L. Neil Smith's

Number 6, March 1996

Animals Are Property

by L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Last Friday I watched an episode of X-Files in which innocent zoo animals were being abducted -- apparently by benign, superior UFOsies (the ones who mutilate cattle and stick needles in women's bellies) -- to save them from a despicable mankind responsible for the erasure of thousands of species every year.
         Or every week, I forget which.
         I was reminded of a debate I'd found myself involved in about sea turtles; I'd suggested that laws prohibiting international trade in certain animal products be repealed so the turtles might be privately farmed and thereby kept from extinction. After all, who ever heard of chickens being an endangered species? From the hysteria I provoked -- by breathing the sacred phrase "animal rights" and the vile epithet "profit" in one sentence -- you'd have thought I'd demanded that the Virgin be depicted henceforth in mesh stockings and a merry widow like Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show .
         That debate convinced me of two things. First: I wasn't dealing with politics, here, or even philosophy, but with a religion, one that would irrationally sacrifice its highest value -- the survival of a species -- if the only way to assure it was to let the moneylenders back into the temple. Its adherents abominate free enterprise more than they adore sea turtles.
         Second (on evidence indirect but undeniable): those who cynically constructed this religion have no interest in the true believers at its gullible grassroots, but see it simply as a new way to pursue the same old sinister objective. A friend of mine used to refer to "watermelons" -- green on the outside, red on the insidewho use environmental advocacy to abuse individualism and capitalism. Even the impenetrable Rush Limbaugh understands that animal rights and related issues are just another way socialism pursues its obsolete, discredited agenda.
         In my experience, those who profess to believe in animal rights usually don't believe in human rights. That's the point, after all. It's also proof that the Left comprehends the mechanism of inflation perfectly. Inflation is a process in which the value behind a currency (gold, silver, whatever) is systematically diluted by creation of additional, unbacked currency. If it were anyone but government, we'd call it counterfeiting, and that's exactly what it is, no matter who's responsible.
         Likewise, human liberty is being diluted by a process of moral inflation (similar to that by which emotion, in our culture, replaces reason), in which absurd, unsupportable assertions about "rights"to state education, to government healthcare, to a clean litterbox -- are used to render valueless the rights that really do exist. Where does it stop and on what principle? Is vegetarianism enough or must we all wear masks, as some do in India, to avoid inhaling insects and killing them? Are we morally obliged to keep those frozen lab vials that are all that remains of the once deadly scourge of smallpox? Or even to let it out again?
         If you take nothing else from this essay, take this: the sillier the situation created by the other side's claims, the better they like it. Their goal is not to uphold the rights of animals (animals have no rights, nobody knows it better than the Left) but to render absurd -- and destroy -- the very concept of rights.
         What are rights? Lions have teeth, giraffes have long necks, birds have wings, we have rights. They are our primary -- if not only -- means of survival. They arise from a quality unique to human beings (although it's politically incorrect to say so), a difference between people and animals so profound that the ramparts of the Himalayas are no more than a ripple in the linoleum by comparison. That differencethe wellspring of human rights -- is sapience .
         Note that I don't follow Star Trek 's lexicon by saying "sentience". Sentience is awareness, which all animals possess to some degree. Sapience is awareness of that awareness. Some animals (cats and dogs) clearly think. Only humans think about thinking .
         I'm not saying anything new here. Pretending you can't see a difference between people and animals (a difference any three year old can easily discern) is not just an outworn, phony tactic -- comparable to psychologists who pretend the human mind doesn't exist -- it's a confession that you're stupid.
         Animals are genetically programmed like computers. Although a few near the pinnacle of the evolutionary pyramid (I said it, and I'm glad) are capable of learning, they make no choices about what to do with their lives. Human beings, by contrast, employ their sapience to assess what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, then act on that assessment, not just to insure survival, but to enhance its quality. The freedom to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, assess, and act -- without any impediment other than those imposed by the nature of reality -- is what we refer to when we say "rights".
         More to the point in this context, purpose, another product of sapience, is a phenomenon as unique to humanity as rights. People are the only thing in the universe with purpose. And purpose -- regarding themselves or anything else they lay their hands on in the environment they dominate -- is whatever people say it is.
         Robert LeFevre observed that, in moral terms, there are just two kinds of entity in the universe, people and property. Animals are not people. Some -- wild animals -- are unclaimed property that would be better off with owners. (My plain-spoken brother says, "America's wildlife -- kill it, eat it, wear it!") Animals are groceries. They're leather and fur coats. They're for medical experiments and galloping to hounds. That's their purpose . I, a human being, declare it.
         Do what you like with your animals.
         If species are going extinct by the thousands -- a claim which, judging by the Left's historic disregard for the truth, we've no reason to believe -- it's for the same reason the Soviets collapsed and there's never a cop around when you need one. Socialism has been in charge of them, and it doesn't work.
          Not in any venue.

L. Neil Smith's celebrated first novel, The Probability Broach , will be republished, in unexpurgated form, by TOR Books in October, 1996.

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