Otto was a pike who lived in Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. Life for a pike in Switzerland was pretty good. Short working hours and long vacations; a national health care service for which he paid nothing. And laws that protected abuses against his species.
Everything was going swimmingly until the day Otto saw a red tail earthworm dangling just below the surface. Not believing his luck at discovering such a rare delicacy, he quickly ascended only to discover that he had been fooled. The worm was bait and Otto was about to become Erik Lafevre’s catch of the day.
Poor Otto. For the next ten minutes he conducted a life and death struggle against Erik’s rod but the exertion was finally too much for him. Out of breath and out of energy, Otto took his last gulp of freshwater and was hauled in, to finally expire on the wooden decking of Erik’s skiff.
Fortunately for Otto’s family though, a videographer was on hand to document the entire death struggle. Within hours the encounter had been downloaded on YouTube and within days it had attracted 400,000 unique views.
It did not escape the notice of the government. Claiming that the amateur angler’s inexpert handling of his rod had negatively impacted the fish’s dignity, Erik was sued in a Zurich district court by State attorneys on behalf of the fish. Pretty soon everybody was getting into the act. The worm’s family sued Erik for wrongful death. The lake, incensed that its waters would be used for so nefarious an activity as fishing, launched its own suit; and the vegetation at the edge of the lake sued for the fact that Erik had trampled some grass unique to the area as he maneuvered his skiff into the water.
Sound like a nice modern fable? Well it would be if there wasn’t so much truth to it. For in Switzerland today animals, plants and water have individual rights enforceable in Swiss courts. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal reports, over the weekend a referendum was offered to the Swiss, which, if passed would mandate that each canton in the country would be compelled to hire an animal rights attorney. Today in Switzerland, an abuse of any animal, even a fish, can earn you a fine and plant geneticists can be penalized for harvesting plants in such a way that injures the plant’s dignity.
One has to wonder about the way in which non-human life has been elevated to the same level as human in countries as disparate as Switzerland, Spain and Ecuador. In Spain, limited human rights have been given to apes, a result of extensive lobbying for 20 years by the Great Ape Project ( led by the philosopher Peter Singer and ape conservationist Jane Goodall); In Ecuador, plant life was accorded legal status under the new constitution, passed in July, 2008.
If you are thinking that the movement to elevate animal and plant life to the moral plain of humans is a simple expression of deep empathy on the part of tree huggers and dog lovers, you would be quite wrong. Because the proponents of animal/ plant rights are decidedly anti-human in their perspective, viewing humanity as the true blight on earth and animals as its genuine custodians.
They have introduced into our lexicon a new term – speciesism. Speciesism holds that assigning different values or rights to beings on the basis of their speicies is a prejudice that is not worthy of humanity. Because man himself is an animal he is of no less or greater worth than the denizens of the animal kingdom with whom he shares the earth.
This, as Wesley Smith states in his extraordinary new book, A Rat is a Pig Is a Dog is a Boy, results in the acceptance of the notion that logical distinctions that we all make without thinking betwen oursleves and the animal kingdom, are in fact akin to racism, anti-Semitism and every other bigotry by man against his brothers and sisters.
But even more significant, says Smith, the removal of any distinction between humans and non-humans, leads to the decimation of all moral values. This is demonstrated by the insistence by some of these same ethicists, that sexual engagement between humans and non-humans should pose no serious issue since inter-species breeding has been part of the natural world since the beginning of time. Infanticide, long condemned in most human societies, should be perfectly acceptable since infants are not cognate, sentient creatures. Vivisection experiments, long carried out on animals, is better reserved for those humans in a catatonic or vegetative state rather than live animals since the former have, similarly, an absence of all sentient, cognitive capacity.
It would be nice to think that such a philosophy is restricted to a few crackpot academics and animal rights advocates. But it would be a mistake to think this way. With governments now picking up the cudgel, we increasingly face a world in which the entire concept of human exceptionalism is under assault.
And so we have a scenario where one day, if our animal liberation friends have their way, there may be places on earth where to kill an animal of any species and under any circumstances, will be regarded as the equivalent of killing a man.
Maybe Otto’s friends and supporters will then have their day in court after all.