April 24, 2011

One Green Planet on the IEET'S Rights of Non-Human Persons Program

One Green Planet has chimed in on our Rights of Non-Human Persons Program. In the article, The Post-Human Age? When Transhumanism and Animal Rights Collide, One Green Planet correctly observes that the IEET, as a promoter of non-anthropocentric personhood ethics, has outlined a strategy to allow nonhumans ranging from animals to future post-humans and their cognitive equivalents, such as artificial intelligences, to gain rough moral and legal parity with humans.

That said, the article goes on to list three objections to the program:
  1. Sentient beings will continue to be regarded as property
  2. This presents a new hierarchy that simply replaces an old one
  3. This will result in more animal experimentation
Quickly, in regards to the third point, it simply does not follow that sentient non-persons will suddenly become open season for experimentation. This argument is as pernicious as the human exceptionalist argument which contends that the value of humanity will somehow be lessened if we extend human-level rights outside the species. Ultimately, we have to ensure that all creatures capable of suffering will be protected.

Now, in regards to the first two objections: These arguments essentially express the fear that, under the IEET's plan, sentient non-persons will continue to be exploited as property and left out in the cold. All we're really doing, they argue, is creating a new hierarchy.

This is another classic example of how you can't please everybody all of the time. The RNHP infuriates the human exceptionalists as much as it does the die-hard animal rights advocates. Our middle-ground approach, as distasteful as it may seem to some, is both pragmatic and ideologically sound. And just as importantly, it's one that will get the job done where other attempts have failed. What we're doing at the IEET is unique; we've come to the realization that the extension of rights to non-human animals is an iterative process that will, out of necessity, have to involve a hierarchical approach.

Yes, all animals are capable of suffering, but not all animals are equal in terms of their capacity to suffer. Moreover, not all animals are equal in terms of their cognitive and emotional sophistication. A strong case can be made that the initial list of non-human persons we've designated are more susceptible of experiencing emotional and existential distress, and are thus deserving of special protections.

To reiterate an important point, we at the IEET do not feel that the circle of nonhuman persons stops at Great Apes, cetaceans, and elephants (or even advanced artificial intelligence). Because personhood follows a spectrum based on capacities, I fully expect entire sets and subsets of nonhuman person types to be included as time passes. What we're doing is a start. Initially, we're looking for buy-in on the concept of nonhuman persons and to get certain species protected by human-equivalent rights. Once we reach that milestone our efforts will not stop; the IEET will continue to work towards the extension of legal protections to more and more animals.

Animal rights folks are welcome to argue this approach with me all they want. But what they have to acknowledge is that, to date, virtually all strategies by animal rights groups to grant animals meaningful legal protections have utterly and completely failed. Traditional strategies are simply not working. What we at the IEET are offering is baby-steps approach that will eventually help us achieve our mutual goals.

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