Ancient Definitions of Personhood and Difficult Social Precedents: The Homunculus, the Golem, and Aristotle
Before deciding how to define and proceed with modern definitions of personhood beyond the human, it will help to see how personhood has been defined historically—especially with regard to several ancient androids, because in their day they presented the best case for individuals who might have had, by the time’s definitions, the chance to be considered fully human. So this presentation will discuss the basic philosophical and legal standards applied to defining the existential status of two artificial androids, the golem and the homunculus, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when their creation was actually considered possible and often believed to be an accomplished fact. It will also show how the historical definition of personhood has generally coincided with Aristotle’s notions, which he provides mainly to determine who is worthy of slavery. These sorts of historical stances on personhood are important because they show the difficult social precedents facing any redefinition of non-human personhood today. Bio
Linda MacDonald Glenn and Dr. Jeanann S. Boyce
Person of Interest: Extending the Boundaries Internationally
The purpose of this presentation is to extend the traditional models of personhood, which have included definitions of proportional autonomy, privacy, and culpability to non-humans, as well as humans.
UN Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 and not all countries have adopted it as a universal standard. In the west, we have the concept of ‘inalienable rights’; in other parts of the world, we are still struggling with basic rights, with women, children and animals still being considered property. Should we be advocating adoption of universal laws and universal courts, that would extend human rights to human law, to include a broader spectrum of sentient beings? Bio
Personhood and Liberal Neutrality: Should we provide public aid to pets’ owners?”
In many countries it is taken for granted that families who have children with special needs are entitled to receive public aid. The fact that the woman decided to bear the child when it was legally possible to abort does not preclude her and her child from being beneficiaries of tax deductions, reimbursements, and all sorts of financial aid. The most straightforward justification for such “governmental rescue” is the absolute dependent condition of the child. However, human beings are not the only dependent animals on earth. Why do families who decide to raise and keep non-human animals are not so equally helped by the Government? My aim in this presentation is to explore alternative answers to that question showing how the possibility of considering households with non-human dependent animals as also eligible for public benefits challenges deep assumptions regarding the neutrality of the Liberal State as regards to the idea of “being a person”. Bio
On solid ground: chimpanzee dissent and trapdoor clauses
Included among the issues lurking in the background of the debate increasingly raging over animal morality are the preferences associated with expectations of treatment at work in the social dynamics of the relevant communities. This kind of phenomenon places us – that is, humans – very quickly in an encounter with other-than-human animals who prefer to be treated in some ways and not others and enforce these preferences when it is prudent for them to do so. The significance of the relevant behavioral evidence about these animals should be apparent to applied ethicists. The first section briefly highlights some chimpanzee behavioral capacities relevant to the rest of my argument. This grounds what I will then rehearse about the moral significance of chimpanzee dissent that I have defended elsewhere. The third section will outline how the previous two sections warrant changes in our treatment of chimpanzees in captive contexts (or any future contexts). In particular, three conclusions follow: (i) dissent ought to affect the inclusion of dissenting chimpanzees in research, (ii) their use in harmful research cannot be justified through a generic benefit argument and (iii) escape clauses for the reintroduction of chimpanzee research where it is now being eliminated are not justified. Bio
In this work, I begin with a treatment of Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future. I argue that the traditional concept of personhood may be applied in a posthuman age. After introducing quasi-Sellarsian convention, I argue that All humanB beings are humanM , i.e., persons (All biologically human beings are morally human. But, it is not necessarily the case that all humanM beings (morally human beings) must be humanB (biologically human). After drawing on a contemporary version of Kant’s distinction between a theoretical possibility and a real possibility, I argue that non-humanB persons, like genetically altered humanB beings, robots, computers, or aliens, are a theoretical possibility but we do not know if they are a real possibility. Finally, I describe an ethic of self-limitation for the posthuman age. Bio
Against Exceptionalism: The Task of a New Philosophy of Animality
My talk examines philosophical challenges to the identity of humanity and personhood from both continental and analytic perspectives and draws out the implications of these challenges for animal ethics and activism. At least since the common ancient Greek philosophical understanding of man as occupying a space between animals and the gods, philosophy has relied for its definition of the human on that which it excludes as the non-human. The non-human has now come to be identified as the less-than-human. Singer has powerfully challenged the granting of personhood, rights, and superior status on the basis of human-ness, arguing for an understanding of the special status of persons, rather than that of an inherent (read: God-given) human dignity. Both Singer and certain strands of continental/deconstructionist treatments of animal ethics can be understood as following from a sort of death-of-God ethics, casting long overdue skepticism on the idea of an inherent human superiority and an imperative of dominion and optimization over the non-human. Bio
The Science of the Nonhuman Rights Project
General overview on how law and facts work together, overview of some of the scientific evidence that we will be using, and how the scientific evidence will be used in our cases.
