Moonbat logic of the ARFs

Posted on 05/12/2009

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  Evolution,  Natural Rights, The Social Contract And Animal Rights

        

        “I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.”

 -Charles Darwin, Introduction, Origin of Species, 5th ed. (1869).

 

     “Thus, the question of whether justice can be achieved in society  may not depend on whether individuals can be forced to comply with civil authority but on whether individuals and civil authority can act  in  harmony with, and fulfill their moral obligations toward, each other.    Moreover, there may be a moral obligation to comply with civil authority only if that authority is legitimate (i.e. if that authority is based on a fair and just agreement among the members of society).

 – Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762)

 

            This is the second of a three-part discussion of the truly moonbat sociopolitical movement that calls itself “animal rights.” As discussed and documented in the prior post, the “animal rights ” credo is nothing but a mindless jumble of misplaced sentiment, scientific ignorance and illogic, based primarily on hatred of humanity rather than any real concern for the other creatures with which we share the Earth, or any sensible moral or ethical reasoning.

            Here, I pick up the subject again, from perspectives of our biological evolution as a species capable of understanding abstract ideas such as life, liberty or “rights”, and the political philosophy that underlies the basic concept of rights under law, i.e. the “social contract” that forms the basis for all forms of government and all legal systems.  The final segment to follow will discuss and document the deleterious legal and political effects that the “animal rights” and “animal liberation” movements have had on our genuine and legitimate concerns for both the environment and animal welfare and other important social and economic concerns as well.

A.        The Concept Of “Rights” Is Specifically Human, Based On Our Much Higher Capacity For  Abstract And Analytical Thought, Developed By Mankind Over The Eons Through The Process Of Evolution ,Which Has And Can Have No Meaningful Application To The Other Species That Inhabit The Planet Earth.

           We are the only extant members of the genus Homo, and the only one that ever existed which could sensibly be termed Homo Sapiens which means, literally, “sapient” man.  That is to say, not necessarily “wise” man, but “discerning” man, “aware” man or “thinking” man is closer to the truth.  There are no other species, existing now or at any prior time, that can be said to have been sapient in this sense to the degree of the modern human race, which has evolved from a long series of hominid ancestors, showing a gradual but steady progression toward what we know now as specifically human physiological features and specifically human cognitive capacities. 

          That progression, surely, is due to a combination of evolutionary fortuities, such as our predecessor species descending from the trees to walk erect, the movement of our eye sockets toward the center to allow binocular vision and visual  perspective, the development of the opposable thumb, which is a significant difference between us an our nearest related species among the great apes and which is the basis for our unquestionably superior ability to develop skills like tool making which in turn lead to increased capacity for abstract thought and analysis.

          It was not just our larger cranial capacity, but a combination of such physiological changes over many eons, in response to physical changes in the world around us, that led eventually through the process ofevolution to the degree of sapience that defines the human species. That degree of sapience alone is what significantly differentiates us from the great apes in terms of our ability to manipulate, affect and understandthe world around us.  This is not to claim any moral superiority for humans, or any direct divine intervention that sets us apart from other animal species, but our evolution into Homo Sapiens is clearly what defines us as the only creatures on Earth which have, or can have, any moral obligations or expectations with respect to other individuals.

           Evolution itself is an abstract concept that emerged in the 19th Century through the writing of Charles Darwin. Only a member of the species Homo Sapiens, which is to say only a human being, is even capable of understanding such concepts as taxonomy and evolution which inform all present day understanding of biology and ecology.  Could there have been prior hominids with a similar level of cognitive  ability, such as the Neanderthals perhaps? Maybe, but the fact remains that the human race today is the only species possessing the capacity to think abstractly about concepts such as liberty, equality or rights.

          The concept of “rights,” no less than the concepts of taxonomy, evolution, politics, ethics, morality, religion et cetera, is something that could only have been devised by a species having evolved to the same level of sapience as we have, and it is one that can only be understood or practiced by such a species.  That is it is something that is solely and uniquely human, as a product of a specific evolution that significantly differentiates us from all the other creatures that inhabit the Earth.

          There are other species, among the other primates especially, who have evolved to certain rudimentary levels of sapience, including relatively complex abilities to communicate, to plan ahead, to use tools, and so forth.  Even sparrows display what appears to be planning when they select the materials they will use to build a nest, but Chimpanzees display considerably more awareness of future events, like the one in the Swedish zoo that stockpiles rocks in the evening to throw at the tourists the next day:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=chimpanzee-plans-throws-stones-zoo

Still,  that is a far cry from the level of intelligence and analysis that is required to form complex abstract ideas like  evolution, taxonomy, rights or duties.

