William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Animals Suing People, People Suing Animals: Lawyers Rejoice

Scene of the crime

Scene of the crime

An increasing crime rate

Regular readers will know both of my deep interest in animal rights and in the law. This is why, as a side business, but always pro bono, I represent certain aggrieved animals in the courts.

For instance, I have take the case of Artie, an alligator who was brutally assaulted by a Ollie, an otter and known villain. The picture accompanying this article, provided by Vox, shows Ollie brutally and without provocation attacking my client, who suffered deep wounds far from any veterinarian; not because Ollie wanted to eat Artie, but simply because Ollie didn’t like Artie swimming near him.

As a vegetarian on the philosophical grounds that it is wrong to kill other conscious beings, I would have represented Artie’s family had Ollie eaten him, too.

Why vegetarianism? Simple. Animals should not eat other animals. Man is an animal. Therefore man should not eat other animals. To be consistent, we must insist other animals stop gnawing on one another.

Nature

It is no good claiming animals have natures and that following those natures, some animals naturally eat other animals, because since man is an animal, man would also have a nature, and would therefore be following his nature by sponsoring the occasional barbecue. What else are incisors for?

If we followed that line of logic, then it would be ethical and morally allowable for man to eat animals. And since it isn’t, it can’t be that man has a nature, and that even if he did he can be taught out of it, the powers of education being practically limitless. And since non-human animals are also animals, they can be taught out of eating meat, too. We don’t have to wait for a new Heaven and earth to see the lion lay down with the lamb. No, sir. We can bring about this paradise ourselves through Raising Awareness.

Now you might claim that man is superior to animals, and therefore should grow up and put down those delicious drumsticks, but then this begs the questions why man is exalted and what form this exultation takes. It isn’t that man has the biggest brains, because of course he doesn’t. Or that man lives the longest, because of course he doesn’t. Or that man alone has goals, plans, ambitions, suffers pains and enjoys pleasures, because, as it scarcely need be said, he doesn’t. Why, the gentleman at that Vox link even says video game characters are very alike man and therefore should not be killed (yes).

The reason man cannot be superior to every creeping and crawling creature is that if man is superior, then of course it follows he can eat animals, because animals would then be lesser beings. But since it is wrong for man to eat animals, animals cannot be lesser beings. It therefore follows with equal force that animals cannot eat other animals and that there is no hierarchy in the animal kingdom. Worms are as worthy as whales; and maybe more so because if we add up the nerve endings of worms, it amounts to a greater sum than the same function applied to all cetaceans. (I saw that very same argument somewhere else, but lost the reference.)

Ook ook

What makes a human? Nothing, really. There is a continuity between us and other animals, not a dichotomy. Stephen Wise agrees with me. He is a fellow lawyer (though he is a member of the bar, and I only belly up to it) who seeks to “break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.” Wise’s latest client is a monkey. You may ask how that monkey came to explain to Wise that it needed representation, since monkey’s can’t speak or write, and I would agree that that is a question. Wise would agree that it is a question, too.

Wise teaches animal law classes: “he has his students consider the actual case of a 4-month-old anencephalic baby—that is, a child born without a complete brain. Her brain stem allows her to breathe and digest, but she has no consciousness or sentience. No feelings or awareness whatsoever. He asks the class why we can’t do anything we want with such a child, even eat her.” His response about eating this lump of flesh neatly encapsulates animal rights philosophy (ellipsis original):

“We’re all instantly repelled by that, of course,” Wise said. When he asked his students that question, they “get all tied up in knots and say things like ‘because she has a soul’ or ‘all life is sacred.’ I say: ‘I’m sorry, we’re not talking about any characteristics here. It’s that she has the form of a human being.’ Now I’m not saying that a court or legislature can’t say that just having a human form is in and of itself a sufficient condition for rights. I’m simply saying that it’s irrational…Why is a human individual with no cognitive abilities whatsoever a legal person with rights, while cognitively complex beings such as Tommy, or a dolphin, or an orca are things with no rights at all?”

Rights!

Like Wise—get it? get it?—I agree that dismissing “characteristics” is that best way to prove beyond all doubt that humans do not have souls and that human life is not sacred. (Students in their ignorance are so cute, aren’t they?) Besides, we all understand, don’t we, that by “form” Wise means “shape” and not “nature” in Aristotle’s sense? If we went down that path, we’d end up exactly where we don’t want to go. Instead, to Wise, a cleverly constructed robot also has the “form” of a human, as does a video game simulacrum according to that Vox guy.

If a thing has human form, we may as well consider it human, because humans have rights, therefore things not in the shape of humans ought to have rights. We want animals to have rights because animals are cognitively complex, just like humans. No dichotomy, but continuity, synaptically speaking.

