The past couple days the National Post has reported that animal rights activists in the States are trying to get dolphins, and other cetaceans, to legally be called “persons” under the law. According to Emory University neuroscientist Lori Marino, “their basic needs are very much like humans–to be able to stay alive, not to be confined, to make choices and travel, and perhaps foremost to engage in social interaction.”
I laughed at this because I can’t hear the words cetacean and Marino without thinking about Ace Ventura, but her quote got me thinking. Doesn’t her criterion apply to every animal? I know dolphins are really smart, but find me an animal that prefers to die, to be confined, and to remain dormant and isolated from its own kind.
Last year I joked that one day, at the current rate magnanimous human persons bestow rights ever outward, owning a dog will be considered vile and archaic. Consider: we order them around, exert dominance by actually keeping them tethered to a chain around their neck in public, we feed them after they perform tricks, and, worst of all, if it suits us, we cut off their balls. One might say that dogs seem happy in human homes, but it’s just centuries of Stockholm syndrome. Domesticated…what a horrible euphemism for slavery.
Is SeaWorld a concentration camp? It used to be a fun place to take your kids. Ahh, the times are changing. Tasha Kheiriddin from the Post insists the problem with bestowing human rights to animals is they cannot possibly enter into the social contract: “an animal bears no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for its actions. You cannot sue a dolphin if it bites you or wrecks your boat.”
If the dolphin manages to acquire personhood under the law, while at the same time managing to avoid all obligations of the social contract, perhaps they really are smarter than humans. If I bite someone or wreck their boat I’m in trouble. Well played, cetacean.
It’s funny to consider that this discussion is taking place while in the States Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes corporations are people. By this he must mean that, just like with human people and with cetacean people, it is incorporations’ nature to stay alive, to not be confined, to make choices and travel, and to engage in social interaction. Well, let’s examine: no corporation wants to die, globalisation is anything but confined, decisions are made, business class is even its own travel designation, and corporations do hold social events like family barbecues and golf tournaments. So corporations are persons too. But since corporation people are made up of human people who can comprehend the social contract, they will be made to uphold it: if a corporation bites you or wrecks your boat, you can sue. Corporations are no cetaceans.
But there is a problem: according to the definition of persons that dolphins and companies have successfully met, human people no longer qualify as people. Consider: increasingly humans have become fatally overweight and cancer-prone, remain confined in office cubicles and 500 sq. foot condos, choice remains elusive as our social systems act upon us, we travel albeit on broken public transit systems and inadequate bike lanes, and anyone who’s seen the zombies on their iPhones in public agrees we are no longer a social species.
So there you have it. Dolphins and companies are people, unlike human beings.