           This is particularly true when we consider how the highly abstract concept of rights itself has evolved along with our uniquely human social and political development, as we progressed from roaming tribes of hunter gatherers, similar to bands of wild Baboons, to the level of organized civilization that marks all modern human societies.  This sapient concept of civilization itself is key to understanding the basic nature of rights and ethics that exist under any modern constitutional democracy or, indeed, under any other political system that has existed over the past three millennia and more since the invention of writing and the evolution of  language.

           This all just Biology 101, and it may sound only too obvious to the informed and intelligent reader.  I hope so, because it is something of which the “animal rights”  advocates who so shrilly protest our human interactions with other species, and those who ignorantly support them with money and uncritical press coverage, are plainly oblivious.

         The self-appointed “animal-rights” advocates attempt to claim “rights” for other animal species, based on inane anti-human ethical considerations, rights that only they perceive and only they are capable of enforcing, through frivolous litigation under the civil and criminal laws, and by terrorist political activity outside those laws, while they display an appalling ignorance of reality in terms not only of our biological evolution but of our political evolution, and the essential nature of rights as well.

B.        The Idea Of Rights Does Not Exist In A  Cultural  Or  Intellectual Vacuum But Is A Highly Abstract Creation Of The Human Intellect That Is Based On Our Unique Capacity For Defining Relationships  Through Systems Of  Mutual Obligations, Which Has Been Best Described As The “Social Contract” That Underlies All Human Civilization.

         Our secular Constitutional democracy is based on a system of rights that is wholly the product of the human mind, and it derives as such from the social, cultural and intellectual revolution that occurred in Eighteenth Century Europe known as the “Age of Enlightenment.”  Jefferson, for example, drew upon both Christian ethics, without all the Biblical “nonsense” about Jesus’ divinity, and upon secular Enlightenment principles, integrating both when he drafted the Constitution of the United States, which is the sole basis of any rights we may claim as American citizens or for anyone else within the territorial jurisdiction  and subject to the laws of our liberal democratic government.

              In nature, where all creatures on the planet including ourselves basically exist, there is no such thing as a system of “rights.”  Mid-18th Century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau gave us a good, general outline of how the concept of political rights evolved as a thing apart from “natural rights” in his seminal work “The Social Contract, Or Principles Of Political Right,” (1762).  Despite some quibbles we might have with him today over particulars such as religion or minority rights, his analysis is still both cogent and as applicable to our Constitutional democracy as it was when the Founders, guided by Enlightenment principles, established our government in the late 18th Century.

        Rousseau posited that in the state of nature there exists a system of “natural rights” based solely on force and self-interest.  There is absolute liberty in the natural world, free of all moral, religious or legal constraints, which is to say free from any rules based on abstract principles that any individual creature, man or animal, must consciously obey.  In Rousseau’s natural world every creature has an equal right to life with all others, but also an equal right to take any other creature’s life for self-preservation, for food, for reproductive advantage, whatever.

        Those “natural rights,” based on an absolute freedom to live, and to kill or to be killed by a stronger creature, still exist as the basic reality for all species other than man.  That is a very different matter from civil rights, legal rights or other political rights, because political rights are based on principles of contract, as in Rousseau’s analysis. That is the abstract system of rights and duties he described as “The Social Contract,” as opposed to natural “rights” which exist a priori and which every solitary creature in the natural world must claim and defend for itself, within its ability to do so as determined solely by genetics and fortuitous evolutionary factors.  

         As Rene Descartes noted about our human awareness of self, as existing both within and apart from the world around us:

        Cogito ergo sum.

“Principles of Philosophy” (1644).  “I think, therefore I am”  is not really a denial of the objective, physical existence of other,  non sapient creatures, but it is a basic truth about humans as not only objectively self-aware beings, but as being objectively aware of others as well.  It is only this high level of objective awareness, orsapience,  that gives us the ability to recognize and define abstract concepts such as life, liberty and equality and to devise legal systems to codify such abstract concepts as rules of behavior among ourselves.

        That is not to say that other species do not follow “rules” of behavior, but only that such rules are always determined by genetics, or among certain higher mammals learned behaviors rooted in genetic predisposition.   No species other than man has ever developed a rights-based system, based on ideation, imagination or forethought,  for controlling group behavior derived from and defining abstract principles such as justice, morality, equality or, even, liberty itself which all creatures possess in the state of nature.

