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.
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.)
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?”
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).