Day 2: Lori Marino, Ph.D.
Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and NhRP
Denial of Death and the Threat of Animality
In this presentation we focus on Ernest Becker’s claim that our species is largely motivated by the denial of death. Becker’s proposition predicts that when we humans are reminded of our personal mortality we tend to deny our biological nature – our animality – because we connect animality with mortality. An abundance of peer-reviewed experimental literature shows that when we are reminded of our mortality, we increase our psychological distance from the other animals by denigrating their status. I will focus on this psychological phenomenon and how it relates to our ability to accept concepts of personhood in other species. Bio
“I Am Not an Animal” – The Signature Cry of our Species
The past 50 years have seen enormous growth in the animal protection movement. But the situation for nonhuman animals in every sphere, with the exception of homeless pets, continues to deteriorate. Any small advances remain incremental. Animal rights and welfare groups find themselves at a loss to explain their inability to influence the general public. But the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and of psychologists in the field of Terror Management Theory (TMT) offer essential insight.
In this talk, we discuss how our need, as humans, to proclaim that “I am not an animal!” and to deny personhood to other animals affects our relationship with them at a fundamental level. We argue that to be effective, the animal protection movement needs to understand TMT and take it into account. And we conclude that a new kind of relationship to the world of nature in the 21st Century is not only essential to the mitigation of the catastrophic effects of the Sixth Great Extinction, but that it also holds the key to Becker’s still-unanswered question of how we can begin to relate positively to our own terror of personal mortality – and therefore our own future as a species. Bio
The Politics of Species:
The assumption that humans are cognitively and morally superior to other animals is fundamental to social democracies and legal systems worldwide. It legitimizes treating members of other animal species as inferior to humans. The last few decades have seen a growing awareness of this issue, as evidence continues to show that individuals of many other species have rich mental, emotional and social lives. Bringing together leading experts from a range of disciplines, The Politics of Species – released this fall in the United States by Cambridge University Press – identifies the key barriers to a definition of moral respect that includes nonhuman animals. Annette Lanjouw who co-edited the volume with Raymond Corbey, will share with the conference the questions, themes and possibilities that are central to this important book. Bio
A Turing Test For Civil Rights
When to treat something as a person Knowing that something is a conscious, feeling, thinking being would be useful, but we often cannot know that. We typically have to make decisions about whether to treat something AS IF it is a conscious being based on limited information. What kind of information do we need to justify treating something as a person? I argue that while the classic Turing Test does not work to prove that something is thinking, an expanded version of it is the best we have to go on with regard to whether we should treat something as a person. The reason lies in the cost asymmetry of mistakes we can make. If the question is purely “Does this system think?” then a false positive is just embarrassing and a false negative is just an error. But if the question is “How should we morally and legally treat this system?” then a false positive is embarrassing while a false negative can lead to slavery or murder. I explain the argument for reliance on an expanded Turing Test for personhood and also indicate some of the specific problems humanity will face in determining personhood for nonhuman entities, including radical psychological difference, property rights over artificial systems, and the difference between having consciousness and having interests. Bio
The “Animal Person” as Tertium Datur
Establishing Nonhuman Legal Personhood
The case for nonhuman legal personhood has become increasingly pressing in light of the systematic failure of traditional animal welfare law to protect animals in any meaningful way. The flagrant inadequacy of contemporary animal protection law can, in part, be ascribed to the legal status of animals as objects and property. As animal rights lawyers contend, shifting the paradigm towards a legal status as subjects, i.e. legal persons vested with inviolable rights, would mark a seminal starting point for redressing the fundamental injustices underlying the humanÂanimal relationship. Legal personhood for animals would symbolize and institutionalize the intrinsic value of animals and, furthermore, offer significant procedural advantages. In contrast, the prevailing opinion of philosophers and legal scholars maintains that animals are not and cannot be persons, since this term solely pertains to rational beings, i.e. humans. I will refute this assertion in the course of a legal theoretical examination of the current concept of legal personhood with regard to its applicability to the animal context.
