Wesley Smith writes at the Weekly Standard:
[T]he annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science hosted a panel supporting the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, which in the name of promoting “equal treatment of all persons” affirms that all whales and dolphins are persons possessing “the right to life, liberty, and wellbeing.”
The reason these, as Melville called them, great fish should be treated like your mother or sister or wife is that, the AAAS claims, “whales and dolphins are capable of advanced cognitive abilities (such as problem solving, artificial ‘language’ comprehension, and complex social behavior).” Note that the AAAS helpfully supplied scare-quotes around ‘language’, which (thanks to David Stove) allows us to understand that ‘language’ means not-language as commonly understood, and which saves us the time of supplying them for ourselves.
We might call this “explanation” (more scare quotes) scientific spin, worthy of any presidential press secretary, because it attempts to use convoluted words and phrases to say very simple things, and because of this false elevation to convince us of what is not so.
Tale the term “advanced cognitive abilities”. There is no problem with “cognitive abilities”, yet we note that even a worm has them on the interpretation that any animal which responds to its environment is displaying abilities which are “cognitive.” The key is with “advanced”, a comparative term. A grasshopper has “advanced” cognitive abilities with respect to a worm, and even worms tower mentally over bacteria. And human beings have them so far above any other animal that to suggest otherwise is to equate Koko’s signing “eat” with Casanova the spy and great lover’s voluminous diary (some 3,700 pages).
Ants may be said solve problems: how to bring food back to the nest, for one. So too bees. Problem solving is no great trick and is not what separates the men from the blow files. And mere possession of a rudimentary “language” doesn’t either. Birds call to one another, other creatures leave trails of chemical clues. No other animal besides man creates a philosophy.
That is just a rudimentary sketch, and a well-known one at that, with many subtleties ignored, of why humans are different than mosquitoes, etc. Of more interest is the legal attack which Smith writes about: of how various lawyers are being employed to flummox and burden courts in an effort to find one, any, which agrees that animals are equivalent to humans morally.
The full list of whale and dolphin rights contain no surprises except for the right which reads, “Every individual cetacean has the right to life.” Now, take that and the right to “wellbeing” contained in the preamble, and you have a set of rights stronger than which exists for any human. Of course, many claim such a right does exist for people, but if it did it would mean it was a moral (and eventually legal) crime for anybody to, say, stub his toe or come down with a cold. And I feel I must remind my readers that everybody dies, the ultimate removal of wellbeing.
The correlation between the legal (and not moral) idea that anything untoward which happens is some human being’s fault except for the human being to which the untoward event applies, and the increasing calls for “rights” to non-human creatures cannot be spurious. (I’d also be willing to bet that most (all?) animal-rights activists hold human abortion sacred.)
Now, if every cetacean has a right to wellbeing, then this entails that there inescapably exists a responsibility for some creature to provide for this wellbeing, or to
“fund” a restoration of wellbeing . Who might this creature be? Man? Suppose it is. But that presupposes not only that man has responsibilities towards whales, but that, in turn, whales have responsibilities towards man. If we recognize them as persons, they must also recognize us as the same.
This means that any time, say, a whale wrongfully impedes a man-run fishing vessel, that whale incurs that same penalty as would a man were he to impede the boat. And that means we must negotiate with dolphins over the rights to various fishing grounds: who gets to take what and how many. What representative will they send to hammer out the inevitable treaties? But hold on: is fish are people too, who gets to eat them? Isn’t it murder when a dolphin kills a fish?
It doesn’t stop there. If whales (or substitute in any other animal) are non-human persons, then any whale must behave towards any other whale according to some set of laws. And these laws must exist. It is no use arguing that “whatever whales do is natural, so that whatever one whale does to another cannot be wrong.” For if whales and men are equivalent, then we could also write, “whatever men do is natural, so that whatever one man does to another cannot be wrong” and that is clearly absurd.
Happy Easter everybody.