Posted tagged ‘extinction’

A brief note on animal “rights”


As one might guess from other posts, I consider wildlife conservation, preservation of the world’s remaining wild places, and tree-hugging in general to be good things.

Does that, gentle reader, mean that I am a proponent of animal rights? Ummm, no. While I allow causes that I support to leak occasionally onto this blog, at the end of the day it remains a space to discuss ethics. Books could be written about what delineates a person as a free moral agent and, by extension, subject to a particular system or theory of ethics. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that the individual must be able to understand his or her ethical rights and duties and must be free to choose his or her actions.

Even the non-human animals closest to us in terms of intelligence or ability to communicate with humans fails the first criterion. The second, therefore, need not be examined. Chimpanzees, elephants, or cetaceans may be moral agents with respect to other members of the same species, but they are not moral agents with respect to humans. If they owe no ethical duty to humans, then we are arguably free of any ethical duty to them.

The matter of reciprocity as it applies to ethics is an interesting subject for future investigation.

Humans’ role in the extinction of other species is an example of our capacity to behave badly outside in a way that is ethically neutral within the confines of ethical theory.


A non-theoretical crisis


I have always maintained that humans and non-human animals cannot be moral agents with respect to one another. A human has no rights or duties among non-human animals, and in the strict sense, vice versa.

One could craft a very plausible argument that we each have a duty to our fellow humans, individually and collectively, to damage our habitat as little as possible to meet our needs. Essentially, “don’t shit in camp.” Well, with 6 billion of us, camp is nearly everywhere, and not all of us are doing our duty.

While this doesn’t relate directly to ethics among humans, PLEASE take a moment and visit the site of the Great Apes Survival Project, a project of the United Nations Environment Programme, and see how close we are to losing our nearest relatives, from whom we still have so much to learn, forever. I have no connection with this organization other than a shared goal. The link will open in a new browser tab or window.

A parting thought: This is not nature taking its course. For the most part, this is not an impoverished farmer competing with primates for the same resources for survival. This is a multinational corporation destroying habitat inside national parks, using not only bulldozers, but also mercenaries with automatic weapons to kill the under-trained, under-armed, under-supported park rangers.

Would a multinational corporation do this because it dislikes national parks, or because it makes tremendous profits selling the fruits of its crimes to you and me, here in North America and Europe? Think back a decade, and imagine how you would have responded to such a situation. Now think forward a decade, and imagine a world in which there is no such thing as a wild orangutan or western lowland gorilla. A decade. Yes, it is that close.