Readers respond to Kurt Kleiner's review of "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights."

By Salon Staff

Published September 6, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Animals are People, Too."]

I read with great interest Kurt Kleiner's review of "Drawing the Line" by Steven M. Wise. I would have to agree with the thrust of the book that animals are more than things, but the question of whether they deserve some form of "rights" is hazier than most animal rights people would admit. Humans who have rights also have responsibilities. Humans cannot kill one another, just as we perhaps should not kill certain "actualized" animals. But what happens when an animal kills another animal? Or a human? Female bears have been known to attack humans who they perceive as a threat to their young; a human mother who killed a perceived assailant would have to prove a threat or face legal consequences. Also, animals can be likened to human slaves except for one important difference; human slaves resist slavery in terms their masters can understand. They don't always do it successfully, but they do it. African-American slaves in the United States were not granted their freedom, they campaigned and fought for it. A parrot may be able to say "I miss you," but there has yet to be an animal that can say "Free my people." Animals cannot create the political currency needed for freedom themselves. It may not be that they don't deserve "rights," but securing those rights may be politically impossible with only the goodwill of a minority of the human population.

-- Chris Coccio

While it seems to me that it's a near-universal human virtue to avoid causing unnecessary harm to all of the world's creatures (including other people), and while I believe that virtue should be encouraged at every level, I just do not think that any creature which cannot respect rights should be granted them. Just as a child does not possess the rights of an adult, an animal should not possess the rights of a person. Do I think that animals, children and adults of diminished mental capacity deserve protection and consideration? Of course. However, a "right" is something that should not be granted unless the recipient can understand the responsibilities that come with that right, and are willing to protect those same rights for others. Obviously, not everyone with rights today does this, but they should.

-- Bryan Myrkle

It seems to me that either Dr. Wise or Mr. Kleiner is somewhat unfair to those of us who do not believe animals to be people. Mr. Kleiner writes, "Today, we live in a society that depends on the use of animals as things, and Wise thinks we make similar rationalizations." I am unsure as to whether Mr. Kleiner or Dr. Wise is making the comment that we must either believe that animals are things or believe that they are people, but it seems false. Certainly it is obvious that animals are more like people than they are like things -- one does not own a parrot, for example, in the same way that one owns a chair. But this does not mean that the parrot is a person. In fact, as Mr. Kleiner wisely points out, many humans fail to be persons; does this then mean that a 1-year-old child is a thing?

-- Chris Blauwkamp

Perhaps, instead of trying to make people believe that these creatures are the equivalent of humans, it would be more productive to try and instill in our fellow humans a sense of responsibility for those animals less complex than we are? A sense that perhaps we shouldn't just use them as renewable resources?

It isn't that I doubt any claims made about their intelligence. I owned parrots, at one time. I currently have a cat. I've read up on studies of dolphins and apes. There will always be those, however, for whom this is a moral issue instead of a scientific one, and I think more victories would be won -- and more parrots, dolphins, chimps, and other animals kept safe -- by other tactics.

-- Susan Tussing

Apparently I got more out of my high school biology classes than Kurt Kleiner did. I, of course, refused to dissect frogs or any other creatures, but learning about the natural world only confirmed for me that Earth's various life forms are more different in form than substance.

I've never considered non-human animals to be "beneath" me, nor have I ever required reams of so-called scientific evidence to know, as truly as I know anything, that most animals have intelligence, emotion, and unique properties that warrant our respect, not exploitation. All you have to do is spend time with them to know that.

Animals deserve rights -- legal and otherwise -- because they are individuals with their own interests, and live for their own purposes. We are not their makers, and they are not our "things."

-- Jill Howard Church

Salon Staff

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