Naruto v. Slater
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (April 23, 2018)

This case was brought on behalf of seven-year old crested macaque on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi “by and through his Next Friends, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc.” The plaintiffs claimed that the monkey, Naruto, suffered from copyright infringement, but the court ruled that animals couldn’t have copyrights. The controversy began when David Slater left his camera unattended, and the monkey took some selfies, which Slater later published.

This was the same PETA that ran an ad at holiday season featuring feathered occupants on a turkey farm on one side and Holocaust dorm residents on the other, with the wording, “Holocaust on a Plate,” equating the slaughter of Thanksgiving birds with the slaughter of Jews. But surely there is a morally relevant difference.

I was little relieved to hear a panelist at an American Philosophical Association breakout session suggest that it would take 10,000 German shepherds to equal one person in value. That is to say, if we had a shipload of 10,001 German shepherds and a dingy with one man on it, we would ensure the safety of the former over the latter if we had to choose.

Of course, the Christian would object that man is created in the image of God, and animals are not—and this makes all the difference. (And Christians are not alone in this special regard for humanity. For instance, Immanuel Kant said that rational nature was an end in itself, and that entities that lacked it could be treated as means, as in meal, a zoo exhibit, or a beast of burden, without their consent.)

Of course, Christians have been in on the crusade against animal cruelty. In England, pastor Arthur Broome’s 1822 book, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals, helped lead to the founding of the SPCA in 1824. In America, Alexander Majors, one of the founders of the Pony Express, had a rule for his wagon freight company (whose holdings were so extensive it was said that should the company’s wagons and oxen be lined up, they would extend 50 miles). It simply read, “Man and beast must rest on the Sabboth.”

It’s one thing to stave off cruelty to animals and rescue them from torment, but quite another to grant them human rights. For one thing, the biggest transgressors would be animals themselves. Just watch an episode of Animal Planet, and you’ll like see some vicious predation, as with crocodiles of the Serengeti grasping a wildebeest by the neck and dragging it under water in a death roll. If we’re going to treat them like humans, then we’d have to position closed-circuit cameras at river crossings so we could identify the murderous beasts and bring them to justice. (English philosopher Roger Scruton has argued that, if we grant them human rights, we should also insist that they answer to human duties, a standard they cannot meet.)

Perhaps you’ve heard that some radical environmentalists have gone back to the writings of seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza for support in extending rights to non-sentient beings, including trees and rocks. Arguing that there was only one substance, Spinoza forged a pantheism that rendered rivers as divine as children. This should have struck Spinoza as a reduction to absurdity of his rationalistic metaphysics, but he was content with the absurdity, as are a host of our contemporaries.

Australian philosophy Peter Singer popularized the term, “speciesism,” in his 1975 book, Animal Liberation, arguing that giving unique value to human persons per se was immoral. He has puzzled over why we experiment with chimps, “yet would never think of doing the same to a retarded human being at a much lower mental level”  and (as reported in the New York Times) “would allow parents and doctors to kill newborns with drastic disabilities (like the absence of higher brain function, an incompletely formed spine called spina bifida or even hemophilia) instead of just letting nature take its course and allowing the infants to die.” (On a personal note, it was a joy to see a life-long victim of spina bifida, confined to a wheel chair, graduate with the M.Div. from SBTS this year.)

An interesting aspect of the case is the claim that PETA enjoys “next friend” status, which the court denied on account of the organization’s failure to have a “significant relationship” with this particular animal. Not surprisingly, philosophers have dug deep into the notion of friendship, begging well back in the persons of Plato (whose portrayal of Socrates in the Lysis dialogue shows dogged pursuit of the essence of this phenomenon) and Cicero (who takes up the matter in De Amicitia). Both discussions are steeped in talk of virtue, of whether true friendship requires the parties to be morally upright, a criterion that scarcely applies to a macaque. (Incidentally, the court faulted PETA for using the macaque for their own fund raising, since the settlement they wrangled from Slater went into their own coffers.)

Yet the animal rights enthusiasts proceed apace, as in Charles Siebert’s The Wachula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals, where he speaks of Roger, an engaging 28-year-old veteran of the Ringling Brothers Circus, a creature he ventures to suggest is something of a “humanzee.” In an interview with the Animal Inventory blog, Charles (not Roger) champions “a new collective interspecies empathy, as opposed to the ongoing parochial factionalism rooted in old rival religions and the false notion of human exclusivity.”

By the way, Amanda Foreman just wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal (October 20-21, 2018) on “The Dark Lore of Black Cats,” one in which she notes that the Egyptians had a cat god named Bastet, “who was a goddess of violence as well as fertility,” and that “in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII fanned the flames of anti-cat prejudice with his papal bull on witchcraft, “Summis Desiderates Affectibus,” which stated that the cat was ‘the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.’” So attributing moral gravitas (whether positive or negative) to animals has a long history. Fortunately, we have the Bible to dispel the nonsense. They’re wonderful creations and gifts of God, proper objects of our stewardly and kind dominion (Genesis 1:28) and even our consumption (Genesis 9:3).

Strange it is that “progressives” are taking us back to a day (ancient Egypt) when, and around the world to locales (modern India) where, animals have been regarded as more than animals.