As becomes apparent when analyzing the legal capacity of natural and juristic persons and the history of their legal personification, establishing a third category of legal persons (a tertium datur), the “animal person”, can be consistently argued for. Special consideration will be given to the distinction between the philosophical and legal as well as the descriptive and normative sense of personhood. While the philosophical notion of personhood, referring to human(like) mental properties, is eo ipso burdened with anthropocentric/ratiocentric constrictions, the legal notion of personhood can be (partially) disconnected from the former, particularly with regard to these cognitive features. It will be shown that legal personhood is a normative concept which is abstracted from actual (personal) qualities, and that neither the capacity to reason nor membership in the human species are imperative criteria to being considered a person under law.
Thus, the status of a legal person can be conferred on animals irrespective of their cognitive abilities, rendering the philosophically pertinent “similar minds approach” unwarranted from a legal theoretical point of view. Finally, I will address the issue of viability of the proposed sentientist concept of nonhuman legal personhood, placing it within the realm of possibilities. The examples of Swiss and German animal law and their foundational principles, especially the constitutionally recognized dignity of animals, the formal emancipation from legal thinghood, and the emergence of deontological and biocentric elements, indicate that the referenced paradigm shift towards legal personhood for animals is already in its early stages. Bio
Personhood for Artificial Agents: What it teaches us about animals’ rights
For the past few years, I have presented arguments based on my book, A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents, which suggest that legal and perhaps even moral and metaphysical personhood for artificial agents is not a conceptual impossibility. In some cases, a form of dependent legal personality might even be possible in today’s legal frameworks for such entities. As I have presented these arguments, I have encountered many objections to them.In this talk, I will examine some of these objections as they have taught me a great deal about how personhood for artificial agents is relevant to the question of human beings’ relationships with animals. I will conclude with the claims that a) advocating personhood for artificial agents should not be viewed as an anti-humanistic perspective and b) rather, it should allow us to assess the question of animals’ rights more sympathetically. Bio
Animal/Human/Corporation/Robot: Appropriating ‘Personhood’ for Different Purposes
Historically some humans (women, children, and slaves) have been denied full legal protection as persons. Today, there are calls for granting personhood to not only non-human animals but also to heads and bodies that have been cryogenically preserved and to data histories that have been uploaded. The term ‘personhood’ has and is being appropriated by different groups for very different purposed. But they all share an interest in the legal rights of the species and entities to whom the term might be applied. Whether this means the groups have much in common and should unite to collectively exert their political might is another matter.
Critics have been concerned that demanding rights as patients for non-human animals damages the human rights movement. And I have been critical that speculations as to whether future robots might be designed legal persons and moral agents should enter into policy discussions regarding the development of lethal autonomous robots and service robots.
In this presentation I will explore whether much commonality exists among the various movements to establish personhood for non-human animals and transhuman ‘bemens’. Does, for example, an intellectual interested in the meaning and application of ‘personhood’ constitute a shared interest, or is the illusion of a shared interested being created where it does not exist? Bio
Why does personalism turn towards animal ethics?
