I once saw, with mine own eyes, a squirrel steal an acorn from a second squirrel. This shouldn’t be surprising; squirrels are career criminals and everybody knows it. Think of how often the beasts raid bird feeders and you’ll have the point.
The inaptly named Stephen Wise would have police arrest thieving squirrels in the same way cops collar men who rob gas stations. If you thought the criminal justice system was overwhelmed now, think of how it will be when wolf packs are brought in on murder charges (eating deer). Birds in particular are serial killers. How we’re going to catch and imprison them all is going to be tough. But it has to be done.
Who’s Wise? President of the Nonhuman Rights Project. According to the Daily Beast (yes):
Unlike PETA, which lost a case in 2012 alleging that five orcas held by Sea World deserved constitutional protection under the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery (the judge in the case ruled that the Thirteenth Amendment only applies to persons), Wise has been pursuing a more radical, nuanced, and researched approach to the issue of animal rights: he wants the most intelligent animals—apes, dolphins, elephants—to be granted legal personhood, so they can invoke habeas corpus and challenge their detention in zoos and other facilities in a court of law.
Of course, if a whale can show up at the DA’s office and fill out the paperwork for a habeas corpus, or whatever, few would deny the beast the subsequent rights. Why the whale needs habeas corpus is another matter—some whales kill photogenic seals.
Now animals aren’t people, and there is no continuum between them and us. There isn’t a line in the sense of an arbitrary point between more and less advanced beasts, as Wise would declare. Any attempt to create such a line would lead to endless bickering and shifts. One day crows would be on this side of the line, the next day the other side, and so on.
People are rational-animals and are in a class by themselves. There is no line because men are the only rational-animals. No beast is a rational-animal.
Wise doesn’t understand this, and instead invokes, as is weepingly routine in our culture, racism and sexism to explain how animals are really people but people can’t see that.
“Today, all animals are on the ‘thing’ side of the law, and all humans are on the ‘person’ side. If you look back 150 years, there were humans on the ‘thing’ side of the law–women, children, slaves. We are trying to open another hole in the wall and move some animals from the ‘thing’ side to the ‘person’ side.”
Why insist, or rather treat, beasts as rational-animals? Because, says Wise and others, people don’t always treat animals like people. We eat them, for instance, or put them to work without offering them wages. We frown on eating other people, and insist on minimum wages for men.
Yet if animals are people, as Wise would have them be, then animals not only deserve the protections afforded people, they always must fall under the same responsibilities. Fair is fair. If fair isn’t fair, and animals are called people only to protect them from certain uses, then animals aren’t people after all, but merely possessions the use of which (by people) is restricted by various laws.
If you want to insist animals are people, there is no way to avoid contradiction and say animals can only be afforded rights but are excused all responsibilities. We do not excuse any man from all responsibilities. If, say, a three-year-old developed a penchant for shooting mailmen, the child would be restrained. And so on.
If all we want to do is protect certain animals from certain uses, then animals need not be labeled ‘people’. Just pass legislation that says, “No captive whales”, or whatever, and be done.
Polar bears are often cannibalistic. Yes, even though they are white, fuzzy, and cuddly looking, they have the sad habit of eating one another. This cannot be allowed if polar bears are people. That means polar bear police are required. Whether we arrest them for eating seals depends on whether seals are also people.
If you say it’s in the polar bear’s nature to eat seals and each other, you say a truth, but this truth is not compatible with calling polar bears people, because the nature of men and polar bears is different, and it is in the nature of people to frown on eating each other.
Wise notes that when he first began this form of advocacy, people used to bark at him when he entered a courtroom.
As Hillary Clinton would say (and has), “Arf! Arf! Arf!”