You might ask why, since human rights entail human responsibilities, and that it is logically impossible to have rights without responsibilities, Wise and I insist on animal rights but not animal responsibilities. Wise would say we are not talking about characteristics and wisely (two in one article!) move on to the next subject.

But I won’t shy away. I say that we embrace logical consistency and insist that animals behave themselves, just as we insist humans follow the law. When people commit crimes, they pay a price. So too must animals. This is why I say that we must punish those animals that eat other animals. All killing is murder.

Maybe you want to limit charges of animal murder to those instances with cognitively complex victims. We can have that debate. But even then you must with me claim that the next time a dolphin attacks a whale and does it harm or kills it, off to prison it must go (maybe this is an extra-small Sea World tank?). And are you even aware of what packs of male teenage monkeys do when on a rampage? The horrors are so great, I don’t dare put them down.

Lines must be drawn—and I’m here to draw them. The only difficulty I foresee is the creation of an animal police force. We can’t after all expect animal murderers to turn themselves in. And then we’ll need to greatly expand the courts given the brute fact (it must be admitted) that nature is red and tooth and claw.

Let’s don’t just sit here. Let’s get moving!

Update @ImaBannedd reminded me that polar bears are one of the worst of all animals. Wanton slaughter and frequent gruesome cannibalism! Warning: that link contains pictures which might disturb some (I do not joke nor jest).

19 Comments

  1. Wise is infected with the modern impulse to make the world in his own image. Since others are doing it with such success, there is nothing to stop him.

  2. Hahaha. We live in a crazy time in history. I’m sure every generation thinks that but we truly are shedding common sense at an incredible pace. Common sense is, of course, the irrational force that causes us to revolt at the idea of eating even a physically retarded baby.

  3. Nick–Is it an irrational force or just preservation of the species. If we eat each other, population will suffer. I guess we could then throw in the slipper slope where eating a dead baby becomes eating a “braindead” baby become eating a baby? Anyway, I don’t think it’s irrational, just probably practical in all but extreme cases (like Donner Pass).

  4. Milton Hathaway

    April 27, 2014 at 11:50 am

    You know, as an old engineer, it seems like it always comes down to what works, and what doesn’t, in the long run. Everything else is just fuzzy ephemeral words.

    To me, this is all you need to know about modern liberalism: it doesn’t work. In the long run.

  5. “David” at Steve Sailer’s site, in a column entitled “World War C”, had a sharp comment on the subject of Animal Rights :
    Begin Quote –
    The concept of “rights” is rooted in the capacity of abstract thought and symbolic communication, which nonhuman animals do not have. (Operant conditioning is not the same as conceptual reasoning.) You can talk things over with people, in principle, and convince them or be convinced by argument; but you can’t get a monkey (or an immature human) to stop stealing your cookies by arguing with it/him. The only law applicable to animals is the law of the jungle. If they could think in abstractions and communicate with us, then we would have to argue out an accomodation with them. As it is, they have no basis for legal status. They are ferae naturae, literally.

    The capacity for pain isn’t the basis of rights. Crushing it causes a bad feeling even in a cochroach.

    Of course, if you enjoy causing pain, then you’re sick and should be prudentially shunned or upbraided. If you harm an animal that belongs to someone, it’s a property crime. A person who is cruel to animals should be noted.

    But animal “rights” people aren’t acting in good faith. Their goal is to subordinate people to animals, reason to nonreason, civilization to the jungle. We would see apes “testifying” in courtrooms (through well-paid “interpreters,” of course), bonobos “mainstreamed” into classrooms, a general breakdown of society. Animal “rights” means not more than a form of active nihilism.
    End quote.

  6. I like fried chicken. I like beef steak and pork chops. I have never tried barbequed lawyer, and I wonder why we have given them rights.

    People don’t eat people (much) because we have agreed to not do that. What about other species? Have they codified such agreements?

  7. Briggs: I tend to look askance at talk of animals having “rights”. Living as I do in liberal Mecca, such talk can be hard to avoid in everyday situations. Being an empathetic soul, I have no desire to be wantonly cruel to animals. But stand between me and a juicy steamy freshly grilled slab of dead cow at your own mortal peril. One (of many) attitudes I retain from my religious upbringing is that we have a stewardship for animals, and by extension the planet, over which we have been given dominion for our own betterment. Whether by evolution or grace of God, we are the apex predator and owe it at least to ourselves to use these gifts wisely.

    Knowing a beast in the Biblical sense (even though the book itself forbids it)? Sure, just don’t damage the animal in so doing. But I draw a hard line at man/beast marriages. Animals cannot form contracts. My libertarianism goes only so far.

