Wesley J. Smith V. Matthew Scully: Animal Rights and Wrongs

By Murchison, William | The Human Life Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Wesley J. Smith V. Matthew Scully: Animal Rights and Wrongs


Murchison, William, The Human Life Review


This boy didn't come to the big city dangling from the bed of a '47 pickup, no, sir. He's been to a county fair or two, it's true, on which occasions he learned the value and necessity of standing delicately aside while rival pitchmen have at each other. This boy, in other words, has better things to do than arbitrate the very public spat over whether Wesley J. Smith, esteemed ethicist and contributor to the Human Life Review, hates or loves animals, or loves them insufficiently, or . . . whatever.

We all know, of course, what spat I am talking about. No? Let me reprise. Then we'll get on with the larger business.

My brother Smith, a Discovery Institute fellow and rightly venerated critic of the euthanasia cult, recently published a book titled A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (Encounter). In it he makes what seems to me the unexceptionable point that the aforesaid animal-rights movement is knocking down mankind "from the exceptional species on earth into merely another animal." The movement's roots, says Smith, "are in the desire to deny the roundedness of creation and to force upon society a simple and intellectually hollow materialism that reduces man and animal alike to mere meat."

Smith takes on animal rights - "a dangerous ideology that sometimes amounts to a quasi-religion" - with the tightly controlled exuberance of a linebacker eyeing the signal caller on fourth-and-one. The movement itself he finds not just wrong but pernicious. It attempts to obstruct vital medical research conducted on animals; some of its fringier types go in for explicit terrorism. They participate in violence against researchers, research institutions, fur farmers, and the like. The movement seeks not merely to persuade but, where persuasion fails, to win through intimidation.

Smith can't see any logic behind the supposition that animals have "rights" equivalent in any sense to those that men and women enjoy. Our obligatory care and concern for animals cannot lead us to abandon the principle of human exceptionalism - the principle that human beings, you and me and little sister, stand out above the common, well, herd. What we seek, in all kindness and generosity, is "a better world for people and animals alike from the position of human responsibility."

A sound enough point, you think? Just wait. Here comes Matthew Scully to suggest, by way of reviewing Smith's book for the March 8 issue of National Review, that Smith is presenting "human exceptionalism ... as some sort of all-purpose absolution for every human excess or iniquity at the expense of animals." By Scully's lights, those excesses and iniquities are large enough already, apotheosized in the factory farm where cows and pigs and chickens are penned in excruciating discomfort until they succumb to the purposes of the human table and kitchen. Scully, author of the 2002 book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, and a onetime speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is ticked. He objects that Smith keeps unjustifiably quiet about "the cognitive and emotional capacities of animals, their nature and needs, their conscious experience of fear and pain." Animals, it is clear to Scully, don't show up on Smith's hit parade. He arraigns the author for "situational ethics, cold reductionism, and worship of scientific efficiency." Two thumbs down, in the parlance of Siskel and Ebert. Get the hook!

To understand Scully's indignation, it helps to know that Smith, in A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy, has called his fellow author's advocacy style "hyperemotional and overly strident," as well as blind to "the good that humans receive from animals." There was a little bad blood, so to speak, even before that. In a 2002 review of Dominion, for The Weekly Standard, Smith twanged Scully - "an intelligent man whose big heart has found a just and noble cause" - for failure to distance himself, and the animal movement, from Prof. …

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