Friday, June 19, 2009

The Human-Animal Fallacy

The Human-Animal Fallacy is a term I invented myself. I do not know if any research has ever been done on this topic or if this idea generally exists. I know the principles behind it certainly exist and it is well-founded in Christian and specifically Catholic teaching. The idea behind the Human-Animal Fallacy is a modern belief that if it's good enough for animals, it's good enough for humans, or that if we ought not do something with humans, the same applies to animals. Essentially this fallacy says that there are no distinctions between the dignity rightfully given to a person and that which is rightfully given to an animal. This philosophy may not sound too bad, but it is actually very dangerous. Accepting that human beings are special is very important.

In an article many years ago, author Farley Mowat called the annual seal hunt a holocaust. Of course, his intention was to show that the seal hunt was cruel and inhumane and ought to be stopped.  But what happened was people reacted angrily that he would compare killing seals to killing humans. This outrage is not common enough as far as I'm concerned. Anytime an animal is compared to a human person, we do injustice to humanity. We ought to love and respect animals, but not to the point that we respect humanity.

Whenever you turn on the TV nowadays, another celebrity is out campaigning to save the whales, or save the dolphins. Perhaps they are flying to Newfoundland in their private jets to put an end to the seal hunt. Maybe you've seen models in PETA commercials comparing wearing fur to committing murder. I spoke to a lady at work one time who said she feels bad when an animal is hurt, but is not bothered too much when a person is injured because "the person probably brought it on themselves" according to her.

Not only have people started to equate animal suffering to human suffering, they have begun to see animal suffering as far more problematic. In their way of thinking, animals are completely innocent beings who are being hurt by malevolent people who care nothing for nature. These poor innocent creatures do not deserve to be treated poorly at our hands. However, when it comes to people, well, they probably deserve it.

Although animal rights activists may have the goal of creating a better world for animals, this has not been the effect. Rather, we have only started to treat humans with less dignity. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are stewards of the animal and plant kingdom and that they are here to serve us. We ought not abuse animals unnecessarily, but their primary purpose is to advance the cause of humanity. We have dominion over the earth and all her inhabitants. Then, we as humans are the pinnacle of creation on this Earth. A human life is more valuable than an animal life. Attempts to increase the worth of humans has had only a negative effect on humanity. People are now valued based on what they DO rather than who they ARE. This used to be the criterion used for animals. If a horse was productive, he was valuable. But if a horse broke his leg, he did not provide value and therefore it was most advantageous to put him down in a humane way. But now we are using this mentality for humans.

For example, we now ask what value a particular elderly person might have for us. We have decided that many elderly people cannot work, cannot support themselves, so many are trying to pass euthanasia laws. This would allow us to eliminate the humans who are not "adding" to the world. Same goes for unborn children. If a child has the promise to bring great joy and fulfillment to a mother's life, then she will value and love that child. But if a mother has not specifically desired a child, a question arises as to whether she should "keep" it. In other words, should she have an abortion. Unfortunately, most abortions happen because a child is not something a mother "wants" at a particular time. This stance would be unthinkable if a person's value came not from what they "do" but rather from who they are. This would cause euthanasia and abortion to be unconscionable.

Seeing human beings as means of production rather than as special creatures made in the image and likeness of God has allowed many genocides and mass murders to occur, including the holocaust. Lines are being continually blurred between humanity and animals. I once saw a cartoon that showed an egg being broken open and the yolk coming out with a faded superimposed picture of a baby over it with the words "abortion?" The image meant to convey that breaking an egg is tantamount to abortion.

How many people have been lured into donating all their time and money to helping animal shelters to the point of neglecting human suffering. I believe animals can experience pain, but the question remains whether they can experience true suffering. Suffering would seem to be a rational realization and comparison between what is and what ought to be. Suffering involves mental trauma and distress. Can animals be attributed these characteristics? Perhaps animals perceive pain and have instincts to guide them in their actions, but can they really contemplate the existential nature of the pain they are experiencing? Regardless, this is not the issue.

The point is we need to make the proper distinction between animals and humans. I believe we ought to treat animals with love and respect, but only to the point their natures and being would merit. We should save a child before we save any animal. Even if the choice is between a thousand rare rhinos and one child, I believe we are morally obligated to save that child, rather than any number of animals.

Let us contemplate this day on our Godly image and likeness, and remember that Christ died for us so that we can join him in Heaven.

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