Sentient Like Me: Ape Rights and the Myth of Intelligence amongst Speciesists
By Jason Miller
Blatant speciesist and self-described "liberal Republican" William Saletan recently penned a predictably narrow-minded and weakly argued anti-animal rights editorial for Slate Magazine.
Originally bowing to the will of Microsoft, Slate is now economically beholden to the Washington Post. Billed as "liberal" (which simply means they're sycophants to the filthy status quo as they call for "reform" to a hopelessly degenerate system), naturally Slate was more than happy to provide Saletan a forum for his unbridled arrogance and bigotry.
(Saletan's inane musings, Animal-Rights Farm: Ape Rights and the Myth of Animal Equality, can be found here:
It is readily apparent that both Saletan and Wesley Smith, his "favorite anti-animal rights blogger," are deeply insecure individuals who maintain their illusion of power by fighting tooth and nail to sustain the anachronistic and morally reprehensible notion that that it is "man's" birthright to subjugate, exploit, and commodify our non-human animal brethren.
Let's examine Saletan and Smith's arguments to perpetuate barbarism:
Saletan began by baiting the reader with a straw-man argument.
[Should apes be treated like people?]
Animal liberationists have never suggested that we human animals treat non-human
animals like people. Such a notion is riddled with idiocies. For instance, as
Peter Singer pointed out in his seminal work, Animal Liberation, animals
obviously lack the capacity to engage in an activity such as voting, so
agitating for a porcine suffrage would be nonsense.
Animal liberationists are seeking an end to the abject torture the human species
inflicts on billions upon billions of non-human animals simply to achieve goals
and to satisfy needs that could be attained and reached by other means. There is
no push for "equality" in the sense that fear-driven speciesists like Saletan
and Smith assert. Animal liberation seeks to assign basic, reasonable rights to
sentient non-human animals to prevent them from enduring the horrifying
unnecessary suffering we humans inflict upon them for our personal gain,
amusement and satisfaction.
In his editorial, Saletan wrote:
[The resolution, approved last week by a parliamentary committee with broad
support, urges the government to implement the agenda of the Great Ape Project,
an organization whose founding declaration says apes "may not be killed" or
"arbitrarily deprived of their liberty." No more routine confinement. According
to Reuters, the proposal would commit the government to ending involuntary use
of apes in circuses, TV ads, and dangerous experiments.]
Treating apes like people? Here is the "burdensome and expansive ape bill of
rights" (from the Great Ape Project�s website) that has Saletan in a froth:
1. The Right to Life
The lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of
the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined
circumstances, for example, self-defense.
2. The Protection of Individual Liberty
Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their
liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the
right to immediate release. The detention of those who have not been convicted
of any crime, or of those who are not criminally liable, should be allowed only
where it can be shown to be for their own good, or necessary to protect the
public from a member of the community who would clearly be a danger to others if
at liberty. In such cases, members of the community of equals must have the
right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through
an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.
3. The Prohibition of Torture
The deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals,
either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and
Let�s see. Saletan has a problem with apes having a legally enforceable right to
life, freedom, and protection from torture? That does sound threatening to
humanity. Imagine if we lost OUR "inalienable right" to act with virtual
impunity as we kill, enslave, and torture gorillas, chimps, and the like. Horror
of horrors! What will be next, prison time for roasting kittens alive or
breaking puppies� necks?
Saletan did get at least one thing right, though:
[Proponents hail the resolution as the first crack in the "species barrier."
Peter Singer, the philosopher who co-founded GAP, puts it this way: "There is no
sound moral reason why possession of basic rights should be limited to members
of a particular species."]
Like the Abolition Movement, Animal Liberation has met with great resistance
from the myriad people and business entities benefiting richly from the status
quo. But this landmark precedent will create a significant chink in their armor.
But Saletan wasn�t done sounding alarms. He�s frantically determined to protect
"humanity�s special status:"
[If the idea of treating chimps like people freaks you out, join the club.
Creationists have been fighting this battle for a long time. They realized long
ago that evolution threatened humanity's special status. Maybe you thought all
this evolution stuff was just about the past. Surprise! Once you've admitted
chimps are your relatives, you have to think about treating them that way.
That's why, when the Spanish proposal won approval last week, GAP's leader in
Spain called it a victory for "our evolutionary comrades."]
More red meat for the mean-spirited mob, a mob comprised of people who have been
conditioned from birth to be obscenely human-centric and terrified that they
might stop "being special." No one is suggesting that we begin treating
chimpanzees exactly the same as we do humans. Animal liberationists are simply
calling for humanity to enlighten itself and draw our non-human animals into the
moral community, thereby extending sentient, intelligent beings protection from
murder, subjugation and torture. Consequences for cruelty to other living
creatures�..what a heinous concept!
Further, GAP�s victory nothing to do with supplanting Creationism with
Evolution. Ultimately, who gives a damn about that silly argument? Whether an
anthropomorphic God created us or we evolved from a primordial soup, the issue
here is that we human animals are inflicting unimaginable pain on countless
non-human animals every day, and it is a moral abomination!
Wesley Smith chimed in to stoke the ire of the pitch-fork toting villagers:
[Given that animal rights activists believe a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy,
one would think the GAP would be denigrated by them as speciesist because it
values apes higher than other sentient or "painient" animals. But of course,
they understand the game that is afoot. They know that the GAP is a spear
between the ribs of the old order because it explicitly supplants human beings
as the premier species. This is a disaster for universal human rights and human
Why are these very small men so terrified that they might lose their "special
status" and "exceptionalism?" Let�s hope that GAP�s spear pierces the ribs and
plunges deep into speciesism�s heart of darkness.