The intellectual heritage of modernity needs rethinking. It is marked by radical humanism, (implied by the ideas of Descartes and Kant above all) which introduces an unbridgeable gap between the worlds of human and nonhuman animals. Moreover, the project of the emancipation of the human-being, advanced by the philosophers of the modern era, is accompanied by the aggravation of the fate of nonhuman animals, degraded to the status of a products, objects of consumption, and, as a result of intensive breeding, subjected to suffering unknown in wildlife.
Intuitive sensibility to the question of the welfare of nonhuman animals meets a theoretical ally in the rapidly growing knowledge on their subjectivity and makes us pose a questions about their ontological status: Are they persons? Does any instance of subjectivity mean that we are dealing with a person? Another question which thus emerges is whether the necessary response to the threat of speciesism is to consider all living beings as belonging to one species? Is animal ethics conceivable on the grounds of specific and ontological pluralism?
In this context, it might be worthwhile to turn to personalist ethics, yet not to its anthropocentric version implied by Kant’s ethical autonomism, but to personalism conceived of as an instance of value ethics, as exemplified by Antonio Rosmini’s supreme ethical formula of the practical recognition of being in its order or by Karol Wojtyła’s concept of the normative power of truth. The latter model of ethical personalism distinguishes between the subject of morality, or the agent (a person), and the object of moral duty (which can be personal as well as nonpersonal beings on the grounds of the value inherent in their being as such). Such a conception of personalist ethics turns out capable of adopting the knowledge of the value of the lives of nonhuman animals and of their subjectivity without diminishing the status of human animals as the only agents in the realm of being and thus the exclusive subjects of morality. This, however, does not mean that nonhuman animals are superior to human animals in the sense of the value of their lives; rather, it implies that they should embrace nonhuman animals with even deeper care and take responsibility for their “lesser brothers,” as Saint Francis of Assisi used to called them. Bio
What Might a Species-Free Ethics Look Like?
Research on the morally substantive cognitive properties of nonhuman animals is exploding, ranging from studies on sentience in insects to theory of mind in nonhuman primates. In this presentation, I briefly summarize my most recent paper in which I survey the most prominent empirical research on the physiological and cognitive capacities of nonhuman animals. I then make explicit the connection between these data and the legal and moral conceptions of important notions such as moral agency, moral patienthood, personhood, and post-personhood. I then offer a sketch of what a just, non-chauvinistic, non-speciesist, scientifically informed, species-free ethics might look like in light of pending advances in the fields of biomedical and genetic engineering as well as recent movements in biology towards species anti-realism. Bio
On Patenting “human organisms”
On September 8, 2011, after almost seven years of legislative effort, Congress passed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), the most significant patent legislation since the Patent Act of 1952. Piggybacking on this significant legislation was an addendum added shortly before the passage of the AIA. This addendum prohibits the issuance of patent-claims “directed to or encompassing a human organism,” however, the prohibition does not provide a definition of “human organism” or indicate what would be considered as “encompassing a human organism.” Examination of the discussion of the relevant legislative provision on the House floor does not demystify these terms. Instead, the legislative history clarifies the anti-science sentiments that motivated certain members of Congress affiliated with the anti-abortion movement to promote the prohibition. Further legal analysis of the prohibition’s language reveals that while its benefits are questionable, its potential harm is substantial. Not only does the prohibition undermine innovation in a variety of uncontroversial biomedical technologies, it also represents a repeatedly missed opportunity to make a meaningful statement—outside and beyond the limited context of patent law—as to the moral standing of non-human beings. Bio
The Provocative Elitism of “Personhood” for Nonhuman Creatures in Animal Advocacy Parlance and Polemics
In the 1980s, Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation was the bible of the burgeoning animal rights movement. Singer’s argument was lucid and compelling. He said that nonhuman animals, being sentient, have interests the same as humans, and that it is wrong to sacrifice their important interests to humanity’s trivial ones. He said that consideration of animals’ interests is a matter of logic, reason, justice and morality, not mere “sentimentality.” This formula provided the bold, principled approach to animal advocacy that was needed to inspire a movement.
