A Review of A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. By Wesley Smith.

Encounter Books, 2010.

Common sense these days has been thrown out the window, so we must reaffirm and defend basic truths. One such truth is that of human exceptionalism – humans are special and unique. But that truism is under attack today from various quarters, including the animal liberation brigade.

Those arguing for animal rights have to of course deny that there is anything special or valuable about human beings. Thus the campaign to grant animals rights is really the campaign to dethrone man and disrobe him of any unique significance.

That is the argument of this important book. Smith makes the distinction between animal welfare and the animal rights movement. The former is something all of us should be supportive of. This has to do with the humane treatment of animals. But the latter is something we all should be quite worried about.

What looks like a noble and worthwhile crusade is at bottom really an anti-human ideology. It is in fact “a belief system, an ideology, even a quasi religion, which both implicitly and explicitly seeks to create a moral equivalence between the value of human lives and those of animals”.

This movement is often extremist, utopian, and open to the use of violence. For those who are still trying to figure out the book title, it actually is a 1986 quote from the head of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk. She said all four are mammals – end of story.

The true believers in the animal liberation movement are not just gentle dog lovers or cat owners. They are fanatics who are quite happy to harass, vandalise and destroy anything they consider to be abusive to animals. Indeed, Smith warns us of what sort of world we would live in if these radicals had their way:

“Medical research would be materially impeded. There would be no more fishing fleets, cattle ranches, leather shoes, steak barbecues, animal parks, bomb-sniffing or Seeing Eye dogs, wool coats, fish farms, horseback riding, pet stores… Millions of people would be thrown out of work, our enjoyment of life would be substantially diminished. Our welfare and prosperity reduced.”

Indeed, all domestication of animals would be taboo. There goes the family pet. And there goes human uniqueness and dignity. All in the name of a fanatical ideology which will even resort to threats of murder to achieve its aims. This book carefully documents the ideology, the tactics and the fanaticism of this growing movement.

The thinking of philosopher Peter Singer was instrumental in all this. Although not specifically an animal rights campaigner himself, he did help to get the ball rolling with his influential 1975 volume, Animal Liberation. In it he argued that the interests of all animals should be granted “equal consideration” to those of people.

Another utilitarian philosopher, the late Joseph Fletcher, was happy to take this sort of thinking to its logical conclusion, including promoting the idea that we should create human/ape chimera to do “dangerous or demeaning jobs”.

How would this come about? By “sexual reproduction, as between apes and humans. If interspecific coitus is too distasteful, then laboratory fertilization and implants could do it. If women were unwilling to gestate hybrids, animal females could.”

And the already-mentioned PETA had a vegetarian campaign which was called, “Holocaust on Your Plate”. Yep, you got it. To chomp into that t-bone on your plate is the moral equivalent of gassing Jews in the concentration camps.

Prof Gary Francione is another radical animal rights campaigner who insists that no animal can ever be owned by humans for whatever reason. No pets, no guide dogs, no zoos, no nothing. It is all morally wrong and must be fully eradicated he insists.

Philosopher Tom Regan, like Singer, is against “speciesism”. To argue that one species is greater or more valuable than another is akin to racism and anti-Semitism. Like Singer, he believes that some animals have more rights than humans do. He differs from Singer in being against human infanticide however. Singer fully supports it.

It is not just various intellectuals and academics who are pushing all this. Many activist groups are especially targeting children and schools. They seek to convince young children that all domestication of animals is evil, and they must rise up and act now.

For example there are “PETA Comics”. One is entitled, “Your Mommy KILLS Animals!” In full colour it depicts an evil looking mother knifing a rabbit to death, with blood and gore splattered all over the page. These sorts of fear campaigns and propaganda exercises are found in schools all around North America.

This important volume also documents the growing use of coercion, bombings, terror, violence and even death threats by some of these campaigners. There are numerous groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, and the Environmental Liberation Front, which have been quite happy to resort to any tactics to achieve their ends.

ALF trainees for example are instructed on how to commit acts of sabotage and terror. They are taught how to make bombs, burn down buildings, and trash research facilities. They are told how not to leave any evidence behind, and how to maintain internal security to weed out detection.

Smith also looks at the validity and necessity of much animal research and testing. For example, all sorts of invaluable pain relief which we take for granted today only came about because of prior animal testing. All sorts of cures, remedies, vaccines and treatments for numerous diseases and ailments, including AIDS, have been and are being developed because of animal research.

He of course recognises that regulations and safeguards have their role in such research. This is already in place. For example, the US Animal Welfare Act mandates the use of drugs to relieve pain and suffering in such animals. A lot of effort and expense is exerted to ensure the humane treatment of animals.

Smith concludes by affirming human uniqueness, and how rights are in fact a distinctly human concept that can apply only to humans. Only humans possess moral autonomy. Seeking to include animals in the area of rights “would degrade the importance of rights altogether, just as wild inflation devalues money”.

Given that Switzerland is now talking about “plant rights” it is time that we started thinking clearly and soberly about what rights really mean, and why in fact humans are unique. At the same time we can and should ensure proper animal welfare.

Smith gets this balance right here. With so much irrationality and emotion being generated on this issue, the cool-headed logic and common sense of Smith is a welcome relief.

[1093 words]

15 Replies to “A Review of A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. By Wesley Smith.”

  1. Hi Bill,

    In the UK (unsurprisingly), animal rights terrorism has been allowed to grow to an extent where it now has a big impact on business and research.
    In one bizarre case, animal rights terrorists even dug up the grave of a guinea pig farmer’s mother-in-law and hid the body, saying they would return it only if he closed his farm!


