A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: Human Exceptionalism vs. Animal Rights

A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy by Wesley J. SmithIs our pork consumption comparable to the genocide in Darfur? Is our use of lab rats equivalent to the slave trade? Is our breeding and selling of dogs and cats comparable to human trafficking?

To anyone who believes in human exceptionalism, such comparisons are utterly insulting to the real victims of injustice.  However, if you are Ingrid Newark, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), such comparisons are only logical.

“A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” Newark says. “We are all mammals.”

Wesley J. Smith explores such views in his new book A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. In the book, Smith explores everything from the philosophical backdrop of the modern animal rights movement to the terroristic acts that have been executed in its name.

Smith begins by providing an overview of the leading theorists and ideological premises behind the movement, all of which center around a critique of speciesism, which Smith describes as the notion that “treating animals as having less value than human beings is a form of discrimination just as morally odious as racism.” In other words, you are a speciest if you think a cow should belong in your burger bun rather than a little boy.

Smith notes the various problems with such critiques, resting firmly on the obvious truth that every single species on the planet is speciest to an extent.

As for how animal rights activists view the proper solution to widespread specieism, there are a variety of differing perspectives, all of which position the human as a moral equal to other animals. Such a mindset gives license to commit any number of anti-human deeds in the name of “morality,” and Smith covers them all.

Before reading this book, I pinned the animal rights movement as a powerless bloc that is perverse and disruptive, but mostly ineffective and silly. My mind has changed, to say the least. Smith chronicles so much activity and so much success within the movement, that after fully grasping its magnitude, one shutters to think of the possibilities. Whether threatening scientists, sabotaging lab work, or terrorizing company executives, the animal rights movement has done it all, and its victims have almost always caved to its demands.

There are certainly those in the movement who don’t endorse violent acts and simply hope to “change the world” through veganism or advocacy or whatever, but these are not the people defining the movement. They are not the heads of PETA or the Animal Liberation Front, and they most certainly aren’t crying “foul!” as much as one would hope.

But in the end, Smith’s primary argument rests not on the terroristic activities of the movement or the theoretical inconsistencies of their arguments, but on the dire consequences that would result if their goals were to be achieved.

Where would we be without the medical achievements of the last century thanks (in part) to animal experimentation? How would society function if animals were allowed to legally sue humans over supposed injustices? How would human health and economic prosperity be affected if meat were to be eradicated from our diets?

But most importantly, what would the world be like if humans treated other humans like animals rather than moral agents? What is the logical outcome when we begin to see our fellow man as a chimp or a pig? Unfortunately, we have seen such views manifest in times past, particularly with slavery in the United States and elsewhere.

In a final chapter titled “The Importance of Being Human,” Smith hits at the core of the issue with great force, outlining the scientific, philosophical, theoretical, and theological arguments in favor of human exceptionalism, and in turn, human rights.

As Smith concludes:

“Moral value should not be based on the capacities of each individual, since that standard would obliterate universal human rights, but upon the intrinsic natures of species. Reasoning, using language, inventing, projecting out into the future, creating — the list is long — are capacities that flow from the nature of humans and are absent from the natures of all animals.”

So whatever your view of “animal rights” is — whether you are anti-meat, anti-hunting, or anti-zoo — Smith’s book is really about resisting ideologies that are anti-human. As we continue to pursue proper and efficient animal stewardship on this earth, it seems that human interest should remain the driving force of our decisionmaking.

Buy it: You can purchase the book by clicking here.

Note: Smith does make a clear distinction between animal rights and animal welfare, and he continuously emphasizes how he is a strong supporter of improving our stewardship of the animal kingdom. Neither he nor I endorse “puppy farms” and the like. But alas, this is not a book about the benefits of proper animal stewardship, but about the disastrous implications of perverse animal worship.

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