Quick: name two anti-humanist organizations! The
ones that spring to mind for me, even before the Roman Catholic
Church, are PETA and Earth First. As for Earth First, any group that
views the human race as a disease the earth would be better off
without is certainly anything but humanist. Let’s face it: the earth
is in our mighty hands, and we cannot abdicate our rule, to which the
size and skill of our brains destine us. Call it “the Hu-Man’s
Burden.” PETA, too, undermines the centrality of the human race, with
its unfortunate talk of “animal rights.” Animal Rights, ever since
Peter Singer coined the term, has been a moral confusion beloved of
those for whom sentiment usurps the role of conscience.
Do you want to
see why it is absurd to attribute rights to animals? It is quite
simple. Ask yourself if animals possess rights in their natural
sphere, animal-to-animal relations. Obviously they do not. Does the
antelope have a “right to life”? Are his survivors going to sue the
lion who ate him for wrongful death? Even for murder? Somehow I don’t
think so. And what do you expect the lion to do anyway? Start eating
tofu? Animals have no “right” to be protected from their predators,
which must eat them! Well, if animals have no rights in the only
sphere in which it even might make sense to look for them, how
can they have rights vis a vis a wholly different sphere; that of
their relations to humans? Do you and I have a right not to be crushed
by an avalanche? Do we have a right not to be killed by a volcano or a
Tsunami? I shouldn’t think so.
animals have rights is a childish humanization of the beasts, like
Disney’s Goofy, a dog walking upright, wearing clothes, and speaking.
Does this mean
we may feel guiltlessly free to torment and abuse animals? Not at all.
Animals do not have the right to be treated in any particular way by
us, but we have the moral duty not to be cruel, whether to them or to
our own kind. We ought to respect life. But not all of it to the same
degree. There is a hierarchy. We ought never gratuitously to
extinguish the wonderful spark of life. But that doesn’t amount to
Jainism, the Indian faith which forbids the killing of any life-forms
and which goes to what we should consider insane lengths to make sure
we don’t. Jain monks carry whisk brooms to sweep even invisible
microbes out of their paths. They wear surgical masks so as not to
breathe the little devils in (though I imagine they’d love nothing
better than to hop aboard!).
But I do want
to borrow an element of the Jainist calculus. You see, they divide
life-forms into different categories according to the number of
“senses” each has. Basically this means that more complex organisms,
if you kill them, will incur worse karma for you than simpler
organisms. I think that is a good rule of thumb. Here’s how I begin to
work it out. I think it is (slightly) wrong even to rip a leaf off a
tree, or to rip up grass from the lawn as some bored morons do
absent-mindedly. There is no reason to do so, and it is good to
respect life. It is okay to cut the grass, though. That’s just
like trimming back your cat’s claws occasionally.
cares—they’re not sentient, and it’s not worth the trouble. Insects?
Don’t squash them without reason. But it doesn’t take much of a
reason. As far as I am concerned, mosquitoes and flies are the enemies
of the human race, so it’s open season on them. On the chance the
skeeter is going to bite you, a preemptive strike is morally
justifiable. I will, however, admit I’d rather open the window and
shoo the fly out than kill him. And if you find a cricket on the
hearth, I think you ought to take the trouble of escorting him outside
whole and in one piece. Ah, palmetto bugs? Bring out the heavy
artillery. I just can’t co-exist with those brutes. So sue me.
Mice are cute,
but unless you can toilet train them and get them to change their
eating habits, again, to hell with them, cute though they are. You
have the same right the American colonists did to defend their living
space against aboriginal inhabitants, even if their names happen to be
Mickey and Minnie. You have to draw the line against vermin, against
infestation. Aren’t you an adult?
are like alien races, extraterrestrials: you have no business messing
with them. Try to avoid them on a camping trip. If they wind up
mauling you, you can’t blame them, though you have every right to
animals that wouldn’t even exist if we weren’t raising them for our
consumption. It’s almost like parents who produce a second child to
use, just in case, as an organ bank for a first child with big medical
problems. The difference is, obviously, the child is a human and has
the right to say no. Bessie the bovine does not. I have always found
it surprising that farmers and their children actually make pets of
pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys—until doomsday dawns. But I guess that
completes the analogy: we are like deities who created the creatures
and have the responsibility not to be cruel to them even though they
are not “immortals” like us.
The big ticket
items would be the most intelligent animals: monkeys, chimps,
dolphins. Tread lightly here. At least with the primates, these are
our cousins. You better have a pretty darn good reason for wanting to
kill them. Ever seen Planet of the Apes?
hunting animals for their meat and for their pelts is altogether
justifiable. That’s the old struggle of humanity against nature. To
think we have passed by the need for hunting is, I think, decadent,
the luxury of hyper-scrupulosity. We are able to reproduce with
artificial technology; does that mean it is better (as Augustine would
have preferred it) not to have sex? We can get by eating vegetables,
so should we swear off meat? Like hell. I admit, I wouldn’t want to be
the one to kill and prepare the meat, but then I wouldn’t have the
guts to perform surgery either.
I say we have
a responsibility, if only to ourselves, not to be cruel to animals. It
is degrading to our humanity. And that means it is evil, even more so
since the cad who is cruel to animals is abusing an innocent creature
and is thus a sadist. This should be, as it is, a punishable offense.
Killing pets should probably count as some degree even of murder. It
is a justifiable splitting of hairs to say that it is wrong to take
innocent life without saying that that life has a “right” not to be
to yours truly, animals have no rights, but humans have a
responsibility not to be cruel to them. That is the Hu-Man’s Burden.
By Robert M.