A vague anxiety underlies the media’s preoccupation with the recent attacks on people by predators – Roy Horn of the “Siegfried and Roy” act was mauled by a tiger, and grizzly-bear advocate Timothy Treadwell and his companion were gobbled up in Alaska while traveling across bear country (without weapons).
As more wild animals brazenly make themselves at home in manicured suburbs, people, including media top dogs, worry. And for good reason. They are taught from cradle to crypt that humans have encroached on the animals’ territory. On television, “Animal Planet” experts tell them (mostly incorrectly) how rare, essential to the “ecosystem,” and misunderstood these creatures are.
Equally unassailable is the premise that you don’t shoot alligators, bears, coyotes and cougars – not even when they threaten hearth and home. Should a “situation” arise, to avoid criminal charges, one is expected to practically Mirandize the animal before eliminating it.
Bill O’Reilly conducted a species-sensitive interview with a couple of animal trainers following Horn’s mauling. The urban legend now making the rounds has it that, after being reluctantly dragged by the animal to a more secluded picnic spot, Horn, a jet of blood squirting from his neck, told paramedics not to kill the tiger.
Well, perhaps. But Roy need not have worried his poor – and by then also poorly attached – head. The O’Reilly interview was marked by the same forlorn fatalism. The typical PETA-friendly (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) discussion, replete with anthropomorphism (the practice of attributing human characteristics to an animal) followed. Everyone agreed solemnly that the animal didn’t intend to commit a crime.
Forgive me if this is too (excuse the expression) catty a point to make, but isn’t that the case with creatures that have no capacity for conscious thought? Unlike human beings, animals are incapable of forming malicious intent – they simply act reflexively, in a stimulus-response manner.
Because animals kill with no forethought or conscience, we don’t hold them responsible for their actions in the legal sense, as we would a human being. We agree they were only acting on their animal instincts – they don’t function on a higher plane.
Yet a public long fed a diet of Disneyfied cartoon animals has also swallowed a lot of pabulum about the “humanness” of animals. We’ve reached the point that even quasi-scientific National Geographic may give Christian names to its boa constrictor film stars. As the animal slithers on its random way, the creepy narrator will also imbue the creature with elaborate inner concerns. In the event that this curdled schmaltz fails to sicken viewers, it should, at the very least, have the credibility of a “Winnie the Poo” overdub.
Animal-rights advocates – some of whom even walk upright and have active frontal lobes – argue, for instance, that because the great apes share a considerable portion of our genetic material, they are just like human beings, and ought to be given human rights.
As of yet, though, Alexei A. Abrikosov, Vitaly L. Ginzburg and Anthony J. Leggett are not the names of lower primates – they are the names of the 2003 Nobel Prize winners in physics. No matter how many genes these men share with monkeys and no matter how sentient chimps are, the latter will never contribute anything to “the theory of superconductors and superfluids,” or author a document like the “Declaration of Independence,” much less tell good from bad.
Given that human beings are so vastly different in mental and moral stature from apes, the lesson from any genetic similarities the species share is this and no more: A few genes are responsible for very many incalculable differences!
Unlike human beings, animals by their nature are not moral agents. They possess no free will, no capacity to tell right from wrong, and cannot reflect on their actions. While they often act quite wonderfully, their motions are merely a matter of conditioning.
Since man is a rational agent, with the gift of consciousness and a capacity to scrutinize his deeds and chart his actions, we hold him culpable for his transgressions. A human being’s exceptional ability to discern right from wrong makes him punishable for any criminal depravity.
Man’s nature is the source of the responsibility he bears for his actions. It is also the source of his rights. Human or individual rights, such as the rights to life, liberty and property, are derived from man’s innate moral agency and capacity for reason.
Unfortunately, the new-generation, campy “conservatives,” who look to Bo Derek as the Republican brain trust on animal rights, desperately need an explanation of what a right is.
A right is a legal claim against another. As author and lecturer Robert Bidinotto points out in his manifesto against environmentalism and animal rights, rights establish boundaries among those who possess them. Since animals can’t recognize such boundaries, they should certainly not be granted legal powers against human beings.
Moreover, the rights human beings possess exist within the context of a moral community. Animals don’t belong to a moral community – they answer the call of the wild. When a simian devours her young ones, none of her sisters in the colony hoot a la Jane Goodall for justice. Not one of the many tigers lounging around on Siegfried and Roy’s Little Bavaria estate is catcalling for the majestic head of their errant teammate.
The nature of animals makes them worthy of human compassion, kindness and care, but never of any human rights.
The perverse, pagan, public theatre elicited by animal attacks ought to give way to some life-loving, logical lessons. It is in the nature of things for predators to kill. Wild animals have big pointy teeth for a reason, wrote John Robson of the Ottawa Citizen.
A civilized society places human life above all else and endorses its vigorous defense – it doesn’t show resignation when beast attacks man.
In the future, if a working wild animal repeats this perfectly predictable performance, a stage hand should be poised to lodge a bullet in the critter’s skull. The same goes for bears in the backyard.