Animal Rights and the Discoveroids

This just appeared at the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute: New York High Court to Rule Whether Elephants Are “Persons”. It was written by Wesley J. Smith, whom they describe as a “Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.”

We’ve written a few times before about animal rights cases — for example: Oook, Oook — Chimps Lose in Appellate Court. Wesley seems to have made the subject a specialty of his, and in his article he cites a great many cases — more than we can study for this article, so we’ll do the best we can. Here are some excerpts from his post, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

The greatest threat posed by the animal-rights movement is an advocacy thrust known as “animal standing” The idea is to have animals declared “persons” and treated akin to human beings with developmental disabilities so that “they” can bring lawsuits in court directly, which of course would actually be brought by animal-rights zealots. That would grant “rights” to animals — first, those sometimes called “higher” mammals, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, etc. — but eventually all fauna.

Then he says:

When I bring this up in speeches, the usual reaction is eye-rolling, “Ha ha. It will never happen here.” Never mind that it already happened in Argentina, where a judge declared an orangutan a “nonhuman person.” Never mind that a federal court ruled that animals could be granted standing under the U.S. Constitution. [Really?] Never mind that Judge Eugene M. Fahey — of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court — wrote that chimps should be given rights in a non-binding opinion (dicta). And never mind the money and intensity of the animal-rights movement to shatter what they call “the species barrier.” Complacency rules the day.

There were several links in that paragraph. If the topic interests you, click over there and dig in. After that ark-load, Wesley tells us:

The New York Court of Appeals has taken a case to determine whether an elephant, and perhaps other animals, should be deemed “persons.”

He quotes extensively from something that mentions a lot of cases, but without linking to them. The one he’s talking about seems to be In the matter of Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, Case No. APL-2021-00087. Anyway, Wesley continues:

Does this mean the court will necessarily grant personhood to an elephant? No. But it does indicate that a number of high court judges believe the case is of sufficient substance to rule upon rather than — as the court should — laugh the case out of court.

Then he says something that’s difficult to disagree with:

Of course elephants should be treated properly according to their capacities and needs. But animal-welfare regulations and laws are very capable of accomplishing that. Animals should not be granted rights.

Animal welfare and animal rights are not the same. Rights ideology claims that “a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy,” meaning there is no moral distinction between humans and animals. In contrast, animal welfare properly holds that humans have a higher moral value, and, that as we benefit from their use, we have a concomitant duty to treat animals humanely.

Wesley elaborates on that:

That distinction is crucial. Animal welfare is an expression of human exceptionalism. Animal rights, in contrast, subverts human exceptionalism — the backbone of universal human rights — and threatens our thriving. Because if animals are persons, by definition, they cannot be owned, nor used for human benefit. That means no medical research, no food animals, no leather, and eventually, pet ownership made a formal legal guardianship complete with enforceable fiduciary duties — that is, if we can have pets at all.

He’s got a point there. It’s uncomfortable to be in agreement with so much that a Discoveroid is saying. Wesley ends with this:

Let’s hope the Court of Appeals rejects the animal personhood notion out of hand. Until they do, I will be holding my breath. Because we live in culture-destroying times and this is as subversive of Western civilization as it gets.

We should point out an earlier post of ours from-2014 regarding abuse of an elephant: A Gruesome Tale of Elephant Abuse. In that post we mentioned our own concept for dealing with such cases, which we’ll repeat here because we still like it:

[Y]our infinitely compassionate Curmudgeon opposes cruelty to animals, so we’ve struggled to find some way to logically defend our desire to punish animal abusers, even if their victims have no rights. If an idea has value, there must be a way to justify it that doesn’t rely on merely our feelings. After rejecting the notion that animals have rights, we decided that it was nevertheless justifiable to punish abusers because their behavior constitutes conduct unbecoming a human (a concept that has potential, but which requires a bit of work). Inhuman conduct offends us, and we’re the ones with rights, so we can punish the wrong-doer.

We’ll end with that. Make of it what you will.

Copyright © 2021. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

8 responses to “Animal Rights and the Discoveroids

  1. Just some thoughts.
    How about the rights of some plants? An ancient tree has a right to exist? Or even a non-living thing. Mount Everest deserves to be protected. What about non-material things? If they exist, do angels have rights? Does it make sense to say that the Pythagorean Theorem has rights?

