Sunday, May 07, 2006

Revealing a False Alternative - Animal Rights or Human Rights?

Since I wrote the article on “Animal “Rights” Trump Human Rights”, I have thought extensively on the matter and have now been able to identify and formulate a thorough exposition of the fundamental premises of people in the Animal Rights camp. I have also been able to identify, once and for all, the fundamental difference between humans and animals. In discussions on whether animals have rights, there are many notions being loosely held and misused – the most obvious one being the concept of ‘rights’. However, 'rights' is a higher level concept that depends on many underlying concepts and premises. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of rights-concept, as I believe, Objectivism has properly and fully completed that job. What I wish to identify here, then, is the question of difference: Are humans really any different from other animals? If we were to afford animals their alleged “rights”, then it must imply some sort of significant similarity between animals and humans. Are humans also just animals? Aren’t we all just animals? I have identified at least two alternative strains of thought that answer this question of difference – and both, I believe are false alternatives. The first alternative is the determinist, behaviorist argument that claim humans are also animals. We are no different. Humans can be trained and taught tricks just like a chimpanzee. Animals communicate and build homes and protect their young just like us humans. Humans and animals have the same feelings, emotions, loyalties, etc. except maybe to differing degrees. The second alternative is that of an intrinsicist or, what I call, the pseudo-religious argument: Humans are definitely different from animals. We are not only different, but superior to them. We are more intelligent than animals, we can communicate, we can build huge cities, we love more deeply, etc. In short, Humans are superior to animals because of our superior intelligence. No other animal matches us in intelligence. Both these alternatives to the question of difference are wrong, and based on a false premise. The common fundamental premise shared by these two alternatives is that the difference between humans and animals is a matter of intelligence measurement; that the level of intelligence varies among humans and animals. The first camp believes that the intellectual difference between animals and humans is not too large, that we are not very much more intelligent than the smartest dolphin or chimpanzee. Our brains are essentially the same, and that an animal could be trained to be as smart as a human in most tasks. The second, intrinsicist camp argues that our intelligence level is dramatically greater, or higher, than that of animals, recent studies in animal intelligence notwithstanding. Our intelligence has become very sophisticated due to language, social interactions, and other such factors. Thus, we are fully superior to other animals. What both these alternatives reveal is a flawed, inaccurate understanding of human beings. Humans are not differentiated from other animals only by virtue of our intelligence. No matter what the intellectual capacity we possess, there are some of us humans with an intelligence level below that of an average chimpanzee, and there are some of us humans whose intelligence is rarely surpassed by any even over centuries. Beyond this simplistic quantitative view of human intelligence, we must take into account, the significance of the type of intelligence we humans possess: our intellectual abilities vary not on a linear two-dimensional scale, but on multi-layered three-dimensional model with scales that measure different aspects of our intellectual sophistication, like that of musical intelligence, integrative ability, mathematical aptitude, etc. To say it very mildly, human intelligence is tremendously complex and sophisticated in various ways. And yet, philosophically, this standard of a highly complex human intelligence is NOT enough to sufficiently differentiate humans from animals, and ground the concept of “rights” only in humans. This standard fails horribly when we bring in an equal or greater challenger of human intelligence in the form of robots, computers, or other such man-made creations. Despite the paradox of judging a man-made creation as being more intelligent that the creator, the standard of intelligent measurement objectively reveals that our creations often score better on the intelligence scale than many of us humans. Yet, I do not believe any one entertains the opinion of granting similar human rights and treatment to robots and computers. Thus, we see that intelligence by itself is an insufficient standard of arguing for the difference between humans and animals (or non-human entities). A robot maybe highly intelligent, but supposedly, lifeless – and so one may be tempted to then argue for some combination of intelligent *life* as the standard of difference. And yet, even that standard fails. It is an arbitrary insistence on a combination between intelligence and life, with a pre-conceived bias towards a traditional concept of “life”. Would the self-generated and autonomous actions of an intelligent robot or computer not suffice as defining it as a living entity? Does one require a heartbeat to be considering “living”? Is a brain-dead human a living human or a lifeless vegetable? Why do we consider the chemical activities of plants as proof of life but not the electrical activity of a super-intelligent robot? As you can see, insisting on that arbitrary standard of “intelligent life” leads to many complicated tangents and caveats that need resolving. Therefore, it is my argument that the fundamental difference between a human and an animal is not due to our quantitative levels of intelligence, or the qualitative levels of our intellectual sophistication, or due to the idea that we are the “only” intelligent life on earth. Those arguments are not invalid, but they are not fundamental. They are propositions that depend on a more fundamental premise. That premise is the Identity of Consciousness. The fundamental difference between a human and an animal is in the fundamental identity (nature) of our Consciousness. As humans, the identity of our consciousness is one that is volitional. As animals, the identity of their consciousness necessarily excludes the faculty of volition. Ayn Rand said that all living creatures face the fundamental alternative of life and death. Animals, by the identity of their consciousness are automatically equipped to deal with this reality. The nature of their consciousness gives them the requisite tools to face the alternative of life and death, and automatically pursue life, life-affirming activities; life-sustaining and reproducing activities. As humans, we have to CHOOSE one or the other – and that grounds all of our ethics and morality. Do we choose a life-affirming morality or a morality of death? 'Rights' are a moral concept that is applicable only under a morality of life. If one chooses death, one does not need to claim a right to life. If one simply cannot choose death as such, one cannot have any basis for morals, or rights. [At this point, I have to bring in the analogy of God: Since the God (assuming existence) cannot choose death, He can also not be an entity concerned with morals. Read "God's Limitations"]


Blogger Jason Hughes said...

Very, very interesting! Especially towards the end!

I have to say, though, as it comes to my mind without dwelling too much on the concept, that if we, as humans, have this conscious ability of choosing "life," "morals," and "rights," and we view ourselves as the caretakers of the world and thus, caretakers of all animal life to one degree or another, is it entirely wrong for us to assume, or bestow upon our fellow creatures, the rights we feel are basic to our very existance? Of course, that is a bit "projection," as it were, but nonetheless, how wrong is it to want to share our so-called "rights" with creatures we view as directly in our care?

Hmm... Even I am not sure and will need to think on this further, but it just came to my mind while reading your post...

Have I told you lately how glad I am that you're back? Catch ya later!

5/08/2006 06:37:00 pm  
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