            A basic “social contract,” whether derived from oral tribal tradition, theological principles or any number of political philosophies such as monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, is essential to any civilization and to any government which is empowered to define and to enforce its rights or those of its subjects.  A social contract defining rights must also define duties, as between the government and the governed, and no system of rights can even be understood without its concomitant system of duties.  Any government exists to protect its citizens against other peoples or against the perils of the natural world, while the citizens have a duty to support the government by obeying laws, paying taxes, serving in the military et cetera. 

                 The social contract among any given people can be modified, frequently through rebellion or force, as with the Magna Carta in 13th Century England when the aristocracy rebelled and forced King John to cede some of his absolute power after the Battle of Runnymede.  In the Magna Carta the Barons renewed their oath of loyalty to the King, in return for the King’s concession of significant political and economic rights to the Barons.

           In addition to Rousseau, other 18th Century Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes sparred intellectually over the nature of rights.  Locke argued for the primacy of certain Natural Rights, such as life and liberty as absolutes, while Hobbes argued that rights are purely  theoretical abstractions, defined by and enforced for the convenience of any given people and/or their rulers.  These separate strains of Enlightenment thought were a direct influence on our American Founders, such as Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton et alii, when they devised our secular Constitutional democracy in the closing years of the 18th Century.

          As with the Magna Carta five centuries earlier, our Constitution was a truly revolutionary redefinition of an older political order which came about only after armed struggle.  And like the Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States is, in the Hobbesian view, basically words on paper that define what our individual rights are, as well as our mutual obligations to one another under an abstract system of government. It is thus in Rousseau’s view, a “social contract” reduced to writing and signed by the Founders for themselves and their “posterity,”  which is us, not Fido, Bossy, Bambi or the Lil’ Red Rooster.

           The Constitution, however, was preceded by the Declaration of Independence, another embodiment of abstract principles, which states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Here, the Founders, then truly rebels against established government, challenged the basic notions of government and society that underlay several millenia of prior European civilization, all based on their ability not simply to use force but to use abstract ideas to justify such force and to motivate others to do so as well.

             By referring to “certain inalienable rights” endowed by our Creator, they were clearly referencing the Lockean principles of liberty and equality which exist as “Natural Rights,” but they were doing so in context of redefining the nature of government itself as having “just powers” that affect such natural rights but only as derived from “the consent of the governed.”  It is axiomatic that in order to give consent to any system of government, i.e. to benefit from and be subject to the rights and duties prescribed  by such system, one must at least be theoretically capable of understanding that system and the mutual obligations that exist thereunder. 

             The Constitution is thus a social contract among men that defines both “rights” and obligations that exist only among men, collectively known as “the people” and, after ratification of the 14th and 19th  Amendments, including both black men and then women as well.  Also,  the Preamble to the Constitution begins “We the People. . . ” before setting out a detailed system of rights and duties, based on abstract principles of liberty and equality belonging to the people

C.        The “Animal Rights” Movement And The So-Called “Ethical” Philosophy On Which It Is Based Trivializes And Demeans Both The Very Idea Of Rights Generally And The Specific Secular Rights We Enjoy Under Our Constitutional Democracy.

            The Constitution is the sole source of our legitimate government in America today, and both the civil and criminal laws which exist to protect our rights and to define our duties as people.  The 4th Amendment, for example, speaks of the “right of the people to be secure in  their persons . . ,”   (emphases added), and the 5thAmendment provides further that:

No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

The only “rights” that exist under the laws of our Constitutional democracy, as defined by the ethical and philosophical Enlightenment principles on which it is based, thus belong solely to us, the “people.”  

          Those rights were won for us by the Founders, as their “posterity,”  at the expense of both traumatic social upheaval and armed conflict.  This is why I, as a liberal Democrat, get so incensed at how the idea of  “animal rights” trivializes both the fundamental concept of human civil and political rights generally, as evolved over thousands of years, and the specific rights we enjoy today under law in our American Constitutional democracy.

         There is no “Warm Fuzzy” clause or amendment in the Constitution which gives legal “rights” to any other species, no matter how cuddly they may seem or how sentient they may be, because there is no other species that is sufficiently sapient to either understand the abstract system of rights and duties that exist under this basic social contract for democratic self governance. 

         Yes, the basic Lockean principle of life and liberty being “Natural Rights,” was incorporated into the Constitution, but only as it applies to us as people, and then only as part of a “scheme of ordered liberty,” as Justice Benjamin Cardozo observed in Palko v. Connecticut (1937), subject to limitations, duties and other qualifications determined by the needs of society as a whole.

