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I have written extensively about how the Swiss Constitution declared the legal intrinsic dignity of individual plants (and an ethics committee declared the “decapitation” of a wildflower to be immoral ). I have also written how Nicaragua’s new constitution created the “rights of nature,” co-equal to the rights of humans. Now the folly has gone one step further, by imputing morality to the lives of plants, spread, no less, in the august pages of the New York Times . Science columnist Natalie Angier discusses the undeniable complexity of plant life, and anthropomorphizes away, to the point that she attributes ethics to plants.  From her column :

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.

Sigh. Plants are not ethical. That requires thought and free will.  And what about Venus fly traps?  They digest their insect prey alive . Oh, the horror, the tragedy!

It is easy to make fun of this, but there is a deep nihilism beneath the folly. Extrapolating the sophisticated biology of plants into something involving ethics and cognition is  profoundly destructive of human exceptionalism, which is very dangerous.  Indeed, I find it acutely ironic that as we see increased advocacy for the depersonalization of the most vulnerable human beings so as to justify their terminations or use as natural resources , we also witness increasing arguments to personalize flora and fauna.

More analysis over at Secondhand Smoke .



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