If you are reading these words, you are a human being. That used to matter morally. Indeed, it was once deemed a self-evident truth that being a Homo sapien created intrinsic moral value based simply and merely on being human-a principle sometimes called "human exceptionalism."
No more. Human exceptionalism is under unprecedented assault across a broad array of societal and intellectual fronts. Bioethics, as this journal has often described, is a primary example. The predominating view among mainstream bioethicists is that human life per se does not matter morally. Rather, to be considered a full member of the moral community, one must achieve the status of being a "person" by possessing sufficient cognitive attributes such as being self-aware over time or being able to value one's life.1
This approach creates a potentially disposable caste consisting of hundreds of millions of humans: all unborn life-early embryos may not have a brain, and fetuses are generally considered unconscious; infants-they have not yet developed sufficient capacities; and people like the late Terri Schiavo-who have lost requisite capacities through illness or injury. The point of personhood theory is insidious: It grants permission to kill human non-persons or use them as mere natural resources ripe for the harvest.
Bioethics is by no means the only existent threat to human exceptionalism and to its corollary, the sanctity/equality-of-human-life ethic. Materialistic Darwinism also denigrates the unique moral value of human life based on the philosophical belief that because human beings evolved out of the same primordial mud as the rest of earth's flora and fauna, we are consequently not special or unique. The fervent embrace of human iwexceptionalism led one Darwinian materialist to assert, "We are all of us, dogs and barnacles, pigeons and crabgrass, the same in the eyes of nature, equally remarkable and equally dispensable."2
John Derbyshire, of National Review fame, has similarly written that a Darwinian understanding of biology leads to the conclusion that human beings are only "special in the way that an elephant is special by virtue of having that long trunk. . . . We are part of nature-an exceptionally advanced and interesting part, but... not special."71 (Emphasis within the text.)
A third equally dangerous threat to the equality/sanctity-of-human-life ethic-the subject of the balance of this article-comes from the animalrights/liberation movement. Indeed, animal liberation is particularly subversive to our perceived status as a unique and special species because it advocates the creation of an explicit human/animal moral equality. Moreover, of the three threats to human exceptionalism I have mentioned (and there are others), only animal-rights activists engage in significant violence and lawlessness to coerce society into accepting their values. Thus, not only is animal-rights/liberation a unique danger to human exceptionalism (particularly among the young), but it also presents a potent threat to the rule of law.
The Ideology of Animal Rights
Defenders of the sanctity/equality-of-human-life ethic need to combat animal rights as forcefully as they do personhood theory. To understand why, we need to look past the public image of animal-rights/liberation groups, such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as committed animal lovers who engage in wacky advocacy tactics such as posing nude to protest fur. For beneath this relatively benign facade lurks an ideologically absolutist movement that explicitly espouses equal moral worth between humans and animals.
What's wrong with wanting to protect animals? Absolutely nothing. Indeed, advocating for animal welfare can be a noble cause. But this isn't the ultimate agenda of animal rights/liberation. Thus, to understand the profound threat the movement poses to human exceptionalism, it must be distinguished from the animal-welfare movement. …