The Human Zoo

I’m all for technology, but when I read that scientists think robots may one day have rights, or that a new humanoid machine will be able to express emotions, that’s when I get a little squeamish.

Mind you, it’s not so much that I have a big problem with people wanting to anthropomorphize their machines. It’s more the double standard in a culture that is willing to dignify machines by treating them like people while simultaneously devaluing human beings by treating them like animals.

The latter impulse reached its peak of insanity in the fall of 2005 with the London Zoo put on a “Homo sapiens” display. The display, noted Denyse O’Leary, involved “a group of eight nearly buff humans cavorting in a cage for the express purpose of assuring the public that ‘the human is just another primate.’”

The London experiment was not a new phenomenon. The Adelaide Zoo in Australia also put on a similar experiment. Ashley Hay reported that

the Human Zoo project had locked groups of six humans into an empty orangutan enclosure, each for a week at a time. It aimed to “create awareness of the closeness of humans to their primate cousins”, “provide a platform for research on animal behaviour and enrichment”, and “raise awareness of the conservation needs of primates in the wild”. By this Wednesday, the fourth and final group was halfway through its stint.

I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s character Mr. Edward Carpenter, in the first chapter of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Carpenter was part of a school of thought which maintained that “we should in a very short time return to Nature, and live simply and slowly as the animals do. And Edward Carpenter was followed by James Pickie, D.D. (of Pocohontas College), who said that men were immensely improved by grazing, or taking their food slowly and continuously, after the manner of cows. And he said that he had, with the most encouraging results, turned city men out on all fours in a field covered with veal cutlets.”

While Chesterton was writing this in fun, we must not forget that he was always something of a prophet. He seemed to have realized that the itinerary of the reductionist views he so often attacked in his writings was quite simply, that it blurred the line between man and the beasts.

Should Robots Have Rights?

By 2056, robots may be given the same rights as humans, a government-funded report claimed in 2006.

The report was conducted by the British Government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, and was written in conjunction with Outsights, a management consultancy group, and Ipos Mori, an opinion research organization.

If the report is correct, then in less than half a century from now, robots may even be able to vote, pay taxes and be called upon for compulsory military service.

An article in the Mail about the report quoted Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who said: “If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should.”

The report continues:

Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues there may be calls for human rights to be extended to them.
It is also logical that such rights, are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service.
Mr Christensen said: “Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn’t kick a normal one? There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner.”

I am pleased to be able to say that there were some dissenting voices. Writing in the Daily Mail, A.N. Wilson asked, “If robots were given the vote, would they be tempted to vote for other robots to enter Parliament?” He continued:

The Government paper is no joke. They are seriously considering the possibility of the rights of machines…. How can it be that such an absolutely insane set of propositions could have escaped the pages of science fiction, and been given serious consideration by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser?…

As for robots or other machines, it is foolish to suppose that they can ‘think’ in the way that human beings think. They can no more think in the human sense than a clock knows how to tell the time.

The clock helps us to tell the time. Just as a robot or machine, however complicated or capable of developing apparently independent mental processes, will only ever be the sum of its mechanical parts.

That debate happened back in 2006. Thankfully, I have not heard that it has not been taken up since then. But it did raise an interesting question: if, theoretically, robots could be developed to the point where they had consciousness and could be programed with all the properties of humans, how could we justify not giving them rights? According to some of the “nothing but” approaches to describing human nature that Denyse O’Leary wrote about in Salvo 1, the answer is simple: even now there is not a whole lot of difference in principle being a human and a machine, or between a human and an animal. The difference is merely one of complexity. Indeed, what A.N. Wilson said about the machine, namely that it “will only ever be the sum of its mechanical parts”, is unfortunately what many people now think about humans.

Further Reading


Gay Marriage: A Civil Right?

When New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation last month to recognize gay ‘marriage’, homosexual advocates around America rejoiced at what they claimed was an incredible civil rights victory.

“This bill today is not a religious issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” one supporter of the move was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.

There is a clever sophistry at work here. By presenting gay marriage as a civil rights issue, it immediately comes to be seen within a long pedigree that has also included women suffrage and the black vote. This, in turn, orients us to view the homosexual community as a victimized minority deserving special legal protection.

In reality, however, the shoe is on the other foot: the majority of Americans need to be protected against a creeping legal infrastructure that, in the name of gay equality, threatens to undermine the freedoms of the majority.

At least, that is what S. T. Karnick argued in his article for Salvo 6, titled “The Tyranny of the Minority: How the Forced Recognition of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Undermines a Free Society.” Karnick wrote,

From the beginning, the debate over “same-sex marriage” has been one of those topsy-turvy issues in which the side that is truly tolerant and fair has been characterized as narrow-minded and oppressive, while the side that is intolerant and blatantly coercive has been depicted as open-minded and sympathetic.

