I just saw a funny Tweet from @jimnorton, in which he “condemns” Mitt Romney’s father for “murdering roses” when he placed one on his wife’s bedstand every night. (Romney scored emotionally in last night’s speech when he recalled that his mother found out his father had died because the rose was missing.)
Thing is, Norton’s jibe is not quite as off the wall as some might think. Switzerland has, for instance, placed the “dignity” of individual plants in its constitution. The government then asked a big brained bioethics commission to explain why individual plants have dignity (they share molecular material with us), and the commission gave an example of a terrible immoral action. From my Weekly Standard column, “The Scream of the Asparagus:”
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer’s herd—the report doesn’t say). But then, while walking home, he casually “decapitates” some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can’t agree why. The report states, opaquely:
At this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer toward other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves.
So, according to this crowd, George Romney apparently did murder roses—worse, put out a contract for daily rosicide!
We have also seen peas touted as “who” rather than “what” in the New York Times. From my ”Good Grief: Now It’s Pea Personhoood!”:
According to Michael Marder, recent discoveries show that peas communicate with each other through their root systems and soil. Of course, being plants, pea “communication” doesn’t involve the least level of sentience, not to mention rationality. It is a purely chemical response to environmental stimuli. But should pea chemical communication elevate the moral value of peas? Yes, according to Marder (my emphasis): When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good.
Marder said we shouldn’t eat annuals because of their moral value, restricting our consumption to perrenials thanking them for their gifts to us.
Meanwhile, a NYT science reporter touted plants as the “most ethical” life form:
It’s a small daily tragedy that we animals must kill to stay alive. Plants are the ethical autotrophs here, the ones that wrest their meals from the sun. Don’t expect them to boast: they’re too busy fighting to survive.
Then there is the growing “nature rights” movement.
My point is that @jimnorton thought he was being funny—and he was. But some take such nonsense seriously. That’s what happens when you reject human exceptionalism. You go—pardon the animalism—nuts!