The Great Ape Project was launched just 15 years ago by Princeton utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer and Italian animal rights philosopher Paola Cavalieri with the stated goal of obtaining a U.N. declaration welcoming apes into a "community of equals" with humans.
But why grant apes rights? After all, if the Spanish parliament deems these animals insufficiently protected, it can enact more stringent protections, as other countries have.
But improving the treatment of apes - of which there are few in Spain - is not really the game that is afoot. Rather, as Spanish animal rights activist Pedro Pozas chortled after the Spanish decision, this precedent will be the "spear point" that breaks the "species barrier."
Why break the species barrier? To destroy the unique status of man and thus initiate a wholesale transformation of Western civilization.
Specifically, by including animals in the "community of equals" and in effect declaring apes to be persons, the Great Ape Project would break the spine of Judeo-Christian moral philosophy, which holds that humans enjoy equal and incalculable moral worth, regardless of our respective capacities, age and state of health.
Once man is demoted to merely another animal in the forest, universal human rights will have to be tossed out and new criteria devised to determine which human/animal lives matter and which individuals can be treated like, well, animals.
Should that come to pass, our social order based on the sanctity and equality of human life would crumble. In its place would emerge a society humbled to the point where people would willingly sacrifice our own flourishing "for the animals" or to "save the planet," utilitarian enough to countenance ridding ourselves of unwanted human ballast. Thus, in the world that would rise from the ashes of human exceptionalism, moral value would be subjective and rights temporary, depending on the extent of each animal's individual capacities at the time of measuring.
Concerted efforts to knock ourselves off the pedestal of exceptionalism are terribly misguided. The way we act is based substantially on what kind of being we perceive ourselves to be.
Thus, if we truly want to make this a better and more humane world, the answer is not to think of ourselves as inhabiting the same moral plane as animals - none of which can even begin to comprehend rights. Rather, it is to embrace the unique importance of being human.
After all, if not our humanity, what gives rise to our duty to treat animals properly and to act toward one another in accordance with what is - the Great Ape Project notwithstanding - our exclusive membership in a community of equals?
Excerpted from a Weekly Standard column by Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.