(Animal Rights & Wrongs)
An Interview with Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith by Kevin Allen
Back in Salvo 9, we featured an interview with the always-intriguing Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Since then, this self-identifying “human exceptionalist” has published a new book on the animal-rights movement, called A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy, and we just had to check back in with Smith to find out what this provocatively titled tome is all about.
Where does the title of your new book come from?
I actually stole the phrase from Ingrid Newkirk, who is the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), probably the most famous animal-rights organization in the world. In 1989, Newkirk told Vogue magazine that “animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” I thought this would make a great title for my book because it very accurately depicts what animal-rights ideology and dogma hold. Many people think that they believe in animal rights because they want animals to be treated humanely, but animal rights is not the same as animal welfare. Animal-rights activists believe that animals should not be used for any domestic purpose whatsoever; they have created a moral equivalency between the value of human lives and the value of animal lives.
What do you mean by “a moral equivalency”?
Well, those who believe in animal rights believe that it is speciesism—or discrimination against animals—to assert that being human has special value. What confers value on an organism, from their perspective, is the ability to feel pain or experience suffering. It was Richard Ryder who coined the term “speciesism.” He also coined the term “painient,” writing that “painience is the only convincing basis for attributing rights or indeed interests to others.” According to this scheme, that a cow can feel pain means that cattle ranching is as evil as human slavery. Using lab rats to try to find a cure for cancer is the equivalent of Mengele and the Nazi death camps. Such thinking moves us toward a very dark nihilism.