On Dolphins as a Gateway to Animal Rights
My life-as-a-tweeter is less and less significant these days. It's just not all that interesting to me. Something about jockeying for position in 140 characters or less, rather than interacting and sharing, I guess.
I did tweet about "Scientists Say Dolphins Should Be Treated As 'Non-human Persons'" yesterday, as I think this is a Gray Matter for a lot of people and might be interesting to explore.
The way I see it, there are three camps on this one:
- People who think that dolphins or Great Apes or chimps could function as a gateway to other animals getting rights. You could be for or against animal rights and believe the gateway theory.
- People who think that dolphins or some other animals–and only those animals–really should have rights because they are legitimately special;
- People who think it's speciesist to go in this direction and don't support it at all (as opposed to the people in the first camp, who might also think it's speciesist but who might also look at it as a step in the right direction).
Riddle me this: If you're in camp #3, do you think it's bad to pursue personhood for individual species, or is it just something you're not going to spend your time on because of the various problems with the process (e.g., which animals and why, what characteristic/s and whose definition of them, just to name a few)? Would you actually actively campaign against rights for some species?
As for the deconstructing the article, I'm afraid there aren't any surprises:
- "Dolphins have been declared the world's second most intelligent creatures" are the first ten words of the article. Dolphins are so smart that scientists think they should be treated as "non-human persons" and as such it is "morally unacceptable" to use or kill them. This all sounds very suspect to me, and without reading another word I worry that intelligence is somehow based on what we humans have defined as intelligence and is a quality that we probably have in great quantity. The entire discussion, I fear, will be about comparing dolphins to humans and the more human-like they are, the more intelligent they are, and the more worthy of moral consideration they are. We'll see . . .
- "Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size." Of course, the size of a brain isn't what's important. The important measurement is the ratio to the body size. And there we win, and whoever comes in second (dolphins) should therefore be almost as worthy as we are of . . . having their lives to themselves.
- Dolphins used to be positioned below chimps, but recent studies have shown the bottlenose to be more intelligent. They also have distinct personalities (and chimps don't? and dogs don't? and chickens don't?) a strong sense of self (you just know a mirror study is coming) and can think about the future. Just as an aside about that last one, "spiritual," religious, and self-help leaders have for over a decade been trying to get people to not think about the future, and being "in the moment" is perhaps one of the more difficult things for many humans to do. What does that say? (I bet something like: We're so smart that our intelligence gets in the way.)
- Finally, dolphins got culcha, meaning "new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up by one dolphin from another." I'd like to know what behaviors constitute plain old learning, or adaptation even, and which constitute culture.
- Enter the inevitable mirror study, demonstrating bottlenose dolphins can recognize themselves. They have learned some symbol-based language, and they solve problems, cooperate, and learn tricks. They can also learn how "to hold sponges over their snouts to protect themselves when searching for spiny fish on the ocean floor." And when Charles wants to eat some cat poop that is covered with fire ants, he'll either try to wipe it with a leaf or he'll wipe them off with a very quick, choppy motion because he has learned how fast they can jump onto him and bite him. And he has learned that all cat poop is worth the effort.
- Dolphins cooperate to round up fish (kind of like the way the Japanese cooperate to round up the dolphins). But if you live on a lake in South Florida, you know that anhingas, who swim as well as they fly and run (is there a hierarchy for triathletes in the natural world? Where are we on that one, I wonder?), drive fish to one end of a lake, and when you see it happen though there's a beauty in it, and certainly efficiency and effectiveness, it also seems barbaric when the fish, who are panicking and have nowhere to go, get killed and eaten by the graceful, athletic, intelligent anhingas.
- The brains of dolphins have similar folds, like the ones we have and are linked with human intelligence.
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