Yet even in the process of promoting animal liberation and criticizing the traditional hierarchy of nature set forth by Aristotle and others, Singer has consistently maintained a presumption of human superiority over all other forms of life, a presumption that continues to affect the animal advocacy movement. The hierarchy starts with mentally competent adult human beings proceeding down to the “lowest” life forms. The chief point of contact between humans and other animals is “suffering,” yet over time, even the suffering of animals could not compete with the “superior” suffering of humans in Singer’s view. “Personhood” became a touchstone.
In Rethinking Life and Death, published in 1994, “personhood” is represented as a privileged identity to which only mentally competent adult humans and the great apes are definitively entitled, with the great apes far below humans, being characterized as ranking with “intellectually disabled human beings.” In the 2011 revised edition of Practical Ethics, certain other animals, including some wild birds, are said to perhaps be eligible to be granted some degree of personhood based on laboratory experiments and field observations showing that they possess a measure of “rationality,” “self-awareness,” and “future-directed thinking and desires.” However, a sentient “nonperson” or “merely conscious” being does not qualify for what Singer calls a “right to life, in the full sense.”
I argue that such categorizing relegates the entire animal kingdom, apart from humans, to a condition of mental disability that is totally incompatible with the cognitive demands exacted upon real animals in the real world. It illogically implies a cerebral and experiential equivalence between the mentally incompetent members of one species (due to age or impairment) and the mentally competent, fully functioning members of other species. It leads to a perhaps well-meaning but fatuous focus on an animal’s ability or inability to play video games, and solemn pronouncements about laboratory “findings” that adult pigs and chickens are “as smart as toddlers.”
In an effort to elevate nonhuman animals in the public eye, such advocacy actually devaluates them anthropomorphically to a status of, at best, inferior humanhood. It leaves them in a realm that, to quote Singer’s own words, bodes bleakly for animals and animal liberation: “Given what we know about human nature, as long as we continue to think of animals in this way we will not succeed in changing the attitudes that, when put into practice by ordinary human beings, lead to disrespect – and hence mistreatment – for the animals” (Animal Liberation, 1990, 229).
I argue that animal advocates, whether in academia or on the ground, cannot allow the idea to take hold that only the great apes and certain other “higher” animals are fit to be “persons.” Working to change the moral status of the great apes or sea mammals, for example, is a legitimate and important undertaking, but it should not be done at the expense of other animals, and animal advocates should eschew facile, categorical rhetoric like Singer’s claim in Animal Liberation, 1990, that of all the animals eaten in the Western world, “the pig is without doubt the most intelligent” and is maybe even smarter than a dog. Such thinking is not only disconnected from real animals in the real world; it perpetuates the view that beings belonging to species deemed “nonpersons” or “merely conscious” are of lesser, or no, moral significance until or unless, through an institutionalized system of painful, stressful, and demeaning experiments over decades or centuries, some of them might “prove” themselves worthy of being called persons or semi-persons or sort-of-persons entitled to whatever privileges such designations may confer. Bio
What Is A Person and How Can We Be Sure?
A Paradigm Case Formulation (PCF) of Persons will be offered. PCFs are useful when it is desirable to achieve a common understanding of a subject matter but where definitions prove too limiting, various, ambiguous or impossible. “Personhood” poses this definitional problem. A PCF should provide all competent users a conceptualization that can serve as a starting point of agreement. Generally, it should consist of the most complex case, an indubitable case, or a primary or archetypal case. It should be a sort of “By God, if there were ever a case of “X”, then that’s it.” By starting with a paradigm case, it becomes possible to delete or change features of the paradigm with the consequence that with each change some people may no longer agree that they are still talking about the same thing. But because of the shared paradigm, they can show where there is disagreement. I will offer the PCF of persons that is used in Descriptive Psychology.