  2. bewilderbeast

    I agree there has to be a way of sensibly stepping up and taking responsibility for our behaviour towards things in our care (including TomS’ trees and mountains) without complicating the matter unnecessarily. And we should do it pre-emptively – settle the matter before a big emotional case comes along. My feeling is that tweaking existing laws will do 90% of the job.

  3. Animal standing?

    Yes — definitely

    On a clearly delineated (to be determined) gradient

    Wesley: “Because if animals are persons, by definition, they cannot be owned, [agree] nor used for human benefit. [disagree — animals may be used humanely]. That means no medical research, [wrong] no food animals, [wrong] no leather, [wrong]and eventually, pet ownership made a formal legal guardianship complete with enforceable fiduciary duties [about damned time] — that is, if we can have pets at all. [shameless and disingenuous scare-mongering]

    SC: “He’s got a point there. [No, he doesn’t] It’s uncomfortable to be in agreement with so much that a Discoveroid is saying. [That alone should tell you that additional consideration may be required on your part]

    SC: “After rejecting the notion that animals have rights, we decided that it was nevertheless justifiable to punish abusers because their behavior constitutes conduct unbecoming a human (a concept that has potential, but which requires a bit of work). Inhuman conduct offends us, and we’re the ones with rights, so we can punish the wrong-doer.”

    And thus Our Sensuous Curmudgeon goes all in on the foundational Creationist dogma of Human Exceptionalism. Ol’ Hambo is beaming in the blue grass.

    PS: “a concept that has potential, but which requires a bit of work”

    What is this if not “rely[ing] on merely our feelings”

  4. Laurette McGovern

    Wow! All fauna eventually to be declared “persons,” with similar rights. So, that skeeter I just swatted to death as it was biting me, would be murder? Faunicide? Insecticide?

    Talk about opening up a can of worms!

  5. What standing do symbols have? What respect is due to The Flag, the National Anthem. Or statues of National (or local) Heroes?

  6. Retired Prof

    The trouble with the word “rights” is that it is surrounded by such a fog of metaphysical associations that it is hard to discern the core principle: to declare one entity has rights is to say that the behavior of other entities toward it is limited. In other words, a right requires a limitation on the rights of others. Such a limitation requires enforcement. On this planet, that implies human enforcement. The natural (some prefer the term “God-given”) right among animals generally, including us humans, is that we may exploit anything in our environment according to our appetite and opportunity, within the limits of our capabilities.

    Does a robin have the right to pull an earthworm out of the ground and swallow it or feed it to its young? Absolutely.

    Does the worm have the right to pull the robin into the soil and devour it by worming its way through its flesh? Absolutely. What it lacks is the ability to do so, or (one supposes) even the capacity to imagine such a thing.

    Yet there are other species of worms that feed on animals from the inside. Do they have that right? Absolutely. Also the capability.

    Human beings are exceptional in that our appetites and our capabilities are so vast that we simply cannot afford to exercise our natural right to the fullest extent. We absolutely need to constrain ourselves. We may use taboos, or laws, or social shaming, and we should pick whichever combination gets the job done. If it is politically helpful to pat ourselves on the back for “granting rights” to favored entities, then good on us.

    What we need to do is see the situation clearly enough to keep the metaphysical fog of the word “rights” from letting us blunder into absurdities.

  7. Dave Luckett

    Retired Prof: Exactly. All rights imply limited rights for others. Corollary: All rights are themselves limited by their effect on the rights of others. The question of what rights exist and their limitations is under constant tension, constant adjustment.

    Do I have the right to speak ill of others? Where does that right end? Do I have the right to eat meat? How is that right to be limited? Do I have the right to treat my property as I will? What if it causes no danger or damage or loss or inconvenience to others how I treat it? Does that right extend to all my property? Does it extend to my dog?

    Law is the compact among an entire people to treat each other according to rules that they generally agree by consensus. It is not handed down from an authority, or a ruler, or a judge, or even an assembly of the wise. It arises from the people. They, and only they, decide.

    They can change their decision. One of the changes that appear over the last two centuries is the increasing acceptance that cruelty to animals is actually criminal, unworthy of a civilized society, and to be sanctioned by the law, property rights notwithstanding.

    That does not imply that animals are legal persons, nor even that they have legal rights. It holds simply that cruelty and ill-treatment and neglect are wrong, and that the law should and does sanction it in specific terms. I hold that to be good.

  8. What ‘rights’ will we have when hideously-beweaponed Vogons from a distant galaxy turn up and intend to demolish our planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass?

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