Animal Rights and the Land Ethic

This ecosystem diagram shows that without certain organisms in the diagram the whole ecosystem may fall apart

This ecosystem diagram shows that without certain organisms in the diagram the whole ecosystem may fall apart

Another strong Animal Rights reformist is J. Baird Callicott, who is a scholar of Aldo Leopold’s Land ethic and uses it in constructing his own environmental ethic.  For Calicott, coming to terms with creating an ethic for the environment is difficult because he feels that at a certain point giving rights to entities such as plants and streams is simply too absurd. Active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s,  he brought experience from that activist period of time. Calicott developed his Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic during that time and came to realize that the most important principle for an environmental ethic is respect for the community and the health of the entire ecosystem.  His view is often called “eco-fascism” by Tom Regan due to its inclination towards humans as opposed to other species.

J Baird Callicott's Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic takes a pragmatic approach to an Animal Rights Ethic

J Baird Callicott’s Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic takes a pragmatic approach to an Animal Rights Ethic

Calicott breaks down the responses that critics have to Leopold’s Land Ethic in his quest for an ethic. He finds that those who believe in Ethical Humanism will not agree with the Land Ethic because in their view humans should be accorded the higher honor due to their rationality or capability of interests. To Calicott, the Ethical Humanists have an orthodox response to the Land Ethic and thus could not accept any ethic prescribing them to think outward.

The American Humanist Association is one of many Ethical Humanist associations that looks to better the world without God, and putting humanity front and center

The American Humanist Association is one of many Ethical Humanist associations that looks to better the world without God, and putting humanity front and center

He also looks at Humane Moralists of the animal liberation movement, who overall accept Leopold’s Land Ethic, as another kind of speciesists.  They regard humans who do not have the full capability of human behavior such as babies to be less than animals. He thinks that their qualification of sentience is simply another way to make a cut-off for the species of organisms that humans should respect.He maintains that if they even try to create animal rights based on an ignorance of sentience, using mentally debilitated humans as an example, they are committing a grave error. This part of the animal rights movement includes people such as Regan and Singer.

For Calicott, the Land Ethic implies that the biotic community is what must be saved and thus killing individual organisms for the betterment of the community is vital. Basically in Calicott’s view some organisms are more important than others. He would agree that factory farmed animals, removed from their ecosystem, are of little concern and keystone species in the wild are more important to worry about.  If domesticated animals were released and given rights, would the planet be better off? The betterment of the planet is what Calicott sees as the main concern for environmental ethics, not the suffering of animals.

“There is something profoundly incoherent (and insensitive as well) in the complaint of some animal liberationists that the “natural behavior” of chickens and bobby calves is curelly frustrated on factory farms. It would make almost as much sense to speak of the natural behavior of tables and chairs.”

Regan critiques Callicott, bringing up the fact that he is looking at issues from a perspective of human interest and thus all utility of animals is based in our use of them. To Regan, sacrificing human or nonhuman animals to the “state” is akin to fascism. Callicott maintains that “there can be no value apart from an evaluator, that all value is in the eye of the beholder,” so the fact that we put this value on organisms at all is only because of a subjective perspective and thus it is necessary to take this “fascist” view of the environment.  In his eyes the Land Ethic never meant to hold species equal, it simply is focused on maintaining the collective entity known as land.

Keystone species like the Gray Wolf are considered more valuable to Callicott's Land Ethic than domestic animals, due to their place in the ecosystem

Keystone species like the Gray Wolf are considered more valuable to Callicott’s Land Ethic than domestic animals, due to their place in the ecosystem

In the end, Calicott advocates for keeping animals domesticated and in enclosures despite their perceived comfort, continuing our omnivorous diet, as well as not banning hunting and fishing as long as it does no harm to the ecosystem.  One policy he introduces is the idea that it is okay to sacrifice the lives of human beings, in the form of birth control, for the sake of the health of the community.

Luc Ferry, a critic of “Deep Ecology,” also believes that the environmental movement is becoming something of a fascist movement in which rights are given to entities such as animals, trees and rocks as opposed to humanity.  To him,  deep ecologists draw parallels far too close in comparison to the Nazi party of Germany. Nazi Germany held animals and the environment prime in their consideration, and certain humans, such as Jews, less valuable than these entities.  He feels that the Deep Ecology movement also casts aside all thoughts of human autonomy and cautions that, if pushed to its extremes, deep ecology could threaten democracy itself.

Luc Ferry, a French philosopher, has written scathing critiques of the Deep Ecology movement

Luc Ferry, a French philosopher, has written scathing critiques of the Deep Ecology movement

Clearly Luc Ferry is opposed to both the Animal Liberation movement and the Land Ethic but does lend valid criticism to both. It does lend us to the question of how pragmatic are those who examine the Land ethic if it involves the possibility of limiting human life, and how democratic is the animal liberation movement if it is deciding the fates of animals over humans? I think that both Calicott and Ferry do not quite interpret the movements in the way that was intended by those who adhere to the philosophies but this is important because it opens up the movements to criticism.

I think that the suffering of animals, especially ones so close to us ancestrally like chimpanzees, is unjust because they are not simply objects but our biological family of a kind. Suffering should be included in the equation of whether employing certain practices is proper in this day and age.  I personally support animal rights reform despite the questioning of its practicality.  Calicott does raise important questions though: How would domesticated animals truly be freed if we let all of them free? Is the environment not as important as the individual rights of the animals involved in it? I cannot answer these questions, but perhaps one day they will be examined more thoroughly to avoid the impossibilities of animal liberation.

Climate Change and coming ecological disasters are human caused but they will affect all walks of life.  We must take this into consideration when we create an environmental ethic

Climate Change and coming ecological disasters are human caused but they will affect all walks of life. We must take this into consideration when we create an environmental ethic

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s