When Aldous Huxley wrote his prophetic 1932 novel Brave New World, he envisioned a dystopian future in which mankind would become, in the words of bioethicist Leon Kass, “so dehumanized that he doesn’t even realize what has been lost.”
Huxley believed we would evolve into a society steeped in radical hedonism—where drugs would be used to erase every negative emotion and promiscuity would be not just the norm, but the expected. He also saw our future as becoming profoundly utilitarian and eugenic, depicted in his novel by genetically engineered babies being decanted through a cloning-type process rather than being born, a society without families, without the old and sick—who are done away with rather than being cared for—and without real purpose other than experiencing transitory pleasure. It is a world in which human life has been objectified and thereby made less than human.
Looking around, can there be any doubt of Huxley’s prescience across the board?
Look at what is happening in the field of biotechnology as just one example. Despite breakthroughs in ethical stem cell research—such as the induced pluripotent stem cell that is made from normal skin or other cells—scientists continue to insist that they need to clone human beings for use in experiments and to develop medical treatments. Political pressure is growing to have the taxpayers foot the bill for cloning research, with editorials in the New York Times and the science journal Nature promoting public funding. A bill will soon be introduced in Congress to do that very thing.
Meanwhile, some bioethicists promote creating fetuses through cloning and gestating them in artificial wombs from which to harvest body parts— a proposal that would be explicitly legal under New Jersey law. Fertility doctors have already announced that they are striving to bring cloned babies to birth (although at this time it is almost certainly not technically feasible).
The brave new world agenda marks a Rubicon in human morality. Not only does it—as in the bad old days of slavery—redefine some human beings as mere natural resources, but for the first time in history human beings are being created with the explicit purpose of destroying and harvesting them like a corn crop.
Ironically, as we objectify and depersonalize vulnerable humans, powerful social forces strive to personalize and raise the moral status of animals—and even nature itself.
All of this—and more—are parts of the ongoing coup de culture that is mounting an unprecedented assault on Judeo/Christian moral philosophy and “human exceptionalism,” the belief that moral value comes simply and merely from the status of being human, an essential foundation for the intellectual defense of universal human rights.
But human exceptionalism isn’t just about our rights. Equally important, the principle also promotes human duties—to each other, to our posterity, and to the natural world. Indeed, in the known universe we are the only species that can be held morally accountable if we fail to do the right thing.
Which brings us to a seemingly unconnected event: American Humane’s annual “Be Kind to Animals Week,” sponsored by the group every year since 1915 to “commemorate the role animals play in our lives, promote ways to treat them humanely, and encourage others, especially children, to do the same.”
Be Kind to Animals Week promotes pet adoption, gives information on shelters, teaches proper pet care, and promotes proper and humane care of all animals, with special emphasis to instructing children in this important human duty.
How does “Be Kind to Animals Week” differ from the Great Ape Project and other animal rights advocacy? It supports human exceptionalism by encouraging us to fulfill our human duties to animals, without undermining our unique moral status by according “rights” to animals. And that is a distinction with a huge difference. After all, if being human—in and of itself—is not what gives us the sacred obligation to treat animals properly, what does?
Those who seek to knock us off the pedestal of exceptionalism believe that once we see ourselves merely as one of infinite parts of nature, we will improve our care for flora and fauna. But the truth is the mirror opposite. If we ever come to see ourselves as merely another animal in the forest, that is precisely how we will act—both to nature and toward each other. The ongoing objectification of vulnerable human life—also justified by its proponents by denying human exceptionalism—is a warning of this truth that we dare not ignore.