Are humans the only people?
This article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/21/whales-dolphins-legal-rights) reports on an increasingly popular argument that whales and dolphins are intelligent enough for us to grant them formalised rights, such as the right to life.
This raises several important and interesting points. It premises that human rights are based on intelligence. And it also suggests that some people are starting to group other species along with humans into an intelligent bracket. We can’t call these species Earthlings, since obviously that would also incorporate are rather less intelligent relatives as well. But is it time for us to stop thinking we’re special? Is it time for humans to recognise the rights of species other than themselves?
I think we need to constantly keep updating our respect for species via enshrining more and more rights for them, in the same way that we do for our own human rights.
However, unless the dolphins and whales can agree to the contract then I think it’s not ever likely to happen that they will enjoy the same rights.
Agreement is required by the dolphins because if they have rights as individuals, then they will be responsible for any crimes they commit against other dolphins.
As an essential form of justice, these crimes will also need to be judged by a jury of their peers.
Dolphins responsible for crimes on other dolphins? I like it. Now that would be humanity playing God. You know all those religious mythologies from early human civilisation? A lot of them played on the ‘if you do something bad something bad will be done to you’. I could just imagine a futuristic book now talking about humanity’s efforts to play God, in helping certain creature’s ‘evolution’ towards a more human state of being.
But in all seriousness though you raise an interesting point. Did the Absolutist Kings expect the kind of demands that would eventually come to fruition in the French Revolution? In most cases probably not. So how could they write the rights of those people without finding out what rights they want? And with an entirely different species how can we ever find out what they actually want?
My answer is that we shouldn’t be thinking about positive liberties i.e. the freedom to do something like speak or act. But we should be legislating on negative liberties, and I’m not even talking about the right to life. The right to life is something humans don’t even respect – capital punishment contradicts it. But the right to freedom from persecution and torture should be a right that is given to all life forms that can feel pain. At present when we go to the supermarket we can read all sorts of things about the meat we buy; how much fat content it has, where it comes from, how to cook it etc etc. But what we’re not told is whether it was killed humanely. For all we know we may have eaten whole herds of viciously slaughtered animals, with our money going to fund more such behaviour. So the right to freedom from persecution, torture and inhumane treatment should for me be the right that we enforce.