Freelance writer Viktor Frolke has conducted several interviews with people associated with the animal rights movement for Salon.Com in which he throws softball questions and generally fawns over those he’s interviewing. Even with such a friendly audience, however, Peter Singer simply digs himself further into a whole with bizarre statements.
Before discussing Singer, though, its important to note the animal rights advocacy that Frolke slips into the introduction of the interview. Describing Singer’s views, Frolke writes,
His central argument is elegant and simple; a child might have come up with it. Humans are animals, therefore animals are in the same league as humans, and should be treated as such. By attacking what he calls “speciesism,” racism based on species instead of skin color, Singer raises the status of animals. (He is generally considered to be the founding father of the animal liberation movement and has turned quite a few meat eaters into vegetarians.) But, and this is the more controversial part, in raising the status of animals — or nonhuman animals, as he calls them — he effectively lowers the status of human beings, just as Charles Darwin did when he showed that all living things are biologically related.
I won’t dispute at all the contention that Singer’s philosophical views often seem like they were conceived by a child or perhaps a rebellious adolescent. But to compare Singer’s philosophy to Darwin’s theory of natural selection is an absurd claim. The claim that natural selection implies that human beings and animals are morally equivalent is just as spurious as the Social Darwinist views of the early 20th century that led to mandatory sterilization of retarded people and cast the poor and other as “unfit” from an evolutionary standpoint.
Animal rights activists would like to pretend that natural selection implies there are no substantive moral differences between species, but in fact evolution provides the converse — it offers an elegant explanation of why I value human beings I have never met far more than animals (such as my cat) who are an important part of my family.
Anyway, on to Singer. Singer is angry that people refer to him as a Nazi (Singer lost three of his grandparents to the Holocaust). The philosopher complains that there is an intolerance of dissenting views in the United States, and besides, they misunderstand his views on things like infanticide. But then Singer turns around and reinforces the worst aspects of his philosophy. For example, consider this exchange between Folke and Singer,
Frolke: Most proponents of the right to die would agree with your ideas about euthanasia. But you lose them when you suggest that it’s OK to kill a baby before it’s 28 days old, because until that time, it is not self-aware and “doesn’t have the same right to life as others.”
Singer: I wrote that in 1995. I have changed my position. Now I believe you should look at every individual case.
Frolke simply lets that go without a serious follow-up question. Shifting from a position that says its okay to kill any child before its 28 days old to saying that, after further consideration, such killings should be considered on a case by case basis, is hardly much of an improvement.
And again, Singer starts out by implying that he’s only concerned about preventing extreme cases, such as preventing massive medical intervention to keep alive an infant born without a brain, but then he turns around and endorses infanticide for what are trivial reasons.
Frolke: Maybe you’re not saying that the lives of disabled people are not worth living, but on a scale they’re closer to that point than you are.
Singer: There are so many more factors important to the quality of life. Maybe the life of a disabled person is much more worth living than mine. All I’m saying is that at birth you can’t tell that. It’s reasonable to say that a life with a serious disability has the expectation of turning out less well than a life without disabilities. And I’m not talking about intellectual disabilities. I can imagine that parents of a newborn that is paralyzed, that’s always going to be in a wheelchair, might decide that they don’t want that child and that they are going to have another one. That’s a decision I can understand.
This, of course, is why his critics accuse Singer of being a proto-Nazi. To say that its reasonable to consider killing an infant who is simply paralyzed and will require a wheelchair is abominable. It is incredible that a man with such a barbaric view is incredible.
“Professor Death”. Viktor Frolke, Salon.Com, June 25, 2001.