Favoring government-enforced recognition of same-sex “marriage” is not, as the media invariably characterize it, a kindly, liberal-minded position, but instead a fierce, coercive, intolerant one. Despite their agonized complaints about the refusal of the majority of Americans to give in on the subject, those who advocate government recognition of same-sex “marriage” want to use coercion to deny other people their fundamental rights.

A Severe Mercy: Connecting with Your Conscience

Andrew Breitbart spoke with far-too-rare humility about his ideological conversions. When he graduated from college and had to start working for a living, he began to reevaluate every idea he’d absorbed. As he explained,

“In college, if you pay attention, they turn you into a nihilist. I resented it once I discovered what it was. It was cultural Marxism. … Once I discovered that, I wanted to learn everything about the world that they didn’t teach me in college. And the more I studied, the more I realized that I was conservative. It was very empowering because it was like realizing that water is wet. Life is conservative. Liberalism is pie-in-the-sky.”

With both courage and humility (those two go together, by the way) Andrew chose to reevaluate the groupthink he’d been steeped in and, when it conflicted with his conscience, he went with his conscience and defied the group. For that he was exiled as an ideological defector, and he wore the verbal excoriation as a badge of honor.

Last month, he spoke to a group of pro-life students about his change of heart regarding abortion:

“Certainly, in Hollywood I lived in a pro-abortion culture … I had never heard the pro-life point of view. The media portrayed the pro-life point of view as crazy people. So, that’s all I knew. … But I never thought about the issue at all. At all. But it was something that mattered more than anything in that part of town that I grew up in, liberal Hollywood. The first thing you needed to say is, “I’m pro-choice.” It was a keycard to get you in everywhere and I believe to the core of my being that it’s a keycard to get you success in Hollywood. Go along to get along. I don’t think I would have seen the light if there weren’t brave people like you who stood up to that, especially young people …”

As I started to have my political awakening I was able to connect with my conscience, literally, and say, wait one second. … It is not to be debated. This is the most important issue. If you’re not pro-life, if you’re like what I was, behind a barrier, you have to, through conversations and the media, break that barrier down and just let people think about it. Because the second you actually think about it, because I never did (it was my default position), is that this is untenable, this doesn’t make sense. You guys are the vessel for that message. Stand strong. You inspire me.”

Young people inspire me too. They are well aware that millions of their peers, in some cases their very siblings, do not walk this earth alongside them because of this thing called abortion. Watch these three middle-schoolers get to the heart of the abortion issue in sixteen seconds.

They get it.

(1) Is a fetus a human?
(2) Is it right to kill it?

The entirety of the abortion debate hangs on those two questions. The reason the pro-life position is the right side of this issue and will ultimately win is because people already know in their consciences – if they will connect with them – the answer to both questions. They just need to, ‘Wait a second,’ and then … stop and think about it.

Causing us to stop and think about it is what the good people at the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) are all about. CBR takes criticism for showing graphic, bloody imagery, but this is a merciful act (though I’ll grant you it’s a severe mercy). It offers otherwise complacent go-along-to-get-along groupthinkers the opportunity to connect what they are seeing (Is this a human?) with their consciences (Is this right?).

Listen to Julie explain what happened when she stopped and thought about it:

If you still find room in your ideology for abortion, I invite you to click here to watch a video of an abortion, in the interest of being fully informed on the medical procedure that you espouse. Unless you are a barbarian, you will have trouble watching and maintaining a composed conscience.

If you can’t bring yourself to look at the images because of an abortion in your past, I encourage you – I plead with you – to click here for post-abortion healing help.

Then I invite you to join the cause in the human rights issue of our day.

Andrew Breitbart, 1969-2012: A Great Culture Warrior

Andrew Breitbart I am stunned and sad today to hear of the loss of Andrew Breitbart. I interviewed Andrew last year. As it turned out, our interview, which had been scheduled weeks in advance, took place during the very week that he broke the Anthony Weiner Twittered sex pictures story. It was Andrew who coined the term “Weinergate.” Andrew was also sick that week, occasionally breaking into a hacking cough mid-sentence. Even so, in the midst of an intense week, he gave me nearly an hour of his time. He was respectful, kind, and authentic.

Andrew possessed that rare but potent blend of courage and humility, taking on a corrupt media at great personal cost because it needed to be done. He leaves behind a wife, four children, and a growing media organization dedicated to reporting the truth the mainstream outlets don’t. Click here to read our conversation.