In Defense of Human Exceptionalism
“Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs.”
— John Davis, editor of Earth First! JournaL
When you read quotes like that one above, it’s easy to see that we’re not all on the same page. A number of years ago I included this John Davis quote in a blog post titled “Scary Thoughts” which I later reprinted earlier this year with commentary, retitled “Scary Thoughts: A Collision of World Views.”
More recently, while researching matters pertaining to end of life ethics, I stumbled upon an essay titled “In Defense of Human Exceptionalism.” I copied the link in order to share it sometime, and I guess that time is now.
First, a little background on Earth First!. Formed in April 1980, they now have Earth First! groups in Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The group is essentially an extremist wing of the environmental movement.
What strikes me about the defense of humanity’s uniqueness and “exceptionalism” is that opponents conclude that stating “humankind is the crown of creation” is the equivalent of saying humanity’s aim is — and has a right— to rape mother earth and destroy everything that is not human. This absurd conclusion is an illogical inference.
Whether you look deeper into Native cultures or the Biblical creation account shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the primary responsibility in all is for these God-created peoples to live in harmony with the earth. The Bible story speaks of a Paradise for which the first peoples were responsible as caretakers.
Contemporary thinker Wesley Smith cites this quote from Mortimer Adler: “If we dismantle the unique moral status accorded to human beings, universal human rights become impossible to sustain philosophically.”
Analyze that thought and it takes you into some weird places. I mean, when the Declaration of Independence was written, citing our “unalienable rights” was in reference to human uniqueness. If I am no different from a sting nettle or slug, what in the world does “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” mean?
Where does their notion of moral indignation come from, by the way? When people accuse humans of “speciesism” where does that notion of right and wrong come from that they want to impose on others? By what authority do they have the right to impose this new ethical standard on the rest of us?
When we look at many of the far out things people believe in, I can’t help but recall the G.K. Chesterton observation,“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”