Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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An Inconsistent Ideology

Res Publica

August 2013

by Erin Sutter

“PETA defends Orcas’ Constitutional rights!” The headline caught my eye not only because I have always been fascinated by orcas, but also because I could not believe that someone was claiming that animals had constitutional rights. Does not the Constitution of the United States of America start with “We the people” PETA’s argument that, as intelligent beings, orcas should be protected under the Constitution makes the claim that there is no difference between animals, specifically in this case, intelligent animals, and humans.

PETA is part of the “Save the Earth” movement that has gained increasing momentum in the last several decades. Most groups affiliated with this movement adhere to the rhetoric that man and animal are equal, that they have an equal right to the earth, and that mankind has no right to ruin it for the animals. While PETA went much farther than most groups in trying to argue for the constitutional rights of animals, their action is still an affirmation of the movement’s overall core tenants. What I find fascinating is that, though proclaiming that men and animals are equal, the movement continually elevates mankind, setting him up as distinctly separate from animals, by declaring him to be the perpetrator of earth’s ruin. One may argue that this “equal but separate” ideology stems from the fact that those presenting the message (humans) only know the language of humans, and cannot communicate these deeper conversations with any other species. Fundamentally, it is not the fact that we only communicate through human language that causes us to focus on the actions of man, but it is the paradox that lies at the heart of the “Save the Earth” philosophy that causes us to do so.

The “Save the Earth” philosophy is built on the premise of the theory of evolution, which says that we, both man and animal, are a product of nature; we are derived from the same “stuff ” and, thus, no species is better than another. This theory of evolution, a commonly held belief in America, is declared to be true although we are not often willing to accept the resulting conclusions. Despite the fact that evolution says that we are a product of nature, humans have come to believe that they are somehow separate from the rest of nature, outside of it even, or imposed on it. When we look at ourselves – what we do, where we live, and how we use resources – we see our actions as acting on nature and not as being a part of nature. When a beaver cuts down a tree and builds a dam, flooding out a particular region, we call it nature and assume it is the way things are supposed to be. When mankind cuts down a tree and builds a dam we call it unnatural and assume we are destroying nature. When an animal kills an animal it is natural and the survival of the fittest. When we kill an animal it is cruel at best and barbaric at worst. The paradox is that if we are truly a part of nature, as evolution claims, then it should clearly follow that all our behaviors are just as “natural” as those of any other species. But this is not the reality for groups like PETA.

The theory of evolution, which lies at the heart of the equality of man and animal, fails to provide any foundation by which we may distance mankind, causing his actions to be unnatural. For example, our ability to produce things is an ability that we share with much of nature. Certain animals actively construct homes, changing nature’s landscape. We do not find fault with the animals because we see them as working with nature not against it. And yet, even when animals are clearly destructive, like tent worms or the emerald ash bore, we still declare their actions to be natural. The confines of the theory of evolution have no platform from which to declare mans actions as unnatural. Even our destructive behaviors are, according to the basic tenants of evolution, still as natural as those of the emerald ash bore. And yet, there is something in us that believes that man is somehow different from animals, despite the fact that the theory of evolution can provide no reason for this distinction, despite the fact that biologically we are all made out of the same stuff, and despite our similarities in being able to both create and destroy through our actions. Why then do we insist that we are different?

Science cannot answer this paradox. Animals and man cannot be derived from the same sources, equal in substance, worth, and rights, while concurrently setting mankind apart and presuming his actions to be both different and worse than the actions of animals. Both cannot be true. Either the philosophy of the “Save the Earth” movement must exist as a diametrically oppositional contradiction or it must relinquish either man’s equality with animals or his difference. We are either different or we are not.

Deep within us most humans intuitively understand that which science cannot explain – that man is somehow different from the rest of nature. There are many explanations for why we believe this is true. Some cite the distinguishing factor as man’s ability to reason, others cite man’s concern with morality, while others cite the belief that man alone is made in God’s image. Whatever we believe, we need to either acknowledge the truth that we are different or we need to resign ourselves to total equality with the animals. If we are not different from the animals, then what basis do we have for saying that what we are doing is wrong? Are we not doing what comes naturally to us? I believe, however, that we are indeed different, and that the difference does place upon us a greater responsibility for our actions and for the way in which we care for the earth. Acknowledging this truth would allow for a more truthful and consistent dialogue between the various sides without the concern of being trapped in the morass of an inconsistent ideology.

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