher-level cognitive capacity. Rights are egalitarian, especially animal rights, and legal rights for animals ought to based on the moral right of all sentient beings not to be treated merely as the means to another's end. As long as sentient beings remain human property, they will have no legal rights, and as long as legal rights are based on characteristics that rule out the vast majority of all sentient beings, justice will be denied to billions of nonhuman animals on characteristics as arbitrary to their moral relevance as whether they possess humanlike cognitive abilities.

For the record, anyone thinking this measure will extend to cows, pigs, and chickens any time soon is fooling him or herself.
July 19, 2008
Votes: +0

Samantha Black said:

I think Eric, you're missing the boat here. Animal communities (same species) are not equal and neither are human communities. The problem may lie in misleading verbiage. For example, you wish to be a trial attorney and your neighbor of the same species, gender and age wishes to become a engineer at the Union Pacific Railroad, while his younger brother wishes to become a Sunday school teacher. None of these interests are equal; not in terms of compensation, social status, etc. Yet they each have value to their respective candidates.

I would never have an abortion. But I'd fight for another woman to make that choice. It follows that I wouldn't fight for you to have an abortion, because you can't have an abortion. Neither would I fight for my dog to have a driver's license, she can't drive a car. Those are "rights." I don't think it should have ever been called "animal rights", it should have been labeled " animal consideration." My dog and I are not equal in terms of interests and abilities. I do not possess the ability to smell something 100 times magnified beyond what I can smell. She does. I can read a book, she can't. So why bother with "consideration'? Because she can suffer and so can I. In this we are equal and if the law protects me against such suffering at the hands of another human for entertainment, satisfaction or enjoyment - then it should protect her. "Suffering and pain (as we know it to be), is an equal opportunity action.
July 19, 2008
Votes: +0

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