A “Person” is an individual whose history is paradigmatically a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical Pattern. Deliberate Action is a form of behavior in which a person (a) engages in an Intentional Action, (b) is cognizant of that and (c) has chosen to do that. A person is not always engaged in a Deliberate Action but has the eligibility to do so. The Dramaturgical Pattern implies that a course of living makes sense. Bio
A Legislative Approach to Advocacy
How can we practically advance rights for non-human animals? How can we create policy to do that? One practical and controversial step is the enactment of statutes to require the appointment of animal advocates in cases of animal cruelty. As an example, last year, Connecticut came very close to enacting a statute to appoint an animal advocate in animal cruelty cases. The legislative process and response were positive. The political process was not smooth and many objected to the statute because they felt that it granted rights to non-human animals. In the end, the process ran out of time during the legislative session. What can these statutes accomplish in states where they are enacted? Are they a step towards rights? How can we use them to bridge a gap between philosophical discussion of rights and the creation of policy to recognize rights? Bio
Rethinking Personhood: Recognizing sameness and valuing difference
Ethical arguments for considering the claims of the more than human world have tended to parallel arguments that extend ethical consideration outward from those who occupy the moral center — moral agents or “persons.” Expanding the circle is one way scholars and activists have tried to combat what is alternatively termed “speciesism,” “humanormativity,” or “human exceptionalism”. One of the main strategies for expanding the circle is to turn to empirical work designed to show that other animals share similar qualities to human persons. To be considered consistent and fair, we are implored to treat like cases a like. If those on the margins of the sphere of moral concern can be shown, through ethological and cognitive research, for example, to have some of the relevant qualities that we admire in ourselves and to which we attach value, then we ought to admire and value those qualities in whatever bodies they arise. While there is much to be learned from about ourselves and other animals by drawing on the work on our cognitive, behavioral, emotional and social similarities what I call “the sameness view” can also lead us astray.
When what we are looking for is similarities – how we might share the same general type of intelligence or cognitive skills, the same sensitivities and vulnerabilities, the same emotional responses – we tend to obscure or overlook distinctively valuable aspects of the lives of others. We ignore valuable “difference.” To hold up personhood as the standard of moral considerability allows us to see other animals differently, but also is potentially dangerous in that it reconfigures a dualism that requires the exclusion of some “other.” I suggest strategies for appreciating similarities while also valuing difference. Bio
Is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Fit For Purpose in the 21st Century?
Against the backdrop of this conference, the UN Declaration definitely shows its age. However, I am less concerned with the prospect of extending human-like rights across species boundaries than with the very idea that humanity could be so clearly demarcated from other potential bearers of personhood, including not only animals but also machines. The 21st century may be a period when ‘humanity’ understood as a normative category is pulled in two opposing directions: one, genealogically, to extend similar rights, concerns, etc. to those with a common evolutionary past; two, teleologically, to extend similar rights, concerns, etc. to those with a common progressive future.
The former is biased towards biology, the latter towards technology. In that case, it’s interesting to ask how such an intuitively clear normative conception of the human has managed to hold sway for 75 years? One sort of answer turns to the immediate historical context of the Second World War, where issues of bodily integrity and territorial sovereignty were very much in focus, which in turn helps to explain the prominence given to the concept of ‘dignity’ in the Declaration. However, behind this is a deeper metaphysical assumption, associated with the main philosophical spokesperson for the Declaration, the Neo-Thomist Jacques Maritain. The sui generis character of the human being is an assumption of natural law, especially in the Catholic tradition deriving from Aquinas. Arguably, within jurisprudence and moral and political thought more generally, this strand of natural law remains the intellectually most secure ground for upholding human rights.