    Mansel Rogerson

  2. And after Plant Rights (at the culmination of which, we’ll only be able to use/consume items made by purely inorganic processes) comes Protein Rights (by which proteins may only be manipulated by naturally occurring means and cannot be otherwise manipulated) and then Atomic Rights (All atoms were created equal – by the Big Bang, of course – and have the right not to be split in nuclear reactors or supercolliders. And all factories must use passive monitoring to ensure elements are identified but not judged*. Additionally, all objects have the right to remain silent).

    Because if humans aren’t special, nothing is special. And if nothing is special then everything can be reduced to absurdity.

    *footnote: Even with the advent of Atomic Rights, carbon dioxide is still considered evil.

    Dominic Snowdon

  3. So, according to their reasoning, which states we’re all the same, they should also start campaigns against lions for brutally killing and eating antelope – and even humans sometimes. And those intolerant hippos who murder people moving to close to them. Maybe they would argue that the lions should confront their own peers in a similar manner as they confront their human peers?

    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  4. Of course these animal rights groups can only really make their case on the foundation of human exceptionalism. We are the ones who confer any rights on them. The only right an antelope has for a lion is the right to be tonight’s dinner. Why not my dinner? Like any non-biblical faith or worldview they cannot be consistent.

    Of course the issue of animal experimentation is a more complex matter. C.S. Lewis was one influential and thoughtful Christian who opposed it. He belonged to the British anti-vivisectionist society. Part of his thinking was that animals do have value and we can’t just treat the issue as a utilitarian issue, that we humans benefit so it is justified. But part of his reasoning was that the same people who defend it by saying “They are only animals” are the same ones who say about us that we are “only animals.” I recognize the value of animal research, and am not really opposed under the kinds of conditions you mention Bill, but there is room for valid disagreement over that

    Ed Sherman, Holland

  5. Yes, I can’t help thinking that the argument: that animals are rarely responsible for the diseases (they don’t smoke, drink, or have anal intercourse, etc.) and therefore shouldn’t be expected to be a proxy, bearing the suffering, for humans (who do in many cases cause the diseases by self-abuse of one kind or another), as animals generally do in medical research – is a sound argument. But I’ll fully believe in animal rights only when an international congress of non-humans votes to confer full rights and privileges on homo sapiens.
    John Thomas, UK

  6. Hi Bill. Thanks for writing on the subject. The utilitarian approach seems to be the secularists most employed ethical theory. I can’t help but think Peter Singer would be furious at the opening lines to your essay. ‘You Speciest!’ A friend recently said, “Shouldn’t we get rid of Singer, since he is causing so much grief to our culture? By getting rid of him we would increase the happiness of countless people’.
    Keith Jarrett

  7. Course he said that in a joking voice; we’re not in favour of Singer being bumped off… Cheers!
    Keith Jarrett

  8. An Australian discussion of misanthropic animal-rights activism, yet no mention of Sea Shepherd?

    So I suppose it’s ok to provide port access to those who ram ships, throw acid, fire checmically tipped arrows and shine weapons-grade lasers at people as long as they’re doing it to the Japanese?

    Hideyoshi Toyotomi

  9. Dear Hideyoshi Toyotomi,

    I believe your point is well made. The actions of Sea Shepherd and the heroisation of same is a disgusting aspect of our society. There are better ways to express our opinion to your country. I cannot speak on behalf of this country or this forum, only myself, and therefore I wish only on my behalf to apologise to you for my country’s complicity with Sea Shepherd.

    Graeme Cumming

  10. Those who are deeply insane have no insight into their condition. For the protection of themselves and society they cannot be given any control over the lives of others. This lot definitely qualifies!!!
    Anna Cook

  11. Thanks Hideyoshi Toyotomi

    The Sea Shepherd incident was too recent of course to be included in this book, but Smith does mention other such earlier activities, including how the Sea Shepherd Society “sabotaged a whaling station and sunk two whaling ships in Reykjavik, Iceland”.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Wesley Smith will be in Melbourne next month. He is the keynote speaker at the Right to Life Australia conference on July 9-11. Details http://www.righttolife.com.au/events.htm

    To Hideyoshi Toyotomi,

    Many of us share your disgust over the actions of the Sea Shepherd eco-terrorists.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  13. Hi Bill,

    I must admit I get a headache trying to understand the logic and inconsistencies around what these animal rights people say sometimes. On the one hand they say that animals have the same rights as humans (or should do) so woe betide anyone who harms or hurts them. On the other hand, they then say that we can kill a human baby in the uterus if we want. I think this position is held by many of the animal rights activists – I know personally of a few who believe this – fighting to prevent the clubbing of baby seals, but actively having abortions themselves and encouraging others to do so. Then they will also say that morals don’t matter – at least for humans. We are all just animals anyway, as we have descended from them. This accounts for our animal sex drives so we can have sex with whoever, whatever and whenever we want. Yet they are going ahead carving out a set of morals around the treatment of animals. This confuses me if morals don’t matter. The thing that truly puzzles me at the end of it all is if we are just animals, like the animals, and can run around having sex because that’s what animals do, why can we then abort our little unborn babies? Aren’t they animals too? Why should seal animals have the right to life and human baby ‘animals’ don’t have the same right? I was just reading earlier the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Cor 3:18 – ‘If anyone of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool”so that he may become wise.’ If that is what the standards of the world today are, then I must confess with relief that I am really quite ignorant because none of it makes sense to me at all.
    Kerry Letheby

  14. I fully agree Kerry. I wonder what these animal rights people would do if they saw someone remove a kangaroo fetus from its mother’s pouch and do to little joey what they feel is perfectly acceptable to do to the human fetus. I guess us humans do honestly act like animals sometimes. Perhaps that’s where this ‘logic’ comes from.

    Annette Nestor

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