Thursday, Mar. 04 2010

In defense of 'speciesism'
By Colleen Carroll Campbell
Wesley J. Smith is a speciesist. And he thinks you should be, too.

An attorney and author of a new expose on the animal-rights movement, Smith
promotes what was once an uncontroversial idea: the belief that "human beings
stand at the pinnacle of the moral hierarchy of life." He thinks humans have a
duty to treat animals humanely. He also thinks we have a right to use animals
to promote human flourishing and alleviate human suffering. In short, Smith
loves animals but values humans more.

According to animal-rights activists, that makes him guilty of "speciesism:" a
form of discrimination as arbitrary and pernicious as racism, and one that some
believe must be eradicated by any means necessary. After all, "animals are
people and people are animals," as self-described "eco-anarcha-feminist animal"
Pattrice Jones puts it. Or, to quote People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals president Ingrid Newkirk, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are
all mammals."

Newkirk's non-sequitur serves as the title for Smith's meticulously documented
book, "A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights
Movement." His research reveals the muddled, misanthropic thinking behind a
movement that has gained mainstream acceptance in America, even as most
Americans remain ignorant about its true goals.

Those goals include the elevation of animals to the moral and legal status of
people and the eradication of virtually all uses of animals for food,
companionship and even medical research. If animal-rights activists have their
way, we will see the abolition of everything from recreational fishing and
visits to the zoo to the use of guide dogs for the blind and household pets of
any kind. Forget about eating meat or sushi or strapping on leather shoes and
wool sweaters. And don't even think about donning a silk scarf or drizzling
honey on your dairy-free dessert. Animal-rights activists object to beekeeping
because it subjects hive queens to "rape racks," and PETA opposes the use of
silkworms because they are "feeling beings."

It's easy to snicker at the sort of people who berated Barack Obama last year
for smacking a fly. (PETA denounced his televised swat as an "execution.") Yet
Smith told me in a recent interview that he found surprisingly little distance
between the views of the movement's violent radicals and those who serve as its
more moderate public face. Animal-rights terrorists those who plant bombs in
the cars and target the children of medical researchers who experiment on
animals often operate with the sympathy and tacit approval of more peaceable

Even more troubling, animal-rights activists have succeeded in confusing the
public about the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. The
latter is a noble cause supported by the vast majority of Americans who want to
protect animals from cruelty, even though they do not consider animals their
moral equals a caveat that runs counter to animal-rights ideology. Despite
this distinction, "animal rights" has "become the catchall term for virtually
any effort to protect animals," Smith says, and the resulting confusion has
allowed the animal-rights movement to gain legitimacy it does not deserve.

That legitimacy threatens universal human rights, which are grounded in the
principle that all humans are equal simply because we are human. If we reject
that principle and argue that our rights are based on something other than our
shared human nature that it is a creature's apparent rationality or
self-awareness, for instance, that entitles it to rights we can wind up
elevating the rights of chimps and pigs above those of profoundly disabled or
demented humans. Indeed, some animal-rights advocates have done just that.

Animals do not have rights or the moral responsibilities that accompany rights.
That's why we prosecuted Michael Vick, not his pit bulls, for dog-fighting.
That's why executives at Sea World, not its orcas, are facing public scrutiny
for a whale trainer's death last week. And that's why we ponder our moral
obligations to animals who are, after all, the ultimate speciesists even
though animals do not do the same for us. We do so because we are human,
endowed with exceptional dignity that deserves singular defense.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St.
Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is