Sunday, May 07, 2006

Dolphins, PETA, and Reason

Just an amazing piece of research done in the United Kingdom. It appears that dolphins have more human-like communication than once thought:

DOLPHINS may be closer to humans than previously realised, with new research showing they communicate by whistling out their own “names”.

The evidence suggests dolphins share the human ability to recognise themselves and other members of the same species as individuals with separate identities. The research, on wild bottlenose dolphins, will lead to a reassessment of their intelligence and social complexity, raising moral questions over how they should be treated.

I am not necessarily surprised that dolphins, or any creatures on Earth, have very unique mental faculties. What has surprised me is how some claim, that just because something is a living being it means "rights" shall be applied to it. In particular, this is straight from PETA's website:

PETA believes that animals have rights and deserve to have their best interests taken into consideration, regardless of whether they are useful to humans. Like you, they are capable of suffering and have an interest in leading their own lives; therefore, they are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other reason. [Emphasis mine]

The creation of animal rights is an interesting phase in human history. This issue has been around since the ancient Greeks, and Immanuel Kant wrote an essay entitled Why We Have No Obligations to Animals. But the appropriation of rights is something of a new religion, filling the void of our deceased God. I was attracted to this article because it does raise a good point, namely the "raising [of] moral questions" in human/dolphin interaction.

"PETA believes," and interestingly does not know, that animals have "rights." But how is it possible that PETA could come to the conclusion that animals have rights at all? Simply put, it is the rejection that reason can play a role in understanding the objective world around us.

First, how do we know humans have rights? It certainly is not because of the natural sympathy one human has toward another human. Sympathy can be used for purposes other than compassion, such as Nazism or other brands of fascism. There is no argument against fascism if sentiment alone is the standard. Nature, therefore, must be the standard, The Founding Fathers understood this and Lincoln dedicated his entire presidency to affirm the principles derived from nature. All men are born with a free mind, to which they own and all men have free, individual reason. So if man owns himself and can therefore reason his existence and the objective world around him, there are certain rights that necessarily must be applied to all men. However, animals, do not fit into this category.

Nietzsche tells us that cows have no history because they neither contemplate their existence nor their morality. Being driven to their demise means as much as being herded from unseen danger. They cannot, therefore, fulfill their natural purpose of existence unless man does so for them. Ants fulfill their natural purpose upon conception. But neither cows nor ants have rights applicable to them. Their respective subjugation or extermination is not wrong if done for human betterment and only right if leads to said betterment.

On the other hand, dolphins, like dogs or gorillas, have higher reason and must exert some labor to fulfill their natural purpose. Dolphins must gather into groups and have emotional interaction; dogs yearn for love and attention and gorillas have shown to be highly intelligent. In short, they are all more human, not less. The cow and the ant are far removed from man, and this is most obvious due to their lack of reason, but more clear with their natural purposes being realized after subjection or immediately upon conception. Therefore, it is harmful TO MAN to abuse, eat, or otherwise be cruel to dolphins, dogs, or gorillas. Dolphins, therefore, deserve special care apart from other sea animals. This must not give man a blank check in treating other animals however he chooses. Anything that harms a man's soul and or psyche is wrong, and being unnecessarily cruel to lower species does just that.

It is only possible to contemplate the "rights" of animals when human rights have become devoid of substance. The rejection of nature as the standard has made it possibly to go beyond human rights and allow emotion, not reason, to prescribe what a human right is. Only then is it possible to equate human rights with that of an animal. In sum, by advocating for animal rights, PETA is advocating for nothing.

Reference: Harry V. Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom.

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