An implicit acknowledgement of this point is the remarkable ‘return to Aristotle’ over the past couple of decades among broadly left-leaning philosophers who have become worried that society’s value orientation is drifting away from its humanist core (e.g. Sen, Nussbaum, Sandel, Habermas). This point is worth observing at this conference because we should not assume that the intuitions surrounding the value of being human are so secure that we can simply think in terms of extending that value to non-humans. Rather, it may be that ‘being human’ in Maritain’s sense is becoming less salient as a locus of value, which in turn would then explain the relative ease with which we extend rights, concerns, etc. to non-humans. Bio
The Personhood of Cyberconsciousness
Software such as “Siri” is taking on ever more trappings of human consciousness. Yet such trappings are far from actual consciousness, and it is controversial whether actual human cyberconsciousness is achievable. There is greater consensus that some level of non-human cyberconsciousness is soon to be achieved, such as levels that might be associated with a severely diminished human mind, or perhaps the self-awareness, autonomy and affect of a dog, cat or rat. This paper explores the spectrum of non-human cyberconsciousness likely to soon be achieved, and analyzes alternative concepts of personhood that may be correspondingly appropriate. The principal fulcrum for analysis is the philosophical and juridical purposes of personhood status, and the extent to which these goals are furthered or undermined by an extension of personhood to cyberconscious beings. Bio
David Brin, Ph.D
Award-winning author of science fiction
What do we owe tomorrow?
Jonas Salk demanded – as a central moral code – that we try always to “be good ancestors,” an obligation that some generalize to all life. What do we owe to non-human persons? In order even to ask that noble question, we first had to forsake 10,000 years of cruel indifference to animal suffering — a journey that has only just begun. Do we know every twist in the path ahead? Do we even have a goal, beyond reducing pain and loss? All acts have consequences. When tissue culture makes slaughterhouses obsolete, we’ll celebrate — but there will be fewer chickens and cattle in the world and some varieties will go extinct.
If genetic diversity is a desired outcome, shall paternalistic human managers prevent cross-breeding? Do we impose birth control on wild populations who cannot choose self-restraint? Ever-greater power and knowledge will confront us with new questions that vex today’s simplistic nostrum: “give them people-rights.” When we declare non-human “persons,” will that inadvertently and unintentionally demolish the useful 200 year-old conceit that “all persons are equal?” The greatest quandary will come when we have the power to pass along our accidental brilliance and raise animal intelligence. This will set the modern ethos “don’t meddle” into conflict against two equally powerful goods: (1) the chance to fill our sapient civilization with new, diverse voices and new forms of wisdom, and (2) our moral obligation, as the first to break through to sapience on Planet Earth, to offer others a hand across Darwin’s Chasm. None of these questions are easy; they will test our much-smarter and much-wiser heirs. What we should not do is arrogantly seal shut doors, simply because this generation has a reflexive answer, knowing what’s right far better than any other. Bio
Whale Like Me, Overview
Feature documentary Whale Like Me follows the improbable journey of Malcolm Wright, a conservationist of African American descent, seeking to decipher why whaling persists into the 21st century. Via 10 different countries, from the lonely storm-tossed shores of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, to the sultry tropical South Pacific; from small towns in Japan, to volcanic islands off the coast of Africa and ancient whale bones in the Sahara desert, Whale Like Me traces the story of a man who’s family history is steeped in the African American experience of slavery and civil rights, and who, in examining the scientific evidence unexpectedly finds himself questioning whether whales and dolphins should be treated as persons or property. So compelled by this question’s resonance to the human suffering in his own family history, he risks all he has to find answers.
Drawing on evidence from international experts in diverse fields of cutting-edge science, as well as unparalleled experiences in the field, Whale Like Me explores a reoccurring and fundamental question: Are whales special?
If so, special enough for us to revisit our approach to the human/animal divide? Malcolm’s quest gains unprecedented access to the world of whaling, inspires whalers to take their own journey towards this question that so intimately challenges their livelihood and identity. Ultimately the whalers provide answers they themselves could not have predicted.