Salon: Animals Are People Too

Salon has brilliantly presented the argument that animals should be considered people, positing that the antiquated notion of a line of demarcation between humans and animals should be discarded.

Dolphin scientist Lori Marino states, “Right now, there is no one besides a human who is a person. They’re all property, no matter how complex they are, no matter how much we love them. They have no inherent rights of their own.” Salon points out that orcas have “big brains, complex social structures, mysterious communications, and mind-boggling sixth sense,” and “chimpanzees and all the great apes, elephants, even cats and dogs and pigs and cattle, all have more developed emotional centers than we had previously supposed.”

Salon quotes Gregory Berns, an apparent authority on animals because he is an Emory University neuroeconomist, writing, “The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child and this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.” Berns adds there should be “a sort of limited personhood for animals that show neurobiological evidence of positive emotions.”

Marine biologist Jeff Schweitzer says, “We ignore the inconvenient fact that we choose to define and measure intelligence in terms of our greatest strengths. We arbitrarily exclude from the definition of intelligence higher brain functions in other animals.”

Dolphin scientist Thomas White points out that dolphins can be creative, too, citing a female dolphin Malia in Hawaii, which performed stunts beyond what its trainers had taught it. Citing the fact that dolphins use echolocation data, Salon continues, “This clearly indicates that dolphins—and particularly killer whales, in whom we have observed the most highly developed acoustic skills, as well as the most elaborate social and communicative structures in the delphinid family—have powerful emotional and empathic connection to each other that are integral to their own personal identities as beings in the world. Their togetherness defines them as persons.”

Salon states:

Our traditional definition of personhood is also deeply anthropocentric, based on an experience of the self that encourages highly individualized behaviors. Cetaceans, on the other hand, experience self in a completely different way, one encouraged by an aquatic environment that produces highly social and empathic beings. However, when we start redefining personhood in a less anthropocentric way, there are deep ramifications. That road inevitably leads to the realm of law and legal rights, nominally the province of every person.

Marino and some colleagues have started the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), giving animals rights of their own. The project’s first goal is achieving freedom for four chimpanzees in New York State. Steven M. Wise, NhRP’s founder and president, stated, “No one has ever demanded a legal right for a nonhuman animal, until now. When we go to court on behalf of the first chimpanzee plaintiffs, we’ll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned.”

When animal activists filed suit attempting to order SeaWorld to release its killer whales because they were being held in “slavery,” the court simply dismissed the suit with prejudice.

The court was obviously behind the times. According to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, not only should animals have rights, they should be allowed to marry humans. Kennedy used four criteria in voting for gay marriage:

  1. Individual autonomy: Kennedy wrote: “There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.” Certainly orcas and chimps are making their own choices.
  1. Commitment: Kennedy: “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” As Salon writes of killer whalers, “Their tight social arrangement, in which family bonds remain for life, is complex and sophisticated.” Obviously they have an aversion to loneliness.
  1. Childbearing and rearing: Kennedy: “[I]t safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” Salon: “Their identities are defined by their families and tribal connections.”
  1. Necessary for social order: Kennedy: “Marriage remains a building block of our national community. For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union.” Marriage unites communities, allowing them to come together. Why should the human race exclude animals from being part of the social mix?

Marriage for humans and animals: the next goal for the Supreme Court.

After all, Love Wins.


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