    Marriage contracts for same sex (human) couples? You bet. Multiple humans? Maybe, lots of qualifications and conditions. But Lassie is right out.

    Sheri: From a survival of species perspective, cannabalism would seem to not make sense. Many species (most?) do not eat their own dead. Some do … and some of those do not wait for their fellows to die of other causes. They effect such death by their own tooth and claw. One way to look at it is that evolution frequently does not result in intuitively obvious optimal behavior.

    As far as human cannibalism goes, cultural norm can rule the day. Among cannibal cultures that do not kill for the purpose of providing food or appeasing their gods, but wait for death by other causes, it may be considered disrespecting honored dead to NOT eat them when they expire. This offends “civilized” sensibility in the same way that the thought of me eating my wonderful dog turns my stomach and makes my skin crawl. Or the aforementioned brain-dead baby.

    I argue that it’s not a rational taboo. What better use of the dead than to sustain the living? The Donner party learned this the hard way, and made a correctly rational choice however emotionally traumatic it may have been.

    However, cultural norms need not be rational to be respected and observed outside of life or death. You’ll not see me lobbying for it.

  8. “All animals are equal; some animals are more equal than others.”
    George Orwell, Animal Farm

    The point with these loons is that they’ll keep moving the “standard” to suit them. Nice, bit of mockery here, Briggs, to illustrate their loopy logic trails to nowhere.

  9. Gary: I nearly used the same quote, but it didn’t fit the flow of my argument. Good on ya’.

  10. I fat-fingered the send button mid-edit.

    Errata: “However, cultural norms need not be rational to be respected and observed outside of extraordinary scenarios involving life or death.”

  11. Noblesse Oblige

    April 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Not so fast! Lawyers are now in the game of suing the departed victim’s family for causing undue stress in the person who did in said victim. See http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/04/27/driver-who-killed-teen-is-suing-dead-boys-family-for-1-million/ So Ollie can not only bite Artie. He can sue him!

  12. Fletcher Christian

    April 27, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    One reason for avoiding cannibalism, and probably a major reason for the rather strong taboo in most human societies, is that it’s a very effective method of becoming ill.

  13. Milton Hathaway

    April 27, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Fletcher – you must be referring to Kuru? (I find the Wikipedia article somewhat, um, unsettling.)

  14. It’s just another way to expand government. The climate approach went so-so… animals are cute (there are more pets than kids) and so animals represent a major approach for expansion.

    Morally speaking, what percentage of “recent rights” makes sense? What the hell is gay marriage in light of the fact that… well… look at your desk… that pencil, that mouse, the color of that pencil and that mouse… the spoon in your coffee cup… everything… the gum wrapper… behind them all there is a story of fertile sex, of life.

    three dots… mother / father… birth… nourishment, protection, encouragement… (and lots and lots of boring repetitive stuff).

    Marriage was meant to be at the bottom of all that. Obviously. It takes a college education not to realize the monumental importance of fertile sex.

    Now the opposite of the obvious is the given.

    And so can we be surprised that animals will have human rights? Common sense is common sense because refusing it is destructive.

  15. As a video game developer, and worse, a programmer of award-winning AI systems, I am surely guilty of genocide each time a debugging session leads to what is certainly an unnecessary “killall” command. All made worse each time I add an avoidance behavior to my creations’ behavior tree. I suppose it is just downright evil that I have “killall” bound to a key.
    But the worst of it? Not only did I create these life forms via indescriminate slaughter sessions, I then allowed the duplication of their code (i.e. life force) and profitted from their torture by millions of others. I must truly be no better than Joseph Stalin.

  16. The good people of Hartlepool have apparently accorded rights to an animal, the right to be tried, sentenced and executed, a logical conclusion to be sure.
    http://www.thisishartlepool.co.uk/history/thehartlepoolmonkey.asp

    And this bit made me proud to be English:
    “In 2002, Stuart Drummond campaigned for the office of Mayor of Hartlepool in the costume of H’Angus the Monkey and narrowly won; he used the election slogan “free bananas for schoolchildren”, a promise he was unable to keep. He has since been re-elected twice.”

  17. Fletcher Christian

    April 28, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Milton – Not just kuru. Various parasites, too. It’s a more extreme version of the probable reason for religious dietary laws. For some reason, probably because their metabolism is more similar, parasites that infest pigs are more likely to be passed on to humans than are the parasites that affect cattle for example.

    If you really must eat long pig, best make sure it’s well cooked!

  18. Are you sure that Ollie didn’t eat Artie? Or at least some of him? I hear gator tail is fairly yummy. Maybe Artie is just missing a few bites out of his tail? No big deal.

  19. I am a second-degree vegetarian. I only eat animals that are strict vegetarians.

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