Thursday, January 27, 2005

Animals are not people

Fellow think-tanker Paul Guppy, of Seattle's Washington Policy Center, was interviewed by Evening Edition a few years ago, and they're still airing the segment. I managed to catch a split-second promo recently, which featured him saying something like: "Animals are not people." Since Paul has an uncanny knack for defending truth with simple and profound insight, I emailed for more details.

Sure enough.

His counterpart on the show was a lawyer who was suing zoos and labs for better treatment of animals. "Who could be against that?" notes Paul. "But to make her argument she was trying to create a new legal doctrine that animals have rights like people do, backing this up by pointing out that men and apes share 98% of the same genetic material."

Paul had three main points in response:

1. Re: the 98% figure. "Almost the same" means "NOT the same." If I have a metal box full of wire, circuit boards and microchips, but no hard drive, I have 98% of a computer. That 2% makes a big difference.

2. The reasoning that animals are very close to being people also works the other way. Some people (infants, the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly, people in comas) seem, outwardly, to be very close to being animals. Once the lines are blurred it becomes much easier (as has often happened) to start treating them that way.

3. The best way to help animals is to enforce the anti-cruelty laws we have now, not forge new, risky legal doctrines. Besides, needlessly hurting animals, beyond the pain it causes them, reflects morally on US. That's why good care of animals is called "humane" treatment.

I have no doubt he won the debate.

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