Apparently Rush Limbaugh
has recently made some disparaging remarks about animal rights activists,
which drew the ire of an activist who expressed his anger an animal rights
email list. According to the activist, Rush Limbaugh is “the individual
who has done more harm to the cause of ANIMAL LIBERATION than anyone else
in history…” Normally I ignore such rantings on AR-NEWS, but this
one got me to thinking whether Limbaugh really deserved the title as the
person whose done the most to harm the animal rights movement.
Ingrid Newkirk would be
the obvious candidate for the honor, but since its difficult sometime
to tell who is behind specific People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaigns and media coverage of Newkirk
is often excessively deferential, I have to pass over her. To stick to
a single person, I’d say Peter Singer clearly stands head and shoulders
above the rest.
But first to dispatch with
Limbaugh. Certainly Limbaugh has a big audience, but his negatives are
so high he pretty much only preaches to the choir. Limbaugh also has a
well-known problem of factual inaccuracy – I certainly wouldn’t take anything
he says at face value.
Singer is the leader because
a) like many of the other animal rights activists, he makes constant gaffes
and b) unlike other animal rights activists, Singer’s comments have received
widespread coverage in most major and minor newspapers in the country.
Tom Regan probably said the single dumbest thing by a major animal rights
proponent when he said he’d throw a retarded infant overboard in a lifeboat
before an intelligent dog, but he was speaking extemporaneously and that
quote wasn’t (and isn’t likely to be) widely reported in the mainstream
But Singer not only include
his views about killing babies and senile old people in his books, but
he actually goes out of his way to reemphasize his beliefs to the media.
Recently deciding that only if he had an opportunity to explain his views
himself, Singer engaged in a debate at Princeton at which he actually
had the gall to say: “Killing an infant is not equivalent to killing
a person because by a person I mean something more of a rational self-aware
being.” Princeton has kindly placed audio and video feeds of the
debate on their web site at http://www.princeton.edu/WebMedia/special/index.shtml.
Many animal rights activists
would probably like to disown Singer’s views on infants and old people,
but his views illustrate an important component of the anti-animal rights
argument: you can’t just grant animals rights and assume this will have
no far reaching effects on other moral and legal principles. The attempt
to equate marginal human beings with non-human animals inevitably changes
not only the moral position of the non-humans but that of human beings
as well. In fact the changes resulting from current animal rights philosophies
would involve dramatic restructuring of most contemporary societies view
of the moral universe as it applies to human beings.