           Certain other species may indeed have feelings, as the “animal rights” credo holds, but that is irrelevant to any system of rights and duties.  On this point, there’s a significant difference between the Declaration of Independence, which speaks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and the 5th Amendment which guarantees only the rights of “life, liberty and property” subject to the legal principle of “due process.” 

         This difference is significant because life, liberty and property as abstract ideas are all capable of objective definition and enforcement under the law, while “happiness” is a purely subjective abstraction, i.e. a feeling, which cannot sensibly be defined as a “right” under any practical system of rights and duties.  For example, it makes some people very happy when they have the liberty to force sex onto other people, or to kill their sexual rivals much as some other animals do in Rousseau’s state of Nature, but that clearly cannot work under any “scheme of ordered liberty.”

        Thus, our Constitutional system of rights and duties doesn’t even protect our own “happiness” as human beings, as a subjective feeling enforceable against others or against the government, never mind the feelings of any other species.  But that is all that the so-called “ethics” of the animal-rights movement is based on, that other species have feelings that we must always respect as a matter of right under the law.  You know, like when Bambi cried after the cruel hunter killed her mother.  That is, in any rational ethical or legal scheme, pure nonsense.

         Our Constitution, our enforceable rights thereunder and the laws that exist to protect those rights are all based on a social contract among ourselves as people, and no other species is or ever could be part of that contract.  Yes, the severely retarded or the insane still have “rights” as members of our species, but that is a trivial objection where the law can, should and does significantly limit or otherwise qualify those rights to protect society as a whole. 

D.      Traditional “Humane Laws” Or Animal Welfare Laws Are Reasonably Based On Weighing Our Economic Needs To Use An Animal As Against Purely Humane Standards Of Decency, Which Is An Entirely Different Matter From The Credo Of “Animal Rights” Or The Violent Activism Of  “Animal Liberation.”

          We have always had humane laws, based on principles of humanity and fundamental decency, that protect other species consistent with our economically and socially legitimate uses for such other species.  And since the early 20th Century, beginning with the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt, our laws have promoted a conservation ethic as well.  All that is very different from the extremist, anti-human impetus of the “animal rights” and “animal liberation” movements. 

         Consistent with our basic democratic principles as a free people, “humane laws” or animal welfare laws, are not premised on any sensible rights-based ethic.  They are instead derived from the basic humane principle of a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind,”  the same respect which in the natural order of the world justified the Founders in asserting their political separation from Britain  in the Declaration of Independence.  Treating other creatures decently is thus not a matter of any “rights” belonging to other species within the context of government or civilization, but is solely based on our expectations of one another that we will not descend to arbitrary levels of cruelty, i.e. wanton cruelty, against other species or against other human beings.

            In this Constitutionally appropriate context, we enact and enforce laws to protect other species by weighing such factors as their “natural rights” to life and liberty, against our important social and economic needs to exploit other creatures.  Thus, while the law should ban objectively cruel practices such as cock fighting, that is based solely on how it affects the feelings and sensibility of a majority of our fellow citizens, weighed against the social utility of the practice, rather than the feelings of the roosters or any “rights” they may legitimately claim.

           The fate of a rooster, or capon, on a poultry farm must necessarily be determined by different considerations from those applied to cock-fighting, based on the much higher level of social and economic utility of raising them for food, despite the shrill claims of “cruelty” that we hear from the “animal-rights” extremists -equating the Nazi death camps with poultry farms raising broiler chickens.  Even among ourselves, we have legitimately different opinions as to what is a permissible level of cruelty in light of different social needs -the death penalty being one obvious example with significant social importance.

           As Chalres Darwin observed about the basic biological nature of mankind and his relevant place in the natural world:

“Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system- with all these exalted powers- Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

From “The Descent of Man And Selection In Relation To Sex” (1871).  That is as true today as it was when the Founders created the system of rights and duties under law that are embodied in our Constitution, a system which as a social contract defines our obligations and expectations as human beings living among other humans, but has no application to any “rights” purportedly belonging to other species.

         Thus, viewed in perspective, the concept of “animal rights” is pure nonsense under any considerations of ethics, morality, biology, philosophy, law or politics.  In terms of law and politics, however, it is alsopernicious nonsense, as will be discussed in the following post detailing the damage this truly moonbatmovement has caused over the past thirty years or so.

           

 

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