The next frontier in anthropomorphism has been reached. In Switzerland, a government-sponsored panel of bioethicists have determined that plants have rights and that human beings treat them unethically, even if they can’t exactly philosophize their way through their own conclusion. It’s the natural extension of the same thought process that equates cows, chickens, and fish with human beings, and one that in essence opposes the forces of nature themselves:
You just knew it was coming: At the request of the Swiss government, an ethics panel has weighed in on the “dignity” of plants and opined that the arbitrary killing of flora is morally wrong. This is no hoax. The concept of what could be called “plant rights” is being seriously debated.
A few years ago the Swiss added to their national constitution a provision requiring “account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms.” No one knew exactly what it meant, so they asked the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology to figure it out. The resulting report, “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” is enough to short circuit the brain.
A “clear majority” of the panel adopted what it called a “biocentric” moral view, meaning that “living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive.” Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim “absolute ownership” over plants and, moreover, that “individual plants have an inherent worth.” This means that “we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily.”
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer’s herd–the report doesn’t say). But then, while walking home, he casually “decapitates” some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can’t agree why. The report states, opaquely:
At this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer toward other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves.
Michelle argues that this comes from a Western rejection of Judeo-Christian values, and she’s right — but let’s just argue on the opposing team’s turf for a while. Doesn’t this also negate the animal-rights movement? After all, if humans do not occupy a privileged position in nature, then we have every right to exploit animal and plant life as, say, foxes, hawks, chickens, cows, and fish. Taking the last example, bigger fish eat smaller fish, so why shouldn’t we have the right to eat smaller fish, too? Deer strip the bark off of trees, leaving them to die horrible deaths without using the rest of the tree in any productive way. Shouldn’t we condemn deer? Doesn’t that make hunting a moral imperative?
I don’t think it’s coincidental that anthropomorphism gripped Western thought at the same time cartoon characters became popular — characters like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Porky Pig, and the like appeared in the cultural zeitgeist. When the hunter got demonized in Bambi, that cultural moment gave impetus to the anthropomorphic silliness that eventually declared meat-eating a sin. It has become a secular religion in that sense, attempting to bury people in guilt for being omnivorous while at the same time declaring nature as our God, and never quite explaining how our naturally omnivorous state shouldn’t be embraced with the rest of nature.
While these bioethicists worry over the epidemic of flower-cutting, I wonder what they have to say about humans grinding up their own embryos for research into stem cells? Do they see ethical problems with that? Or don’t they consider that as high a priority as the fate of Fanny the Flower?
At least I can skip mowing the lawn. I’ll explain to the First Mate that our grass has a right to life, and that it’s simply unethical to torture the plants in order to make my front yard look nice. Those weeds? They have a right to life, too, and who am I to kill them? After that, I’ll picket Home Depot to end chemical warfare against plant life and to remove weedkillers from their shelves.
I’m joking today. Lord knows what tomorrow will bring.
Update: My friend Jazz Shaw is on the same wavelength at TMV, but I’m more of a ribeye man myself.