Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Saletan on the GAP

Slate's Will Saletan has weighed in on the Spanish plan to pass the GAP. As usual, his take comes at the reader from different and unexpected angles that acknowledge the arguments of the opposing sides of the debate. (And he is kind enough to give a tip of the hat to yours truly.) But I think he misses the bigger picture of the deleterious impact the GAP will have on human rights. Saletan writes:

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."
But this approach would eventually require that all animals and vegetables be included in the moral community because we are related to all life on the planet under Darwinian theory. And of course, as the Swiss showed with plant rights, that is precisely where we are heading. But this isn't about science so much as ideology. That is why some neo Darwinists desperately yearn for human beings to be knocked off the pedestal of exceptionalism.

A huge point about what is wrong with animal rights in general and the GAP in specific is that once you grant animals rights, it destroys human rights. Saletan gets it at one level, noting that the GAP is speciesist and destroys animal equality rather than promote it (and he could have written, is rife with robust anthropomorphism):
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. [Me: No, it was to destroy human exceptionalism.]

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.
Ironic point: But the GAP is a mere way station, not the end game. Moreover, accepting the premise that rights come from capacities rather than humanhood--as Saletan seems to--obliterates human rights and we end up with a society in which some humans have greater value--and hence rights--then other humans, but also animals having greater value than some humans. That is to turn our backs on the long struggle for universal human equality.

One final point: The GAP goes completely against Martin Luther King's values of human equality. Yet, Saletan writes:
To borrow Martin Luther King's rule, you should be judged by what's inside you, not by what's on the surface.
No, King was not arguing for rights based on capacities. He was arguing for full inclusion of all human beings into the true community of equals. (Indeed, I am sure it never occurred to him to consider including animals, since he died before the animal rights movement was truly launched.) Along these lines, King hoped that one great day we would all be judged based on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.

But chimps don't have character. That is a moral characteristic that is uniquely an attribute of the human species.

The GAP is a catastrophe. It isn't about science, it is about ideology and the destruction of Judeo/Christian moral philosophy. And it must be stopped.



At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Rich said...

But chimps don't have character. That is a moral characteristic that is uniquely an attribute of the human species.

Apes have do have character (although rudimentary in comparison to us) as evidenced from experiments:
Selfless Chimps Shed Light on Evolution of Altruism, FOX News, July 09, 2007

So my question to you is, do you accept (at least the possibility) that Apes can be altruistic? If so, how does this affect your definition of character? You seem to think it's binary, but I think that is too simplistic.

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

I don't think chimps or apes have the capacity for character of the kind MLK was discussing. They are very intelligent animals, but they are not rational animals. I think we read a lot into their behavior that we can't just know what is going on inside. Also, these experiments are controlled by humans. The story notes that in the wild, little of that "altruism" is seen.

Animals are changed by contact with us, wouldn't you agree?

I would also note that some have an ideological predisposition to find human-like behavior. Jane Goodall has admitted she intentionally anthropomorphized her subjects, which took some--not all--of what she did out of the realm of science and into advocacy.

Chimps are magnificient animals. Their care in captivity should be based on a welfare model consistent with human duties. They are not rights--or duties--bearing creatures.

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Rich said...

This is the what I'm I'm trying to discern - is there any evidence Science could present to make you consider that Apes have some capacity for moral reasoning?

It seems to me that you are ideologically predisposed to reject any Scientific findings that clash with your chosen view. A true scientist would not rule out other possibilities that have evidentiary support.

So, are you capable of entertaining the notion that Apes do have limited moral reasoning? If so, how does that affect your beliefs.

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Lydia McGrew said...

Isn't it interesting the way Saletan sort of gloats about what he considers to be the contemporary relevance of neo-Darwinism? Yet if someone who didn't happent to believe neo-Darwinism is correct, or entirely correct, were to say the same thing--e.g., that it gives leverage to people seeking to give apes human-type rights--he would be called a kook and an alarmist. That is a pattern I see elsewhere in politics. One side gets to trumpet what they are about and to more or less taunt the other side with where this is all going, whereas if you _object_ to the thing in question, you aren't allowed to say where it's leading or likely to lead.

I hope that doesn't sound too vague, but I worry that giving other examples that are coming to mind right now would bring in topics that Wesley would probably rather not have discussed on SHS.

Actually, come to think of it, I suppose one example actually would be assisted suicide. If you are _for_ it, you can go all over the world saying this is about everyone's right to die anywhere they please, even if they aren't ill at all. If you are _against_ it, you are a crazy alarmist if you say that's where it's heading.

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Actually, I think Saletan, as he is prone to, gave some bones to both sides. However, it is clear how he things moral value should be determined.

Also going on is a campaign by the one side to the media telling them they don't have to present both side of an argument. Based on what I am experiencing, it is having some effect.

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Rich: I always strive to be open minded. But I also strive to be common sensical. I have read many of the articles about the supposed human-like attributes of chimps. But while they certainly indicate that these are highly intelligent animals, which we knew, they don't seem to show an ability to be rational, to be moral, to be creative, to be philosophical or spiritual, to step outside of nature as we do, or to control their environment.

