Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Life Sciences Icon Life Sciences

Dear Economist — Humans Are Not Just Another Animal

There is too much anti-humanism around these days, efforts large and small that either state — or insinuate — that we are just another animal in the forest.

Here’s a small example that I think is worth noting for those who care about human exceptionalism. In an otherwise interesting story about how a company is soon to market “leather” made from yeast, The Economist reporter slips in a gratuitous anti-human meme:

The whole leather industry, based as it is on animal hides, is vulnerable these days to sensibilities about the relationship between human beings and other animals that would scarcely have crossed peoples’ minds in former years.

The objectionable term is “other animals.” The anonymous reporter could just as easily have written, “about the relationship between human beings and animals,” and the sentence would have lost none of its meaning.

Why didn’t he or she? My bet is that the reporter was inserting ideology into the story.

That ideology is that humans are just animals, with no greater or lesser worth than other species. We see a lot of that these days in some areas of scientific discourse and, as here, in the popular media.

Human/animal moral equivalence is certainly the meaning of the animal rights mantra, “A rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy,” coined by PETA’s alpha wolf, Ingrid Newkirk.

Of course we are animals in the strictly biological sense, as are clams, flies, and bacteria. But not in the moral sense. There is an important distinction we must maintain. Humans are morally different from animals. Our lives matter more because we are more than the mere sum of our biology.

For example, only humans have ethical duties, one of which is to treat animals humanely because we understand they feel pain and can suffer. Name one animal that owes a moral obligation to us, each other, or anything?

Bottom line: If we come to see ourselves as just animals, that will not elevate other species to our level of significance, but reduce ours to theirs. That is why I “call out” small subversions against human exceptionalism whenever I can.

Photo: A clam shell, by febb [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at The Corner.