[Animals can't comprehend the concept of rights, so why grant them such
Human infants and toddlers can�t comprehend the concept of rights either, so we
better get busy rescinding their rights. And since when is it an "entitlement"
to grant a living, sentient being life, freedom and protection from torture?
[Take, as just one example, the purported right against torture. This seems
reasonable until one reads the project's definition of torture as "the
deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals,
either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others." Clearly, the primary aim
here isn't to stop beatings or punish neglect, but when combined with the
putative right to personal liberty, is clearly intended to prevent apes from
being used in medical research.]
Ah, medical research. The sacrosanct justification for our sadistic treatment of
non-human animals. As David Irving illustrates in The Day of the Bullies, medical research involving animals is a nightmare.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine makes a convincing case that many viable alternatives to
animal research exist, and that it is ethically imperative that we continue to
develop and implement them.
[The loss of chimps as crucial medical research aids would be sufficient cause
to reject the project. But there is an even more important, if esoteric, reason
for refusing to grant rights to apes. The fundamental purpose of the project is
to undermine our belief in human exceptionalism -- the principle that human life
has unique moral value simply because it is human. Animal liberationists abhor
human exceptionalism as bigotry against animals. Thus, by persuading us to
include apes in the so-called community of equals, supporters hope to slowly
erode society's belief in the unique importance of human life.]
At one time�and to this day in some cultures�male life was "uniquely important"
and valued over that of women and children. Similar examples abound throughout
history, including Caucasians over Blacks and Native Americans, adults over
children, Israelis over Palestinians, Germans over Jews, Turks over Armenians,
Hutus over Tutsis, and on and on�.
Placing "unique importance" on one group of sentient beings over another has
repeatedly resulted in drastically tragic consequences. Why, then, would we
cling so tenaciously to such a malignant way of thinking?
[These misguided efforts overlook a crucial point: The way we act is based
substantially on the nature of beings we perceive ourselves to be. In this
regard, our self-concept as the world's most important species is extremely
beneficial, because it is both the stimulus for promoting universal human rights
as well as the grounding for our distinctly human duty to treat animals
What a telling paragraph from Wesley Smith. His conclusion is that we humans
have to believe we are the master species in order to embrace and implement the
concept of universal human rights. And apparently his self-image is so fragile
that he needs to feel superior to non-human animals to feel good enough about
himself to perform his "distinctly human duty to treat animals humanely."
Incidentally, Wesley Smith is a senior fellow for the Discovery Institute, a
"think tank" that works strenuously to maintain and advance the money
worshipping, war-mongering brand of Calvinistic Christianity and the reactionary
socioeconomic values that riddle our Right Wing nation and culture of death. For
more on Discovery, click here.
[But the arguments GAP has deployed in Spain don't advance the idea of equality
among animals. They destroy it.]
[GAP is scientifically honest. And science doesn't show mental parity between
great apes and human adults. What it shows, as the group's president
acknowledges, is that great apes "experience an emotional and intellectual
conscience similar to that of human children." Accordingly, the Spanish proposal
doesn't treat apes like you or me. It treats them like "humans of limited
capacity, such as children or those who are mentally incompetent and are
afforded guardians or caretakers to represent their interests."]
[And that's just the top rung of the inequality ladder. GAP's mission statement
says great apes are entitled to rights based on their "morally significant
characteristics." It says they
enjoy a rich emotional and cultural existence in which they experience emotions
such as fear, anxiety and happiness. They share the intellectual capacity to
create and use tools, learn and teach other languages. They remember their past
and plan for their future. It is in recognition of these and other morally
significant qualities that the Great Ape Project was founded.]
[Morally significant qualities. Morally significant characteristics. These are
appeals to discrimination, not universal equality. Most animals don't have a
rich cultural life. They can't make tools. They don't teach languages. Singer
even points out that "chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have long-term
relationships, not only between mothers and children, but also between unrelated
apes." Special rights for animals in committed relationships! It sounds like a
Moral Majority for vegans.]
[Opening your mind to science-based animal rights doesn't eliminate inequality.
It just makes the inequality more scientific. A rat can't match a pig, much less
a boy. In fact, as a GAP board member points out, "We are closer genetically to
a chimp than a mouse is to a rat."]
[George Orwell wrote the cruel finale to this tale 63 years ago in Animal Farm:
"All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others." That
wasn't how the egalitarian uprising in the book was supposed to turn out. It
wasn't how the animal rights movement was supposed to turn out, either.]
How tremendous was that leap? Suddenly Saletan, who previously expressed his
emphatic opposition to GAP�s significant blow for animal liberation, started
citing the reasons why this step forward for animal rights will result in a
"Four legs good, two legs better" scenario for the "lesser" species. If this
legal precedent is such an abysmal failure for the animal rights movement and
for the voiceless victims they defend (both of which Saletan obviously fears and
despises), why isn�t he celebrating?
If this is the best Saletan and Smith can muster in support of their morally
primitive position, they need to head home and get back to their drawing boards.
And they�d better move quickly, because if their panic is justified, those "damn
dirty apes" might just acquire property rights and displace Saletan and Smith
from their precious abodes!
Jason Miller is Cyrano�s Journal�s associate editor.
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