A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy:

The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement
by Wesley J. Smith (Encounter Books, $32.95, 312 pages)

Wesley Smith is well known to Interim readers. He is a leading authority on euthanasia and bioethics, having written extensively on both topics, and spoken about related issues. He has now turned his attention to the animal rights movement, which is animated and motivated by a profoundly anti-human ideology.

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy is an exposé of an ideology that denies what Smith calls “human exceptionalism.” The title comes from Ingrid Newkirk, head of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who said in an interview, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals.” On a purely biological level, she is correct, but what Newkirk was suggesting is that they are also morally equal.

The book is divided into thirds: exposing the animal rights ideology (anti-life philosopher Peter Singer features prominently), reporting on the animal rights activists’ tactics (criminal and violent), and finally a defense of the use of animals (in medical research, as food).

Any one of those three sections is worth the price of the book. The most interesting read is the section on the intellectual and actual terrorism of animal rights groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. They have vandalized and set fire to laboratories, and harassed and intimidated employees and their children. Not to belittle the criminal aspects of these extremists, almost more troubling is PETA’s dishonest media campaigns and partnerships with schools where propaganda is presented as unbiased information to indoctrinate children.

The best part of the section on how man uses animals is when Smith describes the advances in medicine in which animal research has played a vital part. In any moral cost-benefit analysis of how to treat animals, the reduced suffering of humans surely outweighs the harm done to the lower mammals. Of course, many animal rights activists claim an equivalency among all mammals, including man, thus throwing off the calculations.

If there is a weakness to the book, it is that Smith treats factory farming (which is supportable) too lightly and he does not adequately address pertinent scientific questions about animals such as their cognitive ability. Reading A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy one comes away with the impression that we should never really struggle with questions about animal rights; for Smith the answers are just a little too easy. That is because he already accepts the reality of human exceptionalism, but he might not convince those who need persuading.

Smith says that human beings owe animals respect and kindness, but that treating farming as a holocaust or comparing pet ownership to slavery denies the reality that “our obligation to humanity matters even more.” Ideologues deny this obligation – Newkirk has said “the world would be better without humans in it” – but clearly “testing new drugs or surgical procedures on animals to save children’s lives and promote human (and animal) thriving is both morally beneficent and ethically justified.” The defense of human dignity now includes a battle against those who reject human exceptionalism, and Smith has written an important book to equip us for that fight.

Paul Tuns is editor of The Interim.