The other day I posted about Bolivia seeking to obtain a UN treaty that would grant equal rights to nature. I think this is a particularly pernicious threat to human exceptionalism, and I am worried; not about today or even tomorrow, but that in a decade or so, this spear thrust could penetrate the ribs of human freedom and prosperity.
I also did a brief post about it on the First Thoughts blog, which I am allowed to access, to alert people who read FT but not SHS (alas!) about the trend. One commenter there cited a G.K. Chesterton quote from the book Orthodoxy—which I read many years ago—that startled me in its precience. Read the prophet’s words:
We constantly hear a particularly cosmic creed from the modern humanitarians; I use the word humanitarian in the ordinary sense, as meaning one who upholds the claims of all creatures against those of humanity. They suggest that through the ages we have been growing more and more humane, that is to say, that one after another, groups or sections of beings, slaves, children, women, cows, or what not, have been gradually admitted to mercy or to justice. They say that we once thought it right to eat men (we didn’t); but I am not here concerned with their history, which is highly unhistorical. As a fact, anthropophagy is certainly a decadent thing, not a primitive one. It is much more likely that modern men will eat human flesh out of affectation than that primitive man ever ate it out of ignorance.
I am here only following the outlines of their argument, which consists in maintaining that man has been progressively more lenient, first to citizens, then to slaves, then to animals, and then (presumably) to plants. I think it wrong to sit on a man. Soon, I shall think it wrong to sit on a horse. Eventually (I suppose) I shall think it wrong to sit on a chair. That is the drive of the argument. And for this argument it can be said that it is possible to talk of it in terms of evolution or inevitable progress. A perpetual tendency to touch fewer and fewer things might—one feels, be a mere brute unconscious tendency, like that of a species to produce fewer and fewer children. This drift may be really evolutionary, because it is stupid.
Those words were first published in 1908, when the idea of animal rights and plant dignity and personalizing nature—all now in ascendency—would have been generally thought the product of delirium. (Eating human flesh is also a still rare perversion—as in the German men who made a deal: one to be killed and eaten and the other to consume.)
After reading the quote in question, I read further and saw that Chesterton wrote even more specifically:
So with the ideal of human morality and its relation to the humanitarians and the anti-humanitarians. It is conceivable that we are going more and more to keep our hands off things: not to drive horses; not to pick flowers. We may eventually be bound not to disturb a man’s mind even by argument; not to disturb the sleep of birds even by coughing. The ultimate apotheosis would appear to be that of a man sitting quite still, nor daring to stir for fear of disturbing a fly, nor to eat for fear of incommoding a microbe.
These are all happening or being seriously advocated now, most of which I have written about here at SHS and elsewhere, but some of which is beyond our jurisdiction. Consider:
- Provocative argumentation and speech are being stifled by “speech codes” on campus and hate crime laws in some Western countries that don’t have a First Amendment (Canada, UK, Sweden, Netherlands, etc.), on the basis that people have a right not to be offended and/or that critical or hateful speech leads to violence against minorities. In some countries, one cannot even speak freely about certain of their own religious beliefs without breaking criminal law.
- Animal rights ideology tells us that we are morally equal to animals, as Ingrid Newkirk put it, “A rat is a pig, is a dog, is a boy, or Richard Ryder’s assertion, “Painience is the only convincing basis for attributing rights or, indeed, interests to others.”
- Switzerland has declared the “intrinsic dignity” of individual plants—and a government bioethics commission has stated it a profoundly immoral act for a farmer to “decapitate” a wildflower.
- Spain has accepted the Great Ape Project that demotes human beings to being merely one member of a “community of equals” along with gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Peter Singer, who is the intellectual godfather of the GAP, sees this admittedly “speciesist” proposal as a crow bar to “break the species barrier.”
- Ecuador, Bolivia, and a handful of USA municipalities have enacted the “rights of nature.”
- Some human beings have been declared “non persons” by the leading luminaries of bioethics and it is seriously contended that they can be experimented upon and used as sources of organs.
- Bestiality has been defended by Peter Singer (and others), and even opponents today are reduced to arguing against it based on the inability of animals to consent.
I could go on and on—and eventually, probably will.
None of this would surprise Chesterton, apparently, but every time the next shoe drops, it sure surprises me.