The mainstream media are misanthropic. Article after column after editorial published in our most prominent news outlets promote the view that human exceptionalism is hubristic and arrogant. If we would just rank ourselves alongside the other animals in the forest, we are told repeatedly, we would treat the land more gently and save the planet more willingly.
There are many examples of this, but let’s focus on the flagship of the mainstream media flotilla, the New York Times, which has, over the last few years, conspicuously and repeatedly published articles overtly seeking to subvert human exceptionalism.
The most recent was published last Sunday (October 25). Goodwin College English professor Randy Laist blames human exceptionalism for our “abuse of other animals” and the “damage we do to the natural environment.” Laist’s prescription for remedying our wickedness? Stop thinking of ourselves as humans, and instead “identify as mammals.” Do that, he argues, and we will see that eating a cow is equivalent to “cannibalism.”
Good grief. Laist has it exactly backwards. Why is it wrong to abuse animals? (I refuse to use the term “other animals,” because he deploys the term in the moral sense.) Not because they are co-mammals, but because we are human!
Are hyenas “wrong” when they devour still-living prey? The very idea is ludicrous. But if one of us did such a thing, he would rightly be considered monstrous. Nor is it “wrong” when male dolphins force themselves on unwilling females. But note that rapists are often called “beasts” because their violence not only violates their victims’ bodily integrity and human dignity, but also denigrates the rapists’ own humanity.
Articles like Laist’s are not rare. Nor are they generally balanced with equivalently focused contrary presentations. When was the last time you saw a robust and prominently placed pro–human exceptionalism article published in the mainstream media? In the Times, they are as rare as snipes.
But the paper’s promotion of anti-humanism rolls on and on. In April 2014, New York Times Magazine published a major hagiographic cover story profile of the radical head of the Nonhuman Rights Project, Steven Wise, and his attempts to obtain writs of habeas corpus for chimpanzees as so-called “nonhuman persons.” The reporter blithely accepts Wise’s premise that human exceptionalism is “inherently irrational”; moreover, he allows the activist to equate—unabashedly and without an opposing voice—animal husbandry with historical human rights abuses, arguing, for example, that owning animals is akin to slavery.
The week before the Wise profile, the Magazine gave a similar boost to another social radical, the English environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth, creator of the Dark Mountain Project. The DMP exemplifies the kind of anti-humanism and nihilism that infects the environmental movement. One of the DMP’s “8 Principles of Uncivilization” states:
We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’.
These so-called “myths” have done much to advance economic and political liberty and to alleviate human suffering. But never mind. In “The End of the World as We Know It—and He Feels Fine,” the Times devotes 6000 words to Kingsnorth’s journey toward uncivilization’s explicit paganism.
In September 2014, the Times Sunday Review published evolutionary biologist David P. Barash's account of how he works to destroy his students’ religious faith in his classes, in part, by shattering their belief in human exceptionalism:
Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. . . . Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.
Human exceptionalism doesn't rely on provable “supernatural traits”—whatever Barash means by that term. As just one example, it is indisputable that we alone in the known universe are creative beings. In the 3.5 billion years of life on this planet, no other species has written a sonnet or drawn even the most rudimentary picture on a cave wall or rock outcropping.
Some might argue that the Times is fully justified in publishing these and other such articles because the anti-humanist attitudes they express are gaining increasing prominence within the intelligentsia and among opinion leaders. That is unquestionably true. But discourse is supposed to be a two-way street. Surely, supporters of intrinsic human dignity should be allowed equivalent space to defend the ancien regime.
Don’t hold your breath. The Times is agenda-driven, intent on promoting political progressivism in all its iterations. Progressives have long held that the idea of intrinsic human dignity is irrational, unscientific, and religiously based. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Times provides its imprimatur to articles that—either intentionally or effectively—assault the inherent sanctity of human life.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His most recent book is The War on Humans.