A letter to the editor in response to a piece on animal rights I wrote--it may have been Let Great Apes be Apes in the SF Chronicle if you are interested--said that if a chimp wrote a symphony, Wesley J. Smith would still say that chimps should not have rights!

Funny no? It's just not possible.

And anyway, if we feel we have the duty not to experiment on chimps or keep them in captivity, pass an animal welfare law to that effect as some countries have done. Why make it about RIGHTS unless there is another agenda?

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Joshua said...

Hypothetically, what would a non-human (like a chimp) have to do/be in order for them to be worthy of the same rights as humans?

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Rich said...

I understand that you are skeptical of the experiments to date, but skepticism does not include an outright rejection of anything Science finds that contradicts your beliefs. So on what scientific basis do you claim that Apes lack any ability to reason morally?

I must reiterate that you are incapable of entertaining the very real possibility, based on Scientific evidence, that Apes have a limited capacity to use moral reasoning. Your evasiveness implies that you can not defend your belief should this possibility be proven conclusively.

Please humor me, suppose Apes really do have a limited ability to use moral reasoning - then what? What does your moral reasoning dictate?

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

The evidence is highly conjectural and weak. It may also be tainted by human interaction, as the sign language experiments turned out to be. At least, that is what I have seen.

Hypothetically, even limited moral resaoning, based on a chimp opening a door in an experiment so another can get some fruit, does not add up to the differences in kind that distinguish humans from all other known species in the universe. Rationality, consciousness, duties, creativity, philosophy, reasoning, creativity, stepping outside of nature, etc.--mentioned previously and ignored by you--all of the things I mentioned. The difference between picking up a stick to poke at termites and conceiving and fabricating a machine that flies to the moon and back is not just a difference in quality, it is a difference in kind.

Now humor me: Why do you apparently have such an emotional stake in giving chimps rights as opposed to protecting them with welfare laws commenserate with their capacity to suffer and in keeping with what helps them thrive?

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Rich said...

I never said nor implied that I wanted to give Apes human rights. Instead, I am trying to show you the limitations of your logic, and how you can turn moral reasoning against itself.

Whether or not Apes have limited moral reasoning is secondary. I am much more interested in learning what your moral reasoning would dictate should we ever discover/prove non-human life with a limited ability to morally reason. Are they more than animal? If so, then what?

At July 01, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Well Rich,you haven't succeeded. And I answered that question. If you won't play, I won't play.

At August 08, 2008 , Blogger Okakura said...

WJS: "A huge point about what is wrong with animal rights in general and the GAP in specific is that once you grant animals rights, it destroys human rights. Saletan gets it at one level, noting that the GAP is speciesist and destroys animal equality rather than promote it (and he could have written, is rife with robust anthropomorphism)"

Ironically, the converse of this approach - medical vitalism - is also true. That is, once you reflexively privilege humanhood over human characteristics altogether (quality of life) -it requires a "robust anthropomorphism" to assert that folks in PVS are aware and responsive when they have in fact lost the physiological capacity for conscious awareness altogther.

To such people, folks like Terri Schiavo because they are not terminally ill must be kept alive at all costs or else we slip furhter along some insidous path of forced eugenics. This despite the fact the the overwhelming majority of Americans actually consider a non-sentient existence fully dependent on life support (not just artificial feeding, mind you, but 24-7 nursing care. PVS folks can easily die of an infected bed sore or tooth abscess ) a worse fate than death. But this conclusion is simply not acceptable to the humanhood ideologue, who then shifts the debate to "forced dehydration" and whether or not the PVS patient feels pain in the dying process or if such potential pain can be properly controlled via analgesics. But this is of course the debate that they want to start, because it inevitably invites the question, wouldn't active euthanasia in such cases be more humane? Of course it would be, and this concession is all they need to "prove" their slippery slope theory of incremental medical eugenics and thus resist any action or inaction that would even hint at such an unacceptable course. Of course, any thought to the actual (or likely) wishes of the person whose bed they are morally grandstanding on is completely beside the point.

The protection of vulnerable patients is of supreme importance to everyone, bioethicists included. And the accuracy of neurological assessments in making quality of life determinations is of paramount importance. Naturally medicine like all branches of science is an evolving, empirical process that can never confer 100% certainty; only reasonable degrees of certainty. That said, it seems incredibly disingenuous for anyone (esp. lay spectators) to reflexively dismiss three decades of medical data on the subject of PVS when such data does not conform to their ideological presuppositions. The radical fringe of the vitalist movement has mutated the important and necessary responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals and groups into a steadfastly non-empirical movement to preclude certain diagnoses and death trajectories altogther regardless of circumstance, personal preferences, or patient suffering.

This is the kind of advocacy that we can certainly live (and die) without.

At August 08, 2008 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

O: I don't know any radical vitalists. Thanks for your always interesting comments.

At August 08, 2008 , Blogger Okakura said...

Quite right; the term is redundant. :)

A working definition might be (A) anyone who makes a rosy medical diagnosis & prognosis without actually examining the patient or patient record; (B) waits for the press before doing so, and (C) is not a board certified physician.

Distinctly remember a few of these folks making a lot of noise in Pinellas Park, Florida a few year ago.


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