According to Bolivian President Evo Morales’ “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth,” your right to life should be defended with equal vigor as the squirrel’s in your back yard. In fact, according to this newly enacted legislation, which has also been drafted in similar form for the United Nations, the idea of human rights as exclusive to our species is obsolete. Rutgers’ The Daily Targum has recently applauded the legislation as not just some “weird, neo-hippie ideal,” but as a noble and just cause that should be embraced by all.
This law is a declaration of the political equality of all organisms and thus represents a scorn for man’s means of survival. Such a monumental claim needs justification, and none has been provided. The law ignores the fact that human beings are unique in the natural world, and that human rights apply only to human beings.
Why? By virtue of our means of survival, human beings have risen to shape our environment to fulfill our needs. Our greatest attribute and tool, the power of reason and rationality, has allowed us to scale mountains, conquer the skies and oceans, and even to stand proudly on the surface of the moon, planting the American flag in exaltation of our achievements.
Animals do not have the capacity for such achievements. Their survival is of a physical nature, while men have the unique ability to live in a way which is not tied to physical strength or numerical superiority, but to the power of our minds. While a lion hunts its prey on the African savanna, man cultivates the bounty of Earth’s resources in a sophisticated system of agriculture. While wolves hunt in packs for physical dominance, man joins with the minds of his brothers in erecting skyscrapers and statues.
It is the difference between animals and man which explains the source of human rights. Human beings create societies, which are conducive to our way of life. By living in society, we are able to maximize our potential as individuals through trade, communication, and companionship. These benefits are only possible in the absence of coercion.
Edwin Locke, writing for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual rights, explains:
Rights are ethical principles applicable only to beings capable of reason and choice. There is only one fundamental right: a man’s right to his own life. To live successfully, man must use his rational faculty—which is exercised by choice. The choice to think can be negated only by the use of physical force. To survive and prosper, men must be free from the initiation of force by other men—free to use their own minds to guide their choices and actions. Rights protect men against the use of force by other men.
Animals do not survive by rational thought. They survive through inborn reflexes and sensory-perceptual association. They cannot reason. They cannot learn a code of ethics. A lion is not immoral for eating a zebra (or even attacking a man). Predation is their natural and only means of survival; they do not have the capacity to learn any other. Only man has the power to deal with other members of his own species by voluntary means: rational persuasion and a code of morality rather than by physical force.
Given that man is unique in the natural world, rights are necessary only for human beings. To extend those rights to all species would result in unresolvable moral conflicts: If all living things have rights, should we human beings stop eating altogether in order to protect those rights? Should we police nature to ensure that no animal ever violates the rights of another? Rights are inapplicable to animals and essential for men. This is why human rights are exclusively human.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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